The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Time-delayed journalism
By Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, Counterpunch, December 17, 2005
The first duty of the press is to obtain the earliest and most correct intelligence of the events of the time, and instantly, by disclosing them, to make them the common property of the nation. The statesman collects his information secretly and by secret means; he keeps back even the current intelligence of the day with ludicrous precautions The Press lives by disclosures For us, with whom publicity and truth are the air and light of existence, there can be no greater disgrace than to recoil from the frank and accurate disclosure of facts as they are. We are bound to tell the truth as we find it, without fear of consequences--to lend no convenient shelter to acts of injustice or oppression, but to consign them at once to the judgement of the world.

Robert Lowe, editorial, London Times, 1851.
Lowe's magnificent editorial was written in response to the claim of a government minister that if the press hoped to share the influence of statesmen it "must also share in the responsibilities of statesmen". It's a long, sad decline from what Lowe wrote in 1851 to the disclosure by the New York Times on Friday that it sat for over a year on a story revealing that the Bush administration had sanctioned a program of secret, illegal spying on US citizens here in the Homeland, by the National Security Agency.

And when it comes to zeal in protecting the Bill of Rights, between December 22, 1974 and December 16, 2005 it's been a steady run down hill for the New York Times. [complete article]

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Terror reborn in Falluja ruins
By Hala Jaber, The Times, December 18, 2005

First they made me change out of my western clothes into a flowing black burqa and slippers. Then I squeezed on to the back seat of a car packed with other women and children for the nerve-jangling journey ahead. A toddler was told to sit on my lap so I was almost hidden from view.

The driver warned me not to speak if we were stopped, in case Iraqi National Guards noticed my foreign accent. All the precautions were in place for a perilous drive past roadblocks into Falluja, the shattered Iraqi city that no western newspaper reporter has entered for more than a year without the supervision of coalition forces.

The car bumped along a dusty track across farmland and through small villages on a roundabout route to the city in Iraq's Sunni heartland, 40 miles west of Baghdad.

Eventually we were stopped at one of the checkpoints where access is restricted to residents carrying biometric identity cards. I held my breath as a guard glanced inside our car. The women beside me chatted, trying to appear unconcerned.

Moments later we were waved forward and my visit to Iraq's most defiant insurgent stronghold had begun. For the next five days residents and insurgents alike smuggled me around the ruined city, showing me the searing reality of life under American siege. [complete article]

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New mission for U.S. division to put Iraqi forces to the test
By Thom shanker and Eric Schmitt, New York Times, December 17, 2005

The Fourth Infantry Division returns to Iraq next month for a complex, yearlong tour that illustrates the risks and goals of the American military's postelection mission across Iraq.

The more than 20,000 troops in the division, about 15 percent of the 138,000-strong American commitment scheduled to remain in Iraq at least through the early part of the year, will be responsible for security across a swath of central and south-central Iraq that is much larger than previous commands have tried to cover there.

The expanded mission includes more than a hope, but a requirement, that Iraqi security forces take over the security mission in larger areas of their own country. The planning is also driven by a cold reality that many of the allied troops - including Ukraine, Bulgaria, Italy and possibly even Poland - seem likely to leave Iraq over coming months. [complete article]

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In address, Bush says he ordered domestic spying
By David E. Sanger, New York Times, December 17, 2005

Mr. Bush's public confirmation on Saturday of the existence of one of the country's most secret intelligence programs, which had been known to only a select number of his aides, was a rare moment in his presidency. Few presidents have publicly confirmed the existence of heavily classified intelligence programs like this one.

His admission was reminiscent of Dwight Eisenhower's in 1960 that he had authorized U-2 flights over the Soviet Union after Francis Gary Powers was shot down on a reconnaissance mission. At the time, President Eisenhower declared "No one wants another Pearl Harbor," an argument Mr. Bush echoed on Saturday in defending his program as a critical component of defending against terror attacks.

But the revelation of the domestic spying program - which the administration temporarily suspended last year because of concerns within the government about its legality - came in a leak. Mr. Bush said the information had been "improperly provided to news organizations." As a result of the report, he said, "our enemies have learned information they should not have, and the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk. Revealing classified information is illegal, alerts our enemies, and endangers our country."

As recently as Friday, when he was interviewed by Jim Lehrer of PBS, Mr. Bush refused to confirm the report the previous evening in The New York Times that in 2002 he authorized the domestic spying operation by the security agency, which is usually barred from intercepting domestic communications. While not denying the report, he called it "speculation" and said he did not "talk about ongoing intelligence operations."

But as the clamor over the revelation rose and Vice President Dick Cheney and Andrew H. Card Jr., the chief of staff, went to Capitol Hill on Friday to answer charges that the program was an illegal assumption of presidential powers, even in a time of war, Mr. Bush and his senior aides decided to abandon that approach. [complete article]

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Bush approved eavesdropping, official says
By Katherine Shrader, AP (via Yahoo), December 16, 2005

President Bush has personally authorized a secretive eavesdropping program in the United States more than three dozen times since October 2001, a senior intelligence official said Friday night.

The disclosure follows angry demands by lawmakers earlier in the day for congressional inquiries into whether the monitoring by the highly secretive National Security Agency violated civil liberties.

"There is no doubt that this is inappropriate," declared Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He promised hearings early next year. [complete article]

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Renewal of Patriot act is blocked in Senate
By Charles Babington, Washington Post, December 17, 2005

Efforts to renew the USA Patriot Act collapsed in the Senate yesterday, when four Republicans joined most Democrats in blocking action on a volatile issue that pits anti-terrorism efforts against civil liberties protections.

The rejection triggered a frantic round of closed-door meetings between White House and congressional officials who hope to avert a major setback for President Bush. Some vowed to let the law's key provisions expire as scheduled on Dec. 31, saying Democrats will pay a political price. Others pressed for a three-month extension, hoping to reach a House-Senate compromise early next year. [complete article]

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At the Times, a scoop deferred
By Paul Farhi, Washington Post, December 17, 2005

The New York Times' revelation yesterday that President Bush authorized the National Security Agency to conduct domestic eavesdropping raised eyebrows in political and media circles, for both its stunning disclosures and the circumstances of its publication.

In an unusual note, the Times said in its story that it held off publishing the 3,600-word article for a year after the newspaper's representatives met with White House officials. It said the White House had asked the paper not to publish the story at all, "arguing that it could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists that they might be under scrutiny."

The Times said it agreed to remove information that administration officials said could be "useful" to terrorists and delayed publication for a year "to conduct additional reporting."

The paper offered no explanation to its readers about what had changed in the past year to warrant publication. It also did not disclose that the information is included in a forthcoming book, "State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration," written by James Risen, the lead reporter on yesterday's story. The book will be published in mid-January, according to its publisher, Simon & Schuster. [complete article]

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Bush lets U.S. spy on callers without courts
By James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, December 16, 2005

Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.

Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible "dirty numbers" linked to Al Qaeda, the officials said. The agency, they said, still seeks warrants to monitor entirely domestic communications.

The previously undisclosed decision to permit some eavesdropping inside the country without court approval was a major shift in American intelligence-gathering practices, particularly for the National Security Agency, whose mission is to spy on communications abroad. As a result, some officials familiar with the continuing operation have questioned whether the surveillance has stretched, if not crossed, constitutional limits on legal searches. [complete article]

See also, Pentagon is said to mishandle a counterterrorism database (NYT).

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New military goals: 'win the peace'
By Mark Sappenfield, Christian Science Monitor, December 16, 2005

With little fanfare during the past few weeks, the Pentagon has rolled out one of the most significant changes to military doctrine since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The policy directive recently signed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declares that the job of planning and training to win the peace after a war is now virtually as important to the military as the conflict itself.

The document marks a sea change from the ideals of the past, when the military was loath to take on any responsibility beyond waging and winning wars. Indeed, it suggests that the Pentagon increasingly sees Iraq and Afghanistan as templates for wars of the future, with success hinging not only on military superiority, but also on the ability to reconstruct failed states. [complete article]

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Zarqawi captured and released
By Philippe Naughton, The Times, December 16, 2005

The Iraqi Government admitted today that its security forces had captured Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the one-legged Jordanian terror chief whose picture is plastered all over the country, but let him go because nobody recognised him.

Iraq's most-wanted man was arrested in the rebel stronghold of Fallujah last year with a group of other insurgents, but he was released after a "simple interrogation".

The confession was made by Hussain Kamal, the deputy Interior Minister. "He was arrested more than one year ago in Fallujah by Iraqi police," Mr Kamal said. "It seems they did not recognize him, that’s why they released him." [complete article]

Comment -- Now wouldn't you think this would be the story blazed across the front page of every newspaper today? I guess all those managing editors were afraid of looking like party poopers. And it happened a year ago. And the past is better forgotten...

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Experts cautious in assessing Iraq election
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, December 16, 2005

For President Bush, the strong turnout for Iraq's election yesterday may represent the best day since the fall of Baghdad 32 months ago because all major factions participated in the political process, according to U.S. and Middle East analysts. But the sobering reality, they added, is that the vote by itself did not resolve Iraq's lingering political disputes.

After weeks of an increasingly divisive debate at home that helped sink the president's approval rating to an all-time low, the Bush administration appeared buoyed by the throngs at the polls and the low violence. Flanked in the Oval Office by six young Iraqis, all with a purple-stained finger signifying they had voted, Bush called the election a "major milestone" on the road to democracy. [complete article]

See also, Exit poll shows close race in Iraq (Reuters), High Sunni turnout suggests a deal for an election day truce (NYT), and Iraqi vote draws big turnout of Sunnis (WP).

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Elections aren't enough
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, December 15, 2005

Whichever way today's Iraqi elections go, the very fact of their existence is irresistibly inspiring. Watching these long-oppressed people exercising their franchise as citizens, hearing them express their hopes for a better, freer life -- who could fail to be moved or to wish them well?

Yet as we await the results (a process that could take weeks, followed by the months it will likely take to form a government), it's an apt time to step back and consider the broader prospects for Iraqi democracy. Unfortunately, they don't look so good.

A new book, Electing To Fight, by two political scientists -- Edward Mansfield of the University of Pennsylvania and Jack Snyder of Columbia -- reinforces this pessimism. The book argues that, while mature democracies do tend to be more peaceful and almost never go to war with one another, emerging democracies tend to be more violent and aggressive than any other type of regime -- and are more likely to erupt in civil war or revert to autocratic rule. [complete article]

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A cradle of civilization rocked by war
By Thomas H. Maugh II, Los Angeles Times, December 16, 2005

Excavations at a ruined city on the plains of northeastern Syria have turned up the oldest known example of large-scale warfare -- a massive campaign that pummeled the city into submission at the dawn of civilization more than 5,500 years ago, researchers said Thursday.

The discovery of the devastated remains of the ancient trading center suggests that the urge to attack and conquer cities is as old and basic as the need to build them, the researchers said.

"This clearly was no minor skirmish," said archeologist Clemens Reichel of the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, who led the joint U.S.-Syrian team that made the discovery. "This was 'shock and awe' in the 4th millennium BC." [complete article]

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Congress doesn't see same intelligence as president, report finds
By Jonathan S. Landay, Knight Ridder, December 15, 2005

President Bush and top administration officials have access to a much broader ranger of intelligence reports than members of Congress do, a nonpartisan congressional research agency said in a report Thursday, raising questions about recent assertions by the president.

Bush has said that Democratic lawmakers who authorized the use of force against Iraq and now criticize the war saw the same pre-invasion intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction that he did.

The president made that claim in recent speeches about Iraq. Support for the war has decreased, and critics have said that the administration misled the country when it relied on erroneous intelligence about Iraqi weapons programs that supported its case for war and discarded information that undermined it.

"Some of the most irresponsible comments - about manipulating intelligence - have come from politicians who saw the same intelligence I saw and then voted to authorize the use of force against Saddam Hussein," Bush said on Wednesday in his most recent speech. "These charges are pure politics."

The Congressional Research Service, by contrast, said: "The president, and a small number of presidentially designated Cabinet-level officials, including the vice president ... have access to a far greater overall volume of intelligence and to more sensitive intelligence information, including information regarding intelligence sources and methods." [complete article]

See the CRS report, Congress as a Consumer of Intelligence Information.

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Hamas wins in West Bank elections
BBC News, December 16, 2005

Palestinian militant group Hamas has won a sweeping victory in municipal elections in the West Bank.

The Palestinian electoral commission said that in the biggest city, Nablus, Hamas took 73% of the vote, while the mainstream Fatah organisation took 13%.

Nablus has traditionally been seen as a Fatah stronghold, but the party appears to have been damaged by current splits.

On Wednesday, Marwan Barghouti split from Fatah to form a rival faction for elections in late January. [complete article]

See also, Hamas says will step up attacks if Israel hits Iran (Reuters), Most Israelis oppose strike against Iran - poll (Reuters), and Dramatic split in Fatah blamed on Arafat's 'follied' PA leadership (The Independent).

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Spielberg enters a world of violence and empathy, revenge and doubt to bring 'Munich' to the screen
By Rachel Abramowitz, Los Angeles Times, December 18, 2005

After more than six years and what Spielberg describes as "many, many low points, more low than high points," "Munich" has just begun to screen for journalists and tastemakers, part of the campaign leading to its general release Friday. Based on the book "Vengeance" by Canadian journalist George Jonas, the film, co-written by Tony Kushner and Eric Roth, uses the conventions of a heart-pounding '70s-style thriller as a framing device for an ethical examination about terrorism and counterterrorism, the origins, the repercussions, the costs it exacts on its practitioners. As the Israelis wreak retribution across Europe and retribution is rained down on them and their country, some squad members -- in particular their leader, Avner, played by Eric Bana -- begin to succumb to fear and doubts about whom exactly they're killing and whether their mission will ever be successful when one terrorist is simply replaced by another. [complete article]

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Columnist's leak claim given cold shoulder
Reuters (via LAT), December 16, 2005

The White House on Thursday dismissed a claim by syndicated columnist Robert Novak that President Bush knew who revealed the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

"I don't know what he's basing it on," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. He declined to comment further. [complete article]

Comment -- Of course The White House is dismissive, but what does prosecutor Fitzgerald think? Doesn't he at least need to question Novak again? And after that, maybe Bush himself - and this time under oath.

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McCain held all the cards, so Bush folded
By Peter Wallsten, Los Angeles Times, December 16, 2005

By refusing to agree to an all-out ban on the torture of terrorist suspects held in U.S. custody, President Bush in recent months was triggering political problems for his administration at home and around the world. It took the assistance of an unlikely ally -- Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a rival in the 2000 Republican primaries -- to give the White House the chance to repair the damage on both fronts.

The agreement reached Thursday on legislation prohibiting the inhumane treatment of suspected terrorists in U.S. custody marked a rare capitulation by a president who campaigned for reelection based on his self-styled resolve when it came to the war on terrorism.

But it was also a recognition that, 13 months after a solid victory at the polls that seemed to put Bush's White House in position to make transformational policy changes, the president is approaching his highest priority -- fighting terrorism -- from a position of political weakness. [complete article]

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After sweeping Iraq vote, power wrangles to start
By Paul Tait, Reuters (via Yahoo), December 15, 2005

Iraqi leaders will begin staking their claims to power after an election that brought out Iraqis in overwhelming numbers to elect a government.

Results may take days, while talks on a coalition government reconciling ethnic and sectarian divisions may last for weeks.

Thursday's largely peaceful election for Iraq's first full-term government since U.S. forces ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003 was only slightly disrupted by violence and marked the last stage of a U.S. timetable to establish democratic institutions. [complete article]

See also Holiday in Baghdad (Salam Pax).

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In four speeches, two answers on war's end
By Peter Baker, Washington Post, December 15, 2005

As President Bush wrapped up a series of speeches on the war yesterday, he once again gave a clear answer to when U.S. troops would come home from Iraq: "We will not leave until victory has been achieved."

And he also gave this clear answer to when U.S. troops would come home from Iraq: "As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down."

What he did not do was reconcile those two ideas. Will U.S. soldiers withdraw from Iraq only after the insurgency has been vanquished? Or will they withdraw when Iraqi security forces become adequately trained to take over the battle themselves? Or somewhere in between? [complete article]

See also, Bush's path forward has many ifs (NYT).

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Plane spotting
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, December 14, 2005

When I finally got him on his cell phone, Javier Rodríguez had his Canon trained on Tenerife airport in the Canary Islands, and he was zooming in with a 500mm lens. Rodríguez normally works at a bank, but his passion is hunting aircraft, taking pictures, checking tail numbers, posting his findings on the Web. The hobby of plane spotting is sort of like jet-fueled bird-watching; you look for variety, color, rarity. You click off a few shots; you share them with friends. Apart from an occasional scare when a pilot confuses a long lens with a rocket launcher and radios the tower, this is a pretty innocuous obsession. Or so it was until the beginning of this year, when reports in Newsweek and other publications caught up with "Air CIA."

Ever since, plane spotters have played a key role keeping the issue of so-called "torture flights" -- and images of the aircraft themselves -- in front of the public eye. Last week, they and their pictures were more in demand than ever as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice toured Europe and found herself dogged at every stop by questions about the aircraft -- Boeings and Gulfstreams -- using European airports and transiting European airspace. [complete article]

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Detainee cleared for release is in limbo at Guantanamo
By Josh White and Robin Wright, Washington Post, December 15, 2005

When U.S. forces freed Saddiq Ahmad Turkistani from a Taliban prison in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in late 2001, the detainee met with reporters at a news conference and told U.S. officials that he had been wrongly imprisoned for allegedly plotting to kill Osama bin Laden.

An ethnic Uighur who was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, Turkistani said he believed in the U.S. campaign against terrorism. He professed hatred for al Qaeda and the Taliban -- groups he said tortured him in prison -- and offered to help the United States. Intelligence officials and U.N. representatives told Turkistani they would seek to find him refuge, possibly in Pakistan, according to accounts he later gave his lawyers.

Instead, Turkistani was taken to a U.S. military base in Afghanistan, where he was stripped, bound and thrown behind bars. U.S. officials then strapped him into an airplane, fitted him with dark goggles and sent him to the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in January 2002, according to U.S. lawyers who represent him.

Nearly four years later, Turkistani remains there, despite being cleared for release early this year after a government review concluded he is "no longer an enemy combatant." It is unclear exactly when that determination was made, but Justice Department lawyers gave notice of it in an Oct. 11 court filing. [complete article]

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No secret rules on torture
By Victor Hansen, Washington Post, December 15, 2005

It's reported that the Army is forwarding a classified addendum to the new Army Field Manual on interrogation operations. According to these reports, the 10-page addendum provides dozens of examples of what procedures may and may not be used by interrogators, and it informs commanders on the circumstances for their employment.

This move amounts to an attempt by the Army to use the back door to establish secret interrogation techniques at the same time the new Field Manual on interrogation operations is coming out (later this month). It sends exactly the wrong message to the world and, more important, fosters the same kind of confusion and contradictory policies that have contributed to the abuse of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. [complete article]

Note -- Victor Hansen is not to be confused with the conservative columnist, Victor Hanson.

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White House agrees on torture ban
By Brian Knowlton International Herald Tribune, December 15, 2005

After weeks of resistance, the White House agreed Thursday to Senator John McCain's call for a law specifically banning cruel or inhumane treatment of terror suspects anywhere in the world.

McCain met with President George W. Bush at the White House to announce the deal.

The president said that the agreement would "make it clear to the world that this government does not torture and that we adhere to the international convention of torture, whether it be here at home or abroad."

McCain said the measure sends "a message to the world that the United States is not like the terrorists," adding, "This will help us enormously in winning the war for the hearts and minds of people throughout the world in the war on terror."

Under the agreement, CIA interrogators accused of abuse would be granted the right to defend themselves by saying that a reasonable person would have believed that they were obeying a legal order. Interrogators will be provided with legal counsel.

The right is already extended to members of the military. Protection of CIA interrogators had been a key objective of Vice President Dick Cheney. [complete article]

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House supports ban on torture
By Josh White and Charles Babington, Washington Post, December 15, 2005

The House gave strong support yesterday to a measure that would ban torture and limit interrogation tactics in U.S. detention facilities, agreeing with senators that Congress needs to set uniform guidelines for the treatment of prisoners in the war on terrorism.

On a 308 to 122 vote, members of the House supported specific language proposed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that would prohibit "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment" of anyone in the custody of the U.S. government. Though lopsided, the vote was largely symbolic and does not put the language into law.

The vote specifically instructed House negotiators to include McCain's language, word for word, in the fiscal 2006 defense appropriations bill, a decision that is not binding but carries significant political weight. [complete article]

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Pentagon will review database on U.S. citizens
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, December 15, 2005

Pentagon officials said yesterday they had ordered a review of a program aimed at countering terrorist attacks that had compiled information about U.S. citizens, after reports that the database included information on peace protesters and others whose activities posed no threat and should not have been kept on file.

The move followed an NBC News report Tuesday disclosing that a sample of about 1,500 "suspicious incidents" listed in the database included four dozen anti-war meetings or protests, some aimed at military recruiting.

Although officials defended the Pentagon's interest in gathering information about possible threats to military bases and troops, one senior official acknowledged that a preliminary review of the database indicated that it had not been correctly maintained. [complete article]

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Star-spangled pandering
By Richard Cohen, Washington Post, December 15, 2005

Last month Justice Antonin Scalia was politely quizzed by Norman Pearlstine, the outgoing Time Inc. editor in chief. The event, held in Time Warner's New York headquarters, was supposedly off the record, but so much of it has already been reported that it will not hurt to add Scalia's views on flag burning. He explained why it was constitutionally protected speech. It's a pity Hillary Clinton was not there to hear him.

The argument that this famously conservative member of the Supreme Court advanced -- actually, reiterated -- was that while he may or may not approve of flag burning, it was clear to him that it was a form of speech, a way of making a political statement, and that the First Amendment protected it. I could not agree more.

Clinton, apparently, could not agree less. Along with Sen. Robert Bennett, a Utah Republican, she has introduced a bill that would make flag burning illegal. It is probably important to note that this is not a proposed constitutional amendment, and it is written in a cutesy way that does not explicitly outlaw all flag burnings -- just those intended to "intimidate any person or group of persons." That's a distinction without a difference to your average police officer. Not many cops belong to the ACLU. [complete article]

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House votes to revise, extend Patriot Act, angering senators
By Charles Babington, Washington Post, December 15, 2005

The House voted 251 to 174 yesterday to renew the USA Patriot Act, setting up a confrontation over the revised anti-terrorism measure with a group of Democratic and Republican senators who say it would not go far enough to protect civil liberties.

The Patriot Act, approved after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, made it easier for the FBI to conduct secret searches, monitor telephone calls and e-mails, and obtain bank records and other personal documents in connection with terrorism investigations.

Civil liberties groups say the proposed renewal would do too little to let targeted people challenge national security letters and types of subpoenas that give the FBI substantial latitude in deciding what records -- including those from libraries -- should be surrendered. [complete article]

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Is there method behind Iran's anti-Israel remarks?
By Paul Hughes, Reuters, December 15, 2005

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's strident anti-Israel rhetoric may be part of a strategy aimed at boosting his own standing at home and Iran's role in the region.

His remarks calling the Holocaust a myth and suggesting Israeli Jews be moved to Germany or Alaska have brought worldwide condemnation and imperiled diplomatic negotiations with Europe over Iran's nuclear program.

But while some analysts put his remarks down to excessive zeal, inexperience and an inability to distinguish between domestic and international audiences, others say his repeated verbal attacks were clearly planned.

"These comments are not being made by accident," said Tehran-based political analyst Mahmoud Alinejad. "This is something he has deliberated and thought out." [complete article]

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FBI pressured to gin up Iraq-al-Qaeda links
By Paul Sperry,, December 15, 2005

In the run-up to the Iraq war, FBI veterans say they were pressured by the Bush administration to come up with links, no matter how tenuous, between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda to help sell the planned military incursion.

They came up empty, however, and were told to redouble their efforts, scraping the bottom of the barrel, former officials say. When they still came up empty, the administration did not invite the bureau to the critical prewar National Foreign Intelligence Board (NFIB) meeting that produced the dossier on Iraq used by the White House to sway Congress.

The FBI normally has a seat at the NFIB. But in this case, it was not represented, even though the dossier makes judgments about the likelihood of Hussein launching terrorist attacks inside the U.S. – a topic clearly within the FBI's realm of expertise.

John M. Cole, who retired late last year from the FBI as program manager for foreign intelligence investigations covering Pakistan and Afghanistan, says he and other managers were tasked before the war with exhausting all sources in the field for information tying Iraq to al-Qaeda. [complete article]

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Let Iraq's Sunnis chase Al Qaeda out
By Fawaz A. Gerges, Christian Science Monitor, December 15, 2005

President Bush's "Plan for Victory" refuses to set a timetable for withdrawing US troops from Iraq on the basis that a premature departure could turn the country into "a safe haven for terrorism and a launching pad for attacks on America."

On the contrary, convincing Muslims and Sunni Iraqis, the backbone of the rebellion in Iraq, that US troops will return home sooner, not later, is prerequisite to dismantling the terrorist network headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born emir of Al Qaeda, as well as securing peace in the war-torn country. The presence of foreign forces has not only divided Iraqis and fueled local armed resistance but it has given impetus to Al Qaeda for building a foothold in the Anbar Province in western Iraq, the heart of the Sunni territory.

Iraqis themselves are eager for coalition forces to depart. For example, a new poll by several news organizations, including ABC and Time magazine, found that two-thirds of Iraqis said they oppose the presence of US and coalition troops - 14 percentage points higher than in February 2004. Nearly 60 percent disapprove of how the US has acted in Iraq. Nearly half want US forces to leave soon. Reassuring Sunnis that the United States is genuine about leaving Iraq is key to convincing them to lay down their arms and instead confront the Zarqawi network. [complete article]

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No elections will be credible while occupation continues
By Harith al-Dari, The Guardian, December 15, 2005

Iraq has a long history of civilisation that has contributed both knowledge and wisdom to humanity. For many centuries, Islam also immunised Iraq against religious or sectarian strife and protected its population from the oppression that peoples of the ancient world had been subjected to. Generation after generation of Iraqis succeeded in maintaining peaceful coexistence among their diverse sects and races, despite the hardships and challenges they faced. It is by virtue of this cohesion that Iraq managed to rise up again and put its house in order in the wake of every calamity.

In recent times, one of the most difficult periods has been the past 35 years, during which Iraq was subjected to one-party rule by a minority that dragged the country through a series of misadventures, with heavy losses for the Iraqi people. During the last chapter of that painful era, Iraqis were for many years punished with sanctions that caused the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, most of them children. The sanctions ended with an invasion, followed by an occupation by US and British troops, in total complete contravention of international law and in defiance of the UN. The invaders resorted to pretexts that soon proved to be false, including the lie about weapons of mass destruction.

Things became much worse under occupation, which has delivered none of the promised dividends of democracy, freedom, security and prosperity. Instead, Iraqis have been living in fear, poverty, oppression and a lack of freedom. [complete article]

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That U.S. image problem
By Ramzy Baroud, Asia Times, December 16, 2005

US President George W Bush yet once again has blamed the Arab media for his country's image problem.

"I recognize we got an image issue, particularly when you have television stations, Arabic television stations that are constantly just pounding America - saying America is fighting Islam, Americans can't stand Muslims, this is a war against a religion," Bush commented following a speech in Philadelphia on December 12.

It's disturbing to think that the president truly believes that Arab and Muslim contempt for his government stems from Arab media detractors, rather than his administration's misguided policies. Simply put, Arab and Muslim nations' disdain for the Bush administration is a natural human response to colonization, military oppression and the degrading regimes they bring about.

Before offering his impulsive remarks, Bush should've consulted the history of the Middle East - of which his clique often claims mastery - a region whose past has been marred with utter contempt for foreign occupiers and unyielding struggle to force them out.

Indeed, the US image problem has little to do with newspapers and 24-hour news channels, and more to do with the dangerous insistence on ignoring the roots of the West's fallout with Muslims, not always as a religious group, but as colonized and exploited nations. [complete article]

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Building coalitions seen as key to success in Iraq
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, December 14, 2005

In the months of political negotiations that are bound to follow Thursday's vote for a permanent National Assembly, Iraqis will face a fundamental question: Will the nation stay together or tear apart in a civil war?

Iraqi and U.S. officials say the answer - which will define the Bush administration's legacy in Iraq - lies in Iraqi politicians' ability to set aside fierce rivalries and old injustices and build coalitions after what's sure to be a fractious vote along ethnic and sectarian lines. [complete article]

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Bush can settle CIA leak riddle, Novak says
By Rob Christensen, Barbara Barrett, Jane Stancill and Dan Kane, News & Observer, December 14, 2005

Newspaper columnist Robert Novak is still not naming his source in the Valerie Plame affair, but he says he is pretty sure the name is no mystery to President Bush.

"I'm confident the president knows who the source is," Novak told a luncheon audience at the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh on Tuesday. "I'd be amazed if he doesn't."

"So I say, 'Don't bug me. Don't bug Bob Woodward. Bug the president as to whether he should reveal who the source is.' " [complete article]

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Ahmadinejad's antics
By Claude Salhani, UPI, December 14, 2005

Should the world take Iran's hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seriously? No, I mean seriously!

Consider his recent antics: First, Ahmadinejad declared to a group of students in Tehran in October that "Israel should be wiped off the map." Israel certainly takes him seriously.

If that first statement were not bad enough, and even before the dust from that storm he created had time to settle, the Iranian president suggested Israel be moved to Europe -- somewhere between Germany and Austria. Now the European Union is taking him seriously.

Then, while in Mecca last week, attending a meeting of heads of state of the Organization of Islamic Conference, Ahmadinejad takes advantage of the presence of the international media at an extraordinary summit called by Saudi King Abdullah, and does it again -- this time by saying he doubted the Holocaust ever took place. Now he has the Saudis furious.

So what exactly is the Iranian president trying to accomplish by stirring world public opinion against him? [complete article]

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U.S. paid for media firm Afghans didn't want
By Kim Barker and Stephen J. Hedges,, Chicago Tribune, December 13, 2005

When The Rendon Group was hired to help Afghan President Hamid Karzai with media relations in early 2004, few thought it was a bad idea. Though Rendon's $1.4million bill seemed high for Afghanistan, the U.S. government was paying.

Within seven months, however, Karzai was ready to get rid of Rendon. So was Zalmay Khalilzad, then the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and now the American envoy in Iraq, according to interviews, e-mails and memos obtained by the Tribune. The complaint: too much money for not enough work.

Despite such grumbling, The Rendon Group, based in Washington, managed to secure even more U.S.-funded work with Karzai's government, this time a $3.9 million contract funded by the Pentagon, to create a media team for Afghan anti-drug programs. Jeff Raleigh, who helped oversee Rendon in Kabul for the U.S. Embassy, and others in the U.S. government said they objected because of Karzai's and Khalilzad's opposition but were overruled by Defense Department superiors in Washington.

"It was a rip-off of the U.S taxpayer," said Raleigh, who left the U.S. Embassy in September. [complete article]

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Exploding the "ticking bomb" argument
By Michael Kinsley, Slate, December 13, 2005

What if you knew for sure that the cute little baby burbling and smiling at you from his stroller in the park was going to grow up to be another Hitler, responsible for a global cataclysm and millions of deaths? Would you be justified in picking up a rock and bashing his adorable head in? Wouldn't you be morally depraved if you didn't?

Or what if a mad scientist developed a poison so strong that two drops in the water supply would kill everyone in Chicago? And you could destroy the poison, but only by killing the scientist and 10 innocent family members? Should you do it?

Or what if an international terrorist planted a nuclear bomb somewhere in Manhattan, set to go off in an hour and kill a million people. You've got him in custody, but he won't say where the bomb is. Is it moral to torture him until he gives up the information?

Questions like these have been pondered and disputed since the invention of the college dorm, but rarely, until the past couple of weeks, unstoned. Now the last of these golden oldies -- about the terrorist who knows where the bomb is set to go off -- is in the news. Not because it has happened, but because of Sen. John McCain's proposed legislation forbidding the use of torture by the United States government. [complete article]

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Rivalry between Badr and Sadr militias worries U.K. forces
By Peter Spiegel, Financial Times, December 14, 2005

Although the insurgency in the Sunni heartland of central Iraq, widely characterised as a Sunni versus Shia conflict, continues to be the country's biggest trouble spot, coalition officials throughout the south say the internecine rivalry between the two Shia groups - universally termed "Badr vs Sadr" – has become so pronounced that it has come to shape local politics and society.

The differences between the groups are less ideological than political and personality driven. Sadrists accuse Badr militia of ties to Iran, where SCIRI worked in exile during Mr Hussein's regime, even as Mr Sadr and his father remained inside Iraq struggling against the Ba'athists.

And while Badr has been increasingly integrated to the local government - the widely respected police force in Amarah, for example, is made up mostly of current or former Badr militiamen - the Mehdi Army draws from disaffected youth in urban centres and is believed to be behind most of the anti-coalition attacks in the region.

The divisions between Badr and Sadr have also raised questions about how easy it will be for British and other European troops to withdraw from southern Iraq over the next year, as many political leaders have hoped. British officers said one of their main missions has become to serve as a buffer and a balance between the factions. [complete article]

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Al-Jazeera program angers many Shiites in Iraq
AP (via Arab News), December 15, 2005

Angry Shiites marched yesterday and set fire to the offices of a secular politician to protest remarks made on a talk show on Al-Jazeera television, in which a Sunni Arab guest criticized Iraq's Shiite religious leaders.

Fadel Al-Rubaei, a Sunni politician living in exile, said Shiite clerics should not take part in politics and accused them of conspiring with the Americans against the mostly Sunni insurgents.

The statements angered many Shiites, including many who did not see the Al-Jazeera show but saw reports on an Iraqi station, Al-Furat, owned by the biggest Iraqi Shiite party. Al-Furat said that legislator Abdul-Aziz Al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, "condemns violations against Shiites religious leaders broadcast through one of satellite channels known for its hatred to the Iraqi people." Al-Jazeera officials in Qatar were not available for comment. [complete article]

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The truth on the ground
By Ben Connable, Washington Post, December 14, 2005

When I told people that I was getting ready to head back to Iraq for my third tour, the usual response was a frown, a somber head shake and even the occasional "I'm sorry." When I told them that I was glad to be going back, the response was awkward disbelief, a fake smile and a change of subject. The common wisdom seems to be that Iraq is an unwinnable war and a quagmire and that the only thing left to decide is how quickly we withdraw. Depending on which poll you believe, about 60 percent of Americans think it's time to pull out of Iraq. [complete article]

Comment -- Marine intelligence officer, Major Connable, started his most recent deployment to Iraq on December 1. How come he's still harking back to responses he got before his third tour, about which he wrote, "This is the third time I've heard the quavering cries of the talking heads predicting failure and calling for withdrawal"? That was in May, 2004. If he actually let on how many times he's been back to Iraq, would Connable's unshakable optimism each year as he starts yet another tour of duty in Iraq not start to sound like it's based on shaky ground?

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The state of Iraq: An update
By Nina Kamp, Michael O'Hanlon and Amy Unikewicz, New York Times, December 14, 2005

President Bush's articulation of a new strategy for victory in Iraq, the American debate remains polarized. An increasing number of critics argue that the war is already lost and that we may as well withdraw, while others claim we are clearly headed to victory, and Americans would know that if only the press would stop emphasizing the negative.

Our judgment, based on data compiled by the American government, the news media and independent monitors, is that trends in Iraq do not support either of these extreme views. Things are in a state of continual turmoil, with many hopeful signs but also some deeply disquieting realities. [complete article]

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For Kurds, campaign gets violent
By Jonathan Finer, Washington Post, December 14, 2005

When more than 5,000 rioters ransacked and torched the Kurdistan Islamic Union office in this northern Iraqi city last week, their message seemed as clear as the electric-blue graffiti left on the building's blackened shell.

Spray-painted across a stone facade dimpled with hundreds of bullet holes were the words "Long live 730," the numerical ballot designation for the political alliance led by Iraq's two largest Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Along a stairwell, someone had written "traitors."

Mobs carried out similar daylight attacks in six cities in normally tranquil Dahuk province on Dec. 6, destroying offices of the Islamic Union, which quit the alliance last month to field its own candidates in Thursday's parliamentary elections. Four party members were killed, including two shot in the head here in the provincial capital who died of their wounds Saturday. Dozens were injured, many of them police officers.

Although U.S. officials consider the semiautonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq a model of what Iraq could someday become, the attacks last week served as another reminder that Iraqis have been slow to discard the politics of force and intimidation in the country's lurch toward democracy. The violence also highlights deep social fissures within Iraq's rival ethnic and religious groups. [complete article]

What Sunni voters want
By Ilene R. Prusher and Jill Carroll, Christian Science Monitor, December 14, 2005

In a complete turnabout from last January's vote to select an interim assembly, Sunni Arabs are expected to turn out in large numbers Thursday to select Iraq's new parliament.

In some cases, they are being driven to participate by a sense of disenfranchisement and a desire to gain more political sway in a country many see as being dominated by a powerful Shiite and Kurdish alliance.

They are also motivated by a strong anti-US sentiment that runs throughout much of the Sunni community. In fact, some Sunni politicians are even using images of dead insurgents to attract support among those who are sympathetic to Iraq's violent rebellion.

While most agree Iraq's permanent parliament will have greater Sunni representation, it will be an uphill battle for this minority to regain a foothold in the country they once dominated. [complete article]

Police seize forged ballots headed to Iraq from Iran
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, December 14, 2005

Less than two days before nationwide elections, the Iraqi border police seized a tanker on Tuesday that had just crossed from Iran filled with thousands of forged ballots, an official at the Interior Ministry said.

The tanker was seized in the evening by agents with the American-trained border protection force at the Iraqi town of Badra, after crossing at Munthirya on the Iraqi border, the official said. According to the Iraqi official, the border police found several thousand partly completed ballots inside.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said the Iranian truck driver told the police under interrogation that at least three other trucks filled with ballots had crossed from Iran at different spots along the border. [complete article]

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On the trail of the CIA
By Manfred Ertel, Erich Follath, Hans Hoyng, Marion Kraske, Georg Mascolo, Jan Puhl, Der Spiegel, December 10, 2005

Since Sept. 11, the CIA has played a vital role in the war on terror. But what role is it? Operating in the shadows, American secret services have been given wide-ranging powers by the Bush Administration. And they include murder, abduction and torture.

Questions about the CIA and Bush's handling of the war on terror have been dogging the president of late.

It's Saturday, Sept. 15, 2001, four days after the terror attacks in New York and Washington. US President George W. Bush withdraws with his closest advisors to Camp David in order to escape the chaos of the week and to develop the first plans to confront the new and unprecedented challenge facing the United States.

In the afternoon, then CIA head George Tenet distributes a file to all participants of the crisis summit. It's called "Going to War." Inside are the first rough outlines of the coming war against terrorism. In the upper left corner of the file's cover, there is a red circle inside of which is a portrait of Osama bin Laden with a black line drawn through it.

Tenet wants to go on the offensive. And his list of priorities is ambitious. Goal number one: Destroy al-Qaida and close off the terror group's zones of safety, wherever they might be.

According to Bob Woodward in his book "Bush at War," this is a list with wide-ranging powers, granted to authorities battling worldwide terror. And Tenet does not hold back. He requests that his agents be given the go-ahead to eliminate al-Qaida wherever the CIA comes across its members. He wants carte blanche for clandestine operations without having to first go through the long process of having them authorized. In addition, CIA agents should again have authority to kill -- a power withdrawn from US intelligence agents in 1976 by then-President Gerald Ford.

Also on Tenet's wish list is a request for hundreds of millions of dollars to buy help from foreign intelligence services. Specifically, Tenet thought agents from Egypt, Jordan and Algeria could help the CIA track down and eliminate al-Qaida.

Three days later, Bush signs a Presidential Directive whose exact wording only a very few Americans know until this day. Point for point, the demands made by the CIA were granted, and with that, the document became the first shot fired in the worldwide war on terror. Bush ordered the CIA to be the first on the new front. America's secret agencies were unleashed.

Four years later, America's intelligence services -- and especially the CIA (the "flagship of the business ... where you come if you want the gold standard," according to the agency's new director Porter Gosss) -- have become one of the most controversial weapons in the fight against terrorism. The most powerful army in the world has become an occupying power in Iraq and, by its mere presence, attracted a whole new generation of mujahedeen; but Bush's intelligence community has fought its part of the battle under the apparent motto, "The end justifies all means."

Washington's secret agents, whose disdain for international legal norms right up through the 1970s gained them a reputation for being ugly Americans, are back on the international political stage. [complete article]

Cooperation and concern from Berlin
By Dominik Cziesche, Per Hinrichs, Georg Mascolo, Sven Robel, Heiner Schimmoller, Holger Stark, Andreas Ulrich, Andreas Wassermann, Der Spiegel, December 12, 2005

Even some Bush supporters are beginning to feel that their country's war on terror has gotten out of hand. Despite its complexities and the fact that some of the details remain unresolved, the al-Masri case has exposed one important reality: The CIA, America's overseas intelligence agency, has behaved just as ruthlessly on the sovereign territory of its allies as anywhere else. Germany, for one, isn't just a cooperative partner for the CIA. Germany is also an operations region, sometimes with and sometimes without the knowledge of German authorities -- even when this violates German law.

German intelligence officials estimate that more than 100 CIA officials are currently working in Germany, although only the Americans know the exact number. They work at the US Embassy in Berlin, but also in Frankfurt, Munich and Hamburg and, together with German intelligence agencies, at the German counterterrorism center in Berlin. Some of their work is as mundane as writing reports and discussing analyses, but they also recruit sources and observe suspects. And whenever the US agents, operating in Germany under the title "Joint Intelligence Services," become too conspicuous, German officials don't seem to have any qualms about looking the other way. "When these kinds of problematic cases land on our desks," says an interior minister of one of Germany's states, "we keep one eye tightly shut, so that we don't end up having to do something that would be very embarrassing." [complete article]

Secrets and torture
By William M. Arkin, Washington Post, December 8, 2005

I suspect that not one of the super-revelations of American "wrongdoing" in the war on terrorism in Europe -- not one torture story nor death nor rendition, not one secret CIA flight or secret base; not even the public exposure of Curveball, the Iraqi biological warfare fantasist being handled by German intelligence -- originated with a European government whistleblower. The hard reality for those on the continent should be that despite all of their huffing and puffing of the incompatibilities of war on terrorism methods with European standards of human rights and civil liberties, it is their secret services that are beyond oversight and out of control, it is their governmental structures that are increasingly shown to be inadequately reflective of their citizens' values.

Europeans have to face up to the weaknesses of their own democracies, and the ways their permanent governments and civil servants outside of Parliament tend to serve themselves and their coalitions of like-minded secret agencies.

Europeans need to look inward and ask whether they are necessarily being made safer by these associations and practices. If European standards are indeed divergent with U.S. practices, I for one welcome Europeans coming up with some alternative security structures that better suit their values and needs.

The uncomfortable truth for Americans should be that our own secret services, including military special operations, equally operate outside of a reasonable level of control and oversight. The President and high government officials direct the activities of the secret services, but when it comes to any potentially controversial or illegal calls in the war on terrorism, more often than not the secret organizations make their own calls, after obsessively writing memos and legal rulings and internally discussing "sensitive" practices and policies. They then dutifully inform each other and like-minded affiliates, but no one else, of their goings on. [complete article]

European inquiry points to illegal transfer of prisoners
By Katrin Bennhold International Herald Tribune, December 13, 2005

Europe's chief investigator looking into allegations about the existence of secret CIA prisons said Tuesday that preliminary evidence suggested that American agents had kidnapped people and illegally transferred them between countries.

Dick Marty, who is leading an investigation for the 46-country Council of Europe, sharply criticized the United States for failing to cooperate on the allegations, notably during the five-day visit by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Europe last week. He also said he believed there was some degree of collaboration from European officials. [complete article]

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New Army rules may snarl talks with McCain on detainee issue
By Eric Schmitt, New York Times, December 14, 2005

The Army has approved a new, classified set of interrogation methods that may complicate negotiations over legislation proposed by Senator John McCain to bar cruel and inhumane treatment of detainees in American custody, military officials said Tuesday.

The techniques are included in a 10-page classified addendum to a new Army field manual that was forwarded this week to Stephen A. Cambone, the under secretary of defense for intelligence policy, for final approval, they said.

The addendum provides dozens of examples and goes into exacting detail on what procedures may or may not be used, and in what circumstances. Army interrogators have never had a set of such specific guidelines that would help teach them how to walk right up to the line between legal and illegal interrogations. [complete article]

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Ex-CIA officer on 'war on terror'
Michael Scheuer interviewed in SonntagsBlick, December 12, 2005

"I think the debacle in Iraq is the real horrific thing that's coming down the road. Al-Qaeda is now al-Qaedaism and has really taken hold in other parts of the world. The media, especially American media, is really bore-sighted on Iraq. But if you look at Thailand and the Philippines, the Northern Caucuses, northern Nigeria, militant Islam is really gaining traction. These will be problem areas in the not too distant future.

"I also think that the rather sophomoric argument about setting a deadline for the U.S. to pull out of Iraq only makes the enemy strong. I don't think either party is serious about this. There will be a pull out just in time for the 2006 elections. …

"The real tragic thing about Iraq is that the administration didn't put much thought into what they were doing, especially about the Sunnis. They thought they would box them into a place where the Sunnis would attack and we could kill them.

"In the thinking of the Islamic militant, Iraq is contiguous territory to countries they were never able to get to before. They are always looking for a Pakistan, it was their safe haven against the Russians. Bin Laden has explained that the reason he has not sent fighters to the Balkans or Israel is because there was not a safe-haven border from which they could operate. Iraq now gives them safe haven to attack Syria, Israel, Jordan and Turkey." [complete article]

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U.S. envoy calls torture at two Iraqi prisons severe, extensive
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, December 14, 2005

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad on Tuesday described torture cases discovered in Iraqi police prisons as both extensive and severe, saying more than 120 abused detainees had been found in the two centers run by the Shiite-led government that have been inspected so far.

Khalilzad rejected Interior Ministry officials' suggestion that any mistreatment of prisoners had been mild, saying the abuse found was "far worse than slapping around." [complete article]

See also, To halt abuses, U.S. will inspect jails run by Iraq (NYT) and Fatal torture of inmates suspected (LAT).

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Is the Pentagon spying on Americans?
By Lisa Myers, Douglas Pasternak, Rich Gardella, NBC, December 13, 2005

A year ago, at a Quaker Meeting House in Lake Worth, Fla., a small group of activists met to plan a protest of military recruiting at local high schools. What they didn't know was that their meeting had come to the attention of the U.S. military.

A secret 400-page Defense Department document obtained by NBC News lists the Lake Worth meeting as a "threat" and one of more than 1,500 "suspicious incidents" across the country over a recent 10-month period.

"This peaceful, educationally oriented group being a threat is incredible," says Evy Grachow, a member of the Florida group called The Truth Project. [complete article]

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Iran gaining influence, power in Iraq through militia
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, December 12, 2005

The Iranian-backed militia the Badr Organization has taken over many of the Iraqi Interior Ministry's intelligence activities and infiltrated its elite commando units, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.

That's enabled the Shiite Muslim militia to use Interior Ministry vehicles and equipment - much of it bought with American money - to carry out revenge attacks against the minority Sunni Muslims, who persecuted the Shiites under Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein, current and former Ministry of Interior employees told Knight Ridder.

The officials, some of whom agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity for fear of violent reprisals, said the Interior Ministry had become what amounted to an Iranian fifth column inside the U.S.-backed Iraqi government, running death squads and operating a network of secret prisons.

The militia's secret activities threaten to derail U.S.-backed efforts to persuade Sunnis to abandon the violent insurgency and join Shiites and Kurds in Iraq's fledgling political process. And by supporting Badr and other Shiite groups, Iran - a member of President Bush's "axis of evil" that sponsors international terrorism, is thought to be seeking nuclear weapons and calls for the destruction of Israel - has used the American-led invasion to gain influence in Iraq. [complete article]

See also, Iraqi ministry denies captives were abused (NYT).

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In Iraq, old-style Chicago politics is boss
By Ashraf Khalil, Los Angeles Times, December 13, 2005

In the Kurdish north as well as Shiite-dominated southern Iraq, old-fashioned political machines that one expert compares to 1950s Chicago have been grafted onto existing tribal, family and ethnic networks. Patronage and influence-peddling are so systemic that they are not even considered corrupt.

The effectiveness of those machines will be tested in Thursday's national election as Kurdish and Shiite slates look to maintain their dominant roles in Iraqi politics.

To a large extent, machine tactics are simply the way business and politics are done in the Middle East. The ruling parties in Egypt and Syria, for example, are basically patronage systems backed by security services.

The idea of using power to benefit a circle of friends, relatives and loyalists is so entrenched in the regional culture that there are half a dozen words in Arabic that mean patronage or cronyism. [complete article]

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Iraq troop pull-out to begin in months
By Richard Beeston, Stephen Farrell and Michael Evans, The Times, December 13, 2005

Britain and America are planning a phased withdrawal of their forces from Iraq as soon as a permanent government is installed in Baghdad after this week's elections.

In a move that has caused alarm in the outgoing Iraqi administration, American and British officials have made clear that they regard the end of Iraq's two-and-a-half-year transitional period as the green light to begin withdrawing some of their combined force of around 170,000 troops as early as March.

A senior Western diplomat in Baghdad said yesterday: "One of the first things we will talk about (with the new Iraqi government) is the phased transfer of security, particularly in cities and provinces. It will happen progressively over the next year." [complete article]

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Iraq: 1000 days of war
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, December 13, 2005

It has been the strangest war. A thousand days ago, on 20 March 2003, the US and British armies started a campaign which ended a few weeks later with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

It seemed so easy. President George Bush announced that the war was over. The American mission had been accomplished. Months passed before Washington and London realised that the war had not finished. In fact it was only just beginning. Of the 18,000 US servicemen killed or wounded in Iraq, 94 per cent have been killed or wounded since the fall of Baghdad.

There is no sign that the election for the 275-member Iraqi parliament this Thursday will end the fighting. The Sunni Arabs, the core of the insurrection, will vote for the first time, but there is no talk of a ceasefire. A leaflet issued by one resistance group in Baghdad yesterday encouraged its followers to vote but warned: "The fighting will continue with the infidels and their followers." [complete article]

See also, A war and its fearsome consequences: How the world has changed post-Iraq, 'It's an awful way to exist, without hope... We've gained nothing but endless deaths', and The war in numbers: From WMD to the victims (The Independent).

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Cold Mountain
The American military is preventing the emergence of political legitimacy in Iraq
By Michael Vlahos, The War in Context, December 12, 2005

Go one step further than Rep. Murtha has. It is not simply that the American military can "do nothing more" in Iraq ... the American military is preventing the emergence of clear and unambiguous political legitimacy in Iraq. Moreover by putting political resolution on hold, its continuing presence has the historically negative effect of intensifying sub-Iraqi ethnogenesis. [complete article]

This article is the first original opinion - a new feature at The War in Context. If you are interested in submitting an article you can find out more here.

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Lawyer accuses MI6 of 'torture' methods
By Daniel McGrory and Greg Hurst, The Times, December 13, 2005

British intelligence agents are accused of the kidnapping and "psychological torture" of men held in Greece as part of the investigation into the July 7 bombings in London.

A leading Greek lawyer will today present a dossier to parliament in Athens of the treatment of 28 detainees by MI6 officers. Frangiscos Ragoussis alleges that the detainees were hooded and held in secret.

The men, all of Pakistani origin, claim that they were threatened by two British agents who warned them that their families in Greece and the UK would suffer also if they dared complain about their treatment.

These allegations come at an awkward time for the Government, which is facing demands for an investigation into the CIA’s use of British airports to ferry al-Qaeda suspects to secret prisons in Europe and the Middle East. [complete article]

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ACLU opposes Patriot Act provision
By Dan Eggen, Washington Post, December 13, 2005

The American Civil Liberties Union raised objections yesterday to a little-noticed provision of the latest version of the USA Patriot Act bill, arguing that it would give the Secret Service wider latitude to charge protesters accused of disrupting major events including political conventions and the Olympics.

But Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who sponsored the provisions, and his aides said the concerns are misguided. The changes are meant to clear up legal confusion about the Secret Service's role at major events and to ensure that venues are fully secure before the president or other top officials arrive, they said. [complete article]

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Battle brews over a bigger military role
By Mark Sappenfield, Christian Science Monitor, December 13, 2005

The lessons learned from hurricane Katrina appear to be putting the Pentagon on a collision course with governors and lawmakers worried about the expanding role of the military in disaster response.

Gaining currency at the highest levels of the Pentagon is the idea that during a catastrophic event - either natural or terrorist - the Department of Defense should replace the Department of Homeland Security as the agency in charge of the federal response. [complete article]

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Palestinian 'third way' rises
By Ilene R. Prusher, Christian Science Monitor, December 13, 2005

A group of respected Palestinian leaders and intellectuals has formed an independent list to run in January's elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council. The new "party" presents a potential challenge to the two major forces of political life here: Fatah, the ruling Palestinian faction, and Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement.

The names topping the new list are well-known: Salam Fayyad, the respected finance minister and former World Bank official - a man seen by the international donor community as one of the most reliable and capable people in the Palestinian Authority (PA) - and Hanan Ashrawi, a former minister and Palestinian spokeswoman who has lobbied for an improved human rights record and respect for the rule of law in areas under the PA's control. [complete article]

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Iraq's Sunnis urge talks with rebels
U.S. pullout alone won't avert civil war, they say

By Robert Collier, San Francisco Chronicle, December 11, 2005

As the Bush administration and congressional Democrats argue over whether and when to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq, Sunni Arabs with extensive knowledge of the insurgency say that troop withdrawal by itself will not halt the violence consuming the country.

In interviews conducted by telephone from the United States and in Iraq, political and religious leaders and other prominent Sunni Arabs warned that if a unilateral U.S. withdrawal is not accompanied by other steps, including negotiations with insurgent groups, an all-out civil war between the majority Shiites and the Sunnis could result.

These Sunni Arabs, all of whom are strong opponents of the U.S. military presence, expressed concern about a possible anti-Sunni crackdown after Thursday's elections, which surveys suggest will be won by a Shiite coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance. Such fears have been sparked by speculation that the new government may give free rein to the alliance's Badr Corps militia, which has been accused by Sunnis and some U.S. officials of recent death-squad style killings of Sunnis. [complete article]

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Iraq: see no evil, hear no evil
By Adnan R. Khan, Macleans, December 6, 2005

"You are the light and salvation of Kurdistan, the hope of the Kurdish people." So goes the marching song at the Faish Habur military training base in Iraq's northern Kurdistan region. For the 300 or so Kurdish soldiers kicking up dirt on the parade grounds, the words are more than a simple metronomic guideline for keeping in step -- the sentiment is the reason they joined the army in the first place. Although this is an Iraqi army training facility, you will never see an Iraqi flag flying here. And the song, written to honour the memories of fallen peshmerga -- "those who face death," Kurdistan's legendary freedom fighters -- says nothing about a federal Iraq.

This is one of the realities of modern Iraq: it is a divided nation on the brink of civil war. What holds it together is a foreign occupying force whose presence is, paradoxically, fracturing it even more. [complete article]

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Tracing Iraq's painful arc, from the past to the future
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, December 12, 2005

The doors of Wamidh Nadhme's stately house along the Tigris River open to the discord of today's Iraq. In his neighborhood of Adhamiyah, a campaign poster for Ahmed Chalabi, the often-reinvented U.S. ally, proclaims, "We liberated Iraq." Another slogan declares a vote in Thursday's election "a nail in the coffin of the occupation." Congesting the streets are the other promises for a country on a precipice: prosperity, security, stability or, in the simple words of one, "a better life."

"In the past, I used to see things more clearly," said Nadhme, a burly, 64-year-old professor of political science with short-cropped gray hair and a cough from a lifelong cigarette habit, as he sat at his home. "But now I'm getting confused."

Nadhme is a Sunni Muslim, though he would identify himself as such only after a series of insistent qualifications. He is an Arab, but he eschews the chauvinism that colors Arab culture's most nationalist currents. He is an Iraqi first and foremost, he likes to say. He utters the word with pride, as though it justifies a lifetime of sacrifices, challenges and compromises: the torture he endured as a young activist, years of sometimes lonely exile in Egypt, a precarious, admittedly odd protection under Saddam Hussein that allowed him to speak out at the height of the Baath Party's tyranny, and a determination since then to salvage his country's future. [complete article]

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War experts advise strategy overhaul
By James Sterngold, San Francisco Chronicle, December 11, 2005

President Bush has framed the debate over Iraq as a series of stark choices -- tyranny or freedom, terrorism or democracy, stay the course or cut and run -- and he has insisted U.S. troops will not leave until Iraq has a secure, flourishing democracy and a market economy.

But with the insurgency raging, two respected U.S. Army experts on the Middle East argue that the president should dramatically scale back those goals to avoid what they say are the growing prospects of a catastrophic civil war. Such a war, they say, would create a major security crisis not just for Iraq and the Middle East, but also for the United States -- and so a fundamental shift in strategy is called for. [complete article]

Ambiguity and dissatisfaction to cost Shia alliance
Financial Times, December 12, 2005

The United Iraqi Alliance, the pan-Shia coalition that has dominated Iraq's parliament, is poised to see its representation drop heavily after Iraqis go to the polls three days from now to elect their first permanent post-invasion parliament.

Although it is almost certain to remain the largest single bloc in the legislature, Iraqi and foreign analysts say the UIA is expected to win substantially less than the 48 per cent of the vote it won in January, and some think it may even take less than the third of the seats it needs to ensure representation in government. [complete article]

Secular Shiites may hold balance in Iraq election
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, December 12, 2005

Most Iraqi voters are believed to have made up their minds on the election long ago, their choice often determined by ethnic or sectarian allegiance. But, according to the polling institute, in a survey in November about 18% of Iraqi voters identified themselves as undecided. [complete article]

Caution is voiced in U.S. ahead of Iraqi elections
By Brian Knowlton, International Herald Tribune, December 11, 2005

While administration officials have referred to the Dec. 15 elections as the last in a series of crucial political events pointing Iraq toward normalization and stability, a senior Democratic legislator, Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, cited another crucial juncture ahead.

Once a parliament is elected, work will begin on amending the draft constitution. Sunnis count on these negotiations to ensure them a larger role.

The reworked constitution, Biden said, "is either going to be a document of division, or a document of unity." If the former, he added, "then I think we're in real trouble." He suggested enlisting regional countries and major powers to press Shiites and Kurds to allow a significant Sunni role. [complete article]

Ba'athist insurgents to protect Iraq elections
The Telegraph, December 11, 2005

Iraqi insurgents have signalled a major shift on January's parliamentary elections, urging Sunni Arabs to vote and warning al-Qa'eda militants not to attack polling stations.

Ba'athist loyalists boycotted Iraq's last set of elections and intimidated would-be voters out of participation.

Now guerrillas in the volatile Anbar province say they are prepared to protect voting stations from al-Qa'eda fighters. [complete article]

In Iraq, campaign turns ugly in days before election
By Leila Fadel, Knight Ridder, December 11, 2005

Insults and accusations are flying in Baghdad in the days leading up to Thursday's national election.

The political battle is being fought in the mosques, on the streets and in the news media, sometimes with appeals to sect loyalty and other times with rough tactics. Iraqis on Thursday will choose members of parliament for four-year terms, ending another period in their transition since the U.S. invasion in 2003. [complete article]

In Iraq, security trumps women's rights
By Howard LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor, December 12, 2005

On the second floor of Love Hall, a building here used for wedding receptions, women from Iraq's northern Nineveh province gather for a conference on women's role in the nationwide election this Thursday.

But the event quickly veers away from its stated agenda and becomes a gripe session about life in Iraq today. There are few jobs, poor services, no safety net for the least fortunate, and above all, no security, say the women in this majority Christian town. [complete article]

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Abuse cited in 2nd jail operated by Iraqi ministry
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, December 12, 2005

An Iraqi government search of a detention center in Baghdad operated by Interior Ministry special commandos found 13 prisoners who had suffered abuse serious enough to require medical treatment, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Sunday night.

An Iraqi official with firsthand knowledge of the search said that at least 12 of the 13 prisoners had been subjected to "severe torture," including sessions of electric shock and episodes that left them with broken bones.

"Two of them showed me their nails, and they were gone," the official said on condition of anonymity because of security concerns. [complete article]

See also, Torture victim: 'They would cut me 30 times in two hours' (The Independent).

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Bush estimates 30,000 Iraqis killed
By Daniela Deane, Washington Post, December 12, 2005

President Bush today stood by his decision nearly three years ago to invade Iraq, despite the fact that some 30,000 Iraqis and more than 2,000 U.S. troops have been killed and he expects the violence to continue even after the country holds parliamentary elections this week.

In a speech in Philadelphia, Bush likened Iraq's attempts to build democratic institutions to the founding of an independent democracy in the United States, which he said was marked by tension, "disorder and upheaval." [complete article]

Hillary Clinton crafts centrist stance on war
By Dan Balz, Washington Post, December 12, 2005

...Clinton took responsibility for her vote for the 2002 resolution authorizing Bush to go to war, while leaving open whether she would have opposed it, given what is now known about faulty intelligence and mismanagement by the administration. She pummeled Bush for his conduct of the war itself but left murky how long she believes U.S. forces should stay in Iraq. As she told Kentucky Democrats earlier this month, "I reject a rigid timetable that the terrorists can exploit, and I reject an open timetable that has no ending attached to it."

Clinton's support for the war continues the pro-defense posture she has maintained in the Senate. As a member of the Armed Services Committee, she has courted Pentagon commanders and military families, and as a senator from New York on Sept. 11, 2001, her advocacy for the campaign against terrorists has been unwavering. But her decision to let others lead the debate over Iraq reflects what allies say is her innate caution. [complete article]

Comment -- A false equation still persists through which the willingness to slaughter people is regarded as a sign of strength. The effects of power are confused with the source of strength. That President Bush can now acknowledge that 30,000 Iraqis have been killed - people who had absolutely nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks - yet that these people would not have died were it not for the fact that fewer than 3,000 Americans died on 9/11, shows the magnitude of American fear - not American strength. The antidote to fear is not violence; it is courage. This is what Hilary Clinton now lacks.

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Pentagon's information campaign under fire
By Stephen J. Hedges, Chicago Tribune (via Detroit FP), December 12, 2005

Six months after U.S. troops arrived in Baghdad in April 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld put his name on a 73-page directive to the U.S. military to employ the news media, public opinion and the Internet as weapons of war.

Now, however, the Pentagon's use of information, in war and at home, may be backfiring. Citing U.S. efforts to establish and control news outlets within Iraq and to control information at home, an increasingly skeptical Congress, media and public are examining how the Bush administration and Pentagon made the case for the war in Iraq, and whether civilian and uniformed leaders used false or misleading information to influence the public's support for military operations abroad.

"I think the possibility's there" for deception, said Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., whose district runs adjacent to Army and Marine bases that have deployed tens of thousands of personnel to Iraq and Afghanistan. "We should have asked more questions before the war." [complete article]

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Bush in the bubble
By Evan Thomas and Richard Wolffe, Newsweek, December 19, 2005

Jack Murtha still can't figure out why the father and son treated him so differently. Every week or so before the '91 gulf war, President George H.W. Bush would invite Congressman Murtha, along with other Hill leaders, to the White House. "He would listen to all the bitching from everybody, Republicans and Democrats, and then he would do what he thought was right." A decorated Vietnam veteran, ex-Marine Murtha was a critical supporter for the elder Bush on Capitol Hill. "I led the fight for the '91 war," he says. "I led the fight, for Christ's sake."

Yet 13 years later, when Murtha tried to write George W. Bush with some suggestions for fighting the Iraq war, the congressman's letter was ignored by the White House (after waiting for seven months, Murtha received a polite kiss-off from a deputy under secretary of Defense). Murtha, who has always preferred to operate behind the scenes, finally went public, calling for an orderly withdrawal from Iraq. In the furor that followed, a White House spokesman compared the Vietnam War hero to "Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party." When that approach backfired, President Bush called Murtha a "fine man ... who served our country with honor." The White House has made no attempt to reach out to Murtha since then. "None. None. Zero. Not one call," a baffled Murtha told Newsweek. "I don't know who the hell they're talking to. If they talked to people, they wouldn't get these outbursts. If they'd talked to me, it wouldn't have happened." [complete article]

See also, An imperial presidency (Fareed Zakaria).

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What Viveca Novak told Fitzgerald
By Viveca Novak, Time, December 11, 2005

It was in the midst of another Washington scandal, almost a decade ago, that I got to know Bob Luskin. He represented Mark Middleton, a minor figure in the Democratic campaign-finance scandals of 1996. Luskin kept Middleton out of the spotlight and never told me much. Still, there is the occasional source with whom one becomes friendly, and eventually Luskin was in that group.

We'd occasionally meet for a drink--he didn't like having lunch--at Cafe Deluxe on Wisconsin Avenue, near the National Cathedral and on my route home. In October 2003, as we each made our way through a glass of wine, he asked me what I was working on. I told him I was trying to get a handle on the Valerie Plame leak investigation. "Well," he said, "you're sitting next to Karl Rove's lawyer." I was genuinely surprised, since Luskin's liberal sympathies were no secret, and here he was representing the man known to many Democrats as the other side's Evil Genius. [complete article]

See also, Time reporter may have tipped Rove's lawyer to leak

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Iran offers U.S. share in plant
By Nasser Karimi, AP (via Boston Globe), December 12, 2005

Iran opened the door yesterday for US help in building a nuclear power plant -- a move designed to ease American suspicions that Tehran is using its nuclear program as a cover to build atomic weapons.

The offer, which did not seem likely to win acceptance in Washington, was issued as Israel said it had not ruled out a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.

"America can take part in international bidding for the construction of Iran's nuclear power plant if they observe the basic standards and quality," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said at a news conference. [complete article]

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Violence grows in Pakistan's tribal zone, despite Army presence
By Gretchen Peters, Christian Science Monitor, December 12, 2005

Music and TV have been banned. Women are confined to their homes. Shops must close five times a day for prayers, an edict enforced by armed religious police who patrol the streets.

These changes, say local residents and reporters, have come just within the past few months to Waziristan, a restive region along the Afghan border that is seen as a possible hideout for Al Qaeda leaders. Last year, under pressure from the US to clean up the semi-autonomous zone, Pakistan launched military operations that ended 10 months ago in a peace deal with some rebel tribes.

Now the harsh edicts and an upsurge in violence suggest that Waziristan is far from pacified. Observers say it is slipping back into the hands of Al Qaeda and Taliban militants, despite the 60,000 Pakistani troops and paramilitaries garrisoned there. [complete article]

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Car bomb kills anti-Syrian MP in Beirut
By Ferry Biedermann, Financial Times, December 12, 2005

A car bomb killed a prominent anti-Syrian Member of Parliament and editor of the Lebanese AnNahar newspaper, Gibran Tueni, in a Christian suburb of Beirut on Monday morning.

Police said that a parked car filled with dynamite was remotely detonated as Mr Tueni drove past, killing all three in the vehicle and a pedestrian.
The killing of Mr Tueni may now affect the stability of Lebanon’s government. He was part of the ruling anti-Syrian coalition. Marwan Hamadeh, the Druze minister of telecommunication, who was himself the target of an assassination attempt, has threatened to pull the Druze faction out of the government if the cabinet fails to demand an international probe into the attacks. This may be opposed by the pro-Syrian Shia coalition partners, Hezbollah and Amal. [complete article]

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Sydney erupts in second night of riots
By Simon Freeman, The Times, December 12, 2005

The Sydney suburbs have erupted in a second night of racially-charged violence which has exposed ugly tensions beneath Australia's good-humoured exterior.

Local media reported a "terrifying escalation" in the conflict, as 70 car loads of Lebanese youths arrived in the predominantly white suburb of Cronulla - the flashpoint for yesterday's running battles - intent on revenge.

The Sydney Morning Herald described how the youths began smashing up shops and cars with baseball bats and threatening passers-by. There were more disturbances in the neighbouring suburb of Brighton-Le-Sands where bricks were thrown at passing cars.

Around 600 people, some armed with pistols and crowbars and summoned by mobile phone text message, gathered to confront one another on Maroubra Beach, in a mainly white suburb to the south of the city. [complete article]

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Cold Mountain
The American military is preventing the emergence of political legitimacy in Iraq
By Michael Vlahos, The War in Context, December 12, 2005

Go one step further than Rep. Murtha has. It is not simply that the American military can "do nothing more" in Iraq ... the American military is preventing the emergence of clear and unambiguous political legitimacy in Iraq. Moreover by putting political resolution on hold, its continuing presence has the historically negative effect of intensifying sub-Iraqi ethnogenesis.

What does this mean? When the United States invaded Iraq its ethnic groups had sub-national identities, (though Kurds under US protection had been developing a national agenda for over a decade). Rather than immediately recreating a working Iraqi state, the US Coalition Provisional Authority instead created a chaos-space in which groups were both encouraged and forced to seek their own destinies. The longer the chaos continued, the more mature the national agendas of Kurd and Shi'a became. Those who most wanted a unified Iraq, the Sunni, found themselves cast in the role of rebels against it. Thus theirs has been almost an unwilling incubation of nationhood. America's midwifery has ensured new national identities. [complete article]

This article is the first original opinion - a new feature at The War in Context. If you are interested in submitting an article you can find out more here.

Comment -- Not familiar with Michael Vlahos? Listen up!

In "A Brain the Pentagon Wants to Pick", Ann Scott Tyson, in the Washington Post, October 19, 2005, wrote, "Global security guru Thomas P.M. Barnett is in the unique position of being embraced by Pentagon officials and top U.S. military commanders as a visionary strategist -- even as he openly blames the defense establishment for botching post-invasion operations in Iraq."

And this is what Thomas P.M. Barnett has to say about Michael Vlahos: "I don't agree with much of what Mike says -- he's that annoyingly clever. But as someone who tries to think out-of-the-box, he's someone I regularly turn to for exactly that, and I can count those people on one hand."

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Shattering Iraq
By Paul Starobin, National Journal, December 9, 2005

Civil war. Surely this is an adjectival misnomer of the first rank. Of all of the various types of war, civil war -- that is, a violent conflict waged between opposing sides within a society -- has generally been the least mannerly and the most savage. "By nature without rules of engagement and retaliation, civil war is a cauldron of wanton and unpremeditated violence with little, if any, ideological leaven," historian Arno J. Mayer of Princeton University wrote in The Furies, his masterful account of the civil wars that followed the Jacobin revolution in France and the Bolshevik upheaval in Russia. Why are civil wars inherently brutal? Because, Mayer said in a recent telephone conversation, they are at bottom about "vengeance."

By just about every meaningful standard that can be applied -- the reference points of history, the research criteria of political science, the contemporaneous reporting of on-the-ground observers, the grim roll of civilian and combatant casualties -- Iraq is now well into the bloody sequence of civil war. [complete article]

See also, Present at the disintegration (Kanan Makiya) and A nation's politics can evolve (Rami G. Khouri).

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Military's information war is vast and often secretive
By Jeff Gerth, New York Times, December 11, 2005

The media center in Fayetteville, N.C., would be the envy of any global communications company.

In state of the art studios, producers prepare the daily mix of music and news for the group's radio stations or spots for friendly television outlets. Writers putting out newspapers and magazines in Baghdad and Kabul converse via teleconferences. Mobile trailers with high-tech gear are parked outside, ready for the next crisis.

The center is not part of a news organization, but a military operation, and those writers and producers are soldiers. The 1,200-strong psychological operations unit based at Fort Bragg turns out what its officers call "truthful messages" to support the United States government's objectives, though its commander acknowledges that those stories are one-sided and their American sponsorship is hidden.

"We call our stuff information and the enemy's propaganda," said Col. Jack N. Summe, then the commander of the Fourth Psychological Operations Group, during a tour in June. Even in the Pentagon, "some public affairs professionals see us unfavorably," and inaccurately, he said, as "lying, dirty tricksters." [complete article]

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French told CIA of bogus intelligence
By Tom Hamburger, Peter Wallsten and Bob Drogin, Los Angeles Times, December 11, 2005

More than a year before President Bush declared in his 2003 State of the Union speech that Iraq had tried to buy nuclear weapons material in Africa, the French spy service began repeatedly warning the CIA in secret communications that there was no evidence to support the allegation.

The previously undisclosed exchanges between the U.S. and the French, described in interviews last week by the retired chief of the French counterintelligence service and a former CIA official, came on separate occasions in 2001 and 2002.

The French conclusions were reached after extensive on-the-ground investigations in Niger and other former French colonies, where the uranium mines are controlled by French companies, said Alain Chouet, the French former official. He said the French investigated at the CIA's request. [complete article]

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A bus, and talk of Iraq's future, course through a city's streets
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, December 11, 2005

The call went out as it does every few minutes, along a line of parked minibuses that ferry Baghdadis across town. "New Baghdad!" the driver shouted. "New Baghdad!" Dhia Abbas, with a clutch of papers tucked under his arm, clambered into a seat next to the window and, with a sigh marking the end of his workday, sat back for the ride home.

His tattered city sprawled beyond the cracked glass. Election posters festooned concrete barriers, a dash of color across the ubiquitous gray. Yellow barrels, to deter car bombs, snarled traffic.

"My sense is that Iraq is being destroyed day after day," Abbas said, a hint of pain in his voice. "Iraq and the Iraqis." [complete article]

Politics, Iraqi style: slick TV ads, text messaging and gunfire
By Robert F. Worth and Edward Wong, New York Times, December 11, 2005

After putting up 100,000 posters across Iraq to promote his political party, Hamid Kifai discovered this week that they had all been torn down, even the ones on the front of his own campaign headquarters in the south.

"They have made it impossible for us to compete," said Mr. Kifai, a stocky, talkative Shiite candidate who spent his entire $50,000 war chest on the posters and has nothing left. "This is not democracy."

It is democracy, but in a distinctly Iraqi style. This country is in the final days of a campaign that is at once more ruthless and more sophisticated than anything yet seen here. [complete article]

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MI6 and CIA 'sent student to Morocco to be tortured'
By David Rose, The Observer, December 11, 2005

An Ethiopian student who lived in London claims that he was brutally tortured with the involvement of British and US intelligence agencies.

Binyam Mohammed, 27, says he spent nearly three years in the CIA's network of 'black sites'. In Morocco he claims he underwent the strappado torture of being hung for hours from his wrists, and scalpel cuts to his chest and penis and that a CIA officer was a regular interrogator.

After his capture in Pakistan, Mohammed says British officials warned him that he would be sent to a country where torture was used. Moroccans also asked him detailed questions about his seven years in London, which his lawyers believe came from British sources.

Western agencies believed that he was part of a plot to buy uranium in Asia, bring it to the US and build a 'dirty bomb' in league with Jose Padilla, a US citizen. Mohammed signed a confession but told his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, he had never met Padilla, or anyone in al-Qaeda. Padilla spent almost four years in American custody, accused of the plot. Last month, after allegations of the torture used against Mohammed emerged, the claims against Padilla were dropped. He now faces a civil charge of supporting al-Qaeda financially.

A senior US intelligence official told The Observer that the CIA is now in 'deep crisis' following last week's international political storm over the agency's practice of 'extraordinary rendition' - transporting suspects to countries where they face torture. 'The smarter people in the Directorate of Operations [the CIA's clandestine operational arm] know that one day, if they do this stuff, they are going to face indictment,' he said. 'They are simply refusing to participate in these operations, and if they don't have big mortgage or tuition fees to pay they're thinking about trying to resign altogether.' [complete article]

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Firms get scrutiny over CIA captures
By Farah Stockman, Boston Globe, December 11, 2005

Private American contractors who help the CIA capture terrorism suspects abroad and transfer them to secret jails are increasingly becoming the target of investigations in Europe and at home.

In Italy, Sweden, Germany, and the United States, lawmakers, public prosecutors, and human rights groups are scrutinizing the role of the US companies, which are far easier to track down and hold accountable than the CIA.

In some cases, inquiries focus on companies that appear to be thinly veiled CIA fronts. A lawsuit brought last week by the American Civil Liberties Union against three obscure companies accused of conspiring with the secret agency is seeking financial compensation for a German man who alleges he was wrongfully imprisoned and tortured by the CIA. But in other cases, scrutiny by European investigators and human rights advocates has focused on mainstream companies whose part-time work for the CIA now threatens to leave a permanent mark on their reputations. [complete article]

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Israel readies forces for strike on nuclear Iran
By Uzi Mahnaimi, Tel Aviv, and Sarah Baxter, The Times, December 11, 2005

Israel's armed forces have been ordered by Ariel Sharon, the prime minister, to be ready by the end of March for possible strikes on secret uranium enrichment sites in Iran, military sources have revealed.

The order came after Israeli intelligence warned the government that Iran was operating enrichment facilities, believed to be small and concealed in civilian locations. [complete article]

Israeli official: No plan to attack Iran 'at the moment'
Haaretz, December 11, 2005

The senior Defense Ministry official for diplomatic policy refrained Sunday from ruling out a future Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear sites, saying that "at the moment" the emphasis was on international diplomatic pressure, and that the details in a British newspaper report saying plans were being prepared for such an operation appeared "more imaginary than real."
An attack on Iran at this time would coincide with general elections in Israel, which are set to take place on March 28. In 1981, days before Israeli elections, then-prime minister Menachem Begin ordered an air strike on Iraq's nuclear facility in Osirak, near Baghdad. As a result of the attack, which was strongly supported by then-defense minister Ariel Sharon, Iraq's nuclear armament plan was thwarted. [complete article]

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ElBaradei calls for nuclear arms cuts
By Walter Gibbs, New York Times, December 11, 2005

The world should stop treating the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea as isolated cases and instead deal with them in a common effort to eliminate poverty, organized crime and armed conflict, the director general of the United Nations' nuclear monitoring agency said Saturday in accepting the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize.

The director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, said a "good start" would be for the United States and other nuclear powers to cut nuclear weapon stockpiles sharply and redirect spending toward international development.

"More than 15 years after the end of the cold war, it is incomprehensible to many that the major nuclear weapon states operate with their arsenals on hair-trigger alert," Dr. ElBaradei, 63, said.

Despite some disarmament, he continued, the existence of 27,000 nuclear warheads in various hands around the world still hold the prospect of "the devastation of entire nations in a matter of minutes." [complete article]

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Is the world safer now?
By Alan Isenberg, Los Angeles Times, December 11, 2005

Over the last four years, and especially under radical new President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran has done its best to live up to President Bush's 2002 declaration that it is part of an "axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world."

Yet as Iran's leaders make incendiary statements and threaten to fully resume their nuclear program, the United States and Europe have done little to effectively defuse the threat. [complete article]

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U.S. won't join in binding climate talks
By Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post, December 11, 2005

Despite the Bush administration's adamant resistance, nearly every industrialized nation agreed early Saturday to engage in talks aimed at producing a new set of binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions that would take effect beginning in 2012.

In a separate accord, a broader coalition of nearly 200 nations -- including the United States -- agreed to a much more modest "open and nonbinding" dialogue that would not lead to any "new commitments" to reduce carbon dioxide emissions associated with climate change.

The outcome of Saturday's negotiations -- which nearly collapsed at the eleventh hour after Russia and the United States raised separate objections -- underscored the promise and limits of international talks aimed at confronting one of the world's most far-reaching problems. The results also showed that foreign negotiators have concluded they must press ahead without the Bush administration's assent on the assumption that a burgeoning grass-roots movement will eventually bring the United States back to the negotiating table. [complete article]

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Post-Taliban free speech blocked by courts, clerics
By Griff Witte, Washington Post, December 11, 2005

When Ali Mohaqeq Nasab returned to Afghanistan last year after a long exile, he thought the atmosphere had opened up enough to raise questions about women's rights and the justice system in his country's nascent democracy.

But now the magazine publisher's provocative essays have put him at the mercy of that system -- imprisoned on blasphemy charges and facing possible execution.

Nasab's case has ignited fierce debate over free speech in a country that has been rapidly modernizing since the end of Taliban rule four years ago, and yet remains deeply rooted in traditional Islamic culture and extremely sensitive about issues of religion and the role of women.

His offense, according to the Afghan courts and conservative clerics, was to contravene the teachings of Islam by printing essays in his monthly magazine, Women's Rights, that questioned legal discrimination against women, harsh physical punishments for criminals and rigid intolerance of Muslims who abandon their faith.

The essays, published in May, attracted the belated attention of a prominent Muslim cleric, who delivered a sermon several months later denouncing Nasab as an infidel. Nasab reported the incident to Afghanistan's justice system, but instead of receiving the protection he had expected, he was arrested, put on trial and sentenced to two years in prison. Nasab, 47, has appealed to a higher court, but so have the prosecutors. They contend the two-year sentence was far too lenient, and that unless he apologizes, he should hang. [complete article]

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Drowned city cuts its poor adrift
By Peter Beaumont, The Observer, December 11, 2005

Miss Mildred's piano lies where the water knocked it down three months ago, amid ruined photographs and clothes. Her favourite chair is jammed in a corner; the wooden tiles of her tiny clapboard house muddy and peeled loose. There is nothing to salvage from a thrifty, industrious life, so she has come to see her home in New Orleans' devastated Ninth Ward for one last time.

'I don't have anything to come home to. No food, no water or electricity,' said the 74-year-old, whose family has been scattered. 'I can't afford to live in the French Quarter and there is nowhere else to rent. I have three more years on the mortgage to pay for this.' She will not sell the property, she says, but she also will not return. And Mildred W Franklin is angry. In a city where the wealthy areas are buzzing with reconstruction, her neighbourhood, one of the worst affected, is silent and ghostly. 'They want us to be disgusted. They don't want us to return.'

She is not alone in thinking this. When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans it was the city's poor - almost exclusively African Americans - who were left to fend for themselves as the city drowned in a lake of toxic sludge. Now, three months on, the same people have been abandoned once again by a reconstruction effort that seems determined to prevent them from returning. They are the victims of a devastating combination of forced evictions, a failure to reopen the city's public house projects, rent gouging and - as in the case of Mildred - a decision to write off whole neighbourhoods. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

The torture administration
By Anthony Lewis, The Nation, December 7, 2005

Qaeda-Iraq link U.S. cited is tied to coercion claim
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, December 9, 2005

Why Condi roiled Europe
By Chris Mullin, Los Angeles Times, December 9, 2005

Dark days in prisons at home and abroad
By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times, December 9, 2005

CIA flights in Europe: The hunt for Hercules N8183J
By Georg Mascolo, Hans-Jurgen Schlamp and Holger Stark, Der Spiegel, November 28, 2005

Buried in Amman's rubble: Zarqawi's support
By Fawaz Gerges, Washington Post, December 4, 2005

Wrongful imprisonment: anatomy of a CIA mistake
By Dana Priest, Washington Post, December 4, 2005

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