The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
The aberration of war
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, June 1, 2006

Steve Smithson, a former Marine infantryman who served in Kuwait in 1991, says the Haditha massacre needs to be seen in contrast with the rest America's efforts in Iraq. "We need to focus on a lot of the good that we are doing and put an incident like this in context. It's an aberration."

The word aberration is going to be used a lot in the coming weeks.

Commentators on the right are already predicting that "irresponsible war critics" will use Haditha as "a political tool to take apart America's support for the war and to shatter the legitimacy of our cause and the morale of our troops." Indeed, it is already being claimed that there have been "countless My Lais" in Iraq. Ironically, in as much as both critics and defenders of the war are inclined to focus great attention on the events of November 19, both sides are likely to promote a skewed image not simply of the war in Iraq but of warfare itself.


The social prohibitions on homicide most likely have biological roots that can be traced all the way back to the origin of species. The drive for individual survival is intimately linked to a drive to protect the gene pool. A species willing to prey on itself is obviously on a sure path to extinction.

As humans, this instinctual drive for self-preservation has evolved into complex and refined ethical codes, yet at its core, the admonition, "Thou shalt not kill," can be understood as the formulization of a will to live. We generally avoid killing each other not simply because we are obedient to religious injunctions but because our individual survival depends in part on our collective preservation.

How then can we go to war, since warfare requires training humans in the art of killing humans? Do we bear a unique and macabre trait as a self-culling species? Or is warfare, far from being an expression of humanity's innate violent tendencies, an exercise in the suppression of a self-preserving instinct?


In Iraq, the "enemy" is alternately demonized as ruthless terrorist or demeaned as uncivilized "raghead." In either case, he becomes less than human and his eradication is pursued as a form of social cleansing. Society is being purged of an inhuman element.

Haditha is an "aberration" in as much as victims who are women and children are inescapably human, yet as an aberration it is the exception that proves the rule. Outside such instances, supposedly, war itself does not inevitably challenge our basic values.

In practice, this notion of righteous war -- war in which we play by the rules even if the enemy doesn't -- is a notion that can only be sustained if we avoid imagining what it means to target locations.

Every day, weapons are fired, missiles launched, or bombs dropped, on enemy locations -- sources of hostile fire or any kind of insurgent activity -- yet these locations do not exist in a battlefield. In the vernacular of modern warfare, businesses and homes become "terrorist compounds", "hideouts", "insurgent positions", or ubiquitous "targets." Yet precision guidance systems, telescopic sights, or night-vision goggles, do not prevent targets being knowingly selected in the knowledge that who or what is concealed behind a wall cannot be determined.

In Iraq, civil society and the military arena are indivisible and the shield protecting innocent life is an invisible boundary separating the intended and unintended target. Ignorance of the innocent absolves guilt. As a result, the only innocence that really ends up being protected is the "innocence" in the mind of a soldier able to forget lives unintentionally lost.

The distinction drawn between willful killings in Haditha and accidental killings elsewhere, is a distinction that serves the killers and a country that insulates itself from the ugliness of warfare. To the thousands of Iraq's unintended victims, Haditha is just another bloodstained thread in the shroud of war.
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Iraq demands apology from U.S. for civilian deaths at Haditha
By Nancy A. Youssef, Knight Ridder, June 1, 2006

The Iraqi government demanded Thursday that U.S. forces apologize for the deaths of 24 civilians whom American Marines killed in the town of Haditha last fall and said it would begin talks with the United States to establish rules that would limit the way foreign troops conduct raids and detain Iraqi citizens.

"We cannot forgive the violations of the dignity of the Iraqi people," Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said.

U.S. troops operate in Iraq without any Iraqi government restrictions under an order that the American-led occupation government issued in 2004, and it was unclear whether U.S. officials would be willing to alter it. That order by the Coalition Provisional Authority provided that all coalition forces, members of the authority and foreign liaisons "shall be immune from Iraqi legal process." [complete article]

New 'Iraq massacre' tape emerges
BBC News, June 2, 2006

The BBC has uncovered new video evidence that US forces may have been responsible for the deliberate killing of 11 innocent Iraqi civilians. [complete article]

Iraqi PM accuses U.S. of 'daily' attacks against civilians
By Richard A. Oppel Jr., New York Times, June 2, 2006

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki lashed out at the American military on Thursday, denouncing what he characterized as habitual attacks by troops against Iraqi civilians. [complete article]

Investigators of Haditha shootings look to exhume bodies
By Josh White and Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, June 2, 2006

"I think it's going to be a very difficult case for them to prove," said Vaughan Taylor, a former military prosecutor and instructor in criminal law at the Army's Judge Advocate General's Legal Center and School. On balance, he said, he would rather be a defense counsel in the case than prosecute for the government. [complete article]

After Haditha: What makes top Marines worry
By Sally B. Donnelly, Time, June 1, 2006

If the horrors of Haditha are borne out, and becomes the worst massacre in the 231-year history of the Corps, it will cause a shudder to the very top. Explains a former Marine officer, "We build a small Corps of men and women who truly believe that we are wearing white hats. We are a community that believes it adheres to a different, higher set of values and ethics. That in everything we do we are helping people. And our expeditionary culture takes us all over the world to do that. But when 'cowboys' lose their discipline -- it convicts all those Marines who have served and all those that will serve." [complete article]

Murder charges likely for Marines in Iraq death
By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times, June 2, 2006

The Marine Corps will file criminal charges, including some murder counts, against several enlisted Marines and a Navy corpsman in the fatal shooting of an Iraqi civilian in April [in Hamandiya], officials close to the investigation said Thursday. [complete article]

Uprooted Iraqis add to woes of war-torn land
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, June 2, 2006

Iraqi officials say more than 100,000 people, both Shiites and Sunnis, have been displaced nationwide by sectarian violence, taxing government resources and heightening political, religious and ethnic tensions. [complete article]
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Haditha can't be blamed for a lost war
By William M. Arkin, Washington Post, June , 2006

The incident at Haditha, conventional wisdom now has it, threatens to undermine the entire Iraq war effort.

How convenient: The President says he is troubled by what he has heard and vows that the guilty "will be punished." But months or years down the road, he and his advisors will lament that Haditha occured just when they were winning.

It will, of course, also be the news media's fault for losing the war, not so much because it uncovered the Haditha incident but because the media "ignored" the 99.9 percent of the American military that respected the rules and didn't snap.

But is Haditha really the exception? [complete article]

See also, Probe into Iraq deaths finds false reports (WP).
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Six world powers reach agreement on Iran
By Glenn Kessler and William Branigin, Washington Post, June 1, 2006

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki Thursday welcomed direct talks with Washington, but rebuffed a U.S. proposal that Tehran must suspend uranium enrichment as a condition of such talks, Iran's state-run television reported. U.S. officials said they expected such a response from Iran but would not retreat from the demand that enrichment be suspended, which they said was nonnegotiable. Officials noted that the same demand is contained in IAEA and U.N. resolutions.

Rice aides said that not all details of the offer would be unveiled even after the talks conclude, because European officials want to privately brief Iranian officials on Friday before the package is released to the media.

Diplomats said the countermeasures under discussion if Iran spurns the offer include an embargo on exports of goods and technologies relevant to nuclear programs, the freezing of assets of organizations and a suspension of technical cooperation with the IAEA. Broader measures include a freeze on bilateral contacts, a visa and travel ban on senior Iranian officials, an arms embargo, an embargo on certain exports and ending support for Iran's bid to join the World Trade Organization.

To induce Iran to cooperate, the allies discussed supporting Iran's civil nuclear plans and suspending Iran's file at the Security Council. In a potential agreement with Iran, the allies would offer Iran participation in a Russian fuel cycle center and establishment of a fuel bank to hold up to five years of fuel for Iran under the supervision of the IAEA. [complete article]

Shift in U.S. stance shows power of seven-letter word
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, June 1, 2006

The Bush administration's decision to consider sitting down with the Iranian government underscores a central truth of diplomacy today: Nuclear weapons buy leverage.

For six years, President Bush and his aides have dismissed the idea of talking with Iran about its nuclear programs, and until last year gave little support to European efforts to restrain Iranian nuclear activity. Attempts by former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami, a moderate, to foster a dialogue were rejected, and even back-channel moves failed to gain traction.

Now, in perhaps the biggest foreign policy shift of his presidency, Bush has approved the idea of sitting down at the table with the Iranian government -- one headed by a former student radical who denies the Holocaust. Attached to the U.S. offer was a stern condition: a verified suspension of Iran's nuclear enrichment operations. But the offer overturned a long-standing taboo, and it came from an administration stocked with officials who have made little secret of their desire to overthrow the government in Tehran. [complete article]

Comment -- To get a sense of the neocon disgust with the idea of talking to Iran, see Michael Rubin's Damage is done.
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Iraq's premier seeks to control a city in chaos
By Sabrina Tavernise and Qais Mizher, New York Times, June 1, 2006

Iraq's new prime minister made an urgent visit to this increasingly lawless city on Wednesday, imposing a state of emergency and ordering leaders to cease their violent struggle for power and allow order to return to this oil-rich region.

Once seemingly immune to the violence that has plagued the rest of the country, Basra Province, the heart of Iraq's Shiite south, has sunk into chaos. Shiite political parties and their militias are fighting to control the provincial government and the region's oil wealth, contributing to some of the worst rates of killing since the invasion, with 174 killings in the past two months -- double the amount from the previous two months, according to the Basra police.

Trying to stamp his authority on the region, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki arrived here in an American helicopter with Iraq's Sunni Arab vice president and three other senior Iraqi officials, and he berated local leaders for the chaos. He ordered the Iraqi Army to take over Basra's streets -- a demand that apparently came as a surprise to the British Army, which patrols the region, and that could prove difficult, as units would have to be brought from outside the city. [complete article]

Where there was one enemy, now there are many
By Terri Judd, The Independent, June 1, 2006

As Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki declared a state of emergency in the British-controlled area yesterday, anyone with any money or hope of escape is trying to emigrate.

Eman Aziz, has lost three of her university classmates since the invasion. All were shot in broad daylight. "It will be difficult for me to leave my country," she said. "But every day my husband goes to work I have to wonder if he will come back."

Murder statistics in the city fluctuate constantly from as many as 20 a day to an official figure of 60 assassinations in February. The people live in fear of the local militia, divided between Sadr's people and the Badr Brigade, as well as the British trained police force. While the British forces now acknowledge that there is a "rotten core" among the police they have trained, locals are far more blunt. [complete article]
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Terror fears hamper U.S. Muslims' travel
By Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, June 1, 2006

Azhar Usman, a burly American-born Muslim with a heavy black beard, says he elicits an almost universal reaction when he boards an airplane at any United States airport: conversations stop in midsentence and the look in the eyes of his fellow passengers says, "We're all going to die!"

For Ahmed Ahmed, a comedian, it is even worse. His double-barreled name matches an occasional alias used by a henchman of Osama bin Laden. "It's a bad time to be named Ahmed right now," he riffs in his stand-up routine, before describing being hauled through the Las Vegas airport in handcuffs.

Taleb Salhab and his wife say they too were dragged away in handcuffs at the border crossing in Port Huron, Mich., as their two preschool daughters wailed in the back seat of their car. The Salhabs were discharged after four hours of questioning, with no explanation from customs officers.

Getting through United States airports and border crossings has grown more difficult for everyone since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. But Muslim Americans say they are having a harder time than most, sometimes facing an intimidating maze of barriers, if not outright discrimination. Advocacy groups have taken to labeling their predicament "traveling while Muslim," and accuse the government of ignoring a serious erosion of civil rights. Next month, the American Civil Liberties Union will go back to court to broaden a suit on behalf of Muslims and Arab-Americans who are demanding the United States government come up with a better system for screening travelers. [complete article]
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U.N. calls for massive rise in Palestinian aid
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, June 1, 2006

The UN has appealed for a near doubling of emergency aid to the Palestinian territories to alleviate a crippling economic crisis after the freezing of foreign funds to the Hamas government and Israeli sanctions against the Palestinians. It has revised the amount it wants foreign governments to donate this year from $215m (£115m) to $385m to prevent the collapse of services such as health and education, and to provide food and medicines.

The appeal document said the UN had taken the unprecedented step of asking for more money because of the "extremely bleak" humanitarian outlook for the occupied territories that is "predicted to worsen dramatically in coming months". "We're seeing people cut back on food and basic expenses," said David Shearer, head of the UN's office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs. "The situation in Gaza is the most acute." [complete article]
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Israel accuses British-funded Islamic charity of being front for terrorists
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, May 31, 2006

Israel has branded a major UK charity that receives millions of pounds in British government money as a terrorist front, accusing it of providing funds and assistance to Hamas, the armed group now in control of the Palestinian Authority.

The Israeli prime minister's office denounced the Birmingham-based group Islamic Relief hours before the authorities deported the head of its operations in Gaza, Ayaz Ali, after three weeks' detention. Israel accused Mr Ali of funnelling money to banned organisations and storing neo-Nazi images on his computer.

But the charity says the allegations appear to be a mixture of confusion and malice intended to justify the detention of an innocent man. The prime minister's office seems to have mixed up a hospital with a Hamas charity and a banned organisation with a firm of accountants.

Islamic Relief is one of 13 leading UK charities that make up the Disasters Emergency Committee response group. In April, Britain's Department for International Development (DfID) allotted £3.75m to Islamic Relief for work on healthcare and other projects overseas. [complete article]
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Americans fired into crowd, Afghan says
By Carlotta Gall and Abdul Waheed Wafa, New York Times, June 1, 2006

American soldiers involved in a vehicle crash here on Monday that set off rioting then fired into the crowd of protesters and killed four people, according to the chief of the highway police in Kabul, Gen. Amanullah Gozar, who saw the accident.

Three people died in the crash caused by a runaway United States Army truck, and four people died of gunfire from the last vehicle in the convoy as the American forces extricated themselves from an increasingly hostile crowd, General Gozar said in an interview on Wednesday.

He dismissed rumors that had spread through the city that the American soldiers deliberately rammed vehicles, even including his own car. "I can say clearly it was an accident," he said. [complete article]

See also, Karzai condemns gunfire by U.S. troops (AP).
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Bush's realization on Iran: no good choice left except talks
By David E. Sanger, New York Times, June 1, 2006

After 27 years in which the United States has refused substantive talks with Iran, President Bush reversed course on Wednesday because it was made clear to him -- by his allies, by the Russians, by the Chinese, and eventually by some of his advisers -- that he no longer had a choice.

During the past month, according to European officials and some current and former members of the Bush administration, it became obvious to Mr. Bush that he could not hope to hold together a fractious coalition of nations to enforce sanctions -- or consider military strikes on Iranian nuclear sites -- unless he first showed a willingness to engage Iran's leadership directly over its nuclear program and exhaust every nonmilitary option.

Few of his aides expect that Iran's leaders will meet Mr. Bush's main condition: that Iran first re-suspend all of its nuclear activities, including shutting down every centrifuge that could add to its small stockpile of enriched uranium. Administration officials characterized their offer as a test of whether the Iranians want engagement with the West more than they want the option to build a nuclear bomb some day.

And while the Europeans and the Japanese said they were elated by Mr. Bush's turnaround, some participants in the drawn-out nuclear drama questioned whether this was an offer intended to fail, devised to show the extent of Iran's intransigence. [complete article]

Iran says it won't talk on enrichment
Aljazeera, June 1, 2006

Iran will not give up its right to enrich uranium, as demanded by the West, but is ready to hold talks with the United States, the Islamic republic's foreign minister said on Thursday.

"We will not give up our nation's natural right (to enrichment), we will not hold talks over it. But we are ready to hold talks over mutual concerns," said Manouchehr Mottaki in response to a US offer of talks if Iran suspended enrichment activities.

"Iran supports fair talks without discrimination," he said, but added that Washington had to change its behaviour if it wanted new relations with Iran. [complete article]

Plenty of oil, but few refineries for Iran
By Brian Murphy, AP (via WP), May 31, 2006

Iran is flush with huge oil reserves and cash, but a refinery shortage leaves it heavily dependent on imported gasoline and diesel to keeps its cars and trucks rolling.

That's one reason the country -- already beset with economic troubles -- is desperate to avoid U.N. sanctions over its nuclear program.

"Oil is where Iran is most vulnerable," said Behzad Nabavi, a former lawmaker who also headed a state-directed oil company, Petropars. "It's one of the great economic paradoxes." [complete article]

See also, Rice's conditional offer to Iran may be problematic (IPS).

Comment -- Having already trumpeted their success in enriching uranium, the Iranians are arguably already in a position to suspend their enrichment program. The fact that they insist on maintaining the right to enrichment opens the possibility that they might again shelve their ability to exercise that right. Whether or not they choose to do so may depend in part on whether they recognize that the day they sit down and face their American counterparts, they will have succeeded -- to a significant degree -- in sidelining Cheney and the regime-change hawks.
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Iraq PM declares state of emergency in Basra
By Aref Mohammed, Reuters, May 31, 2006

Iraq's new prime minister declared a one-month state of emergency in the city of Basra on Wednesday, vowing to strike with an "iron fist" against gangs and feuding Shi'ite factions threatening vital oil exports.

"We have ordered the army unit (in Basra) to deploy in the streets," Nuri al-Maliki told reporters in Iraq's second city, which is in the grip of a fierce power struggle.

"We call this month the month of security in Basra," the no-nonsense Shi'ite Islamist said, 11 days after taking office. "We hope after this month that we will come back to Basra and see that the situation has improved a lot."

Iraqi forces will patrol Basra day and night, search for weapons and set up checkpoints, a government source said. [complete article]

See also, 'Multiple-fatality' bombings reach highest level since invasion (WP), A political path out of Iraq (Fareed Zakaria), and Condi's lame advice to the Iraqi people (Fred Kaplan).

Comment -- Whether "Iraqi forces" will have much success in quelling the conflict in Basra is highly debatable. Will the goal of these forces really be (as stated) to establish security in the city or simply to keep the oil flowing?

Brig. Gen. James Everard, who commands the British brigade in Basra, recently told Knight Ridder's Tom Lasseter, "I think there's a perception ... sometimes that the people of Basra and the militias are separate. Actually, the people of Basra and the militia are the same thing." Nine British troops have already died in Basra this month and a British Foreign Office spokesman described the declaration of a state of emergency as "a change in the Iraqi government's policy towards Basra, not a change in the situation on the ground."

An ominous development reported by the Telegraph is that Shia fighters from Saudi Arabia are now entering the conflict. This could mark another step in the long-feared expansion of a destabilizing Shia cresent extending westward out of Iran.

The risk of the war in Iraq expanding into a regional conflict increases by the day and at least one well-placed observer -- Nir Rosen -- who had previously called for the withdrawal of American troops, now "believes that if America withdraws, the cork will blow off. The Shiite will attempt to wipe Iraq clean of Sunnis -- and neighboring nation Sunnis will pour into Iraq, possibly creating a major regional conflagration that can't be easily contained."
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U.S. offers to join Iran nuclear talks
By Carol Giacomo and Sue Pleming, Reuters, May 31, 2006

The United States, in a major policy shift toward Iran, said on Wednesday it would join European governments in talks with Tehran if it suspended its nuclear enrichment program.

President George W. Bush said the United States was taking a "leadership position" to resolve the Iran nuclear dispute diplomatically, but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stressed that the military option was still on the table.

"The president is not going to take any of his options off the table, temporarily or otherwise," Rice told a news conference.

Rice said the talks offer was part of a package of incentives and sanctions whose "essential elements" have been agreed with Britain, France and Germany and will be discussed further on Thursday in Vienna.

The resumption of diplomatic ties with Iran was not under consideration and Iran would incur "great costs" if it continued to pursue nuclear weapons, she said.

Iranian officials had no immediate comment on the U.S. offer but European allies France and Britain welcomed it. [complete article]

Bush and Blair meet Iranian opposition
By Guy Dinmore, Financial Times, May 31, 2006

US President George W. Bush and Tony Blair, the UK prime minister, have received separate background briefings from Iranian opposition activists, including one visitor to the White House on Tuesday who caused a storm earlier this month by reporting Iran had passed a law requiring Jews to wear special identification.

Contacts at such a high level with Iranian opposition activists are likely to raise concerns in Tehran while the US and UK lead diplomatic efforts to get Iran to abandon its nuclear fuel programme.

White House officials said Amir Taheri, a London-based former editor, was among a group of experts invited to discuss Iraq and the region with Mr Bush. [complete article]

See also, U.S. accepts resolution draft on Iran that omits use of force (NYT) and Iran's military plans for invasion by U.S. (Washington Times).

Comment -- Meeting regime-change propagandists right before "reaching out" to the Iranian regime sure sounds like a good way of sending a mixed message!
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Shaken by riots, Afghans gripped by uncertainty
By Pamela Constable, Washington Post, May 31, 2006

Afghan army troops blanketed the capital Tuesday, schools and shops reopened and residents swept up the debris from riots that left 11 people dead and 130 injured. Many people remained angry both at the rioters and U.S. troops, and worried about permanent damage to the country's faltering democracy, economy and relations with the outside world.

Foreign peacekeeping troops kept off the streets, out of concern their presence would ignite new violence. [complete article]

See also, Taliban blamed for murder of Afghan aid workers (The Guardian).
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Arab liberals and Islamists, Unite!
By Rami G. Khouri, Daily Star, May 31, 2006

In most recent cases of historic political transformations that structurally changed autocratic into democratic systems, two or more key actors or constituencies joined forces to topple the old regime and usher in a more just new order, often with foreign partnerships. Russia, Poland, and South Africa are some relevant examples.

When we ask why there is no sustained political change, economic reform or decline in the dominance of security systems today in the Arab world, the answer is usually because domestic groups have not joined forces to foster change. The three main domestic forces for change in the region in recent decades are mainstream Islamist parties (such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, or Hizbullah), many small civil society organizations and liberal activists, and pockets of incumbent "reformist" officials and prominent businessmen and women.

By working separately, they have had limited impact. The obvious conclusion is that it is time for Arab liberal reformers and peaceful Islamist movements to join forces, to foster the change neither side has been able to bring about on its own. [complete article]
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Bloggers held under Egypt's emergency laws
By Daniel Williams, Washington Post, May 31, 2006

Just over a year ago, Alaa Seif al-Islam was one of a growing number of Egyptian bloggers who recounted their lives online, published poetry, provided Web tips, helped private aid agencies use the Internet and stayed out of politics.

But on May 25, 2005, Seif al-Islam witnessed the beating of women at a pro-democracy rally in central Cairo by supporters of the ruling National Democratic Party. He was then roughed up by police, who confiscated the laptop computer ever at his hand.

After that, Seif al-Islam's blog turned to politics. It began not only to describe the troubles of Egypt under its authoritarian president, Hosni Mubarak, but also described acts of repression and became a vehicle for organizing public protests.

On May 7, Seif al-Islam took part in a downtown sit-in to show support for two judges whose jobs are threatened because they denounced electoral fraud during parliamentary elections in November.

Police with sticks broke up the protest and trucked dozens of demonstrators, including Seif al-Islam, to jail, where he remains.

At least six bloggers are among about 300 protesters jailed during the past month's suppression of demonstrations. The bloggers, supporters say, were singled out by police, who pointed them out before agents rushed in to hustle them away. In the view of some human rights observers, the Egyptian government has begun to note political activity online and is taking steps to rein it in. [complete article]
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Frustration mounts between U.S., Pakistan
By David Montero, Christian Science Monitor, May 31, 2006

One of the central relationships forged after 9/11 has hit a rough patch. The latest irritant between Washington and Islamabad came last week as US lawmakers urged Pakistan to wring more information from disgraced nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, alleging that he may yet hold the blueprint to some of Iran's nuclear secrets.

Earlier this month, Islamabad officially closed its investigation. While Mr. Khan remains under house arrest, Pakistani officials say they've given Washington all the details they could get out of him - though that information has never been made public.

"Some question whether the A.Q. Khan network is truly out of business, asking if it's not merely hibernating. We'd be foolish to rule out that chilling possibility," said Republican legislator Edward R. Royce in a statement at the Subcommittee on International Terrorism and Nonproliferation hearing. "Vigilance and greater international pressure on Pakistan to air out the Khan network is in order."

So far, the tough talk is coming only from Congress, suggesting that the White House may be more keenly aware of the many demands already placed on Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, including the pursuit of Al Qaeda suspects, the curbing of cross-border attacks into Afghanistan, and the development of good governance to keep radical Islam at bay. Some analysts say that the demand for access to Khan risks pushing an already delicate relationship to the point of overburn at a time when Pakistan is warming up to Iran. [complete article]

See also, U.S. plans "significant" Pakistan missile sale (Reuters).
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The wages of chaos
By Xan Rice, The Guardian, May 31, 2006

...the number of western journalists that have been in Mogadishu this year could be counted on one hand - and that may be an overstatement. It is not due to a lack of interest from editors, but rather an accurate assessment of the risks for a foreigner in a city that is as unpredictable as it is inherently dangerous. (A BBC producer, Kate Peyton, was shot outside her hotel in Mogadishu in an apparently motiveless murder in early 2005). Instead, it is left to a brave few Somali journalists working for the wire services to chronicle the mayhem.

Given the paucity of independent on-the-ground analysis - humanitarian workers and African analysts have been as prudent as foreign journalists in avoiding the city - it should be of no surprise that various theories, conspiracy or otherwise, emerged as to why the fighting broke out. The most prominent of these is the clandestine involvement of the United States (a subject covered by Simon Tisdall in a recent World Briefing. Rumours have circulated for many months that the CIA was cooperating with warlords in southern Somalia. Agents handed over briefcases full of dollars, the theory went, and warlords handed over al-Qaida operatives.

What is known is that in February a group of warlords (including four government ministers) formed an coalition called Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism; a move that immediately sparked battles with militia allied to the Islamic courts.

The courts, which had brought some sense of law and order to Mogadishu and have backing from powerful businessmen, said the US was backing the warlords. The Alliance said the courts were harbouring al-Qaida sympathizers.

The US government refused to confirm or deny the rumours, but admitted that it was doing counter-terrorism work with certain Somali groups - an approach that many analysts say risks creating jihadis rather than taming them. There has already been fallout over this strategy; Newsweek reported this week that a top official at the US embassy in Nairobi - which looks after Somalia - was transferred for opposing the policy of funding warlords.

But while it is tempting in this US-bashing age to blame the renewed fighting solely on Washington's foreign policy, it would also be far too simplistic. Somalia's problems are far deeper ingrained, involve many motivations and many more actors than the US alone. [complete article]
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Feeling comfortable in Damascus
By Sami Moubayed, Asia Times, June 1, 2006

One year ago, things looked bad for Damascus. The Syrian regime had been accused of ordering the assassination of its onetime ally, former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. Two United Nations resolutions had been passed against Syria, forcing it to withdraw its troops from Lebanon. In October the UN prosecutor Detlev Mehlis issued two disturbing reports accusing Syrian officials of Hariri's murder.

Syria's former intelligence chief in Lebanon and then minister of interior, General Ghazi Kenaan, committed suicide shortly after being interrogated by Mehlis, taking many secrets and untold stories with him to the grave. Ending the year with a blast, former vice president Abdul Halim Khaddam defected from the Syrian regime on December 31, accusing it on Arab satellite television of direct involvement in the Hariri affair. Many doubted that the regime would safely pull through 2006.

Anyone who lives in Syria, or observes Syrian politics, realizes that the regime feels much more comfortable today than it did one year ago. There are several reasons for this new Syrian comfort zone. [complete article]

See also, Syria's silent purge (The Guardian).
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Proliferation wars in the intelligence community
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, May 30, 2006

Each scandal came and went, the news spotlight flickering from one to the next; and yet, as [CIA Director-nominee, Gen. Michael] Hayden's testimony before the Senate made clear, just about no one seemed to have the urge to ask the obvious what's-it-all-about-Alfie question. Nobody wondered what this thing called "intelligence," over which so many tens of thousands of analysts, code breakers, and agents labor with so many tens of billions of our dollars, really is; what sort of knowledge about our planet all those acronymic intelligence organizations really deliver. The value of the "intelligence community" to deliver this thing called "intelligence," whatever mistakes or missteps might be made, is simply taken for granted. [complete article]
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High court's free-speech ruling favors government
By Charles Lane, Washington Post, May 31, 2006

The Supreme Court yesterday bolstered the government's power to discipline public employees who make charges of official misconduct, ruling that the First Amendment does not protect those who blow the whistle in the course of their official duties.

By a vote of 5 to 4, the court ruled that the Los Angeles County district attorney's office did not violate prosecutor Richard Ceballos's freedom of speech by allegedly demoting him after he wrote to supervisors charging that a sheriff's deputy had lied to get a search warrant.

Dissenters on the court, civil libertarians and public-employee unions said the ruling, which extends to all of the nation's public employees, could deter government workers from going to their bosses with evidence of corruption or ineptitude. [complete article]
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Gore: Bush is 'renegade rightwing extremist'
By Oliver Burkeman and Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian, May 31, 2006

Al Gore has made his sharpest attack yet on the George Bush presidency, describing the current US administration as "a renegade band of rightwing extremists".

In an interview with the Guardian today, the former vice-president calls himself a "recovering politician", but launches into the political fray more explicitly than he has previously done during his high-profile campaigning on the threat of global warming.

Denying that his politics have shifted to the left since he lost the court battle for the 2000 election, Mr Gore says: "If you have a renegade band of rightwing extremists who get hold of power, the whole thing goes to the right." [complete article]

See also, Al Gore interview (The Guardian).
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Iraq to probe U.S. massacre claims
BBC News, May 30, 2006

Iraq will investigate allegations that US marines carried out a massacre of civilians in Haditha in November, the country's prime minister has said. Nouri Maliki told Reuters news agency there was "a limit to the acceptable excuses" for civilian casualties. [...] The civilians were "victims of a wrong operation", Mr Maliki said in a separate interview with the BBC. "It is not justifiable that a family is killed because someone is fighting terrorists." [complete article]

See also, Murtha: It's time to redeploy (ABC).
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Iraq becomes deadliest of modern wars for journalists
By Marc Santora and Bill Carter, New York Times, May 30, 2006

By some reckonings, the death of two journalists working for CBS News on Monday firmly secured the Iraq war as the deadliest conflict for reporters in modern times.

Since the start of the war in 2003, 71 journalists have been killed in Iraq, a figure that does not even include the more than two dozen members of news media support staff who have also died, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. That number is more than the 63 killed in Vietnam, the 17 killed in Korea, and even the 69 killed in World War II, according to Freedom Forum, a nonpartisan free speech advocacy group.

"It is absolutely striking," said Ann Cooper, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. While cautioning that the recorded number of journalists killed in past conflicts may be inexact, she said: "We talk to veteran war correspondents who have covered everything going back to Vietnam and through Bosnia. Even those who have seen a number of different wars say they have never seen something like this conflict." [complete article]

See also, Iraq blast kills two on crew for CBS (WP).
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U.S. will reinforce troops in West Iraq
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, May 30, 2006

The U.S. military said Monday it was deploying the main reserve fighting force for Iraq, a full 3,500-member armored brigade, as emergency reinforcements for the embattled western province of Anbar, where a surge of violence linked to the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq has severely damaged efforts to turn Sunni Arab tribal leaders against the insurgency.

The insurgents have assassinated 11 tribal leaders in the Ramadi area since the end of last year, when Sunni sheiks in the city began open cooperation with the U.S. military. That alliance was heralded by U.S. commanders as a sign of a major split between Sunni insurgents and the larger Sunni community of western Iraq.

The insurgent attacks since then have all but frozen the cooperation between Sunni tribal leaders and U.S. forces in Ramadi, local leaders say. [complete article]
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Unrest in Afghan capital a bad omen
IWPR, May 30, 2006

Afghans are also growing increasingly restive at the foreign "occupation", which many see as a threat to their national culture and way of life.

The incident that caused the explosion of violence - a collision between a Coalition military truck and up to 12 Afghan passenger vehicles - was not an isolated case.

Perhaps one of the reasons why Kabul residents were so reluctant to accept the official US explanation of mechanical failure is that traffic accidents involving foreign troops are so common. Nearly every driver has tales to tell of cases where foreign military vehicles have been driven without regard for life or property.

Taxi driver Zalmai Khan, 29, had a collision with a Coalition vehicle about one month ago. He said he was dropping off some passengers when the vehicle sideswiped him. It then sped off, leaving him with a repair bill of 400 US dollars for the damage and a permanent sense of bitterness towards the foreigners.

"If American oppression of ordinary people continues this way, we will all have to join the Taleban again to get rid of them," he said. [complete article]

See also, Mobs run riot in city seized by fury over U.S. convoy collision (The Times) and Aid workers killed in Afghanistan shooting (The Guardian).
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Al-Qaeda's long march to war
By Michael Scheuer, Jamestown Foundation (via Asia Times), May 31, 2006

In recent weeks, media reports from both Iraq and Afghanistan have suggested the appearance of a slow evolution of the Islamist insurgents' tactics in the direction of the battlefield deployment of larger mujahideen units that attack "harder" facilities.

These attacks are not replacing small-unit attacks, ambushes, kidnappings, assassinations and suicide bombings in either country, but rather seem to be initial and tentative forays toward another stage of fighting.

In the past month, reports have suggested Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his Iraqi resistance allies are trying to train semi-conventional units, and this month's large-unit action by the Taliban at the town of Musa Qala in southern Afghanistan may be straws in the wind
in this regard. [complete article]
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The agent who might have saved Hamid Hayat
By Mark Arax, Los Angeles Times, May 28, 2006

Before the wins and losses are tallied up and the war on terror goes down in the books as either wisdom or folly, it might be recalled what took place this spring on the 13th floor of the federal courthouse in Sacramento. There, in a perfectly dignified room, in front of prosecutors, defense attorneys and judge, a tall, gaunt man named James Wedick Jr. was fighting for a chance to testify, to tell jurors about the 35 years he spent in the FBI and how it came to be that he was standing before them not on the side of the U.S. government but next to two Pakistani Muslims, son and father, whose books and prayers and immigrant dreams were now being picked over in the first terrorism trial in California. [complete article]
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Khamenei in control and ready to 'haggle'
By Gareth Porter, IPS (via Asia Times), May 31, 2006

For months, the US news media, the attention of pundits and elected officials have been riveted on the provocative rhetoric of ultra-conservative Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. President George W Bush in particular has invoked Ahmadinejad's alleged drive for nuclear weapons and desire to destroy Israel to justify US isolation and pressure on the regime.

But the almost exclusive focus on Ahmadinejad has been misplaced, because all the evidence indicates that it is Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, not Ahmadinejad, who is directing Iranian foreign policy. Despite Ahmadinejad's clever exploitation of the nuclear issue to strengthen his domestic political position, he is playing second fiddle on this issue.

Ahmadinejad "doesn't have much to do with the nuclear issue", David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, the most experienced US non-governmental expert on Iran's nuclear program, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty immediately after the Iranian president's election. Albright observed that the policy on Iran's nuclear program is run by the Supreme National Security Council "directly under the Supreme Leader" (Khamenei). [complete article]

See also, Interview with Iran's President Ahmadinejad (Der Spiegel - in which Ahmadinejad interviews the interviewer!)
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In the village of nowhere, a fate soon sealed
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, May 30, 2006

For generations, first in caves hollowed from hillsides, then shepherds' tents and simple stone houses, the Shawarwa and Darawi families thrived here amid pine windbreaks, olive orchards and flocks of sheep. On a hill of their own, they worked, married and raised children.

Jamal Darawi was born here in a weathered house in June 1967, the same month Israel triumphed in the Middle East war. In the conflict, Israel's army seized East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan. Soon, the Israeli government drew a larger municipal boundary around Jerusalem, annexing the lands to the Jewish state, including Darawi's home.

But Israel did not take the people of Nuaman. An Israeli military census right after the war registered families here as West Bank residents, even though their village fell inside Jerusalem's new borders. As a result, the Israeli government has never offered them the right to live in the city, apply for Israeli citizenship or vote in Jerusalem, rights given to Palestinians in other annexed neighborhoods.

For many, it was a distant problem, and as the years passed on Nuaman's single street, the residents did little about it. But now their lives in the village are threatened. Israel's separation barrier is rising along the eastern edge of the village, sealing them inside the Jewish state.

In the valley below Darawi's home, backhoes are preparing the way for the tall fence, which traces a chalky stripe across the far hillside. Soon, the 200 people will be cut off from the Palestinian territories where Israel says they live, enclosed within a state where they have no right to be. This is the village of nowhere.

"All of our life has been changed," said Darawi, 38, a farmer, father and political activist. "The purpose of what is being done here now is to empty this place of its people."

This solitary village on a windswept plateau between Bethlehem and Jerusalem captures in microcosm the accelerating dislocation of Palestinian communities along the Israeli separation barrier now dividing the land with chain link and concrete. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says the 456-mile barrier will roughly define the final eastern border of Israel. [complete article]
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Here's why they call it the 'Jewish state'
By Jonathan Cook, Daily Star, May 30, 2006

In recently approving an effective ban on marriages between Israelis and Palestinians, Israel's Supreme Court has shut tighter the gates of the Jewish fortress the state of Israel is rapidly becoming. The judges' decision, in the words of the country's normally restrained Haaretz daily, was "shameful."

By a wafer-thin majority, the highest court in the land ruled that an amendment passed in 2003 to the Nationality Law barring Palestinians from living with an Israeli spouse inside Israel - what is termed "family unification" - did not violate rights enshrined in the country's Basic Laws.

And even if it did, the court added, the harm caused to the separated families was outweighed by the benefits of improved "security." Israel, concluded the judges, was justified in closing the door to residency for all Palestinians in order to block the entry of those few who might use marriage as a way to launch terrorist attacks. [complete article]
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PA chief Abbas aims to expand presidential guard to 10,000 men
By Ze'ev Schiff, Haaretz, May 28, 2006

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas intends to expand the Presidential Guard directly under his authority with thousands of new members, with the ultimate goal of a 10,000-strong force.

Abbas is trying to create an independent security force, under his full control, that could serve as a counter to the various militias under Hamas and Fatah control. Such a force could concentrate on providing security at the crossing points and preventing the launching of Qassam rockets against Israel from the northern Gaza Strip.

Currently, the primary function of the Presidential Guard lies in safeguarding Abbas. [complete article]
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Not civil war
By Khaled Amayreh, Al-Ahram Weekly, May 25, 2006

Fresh violent clashes between Fatah and Hamas in the Gaza Strip relegated the financial crisis crippling the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its Hamas-led government to a position of secondary importance, at least for a brief period. The clashes, which caused the death of a Jordanian Embassy employee on Monday, were isolated and localised, but they evoked latent fears that an all- out showdown between the two rival political camps in the occupied Palestinian territories might be inevitable, or at least more conceivable than previously thought. [complete article]
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Lecturers back boycott of Israeli academics
By Benjamin Joffe-Walt, The Guardian, May 30, 2006

Britain's largest lecturers' union yesterday voted in favour of a boycott of Israeli lecturers and academic institutions who do not publicly dissociate themselves from Israel's "apartheid policies".

Delegates at the annual conference of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (Natfhe) in Blackpool narrowly backed the proposal, despite mounting international pressure from those opposed to a boycott, including a petition from more than 5,000 academics and a plea from the Israeli government. The decision was greeted with disappointment and anger by anti-boycott campaigners last night, but Palestinian groups issued declarations of support. [complete article]

See also, CUPE Ontario votes in support of boycott, divestment, sanctions against Israeli apartheid (Electronic Intifada).
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75 prisoners join in hunger strike at U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay
By Jane Sutton, Reuters (via WP), May 30, 2006

Seventy-five prisoners at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were on a hunger strike Monday, joining a few who have refused food and been force-fed since August, a military official said.

Cmdr. Robert Durand, a spokesman for the Guantanamo Bay detention operation, called the hunger strike an attempt by the prisoners to gain media attention and pressure the United States to release about 460 men held there as enemy combatants.

Detainees are counted as hunger strikers if they miss nine consecutive meals, and most of the 75 hit that mark Sunday, Durand said. Most are refusing food but continuing to drink liquids, he said. [complete article]
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E.U. passengers could face long queues to enter US after ruling
By Jenny Booth, The Times, May 30, 2006

The European Union and the United States today vowed to strike a new deal allowing European airliners to transfer passenger data to US authorities, after the European Court of Justice today ruled the existing deal illegal.

Today's court decision means more queues and long hold-ups for Europeans at American airports once the current system is scrapped, unless a new arrangement can be reached.

The agreement between Brussels and Washington, which was blasted by civil liberties groups, was insisted on by America after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

It required European airlines to provide the US authorities with 34 pieces of information on each passenger including names, addresses and credit card information, within 15 minutes of a plane taking off. It was opposed by many European MPs as a breach of privacy laws. [complete article]
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Bloody scenes haunt a Marine
By Rone Tempest, Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2006

Lance Cpl. Roel Ryan Briones says he is tormented by two memories of Nov. 19, 2005, in Haditha, Iraq.

The first is of the body of his best friend and fellow Marine blown apart just after dawn by a roadside bomb. The second is of the lifeless form of a small Iraqi girl, one of two dozen unarmed civilians allegedly killed by members of his Camp Pendleton unit — Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

Briones, a wiry, soft-spoken 21-year-old interviewed Sunday at his family home in this Central Valley city, said he was not among the small group of Marines that military investigators have concluded killed the civilians, including children, women and elderly men.

However, Briones, who goes by Ryan, said he took photographs of the victims and helped carry their bodies out of their homes as part of the cleanup crew sent in late in the afternoon on the day of the killings.

"They ranged from little babies to adult males and females. I'll never be able to get that out of my head. I can still smell the blood. This left something in my head and heart," Briones said. [complete article]

See also, Lawmakers suspect cover-up by senior officers (LAT), Tom Lasseter last August, noted worries there that U.S. Marines might 'crack' (Greg Mitchell), The shame of Kilo Company (Time), Marines and the 'massacre': a neighbour tells of aftermath (The Times), and Baghdad numb to reports of massacre (WP).
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Pentagon seeks nonnuclear tip for sub missiles
By Michael R. Gordan, New York Times, May 29, 2006

The Pentagon is pressing Congress to approve the development of a new weapon that would enable the United States to carry out nonnuclear missile strikes against distant targets within an hour.

The proposal has set off a complex debate about whether this program for strengthening the military's conventional capacity could increase the risks of accidental nuclear confrontation.

The Pentagon plan calls for deploying a new nonnuclear warhead atop the submarine-launched Trident II missile that could be used to attack terrorist camps, enemy missile sites, suspected caches of biological, chemical or nuclear weapons and other potentially urgent threats, military officials say.

If fielded, it would be the only nonnuclear weapon designed for rapid strikes against targets thousands of miles away and would add to the United States' options when considering a pre-emptive attack. [complete article]

Comment -- That resistance to this proposal is being framed in terms of the risk of an accidental nuclear confrontation is an absurd distraction. The overwhelming risk is that the decision to launch a missile will be based on bad intelligence and/or an unrealistic assessment of collateral damage.

Before the war in Iraq, the scaremongering coming from the British government was that Saddam could launch a missile strike in 45 minutes. Now, the whole world has reason to fear that an American president might fire a missile anywhere on the planet while his military advisors suggest that collateral damage will be minimal.

The most accurate way of thinking about this is to view it as akin to Israeli targeted killing with a global reach. Since America has consistently treated American lives as of greater value than non-American lives, the world has plenty to fear. Indeed, in as much as the Bush administration has been chastened by its Iraqi experience, its preference will likely now be for military action conducted without leaving home.
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Exporting chaos
By Rami G. Khouri, Newsweek, June 5, 2006

Many of us in the Middle East instinctively hold our breath in fear when American and British leaders get together to discuss our region and its evolving politics and nations, as U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair did last week in Washington. They heaped accolades on the new Iraqi government headed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, and proclaimed yet another beacon of hope and change for the entire Arab world. Bush applauded the "watershed event." Blair, during a fleeting visit to Baghdad, called it "a new beginning" that will let Iraqis take charge of their own destiny.

Say what?

The view from the Arab world is rather different, based on our own history rather than imagined futures. Since Napoleon's conquest of Egypt two centuries ago, most of us have doubted the sincerity, legitimacy and efficacy of the Western armies that regularly march into our lands to deliver modernity through the muzzle of a French musket or the barrel of an M-1 tank. While Anglo-American politicians proclaim historic strides to replace Arab despotism and darkness with freedom and democracy, people who actually live here and know something about the Middle East shudder. For they witness Iraq and other Arab countries descending into an ever more fractious maelstrom of ethnic, religious and tribal violence. The link with U.S. and British policies is as clear and consistent as it is dangerous and destructive. [complete article]
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Punishment of Palestinians will create a crucible of trouble for the world
By David Hirst, The Guardian, May 29, 2006

Patients with chronic kidney disease dying for lack of their routine dialysis; 165,000 employees of the Palestine Authority unpaid for two and a half months; women selling jewellery for fuel or food ... the "humanitarian crisis" of the West Bank and Gaza is not a Darfur. And what most shocks Arabs and Muslims is that it stems from a conscious political decision by the world's only superpower. First, they say, you give us Iraq, now on the brink of civil war. Then this: the starving of a whole people.

The psychological and strategic linkage between Iraq and Palestine is far from new. But its latest, most intense phase began with the US invasion of Iraq - conceived by the Bush administration's pro-Israeli neoconservatives as the first great step in their region-wide scheme for "regime change" and "democratisation", whose consummation was to be an Arab-Israeli settlement. Indeed, professors Mearsheimer and Walt argue in their study, The Israel Lobby, that there very likely wouldn't have been an invasion at all but for Israel and, above all, its partisans inside the US.

But it had always been crystal clear that the more authentic any democracy Arabs or Palestinians did come to enjoy, US-inspired or not, the more their conception of a settlement would collide with the US-Israeli one. The point was swiftly proved, in the wake of Hamas's assumption of power, when President Bush declared: "We support democracy, but that doesn't mean we have to support governments elected as a result of democracy." And his administration set about engineering Palestinian "regime change" in reverse. [complete article]
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Blair beefed up his Iran speech to please Bush
By Toby Harnden and Patrick Hennessy, The Telegraph, May 28, 2006

Tony Blair made significant changes to one of his most important foreign policy speeches after bowing to American objections, The Sunday Telegraph has learned.

The Prime Minister changed key passages on possible action against Iran, climate change, and a proposed shake-up of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Objections by President George W Bush's inner circle played a key role in the alterations, which were made just before Mr Blair delivered his landmark address at Georgetown University in Washington, on Friday, British sources have revealed. [complete article]

The case for bargaining with Iran
By Joschka Fischer, Washington Post, May 29, 2006

The Iran crisis is moving fast in an alarming direction. There can no longer be any reasonable doubt that Iran's ambition is to obtain nuclear weapons capability. At the heart of the issue lies the Iranian regime's aspiration to become a hegemonic Islamic and regional power and thereby position itself at eye level with the world's most powerful nations. It is precisely this ambition that sets Iran apart from North Korea: Whereas North Korea seeks nuclear weapons capability to entrench its own isolation, Iran is aiming for regional dominance and more. [complete article]

Iraq poised to become main Iranian ally
By Tarek Al-Issawi, AP (via LAT), May 29, 2006

To Iran's west lies a natural ally and perhaps its most potent weapon in the international fray over its nuclear program. While Iran and Iraq were arch enemies during the rule of Saddam Hussein, all signs point to an increasingly robust relationship now that Shiites have achieved a dominant role in the Iraqi leadership.

It's a bond that has yet to reach its potential -- in large part because the U.S.-led invasion is responsible for Iraqi Shiites being at the top of the political heap for the first time in modern history. Iraqi Shiites are not looking the gift horse in the mouth.

But Iran and Iraq share a Shiite Muslim majority and deep cultural and historic ties, and Tehran's influence over its neighbor is growing. Iran will likely try to use Iraq as a battleground if the United States punishes Tehran economically or militarily, analysts say. [complete article]

Iran's drive to nuclear fuel slows, diplomats say
By William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, New York Times, May 29, 2006

After boasting last month that it had joined the "nuclear club" by successfully enriching uranium on an industrial scale -- and portraying its action as irreversible -- Iran appears to have slowed its drive to produce nuclear fuel, according to European diplomats who have reviewed reports from inspectors inside the country.

The diplomats say the slowdown may be part of a deliberate Iranian strategy to lower the temperature of its standoff with the West over its nuclear program, and perhaps to create an opening for Washington to join the negotiations directly -- something President Bush has so far refused to do. [complete article]

U.S. urges financial sanctions on Iran
By Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, May 29, 2006

The Bush administration is pressing Europe and Japan to impose wide-ranging sanctions designed to stifle the Iranian leadership financially if diplomatic efforts fail to resolve an impasse over the country's nuclear program, according to internal government memos and interviews with three U.S. officials involved.

Developed by a Treasury Department task force that reports directly to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the economic measures go far beyond the diplomatic pressure exerted by the Bush administration to date, both in scope of action and in objective. [complete article]
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Cheney aide is screening legislation
By Charlie Savage, Boston Globe, May 28, 2006

The office of Vice President Dick Cheney routinely reviews pieces of legislation before they reach the president's desk, searching for provisions that Cheney believes would infringe on presidential power, according to former White House and Justice Department officials.

The officials said Cheney's legal adviser and chief of staff, David Addington , is the Bush administration's leading architect of the ``signing statements" the president has appended to more than 750 laws. The statements assert the president's right to ignore the laws because they conflict with his interpretation of the Constitution.

The Bush-Cheney administration has used such statements to claim for itself the option of bypassing a ban on torture, oversight provisions in the USA Patriot Act, and numerous requirements that they provide certain information to Congress, among other laws.

Previous vice presidents have had neither the authority nor the interest in reviewing legislation. But Cheney has used his power over the administration's legal team to promote an expansive theory of presidential authority. Using signing statements, the administration has challenged more laws than all previous administrations combined. [complete article]
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Why the Pentagon keeps overestimating Beijing's military strength
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, May 26, 2006

Every day and night, hundreds of Air Force generals and Navy admirals must thank their lucky stars for China. Without the specter of a rising Chinese military, there would be no rationale for such a large fleet of American nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers, or for a new generation of stealth combat fighters -- no rationale for about a quarter of the Pentagon's budget. In Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's Quadrennial Defense Review, released this past February, the looming Chinese threat is the explicit justification for all the big-ticket weapons systems that have nothing to do with fighting terrorists or insurgents.

But is the threat real? In each of the last four years, Congress has required the Defense Department to issue a report titled Military Power of the People's Republic of China. The latest edition, issued this week, starts out ominously, but as you read through its 50 double-columned pages, you gradually realize that claims of emerging Chinese superpower are way overblown. [complete article]
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Slew of bombs kills dozens in Iraq
AP (via USA Today), May 29, 2006

Two CBS News crewmembers and an American soldier were killed Monday during a wave of car bombings and shootings in Iraq that also killed at least three dozen other people. Network correspondent Kimberly Dozier was seriously wounded and underwent emergency surgery.

As parliament discussed the nation's disintegrating security, lawmakers pressed for the appointment of defense and interior ministers — seen as a necessary step toward Iraqi forces assuming more control so U.S.-led troops can begin withdrawing.

At least eight bombings rocked the capital in the worst wave of violence in days. A car bomb exploded as a U.S. convoy patrolled in central Baghdad, killing veteran CBS cameraman Paul Douglas, 48; soundman James Brolan, 42; and an American soldier, U.S. officials said. [complete article]
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U.S. troops fire on crowd in Kabul after crash, riots
By Wesal Zaman, Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2006

U.S. troops opened fire on a crowd of angry demonstrators this morning during a protest that erupted after a U.S. convoy apparently rammed into a traffic jam, Afghan police commanders said.

Three people were killed and more than a dozen injured in the accident, and another died and two were wounded in the gunfire, police said. [complete article]

See also, On the spot: 'Crowd wanted to skin us alive' (The Times).
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A new perspective after brother's death in Iraq
By Sandy Banks, Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2006

...Army Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Tessar, ... was among four soldiers killed last fall in a roadside bombing while leading a convoy on patrol in Iraq.
[His brother said,] "He really believed he was doing something to make the world a better place. Now, I look at his sacrifice and ask myself, 'Would I die for my job? Would you die for this story, for your job?' My brother was willing to die. And he did." [complete article]

Comment -- Memorial Day is a day for sustaining many of the myths that make people willing to fight wars.

Is the willingness to die for what one believes in, a virtue? It's certainly courageous, but soldiers, insurgents, and suicide bombers all share a willingness to sacrifice their own lives. No one would suggest that today we should be honoring all their deaths.

Every time an American soldier dies overseas, someone will claim that that death is helping sustain our freedom. Sometimes that has been true, but many times it is not. Honoring the dead shouldn't mean pretending that they always died for a good cause.

Most Americans now belief that going to war in Iraq was a mistake. To remember the dead should also mean admitting that thousands of lives have been wasted in Iraq; draping flags over coffins is just another way of trying to hide the futility of this war.
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Iraq is the republic of fear
By Nir Rosen, Washington Post, May 28, 2006

Every morning the streets of Baghdad are littered with dozens of bodies, bruised, torn, mutilated, executed only because they are Sunni or because they are Shiite. Power drills are an especially popular torture device.

I have spent nearly two of the three years since Baghdad fell in Iraq. On my last trip, a few weeks back, I flew out of the city overcome with fatalism. Over the course of six weeks, I worked with three different drivers; at various times each had to take a day off because a neighbor or relative had been killed. One morning 14 bodies were found, all with ID cards in their front pockets, all called Omar. Omar is a Sunni name. In Baghdad these days, nobody is more insecure than men called Omar. On another day a group of bodies was found with hands folded on their abdomens, right hand over left, the way Sunnis pray. It was a message. These days many Sunnis are obtaining false papers with neutral names. Sunni militias are retaliating, stopping buses and demanding the jinsiya, or ID cards, of all passengers. Individuals belonging to Shiite tribes are executed.

Under the reign of Saddam Hussein, dissidents called Iraq "the republic of fear" and hoped it would end when Hussein was toppled. But the war, it turns out, has spread the fear democratically. Now the terror is not merely from the regime, or from U.S. troops, but from everybody, everywhere. [complete article]
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Iranian-backed militia groups take control of much of southern Iraq
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, May 26, 2006

Southern Iraq, long touted as a peaceful region that's likely to be among the first areas returned to Iraqi control, is now dominated by Shiite Muslim warlords and militiamen who are laying the groundwork for an Islamic fundamentalist government, say senior British and Iraqi officials in the area.

The militias appear to be supported by Iranian intelligence or military units that are shipping weapons to the militias in Iraq and providing training for them in Iran.

Some British officials believe the Iranians want to hasten the withdrawal of U.S.-backed coalition forces to pave the way for Iran-friendly clerical rule.

Iranian influence is evident throughout the area. In one government office, an aide approached a Knight Ridder reporter and, mistaking him for an Iranian, said, "Don't be afraid to speak Farsi in Basra. We are a branch of Iran." [complete article]

Iraq backs Iran on nuclear goal
By Nelson Hernandez and Bassam Sebti, Washington Post, May 27, 2006

Iraq's foreign minister said Friday that Iran had the right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful uses but that he hoped for a diplomatic solution to a crisis that has strained Iran's relations with the United States.

"We think there is a principle, which is that the Islamic Republic of Iran and other countries have the right to possess nuclear technology if it is for peaceful purposes," Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi foreign minister, said at a televised news conference in Baghdad with his visiting Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki.

At the same news conference, Mottaki said Iran had changed its stance on holding direct talks with the United States on the Iraq situation. "The American side tried to use this decision as propaganda, and they raised some other issues," he said. "They tried to create a negative atmosphere, and that's why the decision which was taken is suspended for the time being." [complete article]

Iran and Iraq to join to seal border against insurgents
By John F. Burns, New York Times, May 28, 2006

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki of Iran, on the second day of his visit to Iraq, said Saturday that the two countries had agreed to form a joint commission to oversee border issues and that its primary task would be to "block saboteurs" crossing the 700-mile border.

"We plan to form a joint commission between Iran and Iraq to control our borders and block the way to saboteurs whose aim is to destabilize the security of the two countries," he said in Najaf after talks with Iraq's most powerful Shiite religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Mr. Mottaki, whose visit was only the second by an official Iranian government delegation since the downfall of Saddam Hussein, said improved border controls would be part of a wide effort to build close ties between the countries, including $1 billion in Iranian economic assistance to Shiite and Kurdish areas of Iraq. [complete article]
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Bush likens fighting radicals to Cold War
By Deb Riechmann, AP (via WP), March 28, 2006

President Bush, likening the war against Islamic radicals to the Cold War threat of communism, told U.S. Military Academy graduates on Saturday that America's safety depends on an aggressive push for democracy, especially in the Middle East.

The president took a subtle jab at Syria and the nuclear ambitions of Iran, and he chided previous U.S. administrations, saying that decades of excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make the nation safer.

"This is only the beginning," Bush said. "The message has spread from Damascus to Tehran that the future belongs to freedom -- and we will not rest until the promise of liberty reaches every people in every nation." [complete article]

With a few humble words, Bush silences his Texas swagger
By Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times, May 27, 2006

What happened to the Texas swagger?

Maybe it went the way of his poll numbers. Maybe this is a newly reflective President Bush. Or maybe the first lady had her say.

Whatever the case, when Mr. Bush said at a news conference on Thursday night that he regretted some personal mistakes, like declaring "bring 'em on" in 2003, he seemed a little like the chastened husband who finally admitted he had done something wrong. Whether it worked or not depends on whom you ask. [complete article]

Comment -- I'm doubtful about whether Bush will be particularly successful in learning how to express himself in "a little more sophisticated manner," but he should never have been credited as being a plain-speaking president. Folksy language isn't the same thing as plain speaking and only in a culture obsessed with style could the two be confused.

Bush and his handlers have worked hard at sustaining his image as a plain-speaking man. They know perfectly well that his down-to-earth manner plays well in a society that disdains "sophistication." Indeed, embedded in the contrast between sophistication and simplicity is the implication that sophistication is a method of deceit. If Bush concedes he needs a more sophisticated manner, rather than this being a humble admission, it sounds more like saying, "I'm a country boy who needs some of the armor of those cunning city folks." Or, "I'm a simple American who's words get misconstrued by those devious foreigners."

Cunning, however, is something which Bush has never seemed to lack. If he really wants to communicate better, then clarity, substance, subtlety, and insight are what he requires -- none of which have anything to do with sounding sophisticated.

Whether America has a folksy or a sophisticated president matters little if the president can't stop lying.
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Photos indicate civilians slain execution-style
By Tony Perry and Julian E. Barnes, Los Angeles Times, May 27, 2006

Photographs taken by a Marine intelligence team have convinced investigators that a Marine unit killed as many as 24 unarmed Iraqis, some of them "execution-style," in the insurgent stronghold of Haditha after a roadside bomb killed an American in November, officials close to the investigation said Friday.

The pictures are said to show wounds to the upper bodies of the victims, who included several women and six children. Some were shot in the head and some in the back, congressional and defense officials said.

One government official said the pictures showed that infantry Marines from Camp Pendleton "suffered a total breakdown in morality and leadership, with tragic results."

The case may be the most serious incident of alleged war crimes in Iraq by U.S. troops. Marine officers have long been worried that Iraq's deadly insurgency could prompt such a reaction by combat teams. [complete article]

See also, How U.S. marines massacred 24 (The Sunday Times).
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Bringing it all back home
By Scott Anderson, New York Times, May 28, 2006

...recent studies conducted at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research indicate that 19 percent of soldiers who served in Iraq screened positive for a potential mental health disorder, including PTSD, compared with 11 percent for veterans of the war in Afghanistan. National Guard soldiers, one study found, were about 2 percentage points more likely to experience problems. Martin A. Sweeney, a behavioral-health social worker at the V.A. hospital in Butler and a Vietnam veteran, estimates that the rate for National Guardsmen returning from Iraq may ultimately surpass the 30 percent mark seen among Vietnam veterans.

"The way this war is, everyone is free game and there's no back-base," Sweeney explained. "You have to be very aggressive, very vigilant, and you live that way day in and day out for a year, and when you come back here, you can't just turn that off. On top of that, the National Guard guys never really signed up for this. They'll all tell you they were proud to serve, that it was their duty, but the fact is, when they joined up, they thought they'd be dealing with floods and local disasters. They never thought they'd be part of the regular Army and put in the middle of a war zone."

Compounding the problem is that, once home, National Guardsmen are largely left to their own devices. "If you're a regular soldier," Sweeney continued, "you come back to a base that has all kinds of support services available. But if you're National Guard, what do you do? You come into Fort Dix, you spend a week doing demob there, you come back to your armory and -- bingo -- you're back in the community with families that have no idea of what you've gone through. That's where I see the problems coming. When these guys get back here, they're essentially on their own." [complete article]

See also, Date floated for Baghdad security shift (WP).

Comment -- A question that I imagine few people care to ponder this Memorial Day but nevertheless still seems worth asking is this: How long will it be before the war in Iraq spawns another Timothy McVeigh?

Whether or not the experience of serving his country results in a serviceman becoming so embittered that he turns to violence will obviously greatly depend on how he is treated once he returns from the war. Rage so often wells up in those who feel they have been ignored.
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Neocons in the Democratic Party
By Jacob Heilbrunn, Los Angeles Times, May 28, 2006

Don't look now, but neoconservatism is making a comeback -- and not among the Republicans who have made it famous but in the Democratic Party.

A host of pundits and young national security experts associated with the party are calling for a return to the Cold War precepts of President Truman to wage a war against terror that New Republic Editor Peter Beinart, in the title of his provocative new book, calls "The Good Fight."

The fledgling neocons of the left are based at places such as the Progressive Policy Institute, whose president, Will Marshall, has just released a volume of doctrine called "With All Our Might: A Progressive Strategy for Defeating Jihadism and Defending Liberty." Beinart's book is subtitled "Why Liberals -- and Only Liberals -- Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again." Their political champions include Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman and such likely presidential candidates as former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who is chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council.

This new crop of liberal hawks calls for expanding the existing war against terrorism, beefing up the military and promoting democracy around the globe while avoiding the anti-civil liberties excesses of the Bush administration. They support a U.S. government that would seek multilateral consensus before acting abroad, but one that is not scared to use force when necessary. [complete article]
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Fighting in the shadows
By Michael Hirsh and Jeffrey Bartholet, Newsweek, June 5, 2006

Mogadishu is a place most Americans would rather forget. During the 1990s, the "Black Hawk Down" debacle symbolized the dangers of dabbling in far-off lands we don't understand. TV images of a half-stripped GI being dragged through the dust by gleeful Somalis -- he was one of 18 U.S. Army Rangers killed in a botched effort to arrest a warlord -- became an emblem of American vulnerability. But Mogadishu, it seems, won't be forgotten. Somalia is erupting in violence again. And with little warning, Americans find themselves once more in the middle of battles they only dimly comprehend -- and may well be losing.

Last week, for the first time since the early 1990s, much of the Somali capital was engulfed in bloody fire fights. By all accounts, a jihadist militia of the so-called Islamic Courts Union was gaining ground on an alliance of secular warlords who have received U.S. backing. Observers say the Union has been winning adherents by casting its enemies as stooges of Washington, especially since the U.S.-friendly warlords formed a group called the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism last winter. The revived fighting inside Somalia -- a lawless state on the Horn of Africa with no central government -- has raised new questions about America's global war on terror, which is being fought mostly out of the public eye. [complete article]
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Springtime for killing in Afghanistan
By Eric Schmitt, New York Times, May 28, 2006

To most Americans, Afghanistan has been a war of great clarity, the opposite of the war in Iraq with all its troubles and cloudy origins. Attacking in a moment of unified anger, with global allies beside it, the United States had a clear mission: respond to an assault on American soil by driving Al Qaeda fighters from their bases in a country undeniably tied to the terrorism of Sept. 11, 2001.

Victory over the Taliban government was swift, and the aftermath gratifying: Afghans welcomed American troops and aid workers, and seemed to settle into a pattern, however fitful and difficult, that would lead to recovery, stability and increasingly democratic government. And this summer Americans would start drawing down forces in southern Afghanistan, replaced by British, Canadian, Dutch and Australians under NATO command.

Or so Americans thought.

In the last six weeks, a resurgent Taliban has surprised the Americans with the ferocity of its annual spring offensive and set some officials here to worrying that the United States might become tied down in a prolonged battle as control slips away from the central government -- in favor of the movement that harbored Al Qaeda before 2001. And the number of American troops has quietly risen, not fallen. [complete article]
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Iran chief eclipses power of clerics
By Michael Slackman, New York Times, May 28, 2006

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is trying to consolidate power in the office of the presidency in a way never before seen in the 27-year history of the Islamic Republic, apparently with the tacit approval of Iran's supreme leader, according to government officials and political analysts here.

That rare unity of elected and religious leadership at the highest levels offers the United States an opportunity to talk to a government, however combative, that has often spoken with multiple voices. But if Washington, which severed relations with Iran after the 1979 revolution, opened such a dialogue, it could lift the prestige of the Iranian president, who has pushed toward confrontation with the West.

Political analysts and people close to the government here say Mr. Ahmadinejad and his allies are trying to buttress a system of conservative clerical rule that has lost credibility with the public. Their strategy hinges on trying to win concessions from the West on Iran's nuclear program and opening direct, high-level talks with the United States, while easing social restrictions, cracking down on political dissent and building a new political class from outside the clergy. [complete article]
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U.S. is debating talks with Iran on nuclear issue
By Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, May 27, 2006

The Bush administration is beginning to debate whether to set aside a longstanding policy taboo and open direct talks with Iran, to help avert a crisis over Tehran's suspected nuclear weapons program, European officials and Americans close to the administration said Friday.

European officials who have been in contact with the administration in recent weeks said the discussion was heating up, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice worked with European foreign ministers to persuade Iran to suspend its efforts to enrich uranium.

European leaders make no secret of their desire for the United States to join in the talks with Iran, if only to show that the Americans have gone the extra mile to avoid a confrontation that could spiral into a fight over sanctions or even military action. [complete article]
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Dismissal of lawsuits over NSA eavesdropping sought
By David B. Caruso, AP (via WP), May 28, 2006

The Bush administration has asked federal judges in New York and Michigan to dismiss a pair of lawsuits filed over the National Security Agency's domestic eavesdropping program, saying litigating them would jeopardize state secrets.

In papers filed late Friday, Justice Department attorneys said it would be impossible to defend the legality of the spying program without disclosing classified information that could be of value to suspected terrorists.

Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte invoked the state-secrets privilege on behalf of the administration, writing that disclosure of such information would cause "exceptionally grave damage" to national security. [complete article]
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Filings in CIA leak case paint Cheney as determined to counter critic
By R. Jeffrey Smith and Jim VandeHei, Washington Post, May 27, 2006

A string of recent court filings in the CIA leak case provide new details of Vice President Cheney's role at the center of an administration effort to rebut an outspoken critic of the White House's rationale for the Iraq war in the summer of 2003. They include his repeated discussions of the issue with his top aide and his part in a counteroffensive that resulted in the unmasking of a CIA officer.

The court filings -- by Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald, who charged Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, with lying in the CIA leak case -- provide a vivid portrait of the vice president's activity. Cheney repeatedly questioned Libby about the war critic, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV; wrote detailed notes about an op-ed article penned by Wilson; and raised questions about the CIA connections of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame.

Cheney -- who helped devise the White House argument that Iraq had an extensive program to build weapons of mass destruction before the war -- is described in the filings as upset by Wilson's criticism, which the vice president saw as a direct assault on his credibility. [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

In Haditha, memories of a massacre
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, May 27, 2006

A Taliban comeback?
By Ahmed Rashid, YaleGlobal, May 23, 2006

The delusions of global hegemony
Andrew Bacevich interviewed by Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, May 23, 2006

Drifting down the path to perdition
Andrew Bacevich interviewed by Tom Engelhardt (part 2), TomDispatch, May 25, 2006

Interview with Prof. Norman Finkelstein
Electronic Intifada, May 25, 2006

Iran offered 'to make peace with Israel'
By Gareth Porter, Asia Times, May 26, 2006

The Persian complex
By Abbas Amanat, New York Times, May 25, 2006

Right-wing Israel Lobby seizes on Olmert visit
By Jim Lobe, IPS (via, May 25, 2006

Israeli general: Sanctions won't topple Hamas
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, May 24, 2006

The new secrecy doctrine so secret you don't even know about it
By Henry Lanman, Slate, May 22, 2006

Architect of new war on the West
By Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, May 23, 2006

An anti-Bush alliance
Editorial, Boston Globe, May 21, 2006

The storm over the Israel Lobby
By Michael Massing, New York Review of Books, June 8, 2006

Inside Iraq's hidden war
By Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, The Guardian, May 20, 2006
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