The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     

U.S. distances itself from Iraqi PM
BBC News, May 29, 2004

US Secretary of State Colin Powell has insisted that the decision on who will lead Iraq after the handover of power rests with the United Nations.

Earlier, the White House welcomed a decision by the Iraqi Governing Council to nominate Shia former exile Iyad Allawi as interim prime minister.

But Mr Powell said it was up to the UN special envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, to confirm the post.

The UN response has been cool, speaking only of "respect" for the decision. [complete article]

Exiled Allawi was responsible for 45-minute WMD claim
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, May 29, 2004

The choice of Iyad Allawi, closely linked to the CIA and formerly to MI6, as the Prime Minister of Iraq from 30 June will make it difficult for the US and Britain to persuade the rest of the world that he is capable of leading an independent government.

He is the person through whom the controversial claim was channelled that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction could be operational in 45 minutes. [complete article]

Surprising choice for premier of Iraq reflects U.S. influence
By Warren Hoge and Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, May 29, 2004

After turning to the United Nations to shore up its failing effort to fashion a new government in Baghdad, the United States ended up Friday with a choice for prime minister certain to be seen more as an American candidate than one of the United Nations or the Iraqis themselves.

The man chosen to be prime minister, Iyad Alawi, is the secretary general of the Iraqi National Accord, an exile group that has received funds from the Central Intelligence Agency. His ties with the C.I.A., and his closeness to the United States could become an issue in a country where public opinion has grown almost universally hostile to the Americans.

The announcement of Dr. Alawi's selection appeared to surprise several at the United Nations.

"When we first heard the news today, we thought that the Iraqi Governing Council had hijacked the process," said a senior United Nations official, referring to the American-picked body that voted to recommend Dr. Alawi earlier on Friday. [complete article]

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The homicide cases
Editorial, Washington Post, May 28, 2004

President Bush's persistence in describing the abuse of foreign prisoners as an isolated problem at one Iraqi prison is blatantly at odds with the facts seeping out from his administration. These include mounting reports of crimes at detention facilities across Iraq and Afghanistan and evidence that detention policies the president approved helped set the stage for torture and homicide. Yes, homicide: The most glaring omission from the president's account is that at least 37 people have died in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and that at least 10 of these cases are suspected criminal killings of detainees by U.S. interrogators or soldiers.

The deaths reveal much about the true nature of the still-emerging prisoner scandal. First, only a minority of them occurred at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad; nine of the 10 homicides acknowledged by the Pentagon occurred elsewhere. Second, the administration has done its best to cover up the killings: They have been reported only after news of them leaked to the media, and details about most of them are still undisclosed. [complete article]

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Cuba base sent its interrogators to Iraqi prison
By Douglas Jehl and Andrea Elliot, New York Times, May 29, 2004

Interrogation experts from the American detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were sent to Iraq last fall and played a major role in training American military intelligence teams at Abu Ghraib prison there, senior military officials said Friday.

The teams from Guantanamo Bay, which had operated there under directives allowing broad latitude in questioning "enemy combatants," played a central role at Abu Ghraib through December, the officials said, a time when the worst abuses of prisoners were taking place. Prisoners captured in Iraq, unlike those sent from Afghanistan to Guantanamo, were to be protected by the Geneva Conventions.

The teams were sent to Iraq for 90-day tours at the urging of Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, then the head of detention operations at Guantanamo. General Miller was sent to Iraq last summer to recommend improvements in the intelligence gathering and detention operations there, a defense official said.

The involvement of the Guantanamo teams has not previously been disclosed, and military officials said it would be addressed in a major report on suspected abuses by military intelligence specialists that is being completed by Maj. Gen. George W. Fay. [complete article]

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Conservative allies take Chalabi case to the White House
By Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times, May 29, 2004

Influential outside advisers to the Bush administration who support the Iraqi exile leader Ahmad Chalabi are pressing the White House to stop what one has called a "smear campaign" against Mr. Chalabi, whose Baghdad home and offices were ransacked last week in an American-supported raid.

Last Saturday, several of these Chalabi supporters said, a small delegation of them marched into the West Wing office of Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, to complain about the administration's abrupt change of heart about Mr. Chalabi and to register their concerns about the course of the war in Iraq. The group included Richard N. Perle, the former chairman of a Pentagon advisory group, and R. James Woolsey, director of central intelligence under President Bill Clinton.

Members of the group, who had requested the meeting, told Ms. Rice that they were incensed at what they view as the vilification of Mr. Chalabi, a favorite of conservatives who is now central to an F.B.I. investigation into who in the American government might have given him highly classified information that he is suspected of turning over to Iran. [complete article]

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Terror threat source called into question
By Lisa Myers, NBC News, May 28, 2004

Earlier this week Attorney General John Ashcroft warned of an attack planned on America for sometime in the coming months. That may happen, but NBC News has learned one of Ashcroft's sources is highly suspect.

In warning Americans to brace for a possible attack, Ashcroft cited what he called "credible intelligence from multiple sources," saying that "just after New Year's, al-Qaida announced openly that preparations for an attack on the United States were 70 percent complete.… After the March 11 attack in Madrid, Spain, an al-Qaida spokesman announced that 90 percent of the arrangements for an attack in the United States were complete."

But terrorism experts tell NBC News there's no evidence a credible al-Qaida spokesman ever said that, and the claims actually were made by a largely discredited group, Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, known for putting propaganda on the Internet. [complete article]

Ashcroft faces criticism for issuing terrorism alert
By Shaun Waterman, UPI (via Washington Times), May 28, 2004

Attorney General John Ashcroft faced a barrage of criticism yesterday over his announcement that al Qaeda was planning to strike America over the summer, with the White House having to step in to clear up conflicting public messages.

Rep. Christopher Cox, California Republican and chairman of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, accused Mr. Ashcroft of usurping the Homeland Security Department's role at the center of the decision-making process about publicizing terror threats.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge's absence from Wednesday's press conference "and the conflicting public messages their separate public appearances delivered to the nation, suggests that the broad and close interagency consultation we expect -- and which the law requires -- did not take place in this case," Mr. Cox said.

Rep. Jim Turner, Texas Democrat and ranking member of the committee, said if the suggestion were true, there was clearly "a lack of coordination between the two key public agencies involved in homeland security." [complete article]

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Hard-line cleric slips into top spot in Pakistan's opposition
Appointment angers secular party leaders

By Juliette Terzieff, San Francisco Chronicle, May 27, 2004

A pro-Taliban cleric received a surprise nod to head the opposition in Pakistan's parliament Tuesday, prompting an angry response from secular politicians outraged at the strengthening of a military-religious alliance that has effectively sidelined them for the past three years. [...]

Rehman, a controversial, pot-bellied cleric in a country filled with controversial politicians, is derisively called "Mr. Diesel" in reference to kickbacks he allegedly received during a brief alliance with Bhutto's government.

He is a vocal supporter of the Taliban and al Qaeda's Osama bin Laden. His Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam organization -- which runs hundreds of religious seminaries across Pakistan -- sent 5,000 students to join the Taliban's march to power in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s. He once said that a U.S. strike on Afghanistan should be met with holy war from both Afghan and Pakistani Muslims. [complete article]

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U.S., U.N. blindsided on Iraq PM announcement
By Caren Bohan, Reuters (via Yahoo), May 28, 2004

When word surfaced in Baghdad on Friday that Iyad Allawi would lead Iraq's interim government, confusion reigned both in Washington and at the United Nations, despite President Bush's assurances of an orderly handover.

For weeks, the Bush administration has described the selection of the interim government as a process that was being spearheaded by U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in consultation with the United States and Iraqis.

Bush, in a major address on Monday, laid out a step by step plan that he said would lead to Iraqi sovereignty on June 30.

But it was the U.S. appointed-Iraqi Governing Council and an aide to Allawi who first disclosed his selection to the top job in the transitional Iraqi government.

Nearly three hours later Brahimi gave his endorsement to Allawi through a spokesman. It took a full three additional hours for a senior administration official in Baghdad, who spoke on condition of anonymity, to confirm that Allawi would be interim prime minister. [complete article]

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Iraqis have doubts over choice of interim premier
By Michael Georgy, Reuters (via Yahoo), May 28, 2004

News that Iyad Allawi had been chosen as interim prime minister on Friday did little to cheer many Iraqis who dismissed him as an outsider lacking the political experience to lead the country out of post-war chaos.

"What is his political experience? I know nothing about him. He lived abroad as an exile. We need someone who lived here who can pull Iraq out of a crisis," said a hotel manager who declined to give his name.

"Iraq is the same as it was in the time of Saddam Hussein except now I am afraid of militiamen so I can't say my name."

Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council on Friday recommended Allawi, one of its members, as prime minister.

But Iraqis in central Baghdad said they knew little about the man with long-time links to the CIA. [complete article]

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Speech on Iraq
By Al Gore, MoveOn PAC, May 26, 2004

George W. Bush promised us a foreign policy with humility. Instead, he has brought us humiliation in the eyes of the world.

He promised to "restore honor and integrity to the White House." Instead, he has brought deep dishonor to our country and built a durable reputation as the most dishonest President since Richard Nixon.

Honor? He decided not to honor the Geneva Convention. Just as he would not honor the United Nations, international treaties, the opinions of our allies, the role of Congress and the courts, or what Jefferson described as "a decent respect for the opinion of mankind." He did not honor the advice, experience and judgment of our military leaders in designing his invasion of Iraq. And now he will not honor our fallen dead by attending any funerals or even by permitting photos of their flag-draped coffins.

How did we get from September 12th , 2001, when a leading French newspaper ran a giant headline with the words "We Are All Americans Now" and when we had the good will and empathy of all the world -- to the horror that we all felt in witnessing the pictures of torture in Abu Ghraib.

To begin with, from its earliest days in power, this administration sought to radically destroy the foreign policy consensus that had guided America since the end of World War II. The long successful strategy of containment was abandoned in favor of the new strategy of "preemption." And what they meant by preemption was not the inherent right of any nation to act preemptively against an imminent threat to its national security, but rather an exotic new approach that asserted a unique and unilateral U.S. right to ignore international law wherever it wished to do so and take military action against any nation, even in circumstances where there was no imminent threat. All that is required, in the view of Bush's team is the mere assertion of a possible, future threat - and the assertion need be made by only one person, the President.

More disturbing still was their frequent use of the word "dominance" to describe their strategic goal, because an American policy of dominance is as repugnant to the rest of the world as the ugly dominance of the helpless, naked Iraqi prisoners has been to the American people. Dominance is as dominance does. [complete article]

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Worry and anger over Iraq situation
By T.R. Reid, Washington Post, May 28, 2004

From this edge of the western plains to California's palm-lined drives to New York's urban canyons, Americans say they are worried and angry about the U.S. role in Iraq, with their anxiety matching that of the earliest days of the war when the success of the push to Baghdad was far from secure.

Nearly daily attacks on U.S. troops and continuing revelations about abuse of Iraqi prisoners have combined to stir the unrest, leading many to doubt whether the outcome will match the Bush administration's stated goals for going to war.

"I'm getting worried now about this war," Betty Johnson said this week as she waited for two soft pretzels at downtown Ogallala's meeting place, the Spruce Street Sandwich Shop. "Before, I felt it was something we had to do. But it's going so bad. So I wonder now, kind of, what's the point?" [complete article]

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Troop deaths in Iraq reach 800
Scripps Howard News Service (via, May 28, 2004

The official death toll of U.S. troops in Iraq reached 800 on Thursday during a month that ranks as the deadliest for National Guard and reserve troops since the war began.

With four days of the month remaining, 22 so-called "weekend warriors" have already perished in May. They represented more than 1 in 3 of the 69 deaths so far in May. In April, part-time troops accounted for fewer than 1 in 5 of the fallen.

The growing toll of part-time troops was predicted by military officials, stemming from an influx of thousands of reservists as part of a massive rotation of U.S. forces over the past few months. With the replacement operation nearly done, the force of 138,000 consists of nearly 40 percent civilian-soldiers. [complete article]

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To tell the truth
By Paul Krugman, New York Times, May 28, 2004

Some news organizations, including The New York Times, are currently engaged in self-criticism over the run-up to the Iraq war. They are asking, as they should, why poorly documented claims of a dire threat received prominent, uncritical coverage, while contrary evidence was either ignored or played down.

But it's not just Iraq, and it's not just The Times. Many journalists seem to be having regrets about the broader context in which Iraq coverage was embedded: a climate in which the press wasn't willing to report negative information about George Bush.

People who get their news by skimming the front page, or by watching TV, must be feeling confused by the sudden change in Mr. Bush's character. For more than two years after 9/11, he was a straight shooter, all moral clarity and righteousness.

But now those people hear about a president who won't tell a straight story about why he took us to war in Iraq or how that war is going, who can't admit to and learn from mistakes, and who won't hold himself or anyone else accountable. What happened?

The answer, of course, is that the straight shooter never existed. He was a fictitious character that the press, for various reasons, presented as reality. [complete article]

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Not fit to print
By James C. Moore, Salon, May 27, 2004

When the full history of the Iraq war is written, one of its most scandalous chapters will be about how American journalists, in particular those at the New York Times, so easily allowed themselves to be manipulated by both dubious sources and untrustworthy White House officials into running stories that misled the nation about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. The Times finally acknowledged its grave errors in an extraordinary and lengthy editors note published Wednesday. The editors wrote:

"We have found ... instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been ... In some cases, the information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged -- or failed to emerge ... We consider the story of Iraq's weapons, and of the pattern of misinformation, to be unfinished business. And we fully intend to continue aggressive reporting aimed at setting the record straight."

The editors conceded what intelligence sources had told me and numerous other reporters: that Pentagon favorite Ahmed Chalabi was feeding bad information to journalists and the White House and had set up a situation with Iraqi exiles where all of the influential institutions were shouting into the same garbage can, hearing the same echo. "Complicating matters for journalists, the accounts of these exiles were often eagerly confirmed by United States officials convinced of the need to intervene in Iraq. Administration officials now acknowledge that they sometimes fell for misinformation from these exile sources. So did many news organizations -- in particular, this one."

The reporter on many of the flawed stories at issue was Judith Miller, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and authority on the Middle East. The Times, insisting that the problem did not lie with any individual journalist, did not mention her name. [complete article]

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Christian Zionists, Jews & Bush's reelection strategy
By Bill Berkowitz, WorkingForChange, May 28, 2004

On May 20, the Israeli Defense Forces brutally killed a number of Palestinian school children and wounded dozens of others peacefully demonstrating at the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. The United Nations Security Council quickly passed a resolution condemning the action, urging Israel to stop demolishing Palestinian homes, and calling for an end to violence. While not vetoing the resolution, as it has done on past occasions, the U.S. abstained from the vote.

Two days earlier, at a high-profile appearance aimed at galvanizing support from Jewish voters, President George W. Bush told the more than 4,000 delegates gathered at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a major pro-Israel lobbying organization, that "By defending the freedom and prosperity and security of Israel, you're also serving the cause of America."

In late March, at a less publicized gathering, the National Security Council's Near East and North African Affairs director, Elliott Abrams, and other Bush administration officials met for two hours with members of The Apostolic Congress, a politically powerful group of Christian fundamentalists, to reassure them that the administration's support for Israel was unwavering.

While AIPAC and The Apostolic Congress may appear to have little in common, one overarching concern binds the two groups -- the safety and security of Israel. In an election where a small number of votes in a few battleground states could make a big difference, an increase in Jewish votes for Bush, meshing with the always reliable Christian fundamentalist vote, could push him over the top. [complete article]

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Sharon's right hand
By Azmi Bishara, Al-Ahram, May 27, 2004

For Israel, demolition is a way of life, a path it has chosen, building itself on the ruins of the Palestinian people. Rafah is not an aberration. As soon as Israel took East Jerusalem in June 1967, it proceeded to raze Amwas, Yalu, and Beit Nuba on the road to the Mediterranean, and Al-Magharba neighbourhood, near Al-Buraq (wailing) wall.

Few would remember the news conference Moshe Dayan held on 3 June 1969 to commemorate the second anniversary of the 1967 War. In that conference, Dayan said that Israel has killed 750 "saboteurs" and demolished 250 houses. The demolition of homes is an Israeli trademark, so is the blasting out of holes in the side of buildings for soldiers to use as doors. This invention proved such a success that the Americans are copying it. In August 1971, Israel evacuated thousands from Jabalia to build "safe roads" as part of a clampdown on Palestinian resistance in the Gaza Strip. The man who gave the demolition order was none other than General Ariel Sharon, at that time commander of the southern sector.

Much -- actually little -- water has run down the River Jordan since then. And thousands upon thousands of Palestinian homes have been demolished in a war fought primarily by bulldozers. Earth-moving equipment is at the heart of Zionism, as it has been since the 1948 War. Home demolition is Israel's favourite punishment for Palestinians resisting the occupation. [complete article]

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'Rafah is our Falluja'
By Khaled Amayreh, Al-Ahram, May 27, 2004

Rafah's 140,000 inhabitants are counting the cost of Israel's latest and most brutal blitz of murder, terror and house demolitions. Palestinians see the Israeli aggression as "ethnic cleansing" and "a holocaust". Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, name it "war crimes against humanity".

Even some Israeli ministers have admitted that the scenes of misery and destruction in Rafah are reminiscent of and similar to scenes from war-devastated Europe. According to Said Zurub, Rafah's mayor, the Israeli army reduced much of his town to "a graveyard of concrete rubble, twisted iron bars, sand mounds and depression".

"I can't describe what happened in words. It is a holocaust," said Zurub shortly after he took part in the funeral of some 16 women and children whose bodies were kept inside refrigerators for several days as the local hospital's mortuary was filled to capacity with other victim's bodies. [complete article]

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U.S., Shiite militia clash despite truce
NBC News, May 28, 2004

U.S. troops clashed with Iraqi fighters from Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia on Friday near the holy city Najaf, and two American troops were wounded when their Humvee came under small arms fire in Kufa, a day after the radical Shiite cleric offered a truce that U.S. forces agreed to respect.

Al-Sadr himself failed to appear for his weekly sermon at Kufa, disappointing thousands of followers, some of them armed, who had flocked to hear him despite U.S. roadblocks. They chanted defiance of America and said U.S. troops had broken the truce.

After a morning marked by sporadic gunfire and a mortar attack on a nearby U.S. base, the main mosque at Kufa just outside Najaf was packed and about 5,000 more Sadr followers crowded outside after walking around a U.S. armored cordon.

But at 1 p.m. (0900 GMT), it was not the young cleric but an ardent follower, Sheikh Jader al-Khafaji, who preached the usual weekly sermon on the Muslim day of prayer. An aide, confirming Sadr was not in Kufa, said he did not know where he was. [complete article]

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Shiite politicians' objections lead candidate to withdraw
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post, May 28, 2004

A politically independent Shiite Muslim who had been a top choice of the United States and the United Nations to become Iraq's prime minister withdrew from consideration after objections from formerly exiled Shiite politicians who want the job for themselves, officials involved in the political transition said Thursday.

The politicians' refusal to accept Hussain Shahristani as prime minister has complicated U.S. and U.N. efforts to form an interim Iraqi government to assume limited political authority on June 30, forcing U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and top U.S. officials to scramble for new candidates. The U.S. occupation authority had hoped to have the government named by Monday, to give appointees a month to work into their new jobs, but U.N. officials said that goal now appears unattainable.

The stand against Shahristani also struck a serious blow to attempts by the United States and the United Nations to fill top positions in the interim government with independents and technocrats instead of politicians, many of whom spent years in exile and enjoy little public support. [complete article]

Comment -- Debate about the nature and extent of Iraqi sovereignty, post-June 30, rests on the assumption that an interim government will by then have actually been formed. But CPA officials and UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi cannot have forgotten the struggle involved in getting the Iraqi Governing Council to sign off on an interim constitution. That was nothing more than an agreement about words on a piece of paper. Now the issue is people. The only thing currently certain about June 30 is the date. June 30 might end up being remembered for what failed to happen that day, rather than as the promised beginning of a sovereign, free Iraq. If so, we can then be assured that the phrase, "staying the course," will get tossed out of the White House lexicon.

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Suspicion surrounds death of Iraqi scientist in U.S. custody
By Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, May 28, 2004

The death certificate issued by the U.S. military indicated that a prominent Iraqi government scientist in American custody for nine months had died of natural causes.

Doubtful, his family ordered an independent autopsy, which concluded that blunt-force injury caused the 65-year-old man's death.

And Mohammed Abdelmonaem Mahmoud Hamdi Alazmirli's body bore suspicious marks: He had a bruise on his nose, an abrasion on his cheek, a cut near his eye and a fractured skull.

The Pentagon has named 23 of 37 detainees who died while in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan. Alazmirli was not among those named, and the military declined to say whether he was among the other 14. [...]

Alazmirli's case raises questions about whether similar ones exist -- suspicious deaths that are not on any official U.S. lists -- and what method the military is using to determine which cases are worthy of review. [complete article]

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In the dock: the radical cleric who became an embarrassment
By Robert Verkaik, The Independent, May 28, 2004

For a man who has spent five years playing an elaborate game of cat and mouse with the British authorities, Abu Hamza was uncharacteristically silent when police arrived at his Hammersmith home in the early hours of yesterday.

He was bundled into a waiting police van and taken to Paddington Green police station and then on to Belmarsh prison where he made his first appearance in what is expected to be a hard-fought extradition battle with the US government.

As he stood in the dock, the radical Muslim cleric, wearing a grey coat, open-necked white shirt and white T-shirt, was read the charges against him. Above him in the public gallery, more than a dozen of his supporters sat in silence.

Then the court clerk asked him if he would consent to being extradited to the United States. Mr Hamza gave a soft laugh and shrugged his shoulders. It was a simple, defiant gesture that left no one in any doubt that Mr Hamza had no intention of giving the American officials an easy ride. [complete article]

See also, Terror fixer or windbag offered martyrdom? (The Guardian).

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Israel releases UK reporter held over Vanunu tapes
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, May 28, 2004

The British journalist Peter Hounam will leave Israel today under threat of deportation after being detained for 24 hours over his work on a planned BBC documentary about Mordechai Vanunu, jailed for 18 years for revealing the country's nuclear secrets.

Mr Hounam, who first broke the story of Mr Vanunu's revelations while working on the Sunday Times in 1986, was released last night by Shin Bet, the Israeli domestic intelligence agency. [...]

Mr Hounam said last night as he left the Russian Compound detention centre in Jerusalem that the authorities had made a "terrible mistake'' by arresting him. He said they had been working on the apparent assumption seemed to think that the interview contained revelations of new secret information about Israel's nuclear programme but it had not. He said: "Mordechai Vanunu has no more secrets to reveal."

He said he had been held in an excrement-smeared cell, questioned for over four hours and allowed only two hours sleep. [complete article]

See also, Israel v. Israel: the new Vanunu shroud (Haaretz)

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U.S. agencies collect, examine personal data on Americans
By Audrey Hudson, Washington Times, May 28, 2004

Numerous federal government agencies are collecting and sifting through massive amounts of personal information, including credit reports, credit-card purchases and other financial data, posing new privacy concerns, according to the General Accounting Office (GAO).

The GAO surveyed 128 federal departments and agencies and found that 52 are using, or planning to implement, 199 data-mining programs, with 131 already operational.

The Education, Defense, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Interior, Labor, Justice, and Treasury departments are among those that use the contentious new technology to detect criminal or terrorist activity; manage human resources; gauge scientific research; detect fraud, waste and abuse; and monitor tax compliance.

The audit released yesterday shows 36 data-mining programs collect and analyze personal information that is purchased from the private sector, including credit reports and credit-card transactions. Additionally, 46 federal agencies share personal information that includes student-loan application data, bank-account numbers, credit-card information and taxpayer-identification numbers.

The Defense Department is the largest user of data-mining technology, followed by the Education Department, which uses private information to track the life of student direct loans and to monitor loan repayments. [complete article]

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The fall of the vulcans
By Timothy Garton Ash, The Guardian, May 27, 2004

Iraq has turned into a disastrous defeat for America and Britain. All the current debate is essentially about damage limitation. The Bush administration invaded Iraq on what has proved to be a false prospectus. It has made a terrible mess of the occupation. It has created more terrorist threats than were there before. Its military has shamed America with the torture in Abu Ghraib. It has provoked waves of anti-Americanism. And the whole business has been a vast, hugely expensive distraction from the pressing challenges that face America and Europe, including poverty, global warming and the very real struggle against the al-Qaida assassins of New York and Madrid. Even if things get better in Iraq, this indictment will stand.

Everyone is asking what America has done to Iraq. But the more important question is: what has Iraq done to America? Redefined it, to be sure, in a new era of world politics. But how? There's a pessimistic interpretation, which sees the American army "specialists" of Abu Ghraib as representative figures - harbingers of a meaner, coarser hyperpower. Here's a more optimistic answer: Iraq could mean the beginning of the end of vulcanism. [complete article]

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The long goodbye
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, May 26, 2004

The administration's cherished goal has been, and remains, to create "a stable, friendly, Israel-recognizing, [U.S. military] base-tolerating and oil-producing 'friend' who will allow us to thumb our nose at the rest of the region with impunity," says a former member of the proconsular authority in Baghdad. You can add "democracy" as icing on the cake, and from afar that recipe sounds mighty appetizing. But Iraqis just haven't bought into our vision for their country, which is precisely why quite a few are fighting us, and why so many more are tolerating or supporting them. President Bush paid lip service to the notion that "Iraqis are a proud people who resent foreign control of their affairs, just as we would." But it's as if he didn't hear his own words. He should think about them more carefully. We all should. [complete article]

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Who will call the shots in Iraq?
By Tony Karon,, May 26, 2004

The Bush administration's battle to win international backing for its Iraq plan will hinge on how it resolves the tension between Iraqi sovereignty and U.S. security control. In his speech Monday aimed at reassuring a domestic audience increasingly skeptical over his handling of Iraq, President Bush vowed both to transfer "full sovereignty" to an Iraqi provisional government on June 30, and to maintain 138,000 U.S. troops (or, possibly, more) in Iraq "under American command." U.S. officials have also insisted, up to now, that American officers will have command responsibility for the Iraqi security forces. But sovereignty is like pregnancy -- you either are or you aren't, because sovereignty means nothing less than final decision-making authority over all matters of state and the maintenance of security within the borders of a given nation state. If sovereignty is indeed to be transferred on June 30, then any U.S. or other foreign military formations in the country will have to submit to the political will of the sovereign Iraqi government.

The major question being asked by both Iraqis and much of the international community now is whether the provisional government that takes over on June 30 will have veto power over U.S. military actions in their country. [complete article]

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A U.S. ally caught between two goals in Iraq
By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times, May 27, 2004

The iconic image of the Kurd is a man in billowy trousers with a rifle, a knife and a will to fight to the death. He has battled throughout the generations, and Kurds say he may be called upon again.

Kurds fear that Shiite and Sunni Muslim insurgencies against U.S. troops in Iraq could splinter the nation. If that happens, the Kurds -- who account for just 19% of the population but control the country's largest ethnic army -- will be forced to choose between their risky dream of independence and the Bush administration's goal of a unified Iraq.

With the June 30 deadline for Iraqis to regain sovereignty little more than a month away, a U.N. envoy is putting the finishing touches on an interim government representing all of the country's main religious and ethnic groups. Kurds are expected to hold prominent positions in the government, but they are uneasy about whether Iraq's disparate factions can hold the country together.

"The turmoil in south and central Iraq threatens us Kurds," said Hewa Abdullah, a painter studying at Sulaymaniya University in the mountains of northern Iraq. "Islamic extremism has arrived in the south and is strong in the middle of the country. If we don't go toward independence, we will lose all our achievements." [complete article]

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Amnesty: 'Bankrupt' war on terror is world's most damaging conflict in 50 years
By Kim Sengupta, The Independent, May 27, 2004

Human Rights and international laws have come under the most sustained attack in 50 years from the "war on terror" led by the United States and Britain, Amnesty International says.

The scathing indictment came in Amnesty's annual report, which accused the US administration of George Bush in particular of pursuing policies "bankrupt of vision and bereft of principles". [complete article]

A message from Irene Khan, Amnesty International's Secretary General

The global security agenda promulgated by the US Administration is bankrupt of vision and bereft of principle. Sacrificing human rights in the name of security at home, turning a blind eye to abuses abroad, and using pre-emptive military force where and when it chooses have neither increased security nor ensured liberty.

Look at the growing insurgency in Iraq, the increasing anarchy in Afghanistan, the unending spiral of violence in the Middle East, the spate of suicide bombings in crowded cities around the world. Think of the continued repression of the Uighurs in China and the Islamists in Egypt. Imagine the scale and scope of the impunity that has marked gross violations of human rights and humanitarian law in the "forgotten" conflicts in Chechnya, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nepal – forgotten, that is, by all except those who daily suffer their worst effects.

Double speak brings disrepute to human rights but, sadly, it is a common phenomenon. The USA and its allies purported to fight the war in Iraq to protect human rights – but openly eroded human rights to win the "war on terror". The war in Iraq was launched ostensibly to reduce the threat of weapons of mass destruction, yet the world is awash with small arms and conventional weapons that kill more than half a million people a year. To make matters worse, in the name of combating the so-called "war on terror", many countries have relaxed controls on exports to governments that are known to have appalling human rights records, among them Colombia, Indonesia, Israel and Pakistan. The uncontrolled trade in arms puts us all at greater risk in peace and war.

Iraq and the "war on terror" have obscured the greatest human rights challenge of our times. According to some sources, developing countries spend about US$22 billion a year on weapons and, for $10 billion dollars a year, they would achieve universal primary education. These statistics hide a huge scandal: the failed promise to attack extreme poverty and address gross economic and social injustice. [complete article]

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'Enemy no. 1'
By Martha Raddatz, ABC News, May 25, 2004

The secretive Task Force 121, charged with finding Osama bin Laden, is now actively hunting for suspected terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as well, intelligence sources tell ABC News.

ABC News has learned the Office of Counterterrorism at the State Department is going to recommend that the reward for his capture be increased from $10 million to $25 million -- the same amount offered for bin Laden.

U.S. officials believe that bin Laden is still the greatest threat to the United States, but say they are now convinced that Zarqawi has global capability to match anyone's. U.S. intelligence officials say they have tracked Zarqawi cells operating not only in Iraq, but in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Turkey, Kuwait, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"He is foreign fighter enemy No. 1," said one official.

The closest the United States has come to capturing Zarqawi was last month, when, through both technical means and informants, intelligence analysts determined he was in Fallujah, the heart of the resistance in Iraq. [complete article]

Comment -- As members of Task Force 121 yet again get distracted from their pursuit of Osama bin Laden, they might be forgiven for growing skeptical about who really is "enemy no. 1." Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is now being promoted as the face of terrorism, but arguably this has more to do with his face than his stature as an international terrorist. Don't get me wrong. For all I know, he really is the greatest threat to the world, but it's also easy to see why he has become the icon of choice in the war on terror. If their primary goal was his capture, counter-terrorism agencies might be well-advised to encourage news outlets to use the photos of Zarqawi that show him in business attire, clean-shaven and bespectacled, yet the image of choice is invariably that of the skullcapped, bearded, Islamic terrorist. Nevertheless, whether he is bearded or clean-shaven, anyone hoping for the reward from his capture could (at least until now) imagine that Zarqawi's prosthetic leg would be a sure giveaway. The latest intelligence indicates however that his infamous trip to Baghdad was not to have a limb removed but for nasal surgery. So, as the picture takes shape it seems that Enemy No. 1 may not limp but he could have a false nose and he isn't in Fallujah. Worst of all, he might, as has been widely reported, have been killed in northern Iraq over year ago.

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Top candidate to lead Iraq's interim government says he doesn't want the job
By Christine Hauser, New York Times, May 27, 2004

An Iraqi nuclear scientist trumpeted as the likely interim leader of Iraq withdrew his name from consideration on Wednesday, and the American military captured a close aide of Moktada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric.

The scientist, Dr. Hussain al-Shahristani, emerged on Tuesday after Iraqi and American officials said that he was a leading candidate.

Dr. Shahristani, a Shiite, had established his credentials by breaking with Saddam Hussein over his plans to develop an atomic bomb and spent several years in Abu Ghraib as a result. He escaped to the West in 1991, during the Persian Gulf war, and led an exile group from London in the intervening years.

But by Wednesday, Dr. Shahristani was expressing misgivings about taking the job, and Iraqi and American officials said others were under consideration. [complete article]

Brahimi undercut by U.S. hints on prime minister
By Roula Khalaf, James Drummond and Mark Turner, Financial Times, May 26, 2004

When Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations envoy in Iraq, appeared on Iraqia, the US-run local television station on Monday night, he sought to reassure viewers that the caretaker government he was selecting would be truly sovereign, even if its powers were limited.

It was part of a series of interviews with the local media aimed at highlighting the leading role played by the UN and lending legitimacy to the transition process. In the interviews, Mr Brahimi has been stressing that he is trying to find a consensus among Iraqis but that he had not yet reached a decision.

Within hours of his appearance on Iraqia, however, Mr Brahimi's central message was undercut by US officials' suggestion that Hussein Shahristani, a well-respected nuclear scientist who had been jailed at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison under Saddam Hussein, was the leading candidate for prime minister. For the past year, Mr Shahristani has been living in Karbala, the Shia holy city. [complete article]

Comment -- Did US officials name Hussein Shahristani as the leading candidate with the hope of applying pressure on him to accept the role of Iraqi prime minister? Or in order to taint his candidacy? Or in order to put pressure on Brahimi? Whatever the reason, it is transparent that George Bush's declaration that Brahimi will select the Iraqi interim government should have come with the caveat, "subject to my approval."

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Bush under fire over terror alert
BBC News, May 27, 2004

President Bush has come under fire for his handling of the domestic war on terror after a warning of a possible al-Qaeda attack in the US.

Attorney General John Ashcroft said information showed al-Qaeda intended "to hit the United States hard".

On Wednesday Mr Ashcroft named seven people he said were a clear danger.

But Democratic challenger Senator John Kerry questioned Mr Bush's commitment to providing the resources necessary to protect the country. [complete article]

An overreaction?
Newsweek, May 26, 2004

Armed with what he called "disturbing" and "credible" intelligence from "multiple sources," Ashcroft appeared with FBI Director Robert Mueller and urged the public to increase its vigilance over the next several months, when a number of events, including an upcoming G-8 summit in Georgia and the political conventions, might present inviting targets. The FBI also issued bulletins for seven Al Qaeda-linked suspects. One of them was Adam Yahiye Gadahn, (formerly Adam Pearlman), a 25-year-old former resident of Orange County, Calif. Gadahn converted to Islam and, according to Mueller, attended training camps in Afghanistan and associated with Abu Zubaydah, once one of Al Qaeda's top leaders.

In his briefing, Ashcroft cited no specific new information other than a claim that was sent to an Arabic newspaper in London immediately after the March 11 Madrid bombing. In it, a shadowy group asserted that a major attack against the United States was "90 percent ready." But the authenticity of the group -- and whether it really spoke for Al Qaeda—was questioned at the time by some U.S. officials.

Although the U.S. intelligence community says it has been concerned for some time about the potential implications for the United States of the Madrid bombings, some U.S. counterterrorism officials told Newsweek they were aware of no sudden surge in "chatter" -- intercepts of terrorists communications -- or other indicators of a possible imminent attack. "We're always getting new threat information, but I wouldn't point to a steep spike in chatter" said one U.S. official. Another counterterrorism official added: "What we're seeing is a lot like what we've seen before." [complete article]

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Whose edifice is this? Spain peels back the layers of its identity
By Lisa Abend and Geoff Pingree, Christian Science Monitor, May 26, 2004

Ever since Charles V erected an altar and choir stall in the middle of this city's Great Mosque five centuries ago - clearing out many of the mosque's emblematic red-and-white-striped arches in the process - Cordoba's Mezquita has symbolized Spain's divisive past.

But now, Muslim immigrants and Spanish converts to Islam are requesting the right to pray inside what was once Europe's most spectacular mosque. That right was taken away during the Christian Reconquest in 1236.

In March the Junta Islamica, a Spanish organization, asked the Vatican for permission for Muslims to worship in the Mezquita. The church's 8th-century Moorish heritage still recalls for Muslims a glorious history in the Iberian Peninsula.

But the request has spurred questions over what Spain's religious and cultural underpinnings are and to whom its history belongs.

It is part of a larger debate vexing Europe. Continued immigration has left many countries struggling not only to integrate new and diverse populations, but to redefine what it means to be European. [complete article]

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Prison interrogations in Iraq seen as yielding little data on rebels
By Douglas Jehl and Eric Schmitt, New York Times, May 27, 2004

The questioning of hundreds of Iraqi prisoners last fall in the newly established interrogation center at Abu Ghraib prison yielded very little valuable intelligence, according to civilian and military officials.

The interrogation center was set up in September to obtain better information about an insurgency in Iraq that was killing American soldiers almost every day by last fall. The insurgency was better organized and more vigorous than the United States had expected, prompting concern among generals and Pentagon officials who were unhappy with the flow of intelligence to combat units and to higher headquarters.

But civilian and military intelligence officials, as well as top commanders with access to intelligence reports, now say they learned little about the insurgency from questioning inmates at the prison. Most of the prisoners held in the special cellblock that became the setting for the worst abuses at Abu Ghraib apparently were not linked to the insurgency, they said. [complete article]

U.S. using some Iraqis as bargaining chips
By Mohamad Bazzi, Newsday, May 26, 2004

U.S. troops wanted Jeanan Moayad's father. When they couldn't find him, they took her husband in his place.

Dhafir Ibrahim has been in U.S. custody for nearly four months. Moayad insists he is being held as a bargaining chip, and military officials have told her he will be released when her father surrenders. Her father is a scientist and former Baath party member who fled to Jordan soon after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.

"My husband is a hostage," said Moayad, 35, an architect who carries a small portrait of Ibrahim in her purse. "He didn't commit any crime."

In a little-noticed development amid Iraq's prison abuse scandal, the U.S. military is holding dozens of Iraqis as bargaining chips to put pressure on their wanted relatives to surrender, according to human rights groups. These detainees are not accused of any crimes, and experts say their detention violates the Geneva Conventions and other international laws. The practice also risks associating the United States with the tactics of countries it has long criticized for arbitrary arrests. [complete article]

Making them talk: the moral debate
By Warren Richey, Christian Science Monitor, May 27, 2004

The harsh treatment of "high value" detainees in the war on terror has triggered a wide-ranging debate over the legal, political, and diplomatic implications of Bush administration policies. But lost in this debate has been a deeper question: Are American actions moral?

By authorizing coercive interrogation measures against certain prisoners overseas, the Bush administration has made clear that it believes it has a higher duty to attempt to force some individuals to reveal information that might help prevent future terror attacks.

Critics say this hard-line approach aimed at extracting actionable intelligence helped set the stage for the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison. But aside from the abuses uncovered in Iraq, many question whether it is ever moral to use the intentional infliction of pain to force someone to talk. [complete article]

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U.K. journalist arrested in Israel
BBC News, May 27, 2004

Israeli police have arrested a British journalist who interviewed Mordechai Vanunu - the man jailed for revealing Israel's nuclear secrets - in 1986.

The arrest of Peter Hounam, 60, has been confirmed by the Israeli prime minister's office.

Mr Hounam was making a documentary for the BBC, which said it was aware he had been arrested and was "very concerned". [complete article]

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The Bush and Kerry tilt
By Nicholas D. Kristoff, New York Times, May 26, 2004

George Bush and John Kerry disagree on almost every issue, with one crucial exception: they compete to support a myopic policy that is unjust, that damages our credibility around the world and that severely undermines our efforts in Iraq.

It's our Israel-Palestine policy, which has become so unbalanced that it's now little more than an embrace of the right-wing jingoist whom Mr. Bush unforgettably labeled a "man of peace": Ariel Sharon.

American presidents have always tried to be honest brokers in the Middle East. Truman, Johnson and Reagan were a bit more pro-Israeli, while Eisenhower, Carter and George H. W. Bush were a bit cooler, but all aimed for balance.

President Bush tossed all that out the window as he snuggled up to Mr. Sharon. Mr. Bush gazes admiringly as Mr. Sharon responds to terrorist attacks by sending troops to bulldoze Palestinian homes and shoot protesters, and he dropped President Clinton's intensive efforts to reach a peace deal. Prof. Michael Hudson of Georgetown University describes present Middle East policy as "a bumbling incompetence, running here or there but doing nothing consistently." [complete article]

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Bloody vengeance or assault on terrorists: can the truth emerge from Rafah's ruins?
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, May 26, 2004

Rafah's residents are inclined to take Israel's military at its word when it says the assault on the town and refugee camp is not over and the army is just "taking a deep breath".

But beyond that there is little agreement over Operation Rainbow, which has shuddered to a halt short of its original aims.

The death figures, who died and how, the extent of the destruction and whether a Palestinian with a gun is a terrorist or legally resisting occupation are all contested. But at the heart of the dispute is the real reason for Operation Rainbow.

Was it, as Israel says, an assault on the "terrorist infrastructure" that threatens ordinary Jews? Or, as many people in Rafah say, vengeance for the deaths of Israeli soldiers whose killings angered and embarrassed Ariel Sharon. [complete article]

Homeless and angry, Palestinians call for justice
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, May 25, 2004

As an Israeli bulldozer began to destroy his house in Rafah's Brazil neighbourhood, Ibrahim abu Hamad, 40, was still in it. He was talking on his mobile phone to his employer - the Israeli boss of a construction company in Tel Aviv. Meir Grimstein, who has known Mr abu Hamad for 15 years and who did his own military service in Gaza, had telephoned to ask how his employee was doing. "When I told him the bulldozer had started to demolish my house, he said: 'I don't believe you. I know where your house is. It isn't near the border.'"

But when Mr abu Hamad persuaded him otherwise, "he said 'how can I help you?' I told him: 'You can't help me. The bulldozer is already here. It's too late.'" For by now Mr abu Hamad, his wife and seven children had fled to the back of the house as the bulldozer rumbled on through the front, lumbering to a halt within five metres of the rear wall to leave them room to escape while waving a white cloth in the hope that it would stop the tanks shooting at the sand around their feet.

Mr abu Hamad, like other Palestinian migrant workers, has not been able to leave Gaza since March. But contacted by telephone in Tel Aviv yesterday, Mr Grimstein said he still hoped that Mr abu Hamad would be able to return to work.

He wasn't on the spot, he said, so he wasn't in a position to express a view about the demolitions in general, but no, he didn't think it was fair in Mr abu Hamad's case. The supreme irony of losing his home in a painfully short few minutes during the height of the army's incursion into Brazil camp last week was not lost on Mr abu Hamad. "I build houses in Israel and the Israelis destroy my house here," he said. [complete article]

Emerging from fear to bury a son
By Robin Shulman, Washington Post, May 25, 2004

On the same day that Israeli tank fire killed eight Palestinian protesters in an incident that dominated international broadcasts and headlines last week, another young Palestinian died a private, quiet death just a few hundred yards away.

Thirteen-year-old Saber Abu Libdeh was killed by an Israeli sniper last Wednesday while trying to fetch drinking water for his family in the sealed-off neighborhood of Tel Sultan, his parents and siblings said. There were no headlines and no news stories. Even some of his relatives and neighbors, locked in their houses under military curfew, didn't know what had happened to him until days later, they said.

As Israeli tanks, armored bulldozers and soldiers began pulling out of Rafah Monday morning and military officials said they had suspended a seven-day offensive, the Abu Libdeh family emerged from seven days of fear to bury their son and tell the story of his death. It was a story that in many ways captured the suffering felt by about 25,000 Palestinians in a residential area transformed into a fighting field. [complete article]

Bulldozers threaten Gaza 'school of hope'
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, May 25, 2004

Each day, Darwish Abu Sharakh climbs to the top floor of Rafah's only school for the deaf, unfurls the Palestinian flag on the balcony and waves at the shadowy outline of an Israeli soldier in a gun tower across the wasteland that was once a sea of roofs.
It is a dangerous act of defiance, but one that has taken on added symbolism as the headteacher faces up to the prospect that the El-Amal school's days may be numbered.

"They know me now. I'm sure they won't shoot me," he says on the balcony, even though there is a standing order for Israeli troops to fire at anyone seen on the upper floors of buildings facing the free-fire zone of the "Philadelphi road" security strip along the Egyptian border.

Until last week, the El-Amal school for the deaf had 131 students between four and 16 years old - the only facility of its kind in southern Gaza.

But even before the tanks and bulldozers rolled into Rafah a week ago, Mr Abu Sharakh sensed trouble, brought forward the end-of-year exams and then sent the pupils home. Now his main concern is whether they will have a school to come back to. [complete article]

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U.S. emphasizes intent to transfer full power to Iraqis -- with limits
By Mary Curtius and Maggie Farley, Los Angeles Times, May 26, 2004

The White House scrambled Tuesday to reassure skeptics that the U.S. planned to transfer full sovereignty to Iraqis on June 30, even as the Bush administration publicly disagreed with its closest ally about whether a new Iraqi government could block U.S. military operations.

A day after President Bush declared in a major speech that Iraqis would exercise authority over their own affairs, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in London that Iraq's interim government would have the right to veto specific military operations by the U.S.-led coalition, a view American officials immediately disputed. And French President Jacques Chirac told Bush in a telephone conversation that France wanted any new U.N. Security Council resolution to spell out clearly that the Iraqis would have a say over U.S.-led military operations. [complete article]

Blair jumps the gun on Iraqi veto
By Michael White, Ewen MacAskill and Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, May 26, 2004

Tony Blair jumped the gun yesterday when he unequivocally promised that the new government in Baghdad will be able to exercise a veto over controversial US-led military operations after the handover of sovereignty on June 30.

The prime minister's remarks at his monthly Downing Street press conference appeared to go further than the White House, Pentagon or Foreign Office.

It was left to Downing Street officials to insist that the remarks applied to British forces, though not necessarily to US troops.

The prime minister, trying to address widespread scepticism in the Arab world and Europe that the transfer of power will be genuine, said: "Let me make it 100% clear, after June 30 there will be the full transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi government.

"If there is a political decision as to whether you go into a place like Falluja in a particular way, that has to be done with the consent of the Iraqi government and the final political control remains with the Iraqi government."

Mr Blair's words go significantly further than the stance of Washington. The US secretary of state, Colin Powell, spelled out the US position, stressing that if they disagreed with the new Iraqi authorities on certain operations, "US forces remain under US command and will do what is necessary to protect themselves." [complete article]

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Fallujah slides toward Islamic state
By Hamza Hendawi, Associated Press (via Sun Herald), May 26, 2004

With U.S. Marines gone and central government authority virtually nonexistent, Fallujah resembles an Islamic mini-state. Anyone caught selling alcohol is flogged and paraded in the city. Men are encouraged to grow beards and barbers are warned against giving "Western" hair cuts.

"After all the blood that was shed, and the lives that were lost, we shall only accept God's law in Fallujah," said cleric Abdul-Qader al-Aloussi, offering a glimpse of what a future Iraq may look like as the U.S.-led occupation draws to a close. "We must capitalize on our victory over the Americans and implement Islamic sharia laws."

The departure of the Marines under an agreement that ended the three-week siege last month has enabled hard-line Islamic leaders to assert their power in this once-restive city 30 miles west of Baghdad.

Some were active in defending the city against the Marines and have profited by a perception - both here and elsewhere in Iraq - that the mujahedeen, or Islamic holy warriors, defeated a superpower. [complete article]

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Sadr City is a dangerous world for U.S. troops
By Robert Moran, Knight Ridder, May 25, 2004

In the sprawling slum known as Sadr City, prominently displayed banners written in English taunt American soldiers. "Welcome," they declare, to a "second Vietnam."

Militiamen loyal to rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr regularly attack U.S. forces.

Bystanders are struck by stray bullets. Residents suspected of helping the Americans are murdered.

In the last month, seven Iraqis, including the chairman of Sadr City's version of a city council, were killed in separate incidents, an Iraqi police official said. In every case, their bodies were hung in public with attached signs accusing them of being American spies.

"There is no security here," lamented Mansour Ali, a 42-year-old tailor who runs a small shop. "When the Americans come, of course fighting will happen, and we close and go home."

The continuing violence underscores how daunting opposition to the American occupation is. U.S. military officials say U.S. troops are slowly winning against al-Sadr's forces in southern Iraq, driving them from places such as Karbala and challenging them in Najaf and Kufa.

But in Sadr City, al-Sadr's Mahdi Army remains firmly in control, despite efforts by the U.S. Army to negotiate a cease-fire with tribal sheiks and a recent weapons buyback program that cost the U.S. Army $1.3 million. [complete article]

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The trail to Tehran
By Andrew Cockburn, The Guardian, May 26, 2004

In the aftermath of last week's raid by Iraqi's police and US forces on the elegant Baghdad mansion currently inhabited by Ahmad Chalabi (it actually belongs to his sister), his angry spokesman cited as evidence of the intruders' barbarity the fact that they seized "even his holy Koran - his personal holy Koran was taken as a document".

If reports that US intelligence has at last woken up to Chalabi's Iranian connection are true, then taking his Koran may have been more than personal spite, since, according to a former close associate, the Pentagon's erstwhile favorite Iraqi owns one bearing an affectionate inscription from the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini himself, evidence of how deep and long standing a relationship he has had with the Islamic Republic. "Ahmad helped Iran very much during the war [the Iran/Iraq war of the 1980s]," recalls this former associate and friend. "Khomeini was very pleased, and he sent him a copy of the Holy Koran inscribed 'To My Son Ahmed.'"

Another former colleague who, like so many, has subsequently fallen out with Chalabi, explains that, "It was during the Iraq/Iran war that Ahmad discovered the value of information as a commodity, that it was something you could trade, buy and sell, and he has used that ever since." [complete article]

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Human rights climate 'worst in 50 years'
By Simon Jeffery and Mark Oliver, The Guardian, May 26, 2004

Amnesty International today claimed that governments and armed groups such as al-Qaida were putting human rights and international humanitarian law under the greatest pressure for more than 50 years.

From long-running conflicts in countries such as Chechnya and Sudan to the Madrid train bombings, it said global insecurity was combining with increasing human rights violations by powerful governments to create a world of "mistrust, fear and division".

The 2004 annual report documents human rights abuses in 155 countries including execution, detention without judicial process, hostage taking and "disappearances" by state agents.

It condemns attacks by al-Qaida and others as "sometimes amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity" but says principles of international law that could prevent such attacks were being undermined and marginalised by powerful countries such as the US. [complete article]

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Abuse of captives more widespread, says Army survey
By Douglas Jehl, Steven Lee Myers and Eric Schmitt, New York Times, May 26, 2004

An Army summary of deaths and mistreatment involving prisoners in American custody in Iraq and Afghanistan shows a widespread pattern of abuse involving more military units than previously known.

The cases from Iraq date back to April 15, 2003, a few days after Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled in a Baghdad square, and they extend up to last month, when a prisoner detained by Navy commandos died in a suspected case of homicide blamed on "blunt force trauma to the torso and positional asphyxia."

Among previously unknown incidents are the abuse of detainees by Army interrogators from a National Guard unit attached to the Third Infantry Division, who are described in a document obtained by The New York Times as having "forced into asphyxiation numerous detainees in an attempt to obtain information" during a 10-week period last spring. [complete article]

General is said to have urged use of dogs
By R. Jeffrey Smith, Washington Post, May 26, 2004

A U.S. Army general dispatched by senior Pentagon officials to bolster the collection of intelligence from prisoners in Iraq last fall inspired and promoted the use of guard dogs there to frighten the Iraqis, according to sworn testimony by the top U.S. intelligence officer at the Abu Ghraib prison.

According to the officer, Col. Thomas Pappas, the idea came from Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, who at the time commanded the U.S. militarydetention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and was implemented under a policy approved by Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the top U.S. military official in Iraq.

"It was a technique I had personally discussed with General Miller, when he was here" visiting the prison, testified Pappas, head of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade and the officer placed in charge of the cellblocks at Abu Ghraib prison where abuses occurred in the wake of Miller's visit to Baghdad between Aug. 30 and Sept. 9, 2003. [complete article]

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Tracing a civilian's odd path to his gruesome fate in Iraq
By James Dao, New York Times, May 26, 2004

... the many unexplained details of Mr. Berg's final days, combined with the uncommon details of his unconventional life, have also prompted furious speculation on the Internet and talk radio about Mr. Berg himself. Some have argued that he was a spy for Israel or the C.I.A., or that the video of his murder was staged by pro-American forces to arouse anger toward Iraqi insurgents. Some have asserted that he had ties to the very Qaeda militants who are believed to be responsible for his death.

He was, after all, traveling alone, without a translator or a bodyguard, in a lawless land whose language he barely understood. He carried books about Iran and kept a detailed inventory of Iraqi communications towers. He was shown in the beheading video wearing orange clothing, which, to some, looked like the jumpsuits worn by prisoners held by the American military.

Adding to the mystery, both the Iraqi police and the American military deny responsibility for Mr. Berg's detention. The Iraqi police contend they promptly turned Mr. Berg over to the American military, an assertion Mr. Berg later confirmed in e-mail home. But American officials assert he remained in the custody of Iraqi police for the entire 13 days.

American law enforcement and intelligence officials have strenuously rejected the conspiracy theories. Mr. Berg was detained because his activities seemed suspicious, and once those suspicions were dispelled, he was released, they said. They are convinced, they said, that Mr. Berg was just a freelancing businessman with a high tolerance for risk, whose naïveté and idealism blinded him to Iraq's treacherous corners. [complete article]

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Translator keeps blowing 9-11 whistle on FBI; U.S. Keeps shutting her up
By James Ridgeway, Village Voice, May 25, 2004

Details of a Florida drug case may well shed light on the claims of an FBI translator who says the agency covered up evidence warning of the 9-11 attack.

Sibel Edmonds, the translator, said in an interview Monday with the Voice that the Florida case illustrates the issues and evidence she has been trying to make public for two years. Edmonds claimed to have translated testimony in criminal and counter-intelligence cases involving different FBI field offices, going back into the late 1990s. Much of this involved tracking money, she said.

Among the Farsi translators working for the FBI, she said, it was common knowledge that a longtime, highly regarded FBI "asset" placed in Afghanistan told the agency in April 2001 that he had information from his contacts there that bin Laden was planning a major attack, involving the use of planes, in one or another of big American cities -- Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York among them. The agents who took down the information from the spy wrote up reports and sent them to their superiors. That was the last the agents heard of the matter. [complete article]

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Qaeda has 18,000 militants for raids, think-tank says
By Paul Majendie, Reuters, May 25, 2004

Al Qaeda has more than 18,000 militants ready to strike and the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq has accelerated recruitment to the ranks of Osama bin Laden's network, a leading London think-tank said Tuesday.

Al Qaeda's finances were in good order, its "middle managers" provided expertise to Islamic militants around the globe and bin Laden's drawing power was as strong as ever, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said.

It warned in its annual Strategic Survey that al Qaeda would keep trying to develop plans for attacks in North America and Europe and that the network ideally wanted to use weapons of mass destruction.

"Meanwhile, soft targets encompassing Americans, Europeans and Israelis, and aiding the insurgency in Iraq, will do," the institute said. [complete article]

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Lawyer is cleared of ties to bombings
By Susan Schmidt and Blaine Harden, Washington Post, May 25, 2004

A federal judge yesterday cleared Oregon lawyer Brandon Mayfield of any connection to the March terrorist bombings in Madrid, saying the FBI had erroneously matched his fingerprint to a latent print found on a bag of bomb detonators shortly after the attack.

The FBI apologized to Mayfield and his family "for the hardships that this matter has caused." It blamed the error on similarities between the fingerprints and the poor quality of digital fingerprint images provided by Spanish authorities.

According to the U.S. attorney in Portland, Ore., four FBI fingerprint examiners and an independent expert hired by Mayfield's lawyer had agreed that the print belonged to Mayfield, 37. But Spanish officials, who had been doubtful of the fingerprint match, announced last week that the print belongs to an Algerian man, prompting the FBI to review its findings and agree it had erred. [complete article]

Spain had doubts before U.S. held lawyer in Madrid blasts
By Sarah Kershaw and Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, May 26, 2004

Days after the train bombings in Madrid last March killed 191 people, the Spanish authorities, unable to find a match with a set of fingerprints found on a plastic bag full of detonators, sent the Federal Bureau of Investigation a digital copy, hoping the bureau could find what they could not.

The F.B.I. quickly and confidently found a match to a Portland-area lawyer, setting in motion a chain of events that led the authorities in the United States to link the wrong man to those fingerprints, tie him to Islamic terrorists, arrest him on a material-witness warrant, jail him for 14 days, drop the entire case on Monday and then face withering questions about how the investigation could have gone so wrong. [complete article]

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Heeding the call of the cleric
By Paul Quinn-Judge, Time, May 31, 2004

Muqtada! Muqtada! Muqtada!" The chants of the faithful drown out the gunfire around the mosque in Kufa. Thousands have gathered to hear Muqtada al-Sadr, Iraq's best-known rebel cleric, lead Friday prayers. A fire fight is raging for control of a nearby bridge, between members of al-Sadr's Mahdi Army and U.S. forces. There's another battle up the road in al-Sadr's hometown, Najaf. As the mosque broadcasts reports of glorious victories over U.S. tanks, the worshippers seem unmoved by the fighting. "The U.S. troops do this every Friday," says one of the faithful, Sheik Halim al-Fatlawi. "The Americans want to terrorize us into not coming to prayers."

For the past six weeks, Kufa and the two cities that house the holiest shrines of Shi'as, Najaf and Karbala, have been the center of al-Sadr's revolt. His militia claim to be protecting the shrines from U.S. forces that have besieged the cities. U.S. commanders insist al-Sadr is a small-time threat whose appeal is limited to a ragtag bunch of angry young men. But judging by the number and intensity of worshippers thronging the mosque in Kufa last Friday, the U.S. may be underestimating the rebel leader. In fact, the more the U.S. aims its guns at al-Sadr, the more popular he seems to become. According to a recent poll, he is now second in popularity to the Grand Ayatullah Ali Husaini Sistani, the Shi'ites' spiritual leader. [complete article]

U.S. closes in on deal with Iraqi cleric
By Orly Halpern, Christian Science Monitor, May 25, 2004

As fighting between Shiite militiamen and US-led coalition forces continued Monday, the outline of a Fallujah-like solution began to emerge.

The death toll rose in Baghdad and Kufa as the Mahdi Army of militant Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr battled US troops. But behind the scenes, direct negotiations were under way to transform Sadr's militia into a political entity and end a violent rebellion.

The coalition has declared repeatedly that it will not negotiate with "militias and criminals." Nonetheless, a deal may be forthcoming with Sadr, said an official close to the talks. The coalition has previously said it wanted the cleric killed or captured.

If the deal pans out, it could bring to an end the seven-week conflict. The hope is that by engaging Sadr politically, the coalition can neutralize him militarily. His militia might also eventually be integrated into the Iraqi national security forces. [complete article]

Failing to disband militias, U.S. moves to accept them
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, May 25, 2004

With only weeks to go until an Iraqi government takes over, American officials have failed to disarm the tens of thousands of fighters in private militias deployed almost exclusively along ethnic and religious lines.

In the 15 months since the fall of Saddam Hussein, American officials have declared repeatedly that they would disband the private militias, recognizing that their narrow, sectarian interests could threaten a unified and democratic Iraqi state.

But with the sharp deterioration of the security situation in recent months, American officials appear to have resigned themselves to working with militias in Falluja, Baghdad and elsewhere even as American soldiers die fighting them in street battles in Karbala and Najaf.

A senior allied official said Monday that the Americans were engaged in delicate negotiations with several of the country's main militias to disband and integrate them into the security forces. The official said the Americans hoped to announce an agreement with the militias as early as this week. But it is not clear, with so few weeks left before the transfer of sovereignty, whether the Americans will have the leverage to disarm the militias.

The danger is that on June 30 the Americans will hand over power to an Iraqi administration that will not have a monopoly on the use of armed force, in an environment that many fear could set the stage for sectarian and ethnic warfare as the country moves toward what are intended to be democratic elections. [complete article]

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A speech meant to rally public support doesn't answer key questions
By Robin Wright and Mike Allen, Washington Post, May 25, 2004

With only five weeks before the transition in Iraq and five months before the U.S. elections, President Bush last night called for more patience, more time, more resources and more support to transform troubled Iraq.

But Bush did not provide the midcourse correction that even some Republicans had called for in the face of increasingly macabre violence in recent weeks -- from the assassination of the president of Iraq's Governing Council and controversy over dozens killed by U.S. warplanes at a purported wedding party to the grisly beheading of an American civilian.

Nor did Bush try to answer some of the looming questions that have triggered growing skepticism and anxiety at home and abroad about the final U.S. costs, the final length of stay for U.S. troops, or what the terms will be for a final U.S. exit from Iraq. After promising "concrete steps," the White House basically repackaged stalled U.S. policy as a five-step plan. [complete article]

Iraq's day of reckoning
By Adam Roberts, The Guardian, May 25, 2004

Will the interim government really be sovereign? On May 14, Powell said that if the government asked US forces to leave, the US would comply. Thus the interim government in theory has a degree of power. However, it is only an appointed caretaker government until elections in December or January, and it may well lack popular legitimacy and political clout.

Like its predecessor, the Iraqi governing council, it will face violent opposition, and it will be dependent on outsiders - including the US and UK - to keep it in power. The reconstruction of its own armed forces has been clumsily handled and is plainly incomplete. In short, the interim government's capacity to ask the US to leave is not likely to be exercised any time soon.

Critics may view the situation as comparable to that of "independent" satellite governments under axis domination before the second world war, as described by George Kennan in a 1939 report on Slovakia to the US state department: "In internal matters, it has exactly the same independence as a dog on a leash. As long as the dog trots quietly and cheerfully at his master's side - and in the same direction - he is quite free; if he starts out on any tangents of his own, he feels the pull at once." [complete article]

U.S., Britain present new Iraq resolution
By William Branigin and Colum Lynch, Washington Post, May 24, 2004

The United States and Britain presented the United Nations Security Council with a new draft resolution today that formally transfers power in Iraq to a "sovereign interim government" by June 30 and gives foreign troops the authority to "take all necessary measures" to ensure secure and prevent terrorism in the country.

The draft resolution, introduced at a closed-door meeting of the Security Council, gives the foreign troops a mandate of at least a year in Iraq, but allows the transitional Iraqi government to request a review of the mandate at any time. [complete article]

Iraqi council: U.S. transfer plan falls short
MSNBC, May 25, 2004

The Iraqi Governing Council has found that the U.S.-British blueprint for a post-occupation Iraq that was submitted to the U.N. Security Council falls short of expectations, the group's president said Tuesday. [complete article]

Bush can't learn from the past if he can't see it
By William Saletan, Slate, May 24, 2004

In press conferences, TV ads, and interviews this year, President Bush has manifested a series of psychopathologies: an abstract notion of reality, confidence unhinged from facts and circumstances, and a conception of credibility that requires no correspondence to the external world. Tonight, as he vowed to stay the course in Iraq, Bush demonstrated another mental defect: incomprehension of his role in history as a fallible human agent. Absent such comprehension, Bush can't fix his mistakes in Iraq because he can't see how -- or even that -- he screwed up. [complete article]

U.S. dodges sovereignty issue
By Thalif Deen, Inter Press Service (via Asia Times), May 26, 2004

The United States has unveiled to the United Nations Security Council the much-awaited draft resolution on Iraq, which calls for the transfer of political and administrative power to Iraq through the formation of a "sovereign interim government", but according to critics, still holds back certain powers. [...]

Overall, the draft received a cautiously positive response from Security Council members, including France and Germany, who blocked US efforts to receive the council's approval for military action against Iraq. But critics of the move say the resolution skirts the crucial issue of how much real sovereignty will be passed to the Iraqi people, whose country will continue to be militarily occupied by US, British and other coalition forces until 2005, or longer.

"There is no such thing as 'sovereignty lite'," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW). "Being sovereign is like being pregnant: you either are or you aren't," Roth added. "If the new Iraqi government [as envisaged by the US-UK resolution] doesn't have ultimate authority and responsibility for the security of the Iraqi people, then it is not truly sovereign." [complete article]

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'Gaps and discrepancies'
By Michael Hirsh, Newsweek, May 24, 2004

Things may be heating up in the prison abuse scandal for Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the former Guantanamo Bay commander who is now in charge of detainees in Iraq. In a harshly worded letter, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence committee questioned the "candor and accuracy" of Miller's responses in a classified briefing to the committee last week.

The May 21 letter to Miller from Rep. Jane Harman, the ranking minority member on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, chastises the general for "gaps and discrepancies in your presentation" and for selectively withholding information. "If information is only provided in response to a question that is phrased in precisely the right way, it is virtually impossible for Congress to fulfill its constitutional oversight responsibility," Harman writes.

In her letter, Harman refers to new details about interrogation policies at the Gitmo detention facility that became public less than 24 hours after Miller's May 20 testimony. "I am dismayed that information emerging immediately after your briefing raises questions about the candor and accuracy of your statements," she says. A copy of the letter was obtained by Newsweek. [complete article]

Former soldier claims he was beaten during training exercise in Cuba
LEX18 (Lexington KY), May 25, 2004

In an exclusive interview with LEX 18's Leigh Searcy, a central Kentucky soldier says he was told to pose as the enemy for a training exercise at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in January 2003 - and it nearly cost him his life. [...]

"They grabbed my arms, my legs, twisted me up and unfortunately one of the individuals got up on my back from behind and put pressure down on me while I was face down," said Baker. "Then he - the same individual - reached around and began to choke me and press my head down against the steel floor. After several seconds, 20 to 30 seconds, it seemed like an eternity because I couldn't breath. When I couldn't breath, I began to panic and I gave the code word I was supposed to give to stop the exercise, which was 'red.'"

But, Baker says, the beating didn't stop. "That individual slammed my head against the floor and continued to choke me," he said. "Somehow I got enough air, I muttered out, 'I'm a U.S. soldier, I'm a U.S. soldier.'"

Baker says it wasn't until one of the soldiers noticed what Baker was wearing did the exercise stop. "He saw that I had BDU's and boots on."

Nearly 15 months after that day, and countless medical treatments at Walter Reed Hospital, Baker is now medically retired from the military, but still suffers. [complete article]

General overseeing prisons says she was 'set up' by Army
By Richard A. Serrano, Los Angeles Times (via Yahoo), May 25, 2004

About two months after the Red Cross warned U.S. commanders of widespread prisoner abuses, the commanding general at Abu Ghraib prison assured the Red Cross in a confidential letter that Iraqi detainees were being given the best treatment possible and that even more "improvements are continually being made."

In an interview Monday, however, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski insisted she was "set up" by Army officials who had her sign the letter when she really had no idea of the depth of problems uncovered at the now-infamous prison outside Baghdad.

In addition, Karpinski said she was notified in an e-mail Monday that she was being suspended from duty but has not yet been given a formal explanation.

"You'd think somebody would pick up the phone and call me," she said, lashing out at the Army hierarchy. "That should have been the protocol courtesy. I am a general officer. Nobody could spend the 25 cents to call me?"

Karpinski's account of the letter and the sequence of events as the Abu Ghraib scandal began to emerge contradicts those of her superiors, who have said they did not react to the abuses sooner because it took months for the reports of problems to rise to their level. [complete article]

CIA bid to keep some detainees off Abu Ghraib roll worries officials
By Douglas Jehl and Eric Schmitt, New York Times, May 25, 2004

The Central Intelligence Agency's practice of keeping some detainees in Abu Ghraib prison off the official rosters so concerned a top Army officer and a civilian official there that they reached a written agreement early this year to stop.

An undated copy of the memorandum was obtained by The New York Times. It was described as an agreement between the Army intelligence unit assigned to the prison and "external agencies," a euphemism for the C.I.A., to halt practices that bypassed both military rules and international standards.

Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, the Army officer who first investigated the prison abuses, concluded in his classified report that the practice of allowing what he called "ghost detainees" at the prison was "deceptive, contrary to Army Doctrine, and in violation of international law." He complained that military guards were being enlisted to hide the prisoners from the Red Cross.

The memorandum provides the clearest indication to date that military officials were troubled by the practice even before General Taguba wrote his report. [complete article]

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Bush can't win this election now. Kerry can only lose it
By Martin Kettle, The Guardian, May 25, 2004

Whoever said that misfortunes come in threes must have had George Bush in mind these past few days. First the US president falls off his mountain bike and grazes his face. Then Michael Moore's anti-Bush movie gets the top prize at the Cannes film festival. And now, to cap a lousy weekend, it looks as if Bush is going to lose the election in November.

Let me be clear. When I say Bush is going to lose, I don't and can't mean it in an absolutely-certain-to-lose, no-way-he-can-win, you-can-put-your-house-on-it sort of way. America's election is still more than five months away and the campaign has barely got out of second gear. Any number of factors, above all in Iraq in the coming weeks, could yet affect the outcome.

Nevertheless, the assumption on which politicians inside and outside America have operated, especially since September 11 2001, and which a large majority of American voters still endorse - that Bush will be re-elected for a second term on November 2 - is now no longer sustainable in the way that it once was. The facts have moved very decisively against it. That doesn't mean it won't happen. But it does mean that all those who have made their plans for the next few years on the basis that Bush will be president until 2008 - Tony Blair among them - need to get serious about the possibility of a John Kerry administration. [complete article]

Why Bush should go to Tehran
By Stanley A. Weiss, International Herald Tribune, May 24, 2004

For years, Washington and Tehran have expressed a willingness to talk, but only after the other moves first - America lifting sanctions and ending its threat of "regime change"; Iran ending its support for terrorism, its nuclear ambitions, and its opposition to Arab-Israeli peace. It's time to call Tehran's bluff.

If President Richard Nixon could go to China, and President Ronald Reagan could go to the Soviet Union, President George W. Bush can go to Iran, and should announce his willingness to do so. Taking the initiative with Tehran would show wavering U.S. voters that the bold wartime president can also be a courageous peacetime diplomat. [complete article]

Comment -- Bush going to Tehran is about as likely as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei visiting Jerusalem, but the idea that presidential leadership requires going overseas to build international consensus is an idea that Kerry should grasp, even if it escapes the understanding of our current stay-at-home president.

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Soldiers' doubts build as duties shift
By Daniel Williams, Washington Post, May 25, 2004

When the Army's 1st Armored Division arrived in Iraq 13 months ago, its job was to close out Iraq's past by wiping out remnants of former president Saddam Hussein's armed base of support. Now several of its units are confronting a new threat, Moqtada Sadr, a Shiite cleric who is leading an armed revolt in defiance of U.S. plans to sideline him in a new Iraq.

This shift in responsibility is hitting hard at soldiers who moved into this area south of Baghdad last Wednesday for a short mission to fight Sadr's militia. In the view of many troops in Company A of the division's Task Force 1-36, the old battle, though filled with hardship, was imbued with the optimism of liberation. The new one is tinted by pessimism. Soldiers feel themselves mired in an effort to navigate the indecipherable intricacies of Iraqi politics.

"I just think it's a lost cause," said Spec. Will Bromley, a gunner who sits inside the turret of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle and mans a 25mm cannon whose rounds can blast walls to pieces. "This has become harder than we thought. Getting rid of Saddam Hussein, that's one thing. Getting Iraqis to do what we want is another. It's like we want to give them McDonald's and they might not want McDonald's. They have to want it or we can't give it to them." [complete article]

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War returns with a vengeance as allies fail the Afghan people
By Kim Sengupta, The Independent, May 25, 2004

The Afghan war was, of course, the first chapter of the War on Terror launched after 11 September. After a relatively quick and casualty-free campaign - for the American military, if not Afghan civilians - George Bush declared victory. Tony Blair pledged: "This time we will not walk away", as had happened following the war the mujahedin fought against the Russians with Western money and arms.

But that, say many Afghans, is exactly what the United States and Britain have done. And just as the official end to hostilities in Iraq has been followed by unremitting violence, so the war has returned with a vengeance in Afghanistan. With international interest concentrating on Iraq, aid money has dried up for the Afghans. The military bill for the Pentagon, so far, is $50bn (£27bn). The money for humanitarian work, on the other hand, has been $4.5bn. Out of that, much of the $2.2bn earmarked for this year has been diverted to military projects and emergency relief from long-term development. [complete article]

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Retired general assails planning for Iraq war
By Mike Allen, Washington Post, May 24, 2004

Retired Marine Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, former U.S. commander in the Middle East, charges in a book to be published today that "everybody in the military knew" that the Bush administration's plan for Iraq consisted of only half the troops that were needed, and says that country is now "a powder keg" that could break apart into warring regions.

Zinni has been a critic of the Iraq war since before the invasion and served briefly as a special envoy for President Bush. He wrote that he was moved to speak out by "false rationales presented as a justification; a flawed strategy; lack of planning; the unnecessary alienation of our allies; the underestimation of the task; the unnecessary distraction from real threats; and the unbearable strain dumped on our overstretched military."

"In the lead-up to the Iraq war and its later conduct, I saw, at a minimum, true dereliction, negligence, and irresponsibility; at worst, lying, incompetence, and corruption," he wrote. " . . . If there is a center that can hold this mess together, I don't know what it is. Civil war could break out at any time. Resources are needed; a strategy is needed; and a plan is needed." [complete article]

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In Iraq, the job opportunity of a lifetime
Managing a $13 billion budget with no experience

By Ariana Eunjung Cha, Washington Post, May 23, 2004

Occupied Iraq was just as Simone Ledeen had imagined -- ornate mosques, soldiers in formation, sand blowing everywhere, "just like on TV." The 28-year-old daughter of neoconservative pundit Michael Ledeen and a recently minted MBA, she had arrived on a military transport plane with the others and was eager to get to work. [...]

Ledeen's journey to Baghdad began two weeks earlier when she received an e-mail out of the blue from the Pentagon's White House liaison office. The Sept. 16 message informed her that the occupation government in Iraq needed employees to prepare for an international conference. "This is an amazing opportunity to move forward on the global war on terror," the e-mail read.

For Ledeen, the offer seemed like fate. One of her family friends had been killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and it had affected her family deeply. Without hesitation, she responded "Sure" to the e-mail and waited -- for an interview, a background check or some other follow-up. Apparently none was necessary. A week later, she got a second e-mail telling her to look for a packet in the mail regarding her move to Baghdad.

Others from across the District responded affirmatively to the same e-mail, for different reasons. Andrew Burns, 23, a Red Cross volunteer who had taught English in rural China, felt going to Iraq would help him pursue a career in humanitarian aid. Todd Baldwin, 28, a legislative aide for Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), thought the opportunity was too good to pass up. John Hanley, 24, a Web site editor, wanted to break into the world of international relations. Anita Greco, 25, a former teacher, and Casey Wasson, 23, a recent college graduate in government, just needed jobs.

For months they wondered what they had in common, how their names had come to the attention of the Pentagon, until one day they figured it out: They had all posted their resumes at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative-leaning think tank. [complete article]

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The other long occupation: Bush in a bubble
By Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times, May 24, 2004

The Abu Ghraib prison scandal was raging, American soldiers were battling Iraqi insurgents near a Shiite shrine, and the Europeans were arguing with the United States over the powers of a new government in Baghdad.

But on that hot, troubled Washington morning of May 14, when President Bush met in the Roosevelt Room of the White House with foreign ministers from the Group of 8, the world's leading industrialized democracies, he spoke to them for exactly eight minutes, took no questions, then left.

"We listen to his speeches, and then the president is gone," said a European diplomat who asked not to be named because he did not want to be seen as criticizing Mr. Bush.

Last week, when the president made a rare trip to Capitol Hill to try to soothe Republicans who are anxious over the increasing chaos of the American occupation, he gave them a 35-minute pep talk, shook hands, took no questions, then left. [complete article]

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Relationship with Chalabi proves costly for Bush administration
By John Walcott, Knight Ridder, May 23, 2004

Of all the Bush administration's missteps in Iraq, the worst may have been listening to Ahmad Chalabi.

The former Iraqi exile fed the administration bogus intelligence on Iraq's weapons programs and ties to international terrorism. He encouraged an invasion with fewer troops that U.S. generals wanted by assuring Americans they would be greeted as liberators and that entire Iraqi army units would surrender. He urged the administration to purge members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party from the police, the military and the government, creating a security vacuum quickly filled by violent insurgency.

The graphic scandal in Iraq's prisons has so far eclipsed the Chalabi story. But his influence on the administration's case for war, its plan for war and its planning for postwar Iraq could prove to be an even more damaging scandal than the treatment of Iraqi prisoners by the U.S. military. [complete article]

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U.S. steps up hunt in leaks to Iraqi exile
By David Johnston and Richard A. Oppel Jr., New York Times, May 24, 2004

The information that Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi exile leader, is believed to have passed to Iran was so highly classified that federal investigators have intensified their inquiry to find out whether anyone in the American government gave the material to Mr. Chalabi, government officials said Sunday.

Federal investigators now suspect that Mr. Chalabi funneled a wide array of Pentagon and C.I.A. secrets to Iran -- much more material than they believe he might have obtained through his political contacts with Americans, they said. "This was not the kind of stuff that he would have gotten by accident," one official said.

Intelligence officials have said the investigation centers on a handful of officials in Washington and Iraq who dealt regularly with Mr. Chalabi, and an even smaller number who also had access to the compromised information. Most of them are at the Pentagon, which was Mr. Chalabi's main point of contact with the Bush administration. [complete article]

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Army widens abuse probe
By Greg Miller and Richard A. Serrano, Los Angeles Times, May 24, 2004

As the investigation of prisoner abuses in Iraq shifts to the role of military intelligence, two intelligence soldiers identified in the notorious pictures from the Abu Ghraib detention facility have been ordered to remain in Baghdad as part of the expanding probe, according to witness statements and commanders of the soldiers' reserve units.

U.S. Army Spcs. Armin J. Cruz and Israel Rivera, both members of a reserve unit in Texas, are so far the only military intelligence soldiers known to be at the scene of the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners in a high-security cellblock at Abu Ghraib.

Neither Cruz nor Rivera has been charged. But their role in the burgeoning scandal may be an important link for investigators seeking to determine whether the abuses were the work of a rogue unit of military police, or were directed by intelligence officers pushing guards to "soften up" detainees for interrogation.

More broadly, the photographs from Abu Ghraib have focused attention on U.S. interrogation practices and raised questions about systemic problems in military prisons from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Bagram air base in Afghanistan. [complete article]

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'I will always hate you people'
By Luke Harding, The Guardian, May 24, 2004

The first Mohammed Munim al-Izmerly's family knew of his death was when his battered corpse turned up at Baghdad's morgue. Attached to the zipped-up black US body bag was a laconic note.

The US military claimed in the note that Dr Izmerly, a distinguished chemistry professor arrested after US tanks encircled his villa, had died of "brainstem compression".

Dr Izmerly's sudden death after 10 months in American custody left his family stunned, not least because three weeks earlier they had visited him in the US prison at Baghdad airport. His 23-year-old daughter, Rana, recalled that he had seemed in "good health".

The family commissioned an independent Iraqi autopsy. Its conclusion was unambiguous: Dr Izmerly had died because of a "sudden hit to the back of his head", Faik Amin Baker, the director of Baghdad hospital's forensic department, certified.

The cause of death was blunt trauma. It was uncertain exactly how he died, but someone had hit him from behind, possibly with a bar or a pistol, Dr Baker confirmed yesterday.

"He died from a massive blow to the head. We don't disagree with the coalition's report, but it doesn't explain how he got his injuries in the first place," he told the Guardian.

The apparent murder of a "high-value" detainee, held as part of the search for weapons of mass destruction, is another blow for the Bush administration, still reeling from the Abu Ghraib jail abuse scandal. [complete article]

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Afghan deaths linked to unit at Iraq prison
By Douglas Jehl and David Rohde, New York Times, May 24, 2004

A military intelligence unit that oversaw interrogations at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq was also in charge of questioning at a detention center in Afghanistan where two prisoners died in December 2002 in incidents that are being investigated as homicides.

For both of the Afghan prisoners, who died in a center known as the Bagram Collection Point, the cause of death listed on certificates signed by American pathologists included blunt force injuries to their legs. Interrogations at the center were supervised by Company A, 519th Military Intelligence Battalion, which moved on early in 2003 to Iraq, where some of its members were assigned to the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center at Abu Ghraib. Its service in Afghanistan was known, but its work at Bagram at the time of the deaths has now emerged in interviews with former prisoners, military officials and from documents. [complete article]

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U.S. forces move into stronghold of cleric
By Daniel Williams and Scott Wilson, Washington Post, May 24, 2004

U.S. forces expanded an offensive against rebel cleric Moqtada Sadr on Sunday by pushing into his stronghold of Kufa for the first time, as his armed followers vanished from the streets of this Shiite holy city.

The battle for southern Iraq, which has occupied U.S. soldiers for weeks, appears to have shifted from a broad engagement across several fronts to a sustained battle aimed at a single elusive objective: Sadr, who leads thousands of militiamen, known as the Mahdi Army.

For seven weeks, U.S. forces have been killing scores of the fighters loyal to Sadr, who has fomented an anti-American insurrection in a region once receptive to the occupation. But the Americans have largely left Sadr alone, fearing that killing him could turn him into a martyr. [complete article]

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Holy city's heart is wounded in battle
By Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, May 24, 2004

The wide streets leading to the gloriously mosaicked shrines of Imam Abbas and Imam Hussein used to be so thronged with pilgrims and peddlers selling religious mementos that cars could barely move.

The gracious loggias that provided shade for those walking to the shrine used to enclose an outdoor marketplace, crowded with tea sellers and Karbala natives trading the latest news.

Now the two historic, gold-domed shrines have closed and there was hardly a soul on the streets Sunday. The religious and economic heart of Karbala has fallen silent; the emptiness jolts.

Although the fighting between the Al Mahdi militia loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada Sadr and heavily armed U.S.-led troops appeared to have ended early Friday morning, there was only a partial sense of relief as Karbala natives began to take stock of the damage to the city's heart. [complete article]

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AP: 5,558 Iraqi civilians killed under occupation
Associated Press (via MSNBC), May 23, 2004

An Associated Press survey of deaths in the first 12 months of the occupation found that more than 5,000 Iraqis died violently in just Baghdad and three provinces. The toll from both criminal and political violence ran dramatically higher than violent deaths before the war, according to statistics from morgues.

There are no reliable figures for places like Fallujah and Najaf that have seen surges in fighting since early April.

Indeed, there is no precise count for Iraq as a whole on how many people have been killed, nor is there a breakdown of deaths caused by the different sorts of attacks. The U.S. military, the occupation authority and Iraqi government agencies say they don’t have the ability to track civilian deaths.

But the AP survey of morgues in Baghdad and the provinces of Karbala, Kirkuk and Tikrit found 5,558 violent deaths recorded from May 1, 2003, when President Bush declared an end to major combat operations, to April 30. [complete article]

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AP: Video shows Iraq wedding celebration
By Scheherezade Faramarzi, Associated Press (via Yahoo), May 23, 2004

A videotape obtained Sunday by Associated Press Television News captures a wedding party that survivors say was later attacked by U.S. planes early Wednesday, killing up to 45 people. The dead included the cameraman, Yasser Shawkat Abdullah, hired to record the festivities, which ended Tuesday night before the planes struck. [...]

An AP reporter and photographer, who interviewed more than a dozen survivors a day after the bombing, were able to identify many of them on the wedding party video — which runs for several hours. [complete article]

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Local Iraqi councils struggle for relevance
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, May 24, 2004

Iraq's government institutions, up to and including the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, sit in a framework not unlike that of Mr. Hussein's Baath Party: extremely centralized, with government ministries in Baghdad controlling most of Iraq's public spending.

Decisions on who serves on police forces and who teaches in schools lie in the hands of US appointees in the center, with the councils largely cut out of the public process. That looks likely to prevail after the scheduled June 30 return of sovereignty to Iraqis. Appointed Iraqi officials have shown little inclination to devolve authority to local representatives, and the US has put rules in place that will give US officials effective veto power over many public policies. The US will be in control of the military and police forces after the handover, for instance, and US advisers inside many ministries will retain the right to approve domestic policies. [complete article]

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They must pay the price
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, May 23, 2004

On a day when bodies of children were being stuffed into a big refrigerator used to store potatoes, and when thousands of homeless people were fleeing for their lives (some of them refugees rendered homeless for the second or third time), life in Israel went on as usual, as though what was happening in Rafah was not being done in the name of the country's citizens. Such apathy renders all of us responsible - and yet there are some who bear a heavier burden of responsibility. In a climate less lax than the one which has gripped Israel in recent years, they would be ostracized.

When Ariel Sharon was found guilty of indirect responsibility for the massacre in Sabra and Chatila, he was denounced by wide sectors of Israel's public. Demonstrators denounced him as a "murderer," and some of his personal friends turned their backs on him and cut off relations with him. Like his predecessor Moshe Dayan after the Yom Kippur War, during the Lebanon War, Sharon was ostracized. Nobody thought to fete and honor him. For his part in the killing of Israelis and Palestinians in Lebanon, he paid a heavy personal price, beyond his removal from the post of defense minister.

Some 22 years later, Sharon again bears direct responsibility for bloodshed, but this time nobody considers ostracizing him. He continues to be perceived as a sympathetic figure, one who enjoys an image as a friendly farmer and grandfather. [complete article]

Only more hatred will come of Sharon's 'gun Zionism'
By Patrick Seale, Daily Star, May 24, 2004

Last week, Israel launched its biggest military operation in Gaza since it first occupied the territory during the 1967 war. Combat teams of infantry and armor, backed by helicopter gunships, sealed off and stormed the Rafah camp, which houses nearly 100,000 refugees in the south of the territory, smashing houses with giant armored bulldozers, and killing armed militants and innocent civilians alike. The local morgue was overflowing; the hospital was overwhelmed; the wounded lay untreated.

Among the terrorized population, those who could flee fled, with what few possessions they could carry. Others have huddled in cellars or ground floor rooms in the hope that the storm would pass them by. Israeli loudspeakers called on activists to surrender or risk having their houses brought down over their heads. The Israeli defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, described the operation as "open-ended," meaning it would continue indefinitely until all opposition ceased.

According to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Israel has this month destroyed 191 homes in Gaza, making 2,197 Palestinians homeless. Amnesty International reports that since the start of the intifada over three years ago Israel has destroyed 3,000 Palestinian houses in Gaza, throwing over 18,000 Palestinians in the street. It has damaged a further 15,000 houses, in addition to destroying hundreds of factories, workshops, greenhouses, wells, pumps, irrigation canals and orchards. It has uprooted 226,000 trees and destroyed some 10 percent of Gaza's agricultural land. Amnesty denounced as "war crimes" these grave breaches of international law and of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The latest Israeli operation is in fact the climax of three years of wanton destruction that has driven 60 percent of Gaza inhabitants below the poverty line and thrown some 50 percent out of work. [complete article]

Israeli official offers empathy but its a nerve
By James Bennet, New York Times, May 23, 2004

Israel's justice minister, a Holocaust survivor, started a political uproar on Sunday when he attacked an Israeli plan to demolish Palestinian homes in Gaza and said that a suffering Palestinian woman reminded him of his grandmother.

The minister, Yosef Lapid, said he was not comparing the Israeli Army to the Nazis in his comments, made during a cabinet meeting.

But, he told Israel radio after the meeting, "I did think, when I saw a picture on the TV of an old woman on all fours in the ruins of her home looking under some floor tiles for her medicines - I did think, 'What would I say if it were my grandmother?'"

Mr. Lapid, who was born in a Hungarian-speaking part of Yugoslavia, lost relatives in the Holocaust, including his father and a grandmother. [complete article]

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Renewing the hunt for Al Qaeda in Pakistan
By Owais Tohid, Christian Science Monitor, May 24, 2004

Three armies last week headed into the mountains of Pakistan's tribal belt along the border with Afghanistan, a region where some 400 to 600 Al Qaeda and foreign militants are believed to be in hiding.

The first was a lashkar, or posse of local tribesmen, formed in response to Islamabad's demands that locals take action against the foreign fighters. To back up that demand, fresh Pakistani military and paramilitary troops moved into the tribal region of South Waziristan and took positions in the highlands around the capital of Wana.

On Friday, the lashkar returned empty-handed, and a third force made its presence known. US and Afghan troops pursued Islamic militants across the border into North Waziristan - the second incursion into Pakistan in a month. The US move, coupled with comments by Washington's special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilizad, is putting pressure on Islamabad to clean up the troubled tribal region where high-level Al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al Zawihiri, may be hiding. [complete article]

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Case reveals nuclear network
By Josh Meyer, Los Angeles Times, May 24, 2004

As they race to dismantle a global black market in nuclear weapons components, U.S. authorities are focusing on an unusual case: an Orthodox Jew from Israel accused of trying to sell nuclear weapons parts to a business associate in Islamic Pakistan.

Asher Karni, 50, currently a resident of South Africa, was arrested at Denver's international airport as he arrived with his wife and daughter for a New Year's ski vacation. Friends and family have been pressing for his release, describing him as a hard-working electronics salesman just trying to earn a living.

However, federal authorities contend that Karni is something more: a veteran player in an underground network of traffickers in parts, technology and know-how for the clandestine nuclear weapons programs of foreign governments.

The Karni case offers a rare glimpse into what authorities say is an international bazaar teeming with entrepreneurs, transporters, scientists, manufacturers, government agents, organized-crime syndicates and, perhaps, terrorists. [complete article]

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Prison visits by General Sanchez reported in hearing
By Scott Higham, Joe Stephens and Josh White, Washington Post, May 23, 2004

A military lawyer for a soldier charged in the Abu Ghraib abuse case stated that a captain at the prison said the highest-ranking U.S. military officer in Iraq was present during some "interrogations and/or allegations of the prisoner abuse," according to a recording of a military hearing obtained by The Washington Post.

The lawyer, Capt. Robert Shuck, said he was told that Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez and other senior military officers were aware of what was taking place on Tier 1A of Abu Ghraib. Shuck is assigned to defend Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick II of the 372nd Military Police Company. During an April 2 hearing that was open to the public, Shuck said the company commander, Capt. Donald J. Reese, was prepared to testify in exchange for immunity. The military prosecutor questioned Shuck about what Reese would say under oath.

"Are you saying that Captain Reese is going to testify that General Sanchez was there and saw this going on?" asked Capt. John McCabe, the military prosecutor.

"That's what he told me," Shuck said. "I am an officer of the court, sir, and I would not lie. I have got two children at home. I'm not going to risk my career." [complete article]

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What's in a word? Torture
By Adam Hochschild, New York Times, May 23, 2004

As Orwell pointed out most effectively, governments control language as well as people. Since the Abu Ghraib prison scandal broke, our government, from the highest officials in Washington to Army prison guards in Baghdad, have used every euphemism they can think of to avoid the word that clearly characterizes what some of our soldiers and civilian contractors have been doing: torture.

"What has been charged so far is abuse, which I believe technically is different from torture," said Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. "I'm not going to address the 'torture' word." And nobody else seems to want to address it either. Rather, we are told, military police officers at Abu Ghraib were encouraged to treat the prisoners so as to create "favorable conditions" for interrogations. What does this mean? Give the prisoners English lessons? New clothes? Come on. In any bureaucracy, orders or clearance to do something beyond the law always comes in code. For those in senior positions, deniability is vital. [complete article]

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Iraqis lose right to sue troops over war crimes
By Kamal Ahmed, The Observer, May 23, 2004

British and American troops are to be granted immunity from prosecution in Iraq after the crucial 30 June handover, undermining claims that the new Iraqi government will have 'full sovereignty' over the state.

Despite widespread ill-feeling about the abuse of prisoners by American forces and allegations of mistreatment by British troops, coalition forces will be protected from any legal action.

They will only be subject to the domestic law of their home countries. Military sources have told The Observer that the question of immunity was central to obtaining military agreement on a new United Nations resolution on Iraq to be published by the middle of next month. [complete article]

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Iraqi prisoner 'was beaten, kicked and left to die by Marines'
By Philip Sherwell and Colin Freeman, The Telegraph, May 23, 2004

Harrowing details of the death of an Iraqi detainee who was repeatedly beaten and left lying naked in the baking sun for several hours emerged yesterday as US military authorities admitted that they were investigating nine suspected prisoner murders in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Two US Marines face courts martial following the death last June of Sadoon Hatab, who was alleged to have links to the Ba'ath Party of Saddam Hussein, although earlier charges of negligent homicide have been dropped.

One of the marines, Major Clarke Paulus, has been charged with dereliction of duty, cruelty and maltreatment, and assault, and faces up to five years in prison in connection with Hatab's death.

Hatab, 52, died in a makeshift holding centre near the southern city of Nasiriya - an indication that prisoner abuse took place across the network of jails and detention centres established by US and British forces in Iraq. [complete article]

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Will Iraq's new prime minister have a country to run?
By Peter Beaumont, The Observer, May 23, 2004

In eight days or so, Paul Bremer, the US proconsul in Iraq, will stand up in the vast conference centre in Baghdad with Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN special representative in Iraq. Between them will be the man who has been selected to be the first prime minister of post-Saddam Iraq.

Already the position has been offered to one - as yet unnamed - candidate who has yet to accept the job, his identity known only to senior officials in London, Washington and Rome and other capitals of the coalition forces. On his shoulders rest the hopes for a peaceful outcome for Iraq.

For, as officials make clear, it will be in the announcement of the identity of the new prime minister - and not the formal 30 June date for hand-over of sovereignty - that Washington and London are putting all their hopes for the redemption of Iraq: the birth of a democratic, unified and sovereign state.

Few have any doubt that the new prime minister will have little time to make a difference in a country whose mood has soured against the occupying powers; perhaps a month at most. [complete article]

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How the Iraqis see their future
By Ian Fisher, New York Times, May 23, 2004

Here are two brief glimpses into the divided Iraqi mind, at a moment when Iraqis, no less than Americans, are being forced into ever worse choices.

Ghazi Muklif Hamdan, a 31-year-old man without a job, was waiting for hours in front of the trash-strewn entrance to Abu Ghraib prison. He was there to make an appointment to see an uncle inside. The talk on the line was of the abuses at the hands of American guards and a loss of trust so great that even civil war seemed preferable to occupation.

"Let them leave," Mr. Hamdan said. "Let hell come after that."

Inside a tasteful room in the Karrada neighborhood of Baghdad sat Adel Abdul Mehdi, a chubby, gray-haired, intelligent man whose name circulates here as a possible Iraqi prime minister. He recounted how, a year ago, he was handcuffed during a raid at his political party's headquarters as American soldiers -- "in a very brutal way," he bristled -- debated whether to kill him.

"Should I shoot him, sir?" Mr. Mehdi said one soldier asked his superior. "Should I blast his head?"

A reporter asked Mr. Mehdi, a Shiite Muslim politician who has since remained largely cooperative with the Americans, if he had been able to forgive the soldiers. He suggested that forgiveness was really beside the point. "We are very patient," he said.

Mr. Hamdan and Mr. Mehdi stand for pretty much the only two choices left to Iraqis: resistance against the Americans even in the knowledge that it could lead to chaos, or bare tolerance of the occupation as the only way of avoiding, or even just postponing, that chaos. [complete article]

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Iraq desert bombing video shows carnage
By Scheherezade Faramarzi, Associated Press (via Yahoo), May 21, 2004

Fragments of musical instruments, tufts of women's hair, and a large blood stain are among the scenes in Associated Press Television News film of a destroyed house that survivors say U.S. planes bombed during a wedding party.

It is the first known footage from the site of Wednesday's attack, which killed up to 45 people, mostly women and children from the Bou Fahad tribe in Mogr el-Deeb, a desert village on the Syrian border.

The U.S. military has said the target was a suspected safehouse for foreign fighters from Syria and denied Friday that children were killed in the airstrikes.

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt told reporters in Baghdad that U.S. troops who reported back from the operation "told us they did not shoot women and children."

"There were a number of woman, a handful of women, I think the number was four to six, caught up in the engagement. They may have died from some of the fire that came from the aircraft," Kimmitt said.

But an Associated Press reporter in the Ramadi area, at least 275 miles east of Mogr el-Deeb, was able to identify at least 10 of the bodies as those of children. [complete article]

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The revenge of the CIA
By Julian Coman and Philip Sherwell, The Telegraph, May 23, 2004

For President Bush, a crucial turning point came when Mr Chalabi openly criticised US policies in Iraq at the United Nations.

Aides said that to a president who values loyalty highly and expects his friends to do the same, the public comments by Mr Chalabi - formerly the Pentagon's chief source of intelligence on Iraq, including its nuclear capability - were "an eye-opener". Elsewhere, to King Abdullah of Jordan, Mr Bush remarked: "You can piss on Chalabi."

This is all, to say the least, disappointing news for Mr Chalabi's former backers, in particular the Deputy Secretary of Defence, Paul Wolfowitz and the Vice-President, Dick Cheney, who gave Mr Chalabi such enormous influence and access in Washington.

A Pentagon plane even flew Mr Chalabi triumphantly into post-war Iraq last March. Richard Perle, formerly the chairman of the influential Defence Policy Board at the Pentagon, condemned Thursday's raid as "appalling".

Yet in some corners of the Bush administration, the INC leader's dramatic fall from grace has been treated as cause for celebration. [complete article]

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Michael Moore's candid camera
By Frank Rich, New York Times, May 23, 2004

"But why should we hear about body bags, and deaths, and how many, what day it's gonna happen, and how many this or what do you suppose? Or, I mean, it's, it's not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that? And watch him suffer."
-- Barbara Bush on "Good Morning America," March 18, 2003

She needn't have worried. Her son wasn't suffering. In one of the several pieces of startling video exhibited for the first time in Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," we catch a candid glimpse of President Bush some 36 hours after his mother's breakfast TV interview -- minutes before he makes his own prime-time TV address to take the nation to war in Iraq. He is sitting at his desk in the Oval Office. A makeup woman is doing his face. And Mr. Bush is having a high old time. He darts his eyes about and grins, as if he were playing a peek-a-boo game with someone just off-camera. He could be a teenager goofing with his buds to relieve the passing tedium of a haircut. [complete article]

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Over 200,000 rally against attacks on Iraq holy sites
Associated Press (via Haaretz), May 22, 2004

Tens of thousands of Shiite Muslims, mostly supporters of the militant Hezbollah, turned out in Beirut Friday in a massive show meant as a strong warning to the United States against attacking holy sites in Iraq.

Wearing white shrouds symbolizing their readiness to die in defense of the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala in southern Iraq, the demonstrators, estimated at more than 200,000, shouted "Death to America" and "Death to Israel" as they marched in Beirut's teeming southern suburbs, a Hezbollah stronghold.

A protest march by about 5,000 Shiites in Bahrain led to clashes with police in which at least three people were injured by shotgun pellets and 10 treated for tear gas inhalation. Later Friday, the Bahraini king fired the interior minister over the clashes, saying the demonstration should have been allowed. [complete article]

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