Friday, September 29, 2006

Secret US Deal 'Broke EU Privacy Law'

The secret release of information on millions of private banking transactions to US anti-terrorism investigators breached privacy rules in Europe, according to an official inquiry report released yesterday.

The findings emerged from a report into the transfer of information by Swift, a Belgian-based organisation which processes money transfers on behalf of the world's banks, including the largest UK financial institutions.

After the release of the document, Belgium's Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt, said that the company had broken his country's privacy rules by making the information available to the US authorities for more than five years.

However, he acknowledged that Swift had found itself in a legal no-man's land, caught between European and US law, and that some anti-terror investigation was legitimate.

Under American law the company believes it was obliged to co-operate with the scheme set up by the US Treasury Department after the 11 September attacks.

The Belgian premier said that his government would not take legal action to shut down the data transfers, but appealed to EU and US authorities to open talks on a new agreement on the transfer of financial records. This could provide more privacy guarantees.

The Belgian commission investigating the episode said that Swift had made a "serious error of judgement" in transferring "a massive quantity of information of a personal nature, secretly and systematically, without sufficient and clear justification and without independent scrutiny in accordance with Belgian and European law".

Swift, or the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, routes about 11 million transactions daily in 200 countries, recording customer names, account numbers and other identifying information.

Swift's chief executive officer, Leonard Schrank, said that the company "wholeheartedly" supported calls for American and EU authorities to work together on an improved framework to reconcile data privacy protections.

He defended the secret deal with the US Treasury, saying it only transmitted a "limited subset" of data, adding: "Swift did its utmost to comply with the European data privacy principles of proportionality, purpose and oversight."

The row compounds a series of clashes between Europe and the US over anti-terror measures, highlighting divisions over the length to which governments should go.

But EU and US officials are poised to reach an agreement over a separate dispute involving the transfer of data on airline passengers travelling to the US.

© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited

They Cry, Pray to Bush and Wash out the Devil - Welcome to Jesus Camp

The children at the Kids on Fire summer camp are intent as they pray over a cardboard cutout of President George Bush. They raise their hands in the air and sway, eyes closed, as they join the chant for "righteous judges". Tears stream down their faces as they are told that they are "phonies" and "hypocrites" and must wash their hands in bottled water to drive out the devil.

The documentary film Jesus Camp follows three children at the Kids on Fire Pentecostal summer camp in the small city of Devil's Lake, North Dakota.

Tory, aged 10, tells the camera why she likes "Christian, heavy metal rock and roll", rather than Britney Spears. "When I dance", she says, as she cavorts around her bedroom, "I have to make sure that that's God. People will notice when I'm just dancing for the flesh."

Filmed over a year by two New York-based documentary makers, the film has caused a furore since it opened in the mid-west two weeks ago, setting evangelical Christians against non-believers, and separating Pentecostal from non-Pentecostal evangelicals.

Too scary

After a television news report about the film became a hit on, it attracted media attention across the country and opens in Los Angeles today.

Some critics say that the often raw approach used by the camp's founder, Pastor Becky Fischer, as she prepares the children for "war", is too "scary". Others accuse the documentary makers of distorting Pastor Fischer's message.

Jesus Camp is "a sarcastic documentary that paints evangelical, fundamentalist, charismatic, and politically concerned Christians as very shrill, warlike and dangerous," a critic wrote on the Christian website

At one point Pastor Fischer equates the preparation she is giving children with the training of terrorists in the Middle East. "I want to see young people who are as committed to the cause of Jesus Christ as the young people are to the cause of Islam," she tells the camera. "I want to see them radically laying down their lives for the gospel, as they are over in Pakistan and Israel and Palestine."

Those comments caught the eye of Talking Heads singer David Byrne, who saw the film at a festival in Washington in June. "I kept saying to myself, OK, these are the Christian version of the Madrasas," he wrote on his blog. "So both sides are pretty much equally sick."

The film garnered more publicity when Michael Moore screened it, against the distributor's wishes, at his Traverse City film festival. One member of the audience there said after seeing it: "The people in the film were so bizarre, yet they were so sincere, they were like Leslie Neilsen in Airplane." The film won the festival's Scariest Movie award.

"Extreme liberals who look at this should be quaking in their boots," Pastor Fischer says at one point in the film. She goes on to tell the children, mostly aged from seven to 12: "This is a sick old world. Kids, you got to change things. This means war. Are you part of it?"

Not ashamed

Despite her sometimes unsympathetic portrayal in Jesus Camp, she helped the makers, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, to promote the film. "They're out to tell a story and they felt they found it with some of the political things," she told the Los Angeles Times. "And they're out to show the most dramatic, exotic, extreme things they found in my ministry, and I'm not ashamed of those things, but without context, it's really difficult to defend what you're seeing on the screen."

The film-makers say that they set out to examine the two cultures in contemporary America. "Clearly there are two parallel Americas," they say on the film's website. "One is a conservative counterculture comprised of tens of millions of evangelical Christians who feel engaged in a culture war with what they perceive as immorality and godless liberalism." But they deny that they deliberately misrepresented their subjects, or even took sides in the debate.

"We intentionally made a film that was devoid of a point of view," said the co-director, Rachel Grady. "We did expect different reactions, but how stark those differences are has been fascinating. One camp watches it and want to send their kids to the camp; on the other end there are people who want to call the cops."

But the reaction from some evangelical groups has already harmed the film, which opened two weeks ago in some midwestern states. The Reverend Ted Haggard, who runs the 30 million-strong National Association of Evangelicals and appears in the film, called on his followers to shun the film. The box-office in the midwest did not meet the distributor's expectations.

The Rev Haggard said the film was too literal in its presentation of some of the opinions of Pastor Fischer. "My concern is ... that those on the far left will use it to reinforce their most negative stereotypes of Christian believers," he told Christianity Today. The "war talk", he said, was allegorical. "It doesn't mean we're going to establish a theocracy and force people to obey what they think is God's law."

Very disappointed

Ms Grady said she was disappointed by his reaction. "We're very disappointed that someone with such clout has rejected the movie. I think he doesn't like how he comes across in the movie."

The Rev Haggard does, however, articulate one of the film-makers' key points: saying that when evangelicals vote they can determine the outcome of an election.

"I really did not know how intertwined the politics was with the theology," said Ms Grady. "We were surprised at how much they really dovetail." With the US mid-term elections just over a month away, she added, "It's playing out before our eyes. There are a lot of contested seats. They vote. They know the people who have the same position as they do."

Profile: Becky Fischer

Pastor Becky Fischer seems to be enjoying her moment of celebrity. "I've gotten thousands of hits on my website," she told the Los Angeles Times. "I'm wearing sunglasses in the airports. It's really making me nervous."

According to the website Pastor Fischer worked in business for 23 years before taking up a full time ministry. She managed two family enterprises, a motel and an FM radio station, for 10 years and then owned a custom sign shop and worked part-time as a children's pastor at her local church in Bismark, North Dakota.

Her Kids Ministry International states on its website: "We believe that childhood is the time that God designed for people to receive the gospel." Amid all the controversy generated by the film, Pastor Fischer has defended herself. "Excuse me," she says in the film, "but we have the truth."

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Cluster Bombs Imperil Southern Lebanon

BEIRUT - Up to a million unexploded cluster bomblets from Israel's war with Hezbollah are now the biggest threat to civilians in south Lebanon, where they litter streets, homes, and orchards, UN agencies said yesterday.

Fourteen people have been killed and 90 wounded by unexploded ordnance since the end of the war in mid-August, with all the fatalities and most of the injuries caused by cluster munitions, the UN Mine Action Coordination Center said.

So far, the Lebanese Army, UN peacekeepers, the mine action center, and its contractors have cleared almost 40,000 unexploded cluster bomblets, but up to a million more remain.

With an estimated 12 to 15 months needed to clear the south of cluster bomblets, they pose mortal danger to displaced civilians returning to their villages after the 34-day war, the UN said.

Israel denies using cluster bombs illegally.

``The problem now rests with cluster bombs. They get caught up in bushes, in trees, in hedges. They get caught up in wire fences. . . .They are lying in people's houses, in their front gardens," Chris Clark, program manager of the UN Mine Action Coordination Center in southern Lebanon, said at a news conference.

``A lot of these cluster bombs, small as they are, are caught up in the rubble and pose a continuing problem to any reconstruction . . . but the main problem will be for people who just want to go back to their houses, clear the rubble out, and try to restore their lives."

Clarke said Israel also had yet to provide detailed information on the amounts of cluster bombs fired or the coordinates of the strikes, which would help munitions clearance teams identify the main areas on which to focus their efforts.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said some 200,000 Lebanese remained displaced, their return home slowed by the destruction of their houses and by unexploded bomblets.

With winter coming up and most people in the south relying on agriculture for their main source of income, the UNHCR is concerned that farmers will be unable to return to their fields, robbing them of their livelihood, or will face a deadly threat if they do as rain sinks the bomblets into the soil.

``Displacement, which we would have expected to end much more quickly, is going to continue for many, many more months to come. . . .We expect that instead of the displacement ending so people can return to their homes in 12 months or so now it could take up to 24 months," UNHCR's Arjun Jain said.

``This is clearly the biggest threat to civilian life especially south of the Litani river."

Clark said that Israel fired around 3,000 bombs, rockets, and artillery a day into Lebanon in the early days of the war, rising to some 6,000 a day at the end, with around 40 percent of the cluster bomblets dropped on the south failing to explode.

Also yesterday, commanders of the peacekeeping force said that Israeli troops should be out of Lebanon within days. 

© 2006 Boston Globe

White House Blocked Report Tying Global Warming, Stronger Hurricanes

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration has blocked release of a report that suggests global warming is contributing to the frequency and strength of hurricanes, the journal Nature reported Tuesday.

The possibility that warming conditions may cause storms to become stronger has generated debate among climate and weather experts, particularly in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

In the new case, Nature said weather experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - part of the Commerce Department - in February set up a seven-member panel to prepare a consensus report on the views of agency scientists about global warming and hurricanes.

According to Nature, a draft of the statement said that warming may be having an effect.

In May, when the report was expected to be released, panel chair Ants Leetmaa received an e-mail from a Commerce official saying the report needed to be made less technical and was not to be released, Nature reported.

Leetmaa, head of NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in New Jersey, did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment.

NOAA spokesman Jordan St. John said he had no details of the report.

NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher is currently out of the country, but Nature quoted him as saying the report was merely an internal document and could not be released because the agency could not take an official position on the issue.

However, the journal said in its online report that the study was merely a discussion of the current state of hurricane science and did not contain any policy or position statements.

A series of studies over the past year or so have shown an increase in the power of hurricanes in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, a strengthening that many storm experts say is tied to rising sea-surface temperatures.

Just two weeks ago, researchers said that most of the increase in ocean temperature that feeds more intense hurricanes is a result of human-induced global warming, a study one researcher said "closes the loop" between climate change and powerful storms like Katrina.

Not all agree, however, with opponents arguing that many other factors affect storms, which can increase and decrease in cycles.

The possibility of global warming affecting hurricanes is politically sensitive because the administration has resisted proposals to restrict release of gases that can cause warming conditions.

In February, a NASA political appointee who worked in the space agency's public relations department resigned after reportedly trying to restrict access to Jim Hansen, a NASA climate scientist who has been active in global warming research.

On the Net

© 2006 The Associated Press

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Capital Punishment: DNA Tests Prove Justice Has Failed

NEW YORK - When we talk of capital punishment there is no room for mistakes; no allowances for doubt or indecision. There is definitely no mechanism for review of guilt or innocence after someone has been killed.

Yet, consider these people:

Jeffrey Mark Deskovic, 33, spent nearly half his life in a New York prison for a rape and murder he did not commit. DNA testing cleared Deskovic and he was released Sep. 20 from prison.

"I was supposed to finish out my education…begin a career," Deskovic, choking up, told reporters when leaving the court room. "Marry, have a family, spend some time with my family…share the last years of my grandmother's life with her." Deskovic was 17 years old when he was ordered to spend his life in prison.

In 2004, Ryan Matthew, convicted for the murder of a local convenience store owner in Louisiana, escaped the death penalty after prosecutors dropped all charges on the basis of DNA testing results.

There are other stories of executions conducted too fast, trials completed too quickly and mistakes too easily made. And yet, the state-sanctioned killings continue. Now, DNA testing is helping to prove that innocent people continue to be killed or placed on death row. It proves that the U.S. judicial system is flawed; it sends innocent people to jail and, worse, puts them to death.

Northwestern University School of Law's Centre on Wrongful Convictions (CWC) documented at least 38 executions carried out in the United States in spite of compelling evidence of innocence or serious doubt about guilt since capital punishment was restored in the mid-1970s. According to this study, while innocence has not been proven in any specific case, there is no reasonable doubt that some of the executed prisoners were innocent.

Moreover, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has documented 123 death-row inmates who, since 1973, have been exonerated and freed before their executions.

Officially, courts do not consider claims of innocence after a person has been executed. In the past, people attempting to prove innocence had to do so by re-examining the evidence and re-interviewing witnesses and investigators, with no finality granted them. In the last 20 years, however, they have had a new tool: DNA testing.

While DNA testing was still viewed with suspicion by prosecutors in the 1980s, nowadays its implementation and accessibility has shown it essential in many trials. As it has become more accepted, it has provided an absolute that previously was not available.

"DNA has introduced dramatic changes in the whole criminal justice system. Now capital executions are viewed in a more sceptical light thanks to this testing," Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Centre (DPIC), told IPS.

Except in the case of identical twins, the structure of a person's DNA is unique. About 10 per cent of DNA contains chromosomes. The rest of it is "non-coding" DNA, partly made up of identical sequences. Experts analyse "repeat units" to compile a person's genetic profile, which takes the form of a series of figures and becomes essential for investigations.

"Recently, with DNA death-row exonerations, those who may support the death penalty in principle have questioned its legitimacy given the risk that we may have executed -- we may execute -- an innocent person.," Sarah Tofte, researcher for the U.S. Program at Human right Watch, told IPS.

This has led some prosecutors, law enforcement officials, conservative politicians and others to support moratoriums on the death penalty, if not outright abolition. The staff of the CWC pioneered the investigation and litigation of wrongful convictions, relying a great deal on DNA testing. Their work proving the innocence of 11 men sitting on death row in the U.S. state of Illinois was a driving force behind former Governor George H. Ryan's decision to suspend executions in Illinois in January, 2001.

The Innocence Project, which worked to free Deskovic, only handles cases where post-conviction DNA tests can yield conclusive proof of innocence. To date, it has helped exonerate 184 people, proving that wrongful convictions are not rare.

DNA tests point up the underlying need to reform of the criminal justice system, including a halt to the death penalty, human rights experts said.

"In my opinion, the recent exonerations of both death-row inmates and other prisoners represent just the tip of the iceberg of the failures of our criminal justice system. There is an intolerably high risk that many, many prisoners currently incarcerated are in fact innocent, including many death-row inmates," John Holdridge, director of the Capital Punishment Project for the ACLU, told IPS.

Until the late 1990s, DNA testing was seldom used due to the high cost, which ran into thousands of dollars. Recently, with the improvement of new technologies, the price has dropped to about 1,000 dollars, a small amount compared to the average cost of a trial. Texas, for instance, with over 300 people on death row, spends an estimated 2.3 million dollars per case, according to the DPIC.

"Now almost everybody can afford the cost of a DNA test. It should be freely and automatically available to every death-row inmate and every person charged with a crime. Furthermore, it should be freely available to every prisoner with a substantial claim of innocence," Holdridge said.

DNA tests played a substantial role in establishing prisoners' innocence in at least 14 cases of the 123 exonerations since 1973, according to the DPIC.

Nonetheless, the scope of DNA is limited to the few individual cases in which biological evidence is available. For every DNA exoneration, there are countless cases where testing cannot help because no DNA was left on the scene or the evidence had been lost or destroyed.

"DNA testing is a very good tool to prove the innocence of inmates, but unfortunately it does not mean the end of erroneous capital executions," Holdridge said.

But it does point up the weaknesses in the U.S. justice system: Innocent people still are being put to death by the government.

"Hopefully people worldwide will continue to be concerned and indignant about the capital punishment issue. What is essential for succeeding is that people recognise it as a major diminishing of human values," Dieter said.

Copyright © 2006 IPS-Inter Press Service

Groups Denounce Deal on Detainee Rights

WASHINGTON - Human and civil rights groups have broadly denounced a compromise deal on the application of the Geneva Conventions to detainees in the "global war on terror" worked out between the White House and a group of rebellious Republican senators whose efforts have been backed until now by their Democratic colleagues.

While the deal, the product of two weeks of intense negotiations, appeared to make some concessions to the rebels, who were also supported by scores of retired senior military officers, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell, most analysts expressed skepticism that it would make a substantial difference in the way the administration intends to treat detainees at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.

Those doubts were bolstered by statements by the White House Friday in which top officials asserted that the proposed legislation would permit the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to use what the White House calls "alternative interrogation procedures" against "high-value" terrorist suspects.

President George W. Bush himself insisted that the agreement "preserves the single-most potent toll we have in protecting America and foiling terrorist attacks, and that is the CIA program to question the world's most dangerous terrorists and to get their secrets."

At the same time, Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, declined to answer a reporter's question about whether "waterboarding", a technique that rights groups and even the State Department have long denounced as torture, could be permitted under the compromise.

His refusal came just hours after one of the three rebel senators, John McCain, asserted that the deal's language barred waterboarding and other "grave breaches" of the Geneva Conventions.

"It only takes 30 seconds or so to see that the Senators have capitulated entirely, that the U.S. will hereafter violate the Geneva Conventions... and that there will be very little pretense about it," according to Marty Lederman, an international law professor at Georgetown University School of Law, who suggested that the White House had gotten the better of the rebels.

His interpretation of the deal's likely impact on the CIA's legal authority to use cruel or inhuman interrogation methods in defiance of the Conventions' Common Article 3 was similar to that of Human Rights Watch, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and most other groups.

"The definition of what is cruel and inhuman is narrowly drawn," Human Rights Watch said in a statement Friday. "While it should be sufficient to prohibit the most abusive CIA techniques, the administration may try to interpret it as allowing certain humiliating and degrading practices banned by Common Article 3."

"Victims of the very abusive practices that the legislation outlaws would be forever precluded from challenging -- and bringing to light -- those abuses. Courts would have no power to stop even ongoing torture," the group said.

The ACLU's legislative director, Caroline Fredrickson, assailed the deal as a "compromise of America's commitment to the rule of law."

Like other groups, she cited provisions in the bill, which will be taken up by the Republican-led House of Representatives next week, that would permit testimony that was coerced through cruel or inhumane treatment to be used as evidence in military trials, preclude the judicial branch from reviewing the government's compliance with the Geneva Conventions, and deny detainees the right to challenge their status in court.

"It is essential that the bill be amended to ensure that all detainees have access to the courts to challenge the legality of their detention and their treatment," said Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth.

"This 'deal' still wipes out habeas corpus," noted Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. "(Its) abolishment is the equivalent of the authorization of executive detention -- one of the hallmarks of a police state."

Ratner and other activists also noted that the compromise, if approved, would retroactively immunize military and CIA staff from prosecution under the 1995 War Crimes Act for violations of the Geneva Conventions committed during the "war on terror".

"This 'deal' amnesties those in the administration who may be guilty of war crimes as Argentina and Chile tried to do during their 'dirty wars'," Ratner said. "That is illegal under international law."

The deal marks the latest round in a complicated battle over the rights under U.S. and international law of detainees held by the U.S. in the administration's anti-terrorist campaign.

At the beginning of its war on terror, the administration insisted that such prisoners were not entitled to the protections provided under the Geneva Conventions, including Common Article 3, which has traditionally applied to civilian detainees.

Among other provisions, Article 3 requires humane treatment of detainees "in all circumstances" and bans "cruel treatment and torture" or "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment." It also requires that all detainees be given a fair trial with all the guarantees "recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples."

Bush's position sparked considerable criticism, not only from human rights groups and U.S. allies, but also internally from career military professionals, including Powell, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the State Department. They argued -- unsuccessfully -- that Washington's refusal to apply the Conventions would encourage other treaty signatories to do the same, enhance the risks that U.S. soldiers and other personnel would also face abuse, and create confusion within the military, which was trained to adhere to the Conventions.

Those concerns were shared not only by Democrats, but also by a number of senior Republican senators with close ties to the military, including the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, John Warner; McCain, who had himself suffered torture as a prisoner of war in Vietnam; and a military lawyer in the reserves, Lindsay Graham.

It was they who, after the Supreme Court ruled last summer that Article 3 of the Conventions was indeed applicable to all detainees held by the United States, began pressing for legislation that would ensure U.S. compliance, particularly with respect to Article 3's prohibition on "cruel treatment and torture".

While the Pentagon quickly issued such a directive to all its personnel, the administration complained that some of the Article's terms were "too vague" and that, in any event, the CIA's program of "alternative interrogation procedures" -- which range from sleep deprivation and stress positions to exposure to extremes of cold and heat and waterboarding -- needed to be retained.

Two weeks ago, Bush announced that the 14 "high-value" detainees held incommunicado for up to several years by the CIA had been transferred to Guantanamo and urged Congress to quickly pass comprehensive legislation that would not only permit them to be tried before military commissions, but also redefine compliance with Article 3 in a way that would preserve the CIA's interrogation program.

While the administration had hoped to rally Republicans, who hold majorities in both houses of Congress, behind the legislation, the three rebels, backed by the Democrats and Powell, among others, refused to go along, demanding instead that all efforts to redefine Article 3 be deleted from the bill.

Superficially, it appears from the draft legislation agreed by both sides Thursday night that the administration conceded that point.

Indeed, one group, Human Rights First, interpreted the deal as written a clear victory for McCain and the others. "The language in today's agreement makes clear that 'alternative interrogation procedures'... are not only prohibited by the (Conventions), they are war crimes," said HRF's Washington director, Elisa Massimino, echoing McCain himself.

© 2006 IPS - Inter Press Service

Leaked Intelligence Report Rocks Bush Election Stance

US spy agencies have dropped a political bombshell six weeks before national elections, with the leak of a classified report concluding that the war in Iraq has spawned a new wave of Islamic radicalism and increased the global threat of terrorism.

The intelligence document on Sunday rocked a central pillar of the Republican Party's campaign platform ahead of November elections: that the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the ouster of Saddam Hussein made America safer, not weaker.

With opinion polls showing President George W. Bush's party possibly losing control of both houses of Congress in the the mid-term polls, in large part due to unhappiness over the war in Iraq, the report stating categorically the opposite will make for painful reading at the White House.

Bush has argued repeatedly in pre-election speeches that Iraq is the central front in the war on terrorism and that demands for a US troop withdrawal from the country by the opposition Democrats underscores why the center-left party should not be trusted with the nation's security.

"The security of the civilized world depends on victory in the war on terror, and that depends on victory in Iraq," Bush said in one speech on August 31.

Such assertions were looking decidedly shaky Sunday after The New York Times and The Washington Post released details of the classified National Intelligence Estimate, the most comprehensive assessment yet of the war, based on analyses of all 16 of America's intelligence agencies.

The report, Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States, says "the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse," an official familiar with the document told The Times.

The Washington Post said the report described the Iraq conflict as the primary recruiting vehicle for violent Islamic extremists.

"While the US has seriously damaged Al-Qaeda and disrupted its ability to carry out major operations since the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, it noted, radical Islamic networks have spread and decentralized.

Democratic leaders were quick to jump on the report's conclusions as clear evidence of the failure of Bush's policies.

"This intelligence document should put the final nail in the coffin for President Bush's phony argument about the Iraq war," Senator Edward Kennedy said in a statement Sunday.

"The fact that we need a new direction in Iraq to really win the war on terror and make Americans safer could not be clearer or more urgent -- yet this administration stubbornly clings to a failed 'stay-the-course' strategy," he said.

The White House, while reiterating its traditional stance of not commenting on classified reports, said The New York Times story "isn't representative of the complete document."

"We've always said that the terrorists are determined. Keeping the pressure on and staying on the offense is the best way to win the war on terror," a White House spokesman added.

But the leaked intelligence report is hardly good news for Bush and the Republicans, coming on top of a messy revolt by top Republican senators against a Bush plan for legitimizing how the US interrogates and prosecutes terrorist suspects.

The Senate rebels, who included possible candidates to succeed Bush in 2008, reached a compromise agreement with the White House late this week.

But the unseemly row already diverted attention away from Republican efforts to present a unified front on the issue of national security during the final stretch of the election campaign.

Republican leaders tried to brush aside the intelligence document, which they said they had not yet seen.

"If it wasn't Iraq it would be Afghanistan; if it wasn't Afghanistan it would be other (issues) that they would use as a method of continuing their recruitment," Senator John McCain, a leading potential presidential contender, said on CBS's Face The Nation.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist expressed confidence US voters would not be swayed by the intelligence report.

"I think the American people, when they read an article like that ... say, 'Listen, just keep me safe -- I just want to be safe in Nashville, Tennessee, I want to be safe in Memphis, New York City, Washington, DC,' that's what they want."

© Copyright 2006 AFP

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

'Shame on You, Mr Blair': Protest Disrupts Lebanon Press Conference

Tony Blair was today confronted with Lebanese fury over his stance on Israel's attack on the country this summer.

A woman protester paraded in front of him and Lebanese Premier Fuad Siniora as they staged a joint press conference in Beirut, waving a banner and shouting: "This is an insult to the families of thousands of Lebanese who have died. Shame on you, shame on you, Mr Blair."

As security guards bundled her away, both Mr Blair and Mr Siniora appealed for calm.

The lone protest matched that of others in the streets of Beirut, with demonstrators infuriated by Mr Blair's refusal to call for an immediate ceasefire from Israel in the bloody conflict which raged in July.

Downing Street had been braced for expressions of anger and after the press conference Mr Blair's official spokesman said: "We expected there would be protests, although not at the press conference."

The dramatic demonstration upstaged Mr Blair's announcement of a £40 million aid package for Lebanon, during what was always a high-risk finale to his Middle East tour.

Britain is to give £22.3 million to rebuild Lebanon's shattered infrastructure, including help with six emergency bridges needed to replace those destroyed by the Israelis, and will pump a further £20 million into funding the international stability force in the south of the country.

Mr Blair was also challenged at the press conference over reports that weapons for the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon had been transported through the UK, and challenged on whether he had "blood on his hands" because of his stance.

Mr Blair - who said the demonstration has made him feel "at home" - insisted: "There have not actually been transport of weapons for any means, but that's not really the point.

"The point is this. You have just seen a demonstration by somebody who's opposed to my visit and opposed to my policy. The most important thing we believed throughout the entirety of the crisis was to work to get a United Nations resolution which was the only possibility of stopping the conflict."

Mr Blair went on: "The most important thing for the future is we stand with you and rebuild, but we won't be able to do that unless we deal with the root causes of what's happened.

"The reason I wanted to come here is not because I'm unaware that there are people who deeply object to the policies we have - I wanted to hear from the Prime Minister how we can help for the future."

Hezbollah members of Mr Siniora's administration - who reject the state of Israel - had already boycotted today's talks with Mr Blair.

But challenged once more during the press conference on his stance, the Prime Minister said: "Let me again express my condolences to those who lost their lives and those in Israel too.

"If we end up with the solution for Israel and Palestine, there will be two signatures on the final status agreement.

"One will be Palestinian and the other will be Israeli and therefore we are not going to resolve this conflict except on a just basis, which means two states living side by side and by accepting that each state has the right to exist."

Asked again if he felt shame for his stance, Mr Blair insisted: "There never was going to be a cessation unless it was done on the basis of a UN resolution. That's the reality, that's what I worked for throughout.

"I have got used to demonstrations in my country and elsewhere so I suppose demonstrations here kind of make me feel at home."

Challenged whether he had "blood on his hands", Mr Blair replied: "In the end you have got to make a judgment on this. It's a great sign of democracy that you have people with a different point of view."

But he went on: "Things we want to achieve can't be achieved without America and Israel."

Mr Blair added: "Feelings run high, of course feelings run high. Innocent people have lost their lives here.

"This country that was on its way to being a model for the region has been set back many years - of course feelings run high.

"But what can we do? This conflict was never going to end without a UN resolution.

"In the end I'm here to get things done. I believe there is a way out of the problems of the Middle East but it can only be done if we are prepared to put in the political work and commitment to get a resolution of the underlying issues.

"If we don't do that, as people here know better than any other people in the region, then conflict will come again and innocent people will be its victims."

Mr Siniora said: "Let's look at the future. Let's see what we can do. Mr Blair can play a role."

British sources said later that the protester was believed to be an Irish aid agency worker.

© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited

Global Media Abhors US Response to 9-11

Newspapers across the world have strongly criticised the US response to September 11, accusing the Bush administration of bungling its "war on terror" and squandering global goodwill by invading Iraq.

On the fifth anniversary of Al-Qaeda's assault on New York and Washington, editorials united Monday in condemning the attacks and expressing revulsion for the Islamic extremists who carried out the atrocity.

While papers said many people were still grappling with the immensity of what happened on that day, nearly all agreed the world had since become a more dangerous and uncertain place.

Much criticism, especially in the Midde East and Europe, was reserved for US President George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq under the banner of the "war on terror".

The New York Times acknowledged the United States had lost the feeling of unity and purpose which gripped the nation in the aftermath of the attacks, and lamented a lost opportunity.

"When we measure the possibilities created by 9/11 against what we have actually accomplished, it is clear that we have found one way after another to compound the tragedy," said the paper's editorial.

Summing up the mood in the British press, the Financial Times said: "The way the Bush administration has trampled on the international rule of law and Geneva Conventions, while abrogating civil liberties and expanding executive power at home, has done huge damage not only to America's reputation but, more broadly, to the attractive power of Western values."

German daily Handelsblatt said the war in Iraq had been erroneously started in the name of September 11, while Spain's El Pais said the Bush administration used the attacks to impose a neo-conservative foreign policy.

"The result, five years after, is a more dangerous world," El Pais said.

The criticism, and in particular the condemnation of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, was echoed in newspapers across the Middle East and Asia.

Many Arab newspapers said the US campaign and the invasion of Iraq had pushed the world closer to a clash of civilisations between the West and the Muslim world.

"Instead of isolating and wiping out Al-Qaeda, Bush has created a long list of new foes in his ever-broadening war on terror," Lebanon's Daily Star said.

"In doing so, he has bolstered the popular impression that the United States is waging a crusade against Islam -- an impression which Al-Qaeda skillfully exploits in order to gain more support."

Egypt's semi-official Al-Ahram compared Bush to the mastermind of the attacks Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

"Five years ago, the history of the world changed twice, once in the hands of Bin Laden and his gang, and once in the hands of Bin Bush and his administration."

The Al-Ghad daily in Jordan was similarly critical saying: "The administration of George W. Bush used a vengeful mentality in dealing with the 9/11 crime and has turned the entire world into a battleground."

Many newspapers in Iran speculated that Washington staged the attacks so that it could justify attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan.

Iraq, meanwhile, ignored the anniversary altogether with not a single mention of it in the press.

In Pakistan, a key US ally in the battle against Al-Qaeda, The News daily wrote a hard-hitting editorial entitled "Five Years of Nothing".

"Looking back it would be hard to say whether the years have been spent in something meaningful or constructive," it said. "Many would agree the world is a more dangerous place and the United States is nowhere close to winning the war on terror."

The US administration received some support from the media in Australia, where the government has been a staunch supporter of US policy since the 2001 attacks.

The Australian newspaper said terrorist strikes against Western interests since 9-11 in London, Madrid, Indonesia and elsewhere had left no doubt the world faced a concerted attack by extremists.

"Radical Islam is corrupting impressionable minds, encouraging disaffected youth and the newly converted with a poor understanding of faith to offer their lives as suicide bombers in what is essentially a political campaign."

In Thailand, The Nation said the impact of September 11 on Asia was much bigger than people wanted to admit, while in the Philippines the Manila Times said the damage was so great that many were still trying to cope.

"We are still shocked by the number of lives that were lost that day, close to 3,000. And we still remember how dread enveloped the world like a thick black shroud.

"But 9/11 left us with a deeper sense of loss, a loss of innocence. We are still trying to comprehend how hatred could drive people into a senseless act of violence. It is that loss that we find it hardest to get over."

Copyright © 2006 AFP

Saturday, September 09, 2006

'Gaza is a jail. Nobody is allowed to leave. We are all starving now'

A whole society is being destroyed. There are 1.5 million Palestinians imprisoned in the most heavily populated area in the world. Israel has stopped all trade. It has even forbidden fishermen to go far from the shore so they wade into the surf to try vainly to catch fish with hand-thrown nets.

Many people are being killed by Israeli incursions that occur every day by land and air. A total of 262 people have been killed and 1,200 wounded, of whom 60 had arms or legs amputated, since 25 June, says Dr Juma al-Saqa, the director of the al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City which is fast running out of medicine. Of these, 64 were children and 26 women. This bloody conflict in Gaza has so far received only a fraction of the attention given by the international media to the war in Lebanon.

It was on 25 June that the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was taken captive and two other soldiers were killed by Palestinian militants who used a tunnel to get out of the Gaza Strip. In the aftermath of this, writes Gideon Levy in the daily Haaretz, the Israeli army "has been rampaging through Gaza - there's no other word to describe it - killing and demolishing, bombing and shelling, indiscriminately". Gaza has essentially been reoccupied since Israeli troops and tanks come and go at will. In the northern district of Shajhayeh they took over several houses last week and stayed five days. By the time they withdrew, 22 Palestinians had been killed, three houses were destroyed and groves of olive, citrus and almond trees had been bulldozed.

Fuad al-Tuba, the 61-year-old farmer who owned a farm here, said: "They even destroyed 22 of my bee-hives and killed four sheep." He pointed sadly to a field, its brown sandy earth churned up by tracks of bulldozers, where the stumps of trees and broken branches with wilting leaves lay in heaps. Near by a yellow car was standing on its nose in the middle of a heap of concrete blocks that had once been a small house.

His son Baher al-Tuba described how for five days Israeli soldiers confined him and his relatives to one room in his house where they survived by drinking water from a fish pond. "Snipers took up positions in the windows and shot at anybody who came near," he said. "They killed one of my neighbours called Fathi Abu Gumbuz who was 56 years old and just went out to get water."

Sometimes the Israeli army gives a warning before a house is destroyed. The sound that Palestinians most dread is an unknown voice on their cell phone saying they have half an hour to leave their home before it is hit by bombs or missiles. There is no appeal.

But it is not the Israeli incursions alone that are destroying Gaza and its people. In the understated prose of a World Bank report published last month, the West Bank and Gaza face "a year of unprecedented economic recession. Real incomes may contract by at least a third in 2006 and poverty to affect close to two thirds of the population." Poverty in this case means a per capita income of under $2 (£1.06) a day.

There are signs of desperation everywhere. Crime is increasing. People do anything to feed their families. Israeli troops entered the Gaza industrial zone to search for tunnels and kicked out the Palestinian police. When the Israelis withdrew they were replaced not by the police but by looters. On one day this week there were three donkey carts removing twisted scrap metal from the remains of factories that once employed thousands.

"It is the worst year for us since 1948 [when Palestinian refugees first poured into Gaza]," says Dr Maged Abu-Ramadan, a former ophthalmologist who is mayor of Gaza City. "Gaza is a jail. Neither people nor goods are allowed to leave it. People are already starving. They try to live on bread and falafel and a few tomatoes and cucumbers they grow themselves."

The few ways that Gazans had of making money have disappeared. Dr Abu-Ramadan says the Israelis "have destroyed 70 per cent of our orange groves in order to create security zones." Carnations and strawberries, two of Gaza's main exports, were thrown away or left to rot. An Israeli air strike destroyed the electric power station so 55 per cent of power was lost. Electricity supply is now becoming almost as intermittent as in Baghdad.

The Israeli assault over the past two months struck a society already hit by the withdrawal of EU subsidies after the election of Hamas as the Palestinian government in March. Israel is withholding taxes owed on goods entering Gaza. Under US pressure, Arab banks abroad will not transfer funds to the government.

Two thirds of people are unemployed and the remaining third who mostly work for the state are not being paid. Gaza is now by far the poorest region on the Mediterranean. Per capita annual income is $700, compared with $20,000 in Israel. Conditions are much worse than in Lebanon where Hizbollah liberally compensates war victims for loss of their houses. If Gaza did not have enough troubles this week there were protest strikes and marches by unpaid soldiers, police and security men. These were organised by Fatah, the movement of the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, which lost the election to Hamas in January. His supporters marched through the streets waving their Kalashnikovs in the air. "Abu Mazen you are brave," they shouted. "Save us from this disaster." Sour-looking Hamas gunmen kept a low profile during the demonstration but the two sides are not far from fighting it out in the streets.

The Israeli siege and the European boycott are a collective punishment of everybody in Gaza. The gunmen are unlikely to be deterred. In a bed in Shifa Hospital was a sturdy young man called Ala Hejairi with wounds to his neck, legs, chest and stomach. "I was laying an anti-tank mine last week in Shajhayeh when I was hit by fire from an Israeli drone," he said. "I will return to the resistance when I am better. Why should I worry? If I die I will die a martyr and go to paradise."

His father, Adel, said he was proud of what his son had done adding that three of his nephews were already martyrs. He supported the Hamas government: "Arab and Western countries want to destroy this government because it is the government of the resistance."

As the economy collapses there will be many more young men in Gaza willing to take Ala Hejairi's place. Untrained and ill-armed most will be killed. But the destruction of Gaza, now under way, will ensure that no peace is possible in the Middle East for generations to come.

The deadly toll

* After the kidnap of Cpl Gilad Shalit by Palestinians on 25 June, Israel launched a massive offensive and blockade of Gaza under the operation name Summer Rains.

* The Gaza Strip's 1.3 million inhabitants, 33 per cent of whom live in refugee camps, have been under attack for 74 days.

* More than 260 Palestinians, including 64 children and 26 women, have been killed since 25 June. One in five is a child. One Israeli soldier has been killed and 26 have been wounded.

* 1,200 Palestinians have been injured, including up to 60 amputations. A third of victims brought to hospital are children.

* Israeli warplanes have launched more than 250 raids on Gaza, hitting the two power stations and the foreign and Information ministries.

* At least 120 Palestinian structures including houses, workshops and greenhouses have been destroyed and 160 damaged by the Israelis.

* The UN has criticised Israel's bombing, which has caused an estimated $1.8bn in damage to the electricity grid and leaving more than a million people without regular access to drinking water.

* The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem says 76 Palestinians, including 19 children, were killed by Israeli forces in August alone. Evidence shows at least 53 per cent were not participating in hostilities.

* In the latest outbreak of violence, three Palestinians were killed yesterday when Israeli troops raided a West Bank town in search of a wanted militant. Two of those killed were unarmed, according to witnesses.

© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited

Interrogation Methods Rejected by Military Win Bush’s Support

Many of the harsh interrogation techniques repudiated by the Pentagon on Wednesday would be made lawful by legislation put forward the same day by the Bush administration. And the courts would be forbidden from intervening.

The proposal is in the last 10 pages of an 86-page bill devoted mostly to military commissions, and it is a tangled mix of cross-references and pregnant omissions.

But legal experts say it adds up to an apparently unique interpretation of the Geneva Conventions, one that could allow C.I.A. operatives and others to use many of the very techniques disavowed by the Pentagon, including stress positions, sleep deprivation and extreme temperatures.

“It’s a Jekyll and Hyde routine,” Martin S. Lederman, who teaches constitutional law at Georgetown University, said of the administration’s dual approaches.

In effect, the administration is proposing to write into law a two-track system that has existed as a practical matter for some time.

So-called high-value detainees held by the C.I.A. have been subjected to tough interrogation in secret prisons around the world.

More run-of-the-mill prisoners held by the Defense Department have, for the most part, faced milder questioning, although human rights groups say there have been widespread abuses.

The new bill would continue to give the C.I.A. the substantial freedom it has long enjoyed, while the revisions to the Army Field Manual announced Wednesday would further restrict military interrogators.

The legislation would leave open the possibility that the military could revise its own standards to allow the harsher techniques.

John C. Yoo, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and a former Justice Department official who helped develop the administration’s early legal response to the terrorist threat, said the bill would provide people on the front lines with important tools.

“When you’re fighting a new kind of war against an enemy we haven’t faced before,” Professor Yoo said, “our system needs to give flexibility to people to respond to those challenges.”

In June, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court ruled that a provision of the Geneva Conventions concerning the humane treatment of prisoners applied to all aspects of the conflict with Al Qaeda. The new bill would keep the courts from that kind of meddling, Professor Yoo said.

“There is a rejection of what the court did in Hamdan,” he said, “which is to try to judicially enforce the Geneva Conventions, which no court had ever tried to do before.”

Indeed, the proposed legislation takes pains to try to ensure that the Supreme Court will not have a second bite at the apple. “The act makes clear,” it says in its introductory findings, “that the Geneva Conventions are not a source of judicially enforceable individual rights.”

Though lawsuits will almost certainly be filed challenging the bill should it become law, most legal experts said Congress probably had the power to restrict the courts’ jurisdiction in this way.

The proposed legislation would provide retroactive immunity from prosecution to government agents who used harsh methods after the Sept. 11 attacks. And, as President Bush suggested on Wednesday, it would ensure that those techniques remain lawful.

“As more high-ranking terrorists are captured, the need to obtain intelligence from them will remain critical,” Mr. Bush said. “And having a C.I.A. program for questioning terrorists will continue to be crucial to getting life-saving information.”

Mr. Bush said he had never authorized torture but indicated that aggressive interrogation techniques short of torture remained important tools in the administration’s efforts to combat terrorism.

“I cannot describe the specific methods used — I think you understand why,” he said. “If I did, it would help the terrorists learn how to resist questioning, and to keep information from us that we need to prevent new attacks on our country. But I can say the procedures were tough, and they were safe and lawful and necessary.”

A senior intelligence official said that the new legislation, if enacted, would make it clear that the techniques used by the C.I.A. on senior Qaeda members who had been held abroad in secret sites would not be prohibited and that interrogators who engaged in those practices both in the past and in the future would not face prosecution.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, would not discuss the techniques the agency had used or was prepared to use.

Other senior administration officials, all of whom declined to speak on the record, said there was no intention to undercut the interrogation rules in the new Army Field Manual, which does not include some of the most extreme techniques used on some suspected terrorists in American custody.

The intent of the legislation, they said, is to prevent the prosecution of interrogators under amendments to the War Crimes Act that were passed in the 1990’s.

Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions bars, among other things, “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment.” The administration says that language is too vague.

That is nonsense, said Harold Hongju Koh, the dean of Yale Law School and a State Department official in the Clinton administration. “Outrages upon personal dignity is something like Abu Ghraib or parading our soldiers in Vietnam before the television cameras,” he said. “Unconstitutionally vague means you don’t know it when you see it.”

But the new legislation would interpret “outrages upon personal dignity” relatively narrowly, adopting a standard enacted last year in an amendment to the Detainee Treatment Act proposed by Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona. The amendment prohibits “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” and refers indirectly to an American constitutional standard that prohibits conduct which “shocks the conscience.”

There is substantial room for interpretation, legal experts said, between Common Article 3’s strict prohibition of, for instance, humiliating treatment and the McCain amendment’s ban only on conduct that “shocks the conscience.”

The proposed legislation, said Peter S. Margulies, a law professor at Roger Williams University, “seems to be trying to surgically remove from our compliance with Geneva the section of Common Article 3 that deals with humiliating and degrading treatment.”

The net effect of the new legislation in the interrogation context, Professor Yoo said, is to allow the C.I.A. flexibility of the sort that the revisions to the Army Field Manual have denied to the Pentagon. The bill lets the C.I.A. “operate with a freer hand” than the Defense Department “in that space between the Army Field Manual and the McCain amendment,” he said.

Dean Koh said the administration’s new interpretation of the Geneva Conventions would further isolate the United States from the rest of the world.

“Making U.S. ratification of Common Article 3 narrower and more conditional than everyone else’s,” he said, “by its very nature suggests that we are not prepared to make the same commitment that every other nation has made.”

The bill proposed by the White House would also amend the War Crimes Act, which makes violations of Common Article 3 a felony. Those amendments are needed, the administration said, to provide guidance to American personnel.

The new legislation makes a list of nine “serious violations” of Common Article 3 federal crimes. The prohibited conduct includes torture, murder, rape, and the infliction of severe physical or mental pain. By implication, some legal experts said, the bill endorses the use of those interrogation techniques that are not mentioned.

The proposed legislation in any event represents a further retreat from international legal standards by an administration already hostile to them, some scholars said. “It’s strong evidence that this administration doesn’t accept international legal processes,’’ said Peter J. Spiro, a law professor at Temple University.

Neil A. Lewis contributed reporting from Washington.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

Friday, September 08, 2006

Bush Yields to Geneva Conventions on Detainees

WASHINGTON - In a major victory for the State Department and career military lawyers, the Pentagon Wednesday released a new Army field manual that requires all detainees held by the U.S. military, including suspected terrorists, to be treated according to the Geneva Conventions.

At the same time, President George W. Bush announced that 14 so-called "high-value detainees" -- those who have been held by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in secret locations around the world where they been subject to interrogation techniques that human rights groups have denounced as "torture" -- are being transferred to the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for eventual trial.

Among them are Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who is believed to be the highest-ranking member of al Qaeda captured by the U.S. and the mastermind behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon, as well as several other key senior al Qaeda operatives, Bush said.

He insisted, however, that they and other accused terrorists should not be entitled to full due-process rights when they are brought to trial.

Under legislation proposed by the administration, hearsay testimony and evidence obtained as a result of coercive interrogations would be admissible in such tribunals. It would also bar defendants from reviewing evidence that could, in the government's opinion, compromise Washington's national security.

In his remarks, Bush also defended the use of what he called "tough" but "safe" interrogation techniques of the kind used by the CIA in its so-called "black sites", and called on Congress to explicitly approve their use by the CIA in the future.

"[A]s more high-ranking terrorists are captured, the need to obtain intelligence from them will remain critical -- and having a CIA programme for questioning terrorists will continue to be crucial to getting life-saving information," he said.

And he called on Congress to amend the U.S. War Crimes Act, which criminalises violations of the Geneva Conventions, to ensure that no U.S. personnel "involved in capturing and questioning terrorists could now be at risk of prosecution" under its provisions.

The Pentagon's new manual and Bush's speech, the third in a series of major addresses designed to rally support for his administration's performance in the "global war on terror" in the run-up to the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, received a mixed reaction from human rights groups.

"By announcing adherence to Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions for all detainees, the Pentagon has reaffirmed important protections found in international law," said Larry Cox, executive director of the U.S. section of Amnesty International.

At the same time, Cox complained that the proposed legislation on military tribunals would deny "fundamental fair-trial protections" to defendants. He also called on Bush to "rescind any directive that gives the CIA 'extraordinary powers' to continue to detain people secretly outside the law."

"The president sent a mixed message," said Elisa Massimino, Washington director of Human Rights First, a national lawyers' group "On the one hand, he announced a new army field manual which contains interrogation techniques which, with a few exceptions, comply with U.S. law and the Geneva conventions."

"On the other hand, while declaring a commitment to a law-based approach, the president defended the system of secret CIA detentions and an 'alternative set of [interrogation] procedures'... that invite cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of suspects -- treatment that amounts to a clear violation of U.S. and international law," she added.

Bush's remarks and the release of the new army manual came two months after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the administration's 2002 directive, which was prepared by political appointees in the Justice Department and Pentagon over the objections of senior career military lawyers and the State Department, that suspected terrorists -- or "unlawful enemy combatants" -- were not entitled to the protections provided under Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

Article 3 provides that all detainees are legally entitled to humane treatment "in all circumstances" and may not be subject to "cruel treatment and torture" or "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment."

Two weeks after the court's decision, Deputy Defence Secretary Gordon England issued a memorandum that called for "all DoD (Department of Defence) personnel [to] adhere to (Article 3) standards."

In fact, the administration has always insisted that all detainees have been treated "humanely" despite a flood of reports by human rights groups, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, former detainees, and detainee attorneys about practices ranging from sexual humiliation and exposure to extreme temperatures to physical assaults and "water-boarding" -- a technique used by the CIA, in particular, in which the subject is made to believe that he is drowning.

Because of the way the administration had defined "humane" treatment to include such practices, England's memo, while broadly welcomed by the human rights community as an important step to comply with the Supreme Court's judgement, also provoked scepticism from some analysts that it would make any real difference.

That scepticism was fueled as well by statements from senior administration lawyers who insisted in testimony before Congress on the same day of the memo's release that it was not meant to signal a change in policy.

Indeed, the fact that Bush explicitly repeated his administration's insistence that the U.S. "does not torture" -- like his demand that Congress amend the War Crimes Act to exempt U.S. personnel -- is likely to provoke continued scepticism about the administration's intent, although the manual's explicit bans on specific techniques, at least by the military, offered some reassurance.

Indeed, those bans -- which were strongly opposed by political appointees at the Pentagon, Vice President Dick Cheney's office, and the Justice Department -- marked a major victory for the State Department and career military officers and lawyers. The conflict had delayed publication of the new manual by one year.

The same court decision that upheld Article 3 also found that the military tribunals established by the Pentagon to try suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo violated the constitution because they were not approved by Congress.

The administration's response -- re-iterated by Bush today -- has been to urge Congress to pass legislation that would more or less rubber-stamp the Pentagon's original plans.

Several Republican senators on the Armed Services Committee -- notably its chairman, John Warner; John McCain, and Lindsay Graham -- have argued, however, that those plans, particularly the rules of evidence, would violate defendants' due-process rights and thus should be amended to conform more with procedures used in U.S. courts-martial. Their position has been backed by most Democrats and by top career military attorneys, past and present.

"The bottom line to today's announcements," said Scott Horton, an international law professor at Columbia University in New York, "is that the administration is giving up on some of the most controversial targets in its detainee treatment programme, such as the use of highly coercive interrogation tactics by the military, but wants to keep its military commissions despite the fact that the Supreme Court essentially called them 'kangaroo courts'."

Horton also noted that the administration's call for amending the War Crimes Act in ways that would effectively exempt U.S. personnel engaged in the "war on terror" appeared primarily designed to protect senior policymakers, particularly those political appointees who were responsible for authorising abusive treatment and interrogation techniques, from possible prosecution.

Copyright © 2006 IPS-Inter Press Service

Thursday, September 07, 2006

9/11 Miniseries Is Criticized as Inaccurate and Biased

Days before its scheduled debut, the first major television miniseries about the Sept. 11 attacks was being criticized on Tuesday as biased and inaccurate by bloggers, terrorism experts and a member of the Sept. 11 commission, whose report makes up much of the film’s source material.

The six-hour miniseries, “The Path to 9/11,” is to be shown on ABC on Sunday and Monday. The network has been advertising the program as a “historic broadcast” that uses the commission’s report on the 2001 attacks as its “primary foundation.”

On Tuesday, several liberal blogs were questioning whether ABC’s version was overly critical of the Clinton administration while letting the Bush administration off easy.

In particular, some critics — including Richard A. Clarke, the former counterterrorism czar — questioned a scene that depicts several American military officers on the ground in Afghanistan. In it, the officers, working with leaders of the Northern Alliance, the Afghan rebel group, move in to capture Osama bin Laden, only to allow him to escape after the mission is canceled by Clinton officials in Washington.

In a posting on, and in a phone interview, Mr. Clarke said no military personnel or C.I.A. agents were ever in position to capture Mr. bin Laden in Afghanistan, nor did the leader of the Northern Alliance get that near to his camp.

“It didn’t happen,” Mr. Clarke said. “There were no troops in Afghanistan about to snatch bin Laden. There were no C.I.A. personnel about to snatch bin Laden. It’s utterly invented.”

Mr. Clarke, an on-air consultant to ABC News, said he was particularly shocked by a scene in which it seemed Clinton officials simply hung up the phone on an agent awaiting orders in the field. “It’s 180 degrees from what happened,” he said. “So, yeah, I think you would have to describe that as deeply flawed.”

ABC responded Tuesday with a statement saying that the miniseries was “a dramatization, not a documentary, drawn from a variety of sources, including the 9/11 commission report, other published materials and from personal interviews.”

“The events that lead to 9/11 originally sparked great debate,” the statement continued, “so it’s not surprising that a movie surrounding those events has revived the debate.”

Former Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey, the chairman of the Sept. 11 commission and a consultant on the miniseries, defended the program, saying he thought the disputed scene was an honest representation of a number of failed efforts to capture Mr. bin Laden.

“I pointed out the fact that the scene involving Afghanistan and the attempt to get bin Laden is a composite,” Mr. Kean said, adding that the miniseries format required some conflation of events. But, he said, “The basic fact is that on a number of occasions, they thought they might have been able to get bin Laden, and on those occasions, the plug was pulled for various reasons.”

Mr. Kean conceded that some points might have been more drama than documentary. “Some of the people shown there probably weren’t there,” he said.

Online commentators seized on remarks made last week by Rush Limbaugh, the conservative radio host, who said “The Path to 9/11” had been written and produced by a “friend of mine out in California” named Cyrus. “From what I’ve been told,” Mr. Limbaugh said, according to a transcript on, “the film really zeros in on the shortcomings of the Clinton administration.”

Reached Tuesday, Cyrus Nowrasteh, the film’s screenwriter and one of its producers, said he had met Mr. Limbaugh on the set of “24,” the serialized thriller on Fox.

“I met him briefly,” Mr. Nowrasteh said, declining to say if the two men were close. “And that’s it.”

As for criticism that his movie was soft on the Bush administration, Mr. Nowrasteh said, “Let the movie speak for itself.”

ABC said it planned to run a disclaimer with the broadcast, reminding viewers that the movie was not a documentary.

But Richard Ben-Veniste, a member of the Sept. 11 commission, said genre confusion would not be a problem for commission members, several of whom saw part of the miniseries last week.

“As we were watching, we were trying to think how they could have misinterpreted the 9/11 commission’s finding the way that they had,” Mr. Ben-Veniste said. “They gave the impression that Clinton had not given the green light to an operation that had been cleared by the C.I.A. to kill bin Laden,” when, in fact, the Sept. 11 commission concluded that Mr. Clinton had.

Mr. Ben-Veniste said he did, however, approve of the casting. “I like Harvey Keitel,” he said of the actor who plays John O’Neil, the onetime F.B.I. counterterrorism expert who died in the attacks. “I liked him in ‘Mean Streets.’ I’m a fan.”

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

Intelligence Estimate on Iran Blocks Neo-Con Plans

WASHINGTON - In the struggle over U.S. policy toward Iran, neoconservatives in the George W. Bush administration spoiling for an attack on Iran's nuclear sites have been seeking to convince the public that the United States must strike before an Iranian nuclear weapons capability becomes inevitable.

In order to do so, they must discredit the intelligence community's conclusions that Iran is still as many as 10 years away from being able to build a nuclear weapon and that such a weapon is not an inevitable consequence of its present uranium enrichment programme.

Those findings were first circulated in a top secret National Intelligence Estimate on Iran completed in May or June 2005, and could be a rallying point for Democrats and dissident Republicans inclined to oppose an attack on Iran. It has also inhibited the neoconservatives from being able to launch the kind of propaganda campaign against Iran they would prefer.

Before the 2005 estimate, neoconservatives in the administration had been free to issue alarmist warnings about impending Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons. John R. Bolton, now Washington's ambassador to the U.N. and then the administration's point man on weapons of mass destruction, declared in April 2004, "If we permit Iran's deception to go on much longer, it will be too late. Iran will have nuclear weapons."

The pro-war camp quickly tried to cast doubt on the new estimate, which made it more difficult for them to make such lurid claims. Asked about the estimate soon after it was issued, Robert G. Joseph, Bolton's successor as undersecretary of state for arms control, cleverly dismissed it by saying: "I don't know quite how to answer that because we don't have perfect information or perfect understanding."

That theme was to become a propaganda leitmotif for the neoconservatives on Iran. Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld picked up the same theme in a major assault on the Iran estimate on Apr. 18, 2006. Asked by conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham if he had confidence in the current U.S. intelligence assessment that Iran is five to 10 years away from producing a nuclear weapon, Rumsfeld replied, "No, I'm not confident."

Referring condescendingly to the intelligence analysts, Rumsfeld said "They work hard at it and they're fine people, but it's a difficult thing to do. Our visibility into their circumstance is imperfect."

The neoconservatives returned to that theme again, using the staff report of the House Intelligence Committee's Subcommittee on Intelligence Policy, issued Aug. 23, as a launching vehicle. A key message of the report is that "American intelligence agencies do not know nearly enough about Iran's nuclear weapons programme."

The intelligence community has not been passive in the face of this subtle campaign to dismiss its analysis on Iran's nuclear programme. On Apr. 20, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, answering questions after a speech at the National Press Club, reaffirmed the 2005 estimate. He said the intelligence community believes it is "still a number of years off before they are likely to have enough fissile material to assemble into or to put into a nuclear weapon, perhaps into the next decade..."

Equally important, in an interview with NBC news the same day, Negroponte repeated that same formula and then added, "According to the experts that I consult... getting 164 centrifuges to work is still a long way from having the capacity to manufacture fissile material for a nuclear weapon." That implied that uranium enrichment alone should not be seized on as evidence that time is running out.

The day after Negroponte's remarks, the neoconservative Joseph launched a direct attack on that point in a briefing for reporters at the State Department.

Ostensibly the briefing was about Joseph's trip to the Gulf States to discuss the Iranian nuclear programme. But he zeroed in on what he called "the question of the point of no return" in regard to Iranian nuclear weapons, meaning the point at which a nuclear weapons capability becomes inevitable.

Joseph suggested that there were different views on the point of no return, such as when Iran as produced enough fissile material, or the point of successful weaponisation.

But he said there was "an earlier point of no return," which is when Iran "has acquired the confidence and capability of running centrifuges over a sustained period of time, allowing it to produce enrichment uranium." The "key point," he asserted, "has always been the 164-cascade centrifuge."

The idea of successful uranium enrichment as equivalent to the "point of no return" came from the Israeli government. As early as Jan. 26, 2005, Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz warned that Iran would reach "the point of no return" within 12 months.

The Israeli argument is a clever formulation of the claim that Iran has already made the decision to manufacture nuclear weapons. By invoking the Israeli concept, Joseph was really suggesting that efforts to offer incentives for Iran to eschew nuclear weapons would be futile.

The intelligence estimate on Iran, however, explicitly takes the view that there is nothing inevitable about an Iranian decision to weaponise. Paul Pillar, who was the National Intelligence Officer for the Iran NIE, and is now teaching at Georgetown University, declared in an interview with Newsweek published Aug. 28 that the "point of no return" is "a ridiculous concept". Pillar explained why: "There's no reason any country -- Iran or anyone else who has such a programme -- can't turn back or won't turn back with the right incentives."

Pillar told this writer last February that the "dominant view" among intelligence analysts had been that a willingness on the part of the United States to provide security assurances could cause Iran to change course on the issue of nuclear weapons.

Significantly, the chief of Israel's intelligence organisation, Meir Dagan, has sided with the U.S. intelligence community rather than the neoconservatives on this point. Dagan refused to use the concept of "point of no return" last December in testimony before the Knesset. Instead he said Iran was six months away from gaining "technical independence" in regard to a nuclear capability.

As the Jerusalem Post observed on Dec. 27 in reporting the testimony, Dagan's choice of wording implied that, even after Iran had acquired the capability to make a nuclear weapon, it might still be persuaded not to do so by an international agreement.

The intelligence judgment on this is also supported by independent analysts of the Iranian programme. Ray Takeyh, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last March that it was "neither inevitable nor absolute" that Iran would turn to nuclear weapons, because "its course of action is still unsettled."

The intelligence community's conclusion that Iran may still turn away from nuclear weapons if the United States offers real incentives, including security guarantees and normalisation of relations, is crucial to the possibility of a bipartisan resistance to war against Iran.

The neoconservatives can be expected to work assiduously in the coming weeks and months to discredit the current intelligence analysis and substitute their own alternative as they position themselves for the attack on Iran they have long wanted.

Copyright © 2006 Reuters Limited

Afghanistan: Campaign against Taliban 'Causes Misery and Hunger'

Two international think-tanks published reports yesterday highlighting failures of US and UK policy in Afghanistan, and warned the security situation in the country was deteriorating.

The Senlis Council claimed that the campaign by British forces against the Taliban had inflicted lawlessness, misery and starvation on the Afghan people.

Thousands of villagers fleeing the fighting and a continuing drought, as well as farmers who have lost their livelihood with the eradication of the opium crop, were suffering dreadful conditions in refugee camps.

In a separate intervention, the influential International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) said that a vital opportunity was lost when the West failed to carry out adequate reconstruction work after the 2001 war.

Christopher Langton, the head of the IISS defence analysis department, also said that attempts to impose secular laws on a tribal Pashtun society, without the establishment of security, had not worked. At the same time, the war against the Taliban was being hampered because caveats imposed by some Nato countries on the mission have led to a lack of combat flexibility.

Dr John Chipman, chief executive of the IISS, said British tactics of moving into remote areas in Helmand had "acted as a catalyst for intensifying insurgency by drawing the Taliban into open combat. However, it is also true the insurgency has a new energy and the Taliban see ... troops from the European member states - which they regard as militarily weaker than the US - as an opportunity target.

"The counter-narcotics policy and eradication of the poppy crop have caused tensions between local people, the government and the [Nato] coalition. The removal of the farmers' livelihood programme runs counter to winning 'hearts and minds' in many areas. The Taliban capitalise on this ... by championing the cause of the farmers, at the same time protecting those (including themselves) who profit from the heroin trade."

In its report, Afghanistan Five Years Later: The Return of the Taliban, the Senlis Council said swaths of the country were falling back into the hands of the Taliban.

And the organisation has charted between 10 and 15 refugee camps, with up to 10,000 people in each, in the provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, with little or no help from relief agencies.

The council's executive director, Emmanuel Reinert, said: "Huge amounts of money have been spent on large and costly military operations, but after five years southern Afghanistan is once more a battlefield for the control of the country.

"At the same time, the Afghans are starving. The US has lost control in Afghanistan and has in many ways undercut the new democracy ... I think we can call that a failure. The US policies in Afghanistan have re-created the safe haven for terrorism that the 2001 invasion aimed to destroy."

Mr Reinert said the Senlis Council supported the Nato presence in Afghanistan but he said the mission needed to be reassessed.

The Foreign Office challenged the Senlis Council report. A spokesman said: "It is quite clear that real progress has been made."

Meanwhile, it was reported that Pakistan's government and pro-Taliban militants had signed a peace agreement. Under the deal, it was claimed the militants were to halt attacks on Pakistani forces in the semi- autonomous North Waziristan, and stop crossing into eastern Afghanistan to attack US and Afghan forces. Pakistani troops were to stop their unpopular military campaign in the region.

© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited

U.S. Threatens to Revoke Trade Preferences from Left-Leaning South American Countries

LIMA, Peru - The Bush administration has announced it may revoke trade preferences from three large South American countries in a move some experts believe is designed to pressure them to consent to free trade agreements with the United States.

For over 30 years, trade preferences have enabled underdeveloped countries to export products to developed countries without paying tariffs or customs fees. The U.S. established its trade preferences program--called the General System of Preferences (GSP)--in 1976, and has renewed it eight times, most recently in 2002.

The three countries most likely to lose trading preferences with the United States--Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela--have said U.S. proposals to open a giant free trade zone among the countries of North and South America unfairly favor U.S. companies.

"As a strategy, the U.S. may not renew trade as to pressure countries in the region to sign free trade agreements," said Romy Calderon, an economist at the non-profit Latin American Association of Development Financial Institutions (ALIDE), in Lima, Peru.

Preferences will be reviewed because the Bush administration has not had success promoting the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), a program that would turn all of the Americas into a free trade zone, Calderon told OneWorld. "The U.S. sees this as an alternative way to advance the FTAA little by little," he said.

In mid-August, U.S. trade representative Susan Schwab announced the administration-mandated review of its trade preferences program. Schwab said the purpose of the review was to determine which countries needed preferences most.

Countries with upper-middle-income economies based on the World Bank's classifications--which in Latin America include only Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela--would be less likely to get renewals than poorer countries, Schwab said.

Altogether, the 133 countries covered by the GSP exported $26.7 billion worth of goods to the U.S. market duty free in 2005, accounting for just over 1 percent of all goods and services imported by the United States. Existing preferences are set to expire January 1, 2007, unless Congress renews them first.

U.S. officials have cast the review as an effort to ensure tariff preferences don't go to rich countries while ignoring poor ones; but it also serves a more strategic function in Latin America, according to Ariela Ruiz Caro, a Peruvian economist and a regional trade analyst working with the International Relations Center (IRC), a non-profit social justice group based in New Mexico.

"The U.S. government's announcement that it will review the possibility of limiting, suspending, or withdrawing trade preferences under the General System of Preferences to three Latin American countries--Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela--is political pressure to make these nations participate in the model of regional integration proposed by the United States," said Caro.

If countries agree to one-on-one talks with the United States, they are likely to be forced to accept far less favorable trading conditions than if they negotiate as a group, Caro added.

The announcement to review trade preferences is also designed to punish developing countries that collectively rejected the FTAA proposal earlier this year, as well as those who stood against U.S. proposals at the presidential summit of the Americas held in Mar del Plata, Argentina in November 2005, Caro said in a recent paper on the IRC's Web site.

Latin American countries largely opposed the Bush administration's free trade agenda at that summit, according to the Washington, DC-based women's rights group MADRE, because "the U.S.-driven economic processes of the past two decades [has] worsened poverty, income inequality, displacement, and cultural and environmental destruction."

Free trade agreements threaten food security and public health, the group said, adding that they can often undermine democracy, increase militarization, and lock countries into supporting U.S. foreign policy like the war in Iraq.

At least one U.S. legislator has said countries that opposed U.S. proposals in recent World Trade Organization (WTO) talks, which were suspended in July, should not receive the GSP trading privileges in the future.

"Countries that don't want to give us access to their markets in the WTO negotiations, why should we continue to give them preferential treatment?" asked Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, after the WTO negotiations collapsed.

Grassley's committee would have jurisdiction over any legislation to extend the GSP program.

Leaders like Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Argentina's Nestor Kirchner, who have been pushing regional integration models like the South American trading block known as Mercosur, are also upset about the U.S. announcement that trade preferences may be revoked.

The potential suspension of U.S. trade preferences is "reminiscent of the old theories of the Roman Empire toward countries that didn't agree with its policies," Kirchner said in August, while Chavez has repeatedly warned other South American countries that signing deals with the U.S. would threaten regional ties.

At least partially, it appears the U.S. threat of removing trade preferences is accomplishing what economists like Caro and Calderon say the Bush administration wants.

Both Colombia and Panama have expressed eagerness to complete trade deals with the U.S. before preferences lapse, and Peru and Chile are optimistic their free trade agreements, which would also extend preferences, will be approved by U.S. lawmakers before December 31.

If larger countries like Brazil and Argentina sign bilateral deals with the United States, smaller nations in the region would likely be pushed into similar agreements, according to the IRC's Caro.

In Uruguay and Paraguay, trade negotiations with the U.S. are ongoing. Talks between the U.S. and Ecuador stopped, however, after the Ecuadorian government ended a contract with California-based Occidental Petroleum to operate an oil field.

Copyright © 2006

Sheep through and through

"There are some people, and I'm one of them, that believe George Bush was placed where he is by the Lord," Tomanio said. "I don't care how he governs, I will support him. I'm a Republican through and through." This is a statement from an article on Yahoo I read before I went to bed last night. Did you notice one major flaw in her argument to support the president? There isn't one because she does not care how he governs. This is why he has gotten away with so much over the course of the last six years. How can you possibly vote for someone that you don't care how he governs? Roll out the sheep Betty. Here's another one. Geez.

wrote by Aquaticboy