Thursday, January 4, 2007

Khalilzad nominated new U.S. ambassdor to the U.N

Reports: Khalilzad to U.N.; McConnell to intelligence

Breaking news about two high-level Bush administration vacancies:

ABC News says it "has learned" that President Bush will nominate Zalmay Khalilzad, currently the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, to be the new U.N. ambassador. He would fill the seat of John Bolton.

The Associated Press says it has been told by a senior administration official that retired vice admiral Mike McConnell, a veteran of more than 25 years in the intelligence field, will be named by the president to succeed John Negroponte as national intelligence director.


4 January 2007

By Bob Roberts

A WAR against Iran could be launched within the next two years, a senior adviser to George Bush warned last night.

CIA specialist on Iran Reuel Marc Gerecht said there had been a "tidal shift" of opinion towards military action, especially in Israel.

He added: "I think it has now become highly likely the Israelis will launch a strike before the end of George Bush's presidency."

An Israeli attack before the US election in November 2008 risks sparking a military explosion in the Middle East.

It is likely to be backed up by American and possibly British air support from Iraq.

Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could retaliate by sending the Republican Guard across the border with Iraq to attack British forces.

Experts warned there would be a massive surge in Iranianbacked suicide attacks.

The UN has voted unanimously to impose sanctions against Iran over its failure to halt its nuclear programme.

Abbas: 'Israeli calls for peace and security are fake'

Abbas condemns Israeli raid in Ramallah

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas harshly condemned an IDF raid into the West Bank city of Ramallah on Thursday, saying it "proved that the Israeli calls for peace and security are fake."

The raid sparked gun battles that killed two Palestinians and wounded 25 others.

In a written statement on Thursday, Abbas appealed to the international community to rein in Israel.

"The continued aggression will only lead to the destruction of all efforts aimed at realizing peace," Abbas said.

Iraq postpones execution of Saddam aides

by Sabah JergesThu Jan 4, 5:46 AM ET

Iraq has postponed hanging two of Saddam Hussein's henchmen amid international pressure following the ousted dictator's bungled and much criticised hanging.

Two justice ministry guards are meanwhile being held for questioning in connection with the secret filming of Saddam's final moments.

Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikrit, Saddam's half brother and former intelligence chief and Awad Ahmed al-Bandar, the head of the revolutionary court, were to have been hanged on Thursday.

A senior official from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the execution was postponed "due to international pressure."

Baha al-Araji, an influential Shiite lawmaker from radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's parliamentary bloc, said: "I am sure it will be done on Sunday."

Another Shiite deputy, Sami al-Askari, said the executions will be carried out after state holidays for the Eid al-Adha festival end on Saturday. He did not give a date.

"The executions will be after the holidays," said Askari, who was present at Saddam's hanging on Saturday as Maliki's representative.

Askari said there was also a view among some members of the government that the two former regime officials be hanged after the appeals court decides on a prosecution request to send another Saddam aide to the gallows.

The prosecution has requested that Taha Yassin Ramadan, former vice president, also be hanged. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, but a judicial panel ruled that this was insufficient.

On Wednesday, UN spokeswoman Michele Montas said United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was opposed to the death penalty.

"The secretary general strongly believes in the wisdom of Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person," she said.

"He fully endorses the call made today by (UN High Commissioner for Human Rights) Louise Arbour for restraint by the government of Iraq in the execution of the death sentences imposed by the Iraqi high tribunal," she added.

The US military has expressed concern over the manner in which Saddam was hanged, saying it would "have done things differently", and Britain has condemned the leaking of the video.

Saddam, Barzan and Bandar were found guilty on November 5 of ordering the judicial murder of 148 Shiite men and boys from the village Dujail in the 1980s. They were sentenced to death for crimes against humanity.

Saddam's execution five days ago has angered members of Iraq's large Sunni minority and triggered criticism from observers who felt he was humiliated minutes before being put to death.

A top Iraqi official, however, defended the process.

"Where was the humiliation? The shouting of the crowd?" demanded National Security Advisor Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, who was present at the execution, in an interview on CNN.

A grisly unofficial video released after Saddam was hanged showed one of the members of the execution party shouting the name of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a bitter opponent of Saddam.

The two-and-half minute film shot on a mobile telephone camera has spread like wildfire on the Internet and triggered angry outbursts within Iraq's Sunni Arab community and from international leaders.

One of those present at the execution could be heard shouting "Moqtada! Moqtada! Moqtada!" at a sneering Saddam, inspiring some observers to compare the execution to a sectarian lynching.

"Basically they were doing their congregational prayers and supplications, and they mentioned at the end of their supplication the name of Moqtada," Rubaie said.

"I can't see where is the humiliation, to be quite honest. Moqtada, Moqtada, Moqtada is not a dirty word, not an obscene word. They were not cursing."

Rubaie also explained why the executioners and Iraqi officials danced around Saddam's body after the hanging.

"This is the tradition of the Iraqis -- when they do something they dance around the body and they express their feelings," he said.

"What is wrong with that? If that upsets the feelings of some of the Arab nations and Arab rulers, I think: 'The best of luck to them'.

"To the best of my knowledge and belief after I left the scene I was proud of what had happened and it was played by the book, but when the video was released I saw some wrongdoing and this has to be addressed," he said.

Askari said two justice ministry guards had been held for questioning.

"Two guards who are employees of the justice ministry have been held, but there are no charges against them yet," he told AFP.

Meanwhile, Iraq's bloody sectarian war continued.

At least 13 people were killed and 22 wounded when a car bomb went off near a petrol station in Baghdad's upscale western Mansour district, a security official and a medic said.

Police also found three bodies of men killed execution style south of Baghdad in the town of Iskandiriyah.

Rattled America will find it can't spin itself out of this one

Bob Ellis
January 5, 2007

GEORGE Bush will be hard put persuading three, four or five thousand American soldiers, marines and reservists who have already been there to go back to Iraq this year, to face 4 million Sunnis displeased by the Saddam hanging. Hard put too to persuade Nuri al-Maliki to stay in office, and stay alive, till they get there.

In the meantime the spinning of the killing of Saddam continues. The US had nothing to do with it; we merely guarded him for three years, then took him to the house of death and flew his coffined body to Tikrit. We tried to stop it happening so soon. We would have "handled it differently". What's all this fuss? The last 60 seconds of a tyrant's life matter less than the first 60 years. We've killed his two sons and his 14-year-old grandson and we'll kill his half-brother tomorrow, so the "process of national healing" can begin. Has any "process of national healing" been so mismanaged in world history? Has any filmed event won fewer hearts and minds? JFK's killing perhaps, though it pleased a good few Southern schoolboys, who cheered at the news.

If we only look at the politics of lynching a warrior-hero, abusing him on the gallows, keeping him awake the night before by banging on his cell door and flaunting before his bleary eyes the hangman's rope, we can see just how dim the whole plan was. What Sunni will pose beside Maliki now? What Arab leader, Sunni or Shiite, will praise his political skill?

And who will trust the Americans now, after this and Abu Ghraib and hurricane Katrina, to get any process right in any country including their own? Not the British soldiers on the ground in Helmland Province, Afghanistan. Not the Australian "security guards" in downtown Baghdad. Not the Iraqi dentists, doctors, nurses, restaurateurs and university lecturers daily fleeing the country. Not the children with toothache. Not the pregnant women with nowhere to go to give birth. Not the grandmothers of dead babies in humidicribs whose electricity gave out. Not the middle-class parents afraid to put their children on school buses lest they never see them again.

And who in the US will trust the American Army, the State Department and the current American rulers of Baghdad either? Not the 30,000 boys and girls wounded, nor their families. Not the 13,000 or 15,000 parents and siblings bereaved. Not the mayors of the towns the 3000 dead kids came from. Not the Democrat local members Bush is now asking for more soldiers, more weapons, more money, more patience, more time in a Long War as long, perhaps, as the Cold War.

The US is facing outright defeat — and worldwide contempt as never before — because of the Saddam gallows Grand Guignol and the secular Golgotha his jeering, black-hooded captors turned it into. And none of this need have happened. All the cluey US spin-men had to do, after consulting a few legal experts, was yield him up to lengthy trial by the UN War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague; let him give big speeches the media would soon tire of; and let him grow very old and sad in jail.

But they didn't, and the consequences are dire and daily mounting. Soon they'll have Tariq Aziz to deal with. He's a Christian, a friend of Pope John Paul, and literate, well-spoken, Anglicised evidence of how broad-based a secular government Saddam ran, and how much 4 million university graduates, civil servants, medical professionals, lawyers, judges, soldiers, police and schoolteachers miss him now, in a world of veils and checkpoints and daylight kidnappings and suicide bombings and 10,000 policemen killed in two years.

Will Tariq Aziz hang? Will his breaking neck and open eyes and slowly swinging corpse be telerecorded too? Will he be allowed his beloved P. G. Wodehouse and Agatha Christie paperbacks in his cell on death row? Will he get a final press conference? Will he be allowed to wear a suit and tie? What questions will he be allowed to answer?

In freedom's name we have helped the US start this barbarous process. In freedom's name we too are called barbarians now, by fairly civilised peoples who may have a point.

And we Australians are in the thick of it. Staying on, to "finish the job". The job may not be all that's finished by the time we're done.

Bob Ellis is an author and commentator.

The Law Catches Up To Private Militaries, Embeds

Since the start of the Iraq war, tens of thousands of heavily-armed military contractors have been roaming the country -- without any law, or any court to control them. That may be about to change, Brookings Institution Senior Fellow P.W. Singer notes in a Defense Tech exclusive. Five words, slipped into a Pentagon budget bill, could make all the difference. With them, "contractors 'get out of jail free' cards may have been torn to shreds," he writes. They're now subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the same set of laws that governs soldiers. But here's the catch: embedded reporters are now under those regulations, too.

merc_iraq.jpgOver the last few years, tales of private military contractors run amuck in Iraq -- from the CACI interrogators at Abu Ghraib to the Aegis company's Elvis-themed internet "trophy video" —- have continually popped up in the headlines. Unfortunately, when it came to actually doing something about these episodes of Outsourcing Gone Wild, Hollywood took more action than Washington. The TV series Law and Order punished fictional contractor crimes, while our courts ignored the actual ones. Leonardo Dicaprio acted in a movie featuring the private military industry, while our government enacted no actual policy on it. But those carefree days of military contractors romping across the hills and dales of the Iraqi countryside, without legal status or accountability, may be over. The Congress has struck back.

Amidst all the add-ins, pork spending, and excitement of the budget process, it has now come out that a tiny clause was slipped into the Pentagon's fiscal year 2007 budget legislation. The one sentence section (number 552 of a total 3510 sections) states that "Paragraph (10) of section 802(a) of title 10, United States Code (article 2(a) of the Uniform Code of Military Justice), is amended by striking `war' and inserting `declared war or a contingency operation'." The measure passed without much notice or any debate. And then, as they might sing on School House Rock, that bill became a law (P.L.109-364).

The addition of five little words to a massive US legal code that fills entire shelves at law libraries wouldn't normally matter for much. But with this change, contractors' 'get out of jail free' card may have been torn to shreds. Previously, contractors would only fall under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, better known as the court martial system, if Congress declared war. This is something that has not happened in over 65 years and out of sorts with the most likely operations in the 21st century. The result is that whenever our military officers came across episodes of suspected contractor crimes in missions like Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, or Afghanistan, they had no tools to resolve them. As long as Congress had not formally declared war, civilians -- even those working for the US armed forces, carrying out military missions in a conflict zone -- fell outside their jurisdiction. The military's relationship with the contractor was, well, merely contractual. At most, the local officer in charge could request to the employing firm that the individual be demoted or fired. If he thought a felony occurred, the officer might be able to report them on to civilian authorities.

Getting tattled on to the boss is certainly fine for some incidents. But, clearly, it's not how one deals with suspected crimes. And it's nowhere near the proper response to the amazing, awful stories that have made the headlines (the most recent being the contractors who sprung a former Iraqi government minister, imprisoned on corruption charges, from a Green Zone jail).

And for every story that has been deemed newsworthy, there are dozens that never see the spotlight. One US army officer recently told me of an incident he witnessed, where a contractor shot a young Iraqi who got too close to his vehicle while in line at the Green Zone entrance. The boy was waiting there to apply for a job. Not merely a tragedy, but one more nail in the coffin for any US effort at winning hearts and minds.

But when such incidents happen, officers like him have had no recourse other than to file reports that are supposed to be sent on either to the local government or the US Department of Justice, neither of which had traditionally done much. The local government is often failed or too weak to act - the very reason we are still in Iraq. And our Department of Justice has treated contractor crimes in a more Shakespearean than Hollywood way, as in Much Ado About Nothing. Last month, DOJ reported to Congress that it has sat on over 20 investigations of suspected contractor crimes without action in the last year.

The problem is not merely one of a lack of political will on the part of the Administration to deal with such crimes. Contractors have also fallen through a gap in the law. The roles and numbers of military contractors are far greater than in the past, but the legal system hasn't caught up. Even in situations when US civilian law could potentially have been applied to contractor crimes (through the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act), it wasn't. Underlying the previous laws like MEJA was the assumption that civilian prosecutors back in the US would be able to make determinations of what is proper and improper behavior in conflicts, go gather evidence, carry out depositions in the middle of warzones, and then be willing and able to prosecute them to juries back home. The reality is that no US Attorney likes to waste limited budgets on such messy, complex cases 9,000 miles outside their district, even if they were fortunate enough to have the evidence at hand. The only time MEJA has been successfully applied was against the wife of a soldier, who stabbed him during a domestic dispute at a US base in Turkey. Not one contractor of the entire military industry in Iraq has been charged with any crime over the last 3 and a half years, let alone prosecuted or punished. Given the raw numbers of contractors, let alone the incidents we know about, it boggles the mind.

The situation perhaps hit its low-point this fall, when the Under Secretary of the Army testified to Congress that the Army had never authorized Halliburton or any of its subcontractors (essentially the entire industry) to carry weapons or guard convoys. He even denied the US had firms handling these jobs. Never mind the thousands of newspaper, magazine, and TV news stories about the industry. Never mind Google's 1,350,000 web mentions. Never mind the official report from U.S. Central Command that there were over 100,000 contractors in Iraq carrying out these and other military roles. In a sense, the Bush Administration was using a cop-out that all but the worst Hollywood script writers avoid. Just like the end of the TV series Dallas, Congress was somehow supposed to accept that the private military industry in Iraq and all that had happened with it was somehow 'just a dream.'

But Congress didn't bite, it now seems. With the addition of just five words in the law, contractors now can fall under the purview of the military justice system. This means that if contractors violate the rules of engagement in a warzone or commit crimes during a contingency operation like Iraq, they can now be court-martialed (as in, Corporate Warriors, meet A Few Good Men). On face value, this appears to be a step forward for realistic accountability. Military contractor conduct can now be checked by the military investigation and court system, which unlike civilian courts, is actually ready and able both to understand the peculiarities of life and work in a warzone and kick into action when things go wrong.

The amazing thing is that the change in the legal code is so succinct and easy to miss (one sentence in a 439-page bill, sandwiched between a discussion on timely notice of deployments and a section ordering that the next of kin of medal of honor winners get flags) that it has so far gone completely unnoticed in the few weeks since it became the law of the land. Not only has the media not yet reported on it. Neither have military officers or even the lobbyists paid by the military industry to stay on top of these things.

So what happens next? In all likelihood, many firms, who have so far thrived in the unregulated marketplace, will now lobby hard to try to strike down the change. We will perhaps even soon enjoy the sight of CEOs of military firms, preening about their loss of rights and how the new definition of warzone will keep them from rescuing kittens caught in trees.

But, ironically, the contractual nature of the military industry serves as an effective mechanism to prevent loss of rights. The legal change only applies to the section in the existing law dealing with those civilians "serving with or accompanying an armed force in the field," i.e. only those contractors on operations in conflict zones like Iraq or Afghanistan. It would apply not to the broader public in the US, not to local civilians, and not even to military contractors working in places where civilian law is stood up. Indeed, it even wouldn't apply to our foes, upholding recent rulings on the scope of military law and the detainees at Gitmo.

In many ways, the new law is the 21st century business version of the rights contract: If a private individual wants to travel to a warzone and do military jobs for profit, on behalf of the US government, then that individual agrees to fall under the same codes of law and consequence that American soldiers, in the same zones, doing the same sorts of jobs, have to live and work by. If a contractor doesn't agree to these regulations, that's fine, don't contract. Unlike soldiers, they are still civilians with no obligation to serve. The new regulation also seems to pass the fairness test. That is, a lance corporal or a specialist earns less than $20,000 a year for service in Iraq, while a contractor can earn upwards of $100,000-200,000 a year (tax free) for doing the same job and can quit whenever they want. It doesn't seem that unreasonable then to expect the contractor to abide by the same laws as their military counterpart while in the combat theatre. Given that the vast majority of private military employees are upstanding men and women -- and mostly former soldiers, to boot -- living under the new system will not mean much change at all. All it does is now give military investigators a way finally to stop the bad apples from filling the headlines and getting away free.

The change in the law is long overdue. But in being so brief, it needs clarity on exactly how it will be realized. For example, how will it be applied to ongoing contracts and operations? Given that the firm executives and their lobbyists back in DC have completely dropped the ball, someone ought to tell the contractors in Iraq that they can now be court martialed.

Likewise, the scope of the new law could made more clear; it could be either too limited or too wide, depending on the interpretation. While it is apparent that any military contractor working directly or indirectly for the US military falls under the change, it is unclear whether those doing similar jobs for other US government agencies in the same warzone would fall under it as well (recalling that the contractors at Abu Ghraib were technically employed by the US Department of Interior, sublet out to DOD).

On the opposite side, what about civilians who have agreed to be embedded, but not contracted? The Iraq war is the first that journalists could formally embed in units, so there is not much experience with its legal side in contingency operations. The lack of any legal precedent, combined with the new law, could mean that an overly aggressive
interpretation might now also include journalists who have embedded.

Given that journalists are not armed, not contracted (so not paid directly or indirectly from public monies) and most important, not there to serve the mission objectives, this would probably be too extensive an interpretation. It would also likely mean less embeds. But given the current lack of satisfaction with the embed program in the media, any effect here may be a tempest in a tea pot. As of Fall 2006, there were only nine embedded reporters in all of Iraq. Of the nine, four were from military media (three from Stars and Stripes, one from Armed Forces Network), two not even with US units (one Polish radio reporter with Polish troops, one Italian reporter with Italian troops), and one was an American writing a book. Moreover, we should remember that embeds already make a rights tradeoff when they agree to the military's reporting rules. That is, they have already given up some of their 1st Amendment protections (something at the heart of their professional ethic) in exchange for access, so agreeing to potentially fall under UCMJ when deployed may not be a deal breaker.

The ultimate point is that the change gives the military and the civilians courts a new tool to use in better managing and overseeing contractors, but leaves it to the Pentagon and DOJ to decide when and where to use it. Given their recent track record on legal issues in the context of Iraq and the war on terror, many won't be that reassured.

Congress is to be applauded for finally taking action to reign in the industry and aid military officers in their duties, but the job is not done. While there may be an inclination to let such questions of scope and implementation be figured out through test cases in the courts, our elected public representatives should request DoD to answer the questions above in a report to Congress. Moreover, while the change may help close one accountability loophole, in no way should it be read as a panacea for the rest of the private military industry's ills. The new Congress still has much to deal with when it comes to the still unregulated industry, including getting enough eyes and ears to actually oversee and manage our contracts effectively, create reporting structures, and forcing the Pentagon to develop better fiscal controls and market sanctions, to actually save money than spend it out.

A change of a few words in a legislative bill certainly isn't the stuff of a blockbuster movie. So don't expect to see Angelina Jolie starring in "Paragraph (10) of Section 802(a)" in a theatre near you anytime soon. But the legal changes in it are a sign that Congress is finally catching up to Hollywood on the private military industry. And that is the stuff of good governance.

-- P.W. Singer is Senior Fellow and Director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at The Brookings Institution. He is the author of Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry (Cornell University Press) and the upcoming book Wired for War (Houghton Mifflin).

January 3, 2007 05:37 PM |

Lieberman, Bush and the Generals: The PR campaign around the troop "surge" in Iraq

Submitted by Conor Kenny on Wed, 01/03/2007 - 13:19.

President Bush is expected to make an announcement soon about his plan for Iraq, but a PR war has been raging for several weeks to prepare the ground for a "surge" in troop levels for Baghdad and Iraq. Bush and surrogates Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) have been busy pushing back hard against senior generals who oppose the surge and are concerned about an escalation in the war without a clear short-term objective.

It all started when General John P. Abizaid testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on November 15 that he opposed the "surge" strategy: "I do not believe that more American troops right now is the solution to the problem. I believe that the troop levels need to stay where they are." The Washington Post reported on December 21 that "other generals have been equally resistant in public and private comments... The uniformed leadership has opposed sending additional forces without a clear mission, seeing the idea as ill-formed and driven by a desire in the White House to do something different even without a defined purpose."

A month later, Abizaid announced his retirement. As the longest-serving commander of the U.S. Central Command (who extended his service at the request of then-Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld), his retirement had been expected, so it is unclear if he was forced out as a result of his statement of opposition to the surge. Since his testimony, however, Abizaid has refused to answer questions about his position on troop levels and said his retirement "has nothing to do with dissatisfaction."

The Decider Decides

President Bush, for his part, has recanted his longstanding position of relying on the opinions of his generals to determine troop levels. As recently as July 2006, he said, "General Casey will make the decisions as to how many troops we have there... He'll decide how best to achieve victory and the troop levels necessary to do so. I've spent a lot of time talking to him about troop levels. And I've told him this: I said, 'You decide, General.'"

Since Abizaid and Casey let their opposition to the surge be known, however, Bush reversed his position. He refused to answer a reporter's question about whether he will rely on his generals in late December and a "senior aide" later told the Washington Post: "He's never left the decision to commanders... He is the commander in chief. But he has said he will listen to those commanders when making these decisions. That hasn't changed."

On December 21, newly installed Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates held a photo-op breakfast with U.S. soldiers in Iraq in which every one told him they supported increased troop levels in Iraq. This was in stark contrast to a December poll of active duty military soldiers (2/3 of which had served in Iraq or Afghanistan) by Military Times that found 39 percent think there should be the same, fewer or no troops at all in Iraq, while 38 percent think there should be more. (Hat tip: Steve Benen.)

Finally, on December 24, a "defense official" told the Los Angeles Times that the top U.S. military commanders in Iraq, including Gen. George W. Casey, Jr., had now decided to recommend a troop surge.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who recently hired former Republican and Christian Coalition spokesman Marshall Wittmann as his communications director, attempted to seal the deal in a December 29 Washington Post op-ed that aimed to make the opinions of the generals irrelevant:

"In Baghdad and Ramadi, I found that it was the American colonels, even more than the generals, who were asking for more troops. In both places these soldiers showed a strong commitment to the cause of stopping the extremists. One colonel followed me out of the meeting with our military leaders in Ramadi and said with great emotion, 'Sir, I regret that I did not have the chance to speak in the meeting, but I want you to know on behalf of the soldiers in my unit and myself that we believe in why we are fighting here and we want to finish this fight. We know we can win it.' "

Whether Lieberman's recent hire has finally cemented his place within the Bush administration's Iraq PR shop is up to debate, but the message from this series of events is clear: If you're a general, it's best not to disagree with the decider.

For more information and continued updates on the politics of the troop surge, see the SourceWatch page on the "McCain doctrine" and related coverage on Congresspedia.

See 46 new articles at the other blog

The other blog

Plus more coming here today.