Thursday, December 30, 2004

In Ads, AARP Criticizes Plan on Privatizing

In Ads, AARP Criticizes Plan on Privatizing:
“AARP, the influential lobby for older Americans, signaled Wednesday for the first time how fervently it would fight President Bush's proposal for private Social Security accounts, saying it would begin a $5 million two-week advertising campaign timed to coincide with the start of the new Congress.”

…full-page advertisements, to appear next week in more than 50 newspapers around the country, say the accounts would cause "Social Insecurity."

"There are places in your retirement planning for risk," the advertisements say, "but Social Security isn't one of them."

One advertisement shows a couple in their 40's looking at the reader. "If we feel like gambling, we'll play the slots," the message says.

Another advertisement shows traders in the pit of a commodities exchange. "Winners and losers are stock market terms," it says. "Do you really want them to become retirement terms?"

AARP's confrontational stance on Social Security contrasts with its strategy on Medicare legislation in 2002 and 2003.

Lawmakers of both parties said the Medicare bill might not have passed without a last-minute endorsement by AARP, which describes itself as a nonpartisan organization. The endorsement outraged some members of the group and some Democrats in Congress. But now, it appears, AARP will be working with Democrats against Republican proposals for private accounts.

AARP strongly supports new incentives for people to save for retirement, but says such savings should supplement the existing system.

Marie F. Smith, the group's president, and William D. Novelli, its chief executive, set forth the organization's position this month in letters to members and to lawmakers.

Private accounts would worsen the problems of Social Security, they said, adding: "Taking some of the money that workers pay into the system and diverting it into newly created private accounts would weaken Social Security and put benefits for future generations at risk. AARP is opposed to private accounts that take money out of Social Security."

Under President Bush's proposal, workers could divert some payroll taxes to personal accounts that could be invested in stocks and bonds.…

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Nearly 900 children have lost a parent in Iraq

Nearly 900 children have lost a parent in Iraq :

“Sad to the depths of his 4-year-old soul, Jack Shanaberger knew what he didn't want to be when he grows up: a father.

"I don't want to be a daddy because daddies die," the child solemnly told his mother after his father, Staff Sgt. Wentz "Baron" Shanaberger, a military policeman from Fort Pierce, Fla., was killed March 23 in an ambush in Iraq.

On that terrible day, Jack and his four siblings joined the ranks of the largely overlooked American casualties who, until now, have gone uncounted. Although almost daily official announcements tally the war dead, the collateral damage to the children left behind has not been detailed.

But, from Defense Department casualty reports, obituaries and accounts in hometown newspapers, and family interviews, Scripps Howard News Service has identified nearly 900 U.S. children who have lost a parent in the war, from the start of the conflict in March 2003 through November, when a total of 1,256 troops had died. ”

Although comparably specific historical data is not available for other U.S. wars, military experts said the proportionally higher number of American children left bereaved by the Iraq war is unprecedented.

"This is a new state of affairs we have to confront," said Charles Moskos, a leading military sociologist and Northwestern University professor.

Overall, Americans in uniform today are far more likely to be married and have children than in the military of the past, Moskos and others said. And the reliance in Iraq on reserve forces _ who tend to be older and even more settled than active-duty soldiers _ also means more offspring at home.

Even though the federal government provides an array of benefits for widows, widowers and minor children, more help is needed _ including counseling _ for at least 882 American children left without a parent from the war in Iraq.

"As much as we are concerned about veterans' programs, we now have to be concerned about orphan programs," Moskos said. "This is the first time we have crossed this threshold.…"

900 Evacuees Revisit Falluja

900 Evacuees Revisit Falluja:
“The first displaced residents were briefly allowed back into war-ravaged Falluja on Thursday, even as American marines and warplanes battled insurgents in another corner of the city, leaving three marines dead.

Thursday was the official start of the resettlement of Falluja, the former insurgent stronghold that was conquered block by bloody block last month, leaving a virtual ghost town, with many homes damaged, sewage running in the streets and electrical and water facilities demolished.

But it was a gingerly first step, at best, toward repopulating a city that once held some 250,000 people. About 900 of them, almost all men and all from the single northwestern neighborhood of Andalus, re-entered for a few hours to see the condition of their homes and decide if they want to move their families back, according to marine officers there.

Returning families will face serious privation. With water purifying plants and distribution systems largely destroyed, officials have built 24 temporary water tanks. They will give out water cans; returnees will have to fetch supplies by hand.

Residents will also receive food aid, and kerosene to fuel generators for lighting. Every returning family will be given the equivalent of $100, the interim government has said. Families whose houses were destroyed will receive $10,000 worth of Iraqi currency.

In an effort to keep insurgents out, or track them down more easily, men of military age will be subjected as they return to computer-age identification procedures: their retinas and fingerprints will be scanned, and they will have to carry that information on badges that can be swiped in machines at checkpoints. The procedures were started with many of the men venturing back Thursday.

The Iraqi government has boldly promised the speedy recovery of Falluja, hoping that its mainly Sunni residents can be persuaded to vote - from their home city - in the national elections on Jan. 30. The aim is to draw more Sunnis into a political process that many have disdained.…

The 900 visiting Fallujans on Thursday were fewer than half of the 2,000 predicted the day before by Iraqi ministers. But the commander of the American marines in this hostile region of western Iraq, Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, said he expected that the number of returnees would snowball.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

New Data Hints at Poor Review of Abuse Cases

New Data Hints at Poor Review of Abuse Cases:
“Documents made public on Tuesday in connection with a lawsuit about abuses by military personnel in Iraq suggest that some killings of prisoners may not have been investigated thoroughly.

One set of documents, among many released by the Defense Department to the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the lawsuit, shows that in one instance an Army specialist shot and killed an Iraqi prisoner in Tikrit on Aug. 8, 2003. The Army's criminal investigation division determined there was probable cause to charge the soldier with murder, according to one investigative report. Instead the soldier, whose name was deleted from the documents, was demoted and discharged but did not face a murder charge or court-martial.

The documents, the latest in a series recently disclosed by the A.C.L.U., tell how the prisoner had been verbally harassing guards and "fiddling" with his plastic handcuffs, and said the soldier shot him because the prisoner leaned over the concertina wire, in defiance of orders.

Investigators said that the guards were supposed to use warnings and graduated degrees of force before shooting to kill, and that breaking those rules justified a charge of murder. But the case appeared to be mishandled in several ways, including a failure to properly warn the soldier of his rights before he gave his statement.

Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, responded Tuesday to other disclosures made earlier by the civil liberties union by saying that all such cases needed to be fully investigated.…”

While previous news accounts have made it clear that some prisoners' deaths were not fully investigated, and that some certificates of death from natural causes were issued without autopsies, the new documents offer more detail about some of the killings of prisoners investigated as possible homicides.

U.S. Cutting Food Aid Aimed at Self-Sufficiency

U.S. Cutting Food Aid Aimed at Self-Sufficiency:
“In one of the first signs of the effects of the ever tightening federal budget, in the past two months the Bush administration has reduced its contributions to global food aid programs aimed at helping millions of people climb out of poverty.

With the budget deficit growing and President Bush promising to reduce spending, the administration has told representatives of several charities that it was unable to honor some earlier promises and would have money to pay for food only in emergency crises like that in Darfur, in western Sudan. The cutbacks, estimated by some charities at up to $100 million, come at a time when the number of hungry in the world is rising for the first time in years and all food programs are being stretched.

As a result, Save the Children, Catholic Relief Services and other charities have suspended or eliminated programs that were intended to help the poor feed themselves through improvements in farming, education and health.

"We have between five and seven million people who have been affected by these cuts," said Lisa Kuennen, a food aid expert at Catholic Relief Services. "We had approval for all of these programs, often a year in advance. We hired staff, signed agreements with governments and with local partners, and now we have had to delay everything."

Ms. Kuennen said Catholic Relief Services had to cut back programs in Indonesia, Malawi and Madagascar, among other countries.

Officials of several charities, some Republican members of Congress and some administration officials say the food aid budget for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 was at least $600 million less than what charities and aid agencies would need to carry out current programs.

"We are all at a crossroads, struggling with the budgetary crunch, but the problem is, there isn't enough to go around," said Ina Schonberg, director of food security programs for Save the Children. She said the cutbacks had had the biggest effect for her agency in Tajikistan and Nicaragua.

Ellen Levinson, head of the Food Aid Coalition, said the best estimate for the amount of food that was not delivered in November and December was "at least $100 million."

The administration attributed the recent cutbacks to the huge demands from food crises this year, especially in Africa, and the long delay in approving a budget.…”

One administration official involved in food aid voiced concern that putting such a high priority on emergency help might be short-sighted. The best way to avoid future famines is to help poor countries become self-sufficient with cash and food aid now, said the official, who asked not to be identified because of the continuing debate on the issue. "The fact is, the development programs are being shortchanged, and I'm not sure the administration is going to make up the money," the official said.…

Several Republican and Democratic members of Congress are joining with food aid advocates to convince the administration that food aid should not be cut.

Last month, Representative Jo Ann Emerson, Republican of Missouri, led an effort with more than 30 other legislators that persuaded the administration to release 200,000 tons of grain from a trust fund for emergency food aid to Sudan.

Now she is lobbying the administration to finance foreign food aid programs fully and, if possible, increase the money. "I'm not saying the president is opposed to this, but we haven't had any indication what will happen," said Ms. Emerson, who emphasized that hers was a bipartisan effort.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

New F.B.I. Files Describe Abuse of Iraq Inmates

New F.B.I. Files Describe Abuse of Iraq Inmates:
“F.B.I. memorandums portray abuse of prisoners by American military personnel in Iraq that included detainees' being beaten and choked and having lit cigarettes placed in their ears, according to newly released government documents.

The documents, released Monday in connection with a lawsuit accusing the government of being complicit in torture, also include accounts by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents who said they had seen detainees in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, being chained in uncomfortable positions for up to 24 hours and left to urinate and defecate on themselves. An agent wrote that in one case a detainee who was nearly unconscious had pulled out much of his hair during the night”

One of the memorandums released Monday was addressed to Robert S. Mueller III, the F.B.I. director, and other senior bureau officials, and it provided the account of someone "who observed serious physical abuses of civilian detainees" in Iraq. The memorandum, dated June 24 this year, was an "Urgent Report," meaning that the sender regarded it as a priority. It said the witness "described that such abuses included strangulation, beatings, placement of lit cigarettes into the detainees' ear openings and unauthorized interrogations."

The memorandum did not make clear whether the witness was an agent or an informant, and it said there had also been an effort to cover up the abuses. The writer of the memorandum said Mr. Mueller should be aware of what was occurring because "of potential significant public, media and Congressional interest which may generate calls to the director." The document does not provide further details of the abuse, but suggests that such treatment of prisoners in Iraq was the subject of an investigation conducted by the bureau's Sacramento office.

Beyond providing new details about the nature and extent of abuses, if not the exact times or places, the newly disclosed documents are the latest to show that such activities were known to a wide circle of government officials.

The documents, mostly memorandums written by agents to superiors in Washington over the past year, also include claims that some military interrogators had posed as F.B.I. officials while using harsh tactics on detainees, both in Iraq and at Guantánamo Bay.

In one memorandum, dated Dec. 5, 2003, an agent whose name is blanked out on the document expressed concern about military interrogators' posing as F.B.I. agents at the Guantánamo camp.

The agent wrote that the memorandum was intended as an official record of the interrogators' behavior because, "If this detainee is ever released or his story made public in any way, D.O.D. interrogators will not be held accountable because these torture techniques were done by 'F.B.I.' interrogators. The F.B.I. will be left holding the bag before the public." D.O.D. is an abbreviation for the Department of Defense.

Asked about the possible impersonation of F.B.I. agents by military personnel, Bryan Whitman, the deputy Pentagon spokesman, said Monday that "It is difficult to determine from the secondhand description whether the technique" was permissible.…

Sunday, December 19, 2004

U.S. Waters Down Global Commitment to Curb Greenhouse Gases

U.S. Waters Down Global Commitment to Curb Greenhouse Gases:

“‘This is a new low for the United States, not just to pull out, but to block other countries from moving ahead on their own path," said Jeff Fiedler, an observer representing the Washington-based Natural Resources Defense Council. "It's almost spiteful to say, "You can't move ahead without us." If you're not going to lead, then get out of the way.’

Because the United States rejects the Kyoto accord, it cannot take part except as an observer in talks on global warming held under that format. It has, however, signed a broader 1992 convention on climate change that is based on purely voluntary measures, and the European Union and others had hoped to organize seminars within that framework.

But the United States maintains it is too early to take even that step, and initially insisted that "there shall be no written or oral report" from any seminars. In the end, all that could be achieved was an agreement to hold a single workshop next year to "exchange information" on climate change.”

…Delegations and observer groups also criticized what they described as an effort led by Saudi Arabia and supported by the United States to hamper approval of so-called adaptation assistance. That term refers to payments that richer countries would make, mostly to poor, low-lying island countries to help them cope with the impacts of climate change.

The group that would receive the aid includes Pacific Ocean states like Tuvalu, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and Micronesia, and Caribbean nations like the Bahamas and Barbados. At a news conference here on Thursday, their representatives said rising sea levels, accelerated land erosion and more intense storms were already affecting their economic development.

But the issue was complicated by Saudi Arabia's insistence that the aid include compensation to oil-producing countries for any fall in revenues that may result from the reduction in the use of carbon fuels. The European Union, which had announced its intention to provide $400 million a year to an assistance fund, strongly opposed any such provision.

Harlan Watson, a senior member of the American delegation, would not specifically discuss the American position other than to say there are "always tos and fros in any negotiation." He described the results as "the most comprehensive adaptation package that has ever been completed," and "something that satisfied all parties."

The United States also stood virtually alone in challenging the scientific assumptions underlying the Kyoto Protocol. "Science tells us that we cannot say with any certainty what constitutes a dangerous level of warming, and therefore what level must be avoided," Paula Dobriansky, under secretary of state for global affairs and the leader of the American delegation, said in her remarks to the conference.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Kafka and the Digital Person

Kafka and the Digital Person :
“In the United States, information about a person is owned by the person collects it, not by the person it is about. There are specific exceptions in the law, but they're few and far between. There are no broad data protection laws, as you find in the European Union. There are no Privacy Commissioners, as you find in Canada. Privacy law in the United States is largely about secrecy: if the information is not secret, then there's little you can do to control its dissemination.

As a result, enormous databases exist that are filled with personal information. These databases are owned by marketing firms, credit bureaus, and the government. Amazon knows what books we buy. Our supermarket knows what foods we eat. Credit card companies know quite a lot about our purchasing habits. Credit bureaus know about our financial history, and what they don't know is contained in bank records. Health insurance records contain details about our health and well-being. Government records contain our Social Security numbers, birthdates, addresses, mother's maiden names, and a host of other things. Many drivers license records contain digital pictures.

All of this data is being combined, indexed, and correlated. And it's being used for all sorts of things. Targeted marketing campaigns are just the tip of the iceberg. This information is used by potential employers to judge our suitability as employees, by potential landlords to determine our suitability as renters, and by the government to determine our likelihood of being a terrorist.

Some stores are beginning to use our data to determine whether we are desirable customers or not. If customers take advantage of too many discount offers or make too many returns, they may be profiled as "bad" customers and be treated differently from the "good" customers.

And with alarming frequency, our data is being abused by identity thieves. The businesses that gather our data don't care much about keeping it secure. So identity theft is a problem where those that suffer from it - the individuals - are not in a position to improve security, and those who are in a position to improve security don't suffer from the problem

The issue here is not about secrecy, it's about control.…”

A new book by George Washington University Law Professor Daniel Solove examines the problem of the growing accumulation of personal information in enormous databases. The book is called "The Digital Person: Technology and Privacy in the Information Age," and it is a fascinating read.

Solove's book explores this problem from a legal perspective, explaining what the problem is, how current U.S. law fails to deal with it, and what we should do to protect privacy today. It's an unusually perceptive discussion of one of the most vexing problems of the digital age -- our loss of control over our personal information. It's a fascinating journey into the almost surreal ways personal information is hoarded, used, and abused in the digital age.

Solove argues that our common conceptualization of the privacy problem is Big Brother -- some faceless organization knowing our most intimate secrets -- is only one facet of the issue. A better metaphor can be found in Franz Kafka's "The Trial." In the book, a vast faceless bureaucracy constructs a vast dossier about a person, who can't find out what information exists about him in the dossier, why the information has been gathered, or what it will be used for. Privacy is not about intimate secrets; it's about who has control of the millions of pieces of personal data that we leave like droppings as we go through our daily life. And until the U.S. legal system recognizes this fact, Americans will continue to live in an world where they have little control over their digital person.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Insurgents in Iraq Using Roadside Bombs More Effectively, U.S. General Says

Insurgents in Iraq Using Roadside Bombs More Effectively, U.S. General Says:
“Iraqi insurgents are using roadside bombs with increasing effectiveness to disrupt American military operations in Iraq, the deputy commander of American forces in the Middle East said Wednesday.

The officer, Lt. Gen. Lance Smith of the Air Force, also said that one of the most important militant leaders driven out of Falluja was now probably operating in Baghdad. Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, General Smith said the Jordanian insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was still orchestrating attacks against American and Iraqi forces and communicating with confederates, despite having lost many of his top lieutenants and his base of operations during the offensive in Falluja last month.

"He no doubt maintains communications with key elements of his leadership and is able to continue some level of command and control over the disparate operations," General Smith said. "It is just far more difficult to do now, because they can't do it, generally speaking, via electronic means. They do it by meeting in cars and driving around and giving guidance and doing all that stuff. So it is difficult for them." ”

American and Iraqi troops find and disarm about half of the roadside bombs before they explode, he said, but countermeasures like driving fast through a vulnerable area or using electronic jamming devices to combat the remote-controlled bombs do not always work.

"The enemy is very smart," he said. He said the strength of an insurgency lay in its ability to change rapidly. "Something didn't work today, they can change the way they do business tonight," he said.

Nonetheless, General Smith said the military continued to dismantle Mr. Zarqawi's leadership team. "And we continue to do that, and every time we do it, we get a little closer to him," he said.

General Smith, who shuttles between the Central Command's headquarters in Tampa, Fla., and its forward command post in Qatar, said he was in Washington for a briefing from a Pentagon team established to help develop technological solutions to the roadside bomb threat.

The real question is when are we going to hold Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Perle responsible for arming the insurgency and then ignoring the needs of our troops. Perhaps they're ‘fungible’ like Rumsfeld said.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

C.I.A. Order on Detainees Shows Its Role Was Curbed

C.I.A. Order on Detainees Shows Its Role Was Curbed:
“Concerns about harsh techniques used by Special Operations forces prompted the Central Intelligence Agency last year to bar its officers in Iraq from taking part in military interrogations where prisoners were subjected to duress, intelligence officials said.

A classified directive issued by the agency's headquarters on Aug. 8, 2003, to all its personnel in Iraq advised that "if the military employed any type of techniques beyond questions and answers, we should not participate and should not be present," according to an account provided by a senior intelligence official.

In telling C.I.A. personnel to keep away from interrogations where military personnel were using harsh techniques, the directive was more restrictive than was previously known. Officials first disclosed the agency's order last September, saying that it had barred C.I.A. officers from interviewing the military's prisoners unless military officials were present.”

The new disclosure is the latest sign of longstanding unease in intelligence circles about the military's interrogation techniques in Iraq. Complaints by the Defense Intelligence Agency about the rough treatment of prisoners by the same Special Operations units were made public last week in a document disclosed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

But the C.I.A. guidelines imposed for Iraq did not affect interrogations of prisoners in C.I.A. custody, including leaders of Al Qaeda being detained in secret locations around the world, officials said. Legal rulings by the Bush administration have granted the C.I.A. greater flexibility in conducting interrogations of suspected terrorists, including the use of harsh methods. The C.I.A. issued its directive on the military's prisoners in Iraq shortly after the agency's station in Baghdad complained in a July 16, 2003, cable about the use of noise, bright light and other techniques by Special Operations forces who were working in joint teams with C.I.A. personnel.

The agency also barred its employees last year from entering a secret interrogation facility in Baghdad used by Special Operations forces. The restrictive C.I.A. guidelines remain in effect, intelligence officials have said.

Army documents first obtained by The Denver Post show that an Iraqi prisoner was found dead in June 2003 at the classified interrogation facility used by Special Operations forces in Baghdad after being restrained in a chair for questioning and subjected to physical and psychological stress. An autopsy determined that the prisoner died of a "hard, fast blow" to the head, the newspaper reported last spring.

In recent interviews, intelligence officials have declined to say whether the C.I.A. complaints were related to that incident. But one intelligence official did say that the agency had become aware early in the campaign in Iraq, in June 2003, about "a significant incident of abuse involving military personnel of a detainee."

Monday, December 13, 2004

Foiling the Quest for bin Laden

Foiling the Quest for bin Laden
“More than three years after the Sept. 11 attacks on the Pentagon and New York transformed Osama bin Laden into the most wanted man in the world, the search for him remains stalled, frustrated by the remote topography of his likely Pakistani sanctuary, stymied by a Qaeda network that remains well financed and disciplined, sidetracked by the distractions of the Iraq war, and, perhaps most significantly, limited by deep suspicion of the United States among Pakistanis.…”

The war in Afghanistan inflicted severe damage on Al Qaeda, forcing it to adapt to survive, intelligence specialists agree. Today, they say it functions largely as a loose network of local franchises linked by a militant Islamist ideology. But Mr. bin Laden remains much more than just an iconic figurehead of Islamic militancy, most American intelligence officials now say. From a presumed hiding place on the Pakistani side of the Afghan-Pakistan border, he controls an elite terrorist cell devoted to attacking in the United States, the officials say they suspect. They contend that he personally oversees the group of Qaeda operatives, which he hopes to use for another "spectacular" event, like the Sept. 11 hijacking plot.

American counterterrorism analysts say this special Qaeda unit is probably dispersed, though they do not know where. This "external planning group" can communicate with regional affiliates around the world to work with them when needed, one senior intelligence official said. "There is a strong desire by bin Laden to attack the continental United States, and he wants to use the external planning node to do it," the official said.

But the United States has failed to penetrate the group and has no idea when or where it will try to strike, the officials acknowledged. Intelligence officials would not provide any details of how they reached their conclusions about Mr. bin Laden's current role, which have not previously been reported.…

Many analysts are convinced that he is being protected by a well-financed network of Pakistani tribesmen and foreign militants who operate in the impoverished border region, and that they have helped him communicate with major figures in his network. "Bin Laden is getting his logistical support from the tribes," said one intelligence official. "He still has operational communications with the outside."

The place suspected of being Mr. bin Laden's hide-out, in the shadow of the Hindu Kush mountain range, is in one of the most isolated and backward corners of the world. Pakistan's frontier is a barren terrain of mountains and mud. The fiercely independent ethnic Pashtun who inhabit the region are farmers and smugglers, most of them poor and illiterate. Local mullahs preach a radical Islamic ideology that portrays the United States as bent on enslaving Muslims and destroying their culture.

Sympathetic to the Taliban, many of whom attended madrasas, or religious schools, in the region, militant young tribesmen perceive American soldiers as dangerous aggressors who have occupied Afghanistan and Iraq and they view Mr. bin Laden as an avenging hero. Pakistan prohibits Western reporters from entering the area without a military escort.

The seven semiautonomous tribal areas in the region have been a virtual no man's land for American forces since the Sept. 11 attacks, making them a natural haven for Qaeda figures who fled Afghanistan after the battle of Tora Bora in 2001.

Pakistan does not permit American military and intelligence forces in Afghanistan to cross the border to go after militants. This prohibition on cross-border "hot pursuit" makes it relatively easy for Taliban and Qaeda fighters to initiate attacks on American bases in Afghanistan, and then quickly escape to the safety of Pakistan. American soldiers have complained about being fired on from inside Pakistan by foreign militants while Pakistani border guards sat and watched.

As a result of the restrictions, American military and intelligence personnel in Afghanistan are no longer really hunting for Mr. bin Laden, an intelligence official said. They are trying to provide stability for Afghanistan's new government while battling a local Taliban insurgency and a scattering of Qaeda fighters. On Saturday, the United States military began an offensive in Afghanistan to pursue those militants.

While the United States conducts some air operations over Pakistan, they are tightly controlled. Unmanned Predator drones are authorized to fly over Pakistani airspace, but only with approval from the Pakistani military chain of command, frequently leading to costly delays, C.I.A. officials say.

Electronic surveillance of the border region by the National Security Agency has proved frustrating as well, American intelligence officials say. Mr. bin Laden is believed to avoid using any electronic devices that could be monitored, and probably communicates only through trusted couriers, American intelligence officials say. Without cellphone towers along the frontier, satellite phones and push-to-talk radios are widely used often by drug smugglers, making it difficult to zero in on Qaeda operatives using the same kind of equipment.

Hoping to collect more intelligence, the C.I.A. opened secret bases with small numbers of operatives in Pakistan in late 2003, but it has been unable to use them for aggressive counterterrorism operations, intelligence officials say. The operatives, many of whom are C.I.A. paramilitary officers, depended on Pakistani Army commanders, whose views on cooperation with the C.I.A. vary widely, American officials say.

"There are real limits on our movement" inside Pakistan, said one American official, and it has deeply frustrated intelligence officers. A C.I.A. spokesman declined to discuss any aspect of the clandestine bases.

Pakistani officials said that the Americans were instantly identifiable and unlikely to succeed working alone. They say the Americans are escorted to prevent them from being kidnapped or killed, or their presence exposed, which would be damaging to the Pakistani government.

The decision to allow the bases is one of President Pervez Musharraf's most significant steps to help the United States, intelligence officials say. He is trying to balance his alliance with the United States with his need to avoid setting off a broader insurgency in the border region, where the central government is resented for its long neglect.…

Many American analysts have concluded that Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian who is Mr. bin Laden's chief deputy, is also along Pakistan's border - in the tribal lands or an adjacent region - but is no longer with Mr. bin Laden. American officials contend that the two men separated for security reasons, but remain in close communication. That may explain why over the last year or more they have each issued audio and videotapes broadcast over Arab television, but have not been seen or heard together.

Days before the American presidential election this fall, Mr. bin Laden released a videotape warning the United States to change course to prevent future attacks. In contrast to his haggard appearance in his videotaped message televised in September 2003, Mr. bin Laden appeared vigorous. C.I.A. officials say they are not certain of the state of his health, but have long been dismissive of reports that he suffered from kidney disease or some other serious ailment.…

Pentagon Weighs Use of Deception in a Broad Arena

Pentagon Weighs Use of Deception in a Broad Arena
“The Pentagon is engaged in bitter, high-level debate over how far it can and should go in managing or manipulating information to influence opinion abroad, senior Defense Department civilians and military officers say.

Such missions, if approved, could take the deceptive techniques endorsed for use on the battlefield to confuse an adversary and adopt them for covert propaganda campaigns aimed at neutral and even allied nations.

Critics of the proposals say such deceptive missions could shatter the Pentagon's credibility, leaving the American public and a world audience skeptical of anything the Defense Department and military say - a repeat of the credibility gap that roiled America during the Vietnam War.

The efforts under consideration risk blurring the traditional lines between public affairs programs in the Pentagon and military branches - whose charters call for giving truthful information to the media and the public - and the world of combat information campaigns or psychological operations.

The question is whether the Pentagon and military should undertake an official program that uses disinformation to shape perceptions abroad. But in a modern world wired by satellite television and the Internet, any misleading information and falsehoods could easily be repeated by American news outlets.”

The military has faced these tough issues before. Nearly three years ago, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, under intense criticism, closed the Pentagon's Office of Strategic Influence, a short-lived operation to provide news items, possibly including false ones, to foreign journalists in an effort to influence overseas opinion.

Now, critics say, some of the proposals of that discredited office are quietly being resurrected elsewhere in the military and in the Pentagon.

Pentagon and military officials directly involved in the debate say that such a secret propaganda program, for example, could include planting news stories in the foreign press or creating false documents and Web sites translated into Arabic as an effort to discredit and undermine the influence of mosques and religious schools that preach anti-American principles.

Some of those are in the Middle Eastern and South Asian countries like Pakistan, still considered a haven for operatives of Al Qaeda. But such a campaign could reach even to allied countries like Germany, for example, where some mosques have become crucibles for Islamic militancy and anti-Americanism.

Before the invasion of Iraq, the military's vast electronic-warfare arsenal was used to single out certain members of Saddam Hussein's inner circle with e-mail messages and cellphone calls in an effort to sway them to the American cause. Arguments have been made for similar efforts to be mounted at leadership circles in other nations where the United States is not at war.…

The Pentagon is Deceiving Americans Now
What I don't understand is why the media isn't calling them on it.
Al Ingram

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Both Sides are Improvising

Both Sides are Improvising … and Dying

With 25 Citizen Warriors in an Improvised War
“On Tuesday morning, in dawn's chilly half-light, a group of 25 marines mustered beside their Humvees at a base in the beleaguered town of Yusufiya for a raid. The target for Fox Company of the 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, was the family home of Sheikh Abdullah al-Janabi, who until recently led the insurgents in Falluja. The sheikh, who is 62, had become a fugitive, rated by American military intelligence as one of the most menacing figures in the 20-month-old war in Iraq.

The marines clambered into three "open back" Humvees, known among the troops as "suicide wagons" - pickup trucks armored only on the sides, with three-foot-high panels.

Though they had no inkling of it, the vulnerability with which they were setting out would soon become the focus of a new dispute over the war. The next day, in Kuwait, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was asked by a member of the Tennessee National Guard why his unit had to hunt through refuse dumps to find armor for vehicles that would carry them into Iraq.

That confrontation prompted assurances from President Bush to military families that "we're doing everything we possibly can to protect your loved ones," and a torrent of Pentagon statistics to support the contention that progress had been made in correcting mistakes made 20 months ago, when most of the 12,000 Humvees sent into Iraq for the invasion and its aftermath were unarmored.

Stung by the furor, the Pentagon announced that three-quarters of the nearly 20,000 Humvees now in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait carry protective armor. But realities on the ground are less comforting, as the vehicles used in Tuesday's raid showed. All the more poignant, the marines deployed on the raid, like more than 40 percent of all the 140,000 American troops in Iraq, were national guardsmen or reservists, citizen-soldiers, just like Specialist Thomas Jerry Wilson, the 31-year-old who confronted Mr. Rumsfeld over the armor issue.

Rooted in civilian life, these hometown warriors carry a heavier burden in Iraq than in any other American conflict of the last half-century. And Pentagon projections suggest that the proportion of reservists and guardsmen in Iraq could rise to 50 percent, particularly if the troop level of 150,000 planned for the Jan. 30 elections remains in effect afterward. ”


When scheduled troop rotations are completed early in 2005, the force in Iraq for the balance of the year will be composed of 6 brigades of reservists and guardsmen, and 11 brigades of active-duty soldiers. And many active-duty units have reservists performing support functions.

So in the 21st century, as it was at America's beginnings in 1775, it is the volunteer next door - the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker - who bears arms for his or her country, as much as the professional soldier. This presence, in turn, has helped to highlight the Pentagon's miscues in providing the troops at the front with the best available equipment, especially equipment that lowers the risk of serious injury and death.

While statistics are hard to come by, anecdotal evidence gathered by reporters in the field suggests that the old complaint of reservists - that they are often the last to get up-to-date equipment - still has some validity, even though Pentagon officials tend to deny it.

A week with the 2/24 Marines at their bases 15 to 30 miles south of Baghdad, in the heart of the area known as the Triangle of Death, was a window on the demands being made of reservists, and on the resourcefulness and resilience they bring to the challenges. There is little they cannot do, with hard work and improvisation, the battalion's officers say, reflecting the widely varied backgrounds of the men in the Chicago-based unit - doctors, policemen, engineers, teachers, carpenters, truck drivers, lawyers, computer specialists, community counselors, college students, to name a few.

These marines' tasks are as tough as any in Iraq, with the battalion's 1,200 men cast as spear-carriers for the new, more aggressive war-fighting, which found its starkest expression in the battle last month to recapture Falluja. The 2/24 has had no such concentrated target, but its men have been fighting a classic counterinsurgency war, carrying out nighttime raids and creating a permanent American presence.

They operate from new "firm bases" in the towns of Yusufiya and Latafiya and conduct extended vehicle and foot patrols in what had been a virtual no-go area for American troops until a few months ago.

For these men, the Pentagon's claim that all American troops in Iraq now go into combat with armored vehicles is contradicted by the experience of the strike forces that set out on the raids. All vehicles on the 2/24's missions have at least some armoring, but the devil is in the details. Some men ride in fully armored Humvees, with thick steel plating on every surface and the underside, as well as ballistic glass in the windows that can withstand small-arms fire and at least some fragments from roadside bombs.

These vehicles are now rolling off a production line in Ohio at the rate of 350 a month, soon to rise by an additional 100 vehicles a month. They will make, in time, a major difference to men like those who set out to raid Sheikh Janabi's home in the village of Jawan. For now, many of the 2/24's fighters ride in vehicles that are only partly armored, like the open-back Humvees.

The raid was conducted without incident, if also without any trace of the fugitive sheikh. But the unit has lost eight men killed in 60 days, several of them from roadside bombs, and there are few men in the battalion who have not endured the terrifying experience of a "daisy-chained" i.e.d., or improvised explosive device, a string of artillery shells dug into the roadside and set off remotely as an American convoy passes.

On other missions, the marines ride in Humvees that are even more vulnerable, with no protection beyond the bolt-on kits - mostly armored half-doors - that were the quick-fix solution for the rush of bombing casualties in the early months of the war. Matters were so desperate that soldiers of the 82nd Armored Division, deployed around Falluja, hastened through their turkey dinners last Christmas to resume welding metal plating for their Humvees from wrecks of Soviet-made personnel carriers from Saddam Hussein's disbanded army.

Along with the hazards of inadequately protected vehicles, the men of the 2/24 have had to cope with lesser privations. Chief Warrant Officer Jim Roussell, a 53-year-old Chicago police sergeant working with the battalion's intelligence unit, helps navigate predawn raids on insurgent safehouses with a pocket-sized satellite navigation device he bought with $500 of his own money, to make up for a shortage of the full-screen "satnav" devices the Pentagon installs in the best-equipped Humvees.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Armor Scarce for Big Trucks Transporting Cargo in Iraq

Armor Scarce for Big Trucks Transporting Cargo in Iraq:
“Congress released statistics Thursday documenting stark shortages in armor for the military transport trucks that ferry food, fuel and ammunition along dangerous routes in Iraq, while President Bush and his defense secretary both spoke out to defuse public criticism.

Soldiers confronted Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Wednesday with complaints that the Pentagon was sending them to war without enough armored equipment to protect them. One soldier who challenged Mr. Rumsfeld was apparently prompted by a reporter traveling with his unit. The commander of American ground forces in the Middle East responded Thursday to the complaints with a vow to provide armored transportation into Iraq for all troops headed there.

"The concerns expressed are being addressed, and that is, we expect our troops to have the best possible equipment," Mr. Bush said. "And I have told many families I met with, we're doing everything we possibly can to protect your loved ones in a mission which is vital and important."

The House Armed Services Committee released statistics on Thursday showing that while many Humvees are armored, most transport trucks that crisscross Iraq are not.

The committee said more than three-quarters of the 19,854 Humvees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait carry protective armor, which can vary in quality. The most secure are factory-armored Humvees, and the Pentagon has received only 5,910 of the 8,105 that commanders say they need. But only 10 percent of the 4,814 medium-weight transport trucks have armor, and only 15 percent of the 4,314 heavy transport vehicles.

The uproar has exposed some of the most crucial challenges facing the Pentagon: how to equip and train troops for a war whose very nature has changed.”

A resourceful insurgency has seized on an American vulnerability - the shortage of armored vehicles - and attacked supply lines with roadside bombs. These trucks are driven primarily by reservists, while a much greater percentage of active-duty soldiers are deployed in direct combat, and disparities between these troops have already prompted the Defense Department to begin sweeping changes in the way soldiers are trained and equipped.

These issues gained new intensity and widespread attention because they were raised not in the safe confines of a Capitol Hill hearing or a Pentagon suite, but by a scout with the Tennessee National Guard who directly pressed the secretary of defense in the deserts of Kuwait just days before the soldier is to be sent into Iraq for a year.

At Camp Buehring, a staging base for American troops entering and leaving Iraq, the scout, Specialist Thomas Wilson, said his unit had been forced to dig through local landfills to find scrap metal to bolt onto their trucks for protection against roadside bombs. The incident was startling in part because of the soldier's willingness to challenge a cabinet official, but it emerged Thursday that a newspaper reporter embedded with the troops had helped orchestrate the questioning.…

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Disgruntled Troops Complain to Rumsfeld

Disgruntled Troops Complain to Rumsfeld:

“In his prepared remarks earlier, Rumsfeld had urged the troops -- mostly National Guard and Reserve soldiers -- to discount critics of the war in Iraq and to help ``win the test of wills'' with the insurgents.

Some of soldiers, however, had criticisms of their own -- not of the war itself but of how it is being fought.

Army Spc. Thomas Wilson, for example, of the 278th Regimental Combat Team that is comprised mainly of citizen soldiers of the Tennessee Army National Guard, asked Rumsfeld in a question-and-answer session why vehicle armor is still in short supply, nearly two years after the start of the war that ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

``Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to uparmor our vehicles?'' Wilson asked. A big cheer arose from the approximately 2,300 soldiers in the cavernous hangar who assembled to see and hear the secretary of defense.

Rumsfeld hesitated and asked Wilson to repeat his question.

``We do not have proper armored vehicles to carry with us north,'' Wilson said after asking again.

Rumsfeld replied that troops should make the best of the conditions they face and said the Army was pushing manufacturers of vehicle armor to produce it as fast as humanly possible.

And, the defense chief added, armor is not always a savior in the kind of combat U.S. troops face in Iraq, where the insurgents' weapon of choice is the roadside bomb, or improvised explosive device that has killed and maimed hundreds, if not thousands, of American troops since the summer of 2003.

``You can have all the armor in the world on a tank and it can (still) be blown up,'' Rumsfeld said.

Asked later about Wilson's complaint, the deputy commanding general of U.S. forces in Kuwait, Maj. Gen. Gary Speer, said in an interview that as far as he knows, every vehicle that is deploying to Iraq from Camp Buehring in Kuwait has at least ``Level 3'' armor. That means it at least has locally fabricated armor for its side panels, but not necessarily bulletproof windows or protection against explosions that penetrate the floorboard.

Speer said he was not aware that soldiers were searching landfills for scrap metal and used bulletproof glass.

During the question-and-answer session, another soldier complained that active-duty Army units sometimes get priority over the National Guard and Reserve units for the best equipment in Iraq.”

Yet another soldier asked, without putting it to Rumsfeld as a direct criticism, how much longer the Army will continue using its ``stop loss'' power to prevent soldiers from leaving the service who are otherwise eligible to retire or quit.

This is just my personal opinion, developed by observing Rumsfeld over the past few years. If his lips are moving, he's lying, if they're not, he's thinking about lying. Al Ingram

Troops' Queries Leave Rumsfeld on Defensive

Iraq-Bound Troops Confront Rumsfeld Over Lack of Armor

Iraqi Prisoner Abuse Reported After Abu Ghraib Disclosures

Iraqi Prisoner Abuse Reported After Abu Ghraib Disclosures:
“Two Defense Department intelligence officials reported observing brutal treatment of Iraqi insurgents captured in Baghdad in June, several weeks after disclosures of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison created a worldwide uproar, according to a memorandum disclosed Tuesday.

The memorandum, written by the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency to a senior Pentagon official, said that when the two members of his agency objected to the treatment, they were threatened and told to keep quiet by other military interrogators.

The memorandum said the Defense Intelligence Agency officials had seen prisoners being brought in to a detention center with burn marks on their backs and complaining about sore kidneys.

The document was disclosed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which obtained it as part of a cache of papers from a civil lawsuit seeking to discover the extent of abuse of prisoners by the military.”

Other memorandums disclosed this week, including some released by the A.C.L.U., showed that the interrogation and detention system at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had drawn strong objections from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which argued that the coercive techniques used there were unnecessary and produced unreliable information.

The Associated Press reported Monday that one F.B.I. official had written in a memorandum of witnessing a series of coercive procedures at Guantánamo, among them a female interrogator squeezing the genitals of a detainee and bending back his thumbs painfully.

The June 25 memorandum, written by Vice Adm. Lowell E. Jacoby, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was addressed to the under secretary of defense for intelligence, Stephen Cambone. Admiral Jacoby wrote that one of his officers had witnessed an interrogator from the Special Operations unit known as Task Force 6-26 "punch a prisoner in the face to the point the individual needed medical attention." The admiral said that when the D.I.A. official took photos of that detainee, the pictures were confiscated.

The memorandum said the two D.I.A. officials, who were not identified, had found the keys to their vehicles confiscated, and been instructed "not to leave the compound without specific permission, even to get a haircut"; they were also threatened, and told their e-mail messages were being screened. It said they had persevered and provided their accounts to superiors in the agency; the accounts reached Admiral Jacoby on June 24. The memo suggests that the incidents experienced by the officials occurred earlier in June.

Inventing a Crisis

Inventing a Crisis:
“Privatizing Social Security - replacing the current system, in whole or in part, with personal investment accounts - won't do anything to strengthen the system's finances. If anything, it will make things worse. Nonetheless, the politics of privatization depend crucially on convincing the public that the system is in imminent danger of collapse, that we must destroy Social Security in order to save it.

There's nothing strange or mysterious about how Social Security works: it's just a government program supported by a dedicated tax on payroll earnings, just as highway maintenance is supported by a dedicated tax on gasoline.

Right now the revenues from the payroll tax exceed the amount paid out in benefits. This is deliberate, the result of a payroll tax increase - recommended by none other than Alan Greenspan - two decades ago. His justification at the time for raising a tax that falls mainly on lower- and middle-income families, even though Ronald Reagan had just cut the taxes that fall mainly on the very well-off, was that the extra revenue was needed to build up a trust fund. This could be drawn on to pay benefits once the baby boomers began to retire.

The grain of truth in claims of a Social Security crisis is that this tax increase wasn't quite big enough. Projections in a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office (which are probably more realistic than the very cautious projections of the Social Security Administration) say that the trust fund will run out in 2052. The system won't become "bankrupt" at that point; even after the trust fund is gone, Social Security revenues will cover 81 percent of the promised benefits. Still, there is a long-run financing problem.

But it's a problem of modest size. The report finds that extending the life of the trust fund into the 22nd century, with no change in benefits, would require additional revenues equal to only 0.54 percent of G.D.P. That's less than 3 percent of federal spending - less than we're currently spending in Iraq. And it's only about one-quarter of the revenue lost each year because of President Bush's tax cuts - roughly equal to the fraction of those cuts that goes to people with incomes over $500,000 a year.

Given these numbers, it's not at all hard to come up with fiscal packages that would secure the retirement program, with no major changes, for generations to come.

But since the politics of privatization depend on convincing the public that there is a Social Security crisis, the privatizers have done their best to invent one.”

…their three-card-monte logic goes like this: first, they insist that the Social Security system's current surplus and the trust fund it has been accumulating with that surplus are meaningless. Social Security, they say, isn't really an independent entity - it's just part of the federal government.

If the trust fund is meaningless, by the way, that Greenspan-sponsored tax increase in the 1980's was nothing but an exercise in class warfare: taxes on working-class Americans went up, taxes on the affluent went down, and the workers have nothing to show for their sacrifice.

But never mind: the same people who claim that Social Security isn't an independent entity when it runs surpluses also insist that late next decade, when the benefit payments start to exceed the payroll tax receipts, this will represent a crisis - you see, Social Security has its own dedicated financing, and therefore must stand on its own.

There's no honest way anyone can hold both these positions, but very little about the privatizers' position is honest. They come to bury Social Security, not to save it. They aren't sincerely concerned about the possibility that the system will someday fail; they're disturbed by the system's historic success.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

A Possible Partner, Viewed Warily in Israel

A Possible Partner, Viewed Warily in Israel:
“Marwan Barghouti, the 45-year-old Palestinian politician and presidential candidate who sits in an Israeli jail, is widely considered to be among the best of his generation: charming, articulate and intelligent, even if a bit of a showboat. Many Israelis regard Mr. Barghouti, fluent in Hebrew and English, as a future Palestinian leader.

But his record is a complicated one, even his Israeli admirers agree. As Israelis contemplate whether Mr. Barghouti might be a man they could work with in the post-Arafat era, his past would seem to put him beyond the pale, at least for a current set of Israeli and American leaders who vow to combat terrorism and demand a Palestinian leadership that disavows it.

In May, Mr. Barghouti was convicted in an Israeli court on five counts of murder, one of attempted murder, conspiracy to murder, and activity and membership in a terrorist organization. He was sentenced to five life sentences, plus 40 years for five murders.

Mr. Barghouti did little to contest his trial, called it a political show and insisted that he was always a political leader, not a military one. And there are some Israelis who say that nearly any young Palestinian leader of the period of armed intifada could have been convicted on similar charges, and that choosing to arrest Mr. Barghouti, who never pulled a trigger, was as much a political decision as a legal one.

But there are also a number of prominent Israelis who know Mr. Barghouti well who say they are deeply troubled by his turn toward violence against Israeli soldiers and civilians as a tactic of the Palestinian struggle for an independent state.…”

Yossi Beilin is a prominent Israeli politician of the left, a central figure in every serious negotiation with the Palestinians in the past 15 years. Mr. Beilin deeply believes in a final settlement that would create a Palestinian state on nearly all of the West Bank and Gaza.

But Mr. Beilin says he has lost respect for Mr. Barghouti, who privately threatened violence against Israel in May 2000, as President Clinton's peace initiative was failing. Mr. Barghouti also was a prime instigator of the intifada, which began a few months later and has cost more than 4,000 lives on both sides - nearly three-quarters of them Palestinian.

Mr. Beilin contends that Mr. Barghouti allowed himself to be used by Yasir Arafat to create a militant group within the main Fatah movement - Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades - to compete with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which opposed any deal with Israel.

In a meeting on May 14, 2000, at a Jerusalem hotel, "Barghouti told me that he wanted to continue the use of violence, and that if there were no peace agreement by September, he would use violence," Mr. Beilin said. "He didn't call it intifada," which means uprising in Arabic. "But he said that to fight Hamas on the ground we need to use violence against Israel to control the streets."

He had met Mr. Barghouti many times, Mr. Beilin said, "but here I saw a different Barghouti."

Mr. Beilin, who describes the meeting in more detail in his recent book, "The Path to Geneva: The Quest for a Permanent Agreement, 1996-2004," said he was quite surprised by Mr. Barghouti's threat. "It was not only cynical but frightening," he said. "It was, 'We have a target and we'll get there by diplomacy or violence, and both are legitimate.' "

Mr. Beilin said that he opposed arresting Mr. Barghouti and that he believed that he would be released. But Mr. Beilin pointed to a sharp contrast between Mr. Barghouti and the most likely winner of the Palestinian election, Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Mr. Abbas has condemned the use of violence "and is a partner for peace," Mr. Beilin said.

Mr. Barghouti "is not innocent at all," Mr. Beilin said. "I believe he was carried away. He thought he could control the violence he unleashed and end the intifada in a few weeks. But he was carried away in an ongoing competition with Hamas on the ground, which was about violence, and today Hamas is stronger than Fatah, and Barghouti is to blame - because Fatah started this intifada, and not Hamas."

Hillel Frisch, who teaches political science at Bar-Ilan University, has known Mr. Barghouti since the late 1970's and considers him something of an "Israelophile" - proud of learning Hebrew and resentful, like many locally grown Palestinian leaders, of the older exiles who came to the territories with Mr. Arafat in 1994, and who got and retain most of the plum jobs.

Mr. Barghouti "became a revolutionary against the statists" like Mr. Abbas, who believed that the Palestinian Authority was the nucleus for a Palestinian state. "Barghouti became more radical when he and the insiders were left out of the Oslo process," Mr. Frisch said. "The revolutionaries adopted the Lebanese model that terror and guerrilla warfare would push Israel out, and Marwan was the head of the revolutionaries."

People like Mr. Beilin don't even see what they're asking. They want a Palestinian leader who renounces violence when ther is no let up in violence against the Palestinian people. Were he alive today Frederick Douglass would be talking about people who want crops without plowing.

Power concedes nothing without a struggle. In the face of unrelenting violence aginst Palestinians, no legitimate leader can renounce violence unless he can stop daily Israeli violence and theft against his people.

Al Ingram

Death Sentences in Texas Cases Try Supreme Court's Patience

Death Sentences in Texas Cases Try Supreme Court's Patience:
“In the past year, the Supreme Court has heard three appeals from inmates on death row in Texas, and in each case the prosecutors and the lower courts suffered stinging reversals.

In a case to be argued on Monday, the court appears poised to deliver another rebuke.”

Lawyers for a Texas death row inmate, Thomas Miller-El, will appear before the justices for the second time in two years. To legal experts, the Supreme Court's decision to hear his case yet again is a sign of its growing impatience with two of the courts that handle death penalty cases from Texas: its highest criminal court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans.

Perhaps as telling is the exasperated language in decisions this year from a Supreme Court that includes no categorical opponent of the death penalty. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote in June that the Fifth Circuit was "paying lip service to principles" of appellate law in issuing death penalty rulings with "no foundation in the decisions of this court."

In an unsigned decision in another case last month, the Supreme Court said the Court of Criminal Appeals "relied on a test we never countenanced and now have unequivocally rejected." The decision was made without hearing argument, a move that ordinarily signals that the error in the decision under review was glaring.

The actions of the two appeals courts that hear capital cases from Texas help explain why the state leads the nation in executions, with 336 since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated, more than the next five states combined.

In the Miller-El case, appellate lawyers and legal scholars are buzzing over what they say is the insolence of the Fifth Circuit.

In an 8-to-1 decision last year, the Supreme Court instructed the appeals court to rethink its "dismissive and strained interpretation" of the proof in the case, and to consider more seriously the substantial evidence suggesting that prosecutors had systematically excluded blacks from Mr. Miller-El's jury. Prosecutors used peremptory strikes to eliminate 10 out of 11 eligible black jurors, and they twice used a local procedure called a jury shuffle to move blacks lower on the list of potential jurors, the decision said. The jury ultimately selected, which had one black member, convicted Mr. Miller-El, a black man who is now 53, of killing a clerk at a Holiday Inn in Dallas in 1985.

Instead of considering much of the evidence recited by the Supreme Court majority, the appeals court engaged in something akin to plagiarism. In February, it again rejected Mr. Miller-El's claims, in a decision that reproduced, virtually verbatim and without attribution, several paragraphs from the sole dissenting opinion in last year's Supreme Court decision, written by Justice Clarence Thomas.

"The Fifth Circuit just went out of its way to defy the Supreme Court on this," said John J. Gibbons, a former chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia, who joined a brief supporting Mr. Miller-El. "The idea that the system can tolerate open defiance by an inferior court just cannot stand."

The Supreme Court agrees to hear only about 80 cases each year. It seldom accepts cases to correct errors in the lower courts and concentrates instead on resolving conflicts among appeals courts and announcing broad legal principles. But in recent years the court has often found itself fixing problems in specific Texas death penalty cases. Over the last decade, it has ruled against prosecutors in all six appeals brought by inmates on death row in Texas.

The cases all involved challenges to the fairness of the procedures used to convict and sentence the defendants rather than arguments about their innocence.

The two appeals courts handle an enormous number of capital cases and grant relief in very few. Between 1995 and 2000, the Court of Criminal Appeals heard direct appeals in 270 death sentences and reversed eight times, according to a report by the Texas Defender Service, a nonprofit law firm that represents death row inmates. The reversal rate - 3 percent - is the lowest of any state. California, which has a much larger death row, at 635, has executed only 10 people since 1976, to Texas's 336.

By contrast, a comprehensive study of almost 6,000 death sentences across the nation over the 20 years ended in 1995 found a 68 percent chance they would be overturned by a state or federal court.

The Fifth Circuit also reviews Texas death sentences when inmates file writs of habeas corpus - challenges to unlawful detentions. The court has 50 or 60 capital cases pending at any given time, a spokesman said. But in recent years it has very seldom ruled in favor of prisoners on death row.

The two courts have been resistant to claims involving withheld evidence, lies told by prosecutors and problems in jury selection, as in the Miller-El case. But legal scholars say the most intractable issue involves unusual instructions that were given to Texas juries from 1989 to 1991.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that those instructions were unconstitutional. Yet the two appeals courts continued to uphold the death sentences that resulted from the instructions. Since 1991, more than 40 of the people in those cases have been executed, according to Jordan Steiker, a law professor at the University of Texas.

The state appeals court, which considers only criminal cases, is made up of elected judges, mostly former prosecutors.…

Saturday, December 04, 2004

The New York Times > Washington > Detention: Abuse Inquiry Finds Flaws

The New York Times > Washington > Detention: Abuse Inquiry Finds Flaws:
"A Pentagon investigation of interrogation techniques at military detention centers in Cuba, Afghanistan and Iraq concludes that senior defense officials exercised little or no oversight of interrogation policies outside of Guantánamo Bay, leaving field commanders to develop some practices that were unauthorized, according to a draft summary of the classified report.

The inquiry by Vice Adm. Albert T. Church, the naval inspector general, found that by January 2003, military interrogators in Afghanistan were using techniques similar to those that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had approved for use only at Guant?namo Bay. They included stress positions, and sleep and light deprivation.

But when the command in Afghanistan submitted in January its list of techniques to the military's Joint Staff and Central Command, as requested, and never heard any complaints, it 'interpreted this silence to mean that the techniques were unobjectionable to higher headquarters and therefore could be considered approved policy,' the summary said.… "

The investigation, ordered in May by Mr. Rumsfeld, also reaffirms two important findings of previous military inquiries into detainee abuse: that at least 20 substantiated cases of abuse occurred during interrogations, contrary to the Pentagon's original claims; and that the Central Intelligence Agency kept some 30 "ghost detainees" at Abu Ghraib prison and at other detention centers in Iraq off official rosters. Other investigations have found this practice was to hide the prisoners from Red Cross inspectors.

The Church report, however, does not blame the detainee abuses in Iraq and elsewhere on the flawed interrogation policies, blaming mainly a breakdown in "good order and discipline." It found no evidence that senior Pentagon or White House officials pressured interrogators to use abusive tactics to wring information from recalcitrant detainees to help fight the insurgency.

But these findings are unlikely to satisfy critics, who have accused defense officials in Washington of allowing, or even creating, an environment conducive to misconduct.

The findings are in an unclassified 30-page executive summary of the classified report, which runs more than 400 pages. A copy of the summary was reviewed by The New York Times. Lawrence Di Rita, the Pentagon spokesman, said in an interview this week that the draft report has been circulating for comment inside the department for several weeks. It was unclear what changes Admiral Church might incorporate into his final version, to be submitted in the coming days.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Top Palestinians Try to Discourage Barghouti Run

Top Palestinians Try to Discourage Barghouti Run
“Senior Palestinian figures in the main political grouping, Fatah, closed ranks today against the off-again, on-again presidential candidacy of the popular Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences in an Israeli jail.

The old guard was joined by some prominent younger militants of Fatah's Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades, who once saw Mr. Barghouti, 45, as their leader but now criticize him as putting himself above Palestinian unity.

Mr. Barghouti's decision on Wednesday to revive the candidacy he had publicly foresworn threatens to split Fatah, which had unanimously nominated Mahmoud Abbas, 69, who has already succeeded Yasir Arafat as head of the Palestine Liberation Organization.”

Mr. Abbas is a relative moderate who has consistently and publicly opposed violence as counterproductive to the Palestinian goal of a viable, independent state. Mr. Barghouti, by contrast, like his mentor Mr. Arafat, supports violence as a tactic and is considered the father of the last four years of the intifada.

As such, Mr. Barghouti is popular with young militants who have grown up under Israeli occupation and who want a stronger voice in Palestinian decision-making. They feel they have lost their father and main supporter in Mr. Arafat, and that Mr. Abbas is already betraying the Arafat legacy.

Palestinian opinion is hard to gauge, because so many people say they are undecided rather than state their preferences. But the current Palestinian and Israeli leadership clearly fears that Mr. Abbas, a dry man in a suit who has little experience as a politician, might very well lose to Mr. Barghouti, or do badly enough in the field of 10 candidates that the election undermines his authority rather than enhancing it.

In fact, Mr. Barghouti has many Israeli friends and also favors a peace settlement with Israel on terms not very different from Mr. Abbas. But the election of a Palestinian president who has blessed attacks against Israeli civilians, and has been convicted for ordering them, would make it almost impossible for the government of Ariel Sharon to negotiate seriously.

On the other hand, it just might be that the Palestinians are the ones who have no partner for peace. It's a question of opening your eyes to what America and Israel are actually doing, instead of what they're saying.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Red Cross Finds Detainee Abuse in Guantánamo

Red Cross Finds Detainee Abuse in Guantánamo
“The International Committee of the Red Cross has charged in confidential reports to the United States government that the American military has intentionally used psychological and sometimes physical coercion "tantamount to torture" on prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The finding that the handling of prisoners detained and interrogated at Guantánamo amounted to torture came after a visit by a Red Cross inspection team that spent most of last June in Guantánamo.

The team of humanitarian workers, which included experienced medical personnel, also asserted that some doctors and other medical workers at Guantánamo were participating in planning for interrogations, in what the report called "a flagrant violation of medical ethics."

Doctors and medical personnel conveyed information about prisoners' mental health and vulnerabilities to interrogators, the report said, sometimes directly, but usually through a group called the Behavioral Science Consultation Team, or B.S.C.T. The team, known informally as Biscuit, is composed of psychologists and psychological workers who advise the interrogators, the report said.

The United States government, which received the report in July, sharply rejected its charges, administration and military officials said.

The report was distributed to lawyers at the White House, Pentagon and State Department and to the commander of the detention facility at Guantánamo, Gen. Jay W. Hood. The New York Times recently obtained a memorandum, based on the report, that quotes from it in detail and lists its major findings.

It was the first time that the Red Cross, which has been conducting visits to Guantánamo since January 2002, asserted in such strong terms that the treatment of detainees, both physical and psychological, amounted to torture. The report said that another confidential report in January 2003, which has never been disclosed, raised questions of whether "psychological torture" was taking place.”

The Red Cross said publicly 13 months ago that the system of keeping detainees indefinitely without allowing them to know their fates was unacceptable and would lead to mental health problems.

The report of the June visit said investigators had found a system devised to break the will of the prisoners at Guantánamo, who now number about 550, and make them wholly dependent on their interrogators through "humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes, use of forced positions." Investigators said that the methods used were increasingly "more refined and repressive" than learned about on previous visits.

"The construction of such a system, whose stated purpose is the production of intelligence, cannot be considered other than an intentional system of cruel, unusual and degrading treatment and a form of torture," the report said. It said that in addition to the exposure to loud and persistent noise and music and to prolonged cold, detainees were subjected to "some beatings." The report did not say how many of the detainees were subjected to such treatment.…

The conclusions by the inspection team, especially the findings involving alleged complicity in mistreatment by medical professionals, have provoked a stormy debate within the Red Cross committee. Some officials have argued that it should make its concerns public or at least aggressively confront the Bush administration.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, which is based in Geneva and is separate from the American Red Cross, was founded in 1863 as an independent, neutral organization intended to provide humanitarian protection and assistance for victims of war.

Its officials are able to visit prisoners at Guantánamo under the kind of arrangement the committee has made with governments for decades. In exchange for exclusive access to the prison camp and meetings with detainees, the committee has agreed to keep its findings confidential. The findings are shared only with the government that is detaining people.

Beatricé Mégevand-Roggo, a senior Red Cross official, said in an interview that she could not say anything about information relayed to the United States government because "we do not comment in any way on the substance of the reports we submit to the authorities."

Ms. Mégevand-Roggo, the committee's delegate-general for Europe and the Americas, acknowledged that the issue of confidentiality was a chronic and vexing one for the organization. "Many people do not understand why we have these bilateral agreements about confidentiality," she said. "People are led to believe that we are a fig leaf or worse, that we are complicit with the detaining authorities."

She added, "It's a daily dilemma for us to put in the balance the positive effects our visits have for detainees against the confidentiality."

Antonella Notari, a veteran Red Cross official and spokeswoman, said that the organization frequently complained to the Pentagon and other arms of the American government when government officials cite the Red Cross visits to suggest that there is no abuse at Guantánamo. Most statements from the Pentagon in response to queries about mistreatment at Guantánamo do, in fact, include mention of the visits.

In a recent interview with reporters, General Hood, the commander of the detention and interrogation facility at Guantánamo, also cited the committee's visits in response to questions about treatment of detainees. "We take everything the Red Cross gives us and study it very carefully to look for ways to do our job better," he said in his Guantánamo headquarters, adding that he agrees "with some things and not others."

"I'm satisfied that the detainees here have not been abused, they've not been mistreated, they've not been tortured in any way," he said.

Scott Horton, a New York lawyer, who is familiar with some of the Red Cross's views, said the issue of medical ethics at Guantánamo had produced "a tremendous controversy in the committee." He said that some Red Cross officials believed it was important to maintain confidentiality while others believed the United States government was misrepresenting the inspections and using them to counter criticisms.

Mr. Horton, who heads the human rights committee of the Bar Association of the City of New York, said the Red Cross committee was considering whether to bring more senior officials to Washington and whether to make public its criticisms.

The report from the June visit said the Red Cross team found a far greater incidence of mental illness produced by stress than did American medical authorities, much of it caused by prolonged solitary confinement. It said the medical files of detainees were "literally open" to interrogators.

The report said the Biscuit team met regularly with the medical staff to discuss the medical situations of detainees. At other times, interrogators sometimes went directly to members of the medical staff to learn about detainees' conditions, it said.

The report said that such "apparent integration of access to medical care within the system of coercion" meant that inmates were not cooperating with doctors. Inmates learn from their interrogators that they have knowledge of their medical histories and the result is that the prisoners no longer trust the doctors.…

Monday, November 29, 2004

Bush's Social Security Plan Is Said to Require Vast Borrowing

Bush's Social Security Plan Is Said to Require Vast Borrowing
“White House and Republicans in Congress are all but certain to embrace large-scale government borrowing to help finance President Bush's plan to create personal investment accounts in Social Security, according to administration officials, members of Congress and independent analysts.

The White House says it has made no decisions about how to pay for establishing the accounts, and among Republicans on Capitol Hill there are divergent opinions about how much borrowing would be prudent at a time when the government is running large budget deficits. Many Democrats say that the costs associated with setting up personal accounts just make Social Security's financial problems worse, and that the United States can scarcely afford to add to its rapidly growing national debt.

But proponents of Mr. Bush's effort to make investment accounts the centerpiece of an overhaul of the retirement system said there were no realistic alternatives to some increases in borrowing, a requirement the White House is beginning to acknowledge.…”

Proponents say the necessary amount of borrowing could vary widely, from hundreds of billions to trillions of dollars over a decade, depending on how much money people are permitted to contribute to the accounts and whether the changes to Social Security include benefit cuts and tax increases.

Borrowing by the government could be necessary to establish the personal accounts because of the way Social Security pays for benefits. Under the current system, the payroll tax levied on workers goes to benefits for people who are already retired. Personal accounts would be paid for out of the same pool of money; they would allow workers to divert a portion of their payroll taxes into accounts invested in mutual funds or other investments.

The money going into the accounts would therefore no longer be available to pay benefits to current retirees. The shortfall would have to be made up somehow to preserve benefits for people who are already retired during the transition from one system to the other, and by nearly all estimates there is no way to make it up without relying at least in part on government borrowing.

Mr. Bush has vowed to push hard to remake Social Security. Republicans in Congress say the White House has signaled to them that Mr. Bush will put the issue at the top of his domestic agenda in the coming year.

But the White House has never answered fundamental questions about Mr. Bush's plan. In particular, it has not explained how it would deal with the financial quandary created by its call for personal accounts.

Some conservative analysts and Republicans in Congress say a portion of the temporary financial gap that would be created by personal accounts could be closed through measures like holding down the growth in overall government spending. But nearly everyone involved in the debate over Social Security agrees that some borrowing will be necessary.

The main Republican players in Congress on the issue say they expect to endorse an increase in borrowing to finance the transition to a new system. But they remain split over whether to back plans that would include larger investment accounts and few painful trade-offs like benefit cuts and tax increases - and therefore require more borrowing - or to limit borrowing and include more steps that would be politically unpopular.

"Anybody who thinks borrowing money for the transition to personal accounts is going to solve the problem of the long-term solvency of Social Security doesn't understand the size of the problem," said Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over the retirement system.…

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Big Iraqi Parties Are Urging Delay in Jan. 30 Voting

Big Iraqi Parties Are Urging Delay in Jan. 30 Voting
“Some of Iraq's most powerful political groups, including the party led by the interim prime minister, called Friday for a six-month delay in elections scheduled for Jan. 30, citing concerns over security.

The list of groups includes some that have been among the strongest backers of American policy in Iraq, and their call gives sudden momentum to those arguing for a postponement. The two main Kurdish parties supported the delay request, marking the first time the Kurds, closely allied with the Americans, have taken a clear stand on the issue.

President Bush told reporters at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., that he hoped the elections would proceed on schedule. But in recent days, administration officials have indicated in private comments that they would insist on January elections only as long as Iraqi officials did.

The Iraqi government itself did not join in a petition issued Friday to the electoral commission calling for a delay. The party of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi gave oral assent rather than a signature to the document.

It was signed by 15 groups and orally backed by dozens of individual political and religious figures after an impassioned two-hour meeting at the Baghdad home of Adnan Pachachi, a prominent Sunni politician.

‘The participants call for postponement of the elections for six months in order to address the current security situation and to complete the necessary administrative, technical and systematic arrangements,’ the petition said.

One participant said the party of Dr. Allawi, the Iraqi National Accord, did not sign the petition perhaps because of fear that a written call by him would be seen as a self-serving effort to stay in power.”

Shiite Muslims, who make up at least 60 percent of the population, have been adamant about holding elections by the end of January. Sunni Arabs, and Kurds to a lesser degree, have expressed fears that Shiites will vastly dominate the new government and exercise their power unchecked. The Sunni Arabs and the Kurds each make up about a fifth of the population, and Sunnis ruled what is now Iraq for centuries until the toppling of Saddam Hussein.

An interim constitution approved last spring says elections must be held by the end of January. On Sunday, an Iraqi electoral commission independent of the government set Jan. 30 as election day. But even before that, some parties, particularly ones dominated by Sunni Arabs, had begun agitating for a delay, arguing that violence in the Sunni regions of central and northern Iraq would cut voter turnout.…

Most of the groups that met at Mr. Pachachi's home are secular and led by Sunni Arabs. The call for delay widens the growing political rifts between Sunni Arabs and Shiite Arabs, and underscores the stark sectarian divisions that threaten to unravel the very social fabric of this country.

Most secular parties also have little name recognition right now and want more time to organize campaigns against religious candidates.

But those arguing for a delay on Friday cited the deteriorating security condition as the main reason.

Four employees of a British security company, Global Risk Strategies, were killed and up to 15 wounded when a rocket or mortar shell landed Thursday in Baghdad inside the fortified Green Zone, security contractors said Friday. Reports indicated that perhaps all four of the men who died were former Gurkha warriors from Nepal.

American troops in the devastated city of Falluja continued going house to house searching for insurgents, occasionally engaging in gun battles. Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, commander of the First Marine Expeditionary Force, said troops had cleared about half of the city's buildings in the nearly two weeks since the American-led offensive ended.

Thousands of American-led troops continued a sweep through Babil Province, a Sunni area immediately south of Baghdad that is rife with bandits and insurgents.…
con·cept: 2004