Friday, December 8, 2006

Torture general sworn in as NATO military chief

Guantanamo general sworn in as NATO military chief

Thu Dec 7, 10:49 AM ET

The US general formerly responsible for the prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, officially took command of NATO forces at the alliance's military headquarters in Belgium.

General Bantz J. Craddock, once an advisor to outgoing US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, was sworn in at a ceremony in Mons, southern Belgium, replacing outgoing NATO commander US General James Jones.

NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) is always an American.

Initially an armoured brigade officer, Craddock served in operation Desert Storm in Iraq before taking over the United States southern command based in Miami, whose area of responsibility covered the US naval base in Cuba.

In October, he appointed an army colonel to head a probe into allegations brought by a Marine paralegal of abuse of prisoners there.

European powers, including some of Washington's closest NATO allies, have strongly criticised Guantanamo, where many detainees have been held without charge for years.

Craddock, who is often called John, assumed the leadership of the United States European Command on Monday, also taking over from Jones.

European Command covers 93 countries in central and eastern Europe, Africa and parts of the Middle East.

Jones was the first US Marine to lead NATO.

He took up his post on January 17, 2003 at a key point in NATO's history as it transformed from the West's Cold War military bloc to a more mobile force prepared to deal with terror threats.

"Im sure General Craddock is going to bring renewed energy and will do some great things. I envy the opportunity that hell have to come in at a very important time in the Alliance. I certainly wish him well," Jones said last month.

Jones, an astute military mind with remarkable political acumen, will retire next year after a 40-year military career but said he has no clear picture of what he wants to do in the future.

"Jokingly I say I have a short-term plan and a long-term plan. The short-term plan is to be home for Christmas, and the long-term plan is to be in the Caribbean by New Year's," he told reporters in Mons.

Apocalypse now: 79 recommendations and a President forced into a corner

By Andrew Buncombe in Washington and Colin Brown

Published: 07 December 2006

A gauntlet was thrown at George Bush's feet yesterday when a long-awaited report on Iraq recommended that he seek the help of Iran and Syria, significantly bolster Iraqi forces and prepare to withdraw most US troops within 14 months.

It warned that finding a way forward had to be part of a broader Middle East settlement that established a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict and provided peace for Lebanon.

In a 100-page, bleak, uncompromising report that contained 79 separate recommendations, the Iraq Study Group warned "the situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating" and that a regional conflict could be triggered if things continued to slide. It added: "There is no path that can guarantee success but the prospects can be improved."

Many of the report's recommendations had been leaked in advance and in some cases - for instance the deployment of US troops with Iraqi units - are already being carried out on the ground.

But, crucially, the bipartisan report may provide the political cover required by Mr Bush to break from his refusal to alter strategy.

With every day bringing more bad news from Iraq, and with US casualties having passed 2,900, Mr Bush is under increasing pressure to offer a solution to the violence and to find some way of withdrawing the 140,000 US troops.

On Tuesday his nominee for Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, admitted the US was not winning in Iraq and last night Tony Blair arrived in Washington intent on pressing the President to adopt the ISG's proposal of finding a regional solution. The two leaders are due meet later today. Before leaving for the US, Mr Blair was challenged in the Commons by the Tory leader, David Cameron, as to whether he agreed with Mr Gates's bleak assessment.

The Prime Minister replied: "Of course. On July I said myself that the situation Baghdad with sectarian killing was appalling and the bloodshed was appalling.

"What is important, however, is, as he went on to say, that we do go on to succeed in the mission that we have set ourselves."

Mr Bush said he would take "every proposal seriously and we will act in a timely fashion". But the President is not obliged to adopt the report's recommendations and he has continued to insist he is not seeking a "graceful exit out of Iraq".

The report does not directly criticise the government and neither does it consider how the US happens to be involved in a bitter, bloody conflict that has claimed the lives of perhaps 655,000 Iraqis. But taken together, its recommendations can be read as both a clear rebuke of the Bush administration's policies in Iraq and a rejection of its rhetoric about the extent to which events have slipped out of US control.

For instance, whereas Mr Bush pursued a policy of unilateralism, the report now recommends launching a "diplomatic offensive"; whereas Mr Bush insists the US is "winning", the report makes clear that attacks against US and Iraqi forces are "persistent and growing"; whereas Mr Bush often speaks as though the US is the blameless bystander in the middle of a sectarian war the report makes clear that "because events in Iraq have been set in motion by American decisions and actions, the US has both a national and moral interest in doing what it can to give Iraqis an opportunity to avert anarchy". It concludes that the current strategy "is not working".

In addition to recommending that the number of US troops embedded with Iraqi forces be increased in the short term from 4,000 to up to 20,000, the report also considers ways of improving Iraq's oil sector, the reconstruction efforts and US intelligence capacity.

It said there was significant under-reporting of the level of violence in Iraq and raised questions about the effectiveness of US intelligence saying the government "still does not understand very well either the insurgency in Iraq or the role of the militias".

Though written overwhelmingly from a US perspective, the report also stresses the issues faced by the Iraqi population. "There is great suffering and the daily lives of many Iraqis show little or no improvement," it says. "Pessimism is pervasive."

Underlining such an assessment, at least eight more people were killed and dozens wounded yesterday in the Sadr City district of Baghdad by a mortar assault and a suicide bomb attack.

The devastating findings

* US should launch new diplomatic offensive to build an international consensus for stability in Iraq and the region, drawing in every country that has an interest in avoiding a chaotic Iraq, including all of its neighbours. They and other key states should form a support group to reinforce security and national reconciliation within Iraq

* US should engage Iran and Syria constructively, given their ability to influence events within Iraq. Iran should stem the flow of arms and training to Iraq, respect Iraq's sovereignty and territorial integrity and use its influence over Iraqi Shia groups to encourage national reconciliation. The issue of Iran's nuclear programme should continue to be dealt with by the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. Syria should control its border with Iraq to stem the flow of funding, insurgents and terrorists in and out of Iraq

* Troops not needed for force protection could be pulled out of Iraq by the first quarter of 2008, depending on the security situation. "Substantially more" US combat troops should switch to a role of training and advising Iraqi security forces by working within Iraqi units

* There must be a renewed and sustained commitment by the United States to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts.

U.S.-led coalition forces kill 19 civilians

Coalition raids Iraq areas, killing 20

By SAMEER N. YACOUB, Associated Press Writer
2 hours, 29 minutes ago

U.S.-led coalition forces killed 20 insurgents, including two women, Friday in fighting and airstrikes that targeted al-Qaida in Iraq militants northwest of Baghdad, the military said. The mayor of the area said 19 civilians were killed, including seven women and eight children.

During the coalition raid near Lake Tharthar in Salahuddin province northwest of Baghdad on Friday, ground forces were searching buildings when they were attacked. They returned fire, killing two insurgents, the U.S. military said.

Under continuing fire, the troops called in air support, killing 18 insurgents, including two women, the command said in a brief statement. The military declined to specify which branch of the coalition was involved, but the U.S. provides the bulk of the air support in most of the country.

"Al-Qaida in Iraq has both men and women supporting and facilitating their operations unfortunately," it said.

Searching the area, the coalition forces found and destroyed several weapons caches, including AK-47s, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, anti-personnel mines, explosives, blasting caps and suicide vests, the command said.

The raid was conducted in an area where intelligence reports had indicated that "associates with links to multiple al-Qaida in Iraq networks were operating," U.S. command said.

Amir Fayadh, the mayor of the al-Ishaqi area, east of the lake, and local police said 19 civilians were killed during airstrikes on two houses, and Fayadh said the dead included seven women and eight children.

In Baghdad, a roadside bomb killed an American soldier Thursday during a joint patrol with the Iraqi army, the U.S. command said. The death raised to 33 the number of U.S. forces killed so far in December.

In the south, more than 800 British forces and 200 Danish troops fought Iraqis during a pre-dawn raid in the Hartha area on the outskirts of Basra, coalition officials said.

British Maj. Charlie Burbridge, the spokesman for the coalition in southern Iraq, said five Iraqis were detained and described them as members of "a rogue, breakaway element" of one of the many Shiite militias in the area. He said the suspects were directly involved in several local attacks.

Burbridge called it the largest search and detention operation that coalition forces have conducted in southern Iraq since the war began in March 2003.

The Danish soldiers arrived from the north, and British ones with armored vehicles arriving from the south, Burbridge said. Other British forces reached the area on boats traveling to the junction of the Garmat Ali River and the Shatt al-Arab waterway in an operation that was supported by helicopters and jets, he said.

Two large mosques were near one of the houses that was searched, but the raid ended long before residents began to travel to them on Friday, the day of worship in mostly Muslim Iraq, said Capt. Tane Dunlop, another spokesman for multinational forces in Basra, the city in southern Iraq where most British forces are based.

The arms cache found in one of the houses raided included Katyusha rockets, roadside bombs, rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, Dunlop said.

The Danish forces are based in Shaiba, a military base south of Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad, Dunlop said.

On Thursday, a series of bombings and shootings killed at least 23 people in Iraq, including a 7-year-old girl and two college professors, police said. Iraqi police also found 35 bullet-riddled bodies that had been bound and blindfolded and left in different parts of the capital.

U.S. construction activity plunges

October drop was largest since 2001 recession
The Associated Press
Updated: 12:36 p.m. MT Dec 1, 2006

WASHINGTON - Construction activity in October plunged by the largest amount since the recession in 2001 as home building fell for a record seventh consecutive month.

The Commerce Department reported that building activity dropped 1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1.18 trillion in October following a 0.8 percent fall in September. It was the biggest decline since a similar 1 percent drop in September 2001, a month when the country was hit by the terrorist attacks as it was mired in a recession.

Residential construction fell for a seventh month in October, the longest stretch of weakness on record. The 1.9 percent drop in this category in October was the biggest decline since July.

The weakness in housing was compounded by a drop in nonresidential construction, which fell by 0.7 percent, the second straight decline in this category.

Only government construction activity showed strength in October, rising by 0.8 percent to an all-time high of $273.1 billion at an annual rate.

The new report served to underscore the significant reversal in the fortunes of the housing industry, which had been one of the economy’s standout performers as the lowest mortgage rates in four decades pushed sales up to record highs for five straight years.

Demand, however, has cooled this year as buyers have balked at the huge run-up in prices of recent years. Builders have been offering a host of incentives from kitchen upgrades to free swimming pools to move a record backlog of unsold homes.

The government reported this week that the slowdown in housing trimmed 1.16 percentage point from economic growth in the July-September quarter, a period when the economy slowed to a lackluster growth rate of 2.2 percent.

The 1.9 percent fall in private residential construction pushed this category down to an annual rate of $597.1 billion, 9.4 percent below the level of a year ago.

Non-residential activity fell 0.7 percent to an annual rate of $308.2 billion. Even with the decline, non-residential building was still 16.4 percent above the level of a year ago.

Economists are hoping that strength in the nonresidential sector will help to cushion the drag from the steep fall in housing activity. But in October, there were declines in spending on office buildings, shopping centers and communication projects.

But analysts said they expected nonresidential activity to rebound as a number of sectors, including hotels and motels, continued to show strength.

“I think there is still plenty of life left in hotel, hospital, energy-related and public spending, but single-family construction will remain in a free-fall for several more months,” said Kenneth Simonson, chief economist at the Associated General Contractors of America.

The 0.8 percent rise in public construction reflected a big 11.6 percent jump in spending on federal building projects which offset a flat reading for state and local projects.

URL

The last casualty?

Last update - 15:46 07/12/2006

By Gideon Levy

The numbers don't lie. They never do. In the past month, the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces was 45 times greater than the number of Israelis killed by Palestinians. The Palestinian dead included 13 minors. All in one deadly month. The last name on the list is Ayman Abu-Mahdi, a 10-year-old boy who had come home from school and gone out to get a little air with his siblings and friends. He was sitting on a bench in front of his house. The time: 15 hours before the cease-fire in Gaza.

The last casualty? Of course not. In the first week after the cease-fire, Israel had already killed five more in the West Bank. The last child to die? No again. This past Sunday, soldiers killed 15-year-old Mahmoud al-Jabji in the Askar refugee camp in Nablus. The last casualty in Gaza? That, too, is hard to believe. The last only until this cease-fire goes up in flames, like all its predecessors.

For a week, Ayman lay dying in the pediatric intensive care unit at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer. Only his uncle, Abdel Hayy Abu-Mahdi, was permitted to accompany him that terrible night, when he was transferred in grave condition from the hospital in Gaza to Israel. It took another six days of running around until his father, too, was permitted to see his son. Hours later, the boy was dead. The youngest son of Najah and Abdel Qader al-Mahdi passed away early Saturday morning. His body was wrapped in a bright blue shroud and transported back to Gaza. In the afternoon, he was buried in the cemetery opposite his house, not far from the spot where he had been shot a week earlier.

A row of trees separates the house from the cemetery. They were planted by the family about 25 years ago to act as a divider. "So we could see a little greenery," says the uncle. Ten trees, a little scrap of green in the depressing landscape of the refugee camp. They didn't want to look out the window and see graves. Their house is at the western end of the Jabalya camp. They moved here after saving some money from working in Israel, work that came to an end about six years ago.

All their lives, the Abu-Mahdi brothers worked in construction in Israel, and now, except for one brother who works as a teacher - and hasn't been paid in eight months - all have been unemployed for years. They built the house themselves over a period of years - wall after wall, floor after floor, until it was a four-story apartment building housing the five brothers and their families, including the family of a brother who was killed in an auto accident between Yavneh and Ashdod on the way home from work.

The line of trees hid the graves, but two weeks ago it did not obscure the sight of a tank that sat on a hill - Jabal al-Qashf they call it - overlooking their home from a distance to the west. Even from the first floor, from the apartment where Ayman's family lives (10 children and their parents), the tank could be seen.

The IDF was "operating" in Beit Hanun and the tank was watching over nearby Jabalya.

On Saturday two weeks ago, Ayman got up in the morning and went off to the UNRWA school, where he was a fifth-grader. He returned home at 12:30, had lunch and then went outside. Next to the row of trees, the family had built a concrete bench. Ayman sat on the bench with some of his siblings and friends, including his brother Adham and his cousin Amjad. His uncle Abdel Hayy was in his apartment on the second floor.

Shortly after three, the uncle awoke from a nap to the sound of a hail of bullets striking the walls of the building and shattering windows. Then he heard loud yelling coming from the street. Abdel Hayy rushed downstairs in a panic and heard that his nephew Ayman had been wounded. From what? He asked. "From the tank on the hill," the distraught children answered him. Ayman had already been rushed to the hospital; only his blood was visible in the sand. "Ayman, Ayman," the children cried hoarsely.

They all hurried to the Kamal Adwan Hospital, which is more like a large clinic, not a place where anyone would wish to be hospitalized. Someone in a passing car had rushed Ayman there. The doctors at Kamal Adwan were unable to do much. The bullet had penetrated the boy's skull from the left side and exited from the top. Ayman was taken to Shifa Hospital. There, they just tried to stop the bleeding that had spread in his brain. Ayman's condition deteriorated, and shortly after 10 P.M. it was decided that the boy needed to be rushed to a hospital in Israel.

The family began frantically chasing after the necessary permits. One uncle went to the Palestinian health ministry, another went to the Liason and Coordination Administration, a third obtained the medical report. Within two hours, they had all the permits, but at midnight, when they reached the Erez checkpoint, the father was not permitted to accompany his dying son. "Bring someone else. You're his father and the father isn't allowed to go," they were told. The uncle Abdel Hayy was selected to accompany Ayman, because of his fluent Hebrew.

A Palestinian ambulance had brought Ayman to the checkpoint. An Israeli ambulance was waiting on the other side. A Palestinian ambulance is not allowed to pass through the checkpoint, regardless of the condition of its passenger. The uncle had to pay NIS 2,000 to get the Israeli ambulance to come. At a quarter to two, they reached Sheba Medical Center.

After arriving at Sheba, Ayman underwent surgery. In the days that followed, his condition worsened: his vital systems collapsed one after the other. His uncle never budged from his bedside. Seven days, a slow death.

Back in Gaza, Ayman's father was desperately trying to obtain an entry permit to enter Israel so he could be at his son's bedside. Ayman was the beloved youngest child; only a few days before he was shot, his father had said to him: "Of all your brothers and sisters, you're the only one who will stay and live with us even after you get married." Ayman loved soccer. His uncle says the adults were always telling him to stop making noise with the soccer ball when they were trying to rest.

Last Friday, after the uncle appealed to human rights organizations in Israel and with the assistance of hospital personnel, the permit was finally obtained - six days after the boy was wounded by an Israeli tank. Abdel Qader Abu-Mahdi was permitted to come to Sheba to see his son. It was a just a few hours before the boy died.

On the day Ayman died, this writer spoke by telephone with the uncle in Gaza. Gaza has been closed to Israeli journalists for the last two weeks. Before that, we were able to take a picture of the dead child in the ambulance that took him back to Gaza, wrapped in a blue shroud, a tranquil expression on his face. His uncle held up a picture of Ayman before he was wounded, to show us what he looked like.

The scene at the boy's bedside, says the uncle, was heartbreaking. "The father started to cry and shout: "Ayman, Ayman, answer me. Speak to me. Just one word." Abdel Hayy says that the medical staff couldn't hold back their tears, either. The father wanted to stay in the hospital, but his brother insisted that he go home. "I wouldn't let him. I'm his uncle and it's very hard for me, but how would it be for his father? I was afraid that my brother might have a heart attack. I pleaded with him to go home."

On Friday afternoon, the father took a taxi to the Erez checkpoint. That night, the uncle tried to go to sleep in the parents' room next to the pediatric intensive care unit. He couldn't fall asleep. He told the other people there that he knew the boy wouldn't last much longer.

At five in the morning, he heard a voice over the intercom calling him to come to the ward. The doctor offered him a seat, and he understood immediately. Abdel Hayy almost fainted; the doctor supported him. Then he pulled himself together and recited the morning prayer: "May God have mercy on the child." He gathered up his few possessions and waited for the ambulance that would take them both back to Jabalya. He called another of his brothers and asked him to give Ayman's father the message. He didn't want to break the news over the telephone.

Exhausted and grieving, he says: "My brothers and I lived with the Israelis like friends. Even now, after what happened, we're like friends with the Israelis. We were in Israel our whole lives. We want to live like all the nations. Enough of the bloodshed, from both sides."

End seen for voting machines without a paper trail

Related
No touchscreen voting without paper
---
December 8, 2006

Changes Are Expected in Voting by 2008 Election

By the 2008 presidential election, voters around the country are likely to see sweeping changes in how they cast their ballots and how those ballots are counted, including an end to the use of most electronic voting machines without a paper trail, federal voting officials and legislators say.

New federal guidelines, along with legislation given a strong chance to pass in Congress next year, will probably combine to make the paperless voting machines obsolete, the officials say. States and counties that bought the machines will have to modify them to hook up printers, at federal expense, while others are planning to scrap the machines and buy new ones.

Motivated in part by voting problems during the midterm elections last month, the changes are a result of a growing skepticism among local and state election officials, federal legislators and the scientific community about the reliability and security of the paperless touch-screen machines used by about 30 percent of American voters.

--MORE--

By IAN URBINA and CHRISTOPHER DREW

Israel frets over Iraq report, sends FM to Washington

Related
Iraq Study Group Recommendations on Israel-Palestine
---
AFP
by Marius Schattner 14 minutes ago

Israel's foreign minister has travelled to the United States amid worries the Jewish state's main ally could shift course after a report urged Washington to step up Middle East peacemaking efforts.

Tzipi Livni was to meet with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other officials during her visit, which will focus on the repercussions of a report released Wednesday by the Iraq Study Group, her office said Friday.

"This trip will be an occasion to review with her counterparts the report and to discuss its meaning," a foreign ministry spokesman said.

That report said progress towards Arab-Israeli peace was key to saving Iraq.

It also called for direct US talks with two of Israel's most loathed foes, Syria and Iran, the latter of which is accused of working to develop nuclear weapons.

A day after receiving the top-level commission's report, the United States and Britain signalled the start of a renewed diplomatic push in the region.

US President George W. Bush promised "concerted efforts to advance the cause of peace" and said British Prime Minister Tony Blair would soon travel to the region for talks with Israel and the Palestinians.

The prime minister's visit was to set the stage for Rice, in early 2007, to make her eighth trip in two years to Israel and the Palestinian territories, Rice's spokesman said.

The renewed focus on peacemaking and growing domestic pressure on US leaders to end the imbroglio in Iraq has Israelis worrying about a possible policy shift by Bush.

Israel's leading newspaper, Yediot Aharonot daily, said Bush was "trying to change his policy" and slammed the Iraq report, accusing its chief authors James Baker and Lee Hamilton of ignoring Israel during its preparation.

"If the truth be told, they barely paid any attention to us," the newspaper lamented.

"For 14 years, Israel enjoyed warm and pampering attention under (former president Bill) Clinton and Bush. Now, in light of the catastrophe in Iraq, Baker and Hamilton wish to restore us to our proper proportions."

Edward Djerejian, a senior adviser to the Iraq Study Group, told the paper that were Washington to shift its tack, Israel would follow suit.

"I have much respect for (Israeli Prime Minister) Ehud Olmert. I think that if we move, he will also move," Djerejian, a former US ambassador to Syria and Israel, was quoted as saying.

Olmert, however, has expressed disatisfaction with the report's recommendations. Speaking to reporters on Thursday, he said US problems in Iraq were "entirely independent of the controversy between us and the Palestinians."

In statements sure to allay Israeli concerns, Bush has rebuffed some of the report's recommendations and maintained his insistence that Damascus and Tehran renounce support for extremists.

He also insists they pledge support for Baghdad's fledgling government and that Iran freeze sensitive nuclear work before any direct talks.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa have both welcomed the panel's recommendation that Bush revitalise Arab-Israeli peacemaking efforts.

In Tehran, however, visiting Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniya of the ruling Islamist movement Hamas showed no sign of softening his stand.

"We will never recognize the usurping Zionist regime," Haniya, on a four-day trip to the Islamic republic, said in a speech at Tehran's Muslim weekly prayers. "We will not give up our Jihadist movement."

In the Gaza Strip, meanwhile, thousands of Hamas loyalists demonstrated in front of the Palestinian parliament in support of Haniya, while a Palestinian rocket struck southern Israel, causing neither injuries nor damage.

It was the 18th rocket to hit Israel in violation of a fragile ceasefire which took effect 13 days ago in the Gaza Strip.

That truce agreement had rekindled international optimism about restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, dormant since the outbreak of the uprising in September 2000.

All-Time High: 71% Of Americans Dissatisfied With Bush's Iraq Handling

AP Poll: Few expect victory in Iraq
By NANCY BENAC, Associated Press Writer
Fri Dec 8, 3:26 AM ET

Americans are overwhelmingly resigned to something less than clear-cut victory in Iraq and growing numbers doubt the country will achieve a stable, democratic government no matter how the U.S. gets out, according to an AP poll.

At the same time, dissatisfaction with President Bush's handling of Iraq has climbed to an alltime high of 71 percent. The latest AP-Ipsos poll, taken as a bipartisan commission was releasing its recommendations for a new course in Iraq, found that just 27 percent of Americans approved of Bush's handling of Iraq, down from his previous low of 31 percent in November.

"Support is continuing to erode and there's no particular reason to think it can be turned back," said John Mueller, an Ohio State University political scientist and author of "War, Presidents and Public Opinion." Mueller said that once people "drop off the bandwagon, it's unlikely they'll say 'I'm for it again.' Once they're off, they're off."

Even so, Americans are not necessarily intent on getting all U.S. troops out right away, the poll indicated. The survey found strong support for a two-year timetable if that's what it took to get U.S. troops out. Seventy-one percent said they would favor a two-year timeline from now until sometime in 2008, but when people are asked instead about a six-month timeline for withdrawal that number drops to 60 percent.

Public opinion expert Karlyn Bowman of the conservative American Enterprise Institute said stronger support for the longer timetable could reflect a realization that it takes time to change strategy.

But while Americans give their presidents considerable latitude on foreign policy when they think there is a clear plan, the negative numbers show a public that is clamoring for change, she said.

"It's going to be very hard to reverse numbers as negative as the president has right now," she said.

The AP-Ipsos survey of 1,000 Americans, taken Monday through Wednesday, underscores growing pessimism about Iraq. Some 63 percent did not expect a stable, democratic government to be established there, up from 54 percent who felt likewise in June. Skepticism was considerably higher among Democrats, with just 22 percent expecting a stable, democratic government, compared with half of all Republicans. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The latest numbers evoke parallels to public opinion about the war in Vietnam four decades ago. Just 9 percent expect the Iraq war to end in clear-cut victory, compared with 87 percent who expect some sort of compromise settlement. A similar question asked by Gallup in December 1965, when the American side of the war still had eight years to run, found just 7 percent believed the war in Vietnam would end in victory.

Former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton, one of the co-chairmen of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, took note of growing impatience with the war's direction and with the commitment of U.S. troops when he told senators Thursday: "There are limits to the American patience. There are limits to American resources."

"You want to get out in a way that is responsible," he added.

The study panel's 96-page report said flatly that the administration's approach was not working and recommended that the U.S. military accelerate a change in its main mission so that most combat troops can be withdrawn by spring 2008.

House and Senate Democratic leaders have all signed on to a plan that the U.S. pull out some troops right away to put pressure on the Iraqis, but without a specific timetable.

___

AP's Manager of News Surveys Trevor Tompson and AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this story.

Former GOP Official Faces Felony Charges

Dec 5, 2006 08:24 AM MST

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) Prosecutors have filed fraud charges against the former executive director of the Allen County Republican Party, who acknowledged that he forged the signatures of eleven township candidates on official forms.

41-year-old Douglas Foy of Fort Wayne is charged with eleven felony counts of falsely making a declaration of candidacy or part of a declaration of candidacy. A warrant was issued for his arrest Monday.

If convicted, he faces six months to three years in prison on each charge. In August, Foy presented a written statement to the Allen County Election Board, taking responsibility for the forgeries. The board voted unanimously to remove the eleven candidates from the ballot. GOP officials also fired Foy.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

UN plea for millions in Palestinian aid amid fears of economic collapse

· Half of population going short of food, agencies say

· Senior officials warn of breakdown of government

Rory McCarthy in Jerusalem
Friday December 8, 2006
The Guardian


Food aid in Khan Yunis refugee camp
A Palestinian man receives food aid in Khan Yunis refugee camp. Photograph: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters
UN aid agencies launched their biggest appeal for funding to tackle the humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territories yesterday, asking for $453m (£231m) for next year and warning of a weakening in the Palestinians' ability to govern.

Senior UN aid officials in Jerusalem said there were clear signs of a worsening economic crisis. Around two thirds of the 4 million Palestinian population were living below the poverty line and half the population were "food-insecure", meaning they could not afford the basic foods to meet dietary needs. Unemployment was running as high as 40% in the Gaza strip and at around 25% in the West Bank.

Most of the money will be spent on emergency food aid and economic recovery, including job programmes. Kevin Kennedy, the UN humanitarian coordinator, said the crisis was not only an economic collapse but was also tied to an increase in closures and access restrictions imposed on the occupied territories by the Israeli government and to continued conflict, internal political fighting and a breakdown of law and order.

The UN has warned there has been a gradual weakening of the Palestinian Authority. The crisis results from an international boycott imposed in March after the Hamas militant movement won elections and formed a government. Israel has since withheld $60m a month of tax revenues that should go to the Palestinians.

Although some of that money has been spent paying the Palestinian bills of Israeli electricity and water companies, the Israelis have now withheld nearly $600m.

The international community, under the Quartet of the US, the UN, the EU and Russia, has also halted direct funding to the Palestinian government, saying it must recognise Israel, halt violence and accept past peace agreements. The freeze means salaries for 160,000 government workers have largely gone unpaid.

Mr Kennedy said the UN programme was not trying to replace the Palestinian Authority, but he added: "Obviously the longer the current situation continues, with further deterioration, a lack of salaries, people on strike, continued military conflict on both sides, [the] further [the] weakening of the Palestinian Authority and its institutions."

The Quartet has proposed that Israel begin passing on the tax revenues it owes via a system called the temporary international mechanism, which channels money to the office of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, a leader of the more moderate Fatah party, and not directly to the rival Hamas government. But so far Israel is withholding the revenues.

In the past year the UN said there had been a 40% increase in the number of barriers and checkpoints across the West Bank. In addition, there have been continued closures of the crossing points for people and goods out of Gaza. Under an agreement negotiated last November, Israel was to open up the main crossing points to relieve the economic crisis. But the crossings have in effect been closed, with Israel citing security concerns.

On top of the economic crisis and the restrictions on movement, in recent weeks talks between Mr Abbas and Hamas to form a coalition government appear to have entirely broken down.

Somalia-Ethiopia Fighting Reported

Somalia-Ethiopia Fighting Reported


Friday December 8, 2006 3:01 PM

By MOHAMED SHEIKH NOR

Associated Press Writer

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) - A top Islamic official said Friday that militiamen are fighting Ethiopian troops in a southern Somalia town, and he called on Somalis to defeat ``the enemies who have invaded our land.''

If confirmed, it will be the first time the Islamic militias that control most of southern Somalia have fought directly with Ethiopian troops.

``New fighting has started in Dinsor. Our forces have been raided by Ethiopian troops, so people get up and fight against the Ethiopians,'' Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed told a crowd of hundreds after Friday prayers. Islamic militiamen seized Dinsor on Saturday without encountering resistance or firing a shot.

``Stand up and overcome the enemies who have invaded our land,'' he told the crowd, which had gathered to protest a U.N. resolution allowing an African peacekeeping force into Somalia.

Demonstrations were held in several towns throughout Somalia against Wednesday's U.N. resolution, which eases a 14-year arms embargo on Somalia so an African force can equip itself. The resolution stopped Somalia's neighbors - Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya - from contributing troops.

Ethiopian troops were first reported in Somalia in June, soon after the Islamic courts took the capital, Mogadishu. Ethiopia has always said it has only a few hundred military advisers in Somalia to help the transtional government form a national army, but a confidential U.N. report obtained by The Associated Press in October said 6,000-8,000 Ethiopian troops were in Somalia or along the border.

The report also said 2,000 soldiers from Eritrea were inside Somalia. Eritrea denies having any troops in Somalia.

Earlier Friday, Sheikh Abdullahi Ali Hashi, a spokesman for the Islamic courts, claimed Ethiopian troops had shelled the central Somalia town of Bandiradley, while residents of a nearby village said Ethiopian troops and tanks had taken up positions near the town.

Witnesses in a village near Bandiradley said hundreds of Ethiopian troops and tanks had taken up positions near the town.

They said that this new movement puts these forces and their rival Islamic courts' militias just over a mile apart.

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Associated Press writer Mohamed Olad Hassan in Mogadishu, Somalia contributed to this report.

U.S. consumer confidence slips ahead of holidays

Related
Stocks fall on confidence report
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By JEANNINE AVERSA, AP Economics Writer1 hour, 2 minutes ago

Consumer confidence dipped in December, suggesting Americans are feeling less cheery — but are not downright gloomy — as they hit the malls during the holiday season.

The RBC Cash Index, based on the results of the international polling firm Ipsos, showed that confidence came in at 86.9. That was down from 92.4 in November and was the lowest reading since October.

Shoppers' spirits can affect just how much they are willing to keep cash registers ringing during the crucial holiday sales period for retailers.

Consumer spending accounts for roughly two-thirds of all economic activity. Economists keep close tabs on confidence readings for clues about consumers' appetite to spend.

Economists believed the slip in confidence was linked to the fact that energy prices, which had been falling, are now creeping up. Gasoline, selling at $2.25 a gallon at the end of November, is now hovering around $2.30. Surging energy prices this year caused some consumers to tighten the belt.

People also are nervous about how much the value of their home will be hurt by the housing slump, a development that would affect how wealthy people feel and their willingness to spend, economists said.

Also making people feel a bit uneasy is the extent to which the economy, which has been losing speed all year, will slow.

All those things are "resonating and making them feel a little queasy," said economist Ken Mayland, president of ClearView Economics.

Consumers, however, are not feeling overly glum. Even with December's dip, consumer confidence is running a bit better than the reading of 85.5 logged for the same month last year.

The confidence index is benchmarked to a reading of 100 on January 2002, when Ipsos started the survey.

The slide in confidence comes as Americans' gave President Bush lower marks for his economic stewardship. The president's approval rating on the economy fell to 38 percent in December from 43 percent in November, according to a separate AP-Ipsos poll.

Most of the ebbing in consumer confidence in December reflected concerns about economic conditions over the next six months. This "expectations" index sank to 55 from 60.5 in November. This measure, which turned negative last fall when surging energy prices and other fallout from the deadly Gulf Coast hurricanes shook Americans, has been weak for much of this year.

Consumers' feelings about current economic conditions slipped to 95.2, from 102.9 in November.

Economic growth slowed to a 2.2 percent pace in the third quarter, held back by the housing slump. Growth in the October-to-December quarter as well as into early next year also is expected to be lethargic.

Another index that tracks peoples' attitudes about buying, saving and other investment decisions dropped to 82.5 in December, down from 92.1 in November.

"I think the negative housing story is weighing on peoples' minds. I think they feel a little less positive on that front," said Bill Cheney, chief economist at John Hancock Financial Services.

Owners this year are seeing their homes either drop in value or not go up by nearly as much as they had during the housing boom. Home sales have also fallen off this year, after hitting record highs for five years running. Fewer homes sold can mean less demand for new furniture, appliances and other household goods, analysts said.

A gauge tracking peoples' feelings about the job market, meanwhile, rose to 126.5 in December, compared with 121.3 in November.

The RBC consumer confidence index was based on responses from 1,000 adults surveyed Monday through Wednesday about their attitudes on personal finance and the economy. Results of the survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Israel Disputes Connection to Iraq Turmoil

Related
Iraq Study Group Recommendations on Israel-Palestine
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The New York Times
December 7, 2006
By GREG MYRE

JERUSALEM, Dec. 7 — Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said on Thursday that he disagreed with the Iraq Study Group’s linkage of the turmoil in Iraq to the need to resolve the conflicts between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

"The Middle East has a lot of problems that are not connected to us," Mr. Olmert said at a press conference in Tel Aviv. "I am not convinced that this report foists all of the U.S.’s troubles on Israel’s shoulders."

Mr. Olmert also took issue with a recommendation in the report by the bipartisan commission on Iraq that urged talks involving Israel, the Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon.

--MORE--

Selling Iraq: After the Baker commission finished its deliberations, the ad-men and spin-doctors moved in

December 7, 2006 06:39 PM

Julian Borger

Commissions of enquiry have been part of the American political scene long enough to have accrued their own rituals, from the selection of well-connected pensioners, to the quickening drumbeat of leaks, to the orchestrated climax of publication day, when the grand conclusion is transformed into a product - and the ad-men move in.

In the case of the Iraq Study Group, the product is a road-map claiming to show the way out of Iraq, sold under the sort of slogan normally chosen by stockbroker firms trying to make themselves seem less fusty than they are. "The Way Forward - A New Approach" conveys the same mix of reassuring familiarity and calculating boldness.

Formally the report was commissioned by Congress as a barbed gift for President Bush, who accepted with all the grace he could muster. But the real market is the public. The 9/11 commission report became a bestseller, and the ISG clearly hopes to match those sales, to help generate the kind of momentum behind their ideas that makes them difficult to ignore.

The roll-out for The Way Forward is being handled by Edelman, a global public relations firm with a speciality in crisis management and the motto "Pioneer Thinking". Within an hour of the launch on Capitol Hill, Edelman went to work, splitting the panel into five matched pairs, each with a Democrat and a Republican.

The pairing process must have been painful for some - a fairly transparent measure of worth reminiscent of picking teams in school playgrounds. Someone has to be chosen last. Of course, James Baker and Lee Hamilton were the lead pair and they got the easiest gig - Larry King and his cotton-wool questions on CNN. The second most popular pairing appeared to be Leon Panetta and Larry Eagleburger. The others were stabled in Edelman's expensive offices - all wood, glass and thick carpets - where a line of journalists were ushered in a group at a time to hear inside details of how a consensus was forged.

My group was given Edwin Meese and Vernon Jordan. Neither is any stranger to commissions. Meese set up an ill-starred panel to investigate pornography in 1986 when he was Ronald Reagan's attorney general. It discovered there was a lot of it about, and had Playboy removed from the shelves, at least for a while. He also had some explaining to do over Iran-Contra.

Jordan is best remembered in recent years for his appearance before the Starr investigation which suspected him of trying to find Monica Lewinsky a lucrative job in New York on his friend Bill Clinton's behalf, in the hope of shutting her up.

Inside their cubicle, the pair went through the patter they must have repeated many times in the course of the day. "We've both been around this town a long time," Jordan said, comparing grey hairs and bald pates. He rued the loss of civility in Washington and promised the ISG and its bipartisan bonhomie marked the beginnings of comeback.

They gave the inside scoop on the president's reaction to the report that morning. He had not said much apparently but there were other clues.

"The body language said to me he was going to look at it with keen interest," Meese said, and Jordan could not have agreed more.

"Meese is right on target. The president was open, interested," he claimed. "His body language was aaaallll right."

And that was it. One Edelman employee signalled through the glass door to our minder that the next group of journalists had arrived and we were ushered out. As we left we saw another matched pair of panellists, William Perry and Alan Simpson, briefing another group of journalists in an identical cubicle next door. We peered in, attempting to decide whether our rivals were hearing anything controversial, and whether their duo was higher ranking than ours, and what that might say about us. It was hard to tell.

Journalist sues Bush adminstration - wins!

Court orders expedited review of journalist's FOIA request

  • Agencies have 30 days to respond to New York Sun reporter Joshua Gerstein's request for information on government response to recent classified information leaks.

Dec. 7, 2006 · A newspaper journalist representing himself has convinced a federal court in San Francisco to order government agencies to speed up their search for records related to government investigations into unauthorized disclosures of classified information.

The order is a victory for Joshua Gerstein, a reporter for The New York Sun who is seeking the information under the Freedom of Information Act.

According to the Nov. 29 court order, the agencies have 30 days to either turn over records responsive to Gerstein's request or to justify their continued withholding based on one of the nine exemptions to FOIA.

Judge Maxine M. Chesney, quoting higher court cases, said the public interest is advanced by requiring a quick response to Gerstein because "a core purpose of FOIA is to allow the public to be informed about 'what their government is up to,' and 'official information that sheds light on an agency's performance of its statutory duties falls squarely within that statutory purpose.'"

Gerstein, as part of his reporting on the government's handling of classified information leaks, made FOIA requests in March to various agencies, including the FBI, CIA, National Security Agency and Department of Defense. Public awareness of classified programs such as the government's warrantless wiretapping program and bank information monitoring practices were the result of leaks, Gerstein argued in court documents. Given the heated debate surrounding these issues at the time, Gerstein asked that his requests be expedited.

The FBI, Defense Department and two other agencies granted Gerstein's call to expedite in their initial responses acknowledging his request. But the CIA and the NSA declined to speed up the process.

While the agencies initially differed in how they stated they would deal with Gerstein, their positions quickly coalesced around a common course of action: ignoring him. By July 31, Gerstein had received no documents and no explanation as to why the records might be exempt. Federal law requires agencies to either disclose materials or explain why they are declining to release them within 20 days of a request.

Gerstein said he expects the agencies will claim various exemptions as the basis for continuing to withhold the material and that the court fight is likely to continue.

"I'm still optimistic, but by no means do I think I have won this yet," Gerstein said.

In court filings seeking to have the CIA and NSA's denials of priority review overturned, Gerstein argued there was "widespread and exceptional" public interest in learning of the government's efforts to deal with leaks. As evidence of this importance, Gerstein used the government's own words against it, pointing to statements of high-level government officials, including former CIA Director Porter Goss, who argued in a New York Times Op-Ed piece that excessive leaking was a crisis, and Vice President Dick Cheney, who said leaks harmed relationships with other governments.

Chesney agreed that this public interest would be harmed by further agency delay in responding to Gerstein.

"A delay in processing Gerstein's FOIA request, as he contends, 'could preclude any meaningful contribution to the ongoing public debate and render any disclosure little more than a historical footnote,'" Chesney wrote.

This is the third FOIA case Gerstein has pursued in court while acting as his own attorney.

(Gerstein v. Central Intelligence Agency, Media Counsel: Joshua A. Gerstein, pro se) -- NW

US generals say Iraq Study Group plans won't work in field

Generals say plans won't work in field

By Toby Harnden and Alex Massie in Washington
Last Updated: 9:58am GMT 08/12/2006

Pentagon generals believe that the Iraq Study Group's military recommendations are unrealistic.

If American combat troops were pulled out before Iraqi security forces were capable of battling the insurgency alone it would be courting disaster, according to defence sources.

Retired officers who served as military advisers to the group said they were not consulted about the final recommendations.

A separate internal Pentagon policy review is expected to be more cautious about likely timescales.

The prospect of all US combat troops being withdrawn by the first quarter of 2008 was described as impractical by Gen Jack Keane, a retired US Army chief of staff and an adviser to the group. "Based on where we are now, we can't get there."

Gen Keane, who was speaking to The New York Times, said the report said more about "the absence of political will in Washington than the harsh realities in Iraq".

Gen Barry McCaffrey, who is also retired, told the newspaper that there was a danger that embedded trainers would be kidnapped or killed.

"They [the group] came up with a political thought but then got to tinkering with tactical ideas that in my view don't make any sense. This is a recipe for national humiliation."

Lt Gen Keith Kellogg, a retired US Army commander who also served as a civilian in Iraq, said that while increasing the numbers of US trainers and embedding them throughout Iraqi units was a "really good idea" it would probably take a year before combat troops could begin to be pulled out.

Mr Bush is expected to select a general to oversee the training effort.

A number of conservatives in Washington have called for generals to be replaced and both Gen John Abizaid, commander of US forces in the Middle East, and Gen John Casey, commander in Iraq, are due to leave their posts in the coming months.

Traditional Jews still oppose Zionist state

The Irish Times
Friday, 8 December 2006
By Yakov M. Rabkin

Israel has within its borders an unusual and little known group: Jews who oppose the Zionist movement that helped create their state. Yakov Rabkin explains


Abstract:

Israel has within its borders an unusual and little known group: Jews who oppose the Zionist movement that helped create their state.

...

Wednesday of last week was the anniversary of the 1947 United Nations resolution to partition Mandate Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab entities. Those opposed to the idea of two separate states appear to have lost.

The majority of the UN members voted for the partition. A minority objected, including most Arab inhabitants of the region where the state of Israel was to be established. Their hostility to the Zionist project has not subsided in spite of the recognition of Israel by several Arab states.

What is less known is that many of Palestine's traditional Jews objected to the Zionist project even more resolutely, and their opposition has also refused to go away. These Jews did not pretend to understand "the Arab mind" but drew on mainstream Judaic sources to outline perilous consequences of the unauthorised use of force "against the nations".

Several Palestinian Jewish leaders had made their opinion known to the UN, and some had asked for protection from "Zionist rule". Most religious Jews remained aloof from the Zionist project. Only a few, including the former chief rabbi of Ireland, Isaac Herzog, supported the establishment of the state of Israel. (His Belfast-born son, Chaim, was the sixth president of Israel, from 1983 to 1993.) Israel's founders emphasised the need to "normalise" the Jewish people. Israelis were to become a nation like any other nation.

Normalisation meant building a new muscular people attached to the soil. It implied militant secularisation, a radical negation of the Jewish tradition and its values. Zionism was a revolution that aimed at transforming the very nature of the Jew.

Traditional Jews view the exile from the land of Israel two millennia ago as a divinely ordained act that only the Messiah will end. According to this view, it is particularly wrong to "rebel against the surrounding nations" in order to conquer the land of Israel. This is one of the reasons why most traditional Jews living in Israel take no part in the army and its activities.

Many traditional Jews object to the fact that it is a human initiative and not obedience to the divine providence that has brought millions of Jews to the land of Israel. They deem that the persistent dangers facing Israel's Jews stem from the revolutionary nature of the Zionist project.

Editor's note

If you notice that no postings are showing up here during the North American day, I am most likely posting at my other blog:

CRIMES AND CORRUPTION OF THE NEW WORLD ORDER NEWS

Note the link is also located at the top right of this page.

Productivity slows as factory orders drop

Wages, benefits up at rate that was far below previous estimate
The Associated Press
Updated: 3:42 p.m. MT Dec 5, 2006

WASHINGTON - Growth in worker productivity slowed sharply in the summer while wages and benefits rose at a rate that was far below a previous estimate, a development likely to ease inflation worries at the Federal Reserve.

Productivity edged up at a 0.2 percent annual rate in the July-September quarter, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. That was slightly better than the zero change reported a month ago.

Wages and benefits per unit of output increased at an annual rate of 2.3 percent in the third quarter, much slower than the 3.8 percent advance previously estimated.

Analysts said this downward revision should ease fears at the Fed that wage pressures were threatening to send inflation sharply higher.

“Based on these numbers, the Fed can rest easy about the threat of inflation,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at Global Insight, a private forecasting firm. “The only debate now seems to be about when the Fed will cut” interest rates.

Behravesh said if inflation remains benign and the overall economy continues to show weakness, the central bank might move as soon as March to start cutting rates.

After raising rates for two years to make sure inflation did not get out of hand, the Federal Reserve has left them unchanged since the summer with analysts expecting the Fed to remain on hold next week at its last meeting of the year.

The good news on inflation helped Wall Street rally for a second straight session. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 47.75 points to close at 12,331.60.

In other economic news, the Commerce Department said that orders to U.S. factories plunged 4.7 percent in October, the third decline in the past four months, and the biggest drop in more than six years. The manufacturing sector is starting to experience the adverse impact from this year’s slowdown in the overall economy with auto sales and home construction suffering.

Orders for durable goods, items expected to last at least three years, dropped 8.2 percent, a figure originally reported last week as an 8.3 percent decline. The weakness was led by a plunge in demand for commercial aircraft, but orders for a number of other products from autos to computers also fell. Demand for nondurable goods such as gasoline and food, edged down 0.3 percent.

A third report showed that the service sector of the economy, where most Americans work, grew at a quicker pace in November than in the previous month, shaking off some effects of the housing slump.

The Institute for Supply Management reported that its index of activity in service industries rose to 58.9 in November from 57.1 in October. That performance stood in contrast to the institute’s manufacturing gauge which dipped into recession territory last month.

The 0.2 percent growth rate for productivity followed a much stronger 1.2 percent increase in the spring and was the weakest performance since a 0.1 percent decline in productivity growth in the final three months of last year, a time when the economy was being buffeted by the effects of a string of Gulf Coast hurricanes.

The 2.3 percent increase in labor costs followed a 2.4 percent plunge in the second quarter and a 9 percent surge in the first quarter this year. The quarterly changes have been skewed by the payment of large bonuses at the beginning of the year.

While rising wages are good news for workers, the increases could fuel unwanted inflation when productivity, the amount of output per hour of work, is slowing sharply.

Increases in productivity are the key factor pushing living standards higher because they mean that businesses can pay their workers more because of the increased output without having to raise the price of their products.

However, if labor costs outpace the rise in productivity, it means that businesses either have to raise the cost of their products, which can push inflation higher, or trim profit margins.

Democrats, who are pushing to boost the minimum wage, contend median incomes are growing weakly in this expansion because of faulty economic policies pursued by President Bush.

But administration economists say that wage gains are starting to accelerate as companies begin to pay higher wages by trimming their sizable profit margins. Such an outcome would mean that stronger wage growth could be financed without triggering higher inflation.

URL

Impunity and Immunity: The Bush Administration Enters the Confessional

Tomgram: Greenberg, In a Confessing State of Mind

An early impulse of Bush administration officials after the attacks of September 11, 2001 was to take off "the gloves," or, as CIA Director George Tenet put it (so Ron Suskind tell us in his book, The One Percent Doctrine), "the shackles." Those were the "shackles" that they believed had been placed on the imperial presidency after Richard Nixon came so close to committing the constitutional coup d'├ętat that we have come to call Watergate, but that involved an illegal war (in Cambodia), illegal wiretapping, illegal break-ins, robberies, black-bag jobs and so many other crossing-the-line events. That was the moment that Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and all the Bush administration advocates of a "unitary executive theory" wanted to return us to -- the impeachable moment.

The neocons and their patrons, especially our Vice President, wanted to unchain executive power, but that wasn't all. They weren't about to waste perfectly good shackles. Another impulse of theirs after the 9/11 attacks was to capture or kidnap, detain, secretly imprison, shackle, and torture their enemies, picked up on battlefields as well as peaceful city streets around the world. The accumulation of leaked documentation from their secret world has long indicated that they had torture on the brain. The urge to institute a torture regime had, perhaps, less to do with torture itself than with the knowledge that if you somehow gained the right to torture, you could gain the right to do just about anything; you could, in short, unchain the presidency in a major way.

Perhaps the most striking thing about Bush administration officialdom was that, before they reached for their waterboards, they reached for their dictionaries; and so, out of their world of secret imprisonment, humiliation, and pain emerged an unending stream of twisted definitions of otherwise common terms in classified but quickly leaked documents. Karen Greenberg, executive director of NYU's Center for Law and Security and co-author of The Torture Papers (which collected all those grim classified memorials to these last years of excess), now considers the most secret impulse of all revealed by this sordid collection of documents -- the impulse to confess. Tom

Impunity and Immunity

The Bush Administration Enters the Confessional
By Karen Greenberg

Confession, the time-honored, soul-soothing last resort for those caught in error, may not survive the Bush administration. It has, after all, long made a mockery of such revelations by manufacturing an entire lexicon of coercive techniques to elicit often non-existent "truths" that would justify its detention policies. And yet, without being coerced in any way, administration officials have been confessing continually these past years -- in documents that may someday play a part in their own confrontation with justice.

The Bush administration trail of confessions can be found in the most unlikely of places -- the very memos and policy statements in which its officials were redefining reality in their search for the perfect (and perfectly grim) extractive methods that would give them the detainee confessions they so eagerly sought. These were the very documents that led first to Gitmo, then to Abu Ghraib, and finally deep into the hidden universe of pain that was their global network of secret prisons.

Strangely enough, the administration confessional was open for business within weeks of the attacks of September 11th, 2001. It could be found wrapped in persistent assertions of immunity, assertions that none of their acts to come could ever be brought before the bar of justice or the oversight of anyone. The first of these documents was issued on September 25th, 2001. Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, writing for the Office of Legal Counsel, laid out the reasons for the President of the United States to assume broad executive powers in the war on terror. The last footnote of the memo declared, "In the exercise of his plenary power to use military force, the President's decisions are for him alone and are unreviewable."

This notion of unreviewable behavior, then still buried in the land of footnotes, has characterized the administration's general stance on its war on terror policies. On January 9th, 2002, just as Guantanamo opened for business as a detention facility supposedly beyond the review of American courts, John Yoo and fellow Office of Legal Counsel member Robert Delahunty explained why a breach with international law would not constitute a crime for the Bush administration. In their secret memo, the United States, through the Justice Department, was to exempt itself ahead of time from the laws it was about to break. In essence, it was to give itself the equivalent of a hall pass for future illegal activities in the new policies and practices of detention.

The memo contorted the Geneva Conventions into a pretzel of excuses for America's impunity on the matter of war crimes; it offered tortured reasoning about the inapplicability of Common Article Three of the Conventions -- guaranteeing humane treatment during armed conflict to those individuals who are not engaged in battle (non-combatants, prisoners-of-war, those who have lain down their arms, etc.) -- to the conflicts then at hand. Thus, the Taliban was redefined not as a state but as a failed state; Al Qaeda became a non-state actor; the Conventions, they now claimed, were created largely for civil wars, not for "other types of internal armed conflict." As the memo asserted over and over again, "As a constitutional matter, the President has the power to consider performance of some or all of the obligations of the United States under the Conventions suspended."

In this way, any captives from our Afghan War were redefined as possible subjects for utterly lawless behavior, while the President was given the right not to follow international law. They put the matter this way: "The President could justifiably exercise his constitutional authority over treaties by regarding the Geneva Conventions as suspended in relation to Afghanistan."

Foreshadowing the infamous "torture memo" of 2002 in which the same group of advisors redefined torture, nearly casting it out of legal existence, this early opinion stated that American officials could only be held accountable in the following circumstances: "causing great suffering or serious bodily injury to POWs, killing or torturing them, depriving them of access to a fair trial, or forcing them to serve in the Armed Forces." The memo concluded with what would become the legal mantra of the Bush administration -- the assertion of immunity, stating that "customary international law has no binding legal effect on either the President or the military because it is not federal law."

As Guantanamo received its first planeloads of prisoners, Alberto Gonzales, then counsel to the President, and William J. Haynes, counsel to the Department of Defense, took the idea of administration immunity for war crimes to a new level. They used their high offices to clear the way for the substandard treatment of detainees. Trusted with the justice and safety of the nation, they both concurred with their colleagues at the Office of Legal Counsel: "We conclude that customary international law does not bind the President or the US Armed Forces in their decisions concerning the detention conditions of al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners."

Though confidently proposing ways that any future prosecution for war crimes could be avoided, these memo-style declarations of immunity proved insufficiently comforting to an administration that had, by its own implicit admission, chosen to take a giant step into realms outside anyone's previous definition of the law.

They soon grasped a simple point: Declaring themselves immune was one thing; ensuring immunity, quite another. To fully protect their clients -- the President of the United States as well as high Pentagon and CIA officials -- administration lawyers confronted the potential problem of domestic legal constraints on the mistreatment of detainees.

Gonzales tried to strengthen the assurances of Bush's legal team by concluding that declaring exemption from the Geneva Conventions in turn "substantially reduces the threat of domestic criminal prosecution." Attorney General John Ashcroft concluded that the President's determination in detention matters "was fully discretionary and will not be reviewed by the federal courts." Ashcroft made the stakes clear: If the prisoners in U.S. hands were considered prisoners of war, American law would "not accord American officials the same protection from legal consequences." Thus it became doubly crucial to redefine them not as POWs but as "enemy combatants."

To the Bush administration, words, it seemed, were everything. And if the laws, domestic and international, depended upon definitions, then the definitions of words would simply have to change across the board. So it was unavoidable that the first casualty in the President's Global War on Terror, which also became his global war for immunity, would be language itself. The captives who arrived at Gitmo were not to be called prisoners, nor was the facility itself to be referred to as a prison; it was a "detention facility" and the inmates were "detainees" and "enemy combatants." If other words were used -- prison, prisoner, prisoner-of-war -- then high officials and members of the Armed Forces would not, as Ashcroft explained, be immune from the law.

In the same vein, torture was to be banned from the premises (but only as a word); instead coercive techniques that for centuries plainly came under the rubric of torture were relabeled "counter-resistant coercive interrogation techniques." The infamous "torture memo" of August, 2002 drew narrow parameters around the definition of torture, which was now to be limited to "serious physical injury such as death." Repeatedly, the memo asserted that other methods "do not amount to torture." And it essentially turned the very definition of torture over to the torturer. Abetted here as elsewhere by the media, the Bush administration also successfully de-legitimized the statements of the detainees themselves, consigning them to the trash heap of history -- all of them were the accounts of well-drilled liars, false accusations inspired by Al Qaeda training manuals.

And yet, even reclassifying words and redrawing the lines of the law did not sufficiently assuage their fears -- and here's where the hidden confessional element of all this crept into play. They were clearly hounded by what can only be called a kind of lurking institutional conscience, a sense that the acts already being committed in their name (or future ones) might someday be declared illegal under laws and agreements they were trying unilaterally to abrogate, resulting in prosecutions.

So, to ensure that their legal reasoning and linguistic demands would hold sway in the policy world, Bush administration officials found they had to go even further. They determined to find a way to control the environment of detention as completely as possible. First, of course, they chose an American base in Cuba to be the jewel in the crown of the detention system they were putting in place globally because it seemed to lie "in legal limbo" outside any international or domestic legal system. Second, "ghost prisons," some in facilities borrowed from allies known to employ torture themselves, were established so that the techniques for extracting confessions, even though no longer defined as torture, could not be seen or known about. Third, just to be sure about things, the United States launched a campaign to free itself from any future international prosecution for war crimes under the auspices of the new International Criminal Court (ICC). In return for money and services, after cases of remarkable diplomatic arm twisting, 102 countries agreed, one by one, to an American demand for immunity from future ICC prosecution.

Then, the Bush administration charged ahead, convinced that it had addressed its legal liabilities and given itself that eternal hall pass. In truth, however, it had been confessing all along, laying out a remarkable record of tacit admission to criminal activity. The administration had, for example, informed the military commanders at Gitmo that they should consider themselves to be "guided by the Geneva Conventions but not bound by them." At Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, interrogation needs took precedence over matters of detention -- and it was all on the official record.

The administration's urge to claim immunity, which is, in essence, the confession of crimes about to be committed (or already committed), has not waned over the years. If anything, it has gotten stronger. Only recently, for instance, John Yoo, now a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, insisted once again that extralegal measures were necessary in the war on terror. "Is a second [9/11] attack," he wrote, "an acceptable price to pay for rejecting coercive interrogation?" He then suggested, among other ways of avoiding prosecution for such acts, a possibility that may loom ever larger before George W. Bush's second term in office is over -- the issuing of presidential pardons.

The President has weighed in aggressively on the issue as well, publicly embracing the idea of immunity. Twice, in his not-to-be-overlooked September 6th speech on the existence of the CIA "program" for "high-value detainees," the President insisted upon immunity for those involved in detention and interrogation. In this speech, in which he announced his intention to submit the Military Commissions Bill to Congress, he explained, "[S]ome believe our military and intelligence personnel involved in capturing and questioning terrorists could now be at risk of prosecution under the War Crimes Act -- simply for doing their jobs in a thorough and professional way. This," he declared, "is unacceptable." Moments later he reiterated his firm opposition to any such prosecutions. "I'm asking that Congress make it clear that captured terrorists cannot use the Geneva Conventions as a basis to sue our personnel in courts -- in U.S. courts. The men and women who protect us should not have to fear lawsuits filed by terrorists because they're doing their jobs."

What more could a prosecutor want than a trail of implicit confessions, consistent with one another, increasingly brazen over time, and leading right into the Oval Office? For five years now, the Bush administration has given itself an inviolable command: declare immunity for what you have done, what you are doing, and what you are about to do. When the President's Military Commission Bill did pass, its many astounding "reforms" actually codified immunity retroactively for a range of abuses against detainees.

To overlook the trail of confessions that is part and parcel of the administration's torture narrative is to perform an act of extraordinary rendition not just on the truth but also on the importance of confessions themselves. Professional interrogators, priests, psychiatrists, and others who deal with confession regularly say that people normally want to talk, that they want to tell you their story, that confession is a deep and satisfying part of all our lives.

In the case of the Bush administration, it is the documents themselves that seem to want to confess, that are bursting with the desire to talk, to tell the story of these last years of illegality. Americans, and the Congress they have just elected, should take heed. The time has come, after five years, to restore language, law, and accountability to the American ethos by insisting that declarations of immunity be seen for what they are: Confessions about actions that are both reviewable and unpardonable.

Karen J. Greenberg is the Executive Director of the Center for Law and Security at the NYU School of Law and is the co-editor of The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib. She also edited The Torture Debate in America.

Copyright 2006 Karen Greenberg

They Told You So: PAUL KRUGMAN

THE COMPLETE ARTICLE
The New York Times

OP-ED COLUMNIST
They Told You So
By PAUL KRUGMAN

Published: December 8, 2006

I’d like to offer some praise to those who correctly predicted the folly of the Iraq war.

Shortly after U.S. forces marched into Baghdad in 2003, The Weekly Standard published a jeering article titled, "The Cassandra Chronicles: The stupidity of the antiwar doomsayers." Among those the article mocked was a "war novelist" named James Webb, who is now the senator-elect from Virginia.

The article's title was more revealing than its authors knew. People forget the nature of Cassandra's curse: although nobody would believe her, all her prophecies came true. And so it was with those who warned against invading Iraq. At best, they were ignored. A recent article in The Washington Post ruefully conceded that the paper's account of the debate in the House of Representatives over the resolution authorizing the Iraq war — a resolution opposed by a majority of the Democrats — gave no coverage at all to those antiwar arguments that now seem prescient.

--MORE--

The neocons have finished what the Vietcong started

Vietnam traumatised the US but left its power intact; Iraq, however, will be far more serious for the superpower

Martin Jacques
Friday December 8, 2006
The Guardian


Just a month after the American electorate delivered a resounding rebuff to the Bush Iraq policy, the great and the good - in the guise of the Iraq Study Group (ISG) - have subjected that policy to a withering critique. The administration has had the political equivalent of a car crash. George Bush is being routinely condemned as one of the worst presidents ever, and his Iraq policy no longer enjoys the support of a large swath of the American establishment. The neoconservatives suddenly find themselves isolated and embattled: Rumsfeld has been sacked, Cheney has gone quiet, the likes of Richard Perle are confined to the sidelines. The president is on his own and it is difficult to see how Bush can avoid moving towards the ISG position. The political map is being redrawn with extraordinary alacrity.

Before our eyes, the neoconservative position is disintegrating. Its foreign-policy tenets have been shown to be false. As is now openly admitted, they have brought the US to the verge of disaster in Iraq, which is why the American version of the "men in grey suits" has ridden to the rescue. After less than six years in office, elected at a time when the US was unchallenged as the sole superpower, the Bush administration has managed to deliver the country to the edge of what can only be compared to a Vietnam moment: the political and military defeat of the central and defining plank of American foreign policy.

Of course, in one sense it is quite unlike Vietnam. In 1975 the Americans suffered a spectacular military defeat at the hands of North Vietnam and the Vietcong, with US helicopters seeking to rescue leading US personnel from the tops of buildings as Vietnamese guerrillas closed in on the centre of Saigon. It was to shape American foreign policy - in particular, a desire to avoid overseas military entanglements - for decades. Indeed, the rise of the neoconservatives was partly predicated on a rejection of what they saw as American defeatism during and after the Vietnam war. Iraq is very different. There is no single enemy with a clear military strategy. Baghdad will not be Saigon. This is a case of an endless, bloody and unwinnable quagmire rather than any spectacular denouement in waiting.

But the Iraq moment is far more dangerous for the US than the Vietnam moment. Although one of the key justifications for the Vietnam war was to prevent the spread of communism, the US defeat was to produce nothing of the kind: apart from the fact that Cambodia and Laos became embroiled, the effects were essentially confined to Vietnam. There were no wider political repercussions in east Asia: ironically, it was China that was to invade North Vietnam in 1979 (and deservedly got a bloody nose).

The regional consequences of the Iraq imbroglio are, in comparison, immediate, profound and far-reaching. The civil war threatens to unhinge more or less the entire Middle East. The neoconservative strategy - to remake the region single-handedly (with the support of Israel, of course) - has been undermined by its own hubris. The American dilemma is patent in some of the key recommendations of the ISG report: to involve Iran and Syria in any Iraqi settlement (including the return of the Golan Heights to Syria) and to seek a new agreement between Israel and Palestine. In short, it proposes a reversal of the key strands of Bush's foreign policy

From a longer-term perspective, moreover, it is already clear that it will be impossible for the Americans to restore the status quo ante in the region. The failure of the occupation has shown the limitations of its power - which every country, from Iran and Syria to Israel and Saudi Arabia (not to mention Hizbullah and Hamas), will have noted. The US has been the decisive arbiter in the Middle East since the end of the Suez crisis in 1956, albeit with the Soviet Union playing a secondary role until 1989. The American era is now over.

In future the US will be forced to share its influence with regional powers such as Iran, with the EU - and no doubt in time, with emerging global players such as China and perhaps even Russia. Such a scenario may well mean that the key alliance that has shaped the Middle East since 1956 - between the US and Israel - will no longer be so pivotal and could be increasingly downgraded. From a regional standpoint, it is clear that the Iraq moment is far more serious for the US than the Vietnam moment.

What is true regionally is also the case globally. We are reminded of how even the most powerful and, indeed, the most knowledgeable can get things profoundly wrong. It is worthwhile recalling the longer-term global context of the American defeat in Vietnam. It did not signal any serious upturn in the fortunes of the Soviet Union; this was already in a state of economic stagnation and growing political paralysis that was to become terminal in the 80s, leaving the US as the sole superpower. It was this that encouraged the neoconservatives to utterly misread the historical runes at the end of the 90s. They believed that the world was ripe for a huge expansion of American power and influence.

A few years later we can see the full absurdity of this position. Far from the US being in the ascendant, deeper trends have moved in the opposite direction. The US might enjoy overwhelming military advantage, but its relative economic power, which in the long run is almost invariably decisive, is in decline. The interregnum after the cold war, far from being the prelude to a new American age, was bearing the signs of what is now very visible: the emergence of a multipolar world. By misreading global trends, the Bush administration's embrace of unilateralism not only provoked the Iraq disaster but also hastened American decline.

An increasingly multipolar world requires an entirely different kind of US foreign policy: far from being unilateralist, it necessitates a complex form of power-sharing on both a global and regional basis. This is not only the opposite to neoconservative unilateralism, it is also entirely different from the simplicities of superpower cooperation and rivalry in the bipolar world of the cold war. The new approach is implicit in the ISG report, which recognises that any resolution of the Iraq crisis depends on the involvement of Iran and Syria. Elements of this approach are already apparent on the Korean peninsula and in Latin America. The ramifications of the Iraq moment will surely influence US foreign policy for decades to come.

· Martin Jacques is a visiting research fellow at the Asia Research Centre, London School of Economics

Martinjacques1@aol.com