Thursday, March 29, 2007

One man's campaign against federal debt

UPDATE: March 30, 2007 Editor's note: I am posting at the secondary blog(also see March 29th articles at the overblog blog, the secondary blog and here below).
Story Highlights

•Top accountant touring the country to warn people about the federal debt
• Debt has risen from more than $2 trillion in 1986 to nearly $9 trillion in 2007
• Baby boomers will soon stretch U.S. finances even further

By Kyle Almond

(CNN) -- He has recently made stops in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, giving speeches and holding town hall meetings. But he's not seeking the presidency.

David M. Walker, the nation's top accountant, is instead touring the country to warn Americans about the consequences of a federal debt he says is on an unsustainable course.

Walker, who heads the General Accountability Office (GAO), has visited college campuses, spoken to lawmakers in Washington and toured 19 states in the last year and a half.

He plans to continue through next year and is focusing on states that could affect the 2008 presidential race, in hopes that candidates will heed his message.

"If [the candidates] don't make [the debt] one of their top three priorities, in my opinion, they don't deserve to be president and we can't afford for them to be president," he told CNN.

The federal debt has soared during the last two decades -- from $2.13 trillion in 1986 to $5.22 trillion in 1996 and $8.51 trillion in 2006.

The federal debt now stands near $9 trillion.

The way programs such as Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare are structured, the government will incur an additional debt of $50 trillion during the next 20 years, according to GAO figures.

The $50 trillion total amounts to about $440,000 per American household, Walker said.

The primary drivers behind the additional rise in spending are the baby boomers, who start becoming eligible for Social Security in 2008 and Medicare in 2011.

"We are talking about an unprecedented change in the demographic landscape of America," Walker said. "And we are not prepared for this oncoming wave."

The consequences of federal debt

The federal debt increases every time there is a budget deficit at the end of the fiscal year. A budget deficit occurs when the government spends more than it receives in revenue, as it has for the past five fiscal years and 16 of the past 20, according to the Office of Management and Budget.

The causes for such deficits range from tax cuts and spending increases to congressional earmarks in appropriations bills, costs associated with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and catastrophes like the 9/11 terror attacks and Hurricane Katrina.

The government makes up the difference by printing and selling Treasury bills and bonds, which are increasingly being bought by overseas investors looking to profit from the interest.

More than three-quarters of the federal budget deficit from March 2001 through September 2006 was underwritten by overseas investors, according to Christian Weller, the senior economist at the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based, left-of-center think tank.

Such financing is not necessarily a bad thing for the average American because it has helped keep interest rates relatively low, Weller said.

"The budget deficit brought in all of this foreign cash, and that foreign cash basically washed into the credit market, [making] it easier for homeowners and for others to borrow money," Weller said.

Observers are concerned, however, that interest rates could rise if the federal government doesn't show more fiscal responsibility.

For example, a country that typically lends money to the United States could begin charging higher interests rates on the loan out of concern for what it sees as an uncertain U.S. financial future, said Bill Beach, an economist associated with The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

"So we [would] all end up paying more for mortgages, more for cars and so forth," Beach said.

Beyond interest rates

In the worst-case scenario, other countries -- instead of just charging higher interest rates -- could decide to take their money elsewhere, which could spur inflation and increase financial uncertainty.

However, several things would need to happen -- such as a series of international crises or a collapse in U.S. home values -- for countries to move their investment out of the United States, according to Beach.

Meanwhile, as a result of existing debt, the United States has less money to spend on infrastructure, technology and education -- improvements needed for the country to remain competitive in the global market, Weller said.

"With the government running massive deficits and spending large amounts on debt service, we have less money available to address those concerns, to really face the challenges of the future," he said.

Though economists of different political persuasions agree the federal debt is a growing problem, the solutions they recommend differ. Some ideas include caps on government spending and repealing certain tax cuts.

The GAO's Walker believes reforms of health care and programs like Social Security are the most important steps.

"The fact is that we could eliminate the Iraq war tomorrow. We could eliminate every dime of pork-barrel spending. And we wouldn't come close to solving our problem," he said.

Walker said it is necessary to balance the budget within the next five years, make a down payment on the $50 trillion imbalance and begin reforming government programs.

"It's going to take us probably 20 years to do all the things that need to be done, " he said. "But we need to get started now because the clock is ticking and time is working against us."

Bush's long history of tilting Justice

The administration began skewing federal law enforcement before the current U.S. attorney scandal, says a former Department of Justice lawyer.

By Joseph D. Rich

JOSEPH D. RICH was chief of the voting section in the Justice Department's civil right division from 1999 to 2005. He now works for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

March 29, 2007

THE SCANDAL unfolding around the firing of eight U.S. attorneys compels the conclusion that the Bush administration has rewarded loyalty over all else. A destructive pattern of partisan political actions at the Justice Department started long before this incident, however, as those of us who worked in its civil rights division can attest.

I spent more than 35 years in the department enforcing federal civil rights laws — particularly voting rights. Before leaving in 2005, I worked for attorneys general with dramatically different political philosophies — from John Mitchell to Ed Meese to Janet Reno. Regardless of the administration, the political appointees had respect for the experience and judgment of longtime civil servants.

Under the Bush administration, however, all that changed. Over the last six years, this Justice Department has ignored the advice of its staff and skewed aspects of law enforcement in ways that clearly were intended to influence the outcome of elections.

It has notably shirked its legal responsibility to protect voting rights. From 2001 to 2006, no voting discrimination cases were brought on behalf of African American or Native American voters. U.S. attorneys were told instead to give priority to voter fraud cases, which, when coupled with the strong support for voter ID laws, indicated an intent to depress voter turnout in minority and poor communities.

At least two of the recently fired U.S. attorneys, John McKay in Seattle and David C. Iglesias in New Mexico, were targeted largely because they refused to prosecute voting fraud cases that implicated Democrats or voters likely to vote for Democrats.

This pattern also extended to hiring. In March 2006, Bradley Schlozman was appointed interim U.S. attorney in Kansas City, Mo. Two weeks earlier, the administration was granted the authority to make such indefinite appointments without Senate confirmation. That was too bad: A Senate hearing might have uncovered Schlozman's central role in politicizing the civil rights division during his three-year tenure.

Schlozman, for instance, was part of the team of political appointees that approved then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's plan to redraw congressional districts in Texas, which in 2004 increased the number of Republicans elected to the House. Similarly, Schlozman was acting assistant attorney general in charge of the division when the Justice Department OKd a Georgia law requiring voters to show photo IDs at the polls. These decisions went against the recommendations of career staff, who asserted that such rulings discriminated against minority voters. The warnings were prescient: Both proposals were struck down by federal courts.

Schlozman continued to influence elections as an interim U.S. attorney. Missouri had one of the closest Senate races in the country last November, and a week before the election, Schlozman brought four voter fraud indictments against members of an organization representing poor and minority people. This blatantly contradicted the department's long-standing policy to wait until after an election to bring such indictments because a federal criminal investigation might affect the outcome of the vote. The timing of the Missouri indictments could not have made the administration's aims more transparent.

This administration is also politicizing the career staff of the Justice Department. Outright hostility to career employees who disagreed with the political appointees was evident early on. Seven career managers were removed in the civil rights division. I personally was ordered to change performance evaluations of several attorneys under my supervision. I was told to include critical comments about those whose recommendations ran counter to the political will of the administration and to improve evaluations of those who were politically favored.

Morale plummeted, resulting in an alarming exodus of career attorneys. In the last two years, 55% to 60% of attorneys in the voting section have transferred to other departments or left the Justice Department entirely.

At the same time, career staff were nearly cut out of the process of hiring lawyers. Control of hiring went to political appointees, so an applicant's fidelity to GOP interests replaced civil rights experience as the most important factor in hiring decisions.

For decades prior to this administration, the Justice Department had successfully kept politics out of its law enforcement decisions. Hopefully, the spotlight on this misconduct will begin the process of restoring dignity and nonpartisanship to federal law enforcement. As the 2008 elections approach, it is critical to have a Justice Department that approaches its responsibility to all eligible voters without favor.

Follow the e-mails

The discovery of a previously unknown treasure chest of e-mails buried by the Bush administration may prove to be as informative as Nixon's secret White House tapes.

By Sidney Blumenthal

Mar. 29, 2007 | The rise and fall of the Bush presidency has had four phases: the befuddled period of steady political decline during the president's first nine months; the high tide of hubris from Sept. 11, 2001, through the 2004 election; the self-destructive overreaching to consolidate a one-party state from 2005 to 2006, culminating in the repudiation of the Republican Congress; and, now, the terminal stage, the great unraveling, as the Democratic Congress works to uncover the abuses of the previous six years.

Richard Nixon and George W. Bush both invoked secrecy for national security. Both insisted war -- the war in Vietnam, the war on terror -- justified impunity. And both offered the reason of secrecy to cover political power grabs.

In Watergate, "Deep Throat" counseled that the royal road to the scandal's source was to "follow the money." In the proliferating scandals of the Bush presidency, Congress is searching down a trail of records that did not exist in the time of Nixon: Follow the e-mails.

The discovery of a hitherto unknown treasure-trove of e-mails buried by the Bush White House may prove to be as informative as Nixon's secret White House tapes. Last week the National Journal disclosed that Karl Rove does "about 95 percent" of his e-mails outside the White House system, instead using a Republican National Committee account. What's more, Rove doesn't tap most of his messages on a White House computer, but rather on a BlackBerry provided by the RNC. By this method, Rove and other White House aides evade the legally required archiving of official e-mails. The first glimmer of this dodge appeared in a small item buried in a January 2004 issue of U.S. News & World Report: "'I don't want my E-mail made public,' said one insider. As a result, many aides have shifted to Internet E-mail instead of the White House system. 'It's Yahoo!, baby,' says a Bushie."

The offshoring of White House records via RNC e-mails became apparent when an RNC domain, (referring to George W. Bush, 43rd president), turned up in a batch of e-mails the White House gave to House and Senate committees earlier this month. Rove's deputy, Scott Jennings, former Bush legal counsel Harriet Miers and her deputies strangely had used as an e-mail domain.

The production of these e-mails to Congress was a kind of slip. In its tense negotiations with lawmakers, the White House has steadfastly refused to give Congress e-mails other than those between the White House and the Justice Department or the White House and Congress. E-mails among presidential aides have been withheld under the claim of executive privilege.

When I worked in the Clinton White House, people brought in their personal computers if they were engaged in any campaign work, but all official transactions had to be done within the White House system as stipulated by the Presidential Records Act of 1978. (The PRA requires that "the President shall take all such steps as may be necessary to assure that the activities, deliberations, decisions, and policies that reflect the performance of his constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties are adequately documented and that such records are maintained as Presidential records.") Having forsaken the use of Executive Office of the President e-mail, executive privilege has been sacrificed. Moreover, Rove's and the others' practice may not be legal.

The revelation of the gwb43 e-mails illuminates the widespread exploitation of nongovernmental e-mail by Bush White House officials, which initially surfaced in the investigations and trial of convicted Republican super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Susan Ralston, Abramoff's former personal assistant and then executive assistant to Rove, who served as the liaison between the two men in their constant dealings, used "" and "" e-mail accounts to communicate with Abramoff between 2001 and 2003. In one of her e-mails, Ralston cautioned that "it is better to not put this stuff in writing in [the White House] ... email system because it might actually limit what they can do to help us, especially since there could be lawsuits, etc." Abramoff replied: "Dammit. It was sent to Susan on her rnc pager and was not supposed to go into the WH system."

The Ralston e-mails were not fully appreciated as a clue to the vast cache of hidden e-mails at the time the Justice Department's inspector general conducted a probe into whether Abramoff had been involved in the firing of the U.S. attorney in Guam in 2002. That prosecutor, Frederick Black, who had been appointed by George H.W. Bush and served for 10 years, had opened an investigation into the $324,000 in secret payments Abramoff received from the Guam Superior Court to lobby in Washington against court reform. The day after Black subpoenaed Abramoff's contract, he was fired. In a 2006 report, the I.G. found no criminal wrongdoing -- but he did not have access to the nongovernmental e-mails (i.e., those sent outside the official White House system). Now, the I.G. may have cause to reopen his case.

Under the RNC's domain a myriad of e-mail accounts flourish, including the ones used by Rove's office to conduct his business with Abramoff. Among these accounts are ones for Republican Senate campaigns, for and the like, and, curiously, for The latter e-mail account serves the Web site of the defense fund of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice. amounts to an in-kind contribution from the RNC.

On Monday, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent letters to RNC officials demanding that they preserve the White House e-mails sent on RNC accounts. "The e-mail exchanges reviewed by the Committee provide evidence that in some instances, White House officials were using the nongovernmental accounts specifically to avoid creating a record of the communications," he wrote. "What assurance can the RNC provide the Committee," he asked, "that no e-mails involving official White House business have been destroyed or altered?"

Even as the Bush administration withholds evidence that would allow Congress to fulfill its obligation of oversight, administration officials are having difficulty keeping their stories straight. The release of each new batch of e-mails forces them to scramble for new alibis.

On March 12, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that he had nothing to do with the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys late last year. How they happened to be removed remained a mystery to him. "I was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on," he said. But e-mails released last week show that he was informed of the plan twice in late 2006. In fact, on Nov. 27, 2006, he met with at least five senior Justice Department officials to finalize a "five-step plan for carrying out the firings of the prosecutors." With the appearance of the incriminating e-mails, Gonzales' spokespeople have been sent out to tell the press that there is "no inconsistency," a brazen assertion of the Groucho Marx defense: Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?

Despite the resignation of Gonzales' chief of staff and counselor, Kyle Sampson, on March 12, another fall guy has emerged, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty. On Jan. 18, Gonzales testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, presenting a public explanation that politics had nothing to do with the U.S. attorney firings -- "we would never, ever make a change in the U.S. attorney position for political reasons" -- and private assurances to Republican senators that they were dismissed for disagreements over policy.

Three weeks later, McNulty appeared before the committee, contradicting his boss, explaining that the U.S. attorneys were fired for "performance-related" reasons. Then he admitted that the U.S. attorney for Arkansas, H.E. "Bud" Cummins, was being replaced by a Rove protégé, Tim Griffin. McNulty's testimony incited the U.S. attorneys to defend their reputations, agitated the Democrats to ferret out the underlying political motives and forced the administration to react with a spray of excuses.

On Monday, the administration leaked an e-mail to ABC News in an attempt to blame the entire scandal on McNulty. "McNulty's testimony directly conflicted with the approach Miers advised, according to an unreleased internal White House e-mail described to ABC News," it reported. "According to that e-mail, sources said, Miers said the administration should take the firm position that it would not comment on personnel issues." The leak fit the administration scenario that the U.S. attorneys scandal was nothing but a P.R. mistake -- and now McNulty was the one fingered as the culprit. But in trying to shift blame the leaking of the e-mail would seem to undercut the White House's claim of executive privilege that it cannot give internal communications to Congress.

Also on Monday Gonzales' senior counselor and White House liaison, Monica Goodling, invoked the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in her refusal to testify before the Senate. (Goodling, who graduated from law school in 1999, is one of the highest-ranking officials in the Department of Justice. Her doctor of jurisprudence degree comes from Regent University, founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson. Its Web site boasts that it has "150 graduates serving in the Bush Administration." Perhaps not coincidentally, Kay Coles James, a former Regent University dean, was director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management from 2001 to 2005.)

Goodling's lawyer's extraordinarily argumentative letter explaining her silence accused "certain members" of the committee of "already" having "reached conclusions about the affair"; stated that the inquiry is "being used to promote a political party" and that it lacks a "legitimate reason ... basic fairness ... objectivity"; and stated that an unnamed "senior Department of Justice official" had told Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., that he was "not entirely candid" to the committee because "our client did not inform him of certain pertinent facts."

McNulty, of course, is that official. As Goodling's lawyer's letter reveals, he is refusing to go gently into that good night and declining to cooperate with the latest cover story. Hence, she is taking the Fifth, perhaps more because she doesn't know what story to tell than because she might face a perjury trap before the committee. So the fall gal blames the fall guy.

As Congress extends its oversight, President Bush stiffens his resistance. He treats the Democratic Congress as basically illegitimate. He reacts to every assertion of oversight as an invasion of presidential prerogative. Not only does he reject compromise and negotiation, but he also transforms every point of difference into a conflict over first principles, even as every new disclosure reveals his purely political motivation.

Bush's radicalism becomes more fervent as he becomes more embattled, and separates him from presidents past. Richard Nixon compromised regularly with a Democratic Congress, even as he secretly laid the foundation of an imperial presidency, his unfinished project left in ruins after the Watergate scandal. Ronald Reagan, the old union leader, president of the Screen Actors Guild, stood resolutely on his convictions until the better part of political valor led him to cut a deal, as he did when he abandoned his long-held belief in privatizing Social Security, conceding his supposedly inviolate ground to Speaker Tip O'Neill, and happily proclaiming the pact afterward. George H.W. Bush, a former congressman with many friends across the aisle, famously jettisoned his tenuous conservative bona fides as Reagan's heir, a credo he embraced in his 1988 acceptance speech before the Republican National Convention -- "Read my lips: no new taxes" -- when, anxious about the expanding deficit, he cut a deal with the Democratic leadership to lower it through tax increases.

The Republican right's excoriation of the elder Bush's betrayal, rather than his overriding sense of responsibility, was the lesson learned by the son. His imperative to avoid making enemies on the right is compounded into his larger notion of an unfettered presidency.

For six years, Bush had a Republican Congress whipped into obedience -- and it provided him his only experience in legislative affairs. The rise of the Democratic Congress, reviving the powers of oversight and investigation, is a shock to his system. But he is not without an understanding of his changed circumstances. Bush sees the new Congress as the same beast that ensnared his father in fatal compromise and as a monstrous threat to the imperial presidency he has spent six years carefully building.

As the return of oversight suddenly exposes pervasive corruption throughout the executive branch, Bush struggles against Congress as though it were an alien force. Bush has no sense that the Framers, wary of the concentration of power in the executive, deliberately established the powers of the Congress in Article I of the Constitution and those of the president in Article II. Once again he straps on his armor and clasps his shield. His defense of secrecy, executive fiat and one-party rule has become his battle of Thermopylae.


HHS Official Resigns Amid Mass. Debacle

Thursday March 29, 2007 11:46 PM


Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - The head of the federal agency responsible for providing women with access to contraceptives and pregnancy counseling resigned unexpectedly Thursday after Medicaid officials took action against him in Massachusetts.

The Health and Human Services Department provided no details about the nature of the Massachusetts action that led to Dr. Eric Keroack's resignation.

Just five months ago, Keroack was chosen by President Bush to oversee HHS' Office of Population Affairs and its $283 million annual budget. The pick angered Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion rights groups that viewed him as opposed to birth control and comprehensive sex education. Keroack had worked for an organization that opposes contraception.

``Yesterday, Dr. Eric Keroack alerted us to an action taken against him by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' Office of Medicaid. As a result of this action I accepted his resignation,'' Dr. John Agwunobi, assistant secretary for health, said in a terse statement Thursday evening.

Massachusetts Medicaid officials did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Flexing Imperial Muscles in the Middle East

Jacob Hornberger’s Commentary

In the wake of the Iranian capture of British sailors, U.S. Naval forces are conducting “exercises” in the Persian Gulf, heightening tensions against Iran. (Surprise, surprise!)

Bush administration officials say that the exercises are intended to send a message — that Iran is not going to be permitted to expand its influence and power in the Middle East. (You would think they would have thought about that before installing a pro-Iran regime in Iraq.)

As one anonymous senior U.S. official put it, “Iran has been trying to send a message for some time that we are on the way out, that they are the natural great power of the region and that everybody should circle around Iran. This whole thing [the Naval exercises] is designed to send a message to the region. We are sending a message that we are here to stay.”

That is classic empire talk! Isn’t that exactly the way officials in the Roman, Soviet, and British empires spoke?

Suppose Iran sent a fleet of battleships and carriers into the Gulf of Mexico and declared to Washington, “This exercise is designed to send you a message about your aims to expand your power and influence in Latin America. You will not be permitted to do so, and we are here to stay.”

U.S. officials would have a conniption fit, no doubt about it.

Now, suppose some Iranian soldiers “strayed” into U.S. territorial waters and were taken into custody by U.S. officials. What do you think would happen to the Iranian captives?

They would never be permitted to set foot on American shores. Instead, they would be shackled and goggled and then shipped to Guantanamo Bay or one of the CIA’s secret overseas prisons, where they would be subject to torture and sex abuse as “enemy combatants” in the “global war on terror.”

Now, how do you think U.S.-British Empire officials would respond if the British soldiers who were recently taken captive were whisked off by Iranian officials to some secret Iranian prison camp, where they were disrobed and subjected to the same mistreatment, torture, and abuse that prisoners have been subjected to at Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and the CIA’s prison camps?

U.S. and British officials would have a conniption fit, no doubt about it.

The U.S. Empire is currently engaged in the same imperial misconduct in the Middle East in which it has been engaged for decades, which has caused untold damage to America, including the 9/11 attacks. And to what avail? People in the Middle East hate the U.S. more than ever, which makes the threat of terrorism that much greater, which only solidifies the Pentagon’s power over the American people.

Why, even longtime ally Saudi King Abdullah is now calling the U.S. occupation of Iraq “illegal” (which, of course, it is). How long before Abdullah becomes the new Official Enemy, just as former U.S. partners and allies Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden did?

The basic issue is: What business does the U.S. government have occupying Iraq, conducting naval exercises in the Persian Gulf, and threatening Iran with war? Answer: No more business than Iran would have occupying Mexico, conducting naval exercises in the Gulf of Mexico, and threatening the U.S. with war.

When Americans finally wish to restore freedom, harmony, and peace of mind to our land, they’re going to have to confront the paradigm of empire, militarism, and interventionism that holds our nation in its grip. Otherwise, if they want their empire, they need to get used to imperial muscle-flexing, perpetual war and international tensions, and to the loss of their liberty, prosperity, and harmony.

Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Chastized head of local FBI office anounces retirement

By Kelly Thornton
12:06 p.m. March 29, 2007

SAN DIEGO – San Diego FBI chief Dan Dzwilewski, who was rebuked by superiors for publicly defending ousted U.S. Attorney Carol Lam, has announced his retirement.

Dzwilewski, who has been at the helm of the San Diego office since July 2003, sent an e-mail to his agents and staff Wednesday saying he planned to take a post as director of security at Sempra Energy. His last day at the bureau is to be April 30.

Some colleagues found the timing of the announcement curious. On Tuesday, FBI Director Robert Mueller acknowledged during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that one of his subordinates, John Pistole, told Dzwilewski that his statements on Lam were inappropriate and that he should keep quiet.

Dzwilewski had said Lam's firing was political and would adversely affect ongoing corruption cases.

However, some people familiar with Dzwilewski's plans said he was ready for a change after 27 years with the bureau and had been job hunting for months. Dzwilewski, who had held numerous assignments in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., San Diego and Honolulu, had made it clear he planned to get off the FBI career ladder and retire in San Diego, they said.

Officials declined to say whether Dzwilewski's retirement was forced as a result of his comments on Lam.

"We have no comment and we refer you back to San Diego," said Richard Kolko, a spokesman for the FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Dzwilewski is 53, married, with no children. As a young single man he did stints as an agent in the Los Angeles bureau, where he rode a motorcycle, dressed well and because of his perpetual tan was nicknamed “Get-a-tan-Dan.”

He became an assistant special agent in charge in San Diego in the late 1990s, then was promoted to head the Honolulu FBI. He returned to San Diego as special agent in charge in 2003.

During Dzwilewski's tenure, local FBI agents investigated the Randy “Duke” Cunningham bribery scandal and its spinoff cases as well as the corruption investigation involving San Diego city councilmen.

Us and Them

by William Bowles • Thursday, 29 March, 2007

We are so used to the ruling political class making decisions ‘for us’ that we forget that they exist and act only because we allow them to. We allow it because we think that once elected, our representatives will act in our best interests. And because ‘we elect’ them every so often—itself an illusion produced by the illusion that once elected, they ‘represent’ us—our involvement in the political process ends.

This relationship between ‘us and them’ is essentially a one-way-street with the ruling political class invariably telling us that whatever they do, they do in ‘our’ interests or the ‘interests of the state’, the assumption being that the state’s interests and our own are the same. They call it a social contract...


State-initiated impeachment reaches Missouri and TEXAS!

Mar 29, 2007

First it was California, Illinois, and Vermont. Then Minnesota. And then New Mexico and Washington.

Now it's Missouri and Texas.

Accountability and the Renegade Executive

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Scott Horton

Normally, I begin my remarks by saying "Ladies and Gentlemen." But here I'm not sure that's quite the right salutation. On my way down from New York to Charlotte to Memphis to Oxford, Mississippi today, passing over the freshly verdant Appalachians and then down the valley of the Tennessee River to the Mississippi Delta, I read the first chapters of William Faulkner's novel, Sanctuary - it takes placed in a bucolic college down named Jefferson - a town which is remarkably like this one. And there towards the end of Chapter III, I ran across this scrap:

"The Virginia gentleman… told us at supper that night about how they had taught him to drink like a gentleman. Put a beetle in alcohol, and you have a scarab; put a Mississippian in alcohol, and you have a gentleman -"

So, as it's still too early in the evening to speak of "gentlemen" here in Mississippi, I'll just say "friends."

America today is in the grips of a scandal surrounding the machinery of justice, but it is a scandal being played out on more fronts than the mass media seems to realize. Indeed, in the end it turns on the concept of justice, not just about the bureaucracy that supposedly administers it.

Eight US attorneys were dismissed by Alberto Gonzales on prodding from Karl Rove. We now know the fateful decision was taken on December 7 (an ironic day, as FDR said, "a day that will live in infamy"). As Gonzales and his deputies Paul J. McNulty and William Moschella trotted out various and contradictory after-the-fact rationalizations for this decision, it has become increasingly clear that the dismissals were politically inspired. Indeed, in the testimony that he has submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee within the last two hours, Gonzales' chief of staff acknowledges as much.

The prosecutors selected for discharge come from "battleground states" which will be key to the 2008 presidential election: New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Michigan, Washington and Arkansas. This is no coincidence. Shortly after the 2006 Congressional election, Karl Rove, licking his wounds over a serious defeat, indicated in a speech to Republican lawyers that the public perception of scandal surrounding GOP law-makers was key to that loss. Rove promised he would do something about it. Within a few days, a move to cashier these prosecutors was underway. It is tied to a plan to use their offices to go after Democrats, whether a basis existed or not, and to pursue a voter suppression program focused on prospective Democrats. In other words, it's pure politics. Not high politics in the sense that Aristotle uses the term. But the crude gutter politics of the partisan hack. This sort of politics is not the exclusive province of one party. But over the last years, one party has exercised a monopoly on political power, and this appears to have led to a particularly virulent strain of political hackery.

Standing alone, this incident would be cause for grave concern. But it's just one aspect of a far broader crisis in which our country is enmeshed. The crisis has its start in the decision to introduce torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment - in contravention of 230 years of US military tradition, stretching back to George Washington's order after the battle of Trenton. Gonzales had a key role in this process as well, backed up by Cheney's chief-of-staff, David Addington and the now ever-present John Yoo. They tell us that they did this to insure that the president, as commander-in-chief, would have all the tools at his disposal that he might need to fight a war against terror. But if we strip the varnish off that, there are unmistakably unsavory elements underneath: one is a recognition that torture is a crime, and the second is a desire to enlist it into the president's arsenal notwithstanding what the law says.

A former president of the Argentine bar, with whom I spoke two years ago, told me that his experience with torture in Argentina's "Dirty War" under a military dictatorship had been very clear. The dictator wanted torture as a talisman. It would show that the military rulers were above the law - subject to none of the restraints that marked the rule-of-law state. No one was under the illusion that torture techniques would actually get any useful intelligence. On the other hand, it would instill fear, and that was useful. He spoke to me with some conviction: the legal profession must oppose the introduction of torture, he said. In the end you will learn this is not about interrogation practices, it is about dictatorship, about tyranny. The experience of Argentina and Chile backs him up. Is the experience of America different? America is not governed by a military junta, of course. Nor can the brutality of technique and number of victims of the "Dirty War" yet be compared with the dark underside of the war on terror. But it is striking that most of the abusive techniques used by the Argentine junta were adopted and introduced in what President Bush has called the "program." This includes waterboarding, which the Argentinians called el submarino, the cold cell (or hypothermia), long-time standing and sleep deprivation in excess of two days. Nevertheless, this is a question we all should ponder.

The Argentine lawyer's remarks reminded me immediately of what Gonzales wrote in a memorandum on January 25, 2002 - he speculated that the newly fashioned plans for the war on terror might lead future prosecutors to consider war crimes charges. Gonzales suggested that if Bush declared that the Geneva Conventions did not apply, it would be more difficult for a prosecutor to go after the authors of these new policies.

It's chilling to consider that this was written by a man destined to serve as the nation's chief law enforcement officer. But it explains, perhaps, why Bush gave Gonzales the nick name "Fredo" - the name of the younger, loyal, but mentally less adept son of the Godfather crime family, the Corleones.

It started with torture but it moved swiftly beyond this. For instance, to a decision to introduce a system of torture-by-proxy through extraordinary rendition. Gonzales also gave this program, which has its origins back in an anti-drug kingpin program launched by Clinton, the green light. And now more than thirty American public servants - CIA officers and military for the most part - stand under indictment in Italy and Germany with counts of assault, kidnapping and other felonies; these are all dedicated public servants performing an official program. The blame for what happened doesn't rest with them, or at least not entirely. It rests with the people who formed the policies that they implemented. Our reputation around the world is a tatters. And nations who want to cooperate with us in a war against terror, and whose support the United States badly needs, repeatedly find they can't do so. If they do, they will be collaborating with a nation that tortures, and they aren't prepared to sacrifice their values the way the Bush administration has sacrificed ours.

Recently a friend of mine who works with the Afghan Government shared with me some intelligence the Afghans had gathered from a young man apprehended in connection with an attack using an improvised explosive device. The man had fled as a refugee to Pakistan. There he was seized by the Pakistani Inter Service Intelligence (a close collaborator of the CIA) and told that unless he participated in a planned bombing attack on NATO forces in the Afghan south, the Pakistanis would turn him over to the Americans, he would be taken to Guantánamo and tortured there for years on end. He agreed to participate. Interestingly he was not the only young Afghan to be captured with an account like this. Is the account true? The Afghans are convinced it is, and US intelligence apparently has credited it as well. So there you have it: come full circle. The image of Gitmo used to recruit people to perform acts of terror against us.

Gonzales also gave the go-ahead for surveillance that violated FISA, a federal criminal statute. Indeed, Newsweek gave us a fascinating insider's account of how all this went down at Justice. Then Attorney General John Ashcroft was out in the hospital for a gallbladder operation. James Comey, his deputy, said "no," he couldn't possibly authorize this. Neither, apparently, would Jack Goldsmith, the man responsible for the Attorney General's legal opinions. Gonzales had to find alternative means to get this through. And in short order Ashcroft, Comey and Goldsmith were gone from Justice and Gonzales arrived with a new team of enablers. Gonzales gave evasive or false testimony about much of this during the confirmation process, which earned him a distinction that is, as far as I know, unprecedented for a US attorney general. He enjoys such a reputation for "truthiness" (as Stephen Colbert calls it, namely something which has the outward appearance of truth, but is, in fact, a lie) that he is not permitted to speak before the Judiciary Committee without being formally sworn in. And this last weekend, three senior Judiciary Committee Republicans - Specter, Graham and Hagel, were openly discussing Gonzales' truthiness problems on talk shows.

Where once our nation had the debate of Jeffersons, Madisons, Websters and Clays, now we have the Beltway punditry - the Fred Hiatts, Chris Matthews and Norah O'Donnells - a vacuous chattering class which is the Muzak of our political discourse. They tell us that all of these scandals - the cashiering of US attorneys, the surveillance, the introduction of torture and torture-by-proxy - this is all just politics. Don't get yourself worked up. In fact, pay no attention. Time to move on.

Don't believe them. This is about the country we live in and the country we will pass to posterity. It's about fidelity to the values on which this country was founded. It is about the rule of law and accountability. Our Founding Fathers had faith in mankind, but also a very real sense of man's corruptibility. "If men were angels," James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 51, then we should have no need of government. But men are no angels, and politicians may in fact be closer to what Kant called a race of devils. The genius of the tripartite system of checks and balances that Madison and the other Founding Fathers created was its use of the quest for power latent in so many of us (and especially in politicians) as a brake against itself.

But in the last six years this brake has been dismantled and removed. There has been a fundamental shift in the power structure - a sweeping reallocation of power from the Congress and Courts to the Executive. Much of this has occurred secretly, behind closed doors, as a sort of constitutional coup d'état.

It's telling that the current scandal began with a secret change in the Patriot Act. Unbeknownst to those who should have run the process, including Senator Specter, then the chair of the Judiciary Committee, a provision was slipped in at the last minute giving the Attorney General a direct power of appointment of US Attorneys, skirting the advice and consent of the Senate. This provision was smuggled into the bill by a young legislative assistant who was promptly appointed, at 34 years of age, as the US Attorney in Utah. He was a friend of Kyle P. Sampson, Gonzales' chief of staff and the man who stage-managed the removal of the eight US attorneys. Sampson, who is going to become a household name in the next few days, has a nickname, "Little Rove," both for his similarity to and friendship with Karl Rove. But the point here is that the Senate should have exercised a brake by looking into the entire process, and through legislative legerdemain that was stopped.

Bismarck famously said that with legislation, like with sausage, it was perhaps best not to know what went into it. But that reflects the Bismarckian democracy, which in the end, wasn't much democracy at all. As for our process, we have Madison's admonitions not to legislate in secret, a charge that Congress has rarely lived up to, but has miserably breached these last few years.

This week at colleges and law schools around the country, there is a special focus on what is underway at Guantánamo, or Gitmo as my Navy friends call it. Newspapers today are reporting on the first hearings held in the military commissions process. Last weekend, the New York Times informed us that in his first weeks in office Bob Gates, the man who replaced Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense in December, put together a comprehensive plan to shut down the Gitmo detention centers and move the entire operation to the United States. This initiative was immediately supported by Condoleezza Rice. Gates and Rice argued that the name "Guantánamo" was now held in such disrepute around the world that no one would ever associate what transpired there with any notion of justice. Gates, it seems, thought that when Bush said he wanted to shut down Gitmo, he really meant it. But he quickly learned that it's dangerous to assume Bush means what he says, especially when he's talking about Gitmo and the war on terror. Alberto Gonzales and Dick Cheney stepped in very quickly to quash the Gates plan. Gonzales said that bringing the detainees to the US could have unpleasant legal consequences for the administration.

Indeed it would. It would greatly up the chances that the detainees would be able to challenge their treatment in a federal court, before real judges, who would apply real law - starting with the US Constitution and continuing on to the Geneva Conventions. And it would open the prospect that the American people would learn, perhaps in some detail, exactly what was done to those detainees. Rumsfeld called them the "worst of the worst" but we know thanks to a Seton Hall study that roughly 80% of them were picked up by Afghan and Pakistani bounty hunters, and, in the assessment of both FBI and CIA teams that initially screened them, had no business being there. Gates and Rice were correct when they offered that no one would associate these proceedings with justice. That's because they bear no resemblance to justice, as it has traditionally been dispensed in US courts. Nor do they bear much resemblance to the high and honorable standards that have been established under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Manual on Courts-Martial. These proceedings are loaded from the outset. Defendants are not permitted counsel of their choosing, and defense counsel have been subjected to a torrent of abuse and mistreatment. Evidentiary rules are weighted in favor of the admission of coerced testimony, including torture-induced testimony, secret evidence, and evidence which cannot be confronted or properly crossexamined. A fair-minded judge might still get to a just result, but the rules the Pentagon dictated, and the shameful provisions the Congress wrote, will make it perilously difficult to get there.

Dwight David Eisenhower, the last of our nation's great warrior presidents, said "Though force can protect in emergency, only justice, fairness, consideration and co-operation can finally lead men to the dawn of eternal peace." He reflected the received wisdom of the nation that won World War II and then turned with swift justice to the work of the Nuremberg and Tokyo Tribunals. Through this process, America demonstrated it had a powerful thirst for justice. It vindicated America's cause in the war. It exorcised the demon of fascism which had laid hold of the heart of Europe. And it produced a new world in which the vanquished foes, Germany, Italy and Japan, emerged as America's allies for the coming generations. Eisenhower's faith in the power of justice, pursued swiftly and with a firm sense of fairness, was borne out. Wielded effectively, justice is indeed among the most potent tools in our arsenal.

And this provides reason for us to ask: Why is this administration afraid of justice the way our fathers and their fathers understood it? Why do we wait five and a half years after 9/11 to witness the first sessions of the military commissions? And why do we then witness a confused tumult which embarrasses us in the eyes of the entire world, just as Gates suggested it would?

In the end the turn against traditions and values has been about the aggrandizement of power in the executive. It has been about arrogant avoidance of accountability. And it has been about that principle that lies most at the heart of the development of the Anglo-American legal tradition, namely that no man is above the law, not even the king or the man who would be king. As with so many things of recent times, it resonates of England in the seventeenth century, and reminds us of the famous words uttered by Thomas Fuller: "Be ye ever so high, still the law is above thee." But the mantra of the current administration is to frustrate all efforts to hold it to account, to grant itself immunity for its crimes, to strip courts of jurisdiction, including even the great writ. On each of these points, the conduct of the Bush presidency mirrors that of Charles I, the monarch whose conduct provoked Fuller's statement.

Americans have inherited a great legacy, one that embraces the worth and dignity of all human beings, the promise of equal justice for all before the law, a principle of limited, carefully divided and counter-posed governmental powers, with full accountability to a people in whom sovereignty rests. The answer to our current problems lies in our past, and in fidelity to the best that America has brought forth. But it requires citizens to be alert and to see what passes before them. And it requires us to take our heritage seriously.

Remarks delivered at the University of Mississippi School of Law, Oxford, MS, Mar. 28, 2007

Over 100 Iraqis killed in bombing mayhem

by Ammar Karim Thu Mar 29, 3:17 PM ET

Bomb attacks killed more than 100 Iraqis on Thursday, including 60 slaughtered in a popular Baghdad market in the deadliest violence in the capital since a massive US security crackdown.

Two suicide bombers wearing explosive vests walked into Al-Shaab market in a Shiite district of northeastern Baghdad and blew themselves up as shoppers busied themselves buying provisions ahead of the weekend.

They left gruesome scenes of carnage and wounded another 25 people in the market -- a favourite target of Sunni extremists bent on causing maximum casualties -- in experiences that have become daily fare in war-racked Iraq.

The attacks were carried out shortly after 43 Iraqis were slaughtered and more than 80 wounded in coordinated bombings hitting another market in the Shiite town of Khalis, north of Baghdad.

The bodies of victims from the Baghdad market bombings were brought to the Imam Ali hospital in Sadr City, a Shiite bastion close to the site of the blasts, an AFP photographer said.

Bodies of men, women and nearly 10 children were lying on the floor of the hospital, he said as medics rushed to cover the corpses and dozens of grieving relatives frantically besieged the hospital searching for their loved ones.

Thursday's death toll pushed to more than 300 the number of Iraqis slain in the worst 48-hour bout of violence in months, fanning fears of all out civil war and savage sectarianism in the country.

Khalis lies in the troubled Diyala province that has become the most dangerous stretch of country outside the capital. Four coordinated car bombings and mortar attacks there struck a market, courthouse and a new army base.

As in Baghdad, the explosions unleashed mayhem, killing and maiming men, women and children during the busy shopping hours ahead of the main Muslim day of rest on Friday, said Ahmed al-Khadran, brother of the town's mayor.

The first car bomb targeted the market, the second blew up near a court house, a third at a new army base under construction and a fourth blew up in an ambulance, a security source said.

At least nine mortar attacks were also reported in residential areas while two roadside bombs exploded in a main street near the market, ripping through security and rescue workers who had rushed to the scene of the initial attack.

The killings came on top of the reported deaths of another 21 people in attacks concentrated around the capital on Thursday and police found 25 corpses of men killed in apparent sectarian attacks in Baghdad.

Just hours before the latest attacks, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, whose government has appointed investigators to probe the deaths of 160 Iraqis in the northern town of Tal Afar -- issued an emotional appeal for unity

"The Iraqi army is for the whole of Iraq and not a particular party or sect, and is not guided by people close to political affiliations," said Maliki in an address to cadets of a counter-terrorism academy in Baghdad.

"The country is facing many challenges which need a consolidated front in which all Iraqis must participate... Iraqis must not feel that we (as a government) are terrorising them," Maliki added.

Despite Thursday's attack in Baghdad, insurgents have increasingly focused their energies elsewhere to escape the heavily ramped up security presence in the capital where 80,000 Iraqi-US troops have deployed since last month.

But the most brutal sectarian shootings were witnessed in the northern Iraqi town of Tal Afar on Tuesday when armed men went on a rampage killing Sunni Arabs after a bomb attack killed 85 people in a crowded Shiite district.

Gunmen, at least some wearing police uniform according to witnesses, rampaged through the Sunni district of Al-Wahada killing 70 people after the presumed Sunni suicide truck bomber blew himself up among crowds waiting for food.

Iraq's embattled government admitted on Thursday that police were behind the vengeful slaughter of the Sunni Arabs as soldiers uncovered further bodies of five executed men whom a doctor said were killed in a separate incident.

"We will take legal action against a group of them," Interior Minister Jawad Bolani, himself a Shiite in the Shiite-dominated government, confirmed.

"An order has been issued by the prime minister to investigate the violations caused by elements of the police in Tal Afar," he added.

An Iraqi army source speaking on condition of anonymity said 13 policemen were detained for the mass killings of Sunni Arabs, but a spokesman later said they had been released temporarily to mourn relatives killed in the truck bomb.

GAO Looking Into Faulty N.O. Pumps

Failed New Orleans Levees Blamed On Army Corps
The report says that decades of errors, including not knowing the elevation of New Orleans, allowed the situation in which the levees failed.
The final report volumes are available on the Internet at
Thursday March 29, 2007 12:01 AM


Associated Press Writer

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Government Accountability Office investigators are meeting with Army Corps of Engineers officials to ask questions about drainage pumps that were installed before last year's hurricane season even though they apparently were defective.

The pumps were produced by a Florida company under a $26.6 million contract awarded after Hurricane Katrina. They provide flood protection by draining water from this largely below sea level city.

An engineer for the Corps working on the pumps project warned in a spring 2006 memo that the machinery had problems that likely would keep them from performing under hurricane conditions. Last year was a mild hurricane season, so the pumps were not tested in an emergency scenario.

Anu Mittal, the GAO's director for water resources, said a large team of investigators has been assembled to ``expeditiously'' satisfy a request by U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.

Landrieu, D-La., has asked the GAO, Congress' investigative and auditing arm, to investigate if there was improper influence in the way the pumps contract was awarded and handled. She also wants to know what danger the pumps posed to New Orleans, and the Corps' rationale for installing them.

Mittal said the GAO is considering Landrieu's questions and is aiming to have a report to her by the middle of May, but would not guarantee it.

The Corps did not immediately respond to questions on Wednesday. Since the memo was disclosed two weeks ago the Corps has insisted that the pumps would have worked if they had been pressed into service last year and that the city was never in danger of flooding.

The Corps has said it decided to install the pumps, and then fix the machinery while it was in place, believing that some pumping capacity was better than none. And it defended the manufacturer, which was under time pressure.

The pumps were manufactured by Moving Water Industries Corp., a Deerfield Beach, Fla., company owned by J. David Eller and his sons. Eller was once a business partner of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in a venture called Bush-El that marketed MWI pumps.

The U.S. Justice Department sued the company in 2002[was Jeb a partner at the time?], accusing it of fraudulently helping Nigeria obtain $74 million in taxpayer-backed loans for overpriced and unnecessary water-pump equipment. The case has yet to be resolved.

Since the pumps were installed, the corps and MWI have struggled to get the heavy-duty pumps to work properly; they have been pulled out and overhauled because of excessive vibration, Corps officials said. Other problems have included overheated engines, broken hoses and blown gaskets, according to the Corps memo last year.

'Israel's right to exist': Is it a real issue?

Jeff Handmaker and Gentian Zyberi, The Electronic Intifada, 28 March 2007

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) speaks at a joint press conference with Ehud Olmert, Prime Minister of Israel, in Jerusalem. (UN/Evan Schneider)

There are many aspects of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in urgent need of legal scrutiny as part of a much-needed critical dialogue. One such issue is Israel's claim towards Hamas to acknowledge that it has a 'right to exist'. This claim has not only been uncritically taken on board by the Quartet. It has become one of the top conditions to be fulfilled by Hamas for receiving aid by the Quartet and other international donors. At the risk of stating the obvious, we argue that this position lacks any basis under international law and will serve no constructive political purpose in seeking to resolve the conflict.

What makes a State?

The criteria for statehood are laid out in the 1933 Montevideo Convention, namely: a permanent population, a defined territory, a government and capacity to enter into relations with other States. While Israel is a State and has been recognized as such by many States, it should not be forgotten that there is a fundamental distinction between the act of recognising a State and the mere fact of being of a State, or a State's 'right to existence'.

Recognition of a State is accorded under international law by way of two processes, namely recognition on the basis of objective criteria and explicit recognition by States. Explicit recognition by States is not necessary if the first factors (criteria for statehood) exist, though it obviously carries much political significance. This was illustrated by the Peoples Republic of China, a State of considerable size and stature, which was not recognized by many States for a long time and took its place in the UN only in 1971.

There are also many States which do not have diplomatic relations with other States, who withhold explicit recognition or who withdraw diplomatic relations for a variety of reasons, including objection to a government's human rights record. In the past this included the Soviet Union and South Africa. Many States, members of the UN, have also refused to recognise Israel, or have withdrawn diplomatic relations, for similar reasons. This includes the government of Venezuela, which withdrew its ambassador from Tel Aviv in August 2006 in protest at Israel's indiscriminate bombing of civilians in Lebanon.

Also largely forgotten in this discussion; a State's 'existence' carries with it many obligations, including the obligation to treat the inhabitants of territories under its control (occupied or otherwise) in accordance with human rights and humanitarian law. This includes respect for the rights of minorities, no discrimination on the grounds of race, religion or national origin and full and equal participation of all its citizens.

Last but not least, a 'right to existence' for a State is not an esoteric right, it must materialize within a clearly defined territory. Although this 'right to existence' is intrinsically connected with the issue of borders, the fact that the borders of Israel are not yet defined goes largely unnoticed.

Is Israel's existence at stake? A one-way demand

The current demand by the Quartet, US, Russia, UN and the European Union, is that Hamas recognise Israel's 'right to exist'. But even if the Quartet were to more properly insist on recognition of Israel's 'right to existence', Hamas is a political party and not a State and thus in no position to exercise any kind of legal recognition at all. Assuming, therefore, that the demand is instead being made for political reasons, we must question why it is made without any reciprocal demands by Israel.

Such a reciprocal demand might be, for example, that Israel acknowledge the right of return of Palestinian refugees in accordance with international law and that the West Bank, Gaza and Golan are occupied territories, neither of which Israel has done. Further, Israel might be asked to acknowledge the validity of the 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which provides a basis for resolving the conflict in accordance with international law, and also places explicit obligations on other States (including the members of the Quartet) and the UN itself.

Arafat long ago acknowledged, as head of the PLO, the 'right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security'.

So what does the current demand from Israel and the EU actually mean? Is it a real issue?

Since the European Union's demand that Hamas recognise Israel has no basis in international law, and in the absence of any reciprocal demands on Israel, we can only conclude that the EU, knowingly or not, is seeking to impose a one-sided political agenda that is counter-productive in finding a just peace. Such an approach undermines the EU's standing in the negotiating process towards achieving a just and long-lasting solution to this conflict.

The European Union must reconsider its position

Asking for an acknowledgement from Hamas of Israel's 'right to exist' is a disingenuous request, rooted neither in international law nor in any constructive political consideration.

As the largest trading partner of Israel, the European Union must reconsider its own position, expressed by the Quartet, at least with regard to this request. The EU should be guided by the even-handedness of international law principles as laid down in the 2004 Advisory Opinion of the ICJ. In this Opinion, the Court held that the obligations towards the international community as a whole violated by Israel are the obligation to respect the right of the Palestinian people to self determination, and certain of its obligations under international humanitarian law.

All States have an obligation to ask from Israel the recognition of the Palestinian people's right to self-determination. As the ICJ advised, the UN General Assembly (and the Quartet) need to encourage efforts with a view to achieving as soon as possible, on the basis of international law, a negotiated solution to the outstanding problems, with peace and security for all in the region.

This over-riding objective is not going to be achieved by such requests.

Jeff Handmaker lectures in human rights at the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague and Gentian Zyberi is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights, Utrecht University.

This Land is Theirs


eileen fleming


This March 30th marks the 31st year Palestinians throughout the world remember Land Day or 'Youm al-Ard' in Arabic. On March 30, 1976, in the Galilee, during a peaceful protest, six unarmed Palestinians were killed by the Israeli army and police, who also injured 96 others and arrested over 300.


The demonstration was prompted after Israeli authorities announced the confiscation of a total of 5,500 acres of land from Palestinian villages in the Galilee , and classified them as "closed military zones."

On March 25, 2006 , while in Jerusalem, this reporter connected just after dawn with a wide awake group of Israeli Jews to travel north to the lower Galilee municipality of Sakhnin, an Arab village whose land continues to be grabbed and colonized by Israel .

Ronnie, a Canadian moved to Israel with the desire to help build a civil society. She is a co-founder of Women in Black and active with Machsom Watch/women at the checkpoints who watch for and report on human rights abuse.

We both laughed when she told me, "A friend told me that I am so Left that if I ever gets to heaven I will probably argue with God that those in hell just didn't get a fair deal…Religion is used as a cover, but it's all about the land! It's convenient to claim one is doing something for God but the laws are made to take the land. We don't have settlers in Israel -the common name for illegal colonists in the West Bank-we just take it! First it is claimed to be for military reasons then it'll become a park or agricultural land that the state has confiscated.

"The Palestinians who did not leave in '48 but remained here still have lost their land. They can't get permits to build... I am opposed to the occupation and as an Israeli Jew I want to see justice for all...and I refuse to be enemies with anyone."

We traveled three hours from Jerusalem to be in solidarity with over 100 progressive Israeli's, Arab Christians, Muslims, atheists and communists who attended a tour of the area and conference coordinated by Batshalom's and The Women's Coalition for Peace and Justice.

This reporter was informed that not only had Israel confiscated acres of the most fertile of Palestinian land they had also placed land mines on the land. Many farmers and other innocent ones had lost their lives or legs, so people had quit caring for their groves and the Israeli government declared the village of Sakhnin a military zone.

A few years prior, the President of Israel had declared that the people of Sakhnin, a municipality deserved to have their land back. But the Israeli county of Misgav, abetted by the Israeli Land Authority continues to collect taxes from them but still have not returned any land nor have they issued any permits for Palestinians to build.

Israeli peace activist's commented, "In 2000 during Land Day, hundred's of nonviolent protesters were arrested and we were hit with tear gas and rubber bullets. Name it and we have had it!"

"I am an Israeli Jew and I am responsible to change something about this situation. We all need to do this together."

The speakers all spoke in Arabic or Hebrew, and my interpreter was Aliyah [Hebrew for "Go Up"], who was born in St. Louis, grew up in Cleveland and moved to Israel in 1948.

"My Father was born in Jerusalem and I was a Zionist, but now I am not so sure. I still want the Jewish people to have a state but it must be honest and moral, I don't want a piranha state! Before 1967 I was euphoric! My husband and I began to learn that there were Israelis who you could call prophets, who said we must return the land and make peace. Then a fundamentalist Jewish group, The Gush Emunim began erecting the settlements in the newly possessed land.

"When Israel went into Lebanon I was infuriated! I demonstrated against the massacres at Shatila and Shabra. Eighteen years of Israel in Lebanon is what built up the Hezbollah! The Israelis supported the group at first because they hoped the Hezbollah would be against the Palestinian refugees in South Lebanon."

I inquired, "Isn't that what Israel did with Hamas? Didn't they originally support Hamas to be a wedge against the PLO?"

Aliyah replied, "Yes, stupidity repeats itself!"

In the Northern part of Israel 53% of the population are Jews who control 80% of the land. Palestinians are 47% of the population with only 20% of the land.

Sakhnin has 25,000 people and less than 10,000 dunums of land but they only control half of that. In 1948 they owned and controlled 170,000 dunums.

A Defense Industry and Army base complex a few miles from where we stood has a most mysterious warehouse. Aliyah remarked, "No one knows what is going on inside, but it may be a nuclear reactor. The municipality asked the army to develop in another direction for there is a school over there too. The Israelis are allowed to expand anywhere, but the people of Sakhnin are not allowed permits to builds on their own land.

"I really became aware of what was going on in the '80's. I had been invited to a meeting of The Bridge for Peace and Coexistence, which is a group of Arab and Jewish activists. A man asked me where I was living and when I answered Bneitz-ion. He calmly and politely told me "That is my Uncle's land."

Since 1967 Israel has confiscated more than 750,000 acres of land from the 1.5 million acres comprising the West Bank and Gaza. Most of the land has been confiscated to make space for illegal settlement expansions, and bypass roads that are for the exclusive use of the Israeli colonists. Since 1948, Israel has confiscated nearly 85 percent of the territory within the Green Line from Palestinians. Most of this land was taken from the 800,000 Palestinian refugees, who were evicted or fled for fear of massacres during the 1948 war.

Israel's illegal settlement expansion and land confiscation has continued unabated and the ongoing construction of the Israeli separation wall, which has been described by a UN report as a "creeping annexation", involves the confiscation of the most fertile of Palestinian land and water sources.

The Israeli Knesset (Israeli parliament) has passed dozens of laws in defiance of U.N. Resolutions and International Law, such as the The Absentee Property law and the Development Authority (Transfer of Property) Law.

This law, which in Arabic is called 'Qanoon Elhader/Gayeb', was adopted in March 1950, and classified anyone who was a citizen or resident of one of the Arab states or a Palestinian citizen on November 29, 1947, but had left his place of residence, even to take refuge within Palestine , as an 'absentee'. Absentee property was vested in the Custodian of Absentee Property who then 'sold' it to the Development Authority. This effectively authorized the theft of the property of a million Arabs, seized by Israel in 1948.

Adopted in July 1950, this law was devised as a legal ploy to shield the Israeli government from the accusation that it had confiscated abandoned property. The Development Authority is an independent body empowered to sell, buy, lease, exchange, repair, build, develop and cultivate Palestinian property. None of these transactions could take place except with a Jew or a Jewish entity!

United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 clearly asserts that the "occupying power cannot move segments of its own population to parts of the land it occupies," or make any demographic or territorial changes that are not in the interest of the occupied. Furthermore, provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention have unquestionably condemned Israel's settlement activities and demanded the ceasing of "all" settlement expansion by Israel.

UN Security Council Resolution 681 (1990) confirmed that the Forth Geneva Convention is applicable to the Occupied Territories and thus Israel's compliance is mandatory.

Yet, since 1992, settlement activity has increased 50% while the U.S.A. government has turned a blind eye and deaf ear to the cries for justice from the occupied and oppressed people of the Holy Land.

Hope lies in the international communities resolve to seek justice and compel Israel to abide by UN Security Council Resolutions and International Law, for the inalienable rights of a people have been denied for far too long, and:

"Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law... Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world."- PREAMBLE to the UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS

On May 14, 1948 The Declaration of the establishment of Israel affirmed:

"On the day of the termination of the British mandate and on the strength of the United Nations General Assembly declare The State of Israel will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel: it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion it will guarantee freedom of religion [and] conscience and will be faithful to the Charter of the United Nations."

Might Israel and America remember those words on Land Day 2007.



March 29, 2007 © Copyright March 28, 2007 Eileen Fleming. Permission is granted for reprint in print, email, blog, or web media if this credit is attached and the title remains unchanged.

Secret Briefing by Zinni Seen as Key In Aipac Duo Trial

Nathan Guttman | Fri. Mar 30, 2007

Washington - New details are emerging about a secret 2003 briefing that could play a key role in the defense of two pro-Israel advocates charged with passing classified information.

Until now, the identities of the participants were not publicly known, except for one of the defendants, Steve Rosen, then policy director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. In recent weeks, however, the Forward has confirmed that the meeting featured a briefing delivered by top Middle East peace envoy Anthony Zinni and was attended by Jess Hordes, head of the Washington office of the Anti-Defamation League, and Dan Mariaschin, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International.

Defense lawyers have sought the testimony of those in attendance to demonstrate to the jury that meetings between administration officials and Jewish representatives were common practice, and that intelligence was frequently shared during these powwows without the participants knowing the information was classified. But, as first reported in the Forward last month, the Jewish representatives who attended the meeting are refusing to cooperate with the defense team.

Hordes and Mariaschin refused to comment for this story, and the identity of the third Jewish representative who is refusing to testify could not be confirmed.

In Zinni, the defense team would be turning to a harsh critic of both the Iraq War and neoconservatives at the Pentagon, who according to Zinni thought the invasion would stabilize American interests in the Middle East and strengthen Israel’s position.

“I think it’s the worst-kept secret in Washington. That everybody — everybody I talk to in Washington — has known and fully knows what their agenda was and what they were trying to do,” said Zinni in a May 2004 interview with the CBS News program “60 Minutes.”

At the meeting with the Jewish representatives, Zinni discussed the situation in the Middle East and attempts by the Bush administration to promote the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, according to sources familiar with the prosecution’s account of the meeting. The sources said that Zinni “spoke very freely” and that he revealed information that was not available to the general public.

The next day, Rosen, who had represented Aipac at the meeting, informed his superiors at the pro-Israel lobby about the information supplied by Zinni.

At the time, Rosen was already under FBI surveillance and his conversations about the meeting with Zinni were monitored. They later appeared in documents presented by the prosecution once Rosen and the other defendant in the case, Aipac’s Iran specialist, Keith Weissman, were indicted.

According to sources close to the case, the Jewish participants in the meeting are refusing to cooperate on the advice of their organizations’ respective legal advisers, who recommend steering clear of the proceedings.

Sources close to the defense expressed disappointment over the reluctance of the Jewish groups to testify. These sources describe it as another sign of the decision by Jewish organizations to distance themselves from the case. One source close to the defense described the response of the Jewish community to the prosecution of the two former senior Aipac staffers as “abandonment,” and said that many Jewish officials and organizations cut off all ties to the defendants after the case was made public.

The U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., will make a decision later this month regarding the government’s request to keep the trial closed and not to allow the public or press to see the evidence or to listen to wiretapping recordings that will be the central pieces of evidence in the case. In a hearing last month, Judge T.S. Ellis III said that no precedent exists for such a request. The judge ordered both sides to prepare arguments for a pretrial hearing on the issue, which is scheduled for mid-April.

If the prosecution’s request for a closed trial is denied, the government will be asked to prepare redacted versions of the evidence to be presented in the courtroom.

Fri. Mar 30, 2007

Monarch's remarks provoke rare US retort

March 29, 2007, 3:40PM

By LEE KEATH and DONNA ABU-NASR Associated Press Writers
© 2007 The Associated Press

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — King Abdullah's harsh — and unexpected — attack on the U.S. military presence in Iraq could be a Saudi attempt to signal to Washington its anger over the situation in Iraq and build credibility among fellow Arabs.

The kingdom has taken an aggressive leadership role to quiet Mideast troubles, and wanted to show other Arabs it was willing to put their interests above its close ties to the United States.

The White House, in a rare public retort Thursday, rejected the king's characterization of U.S. troops in Iraq as an "illegitimate foreign occupation," saying the United States was not in Iraq illegally.

"The United States and Saudi Arabia have a close and cooperative relationship on a wide range of issues," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said. "And when it comes to the coalition forces being in Iraq, we are there under the U.N. Security Council resolutions and at the invitation of the Iraqi people."

"We disagree with them," Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told senators. "We were a little surprised to see those remarks."

The king made his remarks Wednesday at the opening session of the two-day Arab summit his country hosted in Riyadh. It was believed to be the first time the king publicly expressed that opinion.

"In beloved Iraq, blood is flowing between brothers, in the shadow of an illegitimate foreign occupation, and abhorrent sectarianism threatens a civil war," said Abdullah, whose country is a U.S. ally that quietly aided the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

The next day, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani bristled at the comment in his speech to the summit, saying the term occupation has "negative implications" and is "in contradiction" to the vision of "Iraqi patriotic and national forces."

A Saudi official said the king was speaking as the president of the summit and his remarks reflected general frustration with the "patchwork" job the Americans were doing to end violence in Iraq.

The king also wanted to send a message that Iraq is an issue that Arabs cannot turn their back on, the official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

It was not clear what kind of diplomatic fallout could result — but the comments did nothing to help bring Arab nations closer to the government of Iraq's Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

The summit has taken a tough line on Iraq, demanding it change its constitution and military to include more Sunnis and end a program of uprooting former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party.

The Sunni-led governments of the Arab world have long been suspicious of Iraq's Shiite leadership, blaming it for fueling violence by discriminating against Sunni Arabs and accusing it of helping mainly Shiite Iran extend its influence in the region.

Abdullah's remarks came at a time when the kingdom is taking a more public role in efforts to defuse crises threatening to engulf the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia sponsored a reconciliation accord between Palestinian factions, has engaged Iran about its nuclear program, and has tried to settle simmering tensions in Lebanon. And the kingdom has been talking to various factions in Iraq.

Writers in some Arab media suggested before the summit that Saudi Arabia would seek solutions that would cater to U.S. interests.

"The king's remarks are the biggest proof that those accusations were false," said Dawood al-Shirian, a Saudi analyst. "In the issue of Iraq, Saudi Arabia went far beyond most other Arab countries. It went beyond the details and right to the cause."

Al-Shirian said he expected other Arab countries to take Saudi Arabia's lead in considering the presence of U.S. troops an illegal occupation.

"If Saudi Arabia didn't blame the occupation, the blame would fall on the Iraqis, who are victims. How can you blame the victim?" he asked.

The U.S. called its presence in Iraq an occupation until the June 2004 handover of sovereignty to the Iraqis. U.S. troops remained in Iraq with permission from the Iraqi government and a mandate from the United Nations.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal stood by the king's remarks Thursday — and his defense had hints of the Arab nation's attitude that the Shiite-led government doesn't have the legitimacy to approve the U.S. presence.

"If that country had chosen to have those troops, then it's something else. But any military action that is not requested by a specific country — that is the definition of occupation," al-Faisal told reporters.


Donna Abu Nasr reported from Beirut, Lebanon.

Better that Iranians didn't go after Yanks

"All the pieces are in place, and the war could start at any time."

Last update: March 28, 2007 – 6:05 PM

Gwynne Dyer

A similar attack on Americans could have led to casualties and an excuse for Bush to bomb Iran.

"I don't want to second-guess the British after the fact," said U.S. Navy Lt. Commander Erik Horner, "but our rules of engagement allow a little more latitude. Our boarding team's training is a little bit more towards self-preservation." Does that mean that one of his American boarding teams would have opened fire if it had been them in the two inflatable boats that were surrounded by Iranian Revolutionary Guard fast patrol boats off the coast of Iraq last Friday? "Agreed. Yes."

Just as well that it was a British boarding team, then. The 15 British sailors and marines who were captured and taken to Tehran for "questioning" last week are undoubtedly having an unpleasant time, but they are alive, and Britain is only involved in two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan. If it had been one of Erik Horner's boarding teams, they would all be dead, and the United States and Iran would now be at war.

Horner is the executive officer of the USS Underwood, the American frigate that works together with HMS Cornwall, the British ship that the captive boarding party came from. Interviewed after the incident by Terri Judd of the Independent, the only British print journalist on HMS Cornwall, he was obviously struggling to be polite about the gutless Brits, but he wasn't having much success.

"The U.S. Navy rules of engagement say we have not only a right to self-defense but also an obligation to self-defense," Horner explained. "[The British] had every right in my mind and every justification to defend themselves rather than allow themselves to be taken. Our reaction was, 'Why didn't your guys defend themselves?' "

So there they are, eight sailors and seven marines in two rubber boats, with personal weapons and no protection whatever, sitting about a foot above the water, surrounded by six or seven Iranian attack boats with mounted machine guns. "Defend yourself" by opening fire, and after a single long burst from half a dozen heavy machine-guns there will be 14 dead young men and one dead young woman in two rapidly sinking inflatables, and your country will be at war. Seems a bit pointless, really.

It's a cultural thing, at bottom. Britain has a long history of fighting wars and taking casualties, but the combat doctrines are less hairy-chested. British rules of engagement "are very much de-escalatory, because we don't want wars starting," explained Admiral Sir Alan West, former First Sea Lord. "Rather than roaring into action and sinking everything in sight we try to step back, and that, of course, is why our chaps were ... able to be captured and taken away."

That emollient British approach is probably why the Iranian Revolutionary Guard chose to grab British troops rather than Americans. It was obviously a snatch operation: the Iranians would not normally have half a dozen attack boats ready to go even if some "coalition" boat checking Iraq-bound ships for contraband did stray across the invisible dividing line into Iranian waters (which the British insist they didn't).

But it was not necessarily an operation ordered from the top of Iran's government. In fact, there is no single source of authority in Iran's curious system of "multiple governments," as one observer labeled the impenetrably complex division of responsibilities and powers between elected civilians and unelected mullahs. The Revolutionary Guards (who are quite different from the regular armed forces) enjoy considerable autonomy within this system.

According to the U.S. authorities in Iraq, the five Iranian diplomats arrested by U.S. troops in a raid in Irbil in Iraqi Kurdistan in January were actually Revolutionary Guards, and it would seem that their colleagues want them back. Kidnapping American troops as hostages for an exchange could cause a war, so they decided to grab some Brits instead. And it will probably work, after a certain delay.

In this episode, the American reputation for belligerence served U.S. troops well, diverting Iranian attention to the British instead. In the larger scheme of things, it is a bit more problematic.

A quite similar snatch operation against the equally belligerent Israelis last July led to a monthlong Israeli aerial bombardment of Lebanon and a retaliatory hail of Hezbollah rockets on northern Israeli cities. Well over 1,000 people were dead by the end, although nothing was settled.

Any day now, a minor clash along Iraq's land or sea frontier with Iran could kill some American troops and give President Bush an excuse to attack Iran, if he wants one -- and he certainly seems to. If the Revolutionary Guards had got it wrong on Friday and attacked an American boarding party by mistake, he would have his excuse now, and bombs might already be falling on Iran. All the pieces are in place, and the war could start at any time.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.