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

Iran in turmoil as president's purge deepens
By Simon Tisdall and Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, November 18, 2005

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's clearout of his opponents began last month but is more sweeping than previously understood and has reached almost every branch of government, the Guardian has learned. Dozens of deputy ministers have been sacked this month in several government departments, as well the heads of the state insurance and privatisation organisations. Last week, seven state bank presidents were dismissed in what an Iranian source described as "a coup d'etat". [complete article]

U.S. backs role for Iran in nuclear fuel cycle
Financial Times, November 18, 2005

In a major concession towards Iran's nuclear programme, the US on Friday gave its public backing to a proposal by Russia and the European Union that would allow the Islamic republic to develop part of the nuclear fuel cycle on its own territory. [complete article]

Iranians admit receiving nuclear warhead blueprint from disgraced Pakistani expert
By Ian Traynor, The Guardian, November 19, 2005

International suspicion of Iran's nuclear programme heightened yesterday when it was revealed that Tehran had obtained a blueprint showing how to build the core of a nuclear warhead. Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told diplomats that his inspectors had recently obtained documents from Tehran showing that the Iranians had been given various instructions on processing uranium hexafluoride gas and casting and enriching uranium. These had been obtained via the black market in nuclear technology headed by the disgraced Pakistani scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan. [complete article]

The terrorist temptation
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, November 18, 2005

Over a glass of Champagne and under the eyes of raging priests on a vast Old Testament tapestry, I caught up with Paul Wolfowitz in Paris earlier this week. The current World Bank president and former U.S. deputy secretary of Defense, who is seen by many as the architect of the Iraq invasion, was talking mainly about bird flu and development issues in Africa. The cost of fighting the avian-borne pandemic, he said, might be as much as $1.5 billion. He made that sound like an awful lot of money, and probably it is when he's scrounging for funds from international donors. But since $1.5 billion is about what the United States spends each week in Iraq, I asked Wolfowitz if he didn't feel a few regrets about that venture. [complete article]

Iraq: Rep. John Murtha in his own words
Shadowland Journal, November 18, 2005

The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion. [complete article]

Iraq critics meet familiar reply
By Michael A. Fletcher, Washington Post, November 18, 2005

... the White House so disliked a New York Times editorial accusing the administration of distorting prewar intelligence -- "Decoding Mr. Bush's Denial," the headline read -- that it issued a point-by-point rejoinder that at 11 pages and more than 5,000 words was several times the length of the editorial itself. [complete article]

Pentagon team's war plan probed
By Greg Miller and Mark Mazzetti, Los Angeles Times, November 19, 2005

The Defense Department's inspector general's office said Friday it had begun investigating a Pentagon team that former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith used to build the U.S. case against Saddam Hussein and to plan the war in Iraq. [complete article]

Propaganda nightmare of chemical hypocrisy
By Bronwen Maddox, The Times, November 17, 2005

No matter the technical explanations of how useful [white phosphorus] is in flushing out insurgents from cellars. In using a weapon notorious in Vietnam, with effects on the human body straight from a science fiction film, [the U.S.] has given a gift to its enemies. It is now loudly accused of hypocrisy: justifying the war partly by Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons, but then using particularly nasty ones itself. [complete article]

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Former CIA director accuses Cheney of overseeing torture in Iraq, Afghanistan
AFP (via Middle East Online), November 18, 2005

Admiral Stansfield Turner, a former CIA director, accused US Vice President Dick Cheney of overseeing policies of torturing terrorist suspects and damaging the nation's reputation, in a television interview Thursday.

"We have crossed the line into dangerous territory," Turner, who headed the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1970s, said on ITV news.

"I am embarrassed that the USA has a vice president for torture. I think it is just reprehensible. He (Mr Cheney) advocates torture, what else is it? I just don't understand how a man in that position can take such a stance." [complete article]

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Survey shows a revival of isolationism in U.S.
By Meg Bortin, New York Times, November 17, 2005

Shaken by the Iraq war and the rise of anti-American sentiment around the world, Americans are turning inward, according to a Pew survey of United States opinion leaders and the general public.

The survey, conducted this fall and released today, found a revival of isolationist feelings among the public similar to the sentiment that followed the Vietnam War in the 1970's and the end of the Cold War in the 1990's.

But at the same time, the survey showed, Americans are feeling less unilateralist than in the past, appearing to indicate a desire for a more modest foreign policy. [complete article]

Comment -- Pew's latest survey (PDF) of American opinion leaders and the general public has been reported in many ways. Most US newspapers, like the New York Times, focus on the increased level of isolationism and choose to bury the issue of the public approval of torture. (The Times leaves it the final sentence.) Even among the foreign media that highlight the torture numbers, most, like South Africa's News 24, highlight the lower number (the combination of 15% who says that torture should often be used on terrorist suspects and 31% who say it should sometimes be used). Yet the stark fact is that among those Americans polled only 32% say that torture should never be used on terrorist suspects. Discounting the "don't knows" that means -- with differing degrees of frequency -- 63% accept the use of torture. No doubt, Dick Cheney and his advisors will take heart from these numbers.

Nevertheless, 59% of security experts polled say that torture should never be used. The question that Pew didn't but should have asked the general public is this: When it comes to the interrogation of terrorist suspects, should the Bush administration base its policies on the views of the general public or should it follow the advice of security experts. I dare say that even among torture-friendly Americans, most would defer to the experts.

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Tortured men look like 'Holocaust victims'
By Kim Sengupta, The Independent, November 18, 2005

Iraq's Interior Minister has defended the treatment of abused prisoners found in a government bunker, declaring that "no one was beheaded or killed". But while Bayan Jabr insisted that the allegations of torture were "exaggerated" fresh details emerged of the horrific conditions endured by the captives.

Witnesses said many of the 169 men and youths were emaciated and looked like "Holocaust survivors". Some had suffered beatings so severe that their skin had peeled off, and three men had been kept locked in a cupboard where they could not move. All the others were packed, blindfolded, into three rooms nine feet long and 11 feet wide.

Instruments of torture and beating were found hidden in a false ceiling. Witnesses also said that the guards in charge of the detainees, all but three of whom were Sunnis, at an interior ministry bunker in central Baghdad, wore combat fatigues of the Shia Badr Brigades militia. "Because of the appalling overcrowding, some of the most badly treated were squashed on to floors and their skins got stuck to the floor," said a witness. [complete article]

See also, U.S. to probe all Iraqi-run prisons (WP) and Torture charges deepen rift between U.S. and Iraqi leader (NYT).

Catherine Philp, reporting for The Times from Baghdad, says that a fiery press conference by Bayan Baqer Solagh, the Interior Minister, is unlikely to ease the political damage of a growing torture scandal in Iraq.

"There is not the same kind of shock and controversy over the discovery of the basement prison in Jadriya as there was over abuse scandal Abu Ghraib, because everyone has known for some time that this has been going on. Everyone knows someone to whom this has happened."

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U.S.–Arab relations broken after Iraq war, scholar reports
By Kevin Matthews, UCLA International Institute, October 25, 2005

When citizens of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are asked why the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003, they gravitate in roughly equal numbers towards three explanations. Two of these -- to secure oil reserves and to support Israel -- are no surprise at all, according to Shibley Telhami, a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center and Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland.

The surprise, a worrisome one, is that most people from the six Arab countries also say that the United States acted in order to weaken the Muslim world, Telhami explained Oct. 18 at a public talk at UCLA sponsored by the International Institute and its Center for Near Eastern Studies. [complete article]

Comment -- Implicit in the observation that Arabs and non-Arab Muslims perceive American hostility towards the Muslim world is a suggestion that this is a baseless perception or at most a perception that stems solely from the willingness of numerous administrations to compromise democratic values when dealing with authoritarian Arab regimes. Yet any English-reading Muslim inside or outside the Arab world does not need to venture far on the Internet to come across views such as those recently expressed by columnist and Fox News panelist, Cal Thomas. In one of his columns that appear in 600 newspapers across the United States, Thomas writes:
France is experiencing what other Western nations are, or will soon, experience: millions of Muslim youth who identify with the larger and borderless "Muslim World" and less, or not at all, with their host countries. Mosques erected in these countries are growing as rapidly as Starbucks or McDonald's franchises. The same is true in the United States.
In the United States, a concerted effort is being made to convert more of us to Islam... Why shouldn't we fight back by reaching out to them with our religious and political doctrines? I know Muslims who have been converted and now live peaceful and productive lives among us. We shouldn't passively allow them to proceed with their conversion agenda with no response. Let's peacefully and lovingly share our far better religious and cultural message with them.
In language reminiscent of earlier Americans who warned about the "Yellow Peril", Thomas is concerned about maintaining America's cultural "purity." His views are far from exceptional. Why then should we patronize those in the Muslim world by referring to a "perception" of anti-Muslim attitudes in a nation whose invasion of the Middle East has been (as Ariel Sharon would say) a reality on the ground.

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Foreign network at front of CIA's terror fight
By Dana Priest, Washington Post, November 18, 2005

The CIA has established joint operation centers in more than two dozen countries where U.S. and foreign intelligence officers work side by side to track and capture suspected terrorists and to destroy or penetrate their networks, according to current and former American and foreign intelligence officials.
The initial tip about where an al Qaeda figure is hiding may come from the CIA, but the actual operation to pick him up is usually organized by one of the joint centers and conducted by a local security service, with the CIA nowhere in sight. "The vast majority of successes involved our CTICs," one former counterterrorism official said. "The boot that went through the door was foreign."

The centers are also part of a fundamental, continuing shift in the CIA's mission that began shortly after the 2001 attacks. No longer is the agency's primary goal to recruit military attaches, diplomats and intelligence operatives to steal secrets from their own countries. Today's CIA is desperately seeking ways to join forces with other governments it once reproached or ignored to undo a common enemy. [complete article]

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Iraqi children losing their innocence in the violence of the war
By Zaineb Obeid, Knight Ridder, November 17, 2005

Childhood innocence may not be dead in Iraq, but teachers, parents and government officials agree that it's taken a bad hit and may not recover without immediate and intensive attention.

Khaldoon Waleed, a Baghdad child psychologist, said that a generation of children is growing up with post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD, a result of witnessing life-threatening events, is commonly associated with soldiers, and Waleed said it could cause everything from nightmares to an inability to connect with people.

"The children of Iraq have lost all sense of humanity," he said. "Killing and being killed has become daily routine to them." [complete article]

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Iraq blasts toll may exceed 100 says local official
Reuters (via FT), November 18, 2005

The death toll from twin suicide bomb attacks on mosques in the eastern Iraq town of Khanaqin could exceed 100, a member of the local council said on Friday.

The destruction was so bad that he said many bodies were trapped in the rubble and could not be easily extracted.

"I think there are more than 100 people dead," Ibrahim Ahmed Bajalan, a member of the Diyala provincial council, told Reuters, adding the blasts went off when the mosques were packed with worshippers for Friday prayers. [complete article]

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Al Qaeda transforms
By William M. Arkin, Washington Post, November 17, 2005

Did the United States and Jordan ignore warning signs of an impending terrorist attack in that country? And are we ignoring the transformation of al Qaeda away from the caves of Afghanistan and the streets of Iraq?

Thanks to RM, an intelligence analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency, I have obtained some inside information on an August rocket attack against U.S. military forces in Jordan, and the subsequent failure of either the Jordanian government or the United States to fully recognize the importance of the expansion of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's terrorist operations to the neighboring country. [complete article]

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Save Pakistan from 'donor fatigue'
By Karl F. Inderfurth, David Fabrycky, and Stephen P. Cohen, Christian Science Monitor, November 17, 2005

Time is running out for tens of thousands of survivors of the 7.6 earthquake that devastated parts of Pakistan on Oct. 8, claiming more than 73,000 lives and leaving 3 million homeless. Winter is fast approaching. Experts believe 1 million people are at risk of hypothermia. Two hundred thousand villagers in more remote areas may soon be cut off by snow. A "second wave" of deaths from cold, hunger, and disease is feared.

Time is also running out for the international community to respond in a way that is befitting a disaster of this magnitude. Of the $550 million the United Nations called for in its "flash appeal," only $119 million, or 22 percent, has been received. Contrast this with the overwhelming international response to the Indian Ocean tsunami that struck last December. The UN's emergency appeal was more than 80 percent financed within days of the disaster. Since then, an estimated $13.6 billion has been raised internationally, some 92 countries have provided assistance, and the overall response to the tsunami is emerging as an exemplary story in disaster relief and recovery. [complete article]

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Senators oppose extending Patriot Act
By Nicole Gaouette, Los Angeles Times, November 18, 2005

A bipartisan group of half a dozen senators slammed the brakes Thursday on efforts to extend the life of the Patriot Act, charging that a compromise being debated in a conference committee didn't do enough "to protect innocent people from unnecessary and intrusive government surveillance."

In a letter to the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees, three Republicans joined three Democrats in describing the bill as unacceptable. They added that if further changes were not made, "we will work to stop this bill from becoming law." [complete article]

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Stung over Iraq, White House takes offensive
By Linda Feldmann, Christian Science Monitor, November 18, 2005

The White House has ratcheted up its war. Not the war in Iraq, but the war to defend the war - from its origins to President Bush's determination to see the project through to conclusion.

After Tuesday's rebuke from a bipartisan majority of senators, who proclaimed that 2006 should be a year of "significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty" and more public reports of progress, the White House has come back swinging - at its Democratic critics.

With the November 2006 congressional elections already looming large, the White House seems determined to frame the growing public unhappiness with the Iraq war as a partisan matter. On Wednesday, both Bush and Vice President Cheney slammed Democratic senators for questioning the use of prewar intelligence. Mr. Cheney accused Democratic critics of "making a play for political advantage in the middle of a war." [complete article]

See also, Democrat calls for immediate withdrawal from Iraq (Knight Ridder) and Clinton: The big mistake of the Iraq war (The Independent).

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The "some other dude did it" defense of I. Lewis Libby
By Elizabeth de la Vega, TomDispatch, November 18, 2005

Despite the impression newspaper readers may carry away from the flap over Woodward, Libby is not charged with being the first to disclose Valerie Wilson's employment; he's not charged with disclosing anything at all. And in a criminal trial, it is the charges that define the issues. What, exactly, are those charges?

There are five counts. Count One charges Libby with obstructing justice by deceiving the grand jury about when and how he "acquired and subsequently disclosed to the media information concerning the employment of Valerie Wilson by the CIA." Count Two charges Libby with making false statements to the government about his conversation with NBC News reporter Tim Russert on July 10, 2003. Count Three charges him with making false statements to a government agent about a July 12 discussion with Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper. Four and Five charge him with making false statements to a grand jury about those conversations. [complete article]

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Climate shift tied to 150,000 fatalities
By Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post, November 17, 2005

Earth's warming climate is estimated to contribute to more than 150,000 deaths and 5 million illnesses each year, according to the World Health Organization, a toll that could double by 2030.

The data, being published today in the journal Nature, indicate that climate change is driving up rates of malaria, malnutrition and diarrhea throughout the world.

Health and climate scientists at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, who conducted one of the most comprehensive efforts yet to measure the impact of global warming on health, said the WHO data also show that rising temperatures disproportionately affect poor countries that have done little to create the problem. [complete article]

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Stirring memories of a bygone era
By Magdi Abdelhadi, BBC, November 17, 2005

The Iraqi Interior Minister, Bayan Jabr, has played down the scale of abuse in a detention centre run by his ministry.

At a news conference in Baghdad, Mr Jabr disputed reports that 170 detainees were mistreated at the compound and said there had been only a few cases. Flanked by his top security officers from the ministry, Mr Jabr was very defensive. He accused the media and his critics of blowing things out of proportion.

But the most remarkable thing about the event was how reminiscent it was of news conferences in one party-states, or, in this case, from the era of Saddam Hussein. [complete article]

Torture photos fuel scandal of secret Iraqi jail
By Simon Freeman, The Times, November 17, 2005

Graphic photographs of injuries allegedly suffered by detainees in Iraqi custody surfaced today as the government attempted to dismiss international criticism over a secret torture prison.

The images, released by the Sunni Committee of Muslim Scholars (SCMS), show men - alleged to be former police officers taken captive by Shia commandos - with bruises and welts covering their bodies. The skin on one man's arm is seared to the flesh. [complete article]

Iraqi says he was held with hundreds in secret jail
By Michael Georgy, Reuters, November 17, 2005

An Iraqi man told on Thursday how he was tortured along with hundreds of other detainees in an Interior Ministry building similar to a secret bunker at the centre of a prisoner abuse scandal.

"There was an average of 800 prisoners at any one time in a building controlled by the Wolf Brigades (Interior Ministry special forces)," the man, who asked that he only be identified by his initials H.H., told Reuters. [complete article]

See also, Sunni Arabs tell of abuse at secret Iraqi prison (WP) and Raid seen as boost to U.S. troops' image (LAT).

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CIA interrogation techniques -- a history
By Rebecca Lemov, Slate, November 16, 2005

In 1949, Cardinal Joszef Mindszenty appeared before the world's cameras to mumble his confession to treasonous crimes against the Hungarian church and state. For resisting communism, the World War II hero had been subjected for 39 days to sleep deprivation and humiliation, alternating with long hours of interrogation, by Russian-trained Hungarian police. His staged confession riveted the Central Intelligence Agency, which theorized in a security memorandum that Soviet-trained experts were controlling Mindszenty by "some unknown force." If the Communists had interrogation weapons that were evidently more subtle and effective than brute physical torture, the CIA decided, then it needed such weapons, too.

Months later, the agency began a program to explore "avenues to the control of human behavior." During the next decade and a half, CIA experts honed the use of "chemical and biological materials capable of producing human behavioral and physiological changes" according to a retrospective CIA catalog written in 1963. And thus soft torture in the United States was born. [complete article]

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We still don't have a plan
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, November 16, 2005

... David Ignatius recently reported in the Washington Post that the "hot book" among top Iraq strategists this season is Lewis Sorley's A Better War, which argues that we were on the verge of winning the Vietnam War just as political pressures forced Richard Nixon to pull out. The war started to go our way in 1972, Sorley contends, when Gen. William Westmoreland retired as U.S. commander, and his successor, Gen. Creighton Abrams, abandoned the "search and destroy" strategy in favor of "clear and hold." Westmoreland had focused on attrition and body counts; Abrams started clearing insurgents out of villages, one by one, then holding each area securely.

The commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Gen. John Abizaid, was seen reading the book in September. It's on the bookshelves of many senior officers in Baghdad. It also caught the eye of State Department counselor Philip Zelikow. Most pertinent of all, Ignatius notes that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice practically quoted from it in her Oct. 19 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: "Our politico-military strategy has to be clear, hold and build—to clear areas from insurgent control, to hold them securely, and to build durable, national Iraqi institutions."

The idea -- which is similar to the counterinsurgency strategy that Andrew Krepinevich Jr. recently laid out in Foreign Affairs -- is appealing in theory. The problem -- in Vietnam then and in Iraq now -- is the "hold" part. American troops could, and can, "clear" an area of insurgents. But the South Vietnamese army couldn't "hold" it securely—couldn't keep the North Vietnamese army from coming back and retaking it. And neither the American nor the Iraqi army can keep the insurgents from coming back to cities like Fallujah. The Americans lack the numbers, and the Iraqis as yet lack the wherewithal or the training. Until that situation is changed, "clear and hold" is a daydream. [complete article]

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Among insurgents in Iraq, few foreigners are found
By Jonathan Finer, Washington Post, November 17, 2005

Before 8,500 U.S. and Iraqi soldiers methodically swept through Tall Afar two months ago in the year's largest counterinsurgency offensive, commanders described the northern city as a logistics hub for fighters, including foreigners entering the country from Syria, 65 miles to the west.

"They come across the border and use Tall Afar as a base to launch attacks across northern Iraq," Col. H.R. McMaster, commander of the Army's 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which led the assault, said in a briefing the day before it began.

When the air and ground operation wound down in mid-September, nearly 200 insurgents had been killed and close to 1,000 detained, the military said at the time. But interrogations and other analyses carried out in recent weeks showed that none of those captured was from outside Iraq. According to McMaster's staff, the 3rd Armored Cavalry last detained a foreign fighter in June. [complete article]

Fighter infiltration via Abu Kamal, Syria into Iraq
By Abdullah al-Ta'i, Syria Comment, November 17, 2005

Over the last four or five months, the security presence in the region has been vastly increased and the local population has become too scared to even think about smuggling people into Iraq. During the spring, one still heard people in the region boast about the money they had made by helping foreigners get to Iraq. This is no longer the case. Everyone is frightened and the tribal shaykhs have warned their people to follow the law and be careful.

We cannot say that there is absolutely no infiltration across the border by foreign fighters today, but what does take place must be done very secretly and with great skill. It also must cost the fighter many thousands of dollars. The American campaign on the Iraqi side of the border during the last several months has also created much fear among the Syrians of the border towns. A number of local inhabitants have been killed by American fire across the border. People from the region are scared of the Americans and of their own secret police.

The Syrian measures have stopped many from sneaking across, but it requires cooperation and liaison at the American end. There are still almost no Iraqi or American border guards and this is two and a half years after the American invasion. America has many more resources than Syria. Many believe that if the US really believed infiltrators from Syria were a major source of the violence in Iraq, they would have found a way staff their side of the border and would cooperate with Syrians. [complete article]

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On war, Senate flexes muscle
By Gail Russell Chaddock, Christian Science Monitor, November 17, 2005

Spurred by President Bush's slumping approval ratings, the Republican-controlled Senate - for the first time - is drawing lines in the sand over war, pushing the White House on issues ranging from treatment of detainees to strategy in Iraq.

Last month, senators broke with the White House by voting to ban torture. Last week, they demanded accountability on secret overseas detention centers. This week, 76 senators voted to require the White House to deliver quarterly, unclassified reports on progress of the war in Iraq.

Democrats called Tuesday's resolution a symbolic vote of "no confidence" in Mr. Bush. Republicans deny a big rift with his administration and point out that they consulted with National Security Council staff in advance of the vote. But both sides acknowledge a tipping point in relations between Capitol Hill and the executive branch. "It's a big day for Congress - the institution is rearing up and asserting itself," says Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina. [complete article]

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Congress arrives at a deal on Patriot Act
By Jonathan Weisman, Washington Post, November 17, 2005

House and Senate negotiators reached a tentative agreement yesterday on revisions to the USA Patriot Act that would limit some of the government's powers while requiring the Justice Department to provide a better accounting of its secret requests for information on ordinary citizens.

But the agreement would leave intact some of the most controversial provisions of the anti-terrorism law, such as government access to library and bookstore records in terrorism probes, and would extend only limited new rights to the targets of such searches.

For President Bush, renewal of the act would provide a boost as he looks to restore his image as a strong commander in chief in combating terrorism. And Democrats said yesterday that the administration largely got what it wanted -- a major break after lawmakers challenged the White House in recent days on the conduct of the Iraq war, budget policies and tax cuts. [complete article]

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Woodward could be a boon to Libby
By Carol D. Leonnig and Jim VandeHei, Washington Post, November 17, 2005

The revelation that The Washington Post's Bob Woodward may have been the first reporter to learn about CIA operative Valerie Plame could provide a boost to the only person indicted in the leak case: I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Legal experts said Woodward provided two pieces of new information that cast at least a shadow of doubt on the public case against Libby, Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, who has been indicted on perjury and obstruction of justice charges.

Woodward testified Monday that contrary to Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald's public statements, a senior government official -- not Libby -- was the first Bush administration official to tell a reporter about Plame and her role at the CIA. Woodward also said that Libby never mentioned Plame in conversations they had on June 23 and June 27, 2003, about the Iraq war, a time when the indictment alleges Libby was eagerly passing information about Plame to reporters and colleagues. [complete article]

See also, Hadley was Woodward's source, attorneys say (Raw Story) and Woodward's dis (Sydney H. Schanberg).

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Massive bid-rigging scam alleged in Iraq
By Aram Roston, NBC, November 17, 2005

A criminal complaint unsealed in federal court in Washington on Wednesday alleges a web of corruption and bid rigging in Iraq by officials who worked with the now-defunct Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S.-led agency that ran Iraq for more than a year after the 2003 invasion.

The complaint accuses an American-Romanian businessman, Philip H. Bloom, of paying officials from the coalition's south-central region "bribes, kickbacks and gratuities, amounting to at least $200,000 per month," in order to obtain reconstruction contracts through a bid-rigging scam.

According to the complaint, Bloom "conspired with United States government contract employees and military officials to obtain fraudulently government contracts." [complete article]

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Doubt is their co-pilot
By Stephanie Simon, Los Angeles Times, November 16, 2005

In vast numbers, Americans are turning away from traditional religions. They're not giving up on God, but they are casting aside the rituals and labels they grew up with.

Conventional churches still have enormous pull. There are more than 300,000 Protestant congregations in the United States, and mega-churches can easily attract 8,000 worshipers on any given Sunday.

But the number of Americans who claim no religion has more than doubled in a decade. More than 27 million adults -- nearly one in seven -- reject all religious labels, according to the City University of New York's respected American Religious Identification Survey. [complete article]

See also, Arab opinion is not monolithic when it comes to religion (Daily Star).

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New disclosure could prolong inquiry on leak
By Todd S. Purdum, New York Times, November 17, 2005

The disclosure that a current or former Bush administration official told Bob Woodward of The Washington Post more than two years ago that the wife of a prominent administration critic worked for the C.I.A. threatened Wednesday to prolong a politically damaging leak investigation that the White House had hoped would soon be contained.
A senior administration official said that neither President Bush himself, nor his chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., nor his counselor, Dan Bartlett, was Mr. Woodward's source. So did spokesmen for former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, former C.I.A. Director George J. Tenet and his deputy John E. McLaughlin.

A lawyer for Karl Rove, the deputy White House chief of staff who has acknowledged conversations with reporters about the case and remains under investigation, said Mr. Rove was not Mr. Woodward's source.

Vice President Cheney did not join the parade of denials. A spokeswoman said he would have no comment on an ongoing investigation. Several other officials could not be reached for comment. [complete article]

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Vietnam archive offers parallel to war in Iraq
By Thom Shanker, David Stout, and John Files, New York Times, November 16, 2005

White House advisers convene secret sessions on the political dangers of revelations that American troops committed atrocities in the war zone, and whether the president can delicately intervene in the investigation. In the face of an increasingly unpopular war, they wonder at the impact on support at home. The best way out of the war, they agree, is propping up a new government that can attract feuding elements across a fractured foreign land.

With an obvious resonance to current events, the National Archives and Records Administration released 50,000 pages of previously classified documents from the Nixon administration today that reveal how all that president's men wrestled with issues that eerily parallel problems facing the Bush administration. [complete article]

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Iraqi torture practices could be more widespread
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, November 17, 2005

The discovery of malnourished detainees, many bearing signs of torture, in an underground bunker at the Iraqi Interior Ministry came after a US Army 3rd Infantry Division soldier investigated an Iraqi family's complaints that one of its sons was being secretly held.

When US troops raided the facility Sunday night, they expected to find at most 40 detainees, not 173 sickly men and boys, all Sunni Arabs. Iraqi officials have since confirmed that torture implements were also found there.

The revelation of torture of detainees at a secret interrogation center in Baghdad is likely to prove the tip of the iceberg if investigations are widened to look at the overall practices of Iraq's security services, human rights advocates and some Iraqi politicians say. [complete article]

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Iraqi group urges prison abuse inquiry
Aljazeera, November 16, 2005

Iraq's government faces calls for an international inquiry into abuse at a secret prison in Baghdad where inmates were reportedly tortured, beaten and starved.

The call by the Sunni-based Iraqi Islamic Party on Wednesday comes after revelations that about 170 detainees, mostly Sunni, were illegally held at a centre run by the Shia-dominated Interior Ministry, in a case likely to embarrass the US military supervising local security forces.

"We insist on having an international investigation," Islamic Party spokesman Alaa Makki said.

"There have been similar cases in the past, and investigations into them led to nothing," said another party spokesman, Ayad Samarrai.

"We want an international and impartial inquiry as we are beginning to think there are people high up in government who are responsible, or at least accomplices."

Makki also blamed US-led forces for the abuse, saying it could not happen without "their green light". [complete article]

Comment -- The BBC's Jim Muir, writes:
The Americans must clearly have been aware of the overall situation at the interior ministry as well as of the specific accusations being made.

Was their dramatic move on Sunday night, surrounding a ministry building, driving its guards out and taking it over, conducted simply in pursuit of a missing teenager, as they asserted?

Or was there a political angle to the development and its timing?

Discrediting Iranian-backed religious Shia factions in advance of the December elections is clearly not something that would cause officials in Washington to lose sleep.
Another possible motive for US forces to expose some of the inner workings of Iraq's interior ministry might have been the belief that many Americans would have a more forgiving attitude towards the Bush administration's use of "torture lite" if these techniques are contrasted against the more ruthless methods used by Iraqis against each other. No doubt quite a few uneasy Bush supporters would be receptive to that argument. At the same time, the widespread perception across the Middle East will be that these revelations provide further confirmation that America's commitment to human rights and democracy is a sham.

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In a battle of wits, Iraq's insurgency mastermind stays a step ahead of U.S.
By Josh Meyer and Mark Mazzetti, Los Angeles Times, November 16, 2005

Despite the recent arrest of one of his would-be suicide bombers in Jordan and some top aides in Iraq, insurgency mastermind Abu Musab Zarqawi has eluded capture, U.S. authorities say, because his network has a much better intelligence-gathering operation than they do.

Zarqawi's organization has been particularly successful because it has repeatedly targeted Iraqi civilians who tried to aid the American effort to capture him, frightening off other potential informants, U.S. officials said Tuesday.

"There is a huge network of intelligence operatives over there who are watching our every move. And they are watching every time we recruit an Iraqi to come back and inform to us about where he has been and what he has seen," said one U.S. Justice Department counter-terrorism official, who is familiar with the campaign to track down Zarqawi. "And every time we have been able to do that, the person has ended up dead." [complete article]

See also, Iraq is seen as training ground for wider violence (KRT), Profile of a killer (Loretta Napoleoni, Foreign Policy) and 11 top Jordanian advisers resign in wake of attacks (NYT).

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U.S. used white phosphorus in Iraq
BBC News, November 16, 2005

US troops used white phosphorus as a weapon in last year's offensive in the Iraqi city of Falluja, the US has said.

"It was used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants," spokesman Lt Col Barry Venable told the BBC - though not against civilians, he said.

The US had earlier said the substance - which can cause burning of the flesh - had been used only for illumination. [complete article]

See also, The U.S. used chemical weapons in Iraq - and then lied about it (George Monbiot), "White Death" is a losing strategy (William M. Arkin), Blair should stop playing fall guy in Rumsfeld's war games (Simon Jenkins), and Britain dragged into white phosphorus row (The Times).

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Woodward was told of Plame more than two years ago
By Jim VandeHei and Carol D. Leonnig, Washington Post, November 16, 2005

Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward testified under oath Monday in the CIA leak case that a senior administration official told him about CIA operative Valerie Plame and her position at the agency nearly a month before her identity was disclosed.

In a more than two-hour deposition, Woodward told Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald that the official casually told him in mid-June 2003 that Plame worked as a CIA analyst on weapons of mass destruction, and that he did not believe the information to be classified or sensitive, according to a statement Woodward released yesterday.

Fitzgerald interviewed Woodward about the previously undisclosed conversation after the official alerted the prosecutor to it on Nov. 3 -- one week after Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was indicted in the investigation. [complete article]

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Senate votes to limit detainees' access to courts
By Frank Davies, Knight Ridder, November 15, 2005

The Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to limit the rights of detainees in the Guantanamo Bay prison camp to sue in federal court, putting more pressure on the Bush administration to accept a ban it opposes on the abusive treatment of prisoners.

In passing the final version of a defense-policy bill, the Senate coupled the limits for the 500-plus Guantanamo prisoners with a measure prohibiting "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment of all prisoners in U.S. custody.

The administration has opposed the ban, sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and has threatened to veto it. Vice President Dick Cheney has sought an exemption from the ban for the CIA so its agents can use harsh interrogation tactics on suspected terrorists. [complete article]

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Finishing touches put to Iraq exit strategy
By Anton La Guardia, The Telegraph, November 16, 2005

Britain is putting the final touches to an exit strategy from Iraq that will be launched with next month's election of a permanent new government in Baghdad.

According to several senior sources, the policy under discussion with Washington envisages the replacement of the current Iraqi prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari with a more effective successor.

It would also involve an agreement with the new Iraqi administration on a phased hand-over to Iraqi forces; a reduction in forces that could begin in the middle of next year; and greater involvement by neighbouring Arab countries.

A central element will be to reverse the rhetoric. Instead of insisting that foreign forces will not "cut and run" under fire from insurgents, the sources said Tony Blair would increasingly emphasise the coalition's determination to withdraw unless prevented by the violence. [complete article]

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Poll: American attitudes on Iraq similar to Vietnam era
By Susan Page, USA Today, November 16, 2005

There are enormous differences between the war in Iraq and the one in Vietnam that defined a generation. The current conflict hasn't lasted as long, taken nearly as many American lives or sparked the sort of anti-war movement that marked the '60s and '70s.

But when it comes to public opinion, Americans' attitudes toward Iraq and the course ahead are strikingly similar to public attitudes toward Vietnam in the summer of 1970, a pivotal year in that conflict and a time of enormous domestic unrest.

Some political scientists and historians predict that the Iraq conflict, like the one in Vietnam, will shape American attitudes on foreign policy and the use of military force long after it's over.

"This war is probably a really big deal historically in terms of America's perspective on the world," says John Mueller, a political scientist at Ohio State University. "What you're going to get after this is 'We don't want to do that again — No more Iraqs' just as after Vietnam the syndrome was 'No more Vietnams.' " [complete article]

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Bush's vision fails to win over Middle East
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, November 15, 2005

[British foreign secretary] Jack Straw put his finger on it. Speaking after a disputatious Middle East summit in Bahrain at the weekend, [Straw] said: "It would be a disaster if this region thought democracy was an American idea." Many in the region appear to think exactly that - and have ideas of their own.

Washington's latest disappointment came when a 30-country Middle East "democratic manifesto" statement was torpedoed in Bahrain. Backed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt insisted that governments should decide which activist groups benefited from a new $50m (£29m) regional democracy fund.

The summit was part of a process begun by George Bush's speech at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington in 2003. Speaking before US control in Iraq began to unravel, the president predicted a regional revolution. "Many Middle Eastern governments now understand that military dictatorship and theocratic rule are a straight, smooth highway to nowhere ... they are beginning to see the need for change," Mr Bush said. "The US has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East." [complete article]

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Hamas, Islamic Jihad, reject Palestinian-Israeli border crossing deal
DPA, November 16, 2005

The Islamic Jihad and Hamas movements on Wednesday rejected the agreement reached by Israel and the Palestinian Authority on operating the Gaza Strip border crossings. In separate written statements sent to reporters, the movements said the agreement reached Tuesday under American sponsorship harmed Palestinian sovereignty and dignity. [complete article]

Wolfensohn threatens to quit
News 24 (SA), November 16, 2005

Former World Bank chief, James Wolfensohn, said on Wednesday that he may quit as an international envoy to the Middle East. He is frustrated at his inability to persuade Israelis and Palestinians to work together. [complete article]

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Rice negotiates deal to open Gaza crossings
By Robin Wright and Scott Wilson, Washington Post, November 16, 2005

The deal sets out the terms of operation for Gaza border crossings used to move cargo and people, resolving a deadlock that has frustrated a team of international negotiators for weeks. It also establishes a system of bus convoys to shuttle Palestinians between Gaza and the West Bank, the two territorial components of what is envisioned as a future Palestinian state.

The agreement allows the Palestinians to begin work on Gaza's seaport and assures aid donors that Israel will not interfere with its operation. It leaves unclear when the port will open and under what guidelines, but work to get it up and running will take at least three years, Palestinian officials said. The deal says discussions on renovating and reopening Gaza's international airport will continue. [complete article]

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Iran's former president hits out at present incumbent
By Gareth Smyth, Financial Times, November 16, 2005

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran's former president and veteran of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, on Wednesday attacked president Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad for damaging "national unity and solidarity".

Mr Rafsanjani's speech to the country's Friday prayer leaders, carried on official news agencies, came two days after Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, called on "all citizens" to support Mr Ahmadi-Nejad's government.

Past disagreements between Mr Rafsanjani and Ayatollah Khamenei have almost always been in private, and such a clash points to a serious struggle in Iran's ruling elite.

Mr Rafsanjani had previously made vague criticisms of Mr Ahmadi-Nejad, especially over his belligerence in foreign policy including a call to "wipe Israel off the map".

But in Wednesday's speech, Mr Rafsanjani, although not mentioning Mr Ahmadi-Nejad's name, made a clear and comprehensive attack on the man who defeated him in June's president election. [complete article]

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Syria appears to be readying for sanctions
By Nicholas Blanford, USA Today, November 13, 2005

Syrian President Bashar Assad appears to be preparing his country for economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations, which is demanding that Syria do more to cooperate with investigators looking into the murder of a former Lebanese prime minister.

Assad used an unusual, nationally televised address from Damascus University on Thursday to call for "national cohesion" in the face of the U.N. demands. He told Syrians to "surround the country with a wall of immunity to face the difficulties and challenges."

The 40-year-old Syrian leader "was preparing the whole nation for possible sanctions," says Ibrahim Hamidi, who follows Syrian affairs for Al-Hayat, a pan-Arab newspaper based in London. [complete article]

See also, Sex, shopping and the death of a regime (Mark LeVine).

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Raid on torture dungeon exposes Iraq's secret war
By Kim Sengupta, The Independent, November 16, 2005

The raid was at a building in central Baghdad. Men armed with automatic rifles burst in and made their way to a set of underground cells where they found 175 people huddled together. They had been captured by paramilitaries and tortured. The terrified, mainly Sunni, captives had been held in an office of the Iraqi interior ministry, and the rescue party were Iraqi police and American soldiers.

Yesterday, 24 hours later, the Prime Minister, Ibrahim Jaafari, promised an investigation after the shocking demonstration of how paramilitary units working for the government, and death squads allegedly linked to it, are waging a savage war in the shadows.

People are arrested and disappear for months. Bodies appear every week of men, and sometimes women, executed with their hands tied behind their backs. Some have been grotesquely mutilated with knives and electric drills before their deaths.

The paramilitaries are not held responsible for all the deaths - some are the work of insurgents murdering supposed informers or government officials, or killing for purely sectarian motives.

You very seldom see American soldiers on the streets of Baghdad now. The Iraqi police are in evidence outside, but so are increasing numbers of militias running their own checkpoints - men in balaclavas or wrap-around sunglasses and headbands, with leather mittens and an array of weapons. An American official acknowledged: "It is getting more and more like Mogadishu every day." [complete article]

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Senate rebukes Bush on Iraq policy
By Jonathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray, Washington Post, November 15, 2005

The Senate delivered President Bush its strongest rebuke yet on the conduct of the Iraq war, voting 98-0 to pass a defense policy bill that codifies the treatment of military detainees, establishes new legal rights for terrorism suspects and demands far more information from the White House on the progress of the conflict.

The measure's controversial provisions must still win passage in the House, but they mark the Senate's most dramatic foray into war policymaking and a challenge to the administration, which has issued a stern veto threat. The Senate rejected a Democratic resolution that would have pressured the administration to outline a plan to draw down U.S. forces in Iraq, but, by a 79-19 vote, lawmakers approved a weaker Republican version that insists on regular reports to Congress detailing the military's progress toward the goal of bringing the troops home.

The White House has strenuously objected to most measures that restrict its conduct of the war, especially a provision authored by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that establishes strict guidelines on interrogation methods used on suspected terrorists. The White House says the McCain language is too broad and could preclude methods that fall well short of torture but may be necessary to elicit vital intelligence.

But an overwhelming, bipartisan majority of the Senate contended that Congress had to intervene to help re-establish the moral high ground for the United States in the administration's campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. [complete article]

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Ex-intelligence officials want Rove's security clearance suspended
By Warren P. Strobel, Knight Ridder, November 15, 2005

Sixteen former CIA and military intelligence officials on Tuesday urged President Bush to suspend his top political adviser Karl Rove's security clearance following revelations that he played a role in outing CIA officer Valerie Plame.

"We are asking that you immediately suspend the clearances of all White House personnel who spoke to reporters about (Plame's) affiliation with the CIA. They have mishandled classified information and no longer deserve the level of trust required to have access to this nation's secrets," the former officials, some of whom were covert operatives, wrote Bush. [complete article]

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Former Iraqi detainees allege torture by U.S. troops
By Jake Tapper and George Griffin, ABC News, November 14, 2005

Two former Iraqi detainees tell ABC News in an exclusive interview that they were repeatedly tortured by U.S. forces seeking information about Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction.

Thahee Sabbar and Sherzad Khalid are two of eight men who, with help from the American Civil Liberties Union and the group Human Rights First, are suing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The men claim they were tortured for months, in violation of the U.S. Constitution and international law. [complete article]

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Iraq detainees 'found starving'
BBC News, November 15, 2005

Iraq's government says it has begun an investigation into the alleged abuse of more than 170 detainees held by Iraqi security forces in Baghdad. The prisoners, many malnourished and some showing signs of torture, were found when US troops took control of a interior ministry building on Sunday. The US raid followed repeated inquiries by the parents of a missing teenager.

Iraq's prime minister has promised to find those responsible for any abuse. Most of those held were Sunnis.

The BBC's Caroline Hawley in Baghdad says the discovery will not come as a surprise to many Iraqis. There have been persistent allegations of abuse by members of the Shia-dominated security forces, our correspondent says. But Sunday's discovery is hard evidence and officials believe it may be the tip of the iceberg. [complete article]

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The blame game
By Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy, November/December, 2005

Moderates who backed the war, including a number of prominent Democrats, now argue that they did so only because they were misled by the CIA's faulty intelligence and deliberately deceived by President George W. Bush's administration. This line of reasoning was Sen. John Kerry's defense during the 2004 presidential campaign. Similar explanations have been offered by other pro-war Democrats and repentant pundits such as the Brookings Institution's Kenneth Pollack, whose prewar book The Threatening Storm made the moderates' case for war. The problem with this alibi, however, is that there was already plenty of evidence that cast doubt on the administration's case, information that was publicly available before the fighting started. Invading Iraq was not their idea, but the moderates who went along deserve no credit for being so gullible.

Pro-war hawks offer a different set of excuses. Some assert that going to war was the right idea, but the operation was bungled by incompetent leadership in the Pentagon. William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, wants Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to resign, yet the pundit simultaneously claims that the debacle in Iraq vindicates his earlier call for vast increases in U.S. defense spending. In this view, we are losing because we don't have a big enough army to run an empire and because civilians at the top were never serious about winning.

This excuse suffers from two glaring weaknesses. First, the war may not have been winnable no matter what we did, because Iraq was a deeply divided society from the onset, and occupying powers almost always face fierce resistance. That the occupation was badly executed is indisputable, but it is by no means clear that any occupation would have succeeded. Second, if hawks such as Kristol thought we needed a bigger military to perform a global imperial role, they should have withheld their support until adequate forces were available. Instead, they did everything they could to get us into the regime-changing business as quickly as possible. [complete article]

Comment -- Stephen Walt, in an otherwise razor-sharp commentary, misses what I would argue was the most common cause of support for the war: cowardice. Too many people - politicians, pundits, and ordinary citizens alike - felt that in the national security culture engendered by the Bush administration's response to 9/11, it was incumbent on every patriotic American to be pro-war, reason be damned. Add on to that, the all-too American inability to distinguish between strength and the appearance of strength, and it turned out that those few who were willing to block the war machine ended up creating no more than a bump in the road.

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Yellowcake to 'Plamegate'
By Peter Grier, Christian Science Monitor, November 15, 2005

The first time the State Department intelligence analyst saw the documents he thought there was something weird about them.

The ones dealing with a purported uranium deal between Niger and Saddam Hussein's Iraq bore a validation stamp that seemed a bit funky, for one thing. And that companion paper! It outlined some kind of bizarre military campaign against world powers. Iraq and Iran were supposedly in it together - preposterous, given their enmity - and the whole thing was being run out of the Nigerien Embassy in Rome.

"Completely implausible," the analyst later recounted for investigators.

Because the documents had come from the same source, and were similar in appearance, they were probably all suspect. Maybe now the CIA and the rest of the US intelligence community would believe what the State Department had said for months: These allegations from a foreign intelligence service that Hussein was hunting for "yellowcake" - a uranium concentrate - in Africa were unlikely to be true.

But the CIA didn't look at the documents. A little over three months later President Bush, in his 2003 State of the Union speech, said 16 fateful words: "... the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

This is the story of how those words came to be, and how their effect rippled through the years, ultimately resulting in the criminal indictment of a high administration official, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Culled primarily from US government reports and congressional testimony, it deals with nuclear materials, foreign spies, and a secret trip to the finest refueling stop in Africa. It centers on a peculiar set of documents - provenance as yet unknown - that a presidential inquiry three years later found to be "transparently forged." [complete article]

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Lines of control shift like sands in the desert
By Anna Badkhen, San Francisco Chronicle, November 13, 2005

Last month, 1,000 U.S. Marines swept through the Iraqi insurgency stronghold of Karabila in a three-pronged, three-day offensive they had dubbed Operation Iron Fist, meticulously searching every house on their way and leaving behind a town completely devoid of enemy fighters.

But by last week, guerrillas linked to al Qaeda were running Karabila again. Marines conducting another offensive -- this one called Operation Steel Curtain -- were once more fighting their way through Karabila's dusty streets as insurgents greeted them with small-arms fire, roadside bombs and houses rigged with explosives.

The fall and subsequent regrouping of insurgents in this town on the border with Syria were reminders that in Iraq, where front lines are nowhere and everywhere, the concept of territorial control remains ephemeral. [complete article]

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Jordan says bombing suspect aimed to avenge brothers
By Michael Slackman and Souad Mekhennet, New York Times, November 15, 2005

One day after Jordanian authorities presented to the world an Iraqi woman they said had taken part in the deadly Amman hotel terror attacks, investigators here said Monday that she had volunteered to become a suicide bomber because three of her brothers had been killed during "operations" in Iraq.

Residents of Falluja, an Iraqi city where the insurgency has been fierce, said they knew her family. Her brothers, they said, had been killed in conflicts with American-led forces. [complete article]

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The fog of war: white phosphorus, Fallujah and some burning questions
By Andrew Buncombe and Solomon Hughes, The Independent, November 15, 2005

The controversy has raged for 12 months. Ever since last November, when US forces battled to clear Fallujah of insurgents, there have been repeated claims that troops used "unusual" weapons in the assault that all but flattened the Iraqi city. Specifically, controversy has focussed on white phosphorus shells (WP) - an incendiary weapon usually used to obscure troop movements but which can equally be deployed as an offensive weapon against an enemy. The use of such incendiary weapons against civilian targets is banned by international treaty.

The debate was reignited last week when an Italian documentary claimed Iraqi civilians - including women and children - had been killed by terrible burns caused by WP. The documentary, Fallujah: the Hidden Massacre, by the state broadcaster RAI, cited one Fallujah human-rights campaigner who reported how residents told how "a rain of fire fell on the city". Yesterday, demonstrators organised by the Italian communist newspaper, Liberazione, protested outside the US Embassy in Rome. Today, another protest is planned for the US Consulate in Milan. "The 'war on terrorism' is terrorism," one of the newspaper's commentators declared. [complete article]

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Senate Republicans pushing for a plan on ending the war in Iraq
By Carl Hulse, New York Times, November 15, 2005

In a sign of increasing unease among Congressional Republicans over the war in Iraq, the Senate is to consider on Tuesday a Republican proposal that calls for Iraqi forces to take the lead next year in securing the nation and for the Bush administration to lay out its strategy for ending the war.

The Senate is also scheduled to vote Tuesday on a compromise, announced Monday night, that would allow terror detainees some access to federal courts. The Senate had voted last week to prohibit those being held from challenging their detentions in federal court, despite a Supreme Court ruling to the contrary.

Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who is the author of the initial plan, said Monday that he had negotiated a compromise that would allow detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to challenge their designation as enemy combatants in federal courts and also allow automatic appeals of any convictions handed down by the military where detainees receive prison terms of 10 years or more or a death sentence.

The proposal on the Iraq war, from Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, and Senator John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, would require the administration to provide extensive new quarterly reports to Congress on subjects like progress in bringing in other countries to help stabilize Iraq. The other appeals related to Iraq are nonbinding and express the position of the Senate. [complete article]

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Arab League comes back strong after an extended slumber
Editorial, Daily Star, November 15, 2005

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa has announced that at least 100 Iraqi leaders will attend a national reconciliation conference in Cairo this weekend. The announcement, which offers a rare cause for optimism about the future prospects of Iraq's troubled political process, also revives the hope that the Arab League can play an active and effective role in resolving the region's problems.

Holding the reconciliation conference is of course no guarantee that Iraqis will find their way out of the current crisis and be spared a civil war. Even getting representatives from all of Iraq's diverse communities to agree to come to the negotiating table has been a huge challenge. Many prominent Shiite leaders have voiced opposition to the idea of holding any kind of dialogue with former Baathists. But in order for dialogue to be successful, it must include the participation of all Iraqi factions, particularly the Sunnis, who have been joining the anti-U.S. insurgency in droves. Moussa will have to continue straddling the demands of Iraq's divided communities to ensure the broadest participation possible if the goals of the conference are to be met. Negotiating such delicate issues will not be easy and maintaining the current momentum will require a considerable amount of follow up on the part of the Arab League. [complete article]

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This isn't the real America
By Jimmy Carter, Los Angeles Times, November 14, 2005

In recent years, I have become increasingly concerned by a host of radical government policies that now threaten many basic principles espoused by all previous administrations, Democratic and Republican.

These include the rudimentary American commitment to peace, economic and social justice, civil liberties, our environment and human rights.

Also endangered are our historic commitments to providing citizens with truthful information, treating dissenting voices and beliefs with respect, state and local autonomy and fiscal responsibility. [complete article]

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Panel wants more students to study abroad
By David Brummer, AP (via SPI), November 13, 2005

A bipartisan federal commission is pushing for a dramatic increase in the number of U.S. college and university students taking classes in other countries.

In a study being released Monday, the Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program is proposing hundreds of millions in federal spending to place 1 million U.S. undergraduates in schools overseas by 2017.

"Study abroad is not a frill," said Peter McPherson, chairman of the Lincoln Commission and former president of Michigan State University. "If you have a number of students go abroad and come back, it changes the way people can teach. It adds a global richness to a campus that just a few students abroad can't achieve." [complete article]

Comment -- Among its justifications for advocating that one million American students study abroad every year, the commission report states:
Many students and citizens are eager to take on the mantle of international leadership. Yet most Americans have never been abroad, even on a vacation. Just 20 percent of Americans hold a passport. The United States leads by necessity and default, but it is not as well equipped to exercise its leadership role as it could be. This is not an issue of the left or the right, of Democrats or Republicans. It is an issue of how we as a society prepare this and future generations for the leadership that will be required for the American democratic experiment's ongoing success in the world.
The need to learn about the world in order to understand how to lead it expresses an American view of destiny that is itself in part a product of American ignorance about the world. Be that as it may, whatever the political, educational, or cultural justifications for increasing the number of American students who study abroad, the rewards to America will be infinitely greater than the costs. And as America thereby becomes more culturally enriched, so will the world.

Read more about the Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program and its report here.

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Firm helps U.S. mold news abroad
By Stephen J. Hedges, Chicago Tribune, November 13, 2005

In an effort to fight what it sees as an insidious propaganda war waged by terrorists, from incendiary Web sites to one-sided television images of the Iraq war, the Pentagon has been quietly waging its own information battle throughout the Middle East and Central Asia.

One of its primary weapons is a controversial, secretive firm that has been criticized as ineffective and too expensive.

The Rendon Group, directed by former Democratic Party political operative John Rendon, has garnered more than $56 million in Pentagon work since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Those contracts list such activities as tracking foreign reporters; "pushing" news favorable to U.S. forces; planting television news segments that promote U.S. positions; and creating a grass-roots voting effort in Puerto Rico on behalf of the Navy, Pentagon records show. [complete article]

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Doing unto others as they did unto us
By M. Gregg Bloche and Jonathan H. Marks, New York Times, November 14, 2005

How did American interrogation tactics after 9/11 come to include abuse rising to the level of torture? Much has been said about the illegality of these tactics, but the strategic error that led to their adoption has been overlooked.

The Pentagon effectively signed off on a strategy that mimics Red Army methods. But those tactics were not only inhumane, they were ineffective. For Communist interrogators, truth was beside the point: their aim was to force compliance to the point of false confession.

Fearful of future terrorist attacks and frustrated by the slow progress of intelligence-gathering from prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Pentagon officials turned to the closest thing on their organizational charts to a school for torture. That was a classified program at Fort Bragg, N.C., known as SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape. Based on studies of North Korean and Vietnamese efforts to break American prisoners, SERE was intended to train American soldiers to resist the abuse they might face in enemy custody.

The Pentagon appears to have flipped SERE's teachings on their head, mining the program not for resistance techniques but for interrogation methods. At a June 2004 briefing, the chief of the United States Southern Command, Gen. James T. Hill, said a team from Guantánamo went "up to our SERE school and developed a list of techniques" for "high-profile, high-value" detainees. General Hill had sent this list - which included prolonged isolation and sleep deprivation, stress positions, physical assault and the exploitation of detainees' phobias - to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who approved most of the tactics in December 2002.

Some within the Pentagon warned that these tactics constituted torture, but a top adviser to Secretary Rumsfeld justified them by pointing to their use in SERE training, a senior Pentagon official told us last month. [complete article]

See also Jane Mayer's earlier article in The New Yorker and U.S. refuses to rule out use of torture (AFP).

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... And why it should never be one
By Larry C. Johnson, Los Angeles Times, November 11, 2005

I think Dick Cheney has been watching too many Hollywood flicks that glorify torture. He needs to get out of his undisclosed location and talk to the people on the ground.

I'm a former CIA officer and a former counterterrorism official. During the last few months, I have spoken with three good friends who are CIA operations officers, all of whom have worked on terrorism at the highest levels. They all agree that torturing detainees will not help us. In fact, they believe that it will hurt us in many ways. [complete article]

Comment -- As Knight Ridder recently reported:
Advocates for flexibility argue that, in fighting terrorism, sometimes the stakes are so high that repugnant measures are justified. One is the so-called "ticking time bomb" scenario, in which a captured terrorist has information on an imminent attack that could kill hundreds or thousands of civilians. Two administration officials, who asked not to be identified because they aren't authorized to speak to the press, said Cheney had described such a scenario several times, in which interrogators using generally approved methods can't pry the particulars out of the prisoner in time to prevent an attack.
It's easy to imagine: A nuclear devise has been planted in the sewage system under Times Square. The fiend who placed it is already being interrogated. CIA director, Porter Goss, is on the phone to Dick Cheney. "Mr President. We have the suspect, but he isn't talking. Can we apply 'extraordinary means' to locate the bomb?" Cheney: "I wish I could say yes, but thanks to the ACLU, Congress has tied my hands." But really, could we risk New York City getting vaporized just to protect one man's rights?

This sounds like such a compelling scenario that it leaves little room for debate, yet in the real world we can be all but certain that such a situation will never exist. It's plausibility is a Hollywood contrivance through which certainty and uncertainty are married to suspense. The audience is privy to the location of the bomb and the time it will detonate. The only uncertainty: Will the heroes be able to get the suspect to talk, find the bomb in the nick of time and save the day? (Of course, Hollywood being Hollywood we already know that Good will conquer Evil.)

But here's the real ticking time bomb scenario: There might or might not be a bomb. The suspect might or might not know its whereabouts. When he is tortured he might or might not provide useful information. The desperate urgency in the imaginery scenario springs from a sense of certainty where in fact no such certainty could exist. It justifies torture by positing as inevitable an outcome that is necessarily unknown. (And note, the advocates of extreme methods of interrogation invariably drive their argument with a sense of the imperative. No one is advocating torture simply on the grounds that once in a while it might provide some useful intelligence.)

Consider then the case of Muhammad Hamdan. Here is part of his story, as told in 1996 by Stephen Langfur in "Answer to the judge: The ticking bomb and the license to torture:
He is 33 years old, a student at Birzeit University. He was among the 400 Hamas and Jihad activists whom the Rabin government deported to Lebanon in 1992. According to the GSS [General Security Services], he received training there in terrorist techniques. After a year he was allowed to return with the others to his home in the West Bank, although Israel promptly jailed him for two months (and again for a month in 1994). In March of this year it was the turn of the Palestinian Authority, which put him away until August 27. He was scarcely out when, on October 6, Israel shipped him off to the Megiddo prison under administrative detention. This is a special arrangement, derived from the emergency regulations of the British Mandate, enabling the State to incarcerate people who are not accused of any crime, on the grounds that they might make trouble. After only two weeks, however, on October 24, Hamdan was transferred to the notorious Russian Compound in the heart of West Jerusalem's shopping district. At two a.m. six GSS men began to interrogate him. They tied him into an awkward position, tightening the cuffs on his wrists and ankles, and proceeded with the technique known as shaking. Here an interrogator grabs the victim's shirt collar and whips his head back and forth violently over a prolonged period. This method killed another client of [attorney, Andre] Rosenthal's, Abed Harizath, a year and a half ago.

Later that morning the State of Israel was tied up in traffic jams. The police had placed roadblocks everywhere, looking for terrorists. The jams continued in the following days. It is now claimed (Ha'aretz , Nov. 15) that the information which led to these massive tie-ups came from none other than Muhammad Hamdan. He too was tied up -- in contortions, with a stinking sack over his head, deprived of sleep, for eleven days. As far as we know, no plot was foiled. No terrorist ring was caught. No bomb went off. The roadblocks were eased, and on November 10 the long-standing closure was suddenly relaxed, and thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza streamed into Israel. Muhammad Hamdan remained tied-up, without sleep, the stinking sack on his head.

Through a released prisoner he managed to get a message out to his family, asking them to find a lawyer. They went to Rosenthal, who got [a] restraining order... . But two days later, in [a] hastily-called night-session of November 14, the GSS lawyers appealed to the High Court. They claimed to have a well-grounded suspicion, based on checked information, that Hamdan possessed vital knowledge which, if extracted immediately, would help prevent major terrorist strikes. Rosenthal was not made privy to the checked information. [...]

The court decided to lift the restraint, thus giving its approval to the continuing torture of Muhammad Hamdan. Rosenthal went home, picturing his client once again being tied-up, sacked, and shaken. In fact the GSS waited till the next morning. The bomb was allowed to tick for ten more hours. So much for immediate danger. They had gotten the judges out of bed, but they let the torturers sleep. (Kol Ha'ir, Nov. 22, 1996.)

Please note: By the time of that night session, five weeks had passed since Hamdan's arrest, and three since the GSS had started torturing him. If there was a ticking bomb, you'd think it would have gone off already!
Three years later, the Israeli Supreme Court lost its faith in the power of the ticking bomb argument and banned torture. Meanwhile, Dick Cheney is still clinging to a fantasy.

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Spain looks into CIA's handling of detainees
By Stephen Grey and Renwick McLean, New York Times, November 14, 2005

On the Spanish island of Majorca, the police quietly opened a criminal investigation in March after a local newspaper reported a series of visits to the island's international airport by planes known to regularly operate for the Central Intelligence Agency.

Now, it has emerged that an investigative judge in Palma has ordered the police inquiry to be sent to Spain's national court, to consider whether the C.I.A. was routing planes carrying terrorism suspects through Majorca as part of its so-called rendition program.

Under that system, the United States has bypassed normal extradition procedures to secretly transfer at least 100 suspects to third countries where, according to allegations by human rights groups and former detainees themselves, some of the suspects have been tortured.

The program is the focus of a number of European investigations. Spain is the third country in Europe to open a judicial inquiry into potential criminal offenses committed by C.I.A. operatives related to renditions. The other two are Germany and Italy, which on Friday formally requested the extradition of 22 people said to be C.I.A. operatives linked to the suspected kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric in 2003. [complete article]

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Al-Qaeda tightens its grip in Iraq
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, November 15, 2005

The death of former Iraqi vice president Ezzat Ibrahim al-Douri marks a turning point in the Iraqi resistance. Command of the movement will now almost completely be in the hands of al-Qaeda, which will further cement its moves to fight a global war against America under a unified, open command.

Douri, 63, was one of Saddam Hussein's closest aides and the most senior figure in the former regime still at large - he was number six (king of clubs) in the US's pack of cards denoting its most wanted people. The US had offered a US$10 million reward for information leading to his capture. [complete article]

See also, Reports of Saddam aide's death could be a ruse - U.S. (Reuters), Iraq says Syria harbors foreign killers (WP), and Some insurgents want a deal, politician says (LAT).

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Survivors of the Pakistani earthquake left to die of cold
By Justin Huggler, The Independent, November 13, 2005

At least 500,000 earthquake survivors in Pakistan still have no shelter with the fierce Himalayan winter just days away, international relief agencies have warned. Aid workers are scrambling to get tents to survivors in high mountain areas where snow may arrive any day, but the international relief effort is failing.

The problem is a severe lack of funds. Relief agencies warn that if they do not get adequate shelters to survivors before snow falls, thousands will die.

A desperate plea made to The Independent on Sunday, from a village in the mountains above the Karakoram Highway in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province, illustrated the scale of the crisis.

"Please tell the British government to help us. Please tell anyone," Mohammed Idris said by telephone. "We have no tents and it is so cold at night. If we do not have tents soon the children will die."

Mr Idris said he was one of 4,000 villagers in Rajmerra with only 20 tents between them. On some nights, he added, temperatures already dip below freezing and water turns to ice. On other nights survivors are pelted with torrential rain, have nothing to sleep under and sit awake all night, shivering. [complete article]

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Libby may have tried to mask Cheney's role
By Carol D. Leonnig and Jim VandeHei, Washington Post, November 13, 2005

In the opening days of the CIA leak investigation in early October 2003, FBI agents working the case already had in their possession a wealth of valuable evidence. There were White House phone and visitor logs, which clearly documented the administration's contacts with reporters.

And they had something that law enforcement officials would later describe as their "guidebook" for the opening phase of the investigation: the daily, diary-like notes compiled by I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, then Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, that chronicled crucial events inside the White House in the weeks before the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame was publicly disclosed.

The investigators had much of this information before they sat down with Libby on Oct. 14, 2003, and first heard from him what prosecutors now allege was a demonstrably false version of what happened. Libby said that, when he told other reporters about the CIA operative and her marriage to Iraq war critic Joseph C. Wilson IV, he believed he had first learned the information from Tim Russert of NBC News and was merely passing along journalistic hearsay. This was an explanation made dubious by Libby's own notes, which showed that he previously had learned about Plame from his boss, Cheney. [complete article]

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In Jordan, methodical madness
By James Glanz, New York Times, November 13, 2005

All is chaos under heaven," a revolutionary once wrote, "and the situation is excellent." The writer was not Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the terrorist whose group has claimed responsibility for the triple bombing last week in Amman, Jordan, but Chairman Mao.

The creation of chaos has often been a first step in the revolutionary process, and that is one way to look at the terrible bombings, which killed 57 people.

Many Jordanians, who lit candles, marched and appeared united against the terrorism, said that Mr. Zarqawi had achieved little beyond generating a fierce backlash against his cause.

But some experts on the Middle East warned the shock and fury that came after the explosions may have been part of the terrorists' calculation, a first step toward fracturing Jordanian society, with a goal of one day overthrowing the state. [complete article]

Bomber's wife arrested in Jordan
BBC News, November 13, 2005

Police in Jordan say they have arrested a woman suspected of having wanted to blow herself up in a series of suicide bombings in Amman. Police say the Iraqi woman is the wife of one of three Iraqi male suicide bombers who attacked three hotels on Wednesday, killing 57 people. [complete article]

Jordanian soldiers seduced by Al-Qaeda 'aided' suicide attacks
By Marie Colvin and Uzi Mahnaimi Amman, The Sunday Times, November 13, 2005

A nationwide hunt for the accomplices of suicide bombers who blew up three hotels in Amman, killing 57 people, has led to the arrest of at least 10 members of the Jordanian armed forces, triggering worries that Al-Qaeda has infiltrated the Arab army most closely allied to the West.

As hotel workers mopped blood stains at the five-star hotels targeted by the bombers -- believed to have been sent by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq -- Jordanian security forces said they had arrested 120 people, mainly Iraqis and Jordanians.

Security sources said they believed the bombers were Iraqi, but that they had received help from Jordanian soldiers who had been seduced by radical preachers secretly aligned with Zarqawi. [complete article]

Amman bombings reflect Zarqawi's growing reach
By Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, November 13, 2005

Triple suicide bombings in Jordan this week marked a breakthrough for Islamic guerrilla leader Abu Musab Zarqawi in his efforts to expand the Iraqi insurgency into a regional conflict and demonstrated his growing independence from the founders of al Qaeda, according to Arab and European intelligence officials.

Zarqawi, 39, has sought for years to overthrow the monarchy in his native Jordan. But since he emerged over the past two years as the best-known leader of the insurgency in Iraq, his success in rallying Islamic extremists from other countries to fight U.S. forces there has enabled him to extend his reach and influence, officials and analysts say. His guerrilla network, they say, has established roots in Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Iran. [complete article]

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The debate over torture
By Evan Thomas and Michael Hirsh, Newsweek, November 21, 2005

Interrogators have pondered the uses of torture for centuries. During the Spanish Inquisition 500 years ago, priests obtained the desired results by placing infidels on the rack but had less success with sleep deprivation, which, after three or four days, seemed only to induce hallucinations. Torture still works to extract the truth in the movies and on TV shows like the popular '24,' but not in real life, say the experts. A prisoner who has his fingernails pulled out or his genitals shocked will say (and make up) anything to make the pain stop. [complete article]

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Is America above the Geneva Conventions?
By Michael Ratner and Sara Miles, Salon, November 10, 2005

The idea that torture could be so publicly defensible -- and the news that the United States is maintaining secret facilities in former Soviet-era prisons for torturing nameless and disappeared people -- fills me with shame and horror. And while it's encouraging that John McCain, who was himself tortured as a prisoner of war, wants to make it illegal to strap naked prisoners to boards and hold them under water, electrocute them or mock-execute them, it's profoundly depressing that the discourse about torture has come to this point. [complete article]

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Guantanamo tour focuses on medical ethics
By Neil A. Lewis, New York Times, November 13, 2005

Troubled by news accounts of medical participation in coercive interrogations at Guantanamo Bay and the resulting unease in the professional medical community, the Pentagon led an intense one-day tour of the detention camp last month, several participants said in recent days.

The purpose of the trip, some of the participants said, was for the military leadership to convince the ethicists, psychiatrists, psychologists and others who visited the detention camp at the United States Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that what was occurring there did not violate medical ethics and was necessary to strengthen the nation's security.

But many participants seem not to have been convinced. Dr. Steven S. Sharfstein, the president of the American Psychiatric Association, who went on the trip, said that the group's members' assembly voted unanimously on Saturday to recommend a strict code against participation in some of the activities described in news reports. Dr. Sharfstein said that the recommendation was certain to be adopted by the association's board next month, making it official policy. [complete article]

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Italian justice minister hasn't acted on CIA extradition request
By John Crewdson, Chicago Tribune, November 12, 2005

The Italian justice minister said Saturday he planned to wait before making a decision on whether to formally ask the Bush administration to extradite 22 past and present CIA operatives accused by a Milan prosecutor and judge of kidnapping a radical Muslim preacher there nearly three years ago.

Roberto Castelli, who returned Thursday from Washington, told reporters in Milan that "we'll see the (legal) papers and then we'll decide" whether to forward to the United States the extradition request, which was forwarded to the Justice Ministry on Thursday along with a 477-page, 190,000-word arrest warrant naming the 22 individuals.

Asked whether he had discussed the politically sensitive request with U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales during his visit to Washington, Castelli replied, "Who knows?" according to Italian news agencies.

The Associated Press quoted an unnamed U.S. Justice Department official as saying the extraditions had come up during Castelli's meeting with Gonzales.

Castelli can refuse to transmit the extradition request to the United States. But Milan prosecutor Armando Spataro, who headed the investigation into the disappearance of the imam, Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, said he would protest any political interference with the traditional independence of Italian prosecutors. [complete article]

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Media tangled in lobbyist case
By Howard Kurtz, Washington Post, November 12, 2005

On July 21, 2004, two pro-Israel lobbyists called Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler to pass on information that they said was from "an American intelligence source" -- a source they declined to identify.

The two men assured Kessler that the mystery source was "100 percent credible" and had information about an Iranian plot to kill Americans and Israelis in Iraq.

What none of them knew was that federal investigators were wiretapping the call, or that it would figure in an indictment against the lobbyists, Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, on charges of mishandling classified information -- even though no documents changed hands. In a city where secrets of varying import are whispered every day, the case has sparked a debate about whether prosecutors are attempting to criminalize conversations with journalists. [complete article]

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Iran rejects Europe's nuclear offer
Reuters (via NYT), November 13, 2005

Iran on Saturday insisted on its right to enrich its own uranium, rebuffing a proposal from European diplomats that would have Russia perform the atomic fuel work on Iran's behalf in order to allay fears that Tehran was seeking nuclear arms.

"Iran's nuclear fuel must be produced inside the country," Iran's nuclear chief, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, told reporters in Tehran after meeting with Igor S. Ivanov, secretary of Russia's Security Council.

European diplomatic officials have said that Britain, France and Germany drafted a proposal offering Iran the chance to transfer its uranium enrichment activities to Russia. The officials characterized the offer as a last chance for Iran to avoid being referred to the United Nations Security Council for possible penalties. [complete article]

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The right way in Iraq
By John Edwards, Washington Post, November 13, 2005

I was wrong.

Almost three years ago we went into Iraq to remove what we were told -- and what many of us believed and argued -- was a threat to America. But in fact we now know that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction when our forces invaded Iraq in 2003. The intelligence was deeply flawed and, in some cases, manipulated to fit a political agenda.

It was a mistake to vote for this war in 2002. I take responsibility for that mistake. It has been hard to say these words because those who didn't make a mistake -- the men and women of our armed forces and their families -- have performed heroically and paid a dear price.

The world desperately needs moral leadership from America, and the foundation for moral leadership is telling the truth. [complete article]

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Europe's time bomb
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, November 21, 2005

The car-body count dropped dramatically in France toward the end of last week. So vast was the orgy of auto incineration—more than 1,000 vehicles burned night after night as gangs ambushed firefighters and police, raging against French government and society—that when "only" 15 cars were torched one night in the administrative department of Seine-St-Denis, where the violence began, the head of the National Police said that things there had returned to "normal." [complete article]

See also, The new miserables of France (The Observer), Two cousins, the same story: French racism (Sunday Herald), and In France, alienation is a two-way street (LAT).

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Time for change
By Sami Moubayed, Al-Ahram Weekly, November 10, 2005

When he came to power in 2000, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad promised economic changes and regime officials said that political change would follow. The argument was that political reforms would not be appreciated by a population that, first and foremost, demanded better schools, higher wages, lower real estate prices and better hospitals.

And Al-Assad promised to live up to these demands. In 2003-2004, 5.1 million Syrians -- around 30 per cent of the population -- were declared to be living below the UN poverty line, while in 2005 it was announced that two million Syrians could not even meet their basic economic needs. It was these people, rather than the politicised Syrians, who were declared to be the priority on the agenda of the government.

In 2000, Al-Assad took over a stagnated economy with a growth rate of 2.4 per cent. The population, however, was growing at a rate of 2.7 per cent. The economic measures taken by the new president paid off initially and by 2003 -- mainly because of trade with Iraq -- the economic growth rate increased to 3.4 per cent.

But when Iraq was invaded things fell apart not only in Syria but through much of the Middle East. [complete article]

Joshua Landis comments: "Syrians will put up with sanctions lite if the government moves ahead purposefully with internal reform designed to free the economy. Of course, it is hard to do this when being isolated. All the same, there is a tremendous amount that can be done to the economy with or without Western support. Syria is not a hostage on this issue. Sami is urging the government to move more quickly, but there is no reason to believe it will. The President did not present a compelling reform agenda in his speech. He could have use his speech, which gave adamant political support for his family and state security structures, to make clear that the price of that support would be real economic reform. He did not. In many ways, that was the most depressing part: the silence on reform." [continued]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Jihadists vs. Baathists: The Amman bombing and the Iraqi insurgency
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, November 11, 2005

They've bombed Amman. Where will the Iraqi insurgents strike next?
By Daniel Benjamin, Slate, November 11, 2005

Al-Qaida in Iraq, local insurgents battle over tactics, money
By Mohammed al Dulaimy, Knight Ridder, November 9, 2005

Can the CIA legally kill a prisoner?
By Jane Mayer, The New Yorker, November 7, 2005

Vote to strip rights of Guantanamo prisoners may be reconsidered
By Frank Davies, Knight Ridder, November 11, 2005

Operatives say CIA exemption on torture a mistake
By Warren P. Strobel and Jonathan S. Landay, Knight Ridder, November 10, 2005

The Kashmir earthquake: Failures on the road to disaster
By Justin Huggler, The Independent, November 11, 2005

France's agony is a Western struggle
By Olivier Roy, New York Times, November 9, 2005

'We're French,' but not 'real' French
By Katrin Bennhold, International Herald Tribune, November 4, 2005

"We must fight," Bashar's speech, Nov. 10 2005
By Joshua Landis, Syria Comment, November 10, 2005

Inside and outside Syria, a debate to decide the future
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, November 9, 2005

Secret military spending gets little oversight
By Matt Kelley and Jim Drinkard, USA Today, November 9, 2005

Iran's rash revolutionary
By Robert Tait, The Guardian, November 9, 2005

President Cheney
By Daniel Benjamin, Slate, November 7, 2005

The realist persuasion
By Andrew J. Bacevich, Boston Globe, November 6, 2005

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EMAIL UPDATES -- Click here to sign up for weekly email updates -- a digest of key articles from the last seven days. (Please include your name in the message and put "subscribe" in the subject line.)

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