Translations from other sites
Travel Log! The
Quantum Future Group Goes to Rennes-le-Chateau
Control, Thought Control, World Control
Strike Flash Presentation by a QFS member
of the Day
©2005 Pierre-Paul Feyte
| Signs Economic Commentary
| Donald Hunt
January 23, 2005
The dollar closed at .766 euros last week up a bit from the previous
week’s close of .763. Conversely, the euro closed at 1.305 dollars,
down less than a half percent from the previous week’s 1.3106.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 10,392.99 down 165.01
or 1.56% from the previous week’s 10,558. The NASDAQ closed down
53.64 or 2.64% at 2034.27. All three weeks of 2005 has seen declines
in the US stock market. The ten-year US Treasury Bond
fell to 4.14% compared to the previous Friday’s close of 4.21%,
for a 1.7% drop. Gold closed at 423.30 US dollars on Friday the
21st, up from 422.50 last week and 325.42 euros, up
from 322.37 on the 14th. Oil closed at 48.53 US dollars
a barrel or 37.17 euros. That is up from the previous week’s $48.38
and 36.91 euros. An ounce of gold would buy 8.72 barrels of oil
down slightly from the previous week’s 8.73.
Again, there was no dramatic change from last week. Are we really
headed for a collapse? What is frightening is that even if we
ignore non-economic causes of a collapse, the purely economic
factors are probably enough to cause one.
According to Jeff Ferguson,
Two secular bear markets have occurred during the past
100 years of US history. 1929 saw the beginning of a 90% decline
in equity [stock] values which transpired over the subsequent three
year period. During the 1930's the US economy experienced the failure
of thousands of banks and unemployment over 25% with grinding depression
lasting until world war displaced depression as the overwhelming
economic force. The Dow industrial index didn't regain its 1929
peak until 1954, 25 years later. The second secular bear growled
its way through the 1970's, and it was truly secular in nature.
Contrary to a common belief equities didn't simply move sideways
through the 1970's before moving to new highs with the great bull
market starting in 1982. This illusion is caused by the inflation
which plagued the period. Deflating the S&P 500 with the CPI
(see Chart 1) reveals that the market peaked in 1969, not 1973,
before falling 64% over the subsequent 13 years, ultimately bottoming
in 1982. Stock prices failed to exceed the 1969 peak until 1993,
24 years later, and didn't move convincingly through the 1969 level
until 1995. At this point the weary, and rather aged, investor still
faced capital gains taxes on a phantom 300% gain wholly due to inflation.
Covering this tax liability likely extended the true recovery period
to within shouting distance of the bear market in stocks beginning
in 2000, the most recent peak in equity markets.
Stephen Roach of Morgan Stanley’s term, “economic armageddon,”
as referring to just such a “secular bear market.” I tend to think
there is a good chance of something much worse and so would prefer
to keep terms like “armageddon” for that. In any case, a great
depression is bad enough and, according to Ferguson, we are due for one solely due to economic reasons. Can we
see one coming in advance? Ferguson
says yes. The boom-bust cycle occurs in short term and longer
term cycles. We call the short-term bust a recession and the
long-term one a depression. The fuel for the cycle is excessive
optimism in the expansion phase and excessive pessimism in the
contractive phase. Is there a third cycle, longer than the 50-year
depression cycle? Rather than a “business cycle” we might call
that a “civilization cycle.” We’ll get to that later. For now,
let’s look at the business cycle. Ferguson
sees the historically low interest rates of the last decade as
being a type of price control on finance and argues that price
controls usually end badly with shortages of what was kept cheap.
So if the cost of money (capital) has been kept artificially low,
then soon there won’t be any money.
The most profound damage would be caused by perpetual distortion
of a price which affects all consumption and investment decisions
in all markets. Does such a price exist? Certainly…the rate of
interest! Every consumption decision involves, although perhaps
not explicitly, the choice between consumption now or saving now
and consuming more in the future. Depression of interest rates
makes current consumption less expensive relative to future consumption
with saving relatively less attractive since earnings on savings
Business investment decisions are also affected by interest rates.
Every such decision, at least implicitly, involves a valuation
of discounted cash flows. A lowering of the interest rate reduces
the discount making business investments look more attractive
than would otherwise be the case.
Surely, one might reasonably think, given our well developed
understanding of the importance of prices in coordinating an economy
and the consequences of distorting prices we wouldn't be foolish
enough to manipulate the price capable of causing the most damage.
Astonishingly we do so as a matter of policy! A primary function
of the Federal Reserve involves the setting of short term interest
rates. Furthermore institutional practices within our financial
system distort the rate of interest to an even greater degree
through fractional reserves at depository institutions; or most
generally funding long assets with shorter term liabilities. Within
modern day financial systems the rate of interest never develops
through unfettered market action. All markets, financial and "real",
are continually subject to distortion induced by the altered rate
of interest. There is no opportunity for a market determined rate
of interest to provide efficient, stabilizing coordination of
resource allocation across time.
How could we fail to apply our understanding of the power of
market prices to a price as important as the interest rate?
Perhaps, in part, the answer involves the abstract nature of
the issue. Interest rates guide the allocation of resources across
time, a particularly elusive concept. In the immediate present,
the frame of reference we all grasp most readily, destructive
misallocations resulting from distortion of interest rates are
not evident. In fact quite the contrary is true. Depression of
the interest rate through expansion of money and credit seems
to offer a miraculous opportunity to get something for nothing.
As a consequence of credit ease we see higher levels of consumption,
business investment, employment and financial asset values. How
could any of that be bad? Periods of declining rates generally
precede cyclic tops characterized by the best of conditions in
the economy and financial markets.
Due to the amplifying effects of the financial system in reacting
to low interest, rates, we end up with, “inherently unstable mass
of credit supported by a relatively narrow base of money with
each paper backed financial instrument serving both as an asset
to one party and a liability to another.” What happens when interest
rates start to rise after reaching historic lows at the peak of
To begin the exponential increase in values of long dated
cash flows (earnings on stocks, interest payments on debt securities,
etc.) which works such magic on the upside now shifts into reverse.
The decline in values will be most evident in financial assets considered
speculative, generally because they provide little or no cash flow
in the present while holding the promise of large returns in distant
periods. The value of these distant period returns are much more
heavily impacted by rising rates than shorter term returns. However
any long dated asset will suffer the irresistible force of higher
rates of discount as interest rates climb, even those offering near
term income. In short, equity and debt markets fall first and often
fast. With long dated asset values falling sharply, short term liabilities
remaining essentially unchanged and the cost of short term funding
increasing investors quickly see profits dwindle while their net
capital contracts or disappears entirely depending on their state
It is important to note here that “long dated assets” doesn’t
just mean financial instruments (like holding a bond, a mortgage
note, or holding a share of the proceeds of millions of mortgages)
but also, for those of us in the working class, the proceeds of
our labor ten or twenty years down the line.
And by “working class” I don’t mean “blue collar.” I mean anyone
whose main source of income is their paycheck.
One of the brilliant maneuvers of late capitalism is the invention
of a technical/managerial/professional class who were told that
they were in the same position of the owner class. Unless those
types can afford to quit their jobs, they are in the working class.
However, psychologically and ideologically, they identify with
the owners, that is, with a class that holds very different fundamental
If we think that our future pay is going to fall for whatever
reason, we will be less likely to borrow and spend.
Furthermore, early in the cycle short rates tend to climb faster
than long rates. As the spread narrows the motivation to borrow
short and lend long diminishes, curtailing creation of the new
credit which might otherwise support the system. Eventually short
rates may rise above long rates (inversion of the yield curve)
providing a powerful incentive for outright contraction of the
financial structure. As the contraction progresses long dated
asset values, which are now loss making to the leveraged financial
player, often prove inadequate to cover stable value short term
liabilities. Previously credulous investors turn pessimistic,
rightfully enough, leading to expanding risk premiums, diminishing
long dated values further still. Eventually savers rush for liquidity,
seeking safety in very short dated, high quality securities or
The credit crunch characteristic of financial declines reaches
Bankruptcies surge among entities which previously appeared sound
as the failure to meet a liability on the part of one player leads
to the loss of the offsetting asset held by another which, via
chain reaction, leads to further failures. The force of leverage
working in reverse overwhelms the system leading to a deflationary
implosion of the inherently unstable, leveraged financial structure…unless
the Fed can head the dive off with another round of money expansion.
… Reduced consumption and business investment along with contraction
or collapse of the financial system leads to all the painful consequences
we identify with a recession or depression; bankruptcies, high
unemployment, diminished incomes, lower profits and lower financial
asset values. Naturally such periods are also characterized by
a general pessimism. Periods of general societal depression do
develop following periods of mania but the conditions which foster
such extremes of spirit are a direct consequence of the distortion
of the rate of interest and misinformation conveyed by these distorted
rates to individuals acting in an economy.
Every major financial crisis since the secular bear market of
the 1970s was met with falling interest rates and the rapid expansion
of credit. It is unlikely that this can be the response to any
crisis happening now for the reason that rates cannot really go
any lower and the Keynesian response of governmental deficits
to spur demand also is not an option, since the US deficit cannot go any higher. For this reason,
according to Ferguson,
The Fed will soon face two dreadful options, either course
likely initiating the secular decline; a persistent tightening which
will cause the system to cascade into deflationary decline or an
attempt to fuel the next boom while necessarily fomenting price
inflation, driving real short rates deeper into negative territory.
The deflationary scenario isn't likely due to political realities
and institutions which have been put in place since the 1930's to
circumvent deflation (e.g. FDIC). We can count on the Fed to use
all means at its disposal in its role as lender of last resort when
the time comes, as has been promised by members of the Fed. Hence
we should anticipate a secular decline characterized by price inflation.
Investors who take a defensive position today (investing in T-bills,
TIPS, real assets including some precious metals and not currencies)
will have moved out of harms way just in time within the secular
timeframe whether the worst of the decline begins 6 months or 18
months from now.
Is what we are now facing another great depression or secular
bear market, or could it be something worse? The threat of great
shocks coming from non-economic spheres (natural or political
catastrophes) would support the argument that that is the case.
There are even internal economic factors that could support this
as well. Marxists would argue that because of the falling rate
of profit inherent in capitalism, the only way for the owners
to counteract that is through either squeezing more out of the
workers through less pay or greater automation, or by adding parasitic
financial dealings on top of the system. With automation, the
first is harder and harder, since wages account for less and less
of the costs of production. Financial trickery, as we have seen
above, can only go on for so long.
The financial industry would like us to think that they earn
all their money by helping society to efficiently allocate savings
to investment. But as Doug Henwood has shown in his 1997 book,
Wall Street, this is not the case:
In a soundbite, the U.S.
financial system performs dismally at its advertised task, that
of efficiently directing society’s savings towards their optimal
investment pursuits. The system is stupefyingly expensive, gives
terrible signals for the allocation of capital, and has surprisingly
little to do with real investment. Most money managers can barely
match market averages – and there’s evidence that active trading
reduces performance rather than improving it – yet they still
haul in big fees, and their brokers, big commissions. Over the
long haul, almost all corporate capital expenditures are internally
financed, through profits and depreciation allowances. And, instead
of promoting investment, the U.S. financial system seems to do
quite the opposite; U.S. investment levels rank towards the bottom
of the First World (OECD) countries, and are below what even quite
orthodox economists – like Darrel Cohen, Kevin Hassett, and Jim
Kennedy of the Federal Reserve term “optimal” levels. Real
investment, not buying shares in a mutual fund.
Take, for example, the stock market, which is probably the centerpiece
of the whole enterprise. What does it do? Both civilians and professional
apologists would probably answer by saying that it raises capital
for investment. In fact, it doesn’t. Between 1981 and 1997, U.S.
nonfinancial corporations retired $813 billion more in stock than
they issued, thanks to takeovers and buybacks. (Henwood, Doug,
Wall Street, Verso Press, 1997, p. 3)
One thing the financial markets do very well, however, is concentrate
wealth. Government debt, for example, can be thought of as a means
for upward redistribution of income, from ordinary taxpayers to
rich bondholders. Instead of taxing rich people, governments borrow
from them, and pay them interest for the privilege. Consumer credit
also enriches the rich; people suffering stagnant wages who use
the VISA card to make ends meet only fatten the wallets of their
creditors with each monthly payment. (Henwood, p. 4)
Could that be the plan all along, to concentrate all wealth in
the hands of a small group of families? It may be that just as
the financial boom and deregulation of the last two decades brought
us closer to that point, a financial crash may complete the process.
Many of the world's central banks are starting
to look to the euro to fill their currency reserves instead of the
dollar, a survey suggests.
The poll carried out by Central Banking Publications found 39
nations of the 65 surveyed raising their euro holdings, with 29
cutting back on the US dollar.
The dollar's sharp fall in the face of huge deficits could be one
cause of the switch, the report says.
The survey was sponsored by the UK's Royal Bank of Scotland.
The last three months of 2004 saw the dollar slip by 7% against
the euro, taking it to repeated all-time lows of more than $1.30.
The US is running a budget deficit of close to $500bn a year, funded
largely by China and Japan buying large amounts of US government
Some economists have suggested that the two could ease their purchases,
making it more difficult for the US to support its borrowing.
Similarly, the current account - the difference between the amount
of money going out of the US and coming in - is deeply in the red,
the result largely of large trade deficits.
Both factors have helped to push the dollar lower. However, the
falling dollar does mean that central bank holdings of dollar reserves
are losing value.
"Generally, central banks' approach to reserve management
is becoming much more active as they search for higher returns,"
said the authors of the report.
"The euro seems to have come of age."
Europe's top economies battle
to cut their deficits
The French and German governments will this week kickstart a spate
of privatisations of state-owned companies worth more than €30bn
in further efforts to cut their budget deficits below the prescribed
3% ceiling and cut debt.
On Wednesday the management board of Gaz de France (GDF), the state-owned
gas group, is due to set in train plans to sell off some 30% of
its equity in a placement, likely in May, that could net between
€5bn and €6bn for Jacques Chirac's government.
Areva, the French nuclear plant builder, which is being touted
for an eventual merger with a sister division at Alstom, the engineering
group rescued by the government last year, and which is valued at
€11.5bn, is also expected to place a third of its capital in
According to French press reports, the government could raise up
to €10bn in total this year, including a further sell-off of
France Telecom and the jewel in the crown of the energy sector,
the electricity group EDF. The state raised €8.8bn last year,
€2.5bn in 2003 and €6.1bn in 2002.
Hervé Gaymard, the successor to Nicholas Sarkozy as finance
minister has yet to give the green light for the EDF transaction
as the group, which has profitably bought up large swaths of the
British energy sector, has complex problems associated with its
nuclear liabilities, pension deficit and a stake in Italian counterpart
But, with a 30% stake likely to be sold off during a planned capital-raising
exercise later this year to buttress its European expansion, EDF
could fetch as much as €20bn gross for a government that has
promised the EU it will cut its deficit to 3% this year from around
3.5% in 2004.
The French placements alone promise to be huge money earners for
investment banks such as Merrill Lynch and Lazard which are acting
as advisers to GDF and Areva but are running into stiff resistance
from unions led by the communist CGT, which has called for a merger
of EDF and GDF instead.
The banks are also preparing a key role in sell-offs planned for
this year by Hans Eichel, the embattled German finance minister,
who has pledged to bring his country's budget deficit to 2.9% after
it reached 3.7% in 2004 - the third year in a row it broke the EU
stability and growth pact's mandatory limit.
Mr Eichel, who is holding talks with Mr Gaymard in Berlin today,
could raise between €19bn and €24bn, or more than the
proposed budget deficit, by selling off more stakes in Deutsche
Post, Deutsche Telekom and other assets via transfers to the state-owned
Credit Agency for Reconstruction (KfW).
By the end of this month the government will have sold off 92%
of the postal business, netting €8bn in the past four years,
including €1.7bn this month, and wants to reduce its majority
stake in Telekom -though the latter's share price has been languishing
at around €20 after reaching a peak of more than €100.
George W. Bush’s reëlection
was not his only victory last fall. The President and his national-security
advisers have consolidated control over the military and intelligence
communities’ strategic analyses and covert operations to a
degree unmatched since the rise of the post-Second World War national-security
state. Bush has an aggressive and ambitious agenda for using that
control—against the mullahs in Iran and against targets in
the ongoing war on terrorism—during his second term. The
C.I.A. will continue to be downgraded, and the agency will increasingly
serve, as one government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon
put it, as “facilitators” of policy emanating from President
Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. This process is well
Despite the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, the Bush
Administration has not reconsidered its basic long-range policy
goal in the Middle East: the establishment of democracy throughout
the region. Bush’s reëlection is regarded within the
Administration as evidence of America’s support for his decision
to go to war. It has reaffirmed the position of the neoconservatives
in the Pentagon’s civilian leadership who advocated the invasion,
including Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Douglas
Feith, the Under-secretary for Policy. According to a former high-level
intelligence official, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld met
with the Joint Chiefs of Staff shortly after the election and told
them, in essence, that the naysayers had been heard and the American
people did not accept their message. Rumsfeld added that America
was committed to staying in Iraq and that there would be no second-guessing.
“This is a war against terrorism,
and Iraq is just one campaign. The Bush Administration is looking
at this as a huge war zone,” the former high-level
intelligence official told me. “Next,
we’re going to have the Iranian campaign. We’ve declared
war and the bad guys, wherever they are, are the enemy. This
is the last hurrah—we’ve got four years, and want to
come out of this saying we won the war on terrorism.”
Bush and Cheney may have set the policy, but it is Rumsfeld who
has directed its implementation and has absorbed much of the public
criticism when things went wrong—whether it was prisoner abuse
in Abu Ghraib or lack of sufficient armor plating for G.I.s’
vehicles in Iraq. Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have
called for Rumsfeld’s dismissal, and he is not widely admired
inside the military. Nonetheless, his reappointment as Defense Secretary
was never in doubt.
Rumsfeld will become even more important during the second term.
In interviews with past and present intelligence and military officials,
I was told that the agenda had been determined before the Presidential
election, and much of it would be Rumsfeld’s responsibility.
The war on terrorism would be expanded, and
effectively placed under the Pentagon’s control. The President
has signed a series of findings and executive orders authorizing
secret commando groups and other Special Forces units to conduct
covert operations against suspected terrorist targets in as many
as ten nations in the Middle East and South Asia.
The President’s decision enables Rumsfeld
to run the operations off the books—free
from legal restrictions imposed on the C.I.A. Under current law,
all C.I.A. covert activities overseas must be authorized by a Presidential
finding and reported to the Senate and House intelligence committees.
(The laws were enacted after a series of scandals in the
nineteen-seventies involving C.I.A. domestic spying and attempted
assassinations of foreign leaders.) “The
Pentagon doesn’t feel obligated to report any of this to Congress,”
the former high-level intelligence official said. “They don’t
even call it ‘covert ops’—it’s too close
to the C.I.A. phrase. In their view, it’s ‘black reconnaissance.’
They’re not even going to tell the cincs”—the
regional American military commanders-in-chief. (The Defense Department
and the White House did not respond to requests for comment on this
In my interviews, I was repeatedly told that the next strategic
target was Iran. “Everyone is saying, ‘You can’t
be serious about targeting Iran. Look at Iraq,’” the
former intelligence official told me. “But they say, ‘We’ve
got some lessons learned—not militarily, but how we did it
politically. We’re not going
to rely on agency pissants.’ No loose ends, and that’s
why the C.I.A. is out of there.”
For more than a year, France, Germany, Britain,
and other countries in the European Union have seen preventing Iran
from getting a nuclear weapon as a race against time—and against
the Bush Administration. They have been negotiating with the Iranian
leadership to give up its nuclear-weapons ambitions in exchange
for economic aid and trade benefits. Iran has agreed to temporarily
halt its enrichment programs, which generate fuel for nuclear power
plants but also could produce weapons-grade fissile material. (Iran
claims that such facilities are legal under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty, or N.P.T., to which it is a signator, and that it has no
intention of building a bomb.) But the goal of the current round
of talks, which began in December in Brussels, is to persuade Tehran
to go further, and dismantle its machinery. Iran insists, in return,
that it needs to see some concrete benefits from the Europeans—oil-production
technology, heavy-industrial equipment, and perhaps even permission
to purchase a fleet of Airbuses. (Iran has been denied access to
technology and many goods owing to sanctions.)
The Europeans have been urging the Bush Administration
to join in these negotiations. The Administration has refused to
do so. The civilian leadership in the Pentagon has argued
that no diplomatic progress on the Iranian nuclear threat will take
place unless there is a credible threat of military action. “The
neocons say negotiations are a bad deal,” a senior
official of the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.) told
me. “And the only thing the Iranians
understand is pressure. And that they also need to be whacked.”
The core problem is that Iran has successfully hidden the extent
of its nuclear program, and its progress. Many Western intelligence
agencies, including those of the United States, believe that Iran
is at least three to five years away from a capability to independently
produce nuclear warheads—although its work on a missile-delivery
system is far more advanced. Iran is also widely believed by Western
intelligence agencies and the I.A.E.A. to have serious technical
problems with its weapons system, most notably in the production
of the hexafluoride gas needed to fabricate nuclear warheads.
A retired senior C.I.A. official, one of many who left the agency
recently, told me that he was familiar with the assessments, and
confirmed that Iran is known to be having major difficulties in
its weapons work. He also acknowledged that the agency’s timetable
for a nuclear Iran matches the European estimates—assuming
that Iran gets no outside help. “The big wild card for us
is that you don’t know who is capable of filling in the missing
parts for them,” the recently retired official said. “North
Korea? Pakistan? We don’t know what parts are missing.”
One Western diplomat told me that the Europeans believed they were
in what he called a “lose-lose position” as long as
the United States refuses to get involved. “France, Germany,
and the U.K. cannot succeed alone, and everybody knows it,”
the diplomat said. “If the U.S. stays outside, we don’t
have enough leverage, and our effort will collapse.” The alternative
would be to go to the Security Council, but any resolution imposing
sanctions would likely be vetoed by China or Russia, and then “the
United Nations will be blamed and the Americans will say, ‘The
only solution is to bomb.’”
A European Ambassador noted that President Bush is scheduled to
visit Europe in February, and that there has been public talk from
the White House about improving the President’s relationship
with America’s E.U. allies. In that context, the Ambassador
told me, “I’m puzzled by the fact that the United States
is not helping us in our program. How can Washington maintain its
stance without seriously taking into account the weapons issue?”
The Israeli government is, not surprisingly, skeptical of the European
approach. Silvan Shalom, the Foreign Minister, said in an interview
last week in Jerusalem, with another New Yorker journalist, “I
don’t like what’s happening. We were encouraged at first
when the Europeans got involved. For a long time, they thought it
was just Israel’s problem. But then they saw that the [Iranian]
missiles themselves were longer range and could reach all of Europe,
and they became very concerned. Their attitude has been to use the
carrot and the stick—but all we see so far is the carrot.”
He added, “If they can’t comply, Israel cannot live
with Iran having a nuclear bomb.”
In a recent essay, Patrick Clawson, an Iran expert who is the deputy
director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (and a
supporter of the Administration), articulated the view that force,
or the threat of it, was a vital bargaining tool with Iran. Clawson
wrote that if Europe wanted coöperation with the Bush Administration
it “would do well to remind Iran that the military option
remains on the table.” He added that the argument that the
European negotiations hinged on Washington looked like “a
preëmptive excuse for the likely breakdown of the E.U.-Iranian
talks.” In a subsequent conversation with me, Clawson suggested
that, if some kind of military action was inevitable, “it
would be much more in Israel’s interest—and Washington’s—to
take covert action. The style of this Administration is to use overwhelming
force—‘shock and awe.’ But we get only one bite
of the apple.”
There are many military and diplomatic experts who dispute the
notion that military action, on whatever scale, is the right approach.
Shahram Chubin, an Iranian scholar who is the director of research
at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, told me, “It’s
a fantasy to think that there’s a good American or Israeli
military option in Iran.” He went on, “The Israeli view
is that this is an international problem. ‘You do it,’
they say to the West. ‘Otherwise, our Air Force will take
care of it.’” In 1981, the Israeli Air Force destroyed
Iraq’s Osirak reactor, setting its nuclear program back several
years. But the situation now is both more complex and more dangerous,
Chubin said. The Osirak bombing “drove the Iranian nuclear-weapons
program underground, to hardened, dispersed sites,” he said.
“You can’t be sure after an attack that you’ll
get away with it. The U.S. and Israel would not be certain whether
all the sites had been hit, or how quickly they’d be rebuilt.
Meanwhile, they’d be waiting for an Iranian counter-attack
that could be military or terrorist or diplomatic. Iran has long-range
missiles and ties to Hezbollah, which has drones—you can’t
begin to think of what they’d do in response.”
Chubin added that Iran could also renounce the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty. “It’s better to have them cheating within the
system,” he said. “Otherwise, as victims, Iran will
walk away from the treaty and inspections while the rest of the
world watches the N.P.T. unravel before their eyes.”
The Administration has been conducting secret reconnaissance missions
inside Iran at least since last summer. Much of the focus is on
the accumulation of intelligence and targeting information on Iranian
nuclear, chemical, and missile sites, both declared and suspected.
The goal is to identify and isolate three dozen, and perhaps more,
such targets that could be destroyed by precision strikes and short-term
commando raids. “The civilians in the Pentagon want to go
into Iran and destroy as much of the military infrastructure as
possible,” the government consultant with close ties to the
Pentagon told me.
Some of the missions involve extraordinary coöperation.
For example, the former high-level intelligence official told me
that an American commando task force has been set up in South Asia
and is now working closely with a group of Pakistani scientists
and technicians who had dealt with Iranian counterparts. (In 2003,
the I.A.E.A. disclosed that Iran had been secretly receiving nuclear
technology from Pakistan for more than a decade, and had withheld
that information from inspectors.) The American task force, aided
by the information from Pakistan, has been penetrating eastern Iran
from Afghanistan in a hunt for underground installations. The task-force
members, or their locally recruited agents, secreted remote detection
devices—known as sniffers—capable of sampling the atmosphere
for radioactive emissions and other evidence of nuclear-enrichment
Getting such evidence is a pressing concern for the Bush Administration.
The former high-level intelligence official told me, “They
don’t want to make any W.M.D. intelligence mistakes, as in
Iraq. The Republicans can’t have two of those. There’s
no education in the second kick of a mule.” The
official added that the government of Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani
President, has won a high price for its coöperation—American
assurance that Pakistan will not have to hand over A. Q. Khan, known
as the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, to the I.A.E.A.
or to any other international authorities for questioning. For two
decades, Khan has been linked to a vast consortium of nuclear-black-market
activities. Last year, Musharraf professed to be shocked when Khan,
in the face of overwhelming evidence, “confessed” to
his activities. A few days later, Musharraf pardoned him, and so
far he has refused to allow the I.A.E.A. or American intelligence
to interview him. Khan is now said to be living under house arrest
in a villa in Islamabad. “It’s a deal—a trade-off,”
the former high-level intelligence official explained. “‘Tell
us what you know about Iran and we will let your A. Q. Khan guys
go.’ It’s the neoconservatives’ version
of short-term gain at long-term cost. They want to prove that Bush
is the anti-terrorism guy who can handle Iran and the nuclear threat,
against the long-term goal of eliminating the black market for nuclear
The agreement comes at a time when Musharraf, according to a former
high-level Pakistani diplomat, has authorized the expansion of Pakistan’s
nuclear-weapons arsenal. “Pakistan still needs parts and supplies,
and needs to buy them in the clandestine market,” the former
diplomat said. “The U.S. has done nothing to stop it.”
There has also been close, and largely unacknowledged,
coöperation with Israel. The government consultant with ties
to the Pentagon said that the Defense Department civilians, under
the leadership of Douglas Feith, have been working with Israeli
planners and consultants to develop and refine potential nuclear,
chemical-weapons, and missile targets inside Iran. (After
Osirak, Iran situated many of its nuclear sites in remote areas
of the east, in an attempt to keep them out of striking range of
other countries, especially Israel. Distance no longer lends such
protection, however: Israel has acquired three submarines capable
of launching cruise missiles and has equipped some of its aircraft
with additional fuel tanks, putting Israeli F-16I fighters within
the range of most Iranian targets.)
“They believe that about three-quarters of the potential
targets can be destroyed from the air, and a quarter are too close
to population centers, or buried too deep, to be targeted,”
the consultant said. Inevitably, he added, some suspicious sites
need to be checked out by American or Israeli commando teams—in
on-the-ground surveillance—before being targeted.
The Pentagon’s contingency plans for a broader invasion of
Iran are also being updated. Strategists at the headquarters of
the U.S. Central Command, in Tampa, Florida, have been asked to
revise the military’s war plan, providing for a maximum ground
and air invasion of Iran. Updating the plan
makes sense, whether or not the Administration intends to act, because
the geopolitics of the region have changed dramatically in the last
three years. Previously, an American
invasion force would have had to enter Iran by sea, by way of the
Persian Gulf or the Gulf of Oman; now troops could move in on the
ground, from Afghanistan or Iraq. Commando units and other assets
could be introduced through new bases in the Central Asian republics.
It is possible that some of the American officials who talk about
the need to eliminate Iran’s nuclear infrastructure are doing
so as part of a propaganda campaign aimed at pressuring Iran to
give up its weapons planning. If so, the signals are not always
clear. President Bush, who after 9/11 famously depicted Iran as
a member of the “axis of evil,” is now publicly emphasizing
the need for diplomacy to run its course. “We don’t
have much leverage with the Iranians right now,” the President
said at a news conference late last year. “Diplomacy must
be the first choice, and always the first choice of an administration
trying to solve an issue of . . . nuclear armament. And we’ll
continue to press on diplomacy.”
In my interviews over the past two months, I was given a much harsher
view. The hawks in the Administration believe that it will soon
become clear that the Europeans’ negotiated approach cannot
succeed, and that at that time the Administration will act. “We’re
not dealing with a set of National Security Council option papers
here,” the former high-level intelligence official told me.
“They’ve already passed that wicket. It’s
not if we’re going to do anything against Iran. They’re
The immediate goals of the attacks would be to destroy, or at least
temporarily derail, Iran’s ability to go nuclear. But there
are other, equally purposeful, motives at work. The government consultant
told me that the hawks in the Pentagon, in
private discussions, have been urging a limited attack on Iran because
they believe it could lead to a toppling of the religious leadership.
“Within the soul of Iran there is a struggle between secular
nationalists and reformers, on the one hand, and, on the other hand,
the fundamentalist Islamic movement,” the consultant told
me. “The minute the aura of invincibility which the mullahs
enjoy is shattered, and with it the ability to hoodwink the West,
the Iranian regime will collapse”—like the former Communist
regimes in Romania, East Germany, and the Soviet Union. Rumsfeld
and Wolfowitz share that belief, he said.
“The idea that an American attack
on Iran’s nuclear facilities would produce a popular uprising
is extremely illinformed,” said Flynt Leverett, a Middle
East scholar who worked on the National Security Council in the
Bush Administration. “You have to understand
that the nuclear ambition in Iran is supported across the political
spectrum, and Iranians will perceive attacks on these sites as attacks
on their ambitions to be a major regional player and a modern nation
that’s technologically sophisticated.” Leverett,
who is now a senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy,
at the Brookings Institution, warned that
an American attack, if it takes place, “will produce an Iranian
backlash against the United States and a rallying around the regime.”
Rumsfeld planned and lobbied for more than two years before getting
Presidential authority, in a series of findings and executive orders,
to use military commandos for covert operations. One of his first
steps was bureaucratic: to shift control of an undercover unit,
known then as the Gray Fox (it has recently been given a new code
name), from the Army to the Special Operations Command (socom),
in Tampa. Gray Fox was formally assigned to socom in July, 2002,
at the instigation of Rumsfeld’s office, which meant that
the undercover unit would have a single commander for administration
and operational deployment. Then, last fall, Rumsfeld’s ability
to deploy the commandos expanded. According to a Pentagon consultant,
an Execute Order on the Global War on Terrorism (referred to throughout
the government as gwot) was issued at Rumsfeld’s direction.
The order specifically authorized the military “to find and
finish” terrorist targets, the consultant said. It included
a target list that cited Al Qaeda network members, Al Qaeda senior
leadership, and other high-value targets. The consultant said that
the order had been cleared throughout the national-security bureaucracy
In late November, 2004, the Times reported that Bush had set up
an interagency group to study whether it “would best serve
the nation” to give the Pentagon complete control over the
C.I.A.’s own élite paramilitary unit, which has operated
covertly in trouble spots around the world for decades. The panel’s
conclusions, due in February, are foregone, in the view of many
former C.I.A. officers. “It seems like it’s going to
happen,” Howard Hart, who was chief of the C.I.A.’s
Paramilitary Operations Division before retiring in 1991, told me.
There was other evidence of Pentagon encroachment. Two former C.I.A.
clandestine officers, Vince Cannistraro and Philip Giraldi, who
publish Intelligence Brief, a newsletter for their business clients,
reported last month on the existence of a
broad counter-terrorism Presidential finding that permitted the
Pentagon “to operate unilaterally in a number of countries
where there is a perception of a clear and evident terrorist threat.
. . . A number of the countries are friendly to the U.S. and are
major trading partners. Most have been cooperating in the war on
terrorism.” The two former officers listed some of
the countries—Algeria, Sudan, Yemen, Syria, and Malaysia.
(I was subsequently told by the former high-level intelligence official
that Tunisia is also on the list.)
Giraldi, who served three years in military intelligence before
joining the C.I.A., said that he was troubled by the military’s
expanded covert assignment. “I don’t think they can
handle the cover,” he told me. “They’ve got to
have a different mind-set. They’ve got to handle new roles
and get into foreign cultures and learn how other people think.
If you’re going into a village and shooting people, it doesn’t
matter,” Giraldi added. “But if you’re running
operations that involve finesse and sensitivity, the military can’t
do it. Which is why these kind of operations were always run out
of the agency.” I was told that many Special Operations officers
also have serious misgivings.
Rumsfeld and two of his key deputies, Stephen
Cambone, the Under-secretary of Defense for Intelligence, and Army
Lieutenant General William G. (Jerry)
Boykin, will be part of the chain
of command for the new commando operations. Relevant members
of the House and Senate intelligence committees have been briefed
on the Defense Department’s expanded role in covert affairs,
a Pentagon adviser assured me, but he did not know how extensive
the briefings had been.
“I’m conflicted about the idea
of operating without congressional oversight,” the
Pentagon adviser said. “But I’ve been told that there
will be oversight down to the specific operation.” A second
Pentagon adviser agreed, with a significant caveat. “There
are reporting requirements,” he said. “But to execute
the finding we don’t have to go back and say, ‘We’re
going here and there.’ No nitty-gritty detail and no micromanagement.”
The legal questions about the Pentagon’s
right to conduct covert operations without informing Congress have
not been resolved. “It's a very, very gray area,”
said Jeffrey H. Smith, a West Point graduate who served as the C.I.A.’s
general counsel in the mid-nineteen-nineties. “Congress
believes it voted to include all such covert activities carried
out by the armed forces. The military says, ‘No, the things
we’re doing are not intelligence actions under the statute
but necessary military steps authorized by the President, as Commander-in-Chief,
to “prepare the battlefield.’” Referring
to his days at the C.I.A., Smith added, “We were always careful
not to use the armed forces in a covert action without a Presidential
finding. The Bush Administration has taken a much more aggressive
In his conversation with me, Smith emphasized that he was unaware
of the military’s current plans for expanding covert action.
But he said, “Congress has always worried
that the Pentagon is going to get us involved in some military misadventure
that nobody knows about.”
Under Rumsfeld’s new approach, I was
told, U.S. military operatives would be permitted to pose abroad
as corrupt foreign businessmen seeking to buy contraband items that
could be used in nuclear-weapons systems. In some cases, according
to the Pentagon advisers, local citizens could be recruited and
asked to join up with guerrillas or terrorists. This
could potentially involve organizing and carrying out combat operations,
or even terrorist activities. Some
operations will likely take place in nations in which there is an
American diplomatic mission, with an Ambassador and a C.I.A. station
chief, the Pentagon consultant said. The Ambassador and the station
chief would not necessarily have a need to know, under the Pentagon’s
current interpretation of its reporting requirement.
The new rules will enable the Special Forces
community to set up what it calls “action teams” in
the target countries overseas which can be used to find and eliminate
terrorist organizations. “Do
you remember the right-wing execution squads in El Salvador?”
the former high-level intelligence official asked me, referring
to the military-led gangs that committed atrocities in the early
nineteen-eighties. “We founded them and we financed them,”
he said. “The objective now
is to recruit locals in any area we want. And
we aren’t going to tell Congress about it.” A
former military officer, who has knowledge of the Pentagon’s
commando capabilities, said, “We’re
going to be riding with the bad boys.”
One of the rationales for such tactics was spelled out in a series
of articles by John Arquilla, a professor of defense analysis at
the Naval Postgraduate School, in Monterey, California, and a consultant
on terrorism for the rand corporation. “It takes a network
to fight a network,” Arquilla wrote in a recent article in
the San Francisco Chronicle:
When conventional military operations and bombing failed to defeat
the Mau Mau insurgency in Kenya in the 1950s, the
British formed teams of friendly Kikuyu tribesmen who went about
pretending to be terrorists. These “pseudo gangs,”
as they were called, swiftly threw the Mau Mau on the defensive,
either by befriending and then ambushing bands of fighters or by
guiding bombers to the terrorists’ camps. What worked in Kenya
a half-century ago has a wonderful chance of undermining trust and
recruitment among today’s terror networks. Forming new pseudo
gangs should not be difficult.
“If a confused young man from Marin County
can join up with Al Qaeda,” Arquilla wrote, referring to John
Walker Lindh, the twenty-year-old Californian who was seized in
Afghanistan, “think what professional operatives might do.”
A few pilot covert operations were conducted last year, one Pentagon
adviser told me, and a terrorist cell in Algeria was “rolled
up” with American help. The adviser was referring, apparently,
to the capture of Ammari Saifi, known as Abderrezak le Para, the
head of a North African terrorist network affiliated with Al Qaeda.
But at the end of the year there was no agreement within the Defense
Department about the rules of engagement. “The issue is approval
for the final authority,” the former high-level intelligence
official said. “Who gets to say ‘Get this’ or
A retired four-star general said, “The
basic concept has always been solid, but how do you insure that
the people doing it operate within the concept of the law? This
is pushing the edge of the envelope.” The general added,
“It’s the oversight. And you’re not going to get
Warner”—John Warner, of Virginia, the chairman of the
Senate Armed Services Committee—“and those guys to exercise
oversight. This whole thing goes to the Fourth Deck.” He was
referring to the floor in the Pentagon where Rumsfeld and Cambone
have their offices.
“It’s a finesse to give power to Rumsfeld—giving
him the right to act swiftly, decisively, and lethally,” the
first Pentagon adviser told me. “It’s
a global free-fire zone.”
The Pentagon has tried to work around the limits on covert activities
before. In the early nineteen-eighties, a covert Army unit was set
up and authorized to operate overseas with minimal oversight. The
results were disastrous. The Special Operations program was initially
known as Intelligence Support Activity, or I.S.A., and was administered
from a base near Washington (as was, later, Gray Fox). It was established
soon after the failed rescue, in April, 1980, of the American hostages
in Iran, who were being held by revolutionary students after the
Islamic overthrow of the Shah’s regime. At first, the unit
was kept secret from many of the senior generals and civilian leaders
in the Pentagon, as well as from many members of Congress. It was
eventually deployed in the Reagan Administration’s war against
the Sandinista government, in Nicaragua. It was heavily committed
to supporting the Contras. By the mid-eighties, however, the I.S.A.’s
operations had been curtailed, and several of its senior officers
were courtmartialled following a series of financial scandals, some
involving arms deals. The affair was known as “the Yellow
Fruit scandal,” after the code name given to one of the I.S.A.’s
cover organizations—and in many ways the group’s procedures
laid the groundwork for the Iran-Contra scandal.
Despite the controversy surrounding Yellow Fruit, the I.S.A. was
kept intact as an undercover unit by the Army. “But we put
so many restrictions on it,” the second Pentagon adviser said.
“In I.S.A., if you wanted to travel fifty miles you had to
get a special order. And there were certain areas, such as Lebanon,
where they could not go.” The adviser acknowledged that the
current operations are similar to those two decades earlier, with
similar risks—and, as he saw it, similar reasons for taking
the risks. “What drove them then, in terms of Yellow Fruit,
was that they had no intelligence on Iran,” the adviser told
me. “They had no knowledge of Tehran
and no people on the ground who could prepare
the battle space.”
Rumsfeld’s decision to revive this approach stemmed, once
again, from a failure of intelligence in the Middle East, the adviser
said. The Administration believed that the C.I.A. was unable, or
unwilling, to provide the military with the information it needed
to effectively challenge stateless terrorism. “One of the
big challenges was that we didn’t have Humint”—human
intelligence—“collection capabilities in areas where
terrorists existed,” the adviser told me. “Because the
C.I.A. claimed to have such a hold on Humint, the way to get around
them, rather than take them on, was to claim that the agency didn’t
do Humint to support Special Forces operations overseas. The C.I.A.
fought it.” Referring to Rumsfeld’s new authority for
covert operations, the first Pentagon adviser told me, “It’s
not empowering military intelligence. It’s emasculating the
A former senior C.I.A. officer depicted the agency’s eclipse
as predictable. “For years, the agency bent over backward
to integrate and coördinate with the Pentagon,” the former
officer said. “We just caved and caved and got what we deserved.
It is a fact of life today that the Pentagon
is a five-hundred-pound gorilla and the C.I.A. director is a chimpanzee.”
There was pressure from the White House, too. A former C.I.A. clandestine-services
officer told me that, in the months after the resignation of the
agency’s director George Tenet, in June, 2004, the White House
began “coming down critically” on analysts in the C.I.A.’s
Directorate of Intelligence (D.I.) and demanded “to see more
support for the Administration’s political position.”
Porter Goss, Tenet’s successor, engaged in what the recently
retired C.I.A. official described as a “political purge”
in the D.I. Among the targets were a few senior analysts who were
known to write dissenting papers that had been forwarded to the
White House. The recently retired C.I.A. official said, “The
White House carefully reviewed the political analyses of the D.I.
so they could sort out the apostates from the true believers.”
Some senior analysts in the D.I. have turned in their resignations—quietly,
and without revealing the extent of the disarray.
The White House solidified its control over intelligence last month,
when it forced last-minute changes in the intelligence-reform bill.
The legislation, based substantially on recommendations of the 9/11
Commission, originally gave broad powers, including authority over
intelligence spending, to a new national-intelligence director.
(The Pentagon controls roughly eighty per cent of the intelligence
budget.) A reform bill passed in the Senate by a vote of 96-2. Before
the House voted, however, Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld balked. The
White House publicly supported the legislation, but House Speaker
Dennis Hastert refused to bring a House version of the bill to the
floor for a vote—ostensibly in defiance of the President,
though it was widely understood in Congress that Hastert had been
delegated to stall the bill. After intense White House and Pentagon
lobbying, the legislation was rewritten. The bill that Congress
approved sharply reduced the new director’s power, in the
name of permitting the Secretary of Defense to maintain his “statutory
responsibilities.” Fred Kaplan, in the online magazine Slate,
described the real issues behind Hastert’s action, quoting
a congressional aide who expressed amazement as White House lobbyists
bashed the Senate bill and came up “with all sorts of ludicrous
reasons why it was unacceptable.”
“Rummy’s plan was to get a compromise
in the bill in which the Pentagon keeps its marbles and the C.I.A.
loses theirs,” the former high-level intelligence official
told me. “Then all the pieces of the puzzle fall in place.
He gets authority for covert action that is not attributable, the
ability to directly task national-intelligence assets”—including
the many intelligence satellites that constantly orbit the world.
“Rumsfeld will no longer have to refer anything through the
government’s intelligence wringer,” the former official
went on. “The intelligence system was designed to put competing
agencies in competition. What’s missing will be the dynamic
tension that insures everyone’s priorities—in the C.I.A.,
the D.O.D., the F.B.I., and even the Department of Homeland Security—are
discussed. The most insidious implication
of the new system is that Rumsfeld no longer has to tell people
what he’s doing so they can ask, ‘Why are you doing
this?’ or ‘What are your priorities?’ Now he can
keep all of the mattress mice out of it.”
A previously unknown intelligence
programme set up two years ago by the Pentagon has been operating
in states deemed to be "emerging target
countries", the Washington Post reported yesterday.
Providing further evidence of the centralisation of power around
Donald Rumsfeld, the Strategic Support Branch was created to give
the defence secretary the "full spectrum of humint [human intelligence]
operations," according to Pentagon documents quoted by the
The programme reportedly conducts operations in friendly and unfriendly
states where conventional war might not even be a distant prospect.
It deploys intelligence officers, including linguists, technical
specialists and interrogators, alongside secret special forces in
countries such as Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia, the Philippines and
Georgia, the Washington Post said.
The deployment of the unit further muddies the issue of accountability
for covert and clandestine intelligence operations in the "war
on terror". The programme was established by diverting existing
Pentagon funds, thus freeing it from any congressional oversight.
Recent administration guidelines suggest that the Pentagon need
not report all "deployment orders" to Congress, as it
did previously. Pentagon lawyers argue that by defining the "war
on terror" as indefinite, global and ongoing, the defence secretary's
war powers are extended beyond times of imminent combat.
"Operations the CIA runs have one set of restrictions and
oversight, and the military has another," a Republican member
of Congress with a role in the oversight of national security told
"It sounds like there's an angle here of, 'Let's get around
having any oversight by having the military do something that normally
the [CIA] does, and not tell anybody.' That immediately raises all
kinds of red flags for me. Why aren't they telling us?"
There has been a long turf war between the CIA and the Pentagon
to determine control over intelligence operations.
Mr Rumsfeld and the Pentagon are known to see the CIA as having
a slow-moving and timid culture. The White House shares their concerns,
and has launched far-reaching reforms of the agency. The White House
and the Pentagon also succeeded in watering down proposals in the
recently passed intelligence bill which would have invested power
in the new national intelligence director at the expense of the
The Strategic Support Branch was set up in April 2002 under the
codename Project Icon. It is a branch of the Pentagon's Defence
Human Intelligence Service and is intended to complement the Special
Operations Command, based in Tampa.
The revelations follow allegations last week that US special forces
have been active inside Iran, identifying and helping prepare targets
for possible US strikes against the country's nuclear facilities.
US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
cancelled a planned visit to Germany after a US human rights organisation
asked German authorities to prosecute him for war crimes, Deutsche
Presse-Agentur (dpa) has learned.
Rumsfeld has informed the German government via the US embassy
that he will not take part in the Munich Security Conference in
February, conference head Horst Teltschik told dpa on Thursday.
The New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights filed a
complaint in December with the Federal German Prosecutor's Office
against Rumsfeld accusing him of war crimes and torture in connection
with detainee abuses at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.
Rumsfeld made it known immediately after the complaint was filed
that he would not attend the Munich conference unless Germany quashed
the legal action.
German legislation violations
The organisation alleges violations of German legislation, which
outlaws war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide independent
of the place of crime or origin of the accused.
The prosecutor's office in Karlsruhe reportedly is examining the
roughly 170-page complaint to see whether an investigation is warranted.
The Centre for Constitutional Rights said it and four Iraqis allegedly
tortured in US custody filed a complaint with German authorities
against Rumsfeld, former CIA director George Tenet and eight other
senior military and civilian officials over abuses at Abu Ghraib
and elsewhere in Iraq.
The organisation said it had turned to German
prosecutors "as a court of last resort" because the US
government "is unwilling to open an independent investigation"
and had "refused to join the International Criminal Court".
If Bush wanted to tackle tyranny,
he could start with regimes under US control. But liberty clearly
has limits, says Gary Younge.
There is one tiny corner of Cuba that will forever
America be. It is a place where innocent people are held without
charge for years, beyond international law, human decency and the
mythical glow of Lady Liberty's torch. It is a place where torture
is common, beating is ritual and humiliation is routine. They call
it Guantánamo Bay.
Last week the new United States secretary of state, Condoleezza
Rice, listed Cuba, among others, as "an outpost of tyranny".
A few days later President Bush started his
second term with a pledge to unleash "the force of freedom"
on the entire world. "The best hope for peace in our
world is the expansion of freedom in all the world," he said
You would think that if the Americans are truly interested in expanding
freedom and ending tyranny in Cuba, let alone the rest of the world,
Guantánamo Bay would be as good a place to start as any.
But the captives in Guantánamo should not ask for the keys
to their leg irons any time soon. Ms Rice was not referring to the
outpost of tyranny that her boss created in Cuba, but the rest of
the Caribbean island, which lives in a stable mixture of the imperfect
and the impressive.
In short, while the US could liberate a place
where there are flagrant human rights abuses and over which they
have total control, it would rather topple a sovereign state, which
poses no threat, through diplomatic and economic - and possibly
military - warfare that is already causing chaos and hardship.
Welcome to Bush's foreign policy strategy for the second term.
His aim is not to realign the values at Guantánamo so that
they are more in line with those championed by the rest of the world.
It is to try and realign the rest of the world so that it is more
in keeping with the values that govern Guantánamo, where
human rights and legal norms are subordinated to America's perceived
Under this philosophy, the Bush administration understands the
words "tyranny" and "freedom" in much the same
way as it understands international law. They mean whatever the
White House wants them to mean. Bush is happy
to support democracy when democracy supports America, just as he
is happy to dispense with it when it does not. Likewise,
when tyranny is inconvenient, he will excoriate it; when it is expedient,
he will excuse it.
Take Uzbekistan, one of the most repressive regimes in central
Asia. In April 2002, a special UN rapporteur concluded that torture
in the country was "systematic" and "pervasive and
persistent... throughout the investigation process". In the
same year, Muzafar Avazov, an opposition leader, was boiled alive
for refusing to abandon his religious convictions and attempting
to practise religious rites in prison. In 2003, Bush granted a waiver
to Uzbekistan when its failure to improve its human rights record
should have led to its aid being slashed. In February 2004 the US
secretary of defence, Donald Rumsfeld, visited the country's dictator,
Islam Karimov, and said: "The relationship [between our countries]
is strong and growing stronger. We look forward to strengthening
our political and economic relations."
Yet the US continues to shower the country with
aid, docking a mere $18m last year (around 20% of the total) after
expressing its "disappointment" that Mr Karimov had not
made greater strides towards democracy. Pan down the shopping list
of tyrannical states in Ms Rice's in-tray (Iran, Burma, North Korea,
Zimbabwe, Belarus and Cuba) and you will find no mention of Uzbekistan.
Why? Because Uzbekistan, with an estimated 10,000 political prisoners,
hosts a US military base that offers easy access to Afghanistan
and the rest of the region.
So for every tenet that Mr Bush claimed last week to hold dear,
it was possible to pick out a country or place he is bankrolling
or controlling that is in flagrant violation, and where he could
improve conditions immediately if he wished. The point here is not
that the US should intervene in more places, but that it should
intervene consistently and honestly or not at all.
Bush's inauguration speech was packed with truisms, axioms, platitudes
and principles that appear reasonable at first glance. The trouble
is they are contradicted by the reality he has created and continues
As he delivered his address, you could almost whisper the caveats.
"America will not pretend that jailed dissidents prefer their
chains [apart from in Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay], or
that women welcome humiliation and servitude [apart from in Saudi
Arabia] or that any human being aspires to live at the mercy of
bullies [apart from Uzbekistan and Israel]."
Such hypocrisy is not new. When Mr Bush said "Our goal instead
is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom
and make their own way", nobody imagined he was referring to
the Bolivian peasants fighting oil price hikes and globalisation
or the landless Venezuelans taking over farms.
The agenda for a second Bush term represents not a change in direction
but an acceleration of the colossal and murderous folly that he,
and most of his predecessors, have pursued.
The damage that this selective notion of liberty inflicts on the
rest of the world should by now be pretty clear. According to the
independent website Iraqbodycount.net, reported civilian deaths
in Iraq have already reached between 15,365 and 17,582 since the
war started, while the recent study for the Lancet estimated the
death toll at 100,000 at least, and probably higher; meanwhile,
the number is growing remorselessly. Next weekend's elections in
Iraq - which take place in the midst of a war against foreign occupiers
with most candidates too scared to campaign, the location of polling
sites kept secret until the last minute and key areas unable to
participate - have become not an example of democracy but an embarrassment
to the very idea of democracy.
Meanwhile, a global poll for the BBC last week showed the US more
isolated than ever, with people in 18 out of 21 countries saying
that they expect a second Bush term to have a negative impact on
peace and security.
What is less clear is whether most Americans understand that this
isolation leaves them more vulnerable to attack. Ms Rice last week
promised "a conversation, not a monologue" with the rest
of the world. But as the situation in Iraq shows, conversations
that start with "D'you want a piece of this?" rarely end
well for anybody.
Both Osama bin Laden and the Taliban have shown that the tyrants
the US supports today can easily turn against it tomorrow while
fostering resentment among their victims. Yet the idea that the
US is a civilising force endowed with benevolent intentions is still
as prevalent within the US as it is rejected outside it.
Indeed, Tony Blair seems to be the only foreign leader who still
holds to the mixture of wishful thinking, wilful ignorance and warped
logic behind the idea that Bush is leading humanitarian interventions
at the barrel of a gun.
When questioned about the prospects for Bush's second term, the
British prime minister was upbeat. "Evolution comes with experience,"
he said. The fact that Bush does not believe in evolution has long
been known. Only now are we discovering how little Blair learns
WASHINGTON - The White House
has scrapped its list of Iraq allies known as the 45-member "coalition
of the willing," which Washington used to back its argument
that the 2003 invasion was a multilateral action, an official said
The senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity,
said the White House replaced the coalition list with a smaller
roster of 28 countries with troops in Iraq sometime after the June
transfer of power to an interim Iraqi government.
The official could not say when or why the administration did away
with the list of the coalition of the willing.
The coalition, unveiled on the eve of the invasion, consisted of
30 countries that publicly offered support for the United States
and another 15 that did not want to be named as part of the group.
Former coalition member Costa Rica withdrew last
September under pressure from voters who opposed the government's
decision to back the invasion.
On Friday, an organization from Iceland published
a full-page advertisement in the New York Times calling for its
country's withdrawal from the coalition and offering apologies for
its support for U.S. policy.
The United States, backed by major allies, including Britain and
Italy, invaded Iraq in March 2003 on the premise that Saddam Hussein
posed a grave threat because he possessed weapons of mass destruction,
The Bush administration acknowledged this month
that it has abandoned its search for WMD without finding any biological,
chemical or nuclear weapons.
Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice, who was national
security adviser to U.S. President George W. Bush at the time of
the invasion, told a Senate panel this week that the administration
had made some bad decisions in Iraq.
Nearly 1,370 members of the U.S. armed forces have been killed
and another 10,500 have been wounded in Iraq since the invasion.
Unofficial estimates put the civilian Iraqi death
toll at between 14,000 and 100,000
don't know the names of most of the 7,000 parliamentary candidates.
They may still not know when they go to the polls a week from Sunday
to elect a parliament that will draft a constitution.
The Iraqi Electoral Commission keeps talking about publishing the
names. But many of the candidates -- those who can't afford bodyguards
-- don't want their names known for fear they will become targets
for assassination. Several candidates whose identities became known
have been killed by insurgents determined to wreck the election.
Others have been kidnapped.
A team of international election observers
has decided that it's too dangerous to monitor the election from
inside Iraq, so some will monitor events from neighboring Jordan,
others from Toronto. [...]
How will the election work?
Iraqis 18 and older, including the approximately 4 million living
outside Iraq, are eligible to vote at polling places around the
country and in 14 other countries where most Iraqi expatriates live.
The United States has polling places in Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles,
Nashville and Washington, D.C.
The ballot for the national parliament is not divided into districts,
like a U.S. House race. Instead, each voter has the same choices.
The choices range from individual candidates, to party slates, to
coalitions comprised of several parties. The voter votes for just
On the ballot, each slate will be signified by a name, such as
the United Iraqi Alliance or the Iraqi List, a number, which the
coalition has been publicizing to its followers, and a symbol, designed
to help illiterate voters.
Each choice represents a list of candidates, in rank order, on
file with the Iraqi Electoral Commission. Each list will get seats
in parliament equal to the portion of overall vote it receives.
After the vote, it is expected to take about two
weeks before a result is announced. That is partly because of security
measures that will be taken with the ballots, and partly so that
the winners, whose identities will finally become public, will have
time to arrange for security.
After the parliament is seated, it is supposed to elect a three-member
presidency, which will nominate a member of the parliament to become
prime minister and form a cabinet.
Michael Rubin, who just returned from a trip to Iraq and who worked
for the Defense Department as an adviser to the Coalition Provisional
Authority, said the major Iraqi political players are already deep
in negotiations over who will get which job after the elections.
And, he said, U.S. officials are deeply involved
in the discussions.
The Americans have been promoting the finance
minister of the current interim government, Adel Abdul-Mehdi, as
an acceptable choice for prime minister, Rubin said. [...]
Who will win?
It's widely assumed that the UIA list will get the most votes.
This a broad, mostly Shiite coalition that includes candidates from
11 parties plus several independents. It was organized under the
guidance of Al-Sistani and, although he is not a candidate, his
face appears on the UIA posters.
Al-Sistani and Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, the top name on the UIA list,
have extensive ties to Iran, which has led to speculation that the
election will produce a pro-Iranian government.
What are the implications for the U.S. role in Iraq?
The Chicago Tribune quoted one Shiite voter who
said "the election will be the happiest day of my life because
it will mean the end of the occupation."
The New York Times on Wednesday reported that U.S. intelligence
officials have concluded that the Shiite-led government likely to
emerge from the elections will almost certainly ask the United States
to set a specific timetable for withdrawing its troops, something
the Bush administration has resisted.
But U.S. officials have said that if a democratically elected government
asks the U.S. to leave Iraq, it will comply.
Abbas Mehdi of Minnetonka, a native of Iraq who
stays in touch with his family there, said most Iraqis do not believe
that the United States will allow such an outcome, that Washington
will find some way to rig the election so that U.S. interests in
Iraq are safeguarded.
Mehdi shares some of that skepticism, but also believes "the
U.S. has put itself into a box."
If the UIA slate loses and Al-Sistani announces
that the U.S. has stolen the election, then the majority Shiites
are liable to join the anti-American insurgency, Mehdi said.
If the UIA slate wins, and the new government demands a deadline
for ending the occupation, and the U.S. complies, "then at
least you have to hand it to the United States for delivering true
Two US soldiers have been given jail terms,
reductions in rank and bad conduct discharges for their role in
the killing of a female civilian interpreter in Iraq.
In a statement, the military said Specialist Charley Hooser
of the 1st Cavalry Division was sentenced to three years in jail
after being convicted of one count of involuntary manslaughter
and one count of making a false statement.
"The convictions stem from an incident on November 24, when
Hooser killed an interpreter, shooting her in the head," the military
said late on Saturday.
"Later that day, he made an official statement with the intent
to deceive, denying involvement in the death of the civilian interpreter."
Another soldier from the 1st Cavalry Division, Specialist Rami
Dajani, was sentenced to 18 months in jail for his role in the
incident, the military said.
It said Dajani had supplied the gun that killed the interpreter
and had later "made an official statement with the intent to deceive,
denying involvement in the death of a civilian interpreter".
A killer joke
On the day of the incident, Dajani and 28-year-old Luma,
whose full name was not disclosed, were in a room at an American
base, joking about killing someone, the
soldiers testified at the court martial hearing.
Dajani handed a handgun to Hooser, who thought
it had been cleared and pulled the trigger as he held it to the
young woman's head. The two GIs then lied to investigators, claiming
that Luma had shot herself.
The woman had worked as a translator for The Washington Post
daily before taking a job with the military.
Several US soldiers have been sentenced or are awaiting court
martial in Iraq for their role in the killing of Iraqis. The scandal
over abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib jail by US troops has also
sparked widespread outrage.
ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, N.J. - The rain is turning
to snow on a blustery January morning, and all the men gathered
in a parking lot here surely would prefer to be inside. But the
weather couldn't matter less to the robotic sharpshooter they
are here to watch as it splashes through puddles, the barrel of
its machine gun pointing the way like Pinocchio's nose.
The Army is preparing to send 18 of these remote-controlled robotic
warriors to fight in Iraq beginning in March or April.
Made by a small Massachusetts company, the SWORDS, short for
Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance Detection Systems,
will be the first armed robotic vehicles to see combat, years
ahead of the larger Future Combat System vehicles currently under
development by big defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin
and General Dynamics Corp.
It's easy to humanize the SWORDS (a tendency robotics researchers
say is only human) as it moves out of the flashy lobby of an office
building and into the cold with nary a shiver.
Military officials like to compare the roughly three-foot-high
robots favorably to human soldiers: They
don't need to be trained, fed or clothed. They can be boxed up
and warehoused between wars. They never complain. And there are
no letters to write home if they meet their demise in battle.
But officials are quick to point out that these are not the
autonomous killer robots of science fiction. A
SWORDS robot shoots only when its human operator presses a button
after identifying a target on video shot by the robot's cameras.
"The only difference is that his weapon is not at his shoulder,
it's up to half a mile a way," said Bob Quinn, general manager
of Talon robots for Foster-Miller Inc., the Waltham, Mass., company
that makes the SWORDS. As one Marine fresh out of boot camp told
Quinn upon seeing the robot: "This is my invisibility cloak."
Quinn said it was a "bootstrap development process" to convert
a Talon robot, which has been in military service since 2000,
from its main mission - defusing roadside bombs in Iraq- into
the gunslinging SWORDS.
It was a joint development process between the Army and Foster-Miller,
a robotics firm bought in November by QinetiQ Group PLC, which
is a partnership between the British Ministry of Defence and the
Washington holding company The Carlyle Group.
Army officials and employees of the robotics firm heard from
soldiers "who said 'My brothers are being killed out here. We
love the EOD (explosive ordnance disposal), but let's put some
weapons on it,'" said Quinn.
Working with soldiers and engineers at Picatinny Arsenal in
New Jersey, it took just six months and only about $2 million
in development money to outfit a Talon with weapons, according
to Quinn and Anthony Sebasto, a technology manager at Picatinny.
The Talon had already proven itself to be pretty rugged. One
was blown off the roof of a Humvee and into a nearby river by
a roadside bomb in Iraq. Soldiers simply opened its shrapnel-pocked
control unit and drove the robot out of the river, according to
The $200,000, armed version will carry standard-issue Squad
Automatic Weapons, either the M249, which fires 5.56-millimeter
rounds at a rate of 750 per minute, or the M240, which can fire
about 700 to 1,000 7.62-millimeter rounds per minute. The SWORDS
can fire about 300 rounds using the M240 and about 350 rounds
using the M249 before needing to reload.
All its optics equipment - the four cameras, night vision and
zoom lenses - were already in the Army's inventory.
"It's important to stress that not everything has to be super
high tech," said Sebasto. "You can integrate existing componentry
and create a revolutionary capability."
The SWORDS in the parking lot at the headquarters of the cable
news station CNBC had just finished showing off for the cameras,
climbing stairs, scooting between cubicles, even broadcasting
some of its video on the air.
Its developers say its tracks, like those on a tank, can overcome
rock piles and barbed wire, though it needs a ride to travel faster
than 4 mph.
Running on lithium ion batteries, it can operate for 1 to 4
hours at a time, depending on the mission. Operators work the
robot using a 30-pound control unit which has two joysticks, a
handful of buttons and a video screen.
Quinn says that may eventually be replaced by a "Gameboy" type
of controller hooked up to virtual reality goggles.
The Army has been testing it over the past year at Picatinny
and the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland to ensure it won't
malfunction and can stand up to radio jammers and other countermeasures.
(Sebasto wouldn't comment on what happens if the robot and its
controller fall into enemy hands.)
Its developers say the SWORDS not only allows its operators
to fire at enemies without exposing themselves to return fire,
but also can make them more accurate.
A typical soldier who could hit a target the size of a basketball
from 300 meters away could hit a target the size of a nickel with
the SWORDS, according Quinn.
The better accuracy stems largely from the fact that its gun
is mounted on a stable platform and fired electronically, rather
than by a soldier's hands, according to Staff Sgt. Santiago Tordillos
of the EOD Technology Directorate at Picatinny. Gone are such
issues as trigger recoil, anticipation problems, and pausing the
breathing cycle while aiming a weapon.
"It eliminates the majority of shooting errors you would have,"
Chances are good the SWORDS will get even more
deadly in the future. It has been tested with the larger .50 caliber
machine guns as well as rocket and grenade launchers - even an
experimental weapon made by the Australian company Metal Storm
LLC that packs multiple rocket rounds into a single barrel, allowing
for much more rapid firing.
"We've fired 70 shots at Picatinny and we were 70 for 70 hitting
the bull's-eye," said Sebasto, boasting of the arsenal's success
with a Vietnam-era rocket launcher mounted on a SWORDS.
There are bound to be many eyes watching SWORDS as it heads
to battle. Its tracks will one day be followed by the larger vehicles
of the Future Combat System, such as six-wheel-drive MULE under
development by Lockheed Martin, a 2.5-ton vehicle with motors
in each wheel hub to make it more likely to survive.
The Pentagon's research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects
Agency, also recently awarded contracts to aid research of robots
that one day could be dropped into combat from airplanes and others
meant to scale walls using electrostatic energy - also known as
Many of the vehicles being developed for the FCS will have some
autonomy, meaning they'll navigate rough terrain, avoid obstacles
and make decisions about certain tasks on their own.
They may be able to offer cues to their operators when potential
foes are near, but it's doubtful any of them will ever be allowed
to make the decision to pull the trigger, according to Jim Lowrie,
president of Perceptek Inc., a Littleton, Colo., firm that is
developing robotics systems for the military.
"For the foreseeable future, there always will be a person in
the loop who makes the decision on friend or foe. That's a hard
problem to determine autonomously," said Lowrie.
WASHINGTON - Somewhere in the shadows of
the White House and the Capitol this week, a
small group of super-secret commandos stood ready with state-of-the-art
weaponry to swing into action to protect the presidency,
a task that has never been fully revealed before.
As part of the extraordinary army of 13,000 troops, police officers
and federal agents marshaled to secure the inauguration, these
elite forces were poised to act under a 1997 program that was
updated and enhanced after the Sept. 11 attacks, but nonetheless
departs from how the military has historically been used on American
These commandos, operating under a secret
counterterrorism program code-named Power Geyser, were
mentioned publicly for the first time this week on a Web site
for a new book, "Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans,
Programs and Operation in the 9/11 World," (Steerforth Press).
The book was written by William M. Arkin, a former intelligence
analyst for the Army.
The precise number of these Special Operations forces in Washington
this week is highly classified, but military officials say the
number is very small. The special-missions units belong to the
Joint Special Operations Command, a secretive command based at
Fort Bragg, N.C., whose elements include the Army unit Delta Force.
In the past, the command has also provided support to domestic
law enforcement agencies during high-risk events like the Olympics
and political party conventions, according to the Web site of
GlobalSecurity.org, a research organization in Alexandria, Va.
The role of the armed forces in the United States has been a
contentious issue for more than a century. The Posse Comitatus
Act of 1878, which restricts military forces from performing domestic
law enforcement duties, like policing, was enacted after the Civil
War in response to the perceived misuse of federal troops who
were policing in the South.
Over the years, the law has been amended to allow the military
to lend equipment to federal, state and local authorities; assist
federal agencies in drug interdiction; protect national parks;
and execute quarantine and certain health laws. About 5,000 federal
troops supported civilian agencies at the Winter Olympics in Salt
Lake City three years ago.
Since Sept. 11, however, military and law enforcement
agencies have worked much more closely not only to help detect
and defeat any possible attack, including from unconventional
weapons, but also to assure the continuity of the federal government
in case of cataclysmic disaster.
The commandos here this week were the same type of Special Operations
forces who are hunting top insurgents in Iraq and Osama bin Laden
in the mountainous wilds of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
But under the top-secret military plan, they are also conducting
counterterrorism missions in support of civilian agencies in the
"They bring unique military and technical capabilities that
often are centered around potential W.M.D. events," said a senior
military official who has been briefed on the units' operations.
A civil liberties advocate who was told about the program by
a reporter said that he had no objections to the program as described
to him because its scope appeared to be limited to supporting
the counterterrorism efforts of civilian authorities.
Mr. Arkin, in the online supplement to his book (codenames.org/documents.html),
says the contingency plan, called JCS Conplan 0300-97, calls
for "special-mission units in extra-legal missions to combat terrorism
in the United States" based on top-secret orders that are managed
by the military's Joint Staff and coordinated with the military's
Special Operations Command and Northern Command, which
is the lead military headquarters for domestic defense.
Mr. Arkin provided The New York Times with briefing slides prepared
by the Northern Command, detailing the plan and outlining the
military's preparations for the inauguration.
Three senior Defense Department and Bush administration officials
confirmed the existence of the plan and mission, but disputed
Mr. Arkin's characterization of the mission as "extra-legal."
One of the officials said the units operated in the United States
under "special authority" from either the president or the secretary
Washington: A Bush Administration campaign
to replace the head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency
faltered after all 15 countries approached by US diplomats, including
Britain, Canada and Australia, refused to support the plan, US
The White House had hoped at least one of the three English-speaking
allies would agree to block Mohamed ElBaradei from a third term
as director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
But with the US proposing no other candidate, no country was
willing to turn against Dr ElBaradei, who
is admired within the agency for his willingness to challenge
the US Administration's policies on Iraq and Iran.
That same willingness has put Dr ElBaradei deeply at odds with
the White House and became the driving factor in efforts to replace
him, US officials said.
"It's on hold right now," said one US policymaker who was involved
in lobbying against Dr ElBaradei. "Everyone turned us down, even
the Brits." A British official confirmed that account, saying:
"We can certainly live with another ElBaradei term."
US diplomats had tried to coax several people into challenging
Dr ElBaradei, including Australia's Foreign Minister, Alexander
Downer, but no one was willing to stand against the 62-year-old
Egyptian diplomat, who was asked by a majority of members of his
agency's board to stay on for another five years.
There is still hope among some US officials that an Argentinian
nuclear specialist will stand, although the deadline for submissions
passed on December 31.
"The emergence of a new candidate could encourage members to
oppose ElBaradei," another US official said.
Aban Contractor reports: A spokeswoman said the Department of
Foreign Affairs had not determined a position on Dr ElBaradei's
candidature. "[But] we do support the two-term principle with
very few exceptions."
A spokesman for Mr Downer said he knew nothing about the reported
developments. "I'm not interested in commenting on that sort of
Most of the Iraqi capital - particularly the
western districts - has been without water for the past seven days.
Added to a lack of electricity - the national grid is off more
than it is on - a crumbling mobile phone network, endless lines
to get fuel and a daily dose of bombs and mortars, it
has made it next to impossible to even think about the coming election.
"This is everyone's biggest problem," according to Alaa
al-Din Saad, 32, a father of two who lives in the southwest district
"We haven't had water for nearly a week. We used up all our
reserves and now I haven't had a shower for three days."
Iraq's national election, just seven days away and expected to
bring its own set of problems amid fears of a surge in violence,
has taken a back seat to the need to find a water source in a country
that is mostly desert but also has two of the world's major rivers.
There has been no explanation for the crisis,
which has provoked such anger and frustration that one Iraqi called
a news agency demanding that something be done.
Fighters are suspected of attacking water mains
outside the city several days ago, cutting off supplies, but the
US military had no immediate information on such an attack.
In the absence of hard information, rumour and speculation often
run riot in Iraq.
Some Baghdad residents say the Iraqi government and US military
have cut off the water on purpose to frustrate people and prompt
them to vote in the 30 January election.
Others take the water shortage as yet another sign that the US
invasion has brought them nothing but problems.
"Nothing works - there's no power, no water, no fuel, no phone
service. It's a disaster," according to Namidh, a security
guard who said his family had been without water for a week. [...]
A spokesman for the public works ministry had no explanation for
the crisis and referred callers to the mayor's office. No one was
available at Baghdad city hall during the Muslim religious holiday
of Eid al-Adha.
In some areas there is absolutely no water; in others, there is
a trickle for a few hours a day.
The crisis has left many families unable to cook, wash clothes
Some have taken to digging wells in the back garden in the hope
of striking water. Those who get lucky are now supplying the neighbourhood.
"People are lined up all day to get water from our well,"
Badia Yasin, a driver, said.
A police source said about 300 people were taken
to the hospital in west Baghdad this week with stomach problems
and similar ailments and complaining of having been poisoned.
But officials at al-Yarmuk hospital, one of Baghdad's main clinics,
said they had had no major increase in patients suffering from water-borne
diseases such as cholera. Other hospitals were not immediately contactable
A health ministry official played down fears
of a cholera outbreak but said disease could rise if the water crisis
is not resolved soon. "There will be health problems
if we don't sort this out," he said.
NASIRIYAH, Iraq - Fire swept through the
general hospital in this southern Iraqi city early Sunday, killing
14 people and injuring 75, said a spokesman for the Italian military
forces based in the city.
The blaze at the Nasiriyah General Hospital was believed to
have been caused by an electrical fault, the fire department said.
The injured were transferred to another hospital in the city,
about 200 miles southeast of Baghdad.
Col. Francesco Tirino, a spokesman for the Italian contingent
in Nasiriyah, said that 14 people died and 75 were injured.
The Italians received an emergency call around 2 a.m., shortly
after the fire broke out. The blaze was extinguished four hours
later, Tirino said, and the Italians returned to their base.
Most of the injured were taken to a pediatric hospital in Nasiriyah,
while three, who were in serious condition, were taken to a field
hospital run by the Italians.
Italy has around 3,000 troops based in Nasiriyah as part of
the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.
20 inauguration coverage, hosts and commentators on CNN, MSNBC,
and FOX News ridiculed inauguration protesters; downplayed their
numbers and significance; and implied that they posed a security
CNN host Wolf Blitzer seemed to ignore fellow
host Judy Woodruff's point that parade watchers generally had to
pay for seats (and therefore likely supported President Bush), asserting
that in contrast with the protesters -- whom
he called "angry, angry people" -- "there
are a lot more people who have gathered along Pennsylvania Avenue
who love this president."
Later, Blitzer again downplayed the protesters' significance: "And
we don't want to make too much of the protesters, because we don't
know how many there were. Certainly, the nature of this business,
the nature of television, we could over-exaggerate based on the
images, and they might just be a tiny, tiny overall number."
A January 21 New York Times article
rebutted Blitzer's assessment, noting that
the number of protesters in the protest-designated space alone was
in the "thousands,"
and that there were also protesters interspersed with Bush supporters
throughout the parade route: "The numbers of protesters along
Pennsylvania Avenue might have been greater, but the swarm of people
trying to pass through security checkpoints made it hard to reach
the parade route quickly."
As the Bushes' limousine passed the designated protester area,
CNN guest and Harvard University historian Barbara Kellerman remarked:
very much they [the Bushes] are taking the protesters very seriously
at this point. I think they are celebrating the moment. And I must
say, who can blame them?"
On FOX News, homeland defense correspondent Catherine Herridge
also downplayed the number of protesters, stating that of those
associated with the protest coalition Act Now to Stop War and End
Racism (ANSWER) "only a few dozen people
have shown up." But The New York Times reported
that the ANSWER-led coalition "filled
[the protest-designated space] with thousands of people who
were as close to Mr. Bush as those who came to cheer him."
HERRIDGE: This is the designated site for an anti-war group that's
called ANSWER. That's an acronym for Act Now to Stop War and End
Racism. This has been billed as the largest demonstration. It's
sort of early days, but you can see with your own eyes that only
a few dozen people have shown up. ANSWER had told the park police
they were expecting somewhere in the area of 10,000.
While they're demonstrating against the administration's policies
-- both domestic and foreign -- there are groups today that will
be demonstrating in support of the president. The D.C. chapter of
[conservative online forum] Free Republic will be here supporting
the president and also our troops overseas, and they told the park
police they were expecting somewhere around 1,000 people.
Later, FOX News host, managing editor, and
chief Washington correspondent Brit Hume, observing the presidential
motorcade leaving the White House on its way to the Capitol, called
the protesters not "very important":
HUME: We'll keep an eye out as well for protesters along the way.
They've been granted more access in some cases than is usual to
the spots along Pennsylvania Avenue. So we'll keep an eye out for
any of that. It isn't very important,
but it's kind of interesting, and it's sort
of typical of this country that you'd have this grand celebration
of the second term of a new president, and dissenting voices have
a spot in all of it.
On CNN, national correspondent Bob Franken linked increased security
to the protesters:
Of course, the inauguration brings with it pageantry. But since
September 11, 2001, it has met intense, unbelievable security and
an angry nation. The protesters are set up in various spots. One
of the authorized ones is right in back of me. ... The police forces
are probably going to outnumber the demonstrators. They are part
of a security effort -- most of which we're seeing, highly visible,
some of which we're not -- which is designed to allow this to be
a national security event that becomes a celebration, as opposed
to something that would be unthinkable.
On MSNBC, Washington Times editorial page editor Tony Blankley
rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
(PETA), calling them, "People Eating Tasty Animals." Blankley's
comment came as he, MSNBC host Chris Matthews, and MSNBC contributor
and analyst Monica Crowley discussed the fur coats some wore to
MATTHEWS: I guess there's no -- what do they call it, PETA? --
they're not around.
CROWLEY: And I like all the fur-lined Stetsons.
BLANKLEY: PETA, isn't that People Eating Tasty Animals?
MATTHEWS: I don't think so at all. I'd be very careful, Tony
TAMPA - Two former WTVT, Channel
13, reporters filed a petition Monday with the Federal Communications
Commission to deny renewal of the station's license for "intentionally
airing false and distorted news reports'' in 1997.
Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, who worked for Channel 13 in 1996 to
1997, say the station violated the public trust by ordering them
to put a favorable slant on news reports they were preparing about
a growth hormone given to dairy cattle in Florida.
The married couple, who now live in Jacksonville, say Fox-owned
WTVT feared a lawsuit from hormone maker Monsanto because their
reports would have raised questions about health hazards.
The couple say they refused to alter the story and were fired.
The station eventually aired a growth hormone story which the couple
says contained "lies and distortions.''
They have been in a legal battle with WTVT ever since.
"We had to wait until now to challenge because licenses only
come up for renewal every eight years,'' Akre said.
"The FCC has said that rigging or slanting the news is a most
heinous act against the public interest,'' Wilson said. "If
the FCC is concerned about obscenity, there is nothing more obscene
than lying to the public.''
WTVT officials deny the charges and are preparing an answer to
the petition, said Channel 13 Vice President and General Manager
Linger called the petition "an attempt to re-litigate something
that has already been tried in court.''
The couple filed a civil lawsuit in 1997 against WTVT, claiming
they were wrongfully fired over the story. The station said they
were fired because of insubordination.
In August 2000, a jury awarded Akre $425,000, saying the station
retaliated against her for threatening to blow the whistle. The
jury said Wilson, who is now a reporter for a Detroit TV station,
had not been wronged.
In 2003, a state appeals court overturned the jury award, saying
that Akre failed to show that WTVT had violated any state laws.
Wilson contends that, in effect, the court found that it's not against
the law to distort the news. It is a violation of FCC rules, he
says. ``We're not re-trying the case ... we have a duty to bring
Fox's misconduct to the FCC which promised to protect the public
The station has 30 days to respond and an FCC investigation could
last for months, an FCC spokesman said.
PARIS - Representatives of France's biggest
media outlets are to hold a meeting next Monday to discuss ways
of pooling efforts in covering Iraq to minimise the rising risks
journalists in the conflict-torn country are exposed to.
The gathering is to take place at the Paris headquarters of the
Liberation newspaper, whose correspondent in Iraq, Florence Aubenas,
went missing two weeks ago with her Iraqi interpreter.
"It is a working meeting of news directors of all broadcasters
- television and radio - from the public and private sectors, the
national daily press and magazines" and news agencies, including
AFP, Liberation editor-in-chief Serge July said Friday.
He said the aim was to boost the solidarity around Aubenas and
"think about how to cover Iraq" by raising the possibility
of pooling resources.
Abbas seeks pledge from Sharon
to win lasting ceasefire
Hamas and Islamic Jihad have agreed to suspend attacks on Israel
in order to give the new Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, time
to secure international guarantees for a comprehensive ceasefire
that would end more than four years of intifada.
Mr Abbas told Palestinian television yesterday that it was "essential"
that Israel reciprocate by ending its targeting of armed Islamist
groups. He said he had made "significant" progress in
talks with Hamas and Islamic Jihad and expected to reach a comprehensive
agreement with them soon on an array of political and security issues
that would effectively end their war on Israel.
Mr Abbas's principal negotiator with Hamas, Ziad Abu-Amr, yesterday
said the armed Islamist factions pledged to hold off from attacks
while the Palestinian leader attempted to secure assurances of Israeli
reciprocity, and negotiates final terms of a deal to bring the groups
into the political process.
"There is a Palestinian tranquillisation. This is a Palestinian
initiative intended to be a prelude to a ceasefire but there have
to be conditions for a ceasefire," said Mr Abu-Amr. "There
has to be reciprocity [from Israel] and that means no attacks on
Palestinians, no incursions or chasing militants."
The Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, has said "quiet
will be met with quiet". But the army chief of staff, Lieutenant
General Moshe Ya'alon, told the Israeli cabinet yesterday that the
military would continue operations against Palestinian militants
in those areas where Palestinian security forces are not operating,
which includes much of the West Bank.
Mr Sharon remained in a threatening mood yesterday after moving
his weekly cabinet meeting to the Israeli town of Sderot where a
17-year-old girl died last week after being hit by shrapnel from
a Hamas rocket as she shielded her younger brother.
"We do not know whether a real change has occurred in the
situation. We hope so," said Mr Sharon. "One thing is
clear. If the terrorism resumes, we shall act according to a cabinet
decision that has been taken [to attack Gaza]".
Mr Abbas is expected to leave Gaza City this morning after five
days of negotiations with the Islamist groups and ahead of a planned
visit to Europe to seek foreign, particularly American, involvement
in securing commitments from Israel. The Palestinian leader wants
to put a halt to Palestinian violence as a test of the Israeli government's
commitment to resume negotiations if the conflict ends.
"It's important that the Palestinians come up with a position
that throws the ball into the Israeli court," said Mr Abu-Amr.
"If the Israelis don't want to reciprocate, there won't be
a ceasefire. If the Israelis continue with their same rules of engagement,
the ceasefire can't continue. What counts is the substance."
Washington's Middle East special envoy, William Burns, is expected
in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Cairo next week. A US official said he
would be lending American weight to any understandings between Mr
Abbas and the Islamist groups that end the attacks on Israel.
The Palestinians also want the US to monitor Israeli actions to
ensure that Mr Sharon does not use relatively small breaches of
the ceasefire, perhaps by renegade Palestinian factions, as a pretext
to resume attacks on the Gaza strip.
The Israeli army carried out raids on Saturday night in which four
wanted Palestinian men were arrested in Nablus and near Hebron.
The military's continued detention of Palestinians, and more specifically
their killing when they resisted arrest, was an important factor
in the collapse of a 2003 ceasefire after 51 days.
Mr Abu-Amr said he believes the Israeli prime minister has a short-term
political interest in dampening down the violence because he does
not want to carry out his plan to pull Jewish settlers out of the
Gaza Strip under fire, which would appear as a victory for Hamas.
But he remains sceptical about Israeli intent.
"I know how they dealt with [Mr Abbas] when he was prime minister
[in 2003]. It's not that they didn't help him, it's that they undermined
him. Sharon didn't want negotiations then. I'm not sure he wants
to negotiate now."
Israeli Finance Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu said Monday that Israel need not grant Palestinian President
Mahmoud Abbas “anything” in return for a cease-fire.
In an interview with Palestine TV, Abbas said on Sunday he was
close to a cease-fire deal with Palestinian resistance groups.
"The dialogue is making very good progress. The differences
have narrowed greatly and therefore I can say that we are bound
to reach an agreement very soon," Abbas said.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Defense Minister Shaul
Mofaz said Sunday that Israel, for its part, was willing to suspend
operations against Palestinians if they end their attacks on Israeli
Speaking to Israel Army Radio from Florida, Netanyahu tuned down
the significance of a truce, criticizing senior army officers for
pre-maturely praising Abbas.
"A truce can be an opening for a positive development, or
a time-out between two offensives of terrorism.” He said.
“If Abu Mazen and his government begin dismantling the “terror”
organizations, confiscate their weapons, then we'll know we are
in the right direction.” He added.
Relative quiet continued in the Gaza strip, providing Abbas with
a suitable environment to peruse his dialogue with resistance groups.
"As things stand now, I cannot say that an agreement has been
achieved, but God-willing it should come," Abbas told Palestine
Abbas stressed that Israel had "many responsibilities"
to carry out for a truce to work, including ending raids to detain
wanted militants and releasing Palestinian prisoners.
Many resistance leaders signaled they would agree to maintain calm
in Gaza for at least a month, but denied they had committed to a
"There can be no truce without clear Israeli commitments to
stop all forms of aggression against our Palestinian people and
fulfill all (our) demands ... fore mostly, the release of prisoners,"
said Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza.
| There is apparently an increasing interest
among French Jews to emigrate to Israel, with many any citing rampant
anti-Semitism. Brett Kline reports.
"We always thought
about moving to Israel, but the environment in France now has pushed
us to find the courage to do it," said shipping broker Harry
Ouaknine, as he read about Tel Aviv high schools at a one-day Israel
immigration show in Paris, known as Aliya Day.
He, his wife and two school-aged daughters live on a houseboat
in western Paris on the Seine River. They came to France as youngsters
from Morocco and Tunisia respectively, eat kosher food and go to
synagogue every Friday.
They have successful professional and family lives in Paris, but
are beginning to worry about the future.
"Honestly, the anti-Semitic violence
has not touched us directly, but it is scaring
us enough to believe we have no future
as Jews in Paris," said his wife, Murielle, an IT operator.
"We want to construct our futures in Israel, no longer in France."
They were looking at schools, job opportunities and housing possibilities
at the dozens of stands at the Aliya Day at the France-Israel Centre,
organized in January by the Jewish Agency, the Israeli organization
that organizes non-governmental activities in Jewish communities.
Making 'Aliya', or moving up to Israel in Hebrew, has become a
buzzword among the estimated 600,000 Jews living in
France, the third largest Jewish community in the world after
Israel and the United States, and the biggest in Europe.
Unofficial figures put the number of immigrants to Israel from
France at about 2,500 in 2004. Aliya Day was attended by some 4,350
people, the highest figure ever, according to David Roche, director
of the Jewish Agency in France.
The Chief Rabbi in France, Joseph Sitruk, even offered a blessing
to those leaving, saying, "Nobody is running away from France.
People create their own spiritual conditions for going."
A report from the French interior ministry in December said racist
violence including anti-Semitism had
increased by over 70 percent in 2004, with 194 reported acts and
711 threats, compared to 112 acts and 418 threats over the same
period in 2003.
The ministry said it was concerned about
"a considerable number of incidents of sacrilege and acts aimed
at places of worship, whether Christian
.... Jewish or Muslim."
There had been a reported 92 such violations of
Christian churches, 31 of Jewish synagogues and 28 of Muslim mosques.
Last year Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sparked a controversy
with France after he urged all French Jews to leave the country
immediately to avoid what he called "the
But Roche said the French government has been doing a good job
in the fight against anti-Semitic attacks.
French President Jacques Chirac and the former interior minister
Nicolas Sarkozy "have taken strong positions, saying no violence
will be tolerated," he said, "but still, the courts could
be doing more. And frankly, many people in France are simply not
interested in the problem."
Seventeen-year-old Rebecca Cohen, from a north-eastern Parisian
suburb, was looking at high schools in Jerusalem. "I have Muslim
Arab friends," she said, "but I have been called a dirty
Jew by other Arabs in school more than once, more than twice. I
was born here, but I am fed up."
"Whatever measures the French government takes, it is difficult
to prosecute 15-year-olds, and the French people could not care
less about this problem, as long as it does not affect them directly."
Going to live in an explosive situation between Israelis and Palestinians
did not scare her. "The Palestinians need a state," she
said. "They are hard working people but are faced with a political
"Here in France, the overall system has been very good for
French people and for many immigrants, but
some Magrebis have been unable to integrate. The result is violence
against us. You can't imagine how many Jewish teenagers are
talking about leaving for Israel."
A few people were interested in moving to the United States, where
Miami is becoming a favourite destination.
"Before, I was interested in the States,
but then I joined a Jewish youth group here in Paris," said
Eve-Anne Grynsztajn, aged 21, "and now my file is already waiting
to be processed to go to Israel."
A FRENCH woman who lied about being the victim
of a vicious anti-Semitic attack - a claim that sparked nationwide
outrage - has been handed a four-month suspended sentence.
Marie-Leonie Leblanc, 23, was also given two years'
probation and ordered to get psychiatric treatment for "reporting
an imaginary crime" after falsely telling police she had been
assaulted on a suburban Paris train on July 9.
The criminal court in Cergy-Pontoise, northwest of Paris, also
ordered Leblanc to pay a symbolic 1 euro ($1.70) in damages to the
French national railway SNCF in what presiding judge Jean Idrac
called a "warning sentence".
The woman initially told police a gang of six Arab and black youths
had slashed her clothes, cut a lock of her hair and drawn swastikas
on her stomach after mistaking her for a Jew.
She also said the youths had tipped over her baby carriage with
her 13-month- old daughter inside. [...]
But the lie quickly unravelled when no witnesses
came forward to back her story and closed-circuit video cameras
in the station where Leblanc said the youths had left the train
did not show any trace of the supposed gang.
The Israeli government has released figures
showing that 47 percent of antisemitic incidents in Western Europe
take place in France, according to a report in Le Monde.
The figures, released yesterday (25 January) also showed that while
global incidents in general have almost halved, they have almost
doubled in France in the past year.
There were 983 incidents of antisemitism in 2003 - a sharp decline
from 1,979 in 2002. The downward trend is reflected in the UK (107
incidents compared to 114) and the US (40 incidents, down from 45
However, in France, the figure has almost doubled from 77 to 141.
Presenting the figures in Jerusalem, Israeli minister Nathan Chtcharansky
said, "The situation for Jews in France is very problematic.
Last year, the number of antisemitic incidents doubled and 47 percent
of antisemitic attacks in Western Europe took place in France".
[...] France dismissed Israeli charges of rising
anti-Semitism yesterday, saying attacks on
Jews and Jewish property had dropped by 36 per cent last year rather
than doubled as Natan Sharansky, the Israeli minister for
diaspora affairs claimed. He said 47 per cent of all anti-Semitic
attacks in Europe last year were in France, a jump to 141 from 77
in 2002. [...]
In less than a month, Israeli
soldiers shot three handicapped residents in the northern West Bank
city of Qalqilia and the surrounding villages killing one and injuring
On Saturday, Israeli soldiers killed Taqi Ad-Deen Al-Khouli, 17,
in the village of Azzoun, near Qalqilia, after claiming that he
was in an area near the annexation Wall; Al-Khouli was suffering
of metal disability.
The Israeli army claims that Al-Khouli was trying to cut sections
of the fence, in an area where the concrete annexation wall is not
constructed yet. The army spokesperson also stated that Al-Khouli
was shot by direct military order.
Two weeks ago, Israeli soldiers shot Hatem Odeh, 50, and Raed Sa’sa’,
27, both from Qalqilia, and suffering of physical disabilities.
Sa’sa’ was seriously injured to his abdomen and was
transferred by the soldiers to an Israeli hospital.
Human Rights organizations in the West Bank said that the repeated
incident of injuries and deaths among the residents, especially
the handicapped reveals that the army is acting without any restrictions
You live in a home in a city, your home is inherited through generations
within your family, you never sold your home, you never left your
home or your city, yet your home isn't yours anymore.
This is the exact meaning of implementing the Absentee property
law in East Jerusalem.
On July 2004, decided in secrecy to implement the Absentee property
law in East Jerusalem. In January 2005, the decision was published.
In the year 1950, Two years after the creation of the state of
Israel, the government of Israel approved the Absentee property
law, which states that any person who has not been living inside
"Israel" by the day of announcing the creation of the
state of Israel, is considered an Absentee who is not entitled to
property ownership rights, and that his property is transferred
to the "custodian of absentees' property" for distribution
to Israeli Jewish families.
The purpose of such a law, which stands as most discriminatory
and most anti-civil and individual rights, was to lay hand on and
distribute the property of around one million Palestinians who were
displaced during the 1948 war.
In practice, Israel became a state that established property rights
based on robbery of land and property owned by others.
What took place in 1950 and hence after inside Israel is being
repeated in the year 2005, this time in East Jerusalem.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem in the year 1967. Few months later,
East Jerusalem and thousands of dunams of land around it were annexed.
The ownership of the annexed area is almost evenly divided between
residents of Jerusalem and residents of adjacent cities and towns.
The immediate consequence of implementing the Absentees property
law is laying hand on land and property owned by Palestinians living
in other areas of the West bank. Yet, and as this area of full of
surprises, it won't be strange for Israel to use the law to force
families living in their homes in East Jerusalem to leave and distribute
their homes to Jewish families.
With the exception of few voices from the side of Israeli left
groups, all the defenders of "liberty", "freedom",
Human and civil rights" are deadly silent.
More surprising is the silence of the Palestinian Authority, which
is busy enforcing law and order in the Gaza Strip.
Could anyone imagine this happening to him? Your home, say in New
York, is taken by law and given free of charge to someone who belongs
to a different ethnic group.
What is the deal here? Are Palestinians requested to accept the
sate of Israel or have to accept the most viscous, inhuman, criminal
law ever invented in the modern history of humanity?
How is this criminal law related to "security" or the
fight against "terror"?
The Israeli current government has exposed its ugliest face by approving
the implementation of the Absentees property law. Can any of the
defenders of democracy and human rights, or the ones who join the
coral of "moral democratic Israel " look directly to the
eyes of families who lost their land and property and explain?
The United States government is attempting
to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Syrian-Canadian Maher Arar, claiming
the litigation would jeopardize national security.
Invoking the rarely used "state secrets privilege," U.S. Department
of Justice lawyers filed a motion with the New York eastern district
court this week, stating that the release of any information concerning
the U.S.'s involvement in Arar's deportation to Syria could jeopardize
"intelligence, foreign policy and national security interests
of the United States."
Lawyers with New York's Centre for Constitutional Rights, who
filed the lawsuit on Arar's behalf a year ago, said the government
is abusing claims of national security in order to avoid a review
of its policies and handling of terrorism suspects.
"They're asking the court to sanction their cover-up basically,"
lawyer Maria LaHood said yesterday.
Arar was detained by immigration officials at New York's JFK
airport on Sept. 26, 2002, and subsequently held as a terrorism
suspect in a Brooklyn jail, where he says he repeatedly asked
to be sent back to Canada. On Oct. 8 he was flown on a private
jet to Syria, via Jordan. Arar says he was tortured and held without
charges for a year before returning to Canada.
The Centre for Constitutional Rights launched Arar's lawsuit
last January alleging that former attorney-general
John Ashcroft, former homeland security secretary Tom Ridge and
other officials within President George W. Bush's administration
knew Arar would be tortured when he was deported. Arar
alleges he was a victim of the government's controversial policy
of "extraordinary rendition," where American authorities can circumvent
their own restraints on interrogations by sending suspects to
countries that employ harsh tactics.
BOSTON — The revelation last week that a
laboratory slip-up led three Boston University scientists to become
infected with tularemia, a flulike disease sometimes referred
to as "rabbit fever," has fueled criticism of a plan to build
a state-of-the-art research lab to study some of the world's most
lethal germs in Boston's South End.
The project, which is expected to bring more than $1.6 billion
in grants and other funding to the city, has generated intense
community opposition in the two years since Boston Medical Center
began trying to persuade the federal government to site the project
Slated for groundbreaking this year, it would be one of just
a handful of full-scale biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) laboratories
in the country, a classification that would
permit research on diseases such as anthrax, Ebola and the plague.
The lab would be located in a more densely
populated neighborhood than the others, including those in San
Antonio, Atlanta and Frederick, Md.
The Boston Globe reported Wednesday that two researchers became
sick in May with a mysterious illness later diagnosed as tularemia,
and that a third case emerged in September. The
illnesses occurred when the scientists worked with what they believed
to be a safe form of the disease. They have since recovered.
The university, which has long insisted exhaustive security
procedures and technology would make the laboratory safe, did
not disclose the contaminations until it was questioned by the
newspaper, The Globe reported.
Local leaders, including some members of Boston's City Council
who have long opposed the project on safety grounds, said the
reports lent credibility to their concerns.
"They say that type of tularemia is not contagious from person
to person, and that is why they didn't tell us, but what I am
afraid of is that will happen with anthrax or smallpox, or something
much worse," said Rose Aruda, a community organizer who lives
several blocks from the large parking lot where the facility would
In an attempt to delay final approval of the project, she and
several other neighborhood residents filed a lawsuit Jan. 12 accusing
the university of underestimating the potential "worst-case" scenario
listed on its environmental impact forms.
The BSL-4 lab would join a network of new facilities, many developed
after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist strikes and the subsequent
anthrax mailings, that investigate agents that could be used in
a biological terrorist attack. [...]
PORT CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - More than 250
passengers aboard a cruise ship fell ill with a stomach virus
while touring the western Caribbean, cruise line officials said
About 233 of the 3,465 passengers aboard the Mariner of the
Seas became sick after the vessel left Port Canaveral on Jan.
16 for a seven-day cruise through the western Caribbean. The ship
was expected to return early Sunday.
Twenty of the vessel's 1,190 crew members also showed symptoms.
Michael Sheehan, a spokesman for Royal Caribbean International,
described the illness as "your typical 24-hour stomach virus and
nothing more" and blamed a sick passenger for bringing it on board.
The Mariner of the Seas was also being checked for bacteria,
the company said.
Passenger Crystal Wiles, an accountant from Frederick, Md.,
said in a phone interview from the vessel she and her husband
had been quarantined for three days. She criticized the cruise
line's handling of the illness and said the company was undercounting
the number of people affected by the virus.
"The treatment has been horrible," Wiles said.
AT least 16 people were killed and several
injured in northern Iran when a landslide caused a bus to crash
into a valley.
The semi-official ISNA students' news agency today said 25 died
and seven were injured in the accident in Mazandaran province,
on the road between the capital Tehran and the Caspian Sea town
However, state television, citing police Colonel Mohammad Khargh,
said 16 died and eight were injured. Five were unharmed in the
crash, it said.
New Delhi - General insurers
appear to be apprehensive in settling claims of Tsunami-hit people,
especially those relating to property loss, as they are undecided
whether to treat the catastrophe as an earthquake or a flood.
"Tsunami is a new phenomena. It neither fits in the definition
of flood or cyclone or earthquake but a combination of all these
catastrophes," a senior insurer told PTI on conditions of anonimity.
General insurers are not ready to treat the disaster as a flood
although most the damage caused to property and other tangible assets
were due to the sudden gush of water from the sea that inundated
the eastern coast line of the country.
The lack of clarity has created confusion among
insurers who are not ready to settle the claims on property that
are covered for floods but not insured against earthquake.
Tsunami, a tidal wave triggered by a major earthquake, has hit
India for the first time in living memory. It took away thousands
of lives and damaged property worth crores.
Government and insurance regulator IRDA have asked insurers to
settle claims promptly by relaxing some norms. But insurers are
yet to assess the extent of loss till now.
When contacted, GIC officials declined to hazard a guess on the
possible damage and claims that may arise out of that.
So far, Tsunai was not covered specifically by Indian insurers.
There is an apprehension among consumers that insurers may not fully
settle the claims for property losses if they have not opted for
Motor insurance, which covers flood, cyclone, storm and earthquake,
are being settled promptly.
| JAKARTA, Jan. 24 (Xinhuanet) --
An earthquake measuring 5.6 on theRichter scale shook the Indonesian
province of Aceh Monday, the second quake within four hours in the
province where over 170,000 people were killed in the earthquake-triggered
tsunami on Dec. 26.
The Antara news agency reported the quake occurred at 11:16 local
time (0416GMT), around four hours after a 5.2-magnitude quake jolted
The epicenter was located 355 km northwest of provincial capital
Banda Aceh, it quoted report from the local meteorology and geophysics
There is no immediate report of casualty.
| A strong earthquake struck today
near the remote Nicobar islands off southern India, which have recently
been jolted by aftershocks from a giant quake that ravaged vast areas
of South Asia, Hong Kong seismologists said.
The 6.3-magnitude quake hit near the islands in the Bay of Bengal
at 12.22pm (0422 GMT), the Hong Kong Observatory said.
The tremor’s epicentre was about 1,081 miles south east of
Calcutta, the observatory said.
On December 26, a 9.0-magnitude quake and tsunami devastated South
Asian countries. Between 162,530 and 228,771 people have been reported
dead so far.
JAKARTA : A strong earthquake measuring 6.2
on the Richter Scale struck the Indonesian island of Sulawesi
early Monday causing some damage to buildings, officials said.
The quake struck at 3:10 am (1910 GMT) under land roughly 16
kilometres (10 miles) south of the town of Palu, the capital of
Central Sulawesi province, the meteorological and geophysics agency
Agency official Sutiono said eight shops were damaged but there
were no reports of fatalities or serious casualties.
He said at least 24 aftershocks were recorded, with magnitudes
ranging between 3.0 and 4.0 on the Richter scale.
YORK - The northeastern United States was emerging from a snowstorm,
ranked among the five worst in the past century, that was linked
to at least 18 deaths across eight states.
The storm, which started in the midwest Friday, dumped 30 centimeters
(a foot) of snow in Detroit, 35 centimeters (14 inches) in New York
City, and close to a meter (more than three feet) in some parts
of the state of Massachusetts.
At least 18 deaths in eight states were linked
to the storm, including that of a ten-year-old girl struck by a
snowplow as she played on a snowbank in New York, media reports
Five people collapsed while shoveling snow in New York, and one
in Boston, apparently having suffered heart attacks, according to
reports in The Washington Post and the New York Times.
Storm-related deaths were also reported in Ohio, Wisconsin, Connecticut,
Pennsylvania, Maryland and Iowa.
The governors of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Jersey declared
emergencies in their states, warning people to stay home to facilitate
road clearance on Monday. Boston area schools were to be closed
Boston's Logan International Airport remained closed early Monday.
Thousands of flights were delayed or cancelled at airports in northeastern
and midwestern US states as residents dug out from the first major
snowstorm of the year.
"The blizzard of 2005 will go down in history as one of the
five top snowstorms for eastern New England," said James Wilson,
a meteorologist with The Weather Channel.
At one point Sunday, 20 centimeters (eight inches)
of snow fell in 75 minutes in Chatham, Massachusetts, the channel
Authorities were warning of brutal cold Monday up and down the
east coast from the Great Lakes region down to Florida, with high
winds sending temperatures well below zero degrees Fahrenheit (minus
18 Celsius) in many areas.
Airlines were still dealing with the fallout
of thousands of flight delays and cancellations over the weekend
in Chicago, New York, Boston and smaller cities. [...]
British airports canceled 31 flights to and from the United States'
northeast region, officials said in London on Sunday. London's main
Heathrow airport canceled 29 arrivals and departures after heavy
snowfall in New York, Boston and Philadelphia.
US authorities begged people to stay off the roads as high winds
blowing snow produced whiteout conditions from New York to Maine,
bringing normally congested cities to a standstill.
"Any travel is strongly discouraged," the National Weather
Service warned Massachusetts residents early Sunday. "If
you leave the safety of being indoors, you are putting your life
at risk." [...]
Commuters have been warned to stay off the
roads in north Queensland as the region battles widespread heavy
downpours and flooding, which have already claimed two lives.
Two people were killed and three injured after a collision in
wet conditions between two cars and a semi-trailer on the Bruce
Highway at Yalarbo, north of Mackay, about 1.40pm (AEST) yesterday.
Elsewhere, a truck driver had to be rescued from the roof of
his vehicle after becoming stuck in rising waters.
Several roads between Townsville and Mackay were closed, with
the region experiencing up to 120 millimetres of rain in the eight
hours to 5pm (AEST) yesterday.
A Townsville police spokesman said most roads in the region
were closed and warned people not to travel unless absolutely
A powerful electrical storm lashed Sydney
and central western NSW yesterday, setting a house on fire and
leaving about 35,000 households without power.
In the Baulkham Hills suburb of Bella Vista, a lightning strike
about 8am set a house on fire. Superintendent Ian Krimmer, of
the NSW Fire Brigade, said the fire, in the roof of the two-storey
house, was quickly brought under control.
In Hornsby and Castle Hill, unit residents had to be rescued
from lifts affected by the power fluctuations. Power lines also
came down at Penrith, Emu Plains and Blacktown.
In Coonabarabran, wind gusts of 119kmh were recorded, the highest
in the state.
The Bureau of Meteorology's severe weather forecaster, James
Taylor, said that in some areas of the western suburbs and the
Blue Mountains, rainfalls were the heaviest in a decade or so.
Willmot, near Penrith, received 45 millimetres of rain in an hour
and Woodford, near Katoomba, received 42millimetres in just half
The heavy rain forced the suspension of a search for a canyoner
swept away by rising waters in the Blue Mountains late the previous
afternoon. The 32-year-old Sydney man became separated from a
group he was canyoning with at Empress Falls, with heavy fog thwarting
rescuers' initial search efforts.
Mr Taylor said big thunderstorms were common at this time of
year. "The severe thunderstorm season is generally from about
September through to the end of March," he said. [...]
TORONTO (CP) - A broken water main caused
a power outage in the city's downtown core on Sunday, prompting
the closure of stores and tourist attractions and leaving some
residents without power for nearly 12 hours.
The City of Toronto opened Metro Hall for condo and apartment-dwellers
left without heat as temperatures outside hovered well below freezing.
Personnel from the Red Cross were on site.
Fire crews said they hoped to have power restored by 7 p.m.,
but added that frozen pipes could complicate repair efforts.
They were called to a water main leak at a downtown hydro power
station at about 7 a.m. Sunday. Hydro crews shut off power before
9 a.m. after the water main caused flooding at the facility.
"We don't know the extent of the damage (of the leak)," Hydro
One spokesman Alan Manchee told a news conference.
The ramifications of the outage would have been worse had it
happened on a weekday, Manchee said, as it struck much of Toronto's
"I'm not sure you could say any time is a good time for an incident
like this," he said. "(But) it's good that it happened today rather
than a weekday."
Ryerson University and the Toronto Eaton Centre were shut down
for the day and both were set to reopen Monday.
Manchee said crews would restore the power incrementally to
avoid overloading the power system.
A FLOOD flood in Guyana has left five people
dead as relief supplies trickle into thousands of affected villages
in the South American nation.
The bodies of two men and a woman were found in three Atlantic
coast villages severely affected by the week-old flood, police
spokesman John Sauers said, raising the death toll from two to
President Bharrat Jagdeo said at least 2000 people were in 23
Food and dry rations were being delivered to affected communities
where the now stagnant and polluted water was between 1.5 and
2.1 metres deep, Mr Jagdeo said.
More than three million Muslims - among them
South Africans - on pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia are stranded in
the desert following heavy rains on Sunday, SABC radio news reported.
South African Consulate-General Mohammed Dangor, who was in
Jeddah said the pilgrims were stranded in a camp 40 kilometres
Dangor said Mecca and Jeddah have recorded an above average
rainfall this season. Last year, a stampede left scores of people
Dangor has urged families and relatives of those who went on
the pilgrimage not to panic as the situation was under control,
Dead are among 13-member family
crammed into one vehicle which has tried to cross flooded valley.
RIYADH - Eight people were killed after being washed away by flood
waters near the western city of Medina during the worst torrential
storm to hit Saudi Arabia in 20 years, newspapers reported Monday.
The dead were among a 13-member family crammed into one vehicle
which had tried to cross a flooded valley, Al-Watan newspaper said.
The vehicle was swept away and bodies found some 10 kilometres
(six miles) away, the daily said, adding that one passenger was
rescued while four others are still missing.
The English-language Arab News said many residents of Medina were
forced to leave their homes after they were flooded while a dam
outside the city collapsed, isolating villages where fire brigades
rescued 43 stranded people. [...]
The global warming danger threshold for the
world is clearly marked for the first time in an international
report to be published tomorrow - and the bad news is, the world
has nearly reached it already.
The countdown to climate-change catastrophe is spelt out by
a task force of senior politicians, business leaders and academics
from around the world - and it is remarkably brief. In
as little as 10 years, or even less, their report indicates, the
point of no return with global warming may have been reached.
The report, Meeting The Climate Challenge, is aimed at policymakers
in every country, from national leaders down. It has been timed
to coincide with Tony Blair's promised efforts to advance climate
change policy in 2005 as chairman of both the G8 group of rich
countries and the European Union.
And it breaks new ground by putting a
figure - for the first time in such a high-level document - on
the danger point of global warming, that is, the temperature rise
beyond which the world would be irretrievably committed to disastrous
changes. These could include widespread
agricultural failure, water shortages and major droughts, increased
disease, sea-level rise and the death of forests - with the added
possibility of abrupt catastrophic events such as "runaway" global
warming, the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, or the switching-off
of the Gulf Stream.
The report says this point will be two degrees centigrade above
the average world temperature prevailing in 1750 before the industrial
revolution, when human activities - mainly the production of waste
gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), which retain the sun's heat
in the atmosphere - first started to affect the climate. But it
points out that global average temperature has already risen by
0.8 degrees since then, with more rises already in the pipeline
- so the world has little more than a single degree of temperature
latitude before the crucial point is reached.
More ominously still, it assesses the concentration of carbon
dioxide in the atmosphere after which the two-degree rise will
become inevitable, and says it will be 400 parts per million by
volume (ppm) of CO2.
The current level is 379ppm, and rising by more than 2ppm annually
- so it is likely that the vital 400ppm threshold will be crossed
in just 10 years' time, or even less (although the two-degree
temperature rise might take longer to come into effect).
"There is an ecological timebomb ticking
away," said Stephen Byers, the former transport secretary,
who co-chaired the task force that produced the report with the
US Republican senator Olympia Snowe. It was assembled by the Institute
for Public Policy Research in the UK, the Centre for American
Progress in the US, and The Australia Institute.The group's chief
scientific adviser is Dr Rakendra Pachauri, chairman of the UN's
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. [...]
Global warning has already hit
the danger point that international attempts to curb it are designed
to avoid, according to the world's top climate watchdog.
Dr Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the official Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), told an international conference
attended by 114 governments in Mauritius this month that he personally
believes that the world has "already reached the level of dangerous
concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere" and called
for immediate and "very deep" cuts in the pollution if
humanity is to "survive".
His comments rocked the Bush administration - which immediately
tried to slap him down - not least because it put him in his post
after Exxon, the major oil company most opposed to international
action on global warming, complained that his predecessor was too
"aggressive" on the issue.
A memorandum from Exxon to the White House in early 2001 specifically
asked it to get the previous chairman, Dr Robert Watson, the chief
scientist of the World Bank, "replaced at the request of the
US". The Bush administration then lobbied other countries in
favour of Dr Pachauri - whom the former vice-president Al Gore called
the "let's drag our feet" candidate, and got him elected
to replace Dr Watson, a British-born naturalised American, who had
repeatedly called for urgent action.
But this month, at a conference of Small Island Developing States
on the Indian Ocean island, the new chairman, a former head of India's
Tata Energy Research Institute, himself issued what top United Nations
officials described as a "very courageous" challenge.
He told delegates: "Climate change is for real. We have just
a small window of opportunity and it is closing rather rapidly.
There is not a moment to lose."
Afterwards he told The Independent on Sunday that widespread dying
of coral reefs, and rapid melting of ice in the Arctic, had driven
him to the conclusion that the danger point the IPCC had been set
up to avoid had already been reached.
Reefs throughout the world are perishing as the seas warm up: as
water temperatures rise, they lose their colours and turn a ghostly
white. Partly as a result, up to a quarter of the world's corals
have been destroyed.
And in November, a multi-year study by 300 scientists concluded
that the Arctic was warming twice as fast as the rest of the world
and that its ice-cap had shrunk by up to 20 per cent in the past
The ice is also 40 per cent thinner than it was in the 1970s and
is expected to disappear altogether by 2070. And while Dr Pachauri
was speaking parts of the Arctic were having a January "heatwave",
with temperatures eight to nine degrees centigrade higher than normal.
He also cited alarming measurements, first reported in The Independent
on Sunday, showing that levels of carbon dioxide (the main cause
of global warming) have leapt abruptly over the past two years,
suggesting that climate change may be accelerating out of control.
He added that, because of inertia built into the Earth's natural
systems, the world was now only experiencing the result of pollution
emitted in the 1960s, and much greater effects would occur as the
increased pollution of later decades worked its way through. He
concluded: "We are risking the ability of the human race to
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