|Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives|
The Miami Seven: How serious was the threat?
By Tony Karon, Time, June 23, 2006
The indictment accuses the men of plotting to blow up FBI offices and the Sears tower. They apparently gave the government informant, whom they believed was their Qaeda contact, photographs of FBI and other law enforcement facilities in Florida, indicating that they had done some surveillance. The indictment refers to a desire by the group's leader to attack the Sears tower, and a request for a video camera in order to conduct surveillance mission to that end, although it does not suggest such a mission actually took place. From the indictment it is clear that the men had no shortage of ambition, asking for al-Qaeda training to wage a "full ground war" to "kill all the devils we can." To his end, the group asked the undercover agent for a wish-list of equipment that included boots, uniforms, machine guns, bullet-proof vests, radios and vehicles -- as well as $50,000 in cash. The group's leader also provided the government agent with "a list of shoe sizes for the purchase of military boots for his 'soldiers'." The idea that these seven men could wage a "ground war" in the U.S. seems to have more in common with the fevered thinking behind various deadly cults over the years than with the operations of international terror networks. [complete article]
See also, FBI says 7 terror suspects were mostly talk (LAT).
Comment -- FBI Deputy Director John Pistole says, "I'm confident we have identified every individual who had the intent of posing a threat to the United States." All the indications are that he has every reason to be absolutely confident since without being coaxed by the FBI informant there's no evidence that a plot would ever have been hatched. If the FBI wants to catch a few more "aspirational terrorists", they'd probably be able to find plenty roaming on paintball fields all across America. But the idea that catching people who have dangerous fantasies makes America safer is itself a dangerous fantasy: it fosters the illusion that US counterterrorism has been so successful that they're now down to sweeping up the most unlikely of suspects. Alberto Gonzales might think that now these members of "Seas of David" are in custody we should all be breathing a sigh of relief as another 9/11 has been averted, but frankly, to picture these guys selecting their boot sizes and uniform styles in preparation for a war against America brings to my mind images from the Peter Sellers movie, "The Mouse That Roared." SATURDAY ROUNDUP
IT expert: I worked with 7/7 bombers and warned police
By Ed Vulliamy, The Guardian, June 24, 2006
Cheney defends financial searches
By Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, June 24, 2006
Waiting for Iran's answer
By Tony Karon, Time, June 22, 2006
Fear invades a once-comfortable Iraqi enclave
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, June 24, 2006
Iraqi Muslims put faith in praying alone
By Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, June 24, 2006
General reports spike in Iranian activity in Iraq
By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, June 23, 2006
Iraqi police free some factory workers
By John F. Burns, New York Times, June 22, 2006
For diehards, search for Iraq's WMD isn't over
By Scott Shane, New York Times, June 23, 2006
Democrats criticize claim on Iraqi arms
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, June 23, 2006
World War II and Iraq: polls apart?
By Al Kamen, Washington Post, June 23, 2006
A week of Israeli restraint
By Tanya Reinhart, Electronic Intifada, June 22, 2006
Olmert: Israeli lives worth more than Palestinian ones
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, June 23, 2006
Netanyahu: IDF has operational capability to wipe out all of Gaza
By Amiram Barkat, Haaretz, June 22, 2006
Social isolation growing in U.S., study says
By Shankar Vedantam, Washington Post, June 23, 2006 Peace deal offers Iraq insurgents an amnesty
By Ned Parker and Tom Baldwin, The Times, June 23, 2006
The Iraqi Government will announce a sweeping peace plan as early as Sunday in a last-ditch effort to end the Sunni insurgency that has taken the country to the brink of civil war.
The 28-point package for national reconciliation will offer Iraqi resistance groups inclusion in the political process and an amnesty for their prisoners if they renounce violence and lay down their arms, The Times can reveal.
The Government will promise a finite, UN-approved timeline for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq; a halt to US operations against insurgent strongholds; an end to human rights violations, including those by coalition troops; and compensation for victims of attacks by terrorists or Iraqi and coalition forces.
It will pledge to take action against Shia militias and death squads. It will also offer to review the process of "de-Baathification" and financial compensation for the thousands of Sunnis who were purged from senior jobs in the Armed Forces and Civil Service after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
The deal, which has been seen by The Times, aims to divide Iraqi insurgents from foreign fighters linked to al-Qaeda. It builds on months of secret talks involving Jalal al-Talabani, the Iraqi President, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Ambassador, and seven Sunni insurgent groups. [complete article] 7 held in Miami in terror plot targeting Sears Tower
By Peter Whoriskey and Dan Eggen, Washington Post, June 23, 2006
FBI agents conducted a number of raids and searches Thursday evening, including one in the impoverished Liberty City neighborhood, and seven people were arrested to face terrorism charges in what one law enforcement source called "a homegrown operation" that had among its targets the Sears Tower in Chicago and the FBI office here.
The plotting was in its early stages, law enforcement officials said, and as of 9:15 p.m. no weapons or explosives had been seized from the searched locations.
The suspects were described as supporters of militant Islam but not members of al-Qaeda. At least five are U.S. citizens, one is a legal resident, and the seventh is a foreigner, though not from the Middle East, officials said. [complete article] Bank data sifted in secret by U.S. to block terror
By Eric Lichtblau and James Risen, New York Times, June 23, 2006
Under a secret Bush administration program initiated weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, counterterrorism officials have gained access to financial records from a vast international database and examined banking transactions involving thousands of Americans and others in the United States, according to government and industry officials.
The program is grounded in part on the president's emergency economic powers, Mr. Levey said, and multiple safeguards have been imposed to protect against any unwarranted searches of Americans' records.
The program, however, is a significant departure from typical practice in how the government acquires Americans' financial records. Treasury officials did not seek individual court-approved warrants or subpoenas to examine specific transactions, instead relying on broad administrative subpoenas for millions of records from the cooperative, known as Swift.
That access to large amounts of confidential data was highly unusual, several officials said, and stirred concerns inside the administration about legal and privacy issues.
"The capability here is awesome or, depending on where you're sitting, troubling," said one former senior counterterrorism official who considers the program valuable. While tight controls are in place, the official added, "the potential for abuse is enormous." [complete article] No, don't blow it up
By Charles L. "Jack" Pritchard, Washington Post, June 23, 2006
If you were Kim Jong Il and saw a buildup of American forces on the Korean Peninsula before an announced preemptive airstrike, would you be thinking that it would be only a limited strike and not the start of an effort to bring down your regime?
Before the Iraq invasion, we were concerned that Saddam Hussein would use human shields to prevent U.S. airstrikes on critical facilities. The same holds true for North Korea. Under the Perry plan of prior notification, you can imagine that, rather than evacuating its engineers from the missile test site, Pyongyang might instead erect bleachers and bring in schoolchildren to watch the launch. Worse yet for U.S. security is the prospect that Pyongyang might bide its time and retaliate by transferring weapons-grade plutonium to al-Qaeda, along with a map of New York City.
So we should step back and take a breath, and give our chest-thumping, feel-good opinions a rest. [complete article]
U.S. dismisses call to destroy N. Korea missile
NBC News, June 22, 2006
The nation's missile defense system, which now includes about a dozen interceptor missiles in Alaska and California and on some Navy ships, has suffered multiple test failures since President Bush ordered the Reagan-era program accelerated in early 2001.
Missile defense experts disagree on current U.S. ability to destroy a long-range missile once it is fired. But they seemed in agreement that shooting at it -- and missing -- would be a huge embarrassment.
A better solution, said Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, was for the North Koreans to "give it up and not launch" the missile that the U.S. believes is being fueled and prepared. "We think diplomacy is the right answer and that is what we are pursuing," he said. [complete article]
Comment -- The question remains: which bonehead -- I mean senior administration official -- told The Washington Times' Bill Gertz, "that an option being considered would be to shoot down the Taepodong missile with responding interceptors"? And was this "being considered" more along the lines: Hey, just imagine if the missile defense system really worked and we could actually shoot down the Taepodong! Wouldn't that be cool! That'd show those damn commies! The great divide: How Westerners and Muslims view each other
Pew Global Attitudes Project, June 22, 2006
After a year marked by riots over cartoon portrayals of Muhammad, a major terrorist attack in London, and continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, most Muslims and Westerners are convinced that relations between them are generally bad these days. Many in the West see Muslims as fanatical, violent, and as lacking tolerance. Meanwhile, Muslims in the Middle East and Asia generally see Westerners as selfish, immoral and greedy - as well as violent and fanatical.
A rare point of agreement between Westerners and Muslims is that both believe that Muslim nations should be more economically prosperous than they are today. But they gauge the problem quite differently. Muslim publics have an aggrieved view of the West - they are much more likely than Americans or Western Europeans to blame Western policies for their own lack of prosperity. For their part, Western publics instead point to government corruption, lack of education and Islamic fundamentalism as the biggest obstacles to Muslim prosperity.
Nothing highlights the divide between Muslims and the West more clearly than their responses to the uproar this past winter over cartoon depictions of Muhammad. Most people in Jordan, Egypt, Indonesia and Turkey blame the controversy on Western nations' disrespect for the Islamic religion. In contrast, majorities of Americans and Western Europeans who have heard of the controversy say Muslims' intolerance to different points of view is more to blame. [complete article] Jordan turns its sights on Muslim Brotherhood
Financial Times, June 22, 2006
Jordan has opened a new domestic battlefront with the main Islamic organisation in the country, to add to the many woes that besiege the kingdom, including turmoil in Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
The Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm the Islamic Action Front (IAF) claim the government decided to crack down after the election of the Islamic group Hamas in the occupied Palestinian territories in January and ahead of Jordan’s own polls next year.
Earlier this month, four IAF members of parliament were arrested after visiting the family of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born militant killed in a US air strike in Iraq. Zarqawi, self-styled leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, had claimed responsibility for three hotel bombings that killed 60 people in Amman last November. [complete article]
See also, Jordan: Rise in arrests restricting free speech (Human Rights Watch). Climbdown as Hamas agrees to Israeli state
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, June 22, 2006
Hamas has made a major political climbdown by agreeing to sections of a document that recognise Israel's right to exist and a negotiated two-state solution, according to Palestinian leaders.
In a bitter struggle for power, Hamas is bowing to an ultimatum from the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to endorse the document drawn up by Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails, or face a national referendum on the issue that could see the Islamist group stripped of power if it loses.
But final agreement on the paper, designed to end international sanctions against the Hamas government that have crippled the Palestinian economy, has been slowed by wrangling over a national unity administration and the question of who speaks for the Palestinians. [complete article] Olmert tells Abbas he regrets Gaza civilian deaths
By Dan Williams, Reuters, June 22, 2006
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday he felt "regret" over 14 bystanders killed in recent Israeli air strikes in the Gaza Strip, an Israeli political source said.
But Olmert, in his first, informal face-to-face meeting with Abbas at a conference in Jordan, stopped short of apologising for civilian deaths that have drawn international censure of Israel's response to rocket salvoes from militants in Gaza. [complete article]
Israeli strike kills pregnant Palestinian
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, June 22, 2006
An off-target Israeli airstrike in the central Gaza Strip killed a pregnant woman and her brother Wednesday and wounded at least 15 other civilians, including three children.
Shortly after sunset, an Israeli military aircraft fired on a vehicle in the city of Khan Younis, Palestinian witnesses said.
Israeli military officials said two missiles were fired at the vehicle, which they said was carrying members of the Popular Resistance Committees, one of the armed groups mainly responsible for firing rockets into southern Israel. The officials said one of the missiles struck the road and the second slammed into a house, which Palestinian witnesses said was about 60 feet away.
Palestinian hospital officials identified the dead as Fatima Ahmad el-Barbarawi, 37, who was seven months pregnant, and her brother, Zakariya Ahmad el-Barbarawi, 45, a physician visiting from Saudi Arabia. A 1-year-old child was also critically injured in the blast.
The incident brought to 14 the number of Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli aerial attacks in Gaza over the past eight days and prompted an internal review of the targeting process and equipment being used in the airstrikes. [complete article]
Three Gaza children die in failed IAF strike
By Amos Harel, Avi Issacharoff, Amiram Barkat and Ran Reznick, Haaretz, June 22, 2006
Three Palestinian children were killed yesterday during a failed assassination attempt by the Israel Air Force in Gaza. Two of the children, aged five and six, were brother and sister; the third was a 16-year-old boy.
Two Fatah men who were the target of the strike escaped with light injuries; another 14 Palestinian citizens were injured in the incident. [complete article]
Israel beach probe 'not credible'
BBC News, June 22, 2006
A US-based human rights group has questioned an Israel army report that exonerated troops of killing eight Palestinian civilians on a Gaza beach.
"An investigation that refuses to look at contradictory evidence can hardly be credible," Human Rights Watch said. [complete article]
Analysis: Nothing 'surgical' about air force attacks in urban areas
By Amos Harel, Haaretz, June 22, 2006
The story is beginning to repeat itself, and the frequency is troubling.
For the third time in nine days, Palestinian civilians last night were killed in air force strikes in Gaza. While Israel is busy conducting an internal debate over its role in the deaths of seven civilians at a beach in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip, the air force killed two more civilians Wednesday - innocents or "uninvolved" using the Israel Defense Forces' dry terminology. Time and again, the air force is making complex excuses whose ultimate argument is that "We did not see the civilians," and "They came into the scene at the last moment." [complete article] The power of the Israel Lobby
By Kathleen and Bill Christison, Counterpunch, June 16, 2006
The principal problem with these arguments from the left [Chomsky et al] is that they assume a continuity in U.S. strategy and policymaking over the decades that has never in fact existed. The notion that there is any defined strategy that links Eisenhower's policy to Johnson's to Reagan's to Clinton's gives far more credit than is deserved to the extremely ad hoc, hit-or-miss nature of all U.S. foreign policy. Obviously, some level of imperial interest has dictated policy in every administration since World War II and, obviously, the need to guarantee access to vital natural resources around the world, such as oil in the Middle East and elsewhere, has played a critical role in determining policy. But beyond these evident, and not particularly significant, truths, it can accurately be said, at least with regard to the Middle East, that it has been a rare administration that has itself ever had a coherent, clearly defined, and consistent foreign policy and that, except for a broadly defined anti-communism during the Cold War, no administration's strategy has ever carried over in detail to succeeding administrations.
The ad hoc nature of virtually every administration's policy planning process cannot be overemphasized. Aside from the strong but amorphous political need felt in both major U.S. parties and nurtured by the Israel lobby that "supporting Israel" was vital to each party's own future, the inconsistent, even short-term randomness in the detailed Middle East policymaking of successive administrations has been remarkable. This lack of clear strategic thinking at the very top levels of several new administrations before they entered office enhanced the power of individuals and groups that did have clear goals and plans already in hand such as, for instance, the pro-Israeli Dennis Ross in both the first Bush and the Clinton administrations, and the strongly pro-Israeli neo-cons in the current Bush administration. [complete article]
Is it good for the Jews?
By Daniel Levy, The American Prospect, July 5, 2006
Ten years ago, J.J. Goldberg, now the editor of the Forward, made the most valiant and serious effort to date to understand this phenomenon in his Jewish Power: Inside the American Jewish Establishment. The book is a warm and sympathetic insider's account, brilliant in its detail and piercing in its analysis. Goldberg claims that a set of factors had emerged by the mid-1970s that were to transform organized American Jewry and its political role, developments whose consequences fully came to fruition two decades later as the late Yitzhak Rabin pushed for peace (and as Goldberg wrote his book). He traces the stratospheric rise of Jewish institutional empowerment and politicization to three ingredients: Israel's Six Day War military victory and the Jewish nationalist passions it stirred just as the U.S.-Israel Cold War alliance was being cemented; the mass campaign for Soviet Jewry and its lynchpin role in U.S.-Soviet relations; and the belated rise of Holocaust awareness (and guilt) in popular culture and its attendant "never again" maxim. The interaction among these commands -- defend Israel, save Soviet Jews, and remember the Holocaust -- created the "counterrevolution" of the "new Jews," a passionate minority of defensive nationalists driven by a terrible vision amid an overwhelming majority of still optimistic Jewish liberals. "Their defiance was so strident, and their anger so intense, that the rest of the Jewish community respectfully stood back and let the New Jews take the lead. The minority was permitted to speak for the mass and became the dominant voice of Jewish politics," Goldberg writes. [complete article] Karzai calls for War on Terror rethink
By Sam Knight, The Times, June 22, 2006
President Karzai of Afghanistan has demanded a rethink of the War on Terror, saying that his country cannot withstand the recent surge in violence, which has killed around 600 people since the beginning of May.
Speaking after the death of four American soldiers and the appearance of a video message from Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden's deputy, calling for Afghans to make a stand against foreign forces, a frustrated Mr Karzai acknowledged the weakness of his Government.
More than 1,000 people, including at least 40 foreign soldiers, have been killed in Afghanistan since the turn of the year during the worst period of sustained unrest since the fall of the Taleban in November 2001. The violence is expected to worsen this summer as Nato prepares to take over the military mission to the country.
"We know the causes," said Mr Karzai of the deteriorating security situation. "There are shortcomings and inabilities in our system, that weakness is present all over the country. But there is no doubt it is largely because of foreign factors, terrorism and planned and co-ordinated attacks." [complete article] Attempt to steer the news backfires in Afghanistan
By Pamela Constable, Washington Post, June 22, 2006
An unofficial attempt by Afghanistan's national intelligence service to quash sensational and negative coverage by the Afghan news media appears to have backfired badly this week, provoking both outrage and ridicule among journalists and opinion makers, and swift repudiation by the office of President Hamid Karzai.
But Afghan and foreign observers said the incident could still have a chilling effect on local news reporting about such crucial issues as terrorist attacks and official corruption, at a time of intensifying insurgent violence and public disillusionment with the Western-backed government. [complete article] Author Suskind alleges Afghan bombing of Al-Jazeera was deliberate
Committee to Protect Journalists, June 21, 2006
The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply troubled by allegations contained in author Ron Suskind's new book, The One Percent Doctrine, that U.S. forces deliberately targeted Al-Jazeera’s Kabul bureau in November 2001.
"On November 13, a hectic day when Kabul fell to the Northern Alliance and there were celebrations in the streets of the city, a U.S. missile obliterated Al-Jazeera's office," Suskind wrote in the book, which was released yesterday. "Inside the CIA and White House there was satisfaction that a message had been sent to Al-Jazeera."
Questioned yesterday by CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, Suskind said: "My sources are clear that that was done on purpose, precisely to send a message to Al-Jazeera, and essentially a message was sent. ...There was great anger at Al-Jazeera at this point." Suskind said U.S. officials considered Al-Jazeera a mouthpiece for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. [complete article] Al Qaeda's Hydra head in Iraq
By Fawaz A. Gerges, Christian Science Monitor, June 22, 2006
...Zarqawi built an indigenous Iraqi base that will survive him.
"The Americans have blown up the importance of Zarqawi," a dissident Shiite Iraqi leader told me while visiting Beirut this week. "They will soon discover that the resistance is viable, and that the removal of Zarqawi will strengthen, not weaken, it," this man, who knows the resistance from the inside, explained over lunch at a Lebanese cafe in downtown Beirut.
"Why so?" I asked.
"Over 90 percent of fighters are Iraqi nationalist and Islamist patriots, as opposed to Al Qaeda's foreign mercenaries, who target the occupiers and local collaborators," he stressed. "Iraqis must be allowed to determine their own political future without foreign intervention - be it American, Iranian, or Al Qaeda's suicide squads. The Americans must withdraw the bulk of their military forces from Iraq - the sooner the better."
"Are you not worried about your country sinking into full sectarian strife?"
"No," he retorted. "Iraqis will rise to the challenge. It is our country; it is our future." [complete article]
Comment -- As Republicans ramp up their fight-them-over-there-instead-of-here rhetoric over the coming months, it's worth remembering that the flypaper theory probably has as much appeal to al Qaeda as it has in the Pentagon. The difference of course is that from the jihadists' vantage point, Iraq is the flypaper on which Americans have become fatally stuck. GOP decides to embrace war as issue
By Jim Rutenberg and Adam Nagourney, New York Times, June 22, 2006
Just a few weeks ago, some Republicans were openly fretting about the war in Iraq and its effect on their re-election prospects, with particularly vulnerable lawmakers worried that its growing unpopularity was becoming a drag on their campaigns.
But there was little sign of such nervousness on Wednesday as Republican after Republican took to the Senate floor to offer an unambiguous embrace of the Iraq war and to portray Democrats as advocates of an overly hasty withdrawal that would have grave consequences for the security of the United States. Like their counterparts in the House last week, they accused Democrats of espousing "retreat and defeatism."
That emerging Republican approach reflects, at least for now, the success of a White House effort to bring a skittish party behind Mr. Bush on the war after months of political ambivalence in some vocal quarters. As President Bush offered another defense of his Iraq policy during a visit to Vienna on Wednesday, Republicans acknowledged that it was a strategy of necessity, an effort to turn what some party leaders had feared could become the party's greatest liability into an advantage in the midterm elections. [complete article] The price is wrong
By Matthew Yglesias, The American Prospect, July 5, 2006
On September 11, 2001, the United States was hit by devastating terrorist attacks perpetrated by a transnational terrorist network. Less than a year later, it was apparent that the Bush administration wanted to invade Iraq, allegedly as part of the response. Famously, selling this agenda involved a highly deceptive effort to link the two issues. Iraq was said to have an advanced nuclear weapons program and to be likely to provide the fruits of its research to al-Qaeda.
All this we know. Less well remembered nowadays, though -- in fact, almost never discussed in the major media -- was another implicit prong of the argument: that invading Iraq would be cheap and easy, leaving plenty of resources for other purposes. When White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey stumbled off message in September 2002 with his prediction that war could cost $100 billion to $200 billion, the administration flew into crisis mode. Budget Director Mitch Daniels was trotted out to label the estimate "very, very high." Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz opined -- in testimony to Congress, no less -- that reconstruction would cost virtually nothing in light of Iraq's promising oil revenues. Daniels proffered an estimate in the $50 billion to $60 billion range, substantially less than the $80 billion inflation-adjusted cost of the Persian Gulf War. Lindsey, famously, was soon after fired -- for his troublesome cost estimates and, reportedly, the President’s annoyance at his poor personal fitness habits. [complete article] Why many of Iraq's elite don't flee
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, June 22, 2006
Masked gunmen in security-force uniforms dragged one of Saddam Hussein's top defense lawyers from his Baghdad home and killed him Wednesday. Khamees al-Ubaidi is now the third defense attorney of the Iraqi High Tribunal to be murdered.
Despite the dangers, Mr. Ubaidi stayed here, instead of shuttling to safer neighboring countries as many top lawyers did, even though he expressed doubt that a fair trial was possible in the midst of chronic insecurity.
"I leave it in God's hands," Ubaidi told the Monitor last October. "My job requires me to defend any accused man, and I couldn't accept backing down now."
Ubaidi was one of a shrinking number of Iraqi professionals who chose to remain in their violent homeland. Many others who have stayed say they do it out of a sense of duty to a nation that needs their experience and expertise now more than ever. Others have family obligations that prevented them from joining the exodus.
But all face a daily diet of fear and intimidation, threats and even attempts on their life - dangers that cause family members living safely abroad to call them "crazy." [complete article] Bush responds angrily to criticism by Europeans
By James Gerstenzang and Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, June 22, 2006
President Bush responded angrily Wednesday to Europe's differing views over the war in Iraq and the U.S. treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, even as he won renewed expressions of unity from the European Union on nuclear nonproliferation.
European leaders at a U.S.-EU summit here reaffirmed the need to halt Iran's uranium enrichment program and to contain North Korea's arms program.
With surveys showing a growing animosity in Europe toward the United States amid fears that its anti-terrorism policies and the Iraq war are endangering global stability, the president lashed out during a news conference, raising his voice and several times using the word "absurd" to describe the criticism. [complete article] Cheney's faulty reasoning
By Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, Boston Globe, June 22, 2006
Give Dick Cheney credit. The man doesn't give up on arguments easily -- even when the evidence has made them unsupportable and even offensive.
Cheney continued suggesting that Iraq was behind the 9/11 attacks long after the rest of the Bush administration gave that up. Last week, he did something similar, reiterating in an interview his certainty that the war in Iraq is "in part responsible for the fact that we haven't been hit again in nearly five years. That's no accident. The fact is, we've taken the battle to the enemy. That's been the key to the safety and security of the American people these last few years, and we need to continue to do it."
This is not just post-Zarqawi giddiness: Cheney has an eye on public opinion and knows that this myth has legs. As pollster Celinda Lake pointed out in the Washington Post last week, voters respond positively to the claim "We'll either fight terrorists there or we'll fight them here." This is likely to be a central part of the Republican defense of the war in mid-term electioneering. [complete article] U.S. says missile-defense system limited
By Terence Hunt, AP (via Yahoo), June 22, 2006
The United States said Thursday that a U.S. missile-defense system under development has "limited operational capability" to protect against weapons such as the long-range missile North Korea is said to be near firing.
National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley underscored U.S. calls for North Korea to abandon any plans for testing the missile believed capable of reaching U.S. soil.
"We're watching it very carefully and preparations are very far along," Hadley said when asked about South Korea's assessment that a launch was not imminent. [complete article]
Comment -- When Hadley describes the U.S. missile defense system as "basically a research, development, training, test kind of system," you have to wonder what another senior Bush administration official was thinking when he told The Washington Times that an option being considered would be to shoot down the Taepodong missile with responding interceptors." Just a case of wishful thinking or a dumb bluff? Either way, Hadley seems to be damping expectations about either an intercontinental duel or a pre-emptive strike. Report: Hundreds of WMDs found in Iraq
Fox News, June 22, 2006
The United States has found 500 chemical weapons in Iraq since 2003, and more weapons of mass destruction are likely to be uncovered, two Republican lawmakers said Wednesday.
"We have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, chemical weapons," Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said in a quickly called press conference late Wednesday afternoon. [complete article]
Comment -- Sen. Rick Santorum -- and Fox News -- are trading on the knowledge that much of their audience don't bother digging beneath the headlines. Those who do bother will read -- once they've got all the way down to paragraph ten:
Offering the official administration response to FOX News, a senior Defense Department official pointed out that the chemical weapons were not in useable conditions.Mind games
By Daniel Schulman, Columbia Journalism Review, May/June, 2006
Throughout the summer of 2003, [retired Air Force colonel and Defense Department consultant, Sam] Gardiner documented incidents that he saw as information-warfare campaigns directed both at targeted foreign populations and the American public. By the fall, he had collected his analysis into a lengthy treatise, called "Truth from These Podia," [PDF] which concluded that "the war was handled like a political campaign," in which the emphasis was not on the truth but on the message.
As his paper circulated among government and military officials that fall, Gardiner says he received a call at home one night from a spokesman for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He told Gardiner that his conclusions were on target. "But I want you to know," the spokesman added, "that it was civilians who did this."
The weaponization of information is not original to the war in Iraq, nor is it unique to any military engagement during what has come to be known as the information age. Journalists have always encountered wartime spin, they have been the targets of propaganda and selective leaks, and, on occasion, have been used for purposes of deception (which has resulted, in certain cases, in saving the lives of American soldiers). In The Art of War, which remains an influential text among military strategists though it was written during the sixth century B.C., the Chinese general Sun Tzu writes: "All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe that we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near."
In Iraq then, and indeed in the broader war on terror, it is not the use of information as a weapon that is new, but rather the scale of the strategy and the nature of the targets. Increasingly, the information environment has become the battlefield in a war that knows no boundaries, its offensives directed not just at the insurgents in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan, or at regimes that take an adversarial posture to U.S. policy, but at the world at large. Technological advances, meanwhile, have made access to information instantaneous and ubiquitous, erasing longstanding barriers, legal and otherwise, that in the past have protected the American public and press from collateral damage in propaganda campaigns. [complete article] Former defense officials urge U.S. strike on North Korean missile site
By Glenn Kessler and Anthony Faiola, Washington Post, June 22, 2006
Former defense secretary William J. Perry has called on President Bush to launch a preemptive strike against the long-range ballistic missile that U.S. intelligence analysts say North Korea is preparing to launch.
In an opinion article that appears in today's Washington Post, Perry and former assistant defense secretary Ashton B. Carter argue that if North Korea continues launch preparations, Bush should immediately declare that the United States will destroy the missile before it can be fired. [complete article]
See also, North Korea talks nixed (AP).
Comment -- Perry and Carter write that, "The United States should emphasize that the strike, if mounted, would not be an attack on the entire country, or even its military, but only on the missile that North Korea pledged not to launch -- one designed to carry nuclear weapons. We should sharply warn North Korea against further escalation." If the U.S. perceives the Taepodong missile as a military threat, how can the attack that is being advocated not be described and perceived as an attack on North Korea's military?
As for the risks of retaliation, Perry and Carter focus exclusively on the dangers that South Korea might face. In response to the humiliation of an American attack, Kim Jong Il is more likely to have two different words in his mind: asymmetric warfare.
If the prospect of Iran's president Ahmadinejad possessing nuclear weapons is "unthinkable", Kim Jong Il -- a man with no better reputation for being level-headed -- already possesses them. And if he currently prizes them on the assumption that they deter American aggression, the day the U.S. strikes he is likely to turn his thoughts to alternative ways of employing his nuclear powers.
As for domestic lessons here, the recklessness of these two former Clinton administration officials should alert Americans to the fact that getting Democrats back in the White House offers no guarantee of bringing sanity into U.S. foreign policy. For N. Korean missile, U.S. defense is hit or miss
By Peter Spiegel, Los Angeles Times, June 22, 2006
The Bush administration has spent nearly $43 billion over the last five years on missile defense systems, but with North Korea poised to launch its most advanced missile yet, U.S. government assessments and investigative reports indicate little confidence in the centerpiece portion of the program.
Eleven ground-based interceptors in Alaska and at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Central California, the cornerstone of the administration's new system, have not undergone a successful test in nearly four years and have been beset by glitches that investigators blame, at least in part, on President Bush's order in 2002 to make the program operational even before it had been fully tested.
In all, the interceptors hit dummy missiles in five out of 10 tests, but these were under controlled conditions that critics say do not reflect the challenges of an actual missile launch.
A little-noticed study by the Government Accountability Office issued in March found that program officials were so concerned with potential flaws in the first nine interceptors now in operation that they considered taking them out of their silos and returning them to the manufacturer for "disassembly and remanufacture." [complete article] 'End times' religious groups want apocalypse soon
By Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times, June 22, 2006
For thousands of years, prophets have predicted the end of the world. Today, various religious groups, using the latest technology, are trying to hasten it.
Their endgame is to speed the promised arrival of a messiah.
For some Christians this means laying the groundwork for Armageddon.
With that goal in mind, mega-church pastors recently met in Inglewood to polish strategies for using global communications and aircraft to transport missionaries to fulfill the Great Commission: to make every person on Earth aware of Jesus' message. Doing so, they believe, will bring about the end, perhaps within two decades. [complete article] Fears of massacre over abduction of 100 workers in Iraq
By Philippe Naughton, The Times, June 21, 2006
Gunmen abducted around 100 Iraqi factory workers today as they were being ferried home from work in a fleet of buses just north of Baghdad.
The abduction, prompting fears of another horrific sectarian massacre, came on a brutal day in Iraq in which a senior member of Saddam Hussein's defence team was murdered after men in police uniforms grabbed him from his home.
Officials said that five busloads of employees from an industrial area at Taji, 20 miles north of Baghdad, were commandeered by dozens of gunmen in at least five minibuses. One source put the number abducted at over 100. [complete article] 8 U.S. troops charged with murder
By Jamie McIntyre, CNN, June 21, 2006
Seven U.S. Marines and a Navy medical corpsman have been charged with murder in the April killing of an Iraqi civilian near the town of Hamdaniya, Col. Stewart Navarre said Wednesday at Camp Pendleton, California.
They also face charges of larceny, conspiracy, assault, unlawfully entering a dwelling, kidnapping and obstruction of justice. Navarre declined to list specific counts against each man.
The charges were filed Wednesday morning, and each man has retained civilian counsel, Navarre said. Key members of Congress were briefed Wednesday on the specifics of the charges, he said. [complete article] The facade of Shi'ite unity crumbling
By Sami Moubayed, Asia Times, June 22, 2006
The violent demonstrations in Basra, Iraq's second city, last week, which led to the destruction of the newly opened Iranian consulate, surprisingly received no more than a passing mention in the Arab and Western press.
The incident could be seen as a chilling reminder of the 1979 storming of the US Embassy in Tehran during the Islamic revolution, with the Iranians getting a dose of their own medicine.
The demonstrations were led by Shi'ite followers of anti-Iranian Ayatollah Mahmud al-Hasani, making the event particularly strange since everybody has the perception that the Shi'ites - all Shi'ites - are loyal to Iran. [complete article] The future of the insurgency
Foreign Policy, June 19, 2006
Before the U.S. military killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq was the face of the insurgency. Yet his group was probably responsible for only 5–10 percent of the insurgent attacks. What about the other 90 percent? Foreign Policy takes a look at the other major insurgent groups in Iraq -- who they are, what they are trying to accomplish, and which ones are more likely to negotiate than fight to the death. [complete article] U.S. investigates GIs' 'barbaric' slayings in Iraq
By Solomon Moore, Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2006
As the mutilated bodies of two American soldiers were flown to the United States in flag-draped coffins Tuesday night, the U.S. military launched a top-level investigation to determine why their vehicle had been alone outside a fortified Army camp when they were abducted.
An Al Qaeda-affiliated group took responsibility for killing the servicemen, whose corpses were found southwest of Baghdad near an electrical plant in Yousifiya, where they had disappeared Friday night.
Iraqi and U.S. military officials said the bodies showed signs of torture. "They were killed in a barbaric way," said Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abdul Aziz Mohammed Jassim of the Defense Ministry. [complete article]
See also, Relatives describe young men determined to serve country (NYT). Pentagon picks troops for Iraq, maintaining current contingent
By Thom Shanker, New York Times, June 21, 2006
The Pentagon announced Tuesday that it planned to send 21,000 troops to Iraq in the next rotation of forces. That would keep the American presence at current levels into next year, unless the security situation improved.
Senior military officials said that the announcement of units to be deployed between August and January could change, depending on conditions in Iraq, and that so-called off ramps for the troops bound for Iraq were still under discussion.
Bryan G. Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said after the announcement, "One should not read into this a decision" about long-term troop levels in Iraq.
But at a minimum, the announcement represents a decision that for planning purposes at least, American troops in Iraq would be replaced on a one-for-one basis for now. [complete article]
On Iraq, Kerry again leaves Democrats fuming
By Kate Zernike, New York Times, June 21, 2006
When Senator John Kerry was their presidential nominee in 2004, Democrats fervently wished he would express himself firmly about the Iraq war.
Mr. Kerry has found his resolve. But it has not made his fellow Democrats any happier. They fear the latest evolution of Mr. Kerry's views on Iraq may now complicate their hopes of taking back a majority in Congress in 2006. [complete article]
Democrats divided on withdrawal of troops
By Charles Babington, Washington Post, June 21, 2006
While congressional Republicans continued to show almost unanimous support for President Bush's handling of the Iraq war, Democrats struggled for consensus yesterday, reflecting what some of them called the public's mixed feelings about the three-year-old conflict.
After a sometimes heated closed-door meeting, Senate Democrats postponed action on two proposals related to drawdowns of U.S. troops in Iraq. One would direct Bush to bring nearly all the troops home within 13 months. The other would urge him to begin an unspecified withdrawal by the end of this year.
Debate and votes on the two measures are likely to be held today and tomorrow, with Senate Republicans happy to clear the way for Democrats to showcase their divisions. Senators predicted that few, if any, Republicans will embrace the Democrats' proposals, mirroring the nearly unanimous support House Republicans displayed last week for Bush's policies. [complete article]
See also, Why Hillary? (Robert Scheer). Iran war 'could triple oil price'
BBC News, June 21, 2006
World oil prices could triple if the West's stand-off over Iran's nuclear programme escalates into conflict, the Saudi Arabian government has warned.
The Saudi ambassador to the US, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, said such an event could send prices spiralling from their current level of about $70 per barrel. [complete article]
Iran won't respond to offer until August
AP (via Yahoo), June 21, 2006
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Wednesday that Iran will respond in mid-August to the package of incentives on its nuclear program offered by the West, but President Bush accused Tehran of dragging its feet.
"We are studying the proposals. Hopefully, we will present our views about the package by mid-August," Ahmadinejad told a crowd in western Iran in a speech broadcast live on state television.
Speaking at an annual U.S.-European Union summit in Vienna, Austria, Bush said that the mid-August timetable "seems like an awfully long time" to wait for an answer. [complete article]
Persian populist wins Arab embrace
By Dan Morrison, Christian Science Monitor, June 21, 2006
In the coming weeks, the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan, is scheduled to fly from Dubai to Tehran, another Arab diplomat seeking to deter Iran's nuclear program.
But on the streets of many Arab states, no deterrence is necessary. In many cafes and barbershops, a nuclear Iran doesn't sound so bad. Neither is the impression that someone is finally standing up to America and Israel.
That someone is President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has deftly turned the issue of Iran's nuclear aspirations against his accusers in the West and won himself a large Arab fan base along the way.
"He is a brave man," says Magdi Radwan, a Cairo teacher, as he watched TV in a downtown coffee house. "He's not afraid of Israel. He's not afraid of the Americans. He's not afraid of anyone."
Plainspoken, aggressive, and backed by vast oil and gas reserves, Mr. Ahmadinejad has inspired and entertained a ready audience of Arabs uninspired by their own leaders - leaders who tend to view the Iranian president with suspicion. [complete article]
Iran's gray area on nuclear arms
By Karl Vick, Washington Post, June 21, 2006
Iranian officials often assert the peaceful intent of their nuclear program by insisting that the religious law that governs their country expressly prohibits weapons of mass destruction.
A Turkish diplomat, describing a visit in May by the chief Iranian nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said that Larijani made the religious roots of the proscription clear. "I was in the meeting," said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "He said there is even a fatwa , a religious ruling, since the time of Khomeini, that Iran will not produce any nuclear weapons."
Yet interviews with a range of clerics and other students of Islamic teachings indicate that while Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini indeed barred Iranian forces from unconventional weapons during the 1980-88 war with Iraq, the religious underpinning for such a ban is regarded as less than absolute, with ample justification available in scriptures for almost any course except first use. [complete article] U.S. effort to rehab image falls short
By Howard LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor, June 21, 2006
In Europe for two days, President Bush will lay out a full agenda on Iran, aid to Iraq, and farm subsidies in world trade. But he'll also confront a European public that has such a poor view of America that in some countries, the United States is seen as the biggest threat to global stability today - surpassing Iran.
Views like this have figured in Helle Maasbol's family. For the three years she has lived in the US, she's not been able to entice her mom back home in Denmark to pay a visit.
"Her image of the States was going downhill for a while, but it was the war in Iraq that was the real blow," says the wife of a World Bank economist and mother of two girls - all of whom are now moving back to Europe. "I told her often about the wonderful people we've met in America, but she said she wouldn't come as long as the president was George Bush." [complete article]
Bush's unpopularity in Europe hangs over summit
By Michael Abramowitz, Washington Post, June 21, 2006
Diplomats and experts on Europe say public opinion is a significant drag on Bush's ability to expect much from political leaders here -- for instance, for his renewed effort to secure international assistance for the new Iraqi government. While countries such as Poland and Britain have contributed substantially to security in Iraq, the European Union as a bloc has done relatively little, officials say, pledging the equivalent of about $250 million in assistance in 2006.
"The scars of Iraq are still very real and run real deep," said Ronald D. Asmus, executive director of the German Marshall Fund's Brussels office. While political leaders may agree that success in Iraq is important, he said, the European public believes "that Americans screwed it up and need to clean up the mess." [complete article]
Guantanamo clouds E.U.-U.S. meeting
BBC News, June 21, 2006
US President George W Bush is holding talks with EU leaders at a summit which may be overshadowed by calls for the closure of Guantanamo Bay prison camp.
Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, who is hosting the meeting in Vienna, has made it clear he will press Mr Bush to shut down the Cuba detention centre. [complete article] North Korea seeks talks to ease missile tensions
By Jon Herskovitz, Reuters, June 21, 2006
North Korea wants talks with Washington over its apparent preparations for a missile test, Yonhap news agency said on Wednesday as a famed South Korean peace broker scrapped a Pyongyang visit due to regional tension.
Yonhap quoted Han Song-ryol, North Korea's deputy chief of mission at the United Nations in New York, as saying that Pyongyang had a right to develop and test missiles but it would like to ease the situation through dialogue. [complete article]
North Korea's missile ploy: no good options
By Tony Karon, Time, June 20, 2006
To say that the Bush Administration is exasperated by North Korea's provocations is an understatement. After all, the only thing worse than watching a charter member of President Bush's "Axis of Evil" thumb its nose at the international community, is not having an effective means to respond. And despite all the tough talk emanating out of Washington, the U.S. has few good options for responding to the latest bit of saber-rattling from the hermit Stalinist regime in Pyongyang, this time involving an all-too-real saber: A Taepodong 2 long-range missile, capable of hitting Alaska and Japan, which North Korea appears to be shaping up to test-fire.
Such a test would end a moratorium on missile testing the North Korea adopted in 1998 to create confidence in six party talks over its nuclear program. But with those talks stalled since last November over widely differing interpretations between Washington and Pyongyang over what had been agreed, North Korea appears inclined to reclaim the spotlight from Iran by reminding the international community that left untended, it can cause plenty of trouble. [complete article]
North Korea disavows its moratorium on testing of long-range missiles
By Helene Cooper and Michael R. Gordon, New York Times, June 21, 2006
North Korea said Tuesday that it was not bound by its own moratorium on long-range missile tests, as tension over the country's missile intentions continued to mount.
In Washington, a senior State Department official challenged the interpretation, saying the United States expected the North Korean government to abide by its commitments.
An official of that government's Foreign Ministry told Japanese reporters that a missile test would not be "bound by any statement such as the Pyongyang declaration," the Japanese news agency Kyodo reported. The agency quoted the official, Ri Pyong Dok, as saying: "This issue concerns our autonomy. Nobody has a right to slander that right." [complete article]
North Korea's non-threat
By William M. Arkin, Washington Post, June 20, 2006
North Korea, which can barely feed its own people and is not, shall we say, known for its technological prowess, may have succeeded in sinking all of its national treasure into developing a third rate missile. But so what?
North Korea has conducted all of two live long-range missile tests since 1993. In August 1998, when North Korea launched its Taepo Dong 1 missile over Japan, the U.S. and other nations protested and Cold War alarm bells were sounded. But the missile ended up being an unsuccessful attempt to indeed place a North Korean satellite in orbit. The whole thing was a failure after the small third stage failed and the satellite, such as it was, was destroyed. [complete article] Foreign intervention in Somalia?
By Rob Crilly, Christian Science Monitor, June 21, 2006
The rapid rise of Somalia's Islamist militias has prompted a flurry of diplomatic efforts to stabilize the troubled country in the Horn of Africa.
Earlier this week, the African Union and Western diplomats decided to send officials to Somalia to assess the possibility of deploying a peacekeeping force to a country ripped apart by 15 years of anarchy. That has the backing of President Abdullahi Yusuf, head of Somalia's virtually impotent transitional government, who flew to Ethiopia Tuesday to demand speedy intervention.
Regional powers support intervention out of fear of an Islamic state on their doorsteps, while Western governments are worried the country could become a haven for terrorists. [complete article] The shadow war, in a surprising new light
By Barton Gellman, Washington Post, June 20, 2006
This is an important book, filled with the surest sign of great reporting: the unexpected. It enriches our understanding of even familiar episodes from the Bush administration's war on terror and tells some jaw-dropping stories we haven't heard before.
One example out of many comes in Ron Suskind's gripping narrative of what the White House has celebrated as one of the war's major victories: the capture of Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan in March 2002. Described as al-Qaeda's chief of operations even after U.S. and Pakistani forces kicked down his door in Faisalabad, the Saudi-born jihadist was the first al-Qaeda detainee to be shipped to a secret prison abroad. Suskind shatters the official story line here.
Abu Zubaydah, his captors discovered, turned out to be mentally ill and nothing like the pivotal figure they supposed him to be. CIA and FBI analysts, poring over a diary he kept for more than a decade, found entries "in the voice of three people: Hani 1, Hani 2, and Hani 3" -- a boy, a young man and a middle-aged alter ego. All three recorded in numbing detail "what people ate, or wore, or trifling things they said." Dan Coleman, then the FBI's top al-Qaeda analyst, told a senior bureau official, "This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality."
Abu Zubaydah also appeared to know nothing about terrorist operations; rather, he was al-Qaeda's go-to guy for minor logistics -- travel for wives and children and the like. That judgment was "echoed at the top of CIA and was, of course, briefed to the President and Vice President," Suskind writes. And yet somehow, in a speech delivered two weeks later, President Bush portrayed Abu Zubaydah as "one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States." And over the months to come, under White House and Justice Department direction, the CIA would make him its first test subject for harsh interrogation techniques.
Suskind's portrait of Tenet, respectful but far from adulatory, depicts a man compromised by "insecurity and gratitude" to a president who chose not to fire him after 9/11. "At that point, George Tenet would do anything his President asked," Suskind writes.
Which brings us back to the unbalanced Abu Zubaydah. "I said he was important," Bush reportedly told Tenet at one of their daily meetings. "You're not going to let me lose face on this, are you?" "No sir, Mr. President," Tenet replied. Bush "was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth," Suskind writes, and he asked one briefer, "Do some of these harsh methods really work?" Interrogators did their best to find out, Suskind reports. They strapped Abu Zubaydah to a water-board, which reproduces the agony of drowning. They threatened him with certain death. They withheld medication. They bombarded him with deafening noise and harsh lights, depriving him of sleep. Under that duress, he began to speak of plots of every variety -- against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty. With each new tale, "thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each ... target." And so, Suskind writes, "the United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered." [complete article]
Personality, ideology and Bush's terror wars
By Michiko Kakutani, New York Times, June 20, 2006
The title of Ron Suskind's riveting new book, "The One Percent Doctrine," refers to an operating principle that he says Vice President Dick Cheney articulated shortly after 9/11: in Mr. Suskind's words, "if there was even a 1 percent chance of terrorists getting a weapon of mass destruction -- and there has been a small probability of such an occurrence for some time -- the United States must now act as if it were a certainty." He quotes Mr. Cheney saying that it's not about "our analysis," it's about "our response," and argues that this conviction effectively sidelines the traditional policymaking process of analysis and debate, making suspicion, not evidence, the new threshold for action.
Mr. Suskind's book -- which appears to have been written with wide access to the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, George Tenet, as well as to other C.I.A. officials and a host of sources at the F.B.I., and in the State, Defense and Treasury Departments -- is sure to be as talked about as his "Price of Loyalty" (2004) and the former counterterrorism czar Richard A. Clarke's "Against All Enemies" (2004). [complete article]
See also, Cheney stands by his 'last throes' remark (WP). The dark side
Frontline, PBS, 9PM, June 20, 2006
On September 11, 2001, deep inside a White House bunker, Vice President Dick Cheney was ordering U.S. fighter planes to shoot down any commercial airliner still in the air above America. At that moment, CIA Director George Tenet was meeting with his counter-terrorism team in Langley, Virginia. Both leaders acted fast, to prepare their country for a new kind of war. But soon a debate would grow over the goals of the war on terror, and the decision to go to war in Iraq. Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and others saw Iraq as an important part of a broader plan to remake the Middle East and project American power worldwide. Meanwhile Tenet, facing division in his own organization, saw non-state actors such as Al Qaeda as the highest priority. FRONTLINE's investigation of the ensuing conflict includes more than forty interviews, thousands of pages of documentary evidence, and a substantial photographic archive. It is the third documentary about the war on terror from the team that produced Rumsfeld's War and The Torture Question. [complete article] U.S. pressures North Korea over missile
By Peter Spiegel and Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, June 20, 2006
The Bush administration moved to ratchet up diplomatic pressure on North Korea on Monday, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warning that a launch of a ballistic missile would be a "provocative act" that would signal Pyongyang's rejection of international efforts to reach a compromise on its nuclear weapons program.
The prospect of a long-range missile in the hands of one of the world's most stridently anti-American regimes spread alarm in Washington. A missile test at this time would also be an embarrassing setback to the Bush administration's efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation in Iran and elsewhere.
President Bush participated in overseas phone calls made by administration officials, and U.S. military officials pointed to their missile defense capabilities without indicating whether there were plans to use them. In Tokyo, officials said Japan would respond "severely," and South Korean officials early today also delivered a stern warning.
The missile is thought to have a range that could reach U.S. territories in the Pacific such as Guam and possibly parts of Alaska or Hawaii. Analysts believe it is considerably more sophisticated than the Taepodong 1 that North Korea shot into the Pacific Ocean in 1998 before signing a missile-testing moratorium. [complete article]
Comment -- The Washington Times reports that the U.S. missile defense system was switched from test to operational mode within the past two weeks. "One senior Bush administration official told The Washington Times that an option being considered would be to shoot down the Taepodong missile with responding interceptors."
Really?! I guess it's possible, but somehow I think the Pentagon would be screaming hysterically at the White House: Don't do it! We don't want to risk demonstrating to North Korea and the rest of the world that our so-called missile defense system isn't reliable. On the other hand though, what exactly does it mean to call this system "operational" if in truth it couldn't be used in a situation like this?
If the Koreans go ahead and fire this missile, expect word from the White House that they are "monitoring the situation closely" but do not want to escalate an already volatile situation. Two missing U.S. soldiers found dead
By Jonathan Finer andJoshua Partlow, Washington Post, June 20, 2006
Two U.S. soldiers missing since an attack on a checkpoint last week have been found dead near a power plant in Yusifiyah, south of Baghdad, according to an Iraqi defense official.
Maj. Gen. Abdul Aziz Muhammed-Jassim, head of operations at the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, said the soldiers had been "barbarically" killed and that there were traces of torture on their bodies.
Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq, would not confirm that the bodies had been found. To do so, he said, would be "inappropriate and very inconsiderate" to the families involved. [complete article]
See also, Missing soldier's uncle criticizes U.S. (AP).
Iraq group may be taking insurgency lead
By Patrick Quinn and Saleh Nasrawi, AP (The State), June 19, 2006
It began six months ago as an apparent effort to put an Iraqi face on an insurgency dominated by a foreign militant. Now the al-Qaida-linked Mujahedeen Shura Council may be seeking to assume a leading role.
In what could be a sign of its transformation from a political umbrella for Sunni Arab extremists to an active terrorist group, it claimed Monday to have kidnapped two U.S. soldiers. It also said it was behind the abduction of four Russian diplomats and slaying of a fifth in Baghdad on June 3.
The twin Internet postings were the second set from the Shura Council since one last week that expressed condolences for the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born leader of al-Qaida in Iraq.
But in a pointed omission, the condolence message from the Shura Council's chief did not swear allegiance to the man al-Qaida in Iraq anointed to take its reins, an Egyptian called Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, who U.S. officials say is also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri. [complete article] The way out of Iraq: a road map
By National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Washington Post, June 20, 2006
...Iraq's ambition is to have full control of the country by the end of 2008. In practice this will mean a significant foreign troop reduction. We envisage the U.S. troop presence by year's end to be under 100,000, with most of the remaining troops to return home by the end of 2007.
The eventual removal of coalition troops from Iraqi streets will help the Iraqis, who now see foreign troops as occupiers rather than the liberators they were meant to be. It will remove psychological barriers and the reason that many Iraqis joined the so-called resistance in the first place. The removal of troops will also allow the Iraqi government to engage with some of our neighbors that have to date been at the very least sympathetic to the resistance because of what they call the "coalition occupation." If the sectarian issue continues to cause conflict with Iraq's neighbors, this matter needs to be addressed urgently and openly -- not in the guise of aversion to the presence of foreign troops.
Moreover, the removal of foreign troops will legitimize Iraq's government in the eyes of its people. It has taken what some feel is an eternity to form a government of national unity. This has not been an easy or enviable task, but it represents a significant achievement, considering that many new ministers are working in partisan situations, often with people with whom they share a history of enmity and distrust. By its nature, the government of national unity, because it is working through consensus, could be perceived to be weak. But, again, the drawdown of foreign troops will strengthen our fledgling government to last the full four years it is supposed to. [complete article]
Japan to withdraw troops from Iraq
Finanical Times, June 20, 2006
Japan announced on Tuesday it would withdraw its 600 ground forces from southern Iraq, marking a successful end to one of Junichiro Koizumi's most controversial acts of his prime ministership.
In a televised news conference, Mr Koizumi said the deployment, seen as Japanese military's most ambitious overseas mission since the second world war, had "achieved its mission" of helping rebuild the infrastructure of the Samawah region. He pledged to continue aiding Iraq's reconstruction. [complete article]
British troops pulled out of Iraqi province
By Jim Muir and Thomas Harding, The Telegraph, June 20, 2006
British forces in southern Iraq are to quit one of the four provinces they control and pass responsibility to the Iraqis, it was announced in Baghdad yesterday.
British soldier in Basra
Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, on a visit to Baghdad, hailed the announcement of withdrawal from Muthanna Province as "a very important first step".
"But we have to keep it in perspective," he said. "People ought not to expect an immediate return of our forces home."
There are only about 250 British servicemen in al-Muthanna. They are expected to be redeployed in neighbouring provinces, in an "overwatch" role which could see them returning in support of Iraqi security forces if required. [complete article] Murder charges for 3 G.I.'s in Iraq
By Thom Sanker and Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, June 20, 2006
Three American soldiers suspected of killing three detainees in Iraq and then threatening a soldier with death if he reported the shootings have been charged with premeditated murder and obstructing justice, Army officials said Monday.
The accused soldiers, two enlisted men and a noncommissioned officer, also face charges of attempted murder, conspiracy and threatening in connection with the deaths of the three detainees on May 9, the Army's documents showed.
One Defense Department official said investigators had evidence that the soldiers had released the detainees deliberately before they were shot, apparently to have a pretext for killing them as they fled. [complete article] Army cancels contract for Iraqi prison
By James Glanz, New York Times, June 20, 2006
The Army Corps of Engineers said Monday that it had canceled a $99.1 million contract with Parsons, one of the largest companies working in Iraq, to build a prison north of Baghdad after the firm fell more than two years behind schedule, threatened to go millions of dollars over budget and essentially abandoned the construction site.
The move is another harsh rebuke for Parsons, only weeks after the corps canceled more than $300 million of the company's contracts to build and refurbish hospitals and clinics across Iraq. A federal oversight office had found that some of the clinics were little more than empty shells and that only 20 of 150 called for in the contract would be completed without new financing.
But the prison, originally scheduled to be completed this month, appears to be the largest single rebuilding project canceled for failing to achieve its goals under the $45 billion American rebuilding program for Iraq. The corps said Parsons officials had recently estimated that it could not be completed before September 2008, and would cost an additional $13.5 million. [complete article] The ugly truth about everyday life in Baghdad (by the U.S. ambassador)
CONFIDENTIAL MEMO - FROM: US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, Baghdad TO: Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State, The Independent, June 20, 2006
One colleague beseeched us to help a neighbor who was uprooted in May from her home of 30 years, on the pretense of application of some long-disused law. The woman, who is a Fayli Kurd, says she has nowhere to go, but the courts give them no recourse to this new assertion of power. Such uprootings may be response by new Shia government authorities to similar actions against Arabs by Kurds in other parts of Iraq. (NOTE: An Arab newspaper editor told us he is preparing an extensive survey of ethnic cleansing, which he said is taking place in almost every Iraqi province, as political parties and their militias are seemingly engaged in tit-for-tat reprisals all over Iraq.) [complete article]
Note: This document appeared in the Washington Post on Sunday as a PDF file. I've re-posted it today in a more accessible format. Revived Taliban waging 'full-blown insurgency'
By Paul Wiseman, USA Today, June 20, 2006
More than 500 people -- mostly insurgents -- have died since mid-May in the fiercest fighting since the fall of the Taliban regime. Since Operation Enduring Freedom began in October 2001, more than 300 U.S. troops have died, 165 of them killed in action. NATO's 36-country International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has lost 60.
Despite the damage they can do, the insurgents do not have enough support to topple Karzai, who was elected two years ago and enjoys international support. "We are not in a situation yet where the Karzai government is threatened," says Joanna Nathan, Afghan analyst for the International Crisis Group, a non-profit research organization. But in places where they are strong, the insurgents have been able to harass government operations and relief efforts -- so much so that reconstruction has come to a virtual standstill in the south and east.
"It is hurting us," says Afghan Finance Minister Anwar ul-Haq Ahady. "We build a school, and they come and they burn it. We build a clinic, and they come and burn it. We build a bridge, and they knock it down. Security is the No. 1 issue." [complete article]
In tribal Pakistan, a tide of militancy
By Pamela Constable, Washington Post, June 20, 2006
In North Waziristan, barbers are ordered not to shave off beards, and thieves have been swiftly beheaded. In Swat, television sets and VCRs have been burned in public. In Dir, religious groups openly recruit teenagers to fight U.S. forces in Afghanistan. In the Khyber area, armed squads have burst into rooming houses, forcing people to pledge to obey Islamic law.
A tide of Islamic militancy is spreading across and beyond the semiautonomous tribal areas of northwest Pakistan that hug the Afghan border, despite the deployment of some 70,000 Pakistani army troops there, according to a variety of people with close family, professional or political ties to the tribal regions.
Senior army officers in this provincial capital say they are making steady progress in pacifying the restive tribal belt and reining in religious extremists, who U.S. and Afghan authorities say have fomented much of the violence that has led to more than 500 deaths in Afghanistan in the past two months.
"We have them on the defensive now," Lt. Gen. Mohammed Hamid Khan, commander of the 11th Army Corps, said in an interview. "The miscreants have gone into their shells, and things have cooled down tremendously." Khan said the army had shifted from mass raids to "snap operations" based on intelligence and now controls key towns once in the hands of militants.
But other observers say the army's aggressive efforts since 2004 have backfired, alienating the populace with heavy-handed tactics and undermining the traditional authority of tribal elders and officials. They say the local Taliban movement, which has close ethnic and theological links to the Taliban across the border in Afghanistan, has won new supporters and been able to carve out enclaves of alternative power. [complete article]
Afghan guerrillas kill 32 with ties to legislator
By Carlotta Gall, New York Times, June 20, 2006
Suspected Taliban guerrillas in the southern province of Helmand ambushed and killed 32 people on Sunday, all of them relatives and tribesmen of an influential member of Parliament, among them a former local government official, the legislator said Monday.
The attack, in broad daylight, was the latest sign of the strength of the suspected Taliban insurgents in Helmand, a poppy-growing province where NATO and the Afghan Army have recently increased their troops in an effort to contain the spreading insurgency.
The legislator, Dad Muhammad, who was the intelligence chief of Helmand after the fall of the Taliban and is now an elected member of the upper house of Parliament, said his 15-year-old son and two of his brothers, one a former chief of the Sangin district, were killed in the fighting, which lasted most of Sunday. [complete article] The race for Iran
By Flynt Leverett, New York Times, June 20, 2006
As the world watches the political maneuvering over restarting nuclear talks with Iran -- this time with American participation -- few are paying attention to a broader strategic competition that has started between the United States, Russia and China. Ultimately, this competition will decide not only the direction of Iran's nuclear activities but also its economic, political and military role in the Middle East and beyond. The outcome hinges on which countries will assume dominance in developing Iran's enormous oil and natural gas reserves.
Unfortunately, by refusing to consider a "grand bargain" with Iran -- that is, resolution of Washington's concerns about Tehran's weapons of mass destruction and support for terrorism in return for American security guarantees, an end to sanctions and normalization of diplomatic relations -- the Bush administration is courting failure in its nuclear diplomacy and paving the way for Russia and China to win the larger strategic contest.
Iran has the world's second-largest proven reserves of conventional crude oil, after Saudi Arabia, and the second-largest reserves of natural gas, after Russia. Its relatively low production levels make it one of the few states with the potential to greatly increase its exports of both oil and gas over the next two decades. [complete article]
Ahmadinejad 'has 70% approval rating'
By Ewen MacAskill and Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, June 20, 2006
The popularity of Iran's controversial leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is surging almost a year after he unexpectedly won closely contested presidential elections, Iranian officials and western diplomats said on Tuesday.
Attributing his success to his populist style and fortnightly meet-the-people tours of the country, the sources said, as matters stand, Mr Ahmadinejad was the clear favourite to win a second term in 2009. The perception that the president was standing up to the US over the nuclear issue was also boosting his standing.
"He's more popular now than a year ago. He's on the rise," said Nasser Hadian-Jazy, a professor of political science at Tehran University. "I guess he has a 70% approval rating right now. He portrays himself as a simple man doing an honest job. He's comfortable communicating with ordinary people."
While there are no reliable national opinion polls in Iran, western diplomats acknowledged that support for Mr Ahmadinejad is growing, defying widespread predictions after last June's election that he would not last more than three months. [complete article]
Iran urged to accept limits
By Michael A. Fletcher, Washington Post, June 20, 2006
President Bush said Monday that the package of incentives being offered to Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions is a "historic opportunity," and he warned starkly that the alternative for the Islamic nation is increased isolation and crippling economic sanctions.
Speaking at the 70th commencement ceremony of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Bush said Iran's stated desire for a peaceful nuclear power program is "legitimate," and one supported by the incentive package from the United States and its allies.
"We believe the Iranian people should enjoy the benefits of a truly peaceful program to use nuclear reactors to generate electric power," said Bush, who in the past has expressed skepticism about the need for oil-rich Iran to pursue nuclear power.
Still, Bush said, the rest of the world has to be sure that Iran's program does not include any covert military goals, as the United States suspects, because a nuclear-armed Iran would be a "grave threat to people everywhere." [complete article] Israel can no longer rely on the support of Europe's Jews
By Max Hastings, The Guardian, June 20, 2006
Whatever the outcome of the current Palestinian chaos, meaningful negotiations with Israel seem unlikely. The most plausible scenario is that Ehud Olmert will proceed unilaterally to draw new boundaries for his country, which will absorb significant Palestinian land, and institutionalise such dominance of the West Bank as to make a Palestinian state unworkable.
If this is the future, it is likely to yield fruits as bitter for Israelis as for Palestinians. The world, far from becoming more willing to acquiesce in Israel's expansion, is becoming less so. The generation of European non-Jews for whom the Holocaust is a seminal memory is dying. With them perishes much vicarious guilt.
Younger Europeans, not to mention the rest of the world, are more sceptical about Israel's territorial claims. They are less susceptible to moral arguments about redress for past horrors, which have underpinned Israeli actions for almost 60 years. We may hope that it will never become respectable to be anti-semitic. However, Israel is discovering that it can no longer frighten non-Jews out of opposing its policies merely by accusing them of anti-semitism.
There is also evidence of growing disenchantment with Israel in the Jewish diaspora. Feelings have changed since 1948 and the days when Jews around the world thought it a duty to support "their" nation in the promised land right or wrong, in good times or bad. David Goldberg, the former rabbi of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in London, has just published a book that will rouse plenty of wrath in Israel. Entitled The Divided Self, its theme is that in modern times the Jews of the diaspora have preserved the honour and heritage of the Jewish people far more convincingly than Israel's citizens. [complete article] Hamas ponders sacrificing ideology for political gain
By Harvey Morris, Financial Times, June 19, 2006
This week could turn out to be a vital one for the Palestinian Authority as the ruling Hamas movement ponders whether to sacrifice some of its ideology in exchange for safeguarding political gains it made in last January's elections.
Depending on the outcome of its deliberations, the PA could within weeks have a new national unity government with a platform of negotiating with Israel, or face a potentially divisive national referendum and worsening relations between Hamas and Fatah.
Representatives of the two movements met in Gaza yesterday in the latest talks aimed at reaching agreement on a set of proposals implicitly recognising Israel -- the so-called prisoners' document -- that Mahmoud Abbas, the PA’s Fatah president, plans to put to a referendum on July 26. [complete article] U.S. is aiming to block Venezuela's bid for U.N. role
By Paul Richter and Maggie Farley, Los Angeles Times, June 19, 2006
The Bush administration is lobbying to prevent Venezuela from securing an open seat on the U.N. Security Council because of concern that its leading South American rival could confound plans to step up pressure on Iran.
Under United Nations rules, Latin American governments are entitled to pick a country from the region to fill the rotating seat that comes open next year. Venezuela has been campaigning for the post.
But the Bush administration is urging Latin American countries to vote for a U.S. ally, Guatemala, instead, warning that the populist government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez cannot be trusted on crucial issues such as Iran's nuclear program, given its "disruptive and irresponsible behavior" in international organizations.
Behind the scenes, U.S. officials have been applying pressure, even to close allies, Latin American diplomats say. For example, Washington has agreed to sell F-16 fighter jets to Chile, but are warning that Chilean pilots will not be trained to fly them if the government supports Venezuela's Security Council bid, the diplomats said. [complete article] FBI erred widely in Moussaoui probe, report says
By Jerry Markon and Dan Eggen, Washington Post, June 20, 2006
The FBI's mistakes in the investigation of Zacarias Moussaoui extended from headquarters officials who dismissed the threat posed by the al-Qaeda operative down to field agents and even a prominent FBI whistle-blower, according to a government report made public yesterday.
The report by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said "numerous systemic problems" within the bureau prevented the FBI from unraveling Moussaoui's role in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror plot when he was arrested a month before the attacks. Moussaoui later became the only person charged in a U.S. courtroom in connection with the attacks. He was sentenced to life in prison last month.
Fine concluded that senior FBI managers failed to move aggressively to gain a warrant to search Moussaoui's belongings before Sept. 11. But unlike previous public criticisms of the FBI's bungling of the case -- which have focused on senior FBI managers in Washington -- Fine's analysis said there was plenty of blame to go around. [complete article] North Koreans are reported closer to a missile test
By Helene Cooper and Michael R. Gordon, New York Times, June 19, 2006
North Korea appears to have completed fueling a long-range ballistic missile, American officials said Sunday, a move that greatly increases the probability that it will go ahead with its first important test launching in eight years.
A senior American official said that intelligence from satellite photographs suggested that booster rockets had been loaded onto a launching pad, and liquid-fuel tanks fitted to a missile at a site on North Korea's remote east coast.
While there have been steady reports in recent days about preparations for a test, fueling is regarded as a critical step as well as a probable bellwether of North Korea's intentions. Siphoning the liquid fuel out of a missile is a complex undertaking.
"Yes, looks like all systems are 'go' and fueling appears to be done," said the official who discussed the matter only after being promised anonymity because he was addressing delicate diplomatic and intelligence issues. A second senior official, who declined to speak on the record for similar reasons, also indicated that the United States believed the missile had been fueled.
A launching would be a milestone in the North's missile capacity and effectively scrap a moratorium on such tests declared by the North Koreans after their last test in 1998. Moreover, a launching would have enormous importance for American security because it would be North Korea's first flight test of a new long-range missile that might eventually have the capacity to strike the United States.
A launching could also ignite a political chain reaction in Japan, the United States and China, which have been trying to re-engage North Korea in stalled talks about its nuclear weapons program. The Bush administration might step up financing for missile defense; Japan might increase its missile defense efforts as well, while militant Japanese politicians might push to reconsider the nation's nuclear weapons options. Such moves would most likely alienate China. [complete article] Iran 'ready to limit nuclear programme'
By Gareth Smyth, Financial Times, June 18, 2006
Iran's leadership is ready to limit its nuclear programme but will not suspend uranium enrichment as a precondition for talks, two regime insiders have told the Financial Times.
Tehran is set to make a counterproposal within the next two weeks in response to a package of incentives -- including light-water reactors and trade concessions -- offered earlier this month by the five permanent members of the UN security council and Germany (P5) as a way to persuade Iran to curb its nuclear programme.
The regime insiders told the FT that Iran will offer talks without preconditions, and is hoping Russia and China will not insist Iran first suspends enrichment, a condition that has been stressed by all six members of the P5 including Moscow and Beijing.
Both insiders said a majority in the leadership would, once talks developed, accept a compromise over the nuclear programme that allowed it to keep some uranium enrichment in Iran.
"Around 70 per cent of senior people may be prepared, under pressure, to accept an eventual limit on the number of centrifuges [for enriching uranium] to hundreds or thousands," said the first, adding that Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, Iran's president, was in the minority.
"The west's package accepts Iran's right to nuclear energy -- so the next step is that the west accepts enrichment and drops the big fuss," he said.
One of the insiders said Iran might settle for a limit as low as three cascades of 164 centrifuges, with the vast bulk of uranium for its planned nuclear reactors enriched in Russia, as Moscow first proposed last year. [complete article]
Iranian charm offensive calls Bush's bluff
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, June 19, 2006
Bush administration officials like to describe Iran as country isolated from the outside world. Its outlaw government's policies, and especially its nuclear activities, have earned it the distrust of the international community, the fear of its neighbours and, they say, the rightful label of a "rogue state".
But in recent weeks, as Tehran's uranium enrichment dispute with the US, Britain and other western European countries has moved towards a denouement, Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has launched an energetic diplomatic counter-offensive to prove the Americans wrong. Defying US containment efforts, Iran is actively pursuing its own policy of regional engagement. And to Washington's growing unease, it seems to be working.
"The Americans are making a big push to isolate Iran. But they are making a big mistake. We are not Burma," Vahid Karimi of the government-funded Institute for Political and International Studies told the Guardian. "We have plenty of friends." [complete article] U.S., Iraqi forces target rebel haven
By Solomon Moore, Los Angeles Times, June 19, 2006
U.S. and Iraqi troops set up new positions over the weekend on the outskirts of Ramadi, a haven in Al Anbar province for the Sunni Arab-led insurgency, in an effort to bottle up guerrillas who have largely controlled the city in recent months.
"We are focusing on multiple sites used by the insurgents to plan and conduct terrorist attacks and store weapons," Lt. Col. Bryan Salas, a Marine spokesman based in nearby Fallouja, said Sunday. "We have also set up additional checkpoints to restrict the flow of insurgents, but citizens will still be able to enter and leave the city."
Salas said that U.S. troops from one brigade and Iraqis from two brigades were taking part in the operation. A Marine brigade is generally composed of about 2,500 troops.
Military officials have for weeks downplayed the significance of combat preparations in the area, which included the arrival of 1,500 additional U.S. troops. Last week, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV said that operations in Ramadi were increasing in order to clear away insurgents who were obstructing the development of local security forces, but that he did not foresee a "Fallouja-type" operation taking place there. [complete article] More than 8,000 searching for missing GIs
AP (via The Guardian), June 19, 2006
The U.S. military said Monday that seven American troops have been wounded, three insurgents have been killed and 34 detained during an intensive search for two missing American soldiers.
Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq, said fighter jets, unmanned aerial vehicles and dive teams had been deployed to find the two men. The men went missing Friday during an attack on their checkpoint in the volatile Sunni area south of Baghdad that left one of their comrades dead. [complete article] Waste oil dumps threaten towns in northern Iraq
By James Glanz, New York Times, June 19, 2006
An environmental disaster is brewing in the heartland of Iraq's northern Sunni-led insurgency, where Iraqi officials say that in a desperate move to dispose of millions of barrels of an oil refinery byproduct called "black oil," the government pumped it into open mountain valleys and leaky reservoirs next to the Tigris River and set it on fire.
The resulting huge black bogs are threatening the river and the precious groundwater in the region, which is dotted with villages and crisscrossed by itinerant sheep herders, but also contains Iraq's great northern refinery complex at Baiji.
The fires are no longer burning, but the suffocating plumes of smoke they created carried as far as 40 miles downwind to Tikrit, the provincial capital that formed Saddam Hussein's base of power. [complete article] Palestinian rivals 'nearing deal'
BBC News, June 18, 2006
Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah are close to agreement on an initiative that would implicitly recognise Israel, officials say.
Senior figures have been in talks to resolve deep divisions over the move. [complete article]
E.U. wins backing to send £70m aid to Gaza and West Bank
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, June 19, 2006
The US, the United Nations and Russia have endorsed EU proposals to send emergency aid to Gaza and the West Bank, bypassing the Hamas-led government.
Worth around $126m (£70m), the plan will give money to healthcare suppliers, utility companies and individuals in extreme need but will not pay the salaries of thousands of Palestinian Authority staff, many of whom have been on intermittent strike and involved in violent protests.
Living standards in Gaza and the West Bank have plummeted since the EU and US cancelled aid following Hamas's January election victory and Israel blocked most Palestinian exports from leaving Gaza. Israel is also withholding repayments to the Palestinian Authority of taxes collected on goods. [complete article]
The battle of Huda Ghalia - who really killed girl's family on Gaza beach?
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, June 17, 2006
Heartrending pictures of 10-year-old Huda Ghalia running wildly along a Gaza beach crying "father, father, father" and then falling weeping beside his body turned the distraught girl into an instant icon of the Palestinian struggle even before she fully grasped that much of her family was dead.
But the images of the young girl who lost her father, step-mother and five of her siblings as picnicking families fled a barrage of Israeli shells a week ago have become their own battleground.
Who and what killed the Ghalia family, and badly maimed a score of other people, has been the subject of an increasingly bitter struggle for truth all week amid accusations that a military investigation clearing the army was a cover-up, that Hamas was really responsible and even that the pictures of Huda's grief were all an act.
However, a Guardian investigation into the sequence of events raises new and so far unanswered questions about the Israeli military probe that cleared the army of responsibility. Evidence from hospital records, doctors' testimony and witness accounts challenges the central assertion that the shelling had stopped by the time seven members of the Ghalia family were killed. [complete article] In Somalia, Islamic militias fight culture wars
By Marc Lacey, New York Times, June 19, 2006
Flush from a military victory earlier this month that caught Washington and the world by surprise, Islamic militiamen have begun waging smaller battles -- cultural, not military ones -- in and around Somalia's shellshocked capital.
A week ago, when Mexico and Iran were still playing the first half of their World Cup soccer match, gunmen allied with the Islamic courts burst into a tiny theater in the Hiliwaa neighborhood of north Mogadishu, condemned the place as ungodly and angrily switched off the television set.
When they caught sight of a man with a trendy Afro, with lines shaved into it, they tied his hands behind his back, took out a pair of scissors and evened it out into a scalp-revealing buzz cut.
"They said, 'Your hair is against our culture and is not Islamic,' " recalled the man, Abdi Fatah, 26. They whipped him with a belt, then jailed him for three days.
With the old warlords gone, Mogadishu is safer, and more dangerous, too. It is a happier place, and a more oppressive one. It is a capital city that is also a rundown shantytown, churning with change. Where exactly it is headed nobody knows. [complete article] Data mining still needs a clue to be effective
By Guy Gugliotta, Washington Post, June 19, 2006
In the two decades or so since software scientists began "mining" computerized databases for information they were never designed to yield, the sophistication of their techniques has increased dramatically.
And although marketing companies today -- especially with the advent of the Internet -- can routinely predict who you will vote for, where you will eat dinner and, most of all, what products you will buy, experts say it is far less clear whether security agencies can sift mounds of data to track down terrorist networks -- unless they start with a useful lead. [complete article] Imprisoned in chaos
Editorial, Washington Post, June 18, 2006
Nearly five years into a war between the United States and Islamic extremists, U.S. policies and practices for arresting, holding, interrogating and trying enemy militants are in a state of disarray unprecedented in modern American history. They shame the nation and violate its fundamental values. [complete article] From the embassy, a grim report (PDF)
By Al Kamen, Washington Post, June 18, 2006
Hours before President Bush left on a surprise trip last Monday to the Green Zone in Baghdad for an upbeat assessment of the situation there, the U.S. Embassy in Iraq painted a starkly different portrait of increasing danger and hardship faced by its Iraqi employees. This cable, marked "sensitive" and obtained by The Washington Post, outlines in spare prose the daily-worsening conditions for those who live outside the heavily guarded international zone: harassment, threats and the employees' constant fears that their neighbors will discover they work for the U.S. government. [complete cable PDF]
See also, Horror show reveals Iraq's descent (The Sunday Times). Iraqis said to plan wide amnesty to quell insurgency
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, June 18, 2006
The Iraqi government has crafted a far-reaching amnesty plan for insurgents, officials close to Prime Minister Nouri Maliki said Saturday, even as guerrillas killed at least 34 Iraqis in a barrage of bombs and rockets in the capital and the U.S. military hunted for two missing soldiers.
The Americans may have been captured after an attack Friday evening on a checkpoint south of Baghdad that left at least one soldier dead, the military said.
U.S. forces dispatched helicopters and surveillance planes over the area as well as teams of divers to scour the river and nearby canals for the missing soldiers.
The amnesty plan, which apparently would include insurgents alleged to have staged attacks against Americans and Iraqis, calls for the creation of a national committee and local subcommittees to woo rebels and begin a "truthful national dialogue in dealing with contradicting visions and stances," according to a version of the plan published Saturday in an Iraqi newspaper.
The reconciliation plan, which is expected to be formally announced soon, would be among the Iraqi government's most comprehensive attempts to engage with insurgent groups.
"The main thing," said Haidar Abadi, a leader of Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party, is that the plan doesn't rule out participation of "the bloody-handed people in the political process." [complete article] Iraq's post-Hussein air force finds its wings clipped
By Louise Roug and Peter Spiegel, Los Angeles Times, June 18, 2006
Iraqi pilots bitterly recall one of the commands that came down from Saddam Hussein as the dictator prepared for the U.S.-led invasion three years ago: Bury fighter jets in the sand.
Today, the men who flew those jets are in effect still grounded, even though they make up the bulk of the new Iraqi air force.
The U.S. military has hurriedly tried to turn over square mile after square mile of territory to Iraqi soldiers and police officers, but it has yet to yield control of a single cubic inch of the country's skies.
Despite U.S. pledges to help, the fledgling Iraqi air force remains tiny and ineffective -- consisting of three Vietnam-era cargo planes, a few secondhand helicopters, some small, problem-ridden aircraft and just 14 pilots, decades older than their American counterparts and under threat from Sunni Muslim insurgents and Shiite militias alike.
U.S. military officials say that addressing the question of when they will allow the Iraqi air force to acquire combat capabilities is years away. The U.S. Air Force, they say, will retain control of Iraqi airspace for the foreseeable future, regardless of any drawdown of ground troops. [complete article] Two U.S. soldiers missing after checkpoint attack
By Jonathan Finer, Washington Post, June 18, 2006
U.S. and Iraqi forces conducted a sweeping hunt Saturday for two American soldiers missing after a clash with insurgents in Yusufiyah, south of Baghdad, raiding houses, scanning the scene from aircraft and deploying divers to search waterways.
One American soldier was killed in the incident, in which insurgents attacked a vehicle checkpoint in the restive Sunni Arab town just before 8 p.m. Friday. The names of the dead and missing soldiers are being withheld until their families can be notified, the military said. [complete article] Fatal inaction
By April Witt, Washington Post, June 18, 2006
The U.S. military bureaucracy is like a giant overloaded ship that turns excruciatingly slowly -- even under fire. In May 2003 the first U.S. soldier in Iraq was killed by an improvised explosive device (IED). "It was about a week later before the second one showed up and about another week before the third one," Maj. Gen. Buford C. Blount, who led U.S. troops into Iraq from Kuwait at the start of the war, later told Congress. By mid-June it was clear "a pattern started to develop for IED usage," Blount testified. Yet it wasn't until November 2003 -- nearly five months later -- that the Army said it needed 3,780 armor kits to retrofit five types of trucks to protect the troops from IEDs. The Army did not produce all the kits until February 2005 and did not install them fully until May 2005 -- 18 months after it formally identified the need, the GAO found. By that time, however, the number of unarmored trucks in Iraq that needed retrofitting kits had skyrocketed, outstripping the supply. [complete article] Bad advice blamed for banned tactics
By Josh White, Washington Post, June 17, 2006
A secretive military Special Operations group in Iraq used several unauthorized interrogation tactics on detainees in early 2004 after it erroneously received an outdated policy from commanders in Baghdad, according to a high-level military investigative report released yesterday at the Pentagon.
As a result of the error, interrogators at temporary holding facilities washed down detainees and questioned them in overly air-conditioned rooms, fed them only bread and water when they were uncooperative, and made them kneel for long periods of time as part of an approach using "stress positions." The tactics also included giving detainees minimal amounts of sleep and using loud music and yelling to keep them from sleeping or communicating.
This occurred at the same time similar methods used at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad were under intense internal scrutiny. [complete article] Seeking an exit strategy for Guantanamo
By Scott Shane, New York Times, June 18, 2006
If an enemy devised a diabolical plot to darken America's image, it is hard to imagine anything operating more efficiently toward that end than the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. And last week, after the suicides of three inmates intensified condemnation at home and abroad, President Bush mused about whether the camp should be closed.
"I'd like to close Guantanamo," the president told a press conference Tuesday, and acknowledged what even close allies like the British have argued for some time: "No question, Guantanamo sends a signal to some of our friends -- provides an excuse, for example, to say the United States is not upholding the values that they're trying to encourage other countries to adhere to."
Yet Mr. Bush insisted that some Guantanamo prisoners are too dangerous to set free, and even the camp's fiercest critics admit that shutting Guantánamo and deciding what to do with the remaining 460 prisoners would not be easy. Still more problematic is deciding the fate of as many as three dozen so-called "high value" Al Qaeda prisoners held in overseas jails overseen by the Central Intelligence Agency.
In fact, the "end game" for detainees, as some in the government call it, requires grappling with problems posed by a war with no conventional enemy soldiers, no rules and no clear conclusion.
The challenges include gauging how dangerous it would be to set a particular Islamist radical free; devising trials that offer a measure of military justice but not the full protections of civilian courts, and deciding whether to transfer prisoners to countries that might free a hardened jihadist or torture a political dissident.
At stake in the camp's future is more than America's reputation, said Timothy Naftali, a University of Virginia historian who has written on American counterterrorism.
He said Guantanamo has become "a wonderful recruitment trigger" for Islamist extremists, as its perceived injustices are detailed and magnified on the Web. If there is a security risk in shutting the camp down, there is also a security risk in keeping it open, Mr. Naftali said. [complete article]
How U.S. hid the suicide secrets of Guantanamo
By David Rose, The Observer, June 18, 2006
In Guantanamo Bay's Alpha Block, the night was like any other: sweltering and seemingly endless. Although the temperature was down to the high 70s outside, the block's steel roof and walls were radiating heat, and in the two facing rows of 24 cells it felt little cooler than it had at midday. 'The nights are worse than the days,' the British former prisoner Shafiq Rasul recalled yesterday. 'You hear the rats running and scratching. The bugs go mad and there's no air. Especially where that block is: there's no breeze whatsoever.'
According to Guantanamo's rules, a six-person team of military police should have been patrolling constantly, and as usual the bright neon lights stayed on. A guard should have passed each detainee's cell every 30 seconds. 'From the landing, you can see right into every cell,' said Rasul. 'They don't have doors, just gates made from wide-spaced mesh. There's no privacy. If you hang up a towel because you want to go to the toilet, they make you take it down.'
The high degree of surveillance has foiled dozens of previous attempts by prisoners to take their own lives. 'It happened in front of me several times. The soldiers would see what was happening and they were in the cell in seconds,' Rasul said. But somehow, in circumstances that the Pentagon has succeeded in keeping totally obscure, late on Friday, 9 June, three detainees, all weak and emaciated after months on hunger strike and being force-fed, managed to tease bedsheets through their cells' mesh walls, tie them into nooses and hang themselves. With the cells little taller than the height of a man, they stood no chance of breaking their necks: the only way they could die was slowly, by hypoxia.
'That would take at least four or five minutes, probably longer,' said Dr David Nicholl, consultant neurologist at Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth Hospital, who has been co-ordinating international opposition to Guantanamo by physicians. 'It's very difficult to see how, if the landing was being properly patrolled, they could have managed to accomplish it.' [complete article]
Detainees not given access to witnesses
By Farah Stockman and Declan Walsh, Boston Globe, June 18, 2006
The US government routinely failed to give detainees at Guantanamo Bay access to witnesses who might have helped them prove their assertions of innocence, saying it could not locate the vast majority of the witnesses the terror suspects requested at special military hearings.
But within a three-day span, a Globe reporter was able to locate three of those witnesses in the case of one detainee. The Globe found two of them in Afghanistan, and located a third in Washington, D.C., where he is teaching at the National Defense University.
In 2004, after a Supreme Court ruling, the US military was forced to give hearings to more than 500 prisoners being held without charge at the US detention facility in Cuba. At the time, the military pledged to try to locate defense witnesses to give testimony for those hearings, but later routinely reported that they could not be found.
A Globe review of the transcripts of the hearings, which were released to the public in March, identified 34 detainees who convinced tribunal officials that their overseas witnesses would provide relevant testimony.
But in all 34 cases, detainees were told at their hearings that their witnesses could not be found. Nearly all of those 64 approved witnesses were deemed "unavailable" because the governments of the country where the witnesses lived did not respond to a State Department request for help in locating them.
Military investigators and State Department officials did not even contact witnesses who were well known to US authorities.
In one case, the State Department said that it could not locate Ismail Khan, the well-known minister of energy in Afghan president Hamid Karzai's cabinet, who meets frequently with American diplomats. [complete article]
Kicked out of Gitmo
By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times, June 18, 2006
In the best of times, covering Guantanamo means wrangling with a Kafkaesque bureaucracy, with logistics so nonsensical that they turn two hours of reporting into an 18-hour day, with hostile escorts who seem to think you're in league with Al Qaeda, and with the dispiriting reality that you're sure to encounter more iguanas than war-on-terror suspects.
In the worst of times -- this past week, for example -- those quotidian discomforts can be compounded by an invasion of mating crabs skittering into your dormitory, a Pentagon power play that muzzles already reluctant sources and an unceremonious expulsion to Miami on a military plane, safety-belted onto whatever seat is available. In this case, that seat was the toilet.
I ended up on that plane, on that seat, because of a baffling move by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's office, in which the only three newspaper reporters who managed to surmount Pentagon obstacles to covering the first deaths at Guantanamo were ordered off the base Wednesday. Rumsfeld's office said the decision was made "to be fair and impartial" to the rest of the media, which the government had refused to let in. [complete article] Under the Afghan sun, a dark new reality is taking shape
By Simon Jenkins, The Sunday Times, June 18, 2006
This weekend an army of 11,000 troops, including Britons, is roaming the mountains of southern Afghanistan trying to kill or capture the Taliban. Their professed aim is "to establish conditions" in which government institutions and NGOs can "begin the real work that needs to be done". Operation Mountain Thrust is the last American venture in the country before Nato takes over next month under British leadership.
The operation, coming after four such failed endeavours, is a show not of force but of face. When the troops return to the security of Kabul they will leave behind a few hundred corpses, some destroyed villages, a thousand new Taliban recruits and tens of thousands of angered and disillusioned Afghans. There is nothing new under the Afghan sun.
The British deployment to Helmand, in southern Afghanistan, makes no sense and visiting Kabul has only made me sure of it. This is quite different from Iraq, where the British Army is embarked on a delicate exercise of extraction.
Helmand is an exercise of insertion and has already cost a British life. About £1 billion is being spent on a base in the desert. Nobody in London or Kabul can offer a clear mission statement for the 3,300 soldiers garrisoning it, only implausible remarks about "establishing the preconditions for nation building".
David Richards, the ebullient British general in Kabul, puts the best possible face on things. To emphasise the newness of his strategy he derides the Pentagon's four-year-old Operation Enduring Freedom as counter-productive and stresses the anarchy into which it has allowed Afghanistan to fall: 80% of the country is no longer under the control of Kabul. [complete article]
U.S. airstrikes rise in Afghanistan as fighting intensifies
By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, June 18, 2006
As fighting in Afghanistan has intensified over the past three months, the U.S. military has conducted 340 airstrikes there, more than twice the 160 carried out in the much higher-profile war in Iraq, according to data from the Central Command, the U.S. military headquarters for the Middle East.
The airstrikes appear to have increased in recent days as the United States and its allies have launched counteroffensives against the Taliban in the south and southeast, strafing and bombing a stronghold in Uruzgan province and pounding an area near Khost with 500-pound bombs.
U.S. officials say the activity is a response to an increasingly aggressive Taliban, whose leaders realize that long-term trends are against them as the power of the Afghan central government grows.
"I think the Taliban realize they have a window to act," Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, commander of the 22,000 U.S. troops in the country, said in a recent interview. "The enemy is working against a window that he knows is closing." [complete article]
A war on schoolgirls
By Ron Moreau and Sami Yousafzai, Newsweek, June 26, 2006
Summer vacation has only begun, but as far as 12-year-old Nooria is concerned, the best thing is knowing she has a school to go back to in the fall. She couldn't be sure the place would stay open four months ago, after the Taliban tried to burn it down. Late one February night, more than a dozen masked gunmen burst into the 10-room girls' school in Nooria's village, Mandrawar, about 100 miles east of Kabul. They tied up and beat the night watchman, soaked the principal's office and the library with gasoline, set it on fire and escaped into the darkness. The townspeople, who doused the blaze before it could spread, later found written messages from the gunmen promising to cut off the nose and ears of any teacher or student who dared to return. [complete article] American Zeitgeist: war through a wide-angled lens
By Rob Cawston, openDemocracy, June 15, 2006
American Zeitgeist deals with the complexity of foreign relations and worldwide events. It is not as simple as a plane suddenly hitting a building. In place of what the director has termed the "splintered lens of the war on terrorism" we are given a kaleidoscope of disparate viewpoints. Tariq Ali and Christopher Hitchens represent the extremes of this spectrum and are often placed together in sharp contrast. The other voices we hear move between these points. McGann calls it the "battle for the narrative". He wants his audience to be caught in the "crossfire of opinion" and the collision of argument, to not know which voice is dominant but instead to listen, to question, and to think about what we are being shown.
In the absence of a single authorial voice one is at first easily drawn towards the speakers at either end of the political spectrum, those with the catchiest soundbites, solutions and explanations ("it's all about the oil", "we are confronting the force of evil"). But as the film progresses one feels more distanced from the extremes -- indeed Hitchens eventually bares his teeth in a speech urging us to fight a vicious and primitive enemy, the "riff raff" of the world. The only disappointment is a tendency to rely on mainly white (and male) American academics and almost no Middle Eastern or Islamic voices. Could this be reinforcing the same "us" versus "them" ideological divide that the film itself exposes?
Despite this reservation, American Zeitgeist is an important film about America and for America, one that counters the country's partisan, bi-fractural politics and media. With its range of viewpoints and wide-angled lens, the investigative and educational elements of the film triumph over the ideological and polemical. The question asked at the start -- "How are we doing? Do we even know?" -- is answered by McGann's long view of history. As the credits roll we are closer to knowing where we stand and why. [complete article] Palestinians, Israel and the Quartet: pulling back from the brink
ICG, June 13, 2006
Throughout years of uprising and Israeli military actions, siege of West Bank cities and President Arafat's de facto house arrest, it was hard to imagine the situation getting worse for Palestinians. It has. On all fronts -- Palestinian/Palestinian, Palestinian/Israeli and Palestinian/ international -- prevailing dynamics are leading to a dangerous breakdown. Subjected to the cumulative effects of a military occupation in its 40th year and now what is effectively an international sanctions regime, the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority (PA) government cannot pay salaries or deliver basic services. Diplomacy is frozen, with scant prospect of thaw -- and none at all of breakthrough. And Hamas's electoral victory and the reactions it provoked among Fatah loyalists have intensified chaos and brought the nation near civil war. [complete article]
4 months into aid cutoff, Gazans barely scrape by
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, June 18, 2006
In the fourth month without salaries from the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, the Abu Rizek family scours greenhouses after the harvest, looking for potatoes left in the ground.
Mariam al-Wahedi no longer receives her $21 a month from social services and is living off the $200 she got last month by selling her last piece of jewelry, a bracelet given to her 30 years ago. Khalid Muhammad, a policeman, moonlights in a friend's shop, selling used cellphone batteries for $2.25, and says he now yells at his wife and sometimes hits his children. Umm Jihad, with six children, begs in the market.
Awni Shibrawi, a jeweler, admits that he is almost too bad-tempered to go to work in his shop and sit all day doing nothing. Khadida Farajabah, a vegetable seller, says she has granted nearly $2,000 in credit, digging out the list she keeps inside her blouse, and cannot afford to give any more. Majid Nofad, a butcher, says business is down 60 percent and he has stopped giving credit after the total mounted to nearly $3,000. [complete article]
The gangs of Gaza
By Kevin Peraino, Newsweek, June 18, 2006
At first, the threats trickling in to the Palestinian intelligence headquarters in Gaza seemed like childish pranks. Operatives chuckled about a Hamas-run Web site featuring a caricature of their boss, intel chief Tareq Abu Rajab: the Islamists had digitally grafted an image of a dog's head onto the Fatah loyalist's body. But then intelligence agents eavesdropping on a Hamas radio frequency intercepted a transmission that seemed deadly serious. "On Friday," a voice crackled in Arabic, "the dog will die."
Abu Rajab's security detail kept the boss away from the office that Friday. But the next morning, May 20, the intel chief stepped into his private elevator and punched the button for the fourth floor. A moment after the doors clamped shut, at 10:10 a.m., a bomb blast ripped a hole in the elevator's steel doors, spewing fire and a dense cloud of ash into the hallway. Choking on the stench of burning hair, Haitham Hamid, one of Abu Rajab's bodyguards, crawled toward the elevator. He discovered the corpse of another bodyguard dangling from his ankles in the shaft. Abu Rajab himself had survived the explosion, tumbling down the well to the ground floor, where he was injured but somehow still alive. As a convoy later rushed Abu Rajab to the hospital, Hamid glimpsed a blur of bearded militants spraying the cars with gunfire. "I knew immediately," Hamid later recalled to Newseek, "this could only be Hamas." [complete article] At the heart of the united front on Iran, vagueness on crucial terms
By Elaine Sciolino and William J. Broad, New York Times, June 18, 2006
The success or failure of the international initiative to curb Iran's nuclear program hinges largely on an ostensibly clear-cut request: before talks can begin, Tehran must freeze all activities related to the enrichment of uranium.
But while that demand seems surgically precise, what it actually means is unclear. It has become the subject of anxious diplomacy around the world -- a sort of prenegotiation negotiation -- centered on finding a definition that the Iranians and the six countries behind the initiative can accept. The results will determine if the talks move ahead or fail before they formally start.
Iran has long insisted that it will never give up its "right" to enrich uranium. At the other end of the spectrum, the Bush administration and some nuclear experts have maintained that Iran should not be allowed to spin a single centrifuge -- the machines that in large clusters can enrich, or concentrate, uranium into a form that can fuel nuclear reactors or atom bombs.
But in interviews and statements, officials from several countries have begun to show signs of optimism and flexibility, suggesting that players on both sides are struggling to create momentum for talks by finding common ground and avoiding a clash over the issue. The question is whether some low level of enrichment activity, couched as "research," will be deemed permissible and whether the objections to such a move will yield to compromise. [complete article]
In 2003, U.S. spurned Iran's offer of dialogue
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, June 18, 2006
Just after the lightning takeover of Baghdad by U.S. forces three years ago, an unusual two-page document spewed out of a fax machine at the Near East bureau of the State Department. It was a proposal from Iran for a broad dialogue with the United States, and the fax suggested everything was on the table -- including full cooperation on nuclear programs, acceptance of Israel and the termination of Iranian support for Palestinian militant groups.
But top Bush administration officials, convinced the Iranian government was on the verge of collapse, belittled the initiative. Instead, they formally complained to the Swiss ambassador who had sent the fax with a cover letter certifying it as a genuine proposal supported by key power centers in Iran, former administration officials said.
Last month, the Bush administration abruptly shifted policy and agreed to join talks previously led by European countries over Iran's nuclear program. But several former administration officials say the United States missed an opportunity in 2003 at a time when American strength seemed at its height -- and Iran did not have a functioning nuclear program or a gusher of oil revenue from soaring energy demand.
"At the time, the Iranians were not spinning centrifuges, they were not enriching uranium," said Flynt Leverett, who was a senior director on the National Security Council staff then and saw the Iranian proposal. He described it as "a serious effort, a respectable effort to lay out a comprehensive agenda for U.S.-Iranian rapprochement."
While the Iranian approach has been previously reported, the actual document making the offer has surfaced only in recent weeks. Trita Parsi, a Middle East expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said he obtained it from Iranian sources. The Washington Post confirmed its authenticity with Iranian and former U.S. officials. [complete article]
Comment -- Although Glenn Kessler doesn't mention him, credit should go to Gareth Porter for first reporting this story. Somali leaders warned U.S. of strengthening Islamic militia
By Hannah Allam, Knight Ridder, June 17, 2006
In early March, nine of Mogadishu's most prominent community leaders secretly flew to neighboring Djibouti and pleaded with U.S. military officials there to stop funding the warlords who were devastating the city. Backing the warlords, they said, would end up strengthening an Islamist militia with a shadowy radical wing.
The Americans ignored their warnings, three of the Somalis at the meeting told Knight Ridder in separate interviews, and the community leaders' fears came to life this month when the Islamic Courts Union militia defeated the warlords and took control of the Somali capital.
Now, the Bush administration's Somalia strategy is in tatters, and the Islamist militia is poised to extend its control to all of southern Somalia, where intelligence officials believe at least two senior al-Qaida operatives are hiding. [complete article] The United States vs China: the war for oil
By Paul Rogers, openDemocracy, June 15, 2006
In April 2006, the Chinese prime minister Hu Jintao visited Washington and lunched with President Bush. Many observers noted the apparent indignities inflicted on the Chinese leader in the United States – from embarrassments of protocol involving the playing of the wrong national anthem to a Falun Gong protestor who interrupted the two leaders' joint press conference. At a deeper level, several political analysts noted that Hu's trip to the US was only one stage of what would turn out to be something of a world tour, with subsequent stopovers in Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Nigeria and Kenya. This focus on the Arab world and sub-Saharan Africa reveals the core theme of Hu Jintao's itinerary: oil.
In Saudi Arabia, Hu discussed a series of current and future developments, all connected to the Saudis' position as the largest single supplier of oil to China – more than 22 million tonnes in 2005. A refinery for Saudi oil is already being built in Fujian and a joint refinery venture is planned for Qingdao. Perhaps more significant is the plan to build a strategic oil-reserve facility in a coastal location in southeast China, the aim being to supply and store Saudi oil in which can be used in times of conflict and disruption to supplies. [complete article] The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation: uneasy amity
By David Wall, openDemocracy, June 16, 2006
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) held its fifth anniversary summit meeting in Shanghai on 15 June 2006. The heads of state of the six full members -- China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan -- were present, as were those of three of the four observer members -- Iran, Pakistan and Mongolia. India, the other observer member, sent Murli Deora, its minister of petroleum and natural gas. The president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, also attended as a special guest.
The communique at the summit's end announced the shared commitment of the SCO's members to combatting the "threats posed by terrorism, separatism and extremism and illegal drug trafficking". But the warm words and the appearance of unity are deceptive.
The SCO brought itself into many people's sight for the first time in July 2005, when its fourth summit meeting in Kazakhstan's new capital Astana declared that it was time for the United States to pull its troops out of central Asia. A few weeks later Uzbekistan told the US to close its bases in that country by the end of 2005, and Kyrgyzstan demanded a hundred-fold increase in the rent that the Americans were paying for its base there. [complete article] Too close for comfort
By Mark Hosenball, Newsweek, June 18, 2006
U.S. authorities had intelligence that a team of Al Qaeda-linked terrorists had infiltrated the United States and planned a 2003 attack on the New York City subway system with homemade cyanide bombs, federal and local counterterrorism officials have acknowledged to Newsweek. But the officials say the plot was called off at the last minute by Al Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahiri -- for reasons that remain unclear.
Details of the purported cyanide plot are revealed by author Ron Suskind in his book, "The One Percent Doctrine," to be published on June 20. According to a source familiar with the book’s content, Suskind reports that American authorities first learned about the cyanide plot from an informant inside Al Qaeda known as Ali. According to the book, Ali fed Washington critical information about Al Qaeda between late 2002 and early 2005, until U.S. officials decided that it was too dangerous to the informant to continue to use his reporting. [complete article] Former antiterror officials find industry pays better
By Eric Lipton, New York Times, June 18, 2006
Dozens of members of the Bush administration's domestic security team, assembled after the 2001 terrorist attacks, are now collecting bigger paychecks in different roles: working on behalf of companies that sell domestic security products, many directly to the federal agencies the officials once helped run.
At least 90 officials at the Department of Homeland Security or the White House Office of Homeland Security -- including the department's former secretary, Tom Ridge; the former deputy secretary, Adm. James M. Loy; and the former under secretary, Asa Hutchinson -- are executives, consultants or lobbyists for companies that collectively do billions of dollars' worth of domestic security business.
More than two-thirds of the department's most senior executives in its first years have moved through the revolving door. That pattern raises questions for some former officials. [complete article] New Jersey demands data on phone call surveillance and is sued by U.S.
By David W. Chen and Matt Richtel, New York Times, June 16, 2006
The New Jersey attorney general has issued subpoenas to five telephone companies to determine whether any of them violated the state's consumer protection laws by providing records to the National Security Agency. Experts say it is the first legal move by a state to question the agency's program to compile calling records to track terrorist activities.
On Wednesday, the United States filed a lawsuit to block the subpoenas, setting up a legal showdown pitting the state's authority to protect consumers' rights against the federal government's national security powers.
"People in New Jersey and people everywhere have privacy rights," the state's attorney general, Zulima V. Farber, said on Thursday. "What we were trying to determine was whether the phone companies in New Jersey had violated any law or any contractual obligations with their consumers by supplying information to some government entity, simply by request, and not by any court order or search warrant." [complete article] My unwitting role in the Rove 'scoop'
By Joe Lauria, Washington Post, June 18, 2006
The May 13 story on the Web site Truthout.org was explosive: Presidential adviser Karl Rove had been indicted by Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald in connection with his role in leaking CIA officer Valerie Plame's name to the media, it blared. The report set off hysteria on the Internet, and the mainstream media scrambled to nail it down. Only ... it wasn't true.
As we learned last week, Rove isn't being indicted, and the supposed Truthout scoop by reporter Jason Leopold was wildly off the mark. It was but the latest installment in the tale of a troubled young reporter with a history of drug addiction whose aggressive disregard for the rules ended up embroiling me in a bizarre escapade -- and raised serious questions about journalistic ethics.
In his nine-year reporting career, Leopold has managed, despite his drug abuse and a run-in with the law, to work with such big-time news organizations as the Los Angeles Times, Dow Jones Newswire and Salon. He broke some bona fide stories on the Enron scandal and the CIA leak investigation. But in every job, something always went wrong, and he got the sack. Finally, he landed at Truthout, a left-leaning Web site. [complete article]
Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:
Smoke of Iraq war 'drifting over Lebanon'
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, June 12, 2006
Foreign policy experts: Why the U.S. is not winning the war on terror
Foreign Policy & The Center For American Progress, July/August, 2006
The fast-fading luster of the American story
By Nathan Gardels and Mike Medavoy, IHT, June 14, 2006
Meet the new leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq
By Sami Moubayed, Asia Times, June 14, 2006
By Lawrence Wright, The New Yorker, June 12, 2006
The new Zarqawi myth
By Loretta Napoleoni, Antiwar.com, June 12, 2006
After Bush's visit: Maliki on a tightrope
By Tony Karon, Time, June 16, 2006
Shiite militias control prisons, official says
By Jonathan Finer and Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, June 16, 2006
A prison we need to escape
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, June 14, 2006
Religious leaders urge U.S. to ban torture
By Alan Cooperman, Washington Post, June 13, 2006
The U.S. and Europe are trampling over Iran's right to enrich uranium
By Alastair Crooke, Prospect, June, 2006
The tripolar chessboard
By Michael T. Klare, TomDispatch, June 15, 2006
Somalis welcome the quiet brought by Islamist takeover
By Hannah Allam, Knight Ridder, June 15, 2006
Adviser has president's ear as she keeps eyes on Iraq
By Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times, June 13, 2006
How Gaza could turn into Mogadishu
By Tony Karon, Time, June 12, 2006
Prejudice and fear trample on basic human rights
By David Cole, Los Angeles Times, June 16, 2006
Judge rules that U.S. has broad powers to detain noncitizens indefinitely
By Nina Bernstein, New York Times, June 15, 2006
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