The War in Context
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
The democratic engine is just not starting
By Ferry Biedermann, IPS, June 18, 2005

Now that Sunni Arabs have been included, Iraq's parliamentary committee that is drafting the new constitution is the closest to an elected, representative body that the country has ever seen. In the two months that the committee now has to come up with the draft and in the referendum that will follow in October, it will become clear if that is enough to stabilise the country and reduce the violence.

It is by now a truism to say that the Sunnis, who ruled the country for centuries before the fall of Saddam Hussein two years ago despite being a minority, are largely responsible for the insurgency. They are said to chafe at their loss of power, and consequently income, and are fighting either to restore their old dominance or to cut a better deal. The coming months should show whether the rest of Iraq can cope with these issues and whether this really is what it is all about.

Early signs are not encouraging, especially from the Sunni side. While members of the Sunni political, social and religious groups that negotiated the deal to join the constitutional committee voiced hopes that their participation would increase peace and stability, the influential Sunni Committee of Muslim Scholars denounced the deal. [complete article]

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Iran appears bound for presidential runoff
RFE/RL, June 18, 2005

Counting continues today to determine who will be Iran's next president, with early results suggesting a tight race that will be require a second-round runoff for the first time since Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979, according to Radio Farda and other Iranian media.

Some reports suggested that three candidates, including former President Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, were narrowly ahead. But apparently none has managed to garner the majority needed for an outright win, pointing to a two-man runoff next week.

Hashemi-Rafsanjani was said to be leading as the vote count continued, Radio Farda reported, with some reports putting him at around 22 percent. There are conflicting reports over who is running second, but hard-line Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadinejad and moderate cleric Hojatoleslam Mehdi Mahdavi-Karrubi were said to have between 17 and 20 percent each.

But not all the votes have been counted, and the standings are likely to change after the vote count in major cities, including the capital Tehran and Isfahan.

The Interior Ministry is expected to release final election results later today.

Going into yesterday's voting, Ahmadinejad and Mahdavi-Karrubi were widely regarded as outsiders.

Hashemi-Rafsanjani's main challengers were expected to be conservative candidate and former police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and the main reformist candidate, former Education Minister Mustafa Moin. But they were said to be in fourth and fifth place. [complete article]

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Who are the suicide bombers? Pakistan's answer
By Owais Tohid, Christian Science Monitor, June 17, 2005

In four years, 28-year-old Gul Hasan went from laying bricks to recruiting suicide bombers. An antiterrorism court convicted Mr. Hasan this month of planning suicide attacks on Shiite mosques in Karachi that killed dozens of worshipers. Now he faces the gallows.

How people like Hasan get involved with militant Islam, and what they do to recruit others, are questions of increasing urgency in Pakistan, which has seen a spate of suicide bombings in recent weeks.

The attacks were carried out by splinter groups formed in the wake of a Pakistani crackdown on militant Islamic organizations after Sept. 11, 2001. Smaller and more isolated than their parent organizations, these splinter groups receive financial backing from Al Qaeda and draw their recruits from the ranks of the poor and enraged, say Pakistani investigators.

"This is a new breed [of militants], as suicide bombings are a post 9/11 phenomenon here," says Fateh Mohammad Burfat, head of the Criminology Department at the University of Karachi. The bombers are "unemployed, illiterate, and belong to poor social strata. [They also] perceive the US military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan as hostile acts against the Muslim world.... By suicide attacks, they get a sense of victory in the world and hereafter." [complete article]

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U.S. pressure weakens G-8 climate plan
By Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post, June 17, 2005

Bush administration officials working behind the scenes have succeeded in weakening key sections of a proposal for joint action by the eight major industrialized nations to curb climate change.

Under U.S. pressure, negotiators in the past month have agreed to delete language that would detail how rising temperatures are affecting the globe, set ambitious targets to cut carbon dioxide emissions and set stricter environmental standards for World Bank-funded power projects, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post. Negotiators met this week in London to work out details of the document, which is slated to be adopted next month at the Group of Eight's annual meeting in Scotland.

The administration's push to alter the G-8's plan on global warming marks its latest effort to edit scientific or policy documents to accord with its position that mandatory carbon dioxide cuts are unnecessary. Under mounting international pressure to adopt stricter controls on heat-trapping gas emissions, Bush officials have consistently sought to modify U.S. government and international reports that would endorse a more aggressive approach to mitigating global warming. [complete article]

See also, Ex-Bush aide who edited climate reports to join ExxonMobil (NYT).

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War criticism and concerns both growing
By John Hendren and Cynthia H. Cho, Los Angeles Times, June 17, 2005

"It is concerning that our public isn't as supportive as perhaps they once were," said Marine Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, director of operations for the Pentagon's Joint Staff. "We'd like, I believe, to try to reverse those figures and start the trend back the other direction. Because it's extremely important to the soldier and the Marine, the airman and the sailor over there, to know that their country's behind them."

Conway alluded to the precedent of Vietnam, in which plummeting public support for the war was blamed for undercutting the U.S. effort.

A Gallup poll this week found that about 6 in 10 Americans advocated a partial or full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. This month, an Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that 41% of Americans approved of how Bush was handling Iraq, the president's worst grade to date.

Insurgent attacks have claimed the lives of hundreds of Iraqi civilians in recent weeks. Eighty-eight U.S. troops died in May and 45 were killed in the first half of June, the highest level since 126 troops were slain in January, before the Iraqi election. As of Thursday, at least 1,713 U.S. troops had been killed since the start of the war.

Drawing a parallel with Vietnam, Conway recounted the story of a Marine colonel negotiating the U.S. withdrawal with his Vietnamese counterpart in 1975.

"And the Marine said to him, 'We beat you every time on the battlefield,' " Conway said. "And the Vietnamese colonel said, 'That is true, but it's also irrelevant.'

"And the fact is, they realized what I think our contemporary enemy realizes -- that American public opinion is the center of gravity," Conway said. "That a democracy can't do certain things if, in fact, the citizens don't support it." [complete article]

Comment -- Now when Gen. Conway says that a democracy can't do certain things if the citizens don't support it, does he see that as a strength or a weakness in democracy?

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U.S. lied to Britain over use of napalm in Iraq war
By Colin Brown, The Independent, June 17, 2005

American officials lied to British ministers over the use of "internationally reviled" napalm-type firebombs in Iraq.

Yesterday's disclosure led to calls by MPs for a full statement to the Commons and opened ministers to allegations that they held back the facts until after the general election.

Despite persistent rumours of injuries among Iraqis consistent with the use of incendiary weapons such as napalm, Adam Ingram, the Defence minister, assured Labour MPs in January that US forces had not used a new generation of incendiary weapons, codenamed MK77, in Iraq.

But Mr Ingram admitted to the Labour MP Harry Cohen in a private letter obtained by The Independent that he had inadvertently misled Parliament because he had been misinformed by the US. "The US confirmed to my officials that they had not used MK77s in Iraq at any time and this was the basis of my response to you," he told Mr Cohen. "I regret to say that I have since discovered that this is not the case and must now correct the position." [complete article]

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Sunnis to accept offer of a role in constitution
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, June 17, 2005

Iraqi political leaders broke weeks of deadlock on Thursday, with Sunni Arabs accepting a compromise offer to increase their representation on the Shiite-led parliamentary committee that is to draft a constitution.

The agreement was a significant step forward in Iraq's political process, which has been mired in arguments between Shiite and Sunni Arabs over how many Sunnis to include on the committee. Still, it fell short of being final, as political leaders have not yet agreed which Sunnis would be chosen as members. [complete article]

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Iranians vote for president, reject U.S. barbs
By Alistair Lyon, Reuters (via Yahoo), June 17, 2005

Iranians voted for a president on Friday and their leaders rebuffed U.S. criticism of the poll which pragmatic cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is the narrow favorite to win.

Queues formed at some polling stations in Tehran soon after they opened in hot sunshine for Iran's 47 million, mostly young, voters. Official results are due on Saturday. [complete article]

Bush denounces Iran's election
By Robin Wright and Michael A. Fletcher, Washington Post, June 17, 2005

On the eve of Iran's presidential election, President Bush yesterday denounced Tehran's theocracy for manipulating the vote by eliminating candidates and ignoring the "basic requirements" of democracy. Whatever the election's outcome, power will continue to be held by "an unelected few" who are out of step with political changes sweeping the rest of the region, Bush said in a statement released by the White House. [complete article]

Bad move Bush
By Nema Milaninia, Iranian Truth, June 17, 2005

Bush's recent remarks about the Iranian elections was a horrible idea. What advisors to this administration seriously need to start understanding, is that when Iranians are pushing their government for change, like Iranians who are protesting and actively engaging candidates are now, they DON'T want the US government, particularly Bush, to say anything for two reasons:

1) there's a heavy sense of nationalism in Iran. Even if we don't like something, if its Iranian we don't like you not liking it. Its like hating your brother. The moment someone outside your family starts saying something about him, as much as you hate him, you'll defend him.

2) it gives more power to conservative elements. This is almost linked to the first reason. Think of how much Bush's axis of evil speech hurt Iranian reformist. Immediately after his speech anti-American sentiment flared again in Iran. [complete article]

Disillusioned Iran
Editorial, Financial Times, June 17, 2005

When Iranians go to the polls today there is widespread expectation they will elect Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the cunning former president who has been at the fulcrum of Iran's politics since the 1979 revolution, even if it takes a second round to thin out a crowded field. Yet even in Iran, where theocrats rather than democrats ultimately call the shots, there is that wonderful element of unpredictability inherent in all popular votes, however flawed. God, moreover, does not vote. [complete article]

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Rice and Sharon to discuss keeping Hamas out of elections
By Akiva Eldar, Arnon Regular and Aluf Benn, Haaretz, June 17, 2005

Israel and the United States recently began discussing the participation of Hamas in the elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council, and have raised the possibility of demanding that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas ban Hamas from running. [complete article]

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From Bush, Mideast words to act on
By Zbigniew Brzezinski and William B. Quandt, Washington Post, June 17, 2005

The statement President Bush delivered at the conclusion of his recent meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas deserves serious attention. It has been much discussed by the Israeli press but drew scant commentary in the U.S. media. The president, in his formal presentation, declared that any final-status agreement between Palestinians and Israelis "must be reached between the two parties, and changes to the 1949 armistice lines must be mutually agreed to." [complete article]

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Congress said to steer military funds to pet projects
By Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, June 17, 2005

Congress, taking advantage of wartime support of national defense spending, is using the military's budget to steer billions to pet projects that apparently have little to do with Iraq or the ongoing war on terrorism, according to congressional documents, government budget officials, and watchdog groups.

The projects range from an unneeded warship and a seriously flawed cargo plane the Pentagon tried to cancel to millions each for a Mississippi wastewater treatment plant, a Nevada fire training station, and a Texas research hospital, the documents show.

The House of Representatives opened debate yesterday on a $409 billion defense appropriations bill for next year that includes at least $12 billion for weapons and research programs the Pentagon did not ask for and what critics label ''pork," according to the congressional reports and initial estimates by budget specialists. The projects were added by influential House members, who propose paying for many of them by cutting the budget for more urgent defense programs such as military training. [complete article]

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Halliburton to build new $30 mln Guantanamo jail
Reuters, June 17, 2005

A Halliburton Co. unit will build a new $30 million (16.5 million pound) detention facility and security fence at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the United States is holding about 520 foreign terrorism suspects, the Defense Department announced on Thursday.

The announcement comes the same week that Vice President Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld defended the jail after U.S. lawmakers said it had created an image problem for the United States.

Critics have decried the indefinite detention of Guantanamo detainees, whom the United States has denied rights accorded under the Geneva Conventions to prisoners of war. The prison was called "the gulag of our times" in a recent Amnesty International report.

An air-conditioned two-story prison, known as Detention Camp #6, will be built at Guantanamo to house 220 men. It will include exercise areas, medical and dental spaces as well as a security control room, the contract announcement said. [complete article]

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Panel is revisiting Annan ties to firm
By Colum Lynch, Washington Post, June 15, 2005

A U.N.-appointed panel probing corruption in the $64 billion U.N. oil-for-food program in prewar Iraq has reopened an investigation into whether U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan steered business to a Swiss company that once employed his son, Kojo.

The move came less than a day after investigators obtained a 1998 memo written by an executive of the Geneva-based company, Cotecna Inspection SA, saying that Annan and his staff indicated support for the company's bid for a $10 million-a-year contract to oversee imports of humanitarian aid into Iraq. [complete article]

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Magnet for Iraq insurgents is a crucial test of new U.S. strategy
By Richard A. Oppel Jr., New York Times, June 16, 2005

Nine months ago the American military laid siege to this city in northwestern Iraq and proclaimed it freed from the grip of insurgents. Last month, the Americans returned in force - to reclaim it once again.

After the battle here in September the military left behind fewer than 500 troops to patrol a region twice the size of Connecticut. With so few troops and the local police force in shambles, insurgents came back and turned Tal Afar, a dusty, agrarian city of about 200,000 people, into a way station for the trafficking of arms and insurgent fighters from nearby Syria - and a ghost town of terrorized residents afraid to open their stores, walk the streets or send their children to school.

It is a cycle that has been repeated in rebellious cities throughout Iraq, and particularly those in the Sunni Arab regions west and north of Baghdad, where the insurgency's roots run deepest.

"We have a finite number of troops," said Maj. Chris Kennedy, executive officer of the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment, which arrived in Tal Afar several weeks ago. "But if you pull out of an area and don't leave security forces in it, all you're going to do is leave the door open for them to come back. This is what our lack of combat power has done to us throughout the country. In the past, the problem has been we haven't been able to leave sufficient forces in towns where we've cleared the insurgents out."

While officials in Washington say the military has all the troops it needs, on-the-ground battle commanders in the most violent parts of Iraq - in cities like Ramadi, Mosul and Mahmudiya - have said privately that they need more manpower to pacify their areas and keep them that way. [complete article]

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Bush is expected to address specifics on Iraq
By Jim VandeHei, Washington Post, June 16, 2005

White House officials acknowledged yesterday that the public's gloomy mood about the Iraq war is forcing President Bush to take a more assertive and public role to reassure nervous Americans and Republican lawmakers about the White House plan for victory.

Bush had hoped the successful January elections in Iraq would boost the popularity of the conflict and allow him to distance himself from it. But his aides have concluded that recent events in Iraq have contributed to an erosion in support for the president -- and that he needs to shift strategies. Bush's new approach will be mostly rhetorical, however, as the White House does not plan any changes to the policy or time frame for bringing home the 140,000 U.S. troops, as some lawmakers are demanding.

"The president takes seriously his responsibility as commander in chief to continue to educate the American people about the conduct of the war and our strategy for victory," said Dan Bartlett, a senior adviser. As part of the new focus, Bush will meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari at the White House for the first time next week and dedicate several speeches to the war, including a major address on the first anniversary of Iraq's sovereignty this month, White House officials said. [complete article]

Comment -- The worse things get, the more they stay the same. Yesterday six U.S. soldiers were killed in western Iraq and on the Washington Post web site this item gets buried below the fold, under "more headlines." The bad news from Iraq flows in such a continuous stream that it has ceased to be news. Meanwhile, the problem, as articulated by the White House, is a message problem: the president needs to educate the American people. Wrong! The president needs to educate himself.

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Spain says it has cut pipeline to Iraq rebels
By Renwick McLean, International Herald Tribune, June 16, 2005

The Spanish Interior Ministry said Wednesday that the police had arrested 16 people on charges of involvement with Islamic terrorism, including 11 men suspected by the police of having worked for a network that provided recruits for the insurgency in Iraq.

Spain, which is described by terrorism experts here as a major logistical center for Al Qaeda and its affiliates in Europe, was not thought to be a significant supplier of fighters for the Iraq insurgency.

But the announcement on Wednesday suggests that the flow through Spain of recruits to Iraq may be heavier than previously estimated, at least publicly. [complete article]

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'Exit strategy' is more than a whisper in Washington, with lawmakers speaking out
By Sherly Gay Stolberg, New York Times, June 16, 2005

Celeste Zappala, whose son died in Iraq, visited Capitol Hill on Wednesday to demand "a very quick exit strategy." Her timing was perfect.

With opinion polls showing a drop in support for the war, and a British memo asserting that the Bush administration had intended to go to war as early as the summer of 2002, the words "exit strategy" are being uttered by both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.

The flurry began over the weekend, when Representative Walter B. Jones of North Carolina, a conservative Republican, called for the Bush administration to set specific goals for leaving Iraq. That came from the man who was once so upset about French opposition to the war that he insisted that House cafeterias change the name "French fries" to "freedom fries."

But it does not end there.

Senator Russell D. Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, has introduced in the Senate a measure similar to the nonbinding resolution that Mr. Jones is offering. In the House, the International Relations Committee last week voted overwhelmingly, 32 to 9, to call on the White House to develop and submit a plan to Congress for establishing a stable government and military in Iraq that would "permit a decreased U.S. presence" there. [complete article]

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Fatal shooting of teacher illustrates why Iraqis fear U.S. convoys
By Nancy A. Youssef, Knight Ridder, June 15, 2005

Everyone heard a gunshot from the third Humvee. The soldiers at the rear of the convoy thought they saw a suicide bomber, said [Lt. Col. David] Funk [the battalion commander], and they'd fired a warning shot, then kept firing. The Iraqi men in the circle said they looked up and saw only a frightened woman in a careening car.

No one knows what [Farqad Mohammed] Khinaisar [a high school Arabic teacher] saw or thought. She was shot once in the head, and she died five days later, on June 3. She spoke only once during that period, when her husband arrived at the hospital. When she heard him speak, she quietly called out his name: Mohsen.

In the car, the soldiers found only a purse and a Quran on the dashboard. They found no evidence that the 57-year-old teacher was a suicide bomber.

It's not clear how often American soldiers, strangers in a strange land where it's virtually impossible to distinguish friend from foe, mistakenly kill Iraqi civilians. U.S. officials say they keep no statistics, and since last year, the Iraqi Ministry of Health has refused to release the ones it keeps. [complete article]

Comment -- If a US military commander, testifying before Congress, said that the Pentagon kept no statistics on its use of ammunition or other military supplies, he would be accused of disregarding the value of US tax dollars. Yet when the Pentagon says they keep no statistics about the number of civilians that American soldiers kill or maim, it's business as usual. If this lack of accountability applied to any police department in the United States there would be public outrage. Yet as young Americans patrol Iraq, a country they were sent to "liberate", the message they continue to get from their own government is that Iraqis don't count. We show a flagrant disregard for the value of human life and then wonder why anyone would choose to become a suicide bomber.

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Journalist describes five-month ordeal in Iraqi cellar
By John Lichfield, The Independent, June 15, 2005

In an extraordinarily courageous and humorous performance, the French journalist Florence Aubenas has spoken for nearly two hours about how she survived five months blindfolded and tied up in a small, dark cellar in Iraq.

However, Mme Aubenas, 44, who seemed spirited and composed after her ordeal, made one startling revelation and also generated a mystery, which she refused to clarify. [complete article]

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GOP committee targets International Red Cross
By Sonni Efron, Los Angeles Times, June 15, 2005

Senate Republicans are calling on the Bush administration to reassess U.S. financial support for the International Committee of the Red Cross, charging that the group is using American funds to lobby against U.S. interests.

The Senate Republican Policy Committee, which advances the views of the GOP Senate majority, said in a report that the international humanitarian organization had "lost its way" and veered from the impartiality on which its reputation was based. The Republican policy group titled its report: "Are American Interests Being Disserved by the International Committee of the Red Cross?"

The congressional criticism follows reports by the Swiss-based group that have faulted U.S. treatment of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. A spokeswoman at its Geneva headquarters said the organization was reviewing the report and would not comment, in accordance with its policy of keeping its dealings with governments confidential. [complete article]

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Guantanamo inmates can be held 'in perpetuity'- U.S.
Reuters (Wired), June 15, 2005

Republican senators called on Wednesday for the rights of foreign terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay prison to be legally defined even as the Bush administration said the inmates could be jailed there "in perpetuity."

The prison, currently holding roughly 520 inmates, opened on the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in January 2002 in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. Many of the detainees have been held for more than three years, and only four have been charged.

At a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Republican Chairman Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania said Congress should help to define the legal rights of the inmates at the prison, which the panel's top Democrat called "an international embarrassment." [complete article]

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House votes to curb Patriot Act
By Mike Allen, Washington Post, June 16, 2005

The House handed President Bush the first defeat in his effort to preserve the broad powers of the USA Patriot Act, voting yesterday to curtail the FBI's ability to seize library and bookstore records for terrorism investigations.

Bush has threatened to veto any measure that weakens those powers. The surprise 238 to 187 rebuke to the White House was produced when a handful of conservative Republicans, worried about government intrusion, joined with Democrats who are concerned about personal privacy. [complete article]

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Iranian shift: revolution to reform
By Michael Slackman, New York Times (IHT), June 16, 2005

The campaign to succeed Mohammad Khatami as president of Iran has marked a significant shift in the nature of the political discourse in this country, with politicians of all backgrounds taking up the language of reform while studiously avoiding the language of revolution.

In what is widely viewed as a nod to political reality in Iran, where Khatami won with huge victories in 1997 and again in 2001 driven by younger voters, almost everyone in the race has talked about quality-of-life issues and corruption and the economy and not about religion.

They gave their speeches at universities, in parks and in stadiums, and not at mosques. [complete article]

Young voters hold the key in race for Iranian presidency
By Angus McDowall, The Independent, June 15, 2005

Niusha Jamal-e Fard was only eight when Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was last in power in 1997. But on Friday, at the age of 16, she will vote against him as Iran's presidential front-runner seeks a third term of office. "I can remember how much more pressure there was on people then," she told The Independent.

Mr Rafsanjani will hope that Niusha's recollections are not shared in the schools of Tehran and elsewhere. In a country where the youth vote could hold the key to power, gaining the support of Iranian teenagers is a priority for any candidate.

In the midst of an international crisis over Iran's nuclear programme and a domestic political struggle that has gridlocked the system, Mr Rafsanjani has portrayed himself as the country's only saviour. "He has arrived," says one slogan. But with an estimated two thirds of the population under 30 and a voting age of 15, politics often comes second to work and having fun for a large proportion of the Iranian electorate. [complete article]

Iran pulls out the stops to woo voters
By Nahid Siamdoust, Los Angeles Times, June 16, 2005

On stage, a five-man band plays Persian music written by expatriates in Los Angeles, prompting half a dozen young men to dance in front of about 50 supporters of presidential candidate Hashemi Rafsanjani.

"This is illegal music," said Atieh Badindeh, 20, a campaign worker, "but to attract young people's votes we have permission from Mr. Rafsanjani personally to play it here tonight."

Campaigning for Iran's presidential election Friday ends this morning, and the seven candidates are scrambling to win over those who are still undecided about whether, much less for whom, to vote. [complete article]

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Hamas seeking historic change, not local control
By Arnon Regular, Haaretz, June 15, 2005

...Hamas is interested not only in participating in the parliamentary elections, but is focusing its efforts on entering the PA cabinet and creating a "new Palestine Liberation Organization" that will unite all Palestinian factions, including the Islamic ones.

[Senior Gaza Hamas leader Ismail] Hania sees this body as the sole representative of the Palestinian people inside and outside the territories.

Hania's statements were the first open expression of the movement's new line - its self-assurance that it would receive a majority in the parliamentary elections and would be asked to fill a significant political function. The elections, originally scheduled for July, were postponed until an undisclosed date by Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas. [complete article]

Egypt leads drive to curb Hamas poll success
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, June 15, 2005

Egypt is leading behind-the-scenes efforts to curb further ballotbox successes by the militant Palestinian group Hamas in planned parliamentary elections in Gaza and the West Bank.

The "Stop Hamas" campaign is part of a strategy to secure a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in August, a subsequent large-scale international aid and reconstruction effort, and a victory for Fatah and other "moderate" Palestinian factions in polls tentatively rescheduled for next January.

The Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, postponed the legislative elections last month, citing administrative reasons. But the delay was widely attributed to fears that Hamas would repeat its successes in municipal polls in Gaza this year.

Egypt's role in persuading Hamas and its allies to honour last February's ceasefire is said to have impressed Israel and the US. Now it is working closely with Washington and Jerusalem on securing a path to final status negotiations next year. [complete article]

Foreign Ministry protests EU contacts with Hamas
By Ze'ev Schiff, Haaretz, June 16, 2005

The [Israeli] Foreign Ministry said Thursday it has protested increasing the European Union's contacts with Hamas, saying it is pressing EU officials to maintain their official designation of Hamas as a terrorist group.

"We believe Europeans should be strengthening moderate Palestinians and not appeasing the extremists," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev. "Anything that demonstrates acceptance of Hamas as a legitimate player is a problem." [complete article]

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A murder stirs Kurds in Syria
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, June 16, 2005

At a meeting of Syrian political-intelligence officers in late April in the Kurdish northeast, the only item on the agenda was Sheikh Mohammed Mashouq al-Khaznawi.

He was becoming a problem for Syria, says a Western diplomat familiar with the meeting.

A moderate Islamic cleric who once worked with the Syrian government to temper extremism, Sheikh Khaznawi was emerging as one of its most outspoken critics. He advocated Kurdish rights and democracy, galvanizing many of the 1.7 million Kurds against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. At the same time, Kurds were gaining political power in Iraq, Lebanon was casting Syrian troops out, and the US was criticizing Syria's government.

"[Syrian intelligence] wrote a report saying he ... should be stopped. They said he would start a revolution," says Sheikh Murad Khaznawi, the eldest of Sheikh Mohammed's eight sons. [complete article]

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Kurdish officials sanction abductions in Kirkuk
By Steve Fainaru and Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, June 15, 2005

Police and security units, forces led by Kurdish political parties and backed by the U.S. military, have abducted hundreds of minority Arabs and Turkmens in this intensely volatile city and spirited them to prisons in Kurdish-held northern Iraq, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials, government documents and families of the victims.

Seized off the streets of Kirkuk or in joint U.S.-Iraqi raids, the men have been transferred secretly and in violation of Iraqi law to prisons in the Kurdish cities of Irbil and Sulaymaniyah, sometimes with the knowledge of U.S. forces. The detainees, including merchants, members of tribal families and soldiers, have often remained missing for months; some have been tortured, according to released prisoners and the Kirkuk police chief.

A confidential State Department cable, obtained by The Washington Post and addressed to the White House, Pentagon and U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, said the "extra-judicial detentions" were part of a "concerted and widespread initiative" by Kurdish political parties "to exercise authority in Kirkuk in an increasingly provocative manner." [complete article]

See also, Eighteen dead in suicide attack in Kirkuk (Reuters).

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New memos detail early plans for invading Iraq
By John Daniszewski, Los Angeles Times, June 15, 2005

In one memorandum, dated March 14, 2002, and labeled "secret -- strictly personal," Blair's chief foreign policy advisor, David Manning, described to the prime minister a dinner he had had with Rice.

"We spent a long time at dinner on Iraq," wrote Manning, now the British ambassador to the U.S. "It is clear that Bush is grateful for your [Blair's] support and has registered that you are getting flak. I said that you would not budge in your support for regime change but you had to manage a press, a Parliament and a public opinion that was different from anything in the States. And you would not budge either in your insistence that, if we pursued regime change, it must be very carefully done and produce the right result. Failure was not an option."

The memo went on to say:

"Condi's enthusiasm for regime change is undimmed. But there were some signs, since we last spoke, of greater awareness of the practical difficulties and political risks…. From what she said, Bush has yet to find answers to the big questions:

• How to persuade international opinion that military action against Iraq is necessary and justified;

• What value to put on the exiled Iraqi opposition;

• How to coordinate a US/allied military campaign with internal opposition (assuming there is any);

• What happens the morning after?" [complete article]

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How to read the memoranda from Downing Street
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, June 12, 2005

The first thing to get clear is that the second memo (Iraq: Conditions for Military Action), published by The Sunday Times on June 12, was written before the first memo (Iraq: Prime Minister's Meeting - "The Downing Street Memo"). The second memo was written on July 21, 2002 and the first memo on July 23, 2002. David Sanger at the New York Times seems to have missed this detail. He writes:
A memorandum written by Prime Minister Tony Blair's Cabinet Office in late July 2002 explicitly states that the Bush administration had made "no political decisions" to invade Iraq but that U.S. military planning for the possibility was advanced.
Correct. But two days later (July 23, 2002), Sir Richard Dearlove ("C") reports back from Washington saying that "There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable." At risk of belaboring this point, let me reiterate. The July 21 paper invites ministers to "note the latest position on US military planning and timescales for possible action" (emphasis mine). And then two days later the head of British intelligence, back from Washington, reports to those same ministers that military action now appears "inevitable."

OK. So by late July, 2002, the Brits have concluded that war is inevitable. We're reading this in May and June 2005. Should we be shocked? Only if we were ignoring the press in the spring and summer of 2002. "U.S. envisions blueprint on Iraq including big invasion next year" declared the NYT on April 28, 2002. " Why President Bush has given the go ahead for Iraq attack" explained Edward Luttwak in The Telegraph on June 23, 2002. " Bush sets the clock ticking for war" wrote John Keegan on July 12, 2002. And on July 10, 2002, Michael Kinsley in Slate asked, "Who wants this war?" He wrote:
It was amazing to read the Pentagon's detailed plans for an invasion of Iraq in the New York Times last week. The general reaction of Americans to this news was even more amazing: Basically, there was no reaction. We seem to be distant observers of our own nation's preparation for war, watching with horror or approval or indifference a process we have nothing to do with and cannot affect.
So whatever the memos reveal, it's obvious that by July 2002 you didn't need to be inside government in Washington or London in order to have concluded that war was inevitable.

What the memos do reveal is that Tony Blair was much more than a stalwart ally, ready to stand at George Bush's side when few others would. He was a partner in crime - or at least a partner who was intent on making sure that the deed be crafted in such a way that it might not be defined as a crime. That British ambassador to Washington, Christopher Meyer, would in March 2002 be writing that for Britain to back the US in toppling Saddam, "the plan had to be clever" and that they would "need to wrong-foot Saddam on the inspectors" is the language of conspirators hatching a plan to wage war. And in spite of George Bush's professed willingness to go it alone, US military planning assumed at a minimum, the "use of British bases in Cyprus and Diego Garcia." Whether Bush could have gone ahead and launched his war without British support is far from clear. Above all, what the memos confirm (and this is no revelation) is that this was always a war of choice in search of a legal, political and diplomatic justification.

When asked about The Downing Street Memo last week, President Bush said, "Both of us [Bush and Blair] didn't want to use our military. Nobody wants to commit military into combat. It's the last option." Yet in September 2002, in the introduction to The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, Bush declared that "America will act against ... emerging threats before they are fully formed." Well before the invasion of Iraq he had abandoned the principle that war must be the last resort.

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Deep Throat of Downing Street
By Jefferson Morley, Washington Post, June 14, 2005

Deep Throat now has an English accent.

Reporter Michael Smith of the Sunday Times of London scored an international scoop this weekend with a story about a sensational Iraq war document provided by an anonymous high-level official source who, like W. Mark Felt of Watergate fame, seems to have taken up a mission of helping an investigative reporter probe allegations of misconduct and cover-up. [complete article]

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No progress on Bolton effort
By Charles Babington, Washington Post, June 15, 2005

A key Democratic senator warned yesterday that the Bush administration may be losing ground in its bid to confirm John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations, as the White House continued to rebuff Democrats' request for documents related to the nominee.

Senate GOP leaders, acknowledging no apparent progress on Bolton, said they will call for another vote to end debate in a renewed effort to portray Democrats as obstructionists, probably this week. But one of the three Democrats who sided with them on an unsuccessful "cloture" vote on May 26, Sen. Mark Pryor (Ark.), said he may abandon the Republicans, leaving them farther from their goal than they were three weeks ago. [complete article]

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The madrassa myth
By Peter Bergen and Swati Pandey, New York Times, June 14, 2005

It is one of the widespread assumptions of the war on terrorism that the Muslim religious schools known as madrassas, catering to families that are often poor, are graduating students who become terrorists. Last year, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell denounced madrassas in Pakistan and several other countries as breeding grounds for "fundamentalists and terrorists." A year earlier, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld had queried in a leaked memorandum, "Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?"

While madrassas may breed fundamentalists who have learned to recite the Koran in Arabic by rote, such schools do not teach the technical or linguistic skills necessary to be an effective terrorist. Indeed, there is little or no evidence that madrassas produce terrorists capable of attacking the West. And as a matter of national security, the United States doesn't need to worry about Muslim fundamentalists with whom we may disagree, but about terrorists who want to attack us. [complete article]

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For democratic change, deal with moderate Islamists
By Amr Hamzawy, Daily Star, June 15, 2005

It has become common to suggest that the West should reach out to nonviolent Islamist political movements in the Arab world and integrate them into its democracy promotion efforts.

Two major factors have contributed to the apparent shift in American and European perceptions away from the stigmatization of Islamists as irrational fanatics to an operational distinction between violent and nonviolent, radical and moderate actors: First, the problematic path of Arab democratization and, second, the newly discovered pragmatism within the Islamist environment. However, both the United States and Europe have yet to articulate clear policy guidelines that structure their encounter with Islamist movements. Existing doubts about the degree of their commitment to democratic reforms and the real intentions behind their pragmatism hamper attempts to move ahead in the direction of engaging them. [complete article]

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'Record volume rise' in world energy consumption
By Thomas Catan, Financial Times, June 14, 2005

World energy consumption surged 4.3 per cent last year, the biggest percentage rise since 1984 and the largest volume increase ever, according to new figures from BP, the oil company.

Burning fossil fuels at a faster rate also resulted in the largest absolute increase in carbon emissions, adding to the stock of “greenhouse gases” blamed for global warming.

BP's annual statistical review, released on Tuesday, showed that the fast-growing economies of Asia were responsible for a large portion of the rise. China's fuel consumption rose by 15.1 per cent and India's by 7.2 per cent. [complete article]

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Kabul 'on verge of cholera epidemic'
AP (via The Guardian), June 14, 2005

The Afghan capital is on the verge of a cholera epidemic with more than 2,000 suspected cases and eight deaths in recent weeks, a health worker in Kabul warned today.

"An epidemic is about to break out here. Over two thousand cases have been reported so far that would meet the case definition of cholera," said Fred Hartman, technical director for the US-backed Rural Expansion of Afghanistan's Community-based Health Care programme.

Mr Hartman, who has been directly involved with efforts to contain the outbreak, said that eight or nine people had died in the past two weeks, and warned the disease could spread quickly throughout the city's 4 million people. [complete article]

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Return of the body counts
By Mark Benjamin, Salon, June 11, 2005

An extensive review of combat accounts from military commanders reveals that regular reporting of body counts appears to have begun with the battle for Fallujah in November 2004. U.S. Marines' assault on the insurgent stronghold, launched immediately after the U.S. presidential election, was considered critical to showing progress in the war. The Pentagon estimated 1,200 to 1,600 enemy fighters killed -- though at the time the media noted a large and "mysterious" discrepancy in the body count reported following the battle.

If history offers any clue, counting dead insurgents is a misleading endeavor that can destroy trust in the Pentagon and ultimately lead to atrocities on the battlefield. During the Vietnam War, historians say, inflated body counts that sometimes included civilians shattered the Pentagon's credibility with the American people and undercut support for that war. [complete article]

Note -- Readers who are not Salon subscribers can follow the "free site pass" link to read the rest of the article.

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U.S. opposed calls at NATO for probe of Uzbek killings
By R. Jeffrey Smith and Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, June 14, 2005

Defense officials from Russia and the United States last week helped block a new demand for an international probe into the Uzbekistan government's shooting of hundreds of protesters last month, according to U.S. and diplomatic officials.

British and other European officials had pushed to include language calling for an independent investigation in a communique issued by defense ministers of NATO countries and Russia after a daylong meeting in Brussels on Thursday. But the joint communique merely stated that "issues of security and stability in Central Asia, including Uzbekistan," had been discussed.

The outcome obscured an internal U.S. dispute over whether NATO ministers should raise the May 13 shootings in Andijan at the risk of provoking Uzbekistan to cut off U.S. access to a military air base on its territory.

The communique's wording was worked out after what several knowledgeable sources called a vigorous debate in Brussels between U.S. defense officials, who emphasized the importance of the base, and others, including State Department representatives at NATO headquarters, who favored language calling for a transparent, independent and international probe into the killings of Uzbekistan civilians by police and soldiers. [complete article]

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Close Gitmo? Be careful what you wish for
By Eric Umansky, Los Angeles Times, June 14, 2005

Closing the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay has suddenly become a hot topic. Since Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) broached the idea, the notion has been gaining steam.

Over the weekend, Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) added the first Republican voice to the chorus, and there will be Senate hearings Wednesday on detainee issues. Even President Bush seems to be hinting that he's game. Asked during a television interview whether Gitmo should be shut, the president said, "We're exploring all alternatives as to how best to do the main objective, which is to protect America."

Gitmo has come to represent the lack of accountability and the extralegal aspects of the war on terrorism. Shuttering it would be a grand gesture. The symbolism would be important and could help improve the U.S. image. But if that is all that is done, a closure risks obscuring a more important issue and could even be counterproductive: If the U.S. is to really regain its standing as a defender of human rights, it needs to do more than mothball a single jail; it needs to change its policies. [complete article]

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Army, insurer in Iraq at odds
By T. Christian Miller, Los Angeles Times, June 13, 2005

Besieged financial services giant American International Group Inc. repeatedly has sought to derail an effort by the Pentagon that could save taxpayers millions of dollars on reconstruction work in war zones like Afghanistan and Iraq.

For more than a year, AIG and industry allies have fought an initiative to cut the rates for workers' compensation insurance that U.S. contractors operating overseas are required to carry, according to interviews and documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times. [complete article]

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Microsoft censors its blog tool
Reporters Without Borders, June 14, 2005

Reporters Without Borders said it was disgusted to find that Microsoft was censoring the Chinese version of its blog tool, MSN spaces, the system automatically rejecting words including "democracy" and "Dalai Lama".

"Following Yahoo !, here is a second American Internet giant giving way to the Chinese authorities and agreeing to self-censorship", the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

"The lack of ethics on the part of these companies is extremely worrying. Their management frequently justifies collaboration with Chinese censorship by saying that all they are doing is obeying local legislation.

"Does that mean that if the authorities asked Microsoft to provide information about Chinese cyberdissidents using its services that it would agree to do so, on the basis that it is "legal" ? Reporters Without Borders wondered.

"We believe that this argument does not hold water and that these multinationals must respect certain basic ethical principles, in whatever country they are operating." [complete article]

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U.N.'s nuclear monitor extends his pivotal role
By Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, June 14, 2005

Mohamed ElBaradei was virtually unknown when the United States engineered his candidacy eight years ago to run the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency. He was a soft-spoken lawyer then, who left the Middle East of his youth for New York, first as a diplomat, then as an academic and finally as a career U.N. servant.

"What more could we ask for than a smart, respected Egyptian who cares passionately about the New York Knicks and nuclear nonproliferation?" said John Ritch, a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency who was instrumental in ElBaradei's selection.

Though he lacked any experience leading a major institution, U.S. support was enough for him to beat the only other contender -- a South Korean whose own country abstained -- in a 34 to 0 vote that launched ElBaradei's tenure as director general of the IAEA.

Yesterday, the agency's 35-member board unanimously awarded ElBaradei a third term running an agency whose findings and pronouncements could significantly bolster or undermine the Bush administration's push to confront Iran over its nuclear program. [complete article]

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Pentagon man charged over leak to AIPAC
By Nathan Guttman, Haaretz, June 14, 2005

The federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, Monday made public the indictment of U.S. Defense Department analyst, Larry Franklin. He is charged with leaking classified military information to employees of an unnamed lobby group.

According to reports, the group is AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Five charges of the six-count indictment accuse Franklin of conspiring to disclose national defense and classified information to people not authorized to receive it, including information about potential attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq. One count accuses him of conspiring to communicate the information to an agent and representative of a foreign government. The indictment was handed down on May 26, but not unsealed until Monday.

The charge sheet does not mention the names of the AIPAC officials nor does it mention the organization by name. It outlines in great detail Franklin's ties with what is called "a foreign official." Sources close to the case have identified him as Naor Gilon, in charge of policy at the Israeli Embassy in Washington. [complete article]

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Iran to scale back gas sale to India
By Jo Johnson, Financial Times, June 13, 2005

Iran on Monday agreed to sell India a significantly smaller-than-expected amount of liquefied natural gas in a $22bn multi-year deal that highlights the tough competition New Delhi faces from Beijing in securing energy supplies to fuel its economic growth.

The deal will also be a preliminary test of US sanctions policy ahead of an imminent decision by India and Pakistan over whether to proceed with a separate $4.5bn (€3.7bn, £2.5bn) gas pipeline to Iran, a project that Washington vigorously opposes and that could expose them to a backlash in the US Congress. [complete article]

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Military action won't end insurgency, growing number of U.S. officers believe
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, June 12, 2005

A growing number of senior American military officers in Iraq have concluded that there is no long-term military solution to an insurgency that has killed thousands of Iraqis and more than 1,300 U.S. troops during the past two years.

Instead, officers say, the only way to end the guerilla war is through Iraqi politics - an arena that so far has been crippled by divisions between Shiite Muslims, whose coalition dominated the January elections, and Sunni Muslims, who are a minority in Iraq but form the base of support for the insurgency.

"I think the more accurate way to approach this right now is to concede that ... this insurgency is not going to be settled, the terrorists and the terrorism in Iraq is not going to be settled, through military options or military operations," Brig. Gen. Donald Alston, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said last week, in a comment that echoes what other senior officers say. "It's going to be settled in the political process." [complete article]

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Immigration law as anti-terrorism tool
By Mary Beth Sheridan, Washington Post, June 13, 2005

Soul Khalil woke with a start. Her split-level home in Burke was shuddering, and the oppressive hum of a helicopter filled the room. Then she heard the pounding on the front door. "Police!" the voices yelled. She shook her husband. "Hassan! You hear that banging?" she later recalled saying.

Her husband, in his shorts, stumbled into the hallway. At the end of it was a masked agent, his gun drawn. "Get down!" he yelled, according to the husband's recollection. The Lebanese immigrant dropped onto his stomach, and the officers cuffed his hands behind his back.

The charge: lying on his immigration documents. [complete article]

Comment -- And what's the difference between "homeland security" and xenophobia? I'm still trying to figure that out!

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Cheney: U.S. not aiming to close Guantanamo
By Marc Kaufman, Washington Post, June 13, 2005

Vice President Cheney said yesterday that the administration has no plans to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as some prominent Democrats have recommended, but other Republicans said that reports of mistreatment of prisoners there have made the prison a growing global liability.

Additional information about aggressive interrogation tactics at Guantanamo surfaced yesterday that could heighten the debate further.

In remarks to be broadcast today on Fox News, Cheney said the administration was reviewing its options at the prison "on a continuous basis." But he defended its track record, saying, "The important thing here to understand is that the people that are at Guantanamo are bad people." [complete article]

Some held at Guantanamo are minors, lawyers say
By Neil A. Lewis, New York Times, June 13, 2005

Lawyers representing detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, say that there still may be as many as six prisoners who were captured before their 18th birthday and that the military has sought to conceal the precise number of juveniles at the prison camp.

One lawyer said that his client, a Saudi of Chadian descent, was not yet 15 when he was captured and has told him that he was beaten regularly in his early days at Guantánamo, hanged by his wrists for hours at a time and that an interrogator pressed a burning cigarette into his arm. [complete article]

Time report fuels Guantanamo criticism
CNN, June 13, 2005

The U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay drew fresh criticism Sunday following a Time magazine report on a logbook tracing the treatment of a detainee who officials believe was intended to take part in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. [complete article]

Comment -- The issue here is human rights. It's a simple phrase that should be easy to understand. It refers to rights that belong to people. You're human, you're entitled - no other qualifications required.

Now what the interrogation logs make clear is that some of the interrogators thought that their prisoners were inferior to dogs. It naturally follows that they wouldn't respect their human rights. And when Vice President Cheney points out that "The important thing here to understand is that the people that are at Guantanamo are bad people," he seems to be implying that bad people should expect to be treated badly.

But he continued, "I mean, these are terrorists for the most part." For the most part? Hmmm. I guess he can't be too sure. And maybe that's why they won't be going on trial and why we'll never know for sure how many of them really are - as the VP asserts with less than absolute confidence - terrorists.

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Lebanese vote stings anti-Syrian forces
By Nora Boustany, Washington Post, June 13, 2005

A former army general who returned to Lebanon last month after 15 years in exile appeared headed for a sweeping victory in the third round of legislative elections Sunday as anti-Syrian candidates braced for significant losses.

Preliminary results from voting in mountain regions and coastal areas around Beirut and in the central Bekaa Valley indicated that Michel Aoun and most if not all of his allies would emerge as winners in voting for nearly half the 128-seat national legislature. Final results were not expected until Monday.

A victory for Aoun's alliance would make it more difficult for the opposition coalition to form a majority in the legislature and move the country away from Syrian influence. The elections end next Sunday, when northern Lebanon votes. [complete article]

See also, Aoun scores upset win in Lebanese elections (Reuters).

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Bombings rock Iran ahead of election
By Nahid Siamdoust and John Daniszewski, Los Angeles Times, June 13, 2005

Four blasts in the Iranian city of Ahvaz and two more in the capital killed at least nine people and wounded more than 70 Sunday, just five days before the nation's presidential election.

The rare outbreak of violence caught the country by surprise, and Iranian officials alleged that bombers had come from Iraq to disrupt Friday's balloting. Voters will be deciding who will succeed President Mohammad Khatami and guide the nation through a series of challenges.

In recent months, Iran has come under renewed international pressure over its nuclear program. And with U.S. forces fighting insurgents in neighboring Iraq, it fears that instability could seep across its border. Iranian officials are concerned that low election turnout could undermine the Islamic establishment at home and weaken its position in negotiations over its atomic program. [complete article]

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Uzbekistan tests U.S. policy goals
By Sonni Efron, Los Angeles Times, June 13, 2005

n its struggle with Islamic extremism, the United States has had few better friends than President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, who has provided both intelligence and military facilities. But Karimov's government has emerged as one of the toughest tests of the Bush administration's campaign to promote democracy, especially in the Muslim world.

In the month since Uzbek armored personnel carriers rolled into the town of Andijon and troops opened fire on protesters, Karimov's authoritarian government has refused U.S. calls for an independent international investigation.

Nonetheless, the Bush administration has been tepid in its criticism. Karimov's record on democracy and the economy has been worsening in recent years, but he rules the most populated of the Central Asian nations and one of the most strategically located, and allows the United States to use its military bases. [complete article]

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China: containment won't work
By Henry Kissinger, Washington Post, June 13, 2005

The rise of China -- and of Asia -- will, over the next decades, bring about a substantial reordering of the international system. The center of gravity of world affairs is shifting from the Atlantic, where it was lodged for the past three centuries, to the Pacific. The most rapidly developing countries are in Asia, with a growing means to vindicate their perception of the national interest.

China's emerging role is often compared to that of imperial Germany at the beginning of the 20th century, the implication being that a strategic confrontation is inevitable and that the United States had best prepare for it. That assumption is as dangerous as it is wrong. [complete article]

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Editor of climate reports resigns
By Andrew C. Revkin, New York Times, June 10, 2005

Philip A. Cooney, the chief of staff to President Bush's Council on Environmental Quality, resigned yesterday, White House officials said.

Mr. Cooney's resignation came two days after documents revealed that he had repeatedly edited government climate reports in ways that cast doubt on the link between building greenhouse-gas emissions and rising temperatures.

Mr. Cooney has no scientific training. Dana Perino, a deputy White House press secretary, said Mr. Cooney "had long been considering his options following four years of service in the administration." Ms. Perino said the decision was unrelated to revelations about the documents. Mr. Cooney did not return e-mails messages or phone messages left at his home. [complete article]

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Memo: U.S. lacked full postwar Iraq plan
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, June 12, 2005

A briefing paper prepared for British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top advisers eight months before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq concluded that the U.S. military was not preparing adequately for what the British memo predicted would be a "protracted and costly" postwar occupation of that country.

The eight-page memo, written in advance of a July 23, 2002, Downing Street meeting on Iraq, provides new insights into how senior British officials saw a Bush administration decision to go to war as inevitable, and realized more clearly than their American counterparts the potential for the post-invasion instability that continues to plague Iraq.

In its introduction, the memo "Iraq: Conditions for Military Action" notes that U.S. "military planning for action against Iraq is proceeding apace," but adds that "little thought" has been given to, among other things, "the aftermath and how to shape it." [complete article]

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U.S. campaign produces few convictions on terrorism charges
By Dan Eggen and Julie Tate, Washington Post, June 12, 2005

On Thursday, President Bush stepped to a lectern at the Ohio State Highway Patrol Academy in Columbus to urge renewal of the USA Patriot Act and to boast of the government's success in prosecuting terrorists.

Flanked by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush said that "federal terrorism investigations have resulted in charges against more than 400 suspects, and more than half of those charged have been convicted."

Those statistics have been used repeatedly by Bush and other administration officials, including Gonzales and his predecessor, John D. Ashcroft, to characterize the government's efforts against terrorism.

But the numbers are misleading at best.

An analysis of the Justice Department's own list of terrorism prosecutions by The Washington Post shows that 39 people -- not 200, as officials have implied -- were convicted of crimes related to terrorism or national security. [complete article]

See also, The terrorism case that wasn't -- and still is (WP).

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Iraq moves further toward a political stalemate
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, June 12, 2005

Iraq moved further toward a political stalemate today, as Shiite political leaders agreed on what they said was a compromise to include Sunni Arabs in the writing of this country's constitution, and Sunnis flatly rejected the offer.

In an attempt to defuse a political confrontation with this country's embittered Sunni Arabs, the Shiite-led constitutional committee of the Iraqi parliament, met for several hours today and decided to give Sunnis 15 seats with full membership on the 55-member committee and an additional 10 adviser positions. The offer was aimed at satisfying the demands of Sunnis, who have insisted that they get at least 25 seats.

Sunnis, about a fifth of Iraq's population, are thinly represented in this country's parliament, because they refused to vote in national elections in January. American officials have been pressing Shiite and Kurdish leaders to give Sunnis a greater role in politics, and today's agreement was their effort to satisfy that demand.

"I think they will accept because we are offering everything for them," said Bahaa al-Aaraji, a Shiite political leader who is a senior member of the committee.

But two Sunni political leaders interviewed by telephone shortly after the decision said bluntly that it would be rejected by the majority of Sunni Arabs, whose fringes, which include former Baath Party members and militant Islamists, drive the radical insurgency here. [complete article]

See also, In politics, Sunnis speak with many voices (WP).

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Iraq: Don't rush the constitution
International Crisis Group, June 8, 2005

The next stage in Iraq's political transition, the drafting and adoption of a permanent constitution, will be critical to the country's long-term stability. Iraqis face a dilemma: rush the constitutional process and meet the current deadline of 15 August 2005 to prevent the insurgents from scoring further political points, or encourage a process that is inclusive, transparent and participatory in an effort to increase popular buy-in of the final product. While there are downsides to delay, they are far outweighed by the dangers of a hurried job that could lead to either popular rejection of or popular resignation to a text toward which they feel little sense of ownership or pride.

The Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) of March 2004 dictates the pace and process of constitutional drafting and adoption. According to its terms, drafting must be completed no later than 15 August 2005 and the text put up for popular referendum by 15 October, with elections for a full-term assembly to follow by 15 December. If successful, this process may go a long way in drying up support for the insurgents. Conversely, failure to get the constitutional endeavour right risks increasing popular discontent and swelling the ranks of the insurgency. [complete article]

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More in Congress want Iraq exit strategy
By Susan Milligan, Boston Globe (via Common Dreams), June 11, 2005

Faced with plummeting public support for the war in Iraq, a growing number of members of Congress from both parties are reevaluating the reasons for the invasion and demanding the Bush administration produce a plan for withdrawing US troops.

A bipartisan group of House members is drafting a resolution that calls on the administration to present a strategy for getting the United States out of Iraq, reflecting an increasing restlessness about the war in a chamber that 2 1/2 years ago voted overwhelmingly to support the use of force in Iraq.

The House International Relations Committee on Thursday approved a similar proposal, 32 to 9, with strong bipartisan support. Sponsored by Representative Joseph Crowley, a New York Democrat who voted to authorize force in Iraq in 2002, the proposal represents the first time a congressional committee has moved to demand steps be taken so that US troops can start coming home. [complete article]

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Wolf Brigade the most loved and feared of Iraqi security forces
By Hannah Allam, Knight Ridder, May 21, 2005

Abul Waleed rifled through a pile of papers, considering the latest accusations against the elite brigade of Iraqi police commandos he leads from a dusty fortress.

The complaints against the Wolf Brigade were the usual: excessive force, renegade patrols, kidnapping, murder. The charges came from Iraq's most powerful Sunni Muslim leaders, and Abul Waleed clearly relished reading them. It's precisely this take-no-prisoners reputation that's made his Wolf Brigade the most feared and revered of all of Iraq's nascent security forces.

"The Muslim Scholars Association? They're infidels," Abul Waleed said, tossing his detractors' complaints into the wastebasket. "The Islamic Party? Humph. More like the Fascist Party."

No matter how many complaints about heavy-handedness pile up on Abul Waleed's desk, there's no changing the fact that the Wolf Brigade rules public opinion in a country desperate for Iraqi heroes. With their televised humiliation of terror suspects and their dapper uniforms, the Wolf Brigade restores some of the national pride stripped away by war and foreign occupation. [complete article]

See also, Ex-member attacks counterterror squad (WP).

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Hundreds of women protest sex discrimination in Iran
By Nazila Fathi, New York Times, June 12, 2005

Hundreds of women staged an unauthorized demonstration in Tehran today, protesting sex discrimination under Iran's Islamic leadership just days before the June 17 presidential elections.

The protest was the first public display of dissent by women since the 1979 revolution, when the new regime enforced obligatory veiling. "We are women, we are the children of this land, but we have no rights," they chanted. More than 250 marched outside Tehran University, and about 200 others demonstrated two blocks away after hundreds of riot police swarmed in and barred them from joining the main protest.

There were reports that the police clubbed several women, though there were no hospital reports of injuries. Demonstrators said they saw some women being detained and dragged away by officers. But the situation appeared to stabilize, and after about an hour of demonstrating, the women disbanded without further incident. [complete article]

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Democrats list more names in inquiry on Bolton's access
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, June 11, 2005

Senate Democrats have prepared a list of approximately three dozen "names of concern" and are asking the Bush administration for assurances that John R. Bolton did not misuse his access to highly classified intelligence to seek information about them.

The request is outlined in a letter sent Thursday by Senators Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, two of the leaders of the Democratic opposition to Mr. Bolton's nomination as ambassador to the United Nations. The letter was sent to the senior Republican and Democratic senators on the Intelligence Committee, who have also been involved in negotiations with the Bush administration over access to information about Mr. Bolton's actions when he was an official at the State Department.

The letter did not identify those on the list, but Democratic aides said they included intelligence officials and others with whom Mr. Bolton had clashed. They said the Senate Democrats would provide the list to John D. Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, if Mr. Negroponte made clear that he would provide appropriate information in response. [complete article]

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Israelis recall a night of death and revenge
By Glenn Frankel, Washington Post, June 11, 2005

On a chilly Tuesday evening in February 2002, four Palestinian gunmen stormed an Israeli military outpost west of the West Bank city of Ramallah, shot dead six soldiers at close range and escaped into the darkness in one of the most audacious and deadly attacks of the 17-month Palestinian uprising.

Eight hours later, as daylight was peeking through the night sky above a Palestinian police checkpoint nine miles away, Israeli soldiers took their revenge. They opened fire without warning on a group of policemen, shooting one who fell nearby, while another took refuge in a tin hut and others fled.
In the bloodstained chronicle of the Palestinian uprising that began in September 2000, that night marked a turning point. Two elite Israeli army units, retaliating for the surprise attack on the six soldiers, swooped down on four Palestinian checkpoints and killed nine policemen -- the first time the Israeli army had openly targeted Palestinian police, who until then had generally not been deemed combatants. An additional nine Palestinians died overnight in other attacks.

The violence of that night was soon overshadowed by more intense conflict. Palestinian suicide bombers escalated their attacks on Israeli civilians, and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the army to reoccupy major cities in the West Bank.

Now, some of the Israelis who participated in the ambush of the policemen have come forward to describe in detail what happened and to denounce it as a crime. The soldiers say that the Palestinians they killed had no role in the attack on the soldiers, but were chosen because they were readily available targets, and that the Palestinian officers were mowed down without being given a chance to surrender. [complete article]

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GOP senator says U.S. should consider closing Guantanamo prison
By Marc Caputo, Carol Rosenberg and Frank Davies, Knight Ridder, June 10, 2005

Sen. Mel Martinez, who served in President Bush's first Cabinet, on Friday became the first high-profile Republican to say that the Bush administration should consider closing the Guantanamo Bay prison camp for suspected terrorists.

Speaking to a meeting of the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors in Key West, Martinez called the camp "an icon for bad news."

"At some point you wonder the cost-benefit ratio: How much do you get out of having that facility there?" Martinez said. "Is it serving all the purposes you thought it would serve when initially you began it? Or can this be done some other way a little better?" [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

The Middle East's real problem: The mafia
By Ferry Biedermann, Salon, June 11, 2005
From Syria to Egypt, from Lebanon to Iraq, along the length and breadth of the Arab world the presumed drive toward greater democracy and openness is lurching along, often coming to sudden halts. Whether brazenly blocked by a ruling party and an elite determined to preserve their hold on power, as in Syria, or stealthily undermined by the same old political bosses, as in Lebanon, progress is patchy, to say the least. And the causes are remarkably similar across the region: a mixture of deep sectarian, regional and tribal divisions, a lack of neutral central institutions, and a clientele system that creates powerful mafias and capi di tutti capi that look after their own in a winner-take-all environment.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration, undeterred by the bloody chaos in Iraq, still seems intent on spreading its ill-fitting idea of democracy in the region, with Syria its possible next target. A well-informed analyst in Damascus told me that the United States is preparing an "Iraq scenario" for the country, including possibly imposing a no-fly zone in the Kurdish-dominated north. The United States' rumored plans are likely to backfire, slowing down reform or halting it altogether. Worse, they could plunge Syria and Lebanon into violent chaos.
Note -- Readers who are not Salon subscribers can follow the "free site pass" link to read the rest of the article.

Building Iraq's army: mission improbable
By Anthony Shadid and Steve Fainaru, Washington Post, June 10, 2005
An hour before dawn, the sky still clouded by a dust storm, the soldiers of the Iraqi army's Charlie Company began their mission with a ballad to ousted president Saddam Hussein. "We have lived in humiliation since you left," one sang in Arabic, out of earshot of his U.S. counterparts. "We had hoped to spend our life with you."

But the Iraqi soldiers had no clue where they were going. They shrugged their shoulders when asked what they would do. The U.S. military had billed the mission as pivotal in the Iraqis' progress as a fighting force but had kept the destination and objectives secret out of fear the Iraqis would leak the information to insurgents.

"We can't tell these guys about a lot of this stuff, because we're not really sure who's good and who isn't," said Rick McGovern, a tough-talking 37-year-old platoon sergeant from Hershey, Pa., who heads the military training for Charlie Company.

The reconstruction of Iraq's security forces is the prerequisite for an American withdrawal from Iraq. But as the Bush administration extols the continuing progress of the new Iraqi army, the project in Baiji, a desolate oil town at a strategic crossroads in northern Iraq, demonstrates the immense challenges of building an army from scratch in the middle of a bloody insurgency.

Leaders of Iraq back militias, widening rift with Sunnis
By Edward Wong, New York Times, June 9, 2005
The rift between the Iraqi government and hostile Sunni Arabs widened further on Wednesday as the country's leaders came out in support of ethnic and sectarian militias that Sunnis fear could be used against them.

Top Sunni Arab leaders also demanded that a 55-member committee that is to begin writing a new constitution add at least 25 Sunni seats with full voting powers. There was no immediate response from the Shiite-led committee, but in recent days its members have proposed adding 12 to 15 nonvoting seats for Sunni Arabs.

The announcement regarding militias was the first time the new government had publicly backed armed ethnic and sectarian groups, and it was an implicit rebuke to American officials, who have repeatedly asked that the government disband all militias in the country. The largest militias are the Kurdish pesh merga and an Iranian-trained Shiite militia that Sunni leaders have blamed for attacks against them.

In Mideast elections, militants gain
By Dan Murphy and Joshua Mitnick, Christian Science Monitor, June 8, 2005
The electoral successes of Hamas and Hizbullah has the Bush administration contemplating the previously unthinkable: dealing with those it deems terrorists.

The militant Palestinian group Hamas made significant gains in local elections in January. And many suspect they would have won this summer's legislative vote had it not been postponed this week. In Lebanon, Hizbullah flexed its political muscle on Sunday when a slate of candidates it heads swept the polls in the south of the country, making the organization a major force in the new government.

Outside Iraq but deep in the fight
By Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, Washington Post, June 8, 2005
When the Americans led the invasion of Iraq, the men of Abu Ibrahim's family gathered in the courtyard of their shared home in the far north of Syria. Ten slips of paper were folded into a plastic bag, and they drew lots. The five who opened a paper marked with ink would go to Iraq and fight. The other five would stay behind.

Abu Ibrahim drew a blank. But remaining in Syria did not mean staying clear of the war. For more than two years, by his own detailed account, the slightly built, shabbily dressed 32-year-old father of four has worked diligently to shuttle other young Arab men into Iraq, stocking the insurgency that has killed hundreds of U.S. troops and thousands of Iraqis.

The stream of fighters -- most of them Syrians, but lately many of them Saudis, favored for the cash they bring -- has sustained and replenished the hardest core of the Iraq insurgency, and supplied many of its suicide bombers. Drawn from a number of Arab countries and nurtured by a militant interpretation of Islam, they insist they are fighting for their vision of their faith. This may put them beyond the reach of political efforts to make Iraq's Sunni Arabs stakeholders in the country's nascent government.

Jerusalem park plan imperils Arab homes
By Laura King, Los Angeles Times, June 7, 2005
In a valley beneath the towering walls of Jerusalem's Old City, a Palestinian named Hashem Jalajel sat in the shade of a fig tree, holding in his age-palsied hands a document that he feared could herald the destruction of his family home of generations' standing.

"I can't read it," the 76-year-old patriarch said apologetically, passing the Hebrew-language notice to one of his grandsons to read aloud. "But I've memorized everything it says."

Like dozens of other homeowners in this cave-pocked valley that is now a jammed and jostling Palestinian neighborhood, Jalajel has received an eviction order from the municipality of Jerusalem, designating one of the homes in his family compound as an illegal structure that is to be destroyed.

In all, 88 homes in the Silwan district of traditionally Arab East Jerusalem are marked for demolition to make way for what municipal authorities say will be an archeological park devoted to Jewish history and sites associated with the biblical King David.

The battle over this slice of Silwan is emblematic of a larger fight for control of Jerusalem, which lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both sides declare the city their capital, and neither is willing to renounce its claim.

The ambiguous arsenal
By Jeffrey Lewis, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May/June, 2005
If you read the Washington Times, in addition to believing that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction are hidden somewhere in Syria, you might believe that "China's aggressive strategic nuclear-modernization program" was proceeding apace. If munching on freedom fries at a Heritage Foundation luncheon is your thing, you might worry that "even marginal improvements to [China's intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs)] derived from U.S. technical know-how" threaten the United States.

So, it may come as a shock to learn that China's nuclear arsenal is about the same size it was a decade ago, and that the missile that prompted the Washington Times article has been under development since the mid-1980s. Perhaps your anxiety about "marginal improvements" to China's missile force would recede as you learned that China's 18 ICBMs, sitting unfueled in their silos, their nuclear warheads in storage, are essentially the same as they were the day China began deploying them in 1981. In fact, contrary to reports you might have recently read that Chinese nukes number in the hundreds--if not the thousands--the true size of the country's operationally deployed arsenal is probably about 80 nuclear weapons.

Oil: Caveat empty
By Alfred J. Cavallo, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May/June, 2005
Without any press conferences, grand announcements, or hyperbolic advertising campaigns, the Exxon Mobil Corporation, one of the world's largest publicly owned petroleum companies, has quietly joined the ranks of those who are predicting an impending plateau in non-OPEC oil production. Their report, The Outlook for Energy: A 2030 View, forecasts a peak in just five years.

In the past, many who expressed such concerns were dismissed as eager catastrophists, peddling the latest Malthusian prophecy of the impending collapse of fossil-fueled civilization. Their reliance on private oil-reserve data that is unverifiable by other analysts, and their use of models that ignore political and economic factors, have led to frequent erroneous pronouncements. They were countered by the extreme optimists, who believed that we would never need to think about such problems and that the markets would take care of everything. Up to now, those who worried about limited petroleum supplies have been at best ignored, and at worst openly ridiculed.

Watergate weighs on today's White House
By Peter Wallsten, Los Angeles Times, June 7, 2005
Shortly after a 91-year-old man was revealed last week as the answer to the 30-year-old mystery of the Watergate affair, President Bush cast the scandal as something from the distant past.

"A lot of people wondered … who 'Deep Throat' was, including me," Bush said after news broke that former FBI official W. Mark Felt had been the source leaking Watergate details to the press. "It would kind of fade from my memory, and then all of a sudden, somebody would pop it back in. Some story would reinvigorate that period."

And yet, far more than Bush has publicly acknowledged, Watergate and its aftermath have exerted a strong influence on the policies and attitudes of the president and others now in the White House -- some of whom had front-row seats for the scandal as members of the Nixon and Ford administrations.

Vice President Dick Cheney, who worked in the Nixon White House and served as chief of staff to President Ford, has spoken of using his current position to restore powers of the presidency that he believes were diminished as a result of Watergate and the Vietnam War. By withholding details of his energy task force meetings and advising Bush to aggressively take the reins of power after the contested 2000 election, Cheney has tried to rekindle a broad view of executive authority.

AP probe on Bolton finds disturbing links to Iraq war
By Charles J. Hanley, AP (via E&P), June 4, 2005
John R. Bolton flew to Europe in 2002 to confront the head of a global arms-control agency and demand he resign, then orchestrated the firing of the unwilling diplomat in a move a U.N. tribunal has since judged unlawful, according to officials involved.

A former Bolton deputy says the U.S. undersecretary of state felt Jose Bustani "had to go," particularly because the Brazilian was trying to send chemical weapons inspectors to Baghdad. That might have helped defuse the crisis over alleged Iraqi weapons and undermined a U.S. rationale for war.

Bustani, who says he got a "menacing" phone call from Bolton at one point, was removed by a vote of just one-third of member nations at an unusual special session of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), at which the United States cited alleged mismanagement in calling for his ouster.

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