Sunday, August 27, 2006

Men's toilets, the Liberal leadership race, and "Our Friends in the North"

After catching POGGE's post & commentary on the Globe's epic Ignatieff profile, I felt compelled to read the whole thing for myself. Here's what greeted me on Saturday's
Let's allow that flattering juxtaposition sink in for a moment :)

Coming next Saturday to the Globe Features section: "Rest stop tampon dispensers" and "Gerard Kennedy: just how big of a lush is he?"

{see The Dan Report, if you're confused about that last one}

As for Valpy's Ignatieff feature...I couldn't help thinking of that 1996 British series, "Our Friends in the North." The 9 part series followed a group of Newcastle friends from 1964 to 1995 (Labour Party corruption, miner's strike, Thatcherism, police corruption, starting off a family and watching the family fall apart...parent gets Alzheimer's, the whole 9).
Ignatieff's odyssey from 60s socialist leader to London media gadabout to candidate for the Liberal leadership reminds me of Christopher Eccleston's "Nicky" character in Our Friends. Nicky cycles through several personae and repeatedly alienates himself from his gang. Here's Nicky's path through life...see if you catch the resemblance:
  1. student -->
  2. Labour party flack-->
  3. militant anarchist-->
  4. (unsuccessful) Labour candidate-->
  5. (successful) photographer
Having become a big-shot photographer, Nicky cheats on his wife, leaves for Italy and abandons his deteriorating father (Alzheimer's). He returns home to attend his mother's funeral and to reconcile with his ex-wife.

The Valpy piece does not paint a flattering picture. And poor Andrew Ignatieff! I'll never use the term "Iggy" again!

Footnote: Our Friends aired on TV Ontario back in the late 90s. I've been dying to get it on DVD but, alas, tis only on Region 2.

Read on, MacDuff!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Armitage "slipped" and leaked Plame's name to Novak and Woodward

In their upcoming book, "Hubris," Michael Isikoff (Newsweek) and David Corn (The Nation) the authors reveal that Richard Armitage (former Deputy Sec. State) was Robert Novak's source on Plame. The leak was--according to Armitage--unintentional. Upon reading Novak's incriminating column about Joseph Wilson's wife, Armitage recounts that he freaked out and called Colin Powell to confess his role in the leak. Michael Isikoff gives us a sneak peak in his latest column:
Within hours [of Armitage's phone call to Powell], William Howard Taft IV, the State Department's legal adviser, notified a senior Justice official that Armitage had information relevant to the case. The next day, a team of FBI agents and Justice prosecutors investigating the leak questioned the deputy secretary. Armitage acknowledged that he had passed along to Novak information contained in a classified State Department memo: that Wilson's wife worked on weapons-of-mass-destruction issues at the CIA. (The memo made no reference to her undercover status.) Armitage had met with Novak in his State Department office on July 8, 2003—just days before Novak published his first piece identifying Plame.
[...] Armitage, a well-known gossip who loves to dish and receive juicy tidbits about Washington characters, apparently hadn't thought through the possible implications of telling Novak about Plame's identity. "I'm afraid I may be the guy that caused this whole thing," he later told Carl Ford Jr., State's intelligence chief. Ford says Armitage admitted to him that he had "slipped up" and told Novak more than he should have.
But that still leaves ol' Woody. Who told Bob Woodward?
According to three government officials, a lawyer familiar with the case and an Armitage confidant, all of whom would not be named discussing these details, Armitage told Woodward about Plame three weeks before talking to Novak.
Ok, you ask: who's this Armitage guy anyway?! What's his "deal?"
Indeed, Armitage was a member of the administration's small, moderate wing. Along with his boss and good friend, Powell, he had deep misgivings about President George W. Bush's march to war. A barrel-chested Vietnam vet who had volunteered for combat, Armitage at times expressed disdain for Dick Cheney and other administration war hawks who had never served in the military. Armitage routinely returned from White House meetings shaking his head at the armchair warriors. "One day," says Powell's former chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, "we were walking into his office and Rich turned to me and said, 'Larry, these guys never heard a bullet go by their ears in anger … None of them ever served. They're a bunch of jerks'."
Importantly, Armitage was never charged for any wrongdoing in the leaking of Plame's covert status. But unlike Karl Rove, Armitage might have pre-empted any suspicion because he was immediately forthcoming to the FBI and other federal investigators.
Fitzgerald found no evidence that Armitage knew of Plame's covert CIA status when he talked to Novak and Woodward. The decision to go to the FBI that panicky October afternoon also may have helped Armitage. Powell, Armitage and Taft were aware of the perils of a cover-up—all three had had lived through the Iran-contra scandal at the Defense Department in the late 1980s.
Yes. We remember Iran-Contra. Boy howdy, do we remember that. Unfortunately, so does Scooter Libby. Remember "Gray Mail"? Libby's trial doesn't begin till next year. By the time the 2008/9 pardon-season rolls around it's She was a covert agent? I don't know what you're talking about.

Read on, MacDuff!

Friday, August 25, 2006

"REAL" scary: Mallick and Minna tried to warn us

And here we are:
Several pro-Conservative Internet blogs have signed onto a campaign to eliminate Status of Women Canada, a Trudeau-era federal agency that promotes women's equality and advancement.
The campaign was kickstarted by REAL Women of Canada, one of Canada's most vocal organizations of social conservatives. It has long urged the federal government to axe Status of Women — but this time its message is being widely discussed and supported among some in the Conservative Internet community.
Heather Mallick rang the alarum bell in June (link to LEAF added by me):
REAL Women are on the warpath, as I guess I would be too if I were REAListic, Equal, Active, and for Life. Hey, I am all those things! Oh, they mean "not in your unREAL way." I think.
[...] They want an end to the second part of the Federal Ministry of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women (the "Status of Women" bit), and the death of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. I must say that the minutes of that multi-party committee sound quite civilized to me, rather a model for MPs of all parties getting along. Perhaps I am wrong, but it sounds as though muffins are being brought, so to speak.
REAL women are asking their members to send an avalanche of letters to Harper and the minister Bev Oda to this end, although it does seem odd demanding that Ms. Oda whack half her job, declaring it pathetic and pointless.
If they kill off Status of Women, this means they may be able to threaten future funding for the Women's Legal Education Action Fund (LEAF). This puzzles me, since LEAF is glorious by anyone's standards. It appeared before the Supreme Court recently to argue for compensation of residential school victims and for the schooling of autistic children. If REAL women want home schooling of autistic children, then their ignorance about autism boggles the mind. They would also kill possible future funding for the National Association for Women and the Law as well as child-care lobby groups that, well, lobby for child care.
Next, they want an end to 524 women's shelters across Canada funded by Status of Women.
[...] Before the election, REALists prepared a pamphlet on their views and told their members that it was worded so carefully that it could be distributed "throughout the Churches" without churches losing their tax-exempt status.
And in July, we had Maria Minna, MP (Beaches, East-York). Minna sent out a blunt and frightening letter:
REAL Women is currently soliciting the support of their members to participate in a letter-writing campaign asking Prime Minster Harper and Minister Oda, the Minister of Heritage and Status of Women, to remove the Status of Women portfolio from Cabinet. They are also calling for the abolition of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. Additionally, they would like the Prime Minster to cut Status of Women Canada funding to over five hundred women's shelters across Canada. This is simply unacceptable.
"Unacceptable" certainly sums it up. Down right eerie. Depressing. Soul-destroying? I'm at a loss for words.

We need to keep at Oda et al. We need to call the angry-in-GW-con-blogs on their shit. Keep posting, writing, button-hooking people in the hallways. Whatever you have to do to get the word out. Myself, I kind of buried the warnings about REAL women in two posts (May 23 and Aug 16) and didn't make enough of a stink. Time to make a stink!!

(Thanks to all at ProgBlogs who've posted already!)

Read on, MacDuff!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Scrubbing the news squeaky-clean

Out, out damn spot! Will these hands ne'er be clean?

Ok, I may not have got that exactly right.

Why the melodramatic Lady Macbethisms at 8am? Well, I just happened to read Eric Boehlert's latest post at "New York Times' Eavesdropping Story Wasn't The Only One Squashed For Bush During 2004 Campaign"

Last week, the NYTimes public editor, Byron Calame, confessed that the paper's editorial desk killed the story about the NSA warrantless wiretapping program before the 2004 Presidential election. I wrote a bit about the confession last week. Boehlert picks up on a number of stories that fell through the leaky sieve of American editorial desks pre-2004 election. Par example?
  1. Time Magazine failing to disclose its knowledge of Rove's role in the Valerie Plame scandal (Boehlert's source:
  2. NBC knew that the administration was postponing the 2nd razing of Fallujah until after the 2004 election (Boehlert's source: NBC Evening News with Tom Brokaw, Nov 4, 2004)
  3. CBS held back their report on the bogus yellowcake-from-Niger memos because "it would have been "inappropriate to broadcast the WMD report so close to the presidential election." (Boehlert's source: Andrew Hayward, president of CBS News, 6 weeks before the election)
  4. Bush's debating bulge: NYTimes had a full report from a NASA scientist about the mysterious bulge seen during one of the 2004 Presidential debates. The story was killed on Oct 27, 2004 (Boehlert's sources? The NYTimes reporter, Andrew Revkin, and the NYT public editor, Calame; also, the NASA scientist)
Apparently these subjects are all fleshed out in Boehlert's book, "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled over for Bush"

Read on, MacDuff!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Stop having "Relations" with us!

My "yearrrrghhh!" of the day:
Q [Ken Herman, Cox News Service]: Quick follow-up. A lot of the consequences you mentioned for pulling out seem like maybe they never would have been there if we hadn't gone in. How do you square all of that?
THE PRESIDENT: I square it because, imagine a world in which you had Saddam Hussein who had the capacity to make a weapon of mass destruction, who was paying suiciders to kill innocent life, who would --
who had relations with Zarqawi.
Relations? Relations?! Like these kind of relations?
Of course, anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to reality will remember that Zarqawi had nothing to do with Saddam Hussein. In fact, before the invasion, Zarqawi made his not-yet-alQaeda-bones as a low-budge terrorist criminal in the northern city of Kirma--a city that was not controlled by Saddam Hussein, I would hasten to add. According to NBC news (that bastion of pinko conspiracy nuttery), the White House actually quashed three separate military plans to take-out Zarqawi before the know...lest his elimination 'ruin' a perfect Iraq/Qaeda link:
In June 2002, U.S. officials say intelligence had revealed that Zarqawi and members of al-Qaida had set up a weapons lab at Kirma, in northern Iraq, producing deadly ricin and cyanide. The Pentagon quickly drafted plans to attack the camp with cruise missiles and airstrikes and sent it to the White House, where, according to U.S. government sources, the plan was debated to death in the National Security Council.
“Here we had targets, we had opportunities, we had a country willing to support casualties, or risk casualties after 9/11 and we still didn’t do it,” said Michael O’Hanlon, military analyst with the Brookings Institution.
Four months later [
Fall 2002], intelligence showed Zarqawi was planning to use ricin in terrorist attacks in Europe. The Pentagon drew up a second strike plan, and the White House again killed it. By then the administration had set its course for war with Iraq.
[...] In
January 2003, the threat turned real. Police in London arrested six terror suspects and discovered a ricin lab connected to the camp in Iraq. The Pentagon drew up still another attack plan, and for the third time, the National Security Council killed it.
Military officials insist their case for attacking Zarqawi’s operation was airtight, but the administration
feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam.
The United States did attack the camp at Kirma at the beginning of the war, but it was too late — Zarqawi and many of his followers were gone.
Sorry, Mr. President, I clearly interrupted you mid-answer. You were saying?
[PRESIDENT]: And so my question -- my answer to [Ken Herman's] question is, is that, imagine a world in which Saddam Hussein was there, stirring up even more trouble in a part of the world that had so much resentment and so much hatred that people came and killed 3,000 of our citizens.
You know, I've heard this theory about everything was just fine until we arrived, and kind of "we're going to stir up the hornet's nest" theory. It just doesn't hold water, as far as I'm concerned. The terrorists attacked us and killed 3,000 of our citizens before we started the freedom agenda in the Middle East.
Q What did Iraq have to do with that?
THE PRESIDENT: What did Iraq have to do with what?
Q The attack on the World Trade Center?
THE PRESIDENT: Nothing, except for it's part of -- and nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. Iraq was a -- the lesson of September the 11th is, take threats before they fully materialize, Ken. Nobody has ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq. I have suggested, however, that resentment and the lack of hope create the breeding grounds for terrorists who are willing to use suiciders to kill to achieve an objective. I have made that case.
No sir. You most definitely have not. But you definitely had some kinda "relations" with us.

(H/t to Dan Froomkin for isolating the "yearghh" quotes from Monday's briefing; Screenshot of the South Park Movie Saddam inflagrante w/devil courtesy of these guys)

Read on, MacDuff!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Why are these men stuck at GTMO? "This is a game."

Six Algerian/Bosnian men are languishing at Guantanamo Bay. They've been there since Jan 2002 and yet they are--by all accounts--innocent. The WaPo brings us this incredible story on Monday's front page. I hope you'll check it out:
"At Guantanamo, Caught in a Legal Trap: 6 Algerians Languish Despite Foreign Rulings, Dropped Charges" By Craig Whitlock
In 2004, Bosnian prosecutors and police formally exonerated the six men after a lengthy criminal investigation. Last year, the Bosnian prime minister asked the Bush administration to release them, calling the case a miscarriage of justice.
These men arrived in Bosnia to fight the 92-95 war. They became aid workers after the war ended. All have dual Algerian/Bosnian citizenship and yet the US wants Algeria--a country with an abysmal human rights record--to accept the ment after they're released from GTMO. For reasons that are not spelled out in the article, Algeria has not yet agreed to accep the men. WaPo's Craig Whitlock continues:
The detainees and their lawyers say they are caught in a trap. They contend that the Pentagon knows the men are not guilty but is unwilling to let them go free because that would be an acknowledgment of a grave error.
"The Americans did not want to return me to Bosnia. Why? Because the Americans claimed to have evidence against me. I can't be returned and found innocent," Mustafa Ait Idr, one of the six Algerians, told a military tribunal at Guantanamo in October 2004, according to a transcript of the hearing.
"So now I am sitting here in Cuba and I do not know why. I do not know what is happening outside; I do not know. But what I do know is that this is a game."
Whitlock goes on to explain how the six men came to the attention of US forces (hint: it involves an ambiguous piece of paper with schizophrenic-cum-Qaeda#3 Abu Zubaydah's name on it):
One foreign fighter whom intelligence operatives wanted to find was an Algerian known only by the nickname Abu Maali. A veteran of conflicts in Algeria, Afghanistan and the Balkans, he was thought to be close to al-Qaeda.
On Oct. 8, 2001, Bosnian police detained an Algerian, Belkacem Bensayah, who they believed might be Abu Maali. While searching his home, they found a piece of notepaper that listed, in a handwritten scrawl, what appeared to be a phone number in Pakistan and the name "Abu Zubeida."
The scrap of paper was considered a vital piece of evidence. It seemed to match the name of one of al-Qaeda's top leaders, a Palestinian named Abu Zubaydah, who had fought in the Balkans and was at the time serving alongside Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.
Bensayah told police he had never before seen the note, which was found inside a borrowed library book, "The Tragedy of Immorality." Bosnian and U.S. investigators didn't believe him.
Later, U.S. investigators asserted they had phone records indicating Bensayah had called Afghanistan 70 times after Sept. 11 and accused him of being "the top al Qaeda facilitator" in Bosnia, court documents show. The phone records have not been publicly disclosed.
Great. Library books and phone records. Why haven't I heard of the great Bosnian PATRIOT ACT?!
Excuse me. You were saying:
Police turned their attention to an acquaintance of their lead suspect, another Algerian, Saber Lahmar. A worker for a Saudi aid agency in Bosnia, the Saudi High Committee for Relief, Lahmar had another intriguing connection: His father-in-law had recently been hired as a janitor at the U.S. Embassy.
On Oct. 16, U.S. intelligence officers listened in on a wiretap they had placed on Lahmar's phone. According to court records, they heard him speaking "in code" about what they thought was a plan to attack the U.S. and British embassies in Sarajevo.
The next day, U.S. diplomats and officials from the CIA and FBI met with their Bosnian counterparts. The Americans told the Bosnians that they had closed the embassy for security reasons and made clear they wanted more arrests, according to Bosnian officials present at the meeting.
Over the next week, Bosnian police arrested Lahmar and four other Algerians: Ait Idr, Hadj Boudella, Mohamed Nechle and Lahkdar Boumediene. Most of the men have said they were friends who had met through their charity work.
Charity?! We don't understand charity!

Here's where it gets particularly strange: Whitlock's reporting indicates that Bosnian officials were threatened by US forces. Hand over the Algerians or we'll withdraw our peacekeeping forces from Bosnia:
Srdjan Dizdarevic, president of the Bosnian chapter of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, said U.S. officials exerted heavy pressure to round up suspects, threatening to withdraw U.S. peacekeeping troops if Bosnian officials didn't act.
"There was not a single piece of credible evidence against the Algerians," Dizdarevic recalled. "The Bosnian authorities couldn't find anything, and the Americans didn't turn over anything to back up their claims. But the threats from the Americans were enormous. There was a hysteria in their behavior."
Vijay Padmanabhan, a lawyer in the State Department's legal office for political and military affairs, confirmed that U.S. officials met with the Bosnians to discuss the embassy closing.
"We didn't threaten or intimidate the Bosnians into arresting these men," he said. "We provided the Bosnian government with intelligence information, and they took what they felt was the appropriate action based on that information." He declined to provide further details.
Naturally, the Bosnian authorities couldn't detain the men any longer. You know, on legal grounds. Ditto from the Bosnian Human Rights authorities. In fact, the latter went so far as to prohibit extradition of the men. People revolted at the news that US peacekeepers would kidnap the 6 men and whisk them off into the night:
As dusk fell, an angry crowd of more than 150 people surrounded the prison in Sarajevo. A Muslim radio station urged listeners to turn out to protect the men. Scuffles broke out with police, who dispersed the crowd.
Shortly before dawn on Jan. 18, the Algerians were officially released from Bosnian custody. But instead of gaining their freedom, they were handed over by Bosnian police to U.S. military personnel.
And so on to GTMO they went. Languishing for over 2 1/2 yrs before even getting a 'hearing.' Most disturbingly, nobody even bothered to mention that the men had been exonerated in Bosnia of all "suspicion of plotting to attack the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo." Cue Kafka...
The basis for the new accusations, some of which were classified, was not disclosed at the hearing. Tribunal members acknowledged they were just as confused as the detainees about the origin of some of the allegations.
"At this point, we don't know why you are being accused of being a member of the Armed Islamic Group," one military officer, whose name was redacted from the tribunal transcript, told Boudella. "Do you have any idea why you are being connected with this group?"
"I don't know," Boudella replied. "I've been here for three years and these accusations were just told to me."
In his defense, Boudella asked if the military tribunal could submit as evidence the Bosnian Supreme Court ruling that ordered his release from the Sarajevo jail, as well as a subsequent Bosnian human rights court decision awarding him $6,000 in damages on grounds that the Bosnian government had illegally deported him to Guantanamo. The documents, he said, would prove his innocence.
U.S. military officers said they had searched for the documents but that they were "unable to be located." At the time, however, the documents were readily available both on the Internet and in U.S. District Court files in Washington, according to the American defense lawyers representing the Algerians.
At the conclusion of the tribunal in October 2004, Boudella -- like the five other Algerians who were in separate hearings that month -- was declared an enemy combatant.
Since then, the military has conducted annual reviews of the six men's status.
Each time, court officers have upheld the original decision.
See? I literally meant "cue Kafka." It was just. that. crazy. And now? The military has finally dropped the accusation regarding the US Embassy in Sarajevo. "No explanation for the change is given."
While we're looking at 'evidence,' it may be useful to look at some of the other factors that incriminated the men:
  1. knowledge of karate; "teaching martial arts to Bosnian orphans"
  2. being "familiar with computers"
  3. serving as a cook in the Algerian army "more than a decade ago" (military service of some kind is mandatory)
  4. wearing a ring "similar to those that identified the Red Rose Group members of Hamas" (it was actually a common anniversary band; "If it is a mark of belonging to Hamas, then 98 percent of the Bosnian Muslims belong to Hamas")
As for the poor dude who was accused of hangin' out with bin Laden and the Taliban in Dec 2001? Turns out he was actually in Bosnian custody at that time. I'm no lawyer, but I figure that's pretty exculpatory evidence right there.

So, you might be wondering...where's the State Dept in all of this? Isn't it bad international mojo to piss off Bosnia? Well, Bosnian PM Terzic wrote a letter to Condi Rice, pleading for the release of the six men.
Rice responded on March 17 that it was not possible to free the six Algerians because "they still possess important intelligence data" and pose a threat to the security of the United States.
Three months later, the State Department offered a somewhat different explanation. In a letter to U.S. Sen. James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.), Matthew A. Reynolds, acting assistant secretary for legislative affairs, explained that the Algerians could not be released in part because the Bosnian government "has not indicated that it is prepared or willing to accept responsibility for them upon transfer."
But that's patently untrue:
Bosnian officials said they received no such offer. They express frustration over the lack of action. Justice Minister Slobodan Kovac said there would be no legal basis to place the men under arrest or surveillance if they were returned to Bosnia because they have already been exonerated there. "There is no case against them here in Bosnia, no criminal case," he said.

Read on, MacDuff!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

"First as tragedy, then as farce"

Terrorism or cynical propaganda? Is that dude a genius with a bomb or is he guilty of being thirsty-while-brown? For sceptics and believers alike (especially for the latter), James K. Galbraith's "Groundhog Day" is worth a read. Galbraith attacks the official UK presentation of the threat: where's the evidence that this plot was going to be everything-911-was-and-more? First off, where's the evidence that the accused had access to bomb components and, most importantly, that they were ready'n'able to detonate the explosives when
In this case, we are told that there were no bombs; rather, the conspirators planned to bring on board the makings of a bomb: chemicals and a detonator. These would be mixed on board.
Exactly what the chemicals were remains unclear. Nitroglycerin has been suggested, but it's too likely to go off on the way to the airport. TATP, made of acetone and peroxide, has been suggested, but there are two problems. One is that the peroxide required is highly concentrated--it's not the 3 percent solution from the drugstore. The other is that acetone is highly volatile. As anyone who flies knows, you can't open a bottle of nail polish remover on an airplane without everyone within twenty feet knowing at once. It's possible to imagine one truly dedicated and competent bomber pulling this off. But it is impossible to imagine twenty-four untrained people between the ages of 17 and 35 all getting away with the same trick at once.
[...]Arrests were made at night, catching the culprits at home. Houses have been raided, and are being searched. So far as we know at this point, no bombs have been found. No chemicals. No equipment. No labs. No testing ground. Maybe this will come out later, but it hasn't so far, even though the authorities seem anxious to tell just about everything they know.
Galbraith ends by hinting that this case may dissolve and that the British will ultimately release the detained young men without charge (remember, the British can 'only' hold them for 28 days without charge):
Could this case blow up? Could it turn out to have been an overreaction, a mistake--or even a hoax? Yes, it could, and it wouldn't be the first one, either. I'm not saying it will, necessarily. I'm not accusing the British authorities of bad faith. I'm not suggesting the plot was faked--at least, not by them. But dodgy informants and jumpy politicians are an explosive mixture, easily detonated under pressure. Everyone knows that.
Galbraith is by no means the first to suggest that this is all-smoke metaphor. As several astute bloggers have pointed out already (e.g. Sully, POGGE, Indiescribe, RedJenny), Fmr. British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray has suggested that this was "more propaganda than plot." In addition to the patent absence of hard evidence (passports, bombs or bomb-related-evidence, plane tickets), Murray suggested that UK authorities were using Pakistani-intel gained via torture:
Then an interrogation in Pakistan revealed the details of this amazing plot to blow up multiple planes - which, rather extraordinarily, had not turned up in a year of surveillance. Of course, the interrogators of the Pakistani dictator have their ways of making people sing like canaries. As I witnessed in Uzbekistan, you can get the most extraordinary information this way. Trouble is it always tends to give the interrogators all they might want, and more, in a desperate effort to stop or avert torture. What it doesn't give is the truth.
The gentleman being "interrogated" had fled the UK after being wanted for questioning over the murder of his uncle some years ago. That might be felt to cast some doubt on his reliability. It might also be felt that factors other than political ones might be at play within these relationships. Much is also being made of large transfers of money outside the formal economy. Not in fact too unusual in the British Muslim community, but if this activity is criminal, there are many possibilities that have nothing to do with terrorism.
If this is true, it would hardly constitute the first time such "we caught them!" ejaculations were (a) based on confessions gleaned via torture and (b) amounted to absolutely nothing. Think of al-Libi, the prisoner that claimed Iraq supported al Qaeda efforts in weapons development. As I wrote last November, there's good evidence that al-Libi's 2002 assertion re: Iraq was obtained via torture and then quickly stovepiped for convenient use in Colin Powell's disgraceful Feb 2003 speech to the UN. According to Douglas Jehl (NY Times, Nov 6, 2005):
A top member of Al Qaeda in American custody was identified as a likely fabricator months before the Bush administration began to use his statements as the foundation for its claims that Iraq trained Al Qaeda members to use biological and chemical weapons, according to newly declassified portions of a Defense Intelligence Agency document. The document, an intelligence report from February 2002, said it was probable that the prisoner, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, “was intentionally misleading the debriefers’’ in making claims about Iraqi support for Al Qaeda’s work with illicit weapons.
[...] Mr. Libi, who was captured in Pakistan at the end of 2001, recanted his claims in January 2004. That prompted the C.I.A., a month later, to recall all intelligence reports based on his statements, a fact recorded in a footnote to the report issued by the Sept. 11 commission.
How was al-Libi treated? Not so quaintly, according to The New Yorker's Jane Mayer:
The C.I.A. agents, however, felt that [al-Libi] was lying to them, and needed tougher interrogation. To [FBI officer] Cloonan’s dismay, the C.I.A. reportedly rendered Libi to Egypt. He was seen boarding a plane in Afghanistan, restrained by handcuffs and ankle cuffs, his mouth covered by duct tape. [...] [ex-FBI agent] Dan Coleman was disgusted when he heard about Libi’s false confession. “It was ridiculous for interrogators to think Libi would have known anything about Iraq,” he said. “I could have told them that. He ran a training camp. He wouldn’t have had anything to do with Iraq. Administration officials were always pushing us to come up with links, but there weren’t any. The reason they got bad information is that they beat it out of him. You never get good information from someone that way.”
So here we go again. Instead of Egypt doing the "wet" work (those liquids again...), we have Pakistan. Perhaps. But then why make a big public stink about something on such thin evidence? Ok, stop laughing...I know, I know, this is Blair & BushCo we're talking about. Let me try this again with a straight face....

What evidence is there that Pakistan fed the Brits ill-gotten confessions? Think back a week or so to this NBC News report by Lisa Myers: "U.S., U.K. at odds over timing of arrests: British wanted to continue surveillance on terror suspects, official says"
One senior British official said the Americans also argued over the timing of the arrest of suspected ringleader Rashid Rauf in Pakistan, warning that if he was not taken into custody immediately, the United States would "render" him or pressure the Pakistani government to arrest him. British security was concerned that Rauf be taken into custody "in circumstances where there was due process," according to the official, so that he could be tried in British courts. Ultimately, this official says, Rauf was arrested over the objections of the British.
Yes, "render him." Or, as those of us in polite society might call it: kidnapping. What about torture? From Aug 14 Guardian UK:
Reports in Pakistani newspapers yesterday that Mr Rauf had "broken" under interrogation were described by a Pakistani human rights group as confirmation that he had been tortured. Asma Jehangir, of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said that it was obvious how the information had been obtained. "I don't deduce, I know - torture," she said. "There is simply no doubt about that, no doubt at all."
And from the Aug 13 issue of a Pakistani english daily (
“When they interrogated Rauf he broke. He told them what we believe was not even in the knowledge of the US and the British — that they were actually planning to blow up airliners,” one of the [British] officials said. “When they had finished interrogating him for three or four days then they coordinated this information with the British authorities and they carried out the arrests in Britain,” the official added.
As for the kind of evil-mastermind required to conceive this "plot" (with or without prompting or, as it were, torture): the idea of blowing up planes is so 1995. Remember Ramzi Yousef? You think his Bojinka plans went unstudied for >10 yrs? I'm sure more than a few guys burnt their eyebrows off practising in their bachelor pads. No "failure of imagination" here.

This isn't even the 2nd or 3rd or 10th time since 9/11 that Bush and Co. have stooped to scaring the collective shit** out of everyone for their own craven ends. Did you see Keith Olbermann's piece "The Nexus of Politics and Terror"? Did you watch The Power of Nightmares?

If the choice is between living one's life and perennially soiling one's pants**, I think it's a pretty easy one. In the words of Canada's own Gwynne Dyer:
Maybe it's cynical, but there are strong grounds for suspecting that this is all a charade. If they infiltrated these terrorist cells many months ago and have now have arrested most of the members, then why would they institute drastic new security measures on flights at this point? And did they really only realise in the last few days that explosives come in liquid form as well?
[...] This is all hype, designed to frighten the British and American publics into supporting the wars of their deeply unpopular governments (and the war of their Israeli ally as well). Or am I being too cynical? Maybe they're just stupid. I really don't know any more.
Me neither, Gwynne. Me neither. Sigh...well, before I go, I'll leave you with Galbraith's opening lines from "Groundhog Day":
Let's see... It's August. Bush is in Crawford on a "working vacation." His polls are in the tank. Congress is in revolt. The economy is going soft. The next elections don't look good. Cheney is off in Wyoming, or wherever he goes. It's 2001. No, it's 2006.
In The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Marx reports that "Hegel writes somewhere" that the great events of history tend to occur twice, first as tragedy and then as farce.
Update [Aug 20, 12:20 PM]: Mike has a great post over at Rational Reasons (thanks, Mike!). He links to an important article by security analyst Bruce Schneier. Schneier strongly doubts the plausibility of the liquid bomb also. It's been 10 yrs since my last organic chem course but I kind of understand what he's saying.

**Little known fact: the original working title for CNN's "Security Watch" segments was "Everybody Poops"

Read on, MacDuff!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Good Housekeeping: REAL women?

In a world of Harper, Day and "R.E.A.L." women, remember this:

Click on picture to enlarge & read. You can't help but laugh of course, but it's the kind of laugh that makes you vomit a little in your mouth.

I wonder what kinds of things we'll be laughing about in 2060?

H/t to my fahhhbulous sister!

Read on, MacDuff!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Proxies, Pretext and the Cult of theTrue Believers

While we're hoping that the violence and dying ends on both sides of the Israel/Lebanon border, I wanted to point-to a handful of articles that have severely clashed with the common-wisdom about the timeline of events. So, without further adoey-blather from yours truly, I give you George Monbiot, Robert Parry and Seymour Hersh (all emphasis mine):

1. Aug 8 piece by George Monbiot: "Israel responded to an unprovoked attack by Hizbullah, right? Wrong." (Guardian UK)
On May 26 this year, two officials of Islamic Jihad - Nidal and Mahmoud Majzoub - were killed by a car bomb in the Lebanese city of Sidon. This was widely assumed in Lebanon and Israel to be the work of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. In June, a man named Mahmoud Rafeh confessed to the killings and admitted that he had been working for Mossad since 1994. Militants in southern Lebanon responded, on the day of the bombing, by launching eight rockets into Israel. One soldier was lightly wounded. There was a major bust-up on the border, during which one member of Hizbullah was killed and several wounded, and one Israeli soldier wounded. But while the border region "remained tense and volatile", Unifil says it was "generally quiet" until July 12.
[...] The San Francisco Chronicle reports that "more than a year ago, a senior Israeli army officer began giving PowerPoint presentations, on an off-the-record basis, to US and other diplomats, journalists and thinktanks, setting out the plan for the current operation in revealing detail". The attack, he said, would last for three weeks. It would begin with bombing and culminate in a ground invasion. Gerald Steinberg, professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University, told the paper that "of all of Israel's wars since 1948, this was the one for which Israel was most prepared ... By 2004, the military campaign scheduled to last about three weeks that we're seeing now had already been blocked out and, in the last year or two, it's been simulated and rehearsed across the board".
A "senior Israeli official" told the Washington Post that the raid by Hizbullah provided Israel with a "unique moment" for wiping out the organisation. The New Statesman's editor, John Kampfner, says he was told by more than one official source that the US government knew in advance of Israel's intention to take military action in Lebanon. The Bush administration told the British government.
Israel's assault, then, was premeditated: it was simply waiting for an appropriate excuse.
2. "A 'Pretext' War in Lebanon" by Robert Parry* (Aug 9, Consortium News):
Three days after the May 23 summit between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and U.S. President George W. Bush, a car bomb killed two officials of Islamic Jihad in the Lebanese city of Sidon. Immediately, Lebanese officials, including Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, denounced the murder of brothers Nidal and Mahmoud Majzoub and pointed the finger at Israel as the prime suspect. On June 10, a man named Mahmoud Rafeh was arrested for the car bombing and, according to the Lebanese army, confessed that he was a Mossad agent.
[...] According to Israeli sources, Olmert and Bush agreed at the May 23 summit to make 2006 the year for neutralizing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, while deferring a border settlement with the Palestinians until 2007. Provoking a wider regional conflict also revived hopes among Bush’s neoconservative advisers that they might yet create a “new Middle East” that would be amenable to U.S. and Israeli desires and interests.
In this context, the Israeli-Lebanese war was a confrontation looking for a pretext, not an ad hoc response to Hezbollah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers on July 12. That so-called “kidnapping” has been sold to the American people and many world leaders as the precipitating event for the conflict, but it now appears only to have been a trigger for a prearranged scheme.
Israeli sources indicate that Bush gave Olmert a green light for the conflict at the May 23 summit. The sources said Bush has even encouraged Israel to expand the war by attacking Syria, although Israeli leaders balked at that recommendation because they lacked an immediate justification. One Israeli source said some Israeli officials considered Bush’s interest in an attack on Syria “nuts” since it would have been viewed by much of the world as an act of overt aggression. Bush, however, is said to still hold out hope that reactions by Syria or Iran – such as coming to the aid of Hezbollah – could open the door to a broader conflict.
[...]Early on the morning of June 24, Hamas militants snuck into Israel via a tunnel from Gaza and attacked an Israel patrol, killing two soldiers and capturing Corporal Gilad Shalit as a part of a demand for a prisoner exchange. Israel is reported to hold about 10,000 Palestinian prisoners.
On June 27, as these tensions mounted, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was still working to advance a possible peace settlement with Israel. Abbas coaxed the more radical Hamas, which controls the Palestinian parliament, into endorsing a document proposing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Abbas’s success represented a potential breakthrough in a border settlement with Israel, since Hamas implicitly was accepting Israel as a neighbor next to an independent Palestinian state.
But the next day, June 28, Olmert sent the Israeli army crashing into Gaza to avenge the “kidnapping” of Shalit, a phrasing that the U.S. news media immediately adopted in blaming Hamas for instigating the crisis.
As the Israeli army overwhelmed scattered Palestinian resistance and began “detaining” – not “kidnapping” – Hamas legislators, tensions were also mounting on the Israeli-Lebanese border. On July 12, Hezbollah forces attacked an Israeli border outpost, killing three soldiers and capturing – or “kidnapping” – two others, also seeking a prisoner exchange.
3. "Watching Lebanon," by Seymour Hersh (The New Yorker, Aug 14):
According to a Middle East expert with knowledge of the current thinking of both the Israeli and the U.S. governments, Israel had devised a plan for attacking Hezbollah—and shared it with Bush Administration officials—well before the July 12th kidnappings. “It’s not that the Israelis had a trap that Hezbollah walked into,” he said, “but there was a strong feeling in the White House that sooner or later the Israelis were going to do it.”
[...] “The Israelis told us it would be a cheap war with many benefits,” a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel said. “Why oppose it? We’ll be able to hunt down and bomb missiles, tunnels, and bunkers from the air. It would be a demo for Iran.”
A Pentagon consultant said that the Bush White House “has been agitating for some time to find a reason for a preëmptive blow against Hezbollah.” He added, “It was our intent to have Hezbollah diminished, and now we have someone else doing it.”
[...] Earlier this summer, before the Hezbollah kidnappings, the U.S. government consultant said, several Israeli officials visited Washington, separately, “to get a green light for the bombing operation and to find out how much the United States would bear.” The consultant added,
“Israel began with Cheney. It wanted to be sure that it had his support and the support of his office and the Middle East desk of the National Security Council.” After that, “persuading Bush was never a problem, and Condi Rice was on board,” the consultant said.
[...] The Israeli plan, according to the former senior intelligence official, was “the mirror image of what the United States has been planning for Iran.”
[...] Cheney’s office supported the Israeli plan, as did Elliott Abrams, a deputy national-security adviser, according to several former and current officials. (A spokesman for the N.S.C. denied that Abrams had done so.)
[...] The Pentagon consultant told me that intelligence about Hezbollah and Iran is being mishandled by the White House the same way intelligence had been when, in 2002 and early 2003, the Administration was making the case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. “The big complaint now in the intelligence community is that
all of the important stuff is being sent directly to the top—at the insistence of the White House—and not being analyzed at all, or scarcely,” he said. “It’s an awful policy and violates all of the N.S.A.’s strictures, and if you complain about it you’re out,” he said. “Cheney had a strong hand in this.”
[...] The Western diplomat told me his embassy believes that Abrams has emerged as a key policymaker on Iran, and on the current Hezbollah-Israeli crisis, and that Rice’s role has been relatively diminished.
Yes, you remember Elliott Abrams. Iran-Contra Elliott Abrams? Failed-Chavez-coup-leader Elliott Abrams? Worked with fellow-coup-aficionado Otto Reich? Yep. That's the one.

I'm sure he's just the guy to call for all of your Ahmadinejad-ousting needs. Could petals and candy be far off?

*Interesting note: Robert Parry is widely credited with cracking-open the Iran-Contra scandal, back when he was working for the Associated Press (and later, Newsweek). His latest book, "Secrecy and Privilege" is essential reading!

Read on, MacDuff!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Busted: The NYTimes Withheld the NSA Eavesdropping Story on the "Eve" of the 2004 election

We knew it was bad. We knew it was illegal. And we knew the NY Times withheld the story for at least a year. Today, the NY Times reveals the true extent of its complicity in the coverup. Here's the Times' Public Editor, Byron Calame:
THE NEW YORK TIMES’S Dec. 16 article that disclosed the Bush administration’s warrantless eavesdropping has led to an important public debate about the once-secret program. And the decision to write about the program in the face of White House pressure deserved even more praise than I gave it in a January column, which focused on the paper’s inadequate explanation of why it had “delayed publication for a year.”
[...] Did The Times mislead readers by stating that any delay in publication came after the Nov. 2, 2004, presidential election?
In my January column, in which I refused to rely on anonymous sources, I noted that I was left “puzzled” by the election question.
But I have now learned from Bill Keller, the executive editor, that The Times delayed publication of drafts of the eavesdropping article before the 2004 election.
[...] Since the Times article appeared, I have grown increasingly intrigued by changes in the way the delay has been described in the paper and in comments by Mr. Keller. A background paragraph in a follow-up article on Dec. 31 said, “The administration first learned that The New York Times had obtained information about the secret eavesdropping program more than a year ago.” Mr. Keller also began using the “more than a year” language.
[...] Mr. Keller, who wouldn’t answer any questions for my January column, recently agreed to an interview about the delay, although he saw it as “old business.” But he had some new things to say about the delay and the election.
Internal discussions about drafts of the article had been “dragging on for weeks” before the Nov. 2 election, Mr. Keller acknowledged. That process had included talks with the Bush administration.
He said a fresh draft was the subject of internal deliberations “less than a week” before the election.
“The climactic discussion about whether to publish was right on the eve of the election,” Mr. Keller said.
Yes, you read that right: "right on the eve of the election." So why withhold the damning article? The Bush administration assured the Times that the eavesdropping program was good 'n' legal. Seriously:
Mr. Keller declined to explain in detail his pre-election decision to hold the article, citing obligations to preserve the confidentiality of sources. He has repeatedly indicated that a major reason for the publication delays was the administration’s claim that everyone involved was satisfied with the program’s legality. Later, he has said, it became clear that questions about the program’s legality “loomed larger within the government than we had previously understood.”
So why did the Dec. 16 article say The Times had “delayed publication for a year,” specifically ruling out the possibility that the story had been held prior to the Nov. 2 election? “It was probably inelegant wording,” Mr. Keller said, who added later,
“I don’t know what was in my head at the time.”
What?! This is what passes for an explanation? "I don't know what was in my head at the time"?

"Ooops! Brain fart!"

Or, better yet: "Distinguished colleagues, I regret to inform you that the old Gray Lady has been declared unfit to publish today. She's having what is known as a 'senior's moment.'"

H/T to

Read on, MacDuff!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Amy Goodman spoils Chris Matthews' party

MATTHEWS: Why do you think people would go to a story that's so high concept, so easy to understand, rather than a difficult problem that we have in the war in the Middle East and Iraq?
GOODMAN []: I think people deeply care about what's going on in the Middle East and Iraq. I think we're talking about our sons, our daughters, our mothers, our fathers. I look at young people here and I think about the kids in Qana that were just bombed in this Israeli air strike. It's not enough for Israel to say we're sorry when the cabinet votes to expand the ground offensive. We're talking about living in the 21st century. There has to be an answer other than war. It is only going to make Israel unsafe. It's only going to make the United States unsafe.
MATTHEWS: How does Israel make itself safe when it's got Hezbollah on its border?
GOODMAN: Negotiation is the only answer. It is true for Iraq.
MATTHEWS: What is the base of negotiating with a country...
GOODMAN: ... It's true for Hezbollah. It's true for Gaza and West Bank.
MATTHEWS: OK, Michael, do you want to get in this?
[MICHAEL] SMERCONISH: Yes, how do you negotiate with folks who are going to send missiles in your direction from the middle of a civilian neighborhood? I mean, it's an unfortunate, it's terrible what transpired. But the reality is that there is no other way to combat terrorism. And that's who we're combating.
GOODMAN: You don't negotiate with your friends. You negotiate with your enemies. You come up with viable solutions that both can live with. What we're talking about is not even Hezbollah. We're talking about more than 700 Lebanese civilians, overwhelming civilian. Did they deserve to die over these last few weeks?
MATTHEWS: So as the Katyusha rockets are shot into Haifa, the Israelis should do what, nothing? They should sit on their hands?
GOODMAN: It is terrible that the Katyusha rockets are flying into Israel and it is terrible that Israel is bombing Lebanon. Right now we're talking about civilians. And Israel has the capacity to call for a cease fire and the United States should not be sending bombs to Israel, which is exactly what they did, even over the objections of one of the British cabinet members. They should not be sending bombs to Israel. They should be demanding an immediate cease fire. This is about our national security and it's about the national security of countries all over the Middle East.
GOODMAN: You said—since you said all the executives are on the top of the Rock. I want to congratulate you, Chris, on 10 years of MSNBC. But I wish standing with you was Phil Donahue. He shouldn't have been fired for expressing an anti-war point of view on the eve of the invasion. His point of view and the people he (inaudible)...
MATTHEWS: I don't know what the reasons were, but I doubt it was that.
GOODMAN: Well, we have the NBC memo that was a secret memo that came out that said they didn't want him to be the face of this network, an anti-war face at a time when the other networks were waving the flag.
MATTHEWS: Well, if being against the war was a problem here, I would have been out of here about four years ago, because I've been against this war from day one, and that didn't cost me my job.
GOODMAN: I congratulate you, Chris...
MATTHEWS: So let me just say, they're not against anti-war people. But there's so much conservative tendencies in corporate America. You know that.
{links & emphasis added by me}

Go Amy! Full transcript available at
Footnote: Jim Sheridan, the British cabinet minister who objected to the US using UK airports on their way to the Middle East has now resigned in protest.

Read on, MacDuff!

Friday, August 11, 2006

The real "F" word

While we're all struggling with the strict definition of the word "liquid," you may have noticed that another controversial word has gained steam.

Today's word is "Fascism." As in Bush's "war against Islamic Fascists." Although there was some press about his Thursday use of the term in reaction to the alleged plane-bomb plot, it's actually becoming more of an all-purpose phrase for #43. Why, just this past Monday the preznit offered the following remarks on the Israel/Lebanon crisis:
THE PRESIDENT: It is the great challenge of this century and it's this: As young democracies flourish, terrorists try to stop their progress. And it's the great challenge of the United States and others who are blessed with living in free countries. Not only do terrorists try to stop the advance of democracy through killing innocent people within those countries, they also try to shape the will of the western world by killing innocent westerners. They try to spread their jihadist message -- a message I call, it's totalitarian in nature -- Islamic radicalism, Islamic fascism, they try to spread it as well by taking the attack to those of us who love freedom.
But as Juan Cole points out:
He contrasted ’Islamic fascism’ to ’democracy,’ presumably a reference to the Lebanese Hizbullah.
This point is incorrect and offensive for many reasons.
It is a misuse of the word ’Islamic.’ ’Islamic’ has to do with the ideals and achievements of the Muslims and the Muslim religion. [...] But there cannot be ’Islamic’ fascists, because the Islamic religion enshrines values that are incompatible with fascism.
Fascism is not even a very good description of the ideology of most Muslim fundamentalists. Most fascism in the Middle East has been secular in character, as with Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party. Fascism involves extreme nationalism and most often racism. Muslim fundamentalist movements reject the nation-state as their primary loyalty and reject race as a basis for political action or social discrimination. Fascists exalt the state above individual rights or the rule of law. Muslim fundamentalists exalt Islamic law above the utilitarian interests of the state. Fascism exalts youth and a master race above the old and the ’inferior’ races. Muslim fundamentalists would never speak this way. Fascism glorifies ’war as an end in itself and victory as the determinant of truth and worthiness.’ Muslim fundamentalists view holy war as a ritual with precise conditions and laws governing its conduct. It is not considered an end in itself.
The lazy conflation of Muslim fundamentalist movements with fascism cannot account for their increasing willingness to participate in elections and serve in parliamentary government. Hizbullah, for example, ran in the 2005 elections and had 12 members elected to parliament. Altogether, the Shiite parties of Hizbullah and Amal, who have a parliamentary alliance, have 29 members in the Lebanese parliament of 128 seats. Hizbullah and Amal both joined the national unity government, receiving cabinet posts. This is not the behavior of a fascist movement tout court.
So while we're fumbling around in the dark for a good epithet, who do we call for a good definition of fascism? Lewis Lapham, that's who. His Fall 2005 piece, "We Now Live in a Fascist State" is must read stuff (in fact, this is the 2nd time I've recommended it!). Here's a sample:
By retrieving from our historical memory only the vivid and familiar images of fascist tyranny (Gestapo firing squads, Soviet labor camps, the chimneys at Treblinka), we lose sight of the faith-based initiatives that sustained the tyrant’s rise to glory. [...] [Umberto Eco] attempts to describe a way of thinking and a habit of mind, and on sifting through the assortment of fantastic and often contradictory notions – Nazi paganism, Franco’s National Catholicism, Mussolini’s corporatism, etc. – he finds a set of axioms on which all the fascisms agree. Among the most notable:
  • The truth is revealed once and only once.
  • Parliamentary democracy is by definition rotten because it doesn’t represent the voice of the people, which is that of the sublime leader.
  • Doctrine outpoints reason, and science is always suspect.
  • Critical thought is the province of degenerate intellectuals, who betray the culture and subvert traditional values.
  • The national identity is provided by the nation’s enemies.
  • Argument is tantamount to treason.
  • Perpetually at war, the state must govern with the instruments of fear. Citizens do not act; they play the supporting role of “the people” in the grand opera that is the state.
I'm not wise enough to say this for certain but something tells me that fascism isn't something that citizens recognize as it's in progress. My guess is that, much like a degenerative disease, the "natural history" of fascism is characterized by several worrisome symptoms that ultimately result in the total breakdown of a country.

Read on, MacDuff!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Snakes on a Plane!

So here's what happened...
1. A flight-attendent asks Harper to turn off his cell-phone and Blackberry.
2. Harper refuses.
3. The pilot asks Harper to turn off his cell-phone and Blackberry.
4. Harper fires the pilot.

What. an. ass.

Where's Samuel LJ when you need him? "I'm so tired of this motherfuckin PM!"

Thanks to Dr. Dawg, The Galloping Beaver, POGGE, and just about all of the astute folks at for the tip.

Read on, MacDuff!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

They're killing Independent Joe!

Well, it looks like Bill & Hillary matters for poor ol' Joe Lieberman. In addition to Hillary Clinton's well-publicized $5 000 donation to Lamont's campaign, it turns out that the Jr. Senator from New York is asking Lieberman to "search his conscience" and--if it's not too much to ask--DROP OUT OF THE G.D. RACE ALREADY!
Further, it has bubbled to the surface of the gossip-swamp that Bill Clinton has "privately" urged Joe to drop the Independent schtick. So who could possibly still want Joe to run? You guessed it: Karl Rove. I think it went down something like this....
LIEBERMAN: Ah you have no idea of the magnitude of this thing. If Hillary is allowed to infiltrate this world, then Joe Lieberman as you know him, Ceases to Exist! You see, right now, I have Democratic Joe, but there is also Independent Joe. That's the Joe you know, the Joe you grew up with -- Impeachment Joe, Cloture Joe, Fox News Joe, CAFTA Joe.

ROVE: I, I love that Joe.

LIEBERMAN: Me Too! And he's Dying Karl! If Democratic Joe walks through this door, he will Kill Independent Joe! A Joe, divided against itself, Cannot Stand!

(Hillary enters...don't ask me why...I haven't worked that part out yet)

LIEBERMAN: You're Killing Independent Joe! You know that, don't you?

HILLARY: Joe I don't even want to get --

LIEBERMAN: You know what word Hadassah used last night? Hnuh? Lamont!


LIEBERMAN: She got that from you!

HILLARY: Well, I didn’t tell her to say it.

LIEBERMAN: Is she the only girl in the whole world? Why can't you get find your own girl?

HILLARY: I Like Her!

LIEBERMAN: You see (to Karl). You see. You see what I’m talking about. It's all just slipping away. And you're letting it happen. (exits -- slamming the door)
Worlds are colliding! They're killing Independent Joe!

BTW, If none of this made any sense to you, watch this. And thanks to these guys for the original script :)

Read on, MacDuff!

Outrages upon personal dignity? That is *so* pre-911!

The Bush Administration is literally editing their way out of prosecution for torture. WaPo reports that Attorney General Gonzales has removed the (Geneva) phrase "outrages upon [the] personal dignity" of the prisoner from the list of illegal acts covered by the 1996 War Crimes Act:
The Bush administration has drafted amendments to a war crimes law that would eliminate the risk of prosecution for political appointees, CIA officers and former military personnel for humiliating or degrading war prisoners, according to U.S. officials and a copy of the amendments.
[...] The draft U.S. amendments to the War Crimes Act would narrow the scope of potential criminal prosecutions to 10 specific categories of illegal acts against detainees during a war, including torture, murder, rape and hostage-taking.
Left off the list would be what the Geneva Conventions refer to as "outrages upon [the] personal dignity" of a prisoner and deliberately humiliating acts -- such as the forced nakedness, use of dog leashes and wearing of women's underwear seen at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq -- that fall short of torture.
The ICRC has noticed:
The plan has provoked concern at the International Committee of the Red Cross, the entity responsible for safeguarding the Geneva Conventions. A U.S official confirmed that the group's lawyers visited the Pentagon and the State Department last week to discuss the issue but left without any expectation that their objections would be heeded.
And so have some retired military:
"This removal of [any] reference to humiliating and degrading treatment will be perceived by experts and probably allies as 'rewriting' " the Geneva Conventions, said retired Army Lt. Col. Geoffrey S. Corn, who was recently chief of the war law branch of the Army's Office of the Judge Advocate General. Others said the changes could affect how foreigners treat U.S. soldiers.
But this is all happening after the would seem the Devil's Advocates did not succeed in their pre-emptive butt-covering. Remember Hamdan v. Rumsfeld?
The risk of possible prosecution of officials, CIA officers and former service personnel over alleged rough treatment of prisoners arises because the Bush administration, from January 2002 until June, maintained that the Geneva Conventions' protections did not apply to prisoners captured in Afghanistan.
As a result, the government authorized interrogations using methods that U.S. military lawyers have testified were in violation of Common Article 3; it also created a system of military courts not specifically authorized by Congress, which denied defendants many routine due process rights.
The Supreme Court decided in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld on June 29, however, that the administration's policy of not honoring the Geneva Conventions was illegal, and that prisoners in the fight against al-Qaeda are entitled to such protections.
U.S. officials have since responded in three ways: They have asked Congress to pass legislation blocking the prisoners' right to sue for the enforcement of those protections. They have drafted legislation allowing the consideration of intelligence-gathering needs during interrogations, in place of an absolute human rights standard.
They also formulated the War Crimes Act amendments spelling out some serious crimes and omitting altogether some that U.S. officials describe as less serious. For example, two acts considered under international law as constituting "outrages" -- rape and sexual abuse -- are listed as prosecutable.
But humiliations, degrading treatment and other acts specifically deemed as "outrages" by the international tribunal prosecuting war crimes in the former Yugoslavia -- such as placing prisoners in "inappropriate conditions of confinement," forcing them to urinate or defecate in their clothes, and merely threatening prisoners with "physical, mental, or sexual violence" -- would not be among the listed U.S. crimes, officials said.
As noted in my previous post, this is something that transcends politics: remember the ex-Swift Boat guy? He's fighting back. They can't Rove their way out of this one.

Meanwhile, guess who won a Distinguished Service Medal from the Pentagon, last week? Mr. Gitmo himself: Major Gen. Geoffrey Miller. Forgot about him? Permit me to remind you of his handiwork:
Miller headed the [Guantanamo Bay] prison camp for foreign terrorism suspects at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, from 2002 to 2004 and was sent to Iraq in 2003 to help extract more information from prisoners there. He oversaw all detention operations in Iraq for nine months in 2004.
Human rights activists have accused Miller of permitting widespread abuse of prisoners and of importing the harsh techniques used at Guantanamo to Iraq. They contend that Miller's influence helped create the conditions for the sexual humiliation and abuse of Abu Ghraib prisoners.
[...] Military investigators last year recommended that Miller be admonished for failing to monitor and limit the "abusive and degrading" interrogation of a prisoner, but the general who headed US Southern Command rejected the recommendation.
Yeah. Just to be safe, you'd better give him some more medals. And maybe write some more memos. I think the old ones are wearing off.

Read on, MacDuff!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

You're (not) welcome: Lost in translation

I just caught this disturbing post from the CBC's David Common. He's currently embedded with Canadian Forces in southern Afghanistan. Unfortunately, this "embed" process bars CBC from bringing along their own "fixers" or translators...and the journos have to rely on the military's instead:
We asked one villager what he thought of the opportunity to see a doctor. The translator translated the question from English. The man responded. With one word. Maybe two. No more. But when that answer was translated back into English, it suddenly became something like: "Oh, this is wonderful. The Canadians are wonderful. We haven't seen a doctor in many years. The closest one is more than 20 kilometres away. We have been given treatment and medicine and our children have been examined."
So, either this language is REALLY advanced and one word says all that, or the translating is doing something more than translating.
This is not a rare occurrence but, when it happens, it's usually blatantly obvious like the example above.
Sometimes translators "translate" what they think you want to hear. This is obviously bad.
Yeah. I'd have to agree with that, Mr. Common. This is obviously bad! In fact, it reminds me of something that an American soldier/historian had to say about post-invasion Iraq. Notice the comparison between two WaPo embeds, Thomas Ricks and Anthony Shadid. Hint: Shadid actually speaks & understands Arabic!
In the first weeks of the American occupation of Iraq, two reporters from the Washington Post joined a U.S. Army patrol as it walked through a neighborhood in Baghdad. The first reporter, Thomas Ricks, stayed with the infantry squad throughout the two-hour patrol. The soldiers told Ricks that the morning patrol was going well; they "considered themselves a welcome presence in a friendly land," and guessed that the neighborhood was "ninety-five percent friendly." One soldier declared that "everybody likes us."
The second reporter, Anthony Shadid, trailed the patrol. "I followed fifty meters behind," he later wrote. "There were a few waves from the residents. Most just stared." As Shadid (who speaks Arabic) talked to people in the neighborhood, some expressed cautious support, hoping the the soldiers "would provide a measure of security after weeks of looting." But the more common reaction came from the "many" in the neighborhood who "expressed ambivalence or outright anger as the troops walked by." Supportive statements tended to be less than warm: "An American dog is better than Saddam and his gangs." Hostile statements tended to be stronger: The presence of American troops was termed "despicable" by Iraqis who declared themselves "one thousand percent" against the occupation. "They're walking over my heart," one man told Shadid.
The American infantrymen -- certain their patrol was going well, and seeking to further demonstrate their good will -- left the streets and entered a school, leaving behind a "group of young men standing outside" to go and interact with the students and female teachers inside.
The men on the sidwalk clustered around in front of the school, announcing their suspicion that the soldiers "were having sex with the women inside, a statement as ludicrous as it was suggestive. To these men, the American presence was utterly vile and their intentions base; they would compete with each other in devising the darkest scenarios." The patrol eventually walked out of the school, past the group of men standing on the sidewalk who stood speculating feverishly about what they were really up to, and walked cheerfully on their way. "They love us," a second soldier concluded.

Read on, MacDuff!

I'm the Wiz! And noooooobody beats me!

Another tip from the wonderful Dan Froomkin: he caught this creepy filing from Reuters' Steve Holland...
Confident that a U.N. resolution on southern Lebanon was essentially complete, Bush broke away from his ranchhouse for a spin around his 1,600-acre (647-hectare) Texas ranch, across single-track trails that he helped hack out of the dry, dusty environs.
While some of his Democratic critics have complained he spends too much time on his bike, Bush said the exercise helps him deal with the pressures of the presidency.
"Riding helps clear my head, helps me deal with the stresses of the job," a sweat-soaked Bush said after an hour-and-20-minute ride that shot his heart rate up to 177 beats per minute at the top of one climb.
The president set a brutal pace for his accompanying riders, who included two Secret Service agents, White House spokesman Tony Snow and this reporter, who managed to gasp his way through the 12 1/2-mile (20-km) ride.
"What I would give to be 16 again!" Bush yelled out at one point as he mashed the pedals of his Trek bicycle through a wooded area.
In fact, Bush does not ride quietly, constantly shouting out in his Texas twang the names of trees and geographic features and yelling at himself to pedal faster.
"Air assault!" he yelled as he started one of two major climbs, up Calichi Hill, which he named for the white limestone rock from which it is formed.
Air assault?! Jeebus, that's f'd up.

And while we're at it, what was a Reuters journo doing riding along with Bush? Want to join his towel-snapping frat? Why?

Read on, MacDuff!

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Simple Life II: Spoiled brat diplomacy edition

This is cribbed from this morning's Rice/Bush presser. Note that Colin Powell and Dick Armitage are the former Sec. and Deputy Sec. of State and Bill Burns was the Asst. Sec. State for Near Eastern Affairs. Thus, the administration's relations with Syria are like soooo 2004.
Q [Mike Fletcher, Washington Post] Many strategists say that we'll never get to the bottom of this crisis unless the U.S. engages directly with Syria and Iran. Why not talk to them directly about this, and have a back-and-forth conversation?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, that's an interesting question. I've been reading about that, that people have been posing that question. We have been in touch with Syria. Colin Powell sent a message to Syria in person. Dick Armitage traveled to Syria. Bill Burns traveled to Syria. We've got a consulate office in Syria. Syria knows what we think. The problem isn't us telling Syria what's on our mind, which is to stop harboring terror and to help the Iraqi democracy evolve. They know exactly what our position is. The problem is, is that their response hasn't been very positive. As a matter of fact, it hasn't been positive at all.
Does this petulant answer remind you of anyone? How about another spoiled rich baby:
Paris Hilton apparently has one simple rule for being her best friend: Don't cross her.
That's the message the Simple Life star seems to be sending via a statement released Wednesday regarding her old pal and soon-to-be former Life sidekick, Nicole Richie.
"It's no big secret that Nicole and I are no longer friends," Hilton said.
"I will not go into the details of what happened. All I will say is that Nicole knows what she did, and that's all I am ever going to say about it."
Important Update! [7:50 PM]: Dan Froomkin at WaPo found a direct rebuttal-quote from Dick Armitage (former Dep. Sec. State) about having (ahem) relations with Syria viz Lebanon. Here's what the Brando-lookalike told Renée Montagne on NPR:
"Armitage says U.S. officials haven't used 'all the levers' in finding a solution to the crisis, including having Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talk directly to the Syrian government. Syria and Iran are considered to have influence on Hezbollah.
"'I think [the Syrians] want to get involved,' Armitage says. 'I think they want to become more central to the solution and you might as well give them the opportunity.'
"'We get a little lazy, I think, when we spend all our time as diplomats talking to our friends and not to our enemies,' he adds."

Read on, MacDuff!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The flies lose their taste for honey

According to USAID, The Bechtel Corporation is in the process of "closing out and demobilizing from Iraq." The contracting giant--the giant money-eating-baby of former Reagan Sec. State George Schultz--is not leaving after a job well done. Par example:
A comprehensive U.S. government audit of a Bechtel project in Iraq has exposed gross mismanagement by the company. As a result, the $50 million contract has been canceled. [...] On July 31, the office of the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction (SIGIR) released an audit of Bechtel's Basra Children's Hospital Project. [...] Bechtel received the contract to build the new hospital in Basra in mid-October 2004 to "improve the quality of care and life expectancy for both women and children." The original price tag was $50 million, and the due date was Dec. 31, 2005. The auditors now estimate that the project will be completed no earlier than July 31, 2007, and will cost as much as $169.5 million (including $30 million for equipment).
Flashback with me a moment to 2003:
The other major contract [i.e. in addition to Halliburton/KBR], for rebuilding Iraq's physical infrastructure, including roads, ports, power stations, telephones, and water supply, was awarded in April to another giant construction company, Bechtel, for $680m (recently increased to $1bn), after a limited and secret bidding process involving just six American firms.
[...] The company vehemently denies it used its connections to win the contact, however, and has said it plans to subcontract out 90% of the work - mainly to local Iraqi firms in an open bidding process.
Yeah. How'd that work out? Antonia Juhasz fills us in on Bechtel's "progress" to date (and the "lost" summer of 2003):

Depending on whom you ask, either Bechtel or the Bush administration decided that, instead of getting Iraq's electricity system up and running as quickly as possible, a countrywide assessment of all systems was necessary before any reconstruction could begin. The assessment took five long months. These happened to be summer months in a country where temperatures regularly top 125 degrees Fahrenheit. No electricity meant no fans, no ice, no cold drinks and no air conditioners, and a lack of clean water and reliable sewage treatment. It's difficult to exaggerate the extent of Iraqi suffering during those five months.
The summer following the March invasion was a particularly crucial period in which Iraqi goodwill all but evaporated.
It certainly made sense to assess the situation before building, but much of this assessment could have been done prior to the invasion as part of the post-invasion planning. After the invasion, short of turning the reconstruction over to the Iraqis, at least the assessment should have been done in direct discussions and partnership with Iraqi engineers who had run the systems for decades.
What the Bechtel employees discovered was that two wars and 12 years of economic sanctions had taken their toll. The systems were far more difficult to repair than they had assumed. Of course, the Iraqis who ran the systems could have easily conveyed this information to Bechtel from the start if the administrator of the U.S. occupation government of Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, had not fired the vast majority of them and if Bechtel had asked.
The critical time lost on the assessment bred increasing hostility toward the invasion among ordinary Iraqis. The lack of water, electricity, and sewage services led to increasing acts of sabotage against all foreign contractors, including Bechtel.

Juhasz goes on to debunk the odious myth that Iraqis are somehow incompetent or unwilling to manage their own infrastructure:

Nobody at Bechtel or in the U.S. government denies that the water and electricity reconstruction has failed. According to SIGIR, while $3 billion has been paid out, only half of the projects planned in the electricity, water and sewage sectors have been completed, while nearly a third in the electricity sector have not yet been begun. Many of the systems that have been built are poorly run or have not been connected to peoples' homes. In fact, one of the biggest problems plaguing the electricity system today is the failure to build transmission and distribution lines. Bechtel and some Bush administration officials lay the blame squarely with the Iraqis.
According to Bechtel, of the more than 40 water plants it has built, which are now being run by the Iraqis, "not one is being operated properly." U.S. officials say the same: "None of the 19 electrical facilities that has undergone U.S.-funded repair work is being run correctly." They blame a poor Iraqi work ethic and a lack of knowledge and skill in running the plants.
Iraqis may be unable to run the systems built by Bechtel in Iraq, but a poor work ethic and lack of knowledge are not to blame.
Paul Bremer fired the upper echelons of Iraqi management, sidestepped skilled engineers and workers, hired Bechtel to build state-of-the-art facilities that are foreign to these workers and then handed the systems over as a fait accompli, whether or not they were even connected to the homes they were intended to serve.
Baghdad's Mayor Alaa Tamimi, an engineer who returned to Iraq after years of exile to help rebuild the country, said that U.S. officials "made a lot of decisions themselves, and the decisions were wrong. This is our country. It's our city. They didn't accept that."
The other problem is money. Iraqis simply do not have enough of it to run the expensive new facilities that they have been handed. The money has gone to U.S. contractors to (largely fail to) build Iraq's systems, rather than to the Iraqis to run the systems after they have been rebuilt.

So what happened to all that money? Did the invisible hand of the free-market get too grabby?
According to USAID, Bechtel has been paid $970 million on its Infrastructure I contract. Bechtel was originally awarded $1.8 billion for its Infrastructure II contract. In November 2004, USAID reduced the amount to $1.4 billion in response to a reallocation of funds, primarily to training Iraqi soldiers. Of the $1.4 billion, $1.26 billion has been obligated and $977 million has been paid to Bechtel.
This means that $511 million from Bechtel's contracts is immediately available to for Iraqi companies. [...] There is also $166 million in unobligated funds from Bechtel's Infrastructure II contract that must be immediately turned over to Iraqi companies before that money reverts to the U.S. Treasury on Sept. 30. Finally, there are likely millions of misspent dollars that Bechtel must return to U.S. taxpayers and Iraqis.
I'll leave you with a quote that haunts me about once per week. It was first brought to my attention by Naomi Klein's "Baghdad Year Zero" piece in Harper's (Sept 2004):
I had traveled to Iraq a year after the war began, at the height of what should have been a construction boom, but after weeks of searching I had not seen a single piece of heavy machinery apart from tanks and humvees. Then I saw it: a construction crane. It was big and yellow and impressive, and when I caught a glimpse of it around a corner in a busy shopping district I thought that I was finally about to witness some of the reconstruction I had heard so much about. But as I got closer I noticed that the crane was not actually rebuilding anything—not one of the bombed-out government buildings that still lay in rubble all over the city, nor one of the many power lines that remained in twisted heaps even as the heat of summer was starting to bear down. No, the crane was hoisting a giant billboard to the top of a three-story building. SUNBULAH: HONEY 100% NATURAL, made in Saudi Arabia.
Seeing the sign, I couldn’t help but think about something Senator John McCain had said back in October. Iraq, he said, is “a huge pot of honey that’s attracting a lot of flies.”
You can also listen to Antonia Juhasz on DemocracyNow radio (discussing her book: "The Bush Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time").

Post-script: Tony Blair attends party at George Shultz's California penthouse. Bechtel is bidding on construction contracts relating to the London Olympic games.

Read on, MacDuff!