The New York Times
December 5, 2004
The King and I
By STEVE MARTIN
IT is fitting that so many major news organizations have asked me to herald the coming to the United States of the artifacts from King Tut's tomb. After all, I'm the one who wrote the silly song about him. I stepped over the backs of many Egyptologists who wanted to write this article, but it's better that they learn their lesson now: silly song writers are powerful and vicious people who will stop at nothing to write an article about subjects they have treated in a silly way.
I know that the song "King Tut" has become a standard and that many people believe it has been around for three-quarters of a century and was probably written by Cole Porter or Irving Berlin. But no, I wrote it in my car while driving - and you probably won't believe this - I wrote it in less than 15 minutes. The song broke musical ground in that if you look at the sheet music, there are asterisks where the notes should be, because the song has no tune. You will realize this if you hum the song in your head right now. This of course angered many so-called legitimate songwriters who have to make up melodies to go with their lyrics.
It does strike me as ironic that the song has become the standard reference work on the subject of King Tut. Many of the lines in the song are now believed to be fact. In this article I should - as a serious scholar - set the record straight:
King Tut was not "born in Arizona."
He did not live in a "condo made of stone-a."
King Tut did not "do the monkey," nor did he "move to Babylonia."
King Tut was not a honky.
He was not "buried in his jammies."
The song does, however, make a valid assertion that scholars still regard as a breakthrough: King Tut was, as explained in the song, "an Egyptian."
When I got a call from a high-level Egyptian museum official saying that his country was upset that my song "King Tut" was not being played worldwide as much as it should be, and asking me if I would endorse an American tour of the artifacts in order to increase awareness of my song, I humbly agreed. The gentleman said, "If we thought that our exhibit would, in some way, introduce your song to even one more person, then the whole enterprise would be worth it." I am proud to be of service.
Steve Martin is the author of "The Pleasure of My Company."
Saturday, December 04, 2004
The New York Times
The New York Times
December 5, 2004
A Soldier's Story: The Curious Transformation of a Son of Dynasty
By LAWRENCE DOWNES
Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago and his wife, Maggie, have one son, Patrick. He is 29 and has an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago. Until a few weeks ago, he was managing partner at Companion Capital, advising wealthy families on their private-equity investments and pulling down six figures.
By next month, he'll be a grunt.
Mr. Daley will report after Christmas to Fort Benning in Georgia, where he will begin basic training as a soldier in the United States Army's airborne infantry. He will start at $1,612.74 a month, with bonus pay if he is sent to a combat zone, which Army officials say is almost certain to happen.
Mr. Daley's career change has launched him on a mind-bending transit between worlds - from a position of security and comfort to one of service and sacrifice, from one unrepresentative segment of society to another. His startling shift in social standing is about as stark a way as any to illustrate the debate about the ways that our volunteer Army mirrors our country as a whole.
Which it doesn't. While the Army is integrated and diverse, its enlisted ranks are filled not by the very rich or poor, but by the sons and daughters of the working class, particularly black and Hispanic Americans.
These are people who often lack options, for whom the military has long offered a choice: Serve your country in return for a job, for computer and technical skills, and a jolt of discipline, confidence and independence. The pay is low, the life regimented and exhausting. But serve your time and you will gain a future - if you aren't killed first. With young soldiers dying in Iraq every day, the choice is stark, and its consequences not at all theoretical.
It's a choice the privileged Mr. Daley did not have to make. So why did he? A columnist in Chicago noted that an Army stint would do wonders to scrub the young man's résumé of teenage blemishes - giving a rowdy house party that became violent, having a run-in with the police, dropping out of West Point. Patrick the G.I. could eclipse his past and march home with honor to join the family business, which is running Chicago.
The mayor's son says he was motivated simply by a sense of duty, which was reinforced by 9/11. He was in Manhattan that day, working for Bear, Stearns & Company. He describes himself as a military history buff and a friend and admirer of many soldiers, both from West Point and from his old neighborhood. His rationale for becoming an enlisted man and not an officer, in fact, seems torn from a management handbook: If you can start at the bottom, he says, you'll learn the most on the way up.
But this does not sound like privilege talking. It sounds like Bridgeport, the old Daley family turf on the South Side, home to legions of the blue-collar dutiful: cops and firefighters, civil servants and servicemen, people who know all about respecting rank, paying dues and being a small part of something bigger than themselves.
Patrick Daley says he is agnostic about the wisdom of invading Iraq, but believes the country needs to make the best of it, which he wants to do on the front lines, in the infantry.
Whether or not he gets there, he has already scored a victory against elitism. He has given his famous father and distraught mother a visceral connection to the war shared by virtually no one in Congress or the Bush administration - or the editorial board of The Times, for that matter.
Talking to reporters about his son's decision last week, Mayor Daley choked up. "It's a challenging time," he said, through tears. How odd to find Chicago's mayor-for-life, the most powerful man in the Central Time Zone, joining that suffering sliver of America - the men and women in the military and their families who are bearing the heaviest burden of this war.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:52 PM
The New York Times
December 5, 2004
The U.N. Oil Scandal
The assault on the United Nations is escalating. A Senate subcommittee has raised the estimate of how many illegal billions Saddam Hussein was able to amass under the noses of monitors hired by the United Nations. Several other Congressional committees are exploring the scandal. Norm Coleman, the subcommittee's Republican chairman, has joined a gaggle of conservatives calling for the resignation of Secretary General Kofi Annan.
Mr. Annan, who drew the wrath of Republican Washington for opposing President Bush's war in Iraq, will have to face the judgment of United Nations members on how much responsibility he bears. But before the call for his scalp gains more political momentum, it is important to disentangle the mélange of charges swirling around. The United Nations bureaucracy does not bear the primary responsibility for letting Saddam Hussein amass a secret treasury estimated by official investigators at $10 billion to $21 billion.
There is no doubt that the United Nations oil-for-food program was manipulated by Saddam Hussein to generate substantial sums. The money was then used to buy forbidden goods or otherwise solidify Mr. Hussein's power. The most worrisome charge is that Benon Sevan, head of the program, received oil allotments from Iraq that amounted to a bribe. These charges need to be fully investigated, as they will be by the United Nations' own panel and other inquiries.
But the ever-shriller attacks on oil-for-food and on Mr. Annan play down this fact: Iraq accumulated far more illicit money through trade agreements that the United States and other Security Council members knew about for years but chose to accept.
After the first Persian Gulf war, the United Nations imposed sanctions on Iraq that prohibited imports of military value and banned oil exports to deny Mr. Hussein money to rebuild his army. When it became apparent that Iraq's civilian population was suffering greatly, the sanctions were eased. The so-called oil-for-food program allowed Iraq to export oil under United Nations supervision, with the revenues funneling into a United Nations account to be used for food, medicine and other necessities.
By virtually all expert accounts, the sanctions, backed by United Nations weapons inspectors, and the oil-for-food program achieved their major goals. Iraq's programs to make chemical, biological and nuclear weapons disintegrated, its conventional military forces became a hollow shell, and the health of the civilian population improved. But right from the start, Iraq found ways to circumvent the sanctions, often with the tacit approval of the United States.
An analysis by Charles Duelfer, the chief American weapons inspector in Iraq, estimated that Iraq generated some $11 billion in illicit revenue and used the money to buy prohibited items, including military equipment. The main routes for these illicit transactions - $8 billion worth - were trade deals that Iraq negotiated with neighboring countries, notably Jordan, Syria and Turkey. By the Senate subcommittee's higher count, Iraq got almost two-thirds of some $21 billion through the trade deals or smuggling.
But these trade agreements had nothing to do with the oil-for-food program, and were hardly a secret. The United States actually condoned Iraq's trade deals with Jordan and Turkey, two allies whose economies suffered from the sanctions. This was a reasonable price to pay for maintaining their support on the main objective - denying weapons of mass destruction to Saddam Hussein.
American diplomats tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade Syria to stop buying Iraqi oil outside of the oil-for-food program, but did little to crack down on that trade. Syria became a major supplier of military goods to Iraq. This was a failure of American diplomacy, not Kofi Annan.
The United Nations bureaucracy had no power to prevent these illicit oil or arms deals outside the oil-for-food program. It was the responsibility of member nations to adhere to sanctions imposed by the Security Council. Those members with the most diplomatic, economic and military power were obliged to help enforce them. Thus the primary blame for allowing Iraq to accumulate illicit billions lies with the United States and other Security Council members that winked at prohibited oil sales, mostly for sensible reasons.
The investigations now under way need to determine to what extent United Nations officials could have detected and stopped Iraq's financial shenanigans in the program they did monitor, oil-for-food. Suspicions were sometimes voiced at meetings of the relevant Security Council committees, but they took a back seat to the main goal of preventing Iraq from getting weapons of mass destruction.
Kofi Annan's role will also have to be laid out fully. He has, unfortunately, issued inconsistent statements about the role of his son, Kojo Annan, in working abroad for a Swiss company that won a contract to monitor imports under the oil-for-food program. The whiff of nepotism has set the hounds baying, and may bring grief to Mr. Annan, but what all that has to do with Saddam Hussein's illicit billions remains murky. It seems wildly premature to call for Mr. Annan's resignation.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:46 PM
To see official letters from Congressman Conyers and the Democratic members of the House Judiciary committee to the GAO, to Mr. Blackwell (Ohio) and others regarding the recent US election, go to:
Note also that there will be a hearing on Wednesday December 8th. Contact C-SPAN and tell them to air it live!
Posted by politicalstuff at 8:16 PM
Conyers to Hold Hearings on Ohio Vote Fraud
By William Rivers Pitt
Friday 03 December 2004
Democratic Representative John Conyers, Jr. of Michigan, ranking
Minority member of the House Judiciary Committee, will hold a hearing
on Wednesday 08 December 2004 to investigate allegations of vote fraud
and irregularities in Ohio during the 2004 Presidential election. The
hearing is slated to begin at 10:00 a.m. EST in the Rayburn House
Office Building in Washington DC.
Democratic Representatives Melvin Watt and Robert Scott will also
be centrally involved with the hearing. Rev. Jesse Jackson will be in
attendance, along with Ralph Neas (President, People for the American
Way), Jon Greenbaum (Director, Voting Rights Project, Lawyers Committee
For Civil Rights Under Law), Ellie Smeal (Executive Director, The
Feminist Majority), Bob Fitrakis ( The Free Press), Cliff Arnebeck
(Arnebeck Associates), John Bonifaz (General Counsel, National Voting
Institute), Steve Rosenfeld (Producer, Air America Radio), and Shawnta
Walcott (Communications Director, Zogby International). Ohio Secretary
of State J. Kenneth Blackwell has been invited to attend.
The term ‘hearing’ is technically not accurate in this matter, as
Conyers and his fellow Representatives will be holding this forum
without the blessing of the Republican Majority leader of the Judiciary
Committee. Staffers from the Minority office at the Judiciary Committee
describe the event as a ‘Members Briefing.’ That having been said, this
event will be a hearing by every meaningful definition of the word.
Expert testimony will be offered, and a good deal of data on potential
fraud previously unreported to the public will be discussed and
examined at length.
The hearing came together thanks to a confluence of events, and
through the work of like-minded individuals who are deeply concerned
about the allegations of vote fraud in the Ohio Presidential election.
Tim Carpenter and Kevin Spidel, along with other members of Progressive
Democrats of America, went to Washington DC to speak with the
Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee about the need for an
investigation into these allegations. They found Rep. Conyers, his
fellow Judiciary Democrats, and their staffers already working on
assembling such an investigation.
The core of what Conyers and his fellow Minority members will be
discussing at this hearing can be found in the letter below, which was
sent by the Minority office to Ohio Secretary of State Blackwell on 02
December. In the letter, Conyers, along with Reps. Watt, Nadler and
Baldwin, outline a broad and detailed series of questions and concerns
about the manner in which the Ohio election took place.
I will be traveling to Washington DC to begin t r u t h o u t
coverage of this event on Tuesday night, and we will keep you posted on
further developments as they arise.
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and international
bestseller of two books - 'War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You
To Know' and 'The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.'
Posted by politicalstuff at 7:47 PM
Press Release Source: William C. Velasquez Institute
NBC Makes Unprecedented Downward Correction in Latino Support for Bush
Friday December 3, 7:01 am ET
18-point Margin of Victory for Democrat Kerry Among Hispanics Doubles Previous NBC Estimates; Numbers Affirm WCVI Criticism of National Exit Poll Figures
WASHINGTON, Dec. 3 /PRNewswire/ -- In a stunning admission, an elections manager for NBC News said national news organizations overestimated President George W. Bush's support among Latino voters, downwardly revising its estimated support for President Bush to 40 percent from 44 percent among Hispanics, and increasing challenger John Kerry's support among Hispanics to 58 percent from 53 percent. The revision doubles Kerry's margin of victory among Hispanic voters from 9 to 18 percent. Ana Maria Arumi, the NBC elections manager also revised NBC's estimate for Hispanic support for Bush in Texas, revising a reported 18-point lead for Bush to a 2-point win for Kerry among Hispanics, a remarkable 20-point turnaround from figures reported on election night.
The NBC announcement came during a forum with the William C. Velasquez Institute's president, Antonio Gonzalez, and other Hispanic analysts at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., sponsored by Hispanic Link Newsletter and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.
"Latino presidential partisan preferences did not changed significantly from four years ago," said WCVI's president, Antonio Gonzalez, in his presentation before the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. "While there are still differences in the numbers between what the Velasquez Institute found and the news organizations reported on Election Day, NBC is doing the right thing by revising its estimates to reflect a more accurate percentage of support the President received from the Hispanic community."
Since the Election Day numbers came out, a controversy has existed between WCVI and exit poll officials. Competing exit polls showed a significant gap in support among Latinos for President Bush and Senator Kerry. During his presentation, Gonzalez reviewed the Institute's exit polling data, which found that President Bush received 33 percent support among Hispanic voters, roughly the same percentage he received in the 2000 presidential contest against Al Gore (35% to 64%, respectively). Two network exit surveys reported 44 and 45 percent support for Bush.
"There is no doubt that some churning of numbers has occurred, meaning Republicans appear to have made significant gains in Texas and Arizona while Democrats appear to have made significant gains in Colorado and Florida," added Gonzalez. "But the net effect among these respective gains is a canceling out of one another. Latino voter partisanship has remained consistent with roughly a 30 point democratic advantage in 2000 and 2004's presidential elections."
"But I repeat, NBC has set an example for network poll integrity by taking a giant step away from the Edison International/Mitofsky election results, and toward WCVI's findings. For example, today NBC stated that 70% of its respondents came from non-urban areas and 30% from urban areas, while acknowledging that 50% of Latino voters come from urban areas. This admission could explain the difference in their results and WCVI's. They under-represented Latino urban voters (who are more likely to vote democratic) and over-represented Latino non-urban votes (who are more likely to vote republican). We hope the other networks follow suit with more adjustments in their findings," Gonzalez concluded.
According to its exit poll survey, the Institute found that Latino voters supported democratic presidential candidate John Kerry over President George W. Bush by a margin of 65.4% to 33%. In determining the results for the presidential race, the WCVI exit survey interviewed 943 respondents in 41 precincts across 11 states on Election Day. The exit surveys were conducted in the states of Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nevada, California, Texas, Illinois, and Connecticut. These states represent over 80 percent of the national Latino vote.
About the Willie C. Velasquez Institute
Chartered in 1985, the Willie C. Velasquez Institute is a nonpartisan, non-profit, Latino-oriented research and policy think tank with offices in San Antonio, Texas, Los Angeles, California and Miami, Florida. For more information regarding WCVI, please visit our website at http://www.wcvi.org .
Posted by politicalstuff at 7:35 PM
Friday, Dec. 3, 2004
U.S. Can Use Evidence Gained by Torture
By MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - Evidence gained by torture can be used by the U.S. military in deciding whether to imprison a foreigner indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as an enemy combatant, the government concedes.
Statements produced under torture have been inadmissible in U.S. courts for about 70 years. But the U.S. military panels reviewing the detention of 550 foreigners as enemy combatants at the U.S. naval base in Cuba are allowed to use such evidence, Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Brian Boyle acknowledged at a U.S. District Court hearing Thursday.
Some of the prisoners have filed lawsuits challenging their detention without charges for up to three years so far. At the hearing, Boyle urged District Judge Richard J. Leon to throw their cases out.
Attorneys for the prisoners argued that some were held solely on evidence gained by torture, which they said violated fundamental fairness and U.S. due process standards. But Boyle argued in a similar hearing Wednesday that the detainees "have no constitutional rights enforceable in this court."
Leon asked whether a detention based solely on evidence gathered by torture would be illegal, because "torture is illegal. We all know that."
Boyle replied that if the military's combatant status review tribunals "determine that evidence of questionable provenance were reliable, nothing in the due process clause (of the Constitution) prohibits them from relying on it."
Leon asked whether there were any restrictions on using torture-induced evidence.
Boyle replied that the United States never would adopt a policy that would have barred it from acting on evidence that could have prevented the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks even if the data came from questionable practices like torture by a foreign power.
Several arguments underlie the U.S. court ban on products of torture.
"About 70 years ago, the Supreme Court stopped the use of evidence produced by third-degree tactics largely on the theory that it was totally unreliable," Harvard Law Professor Philip B. Heymann, a former deputy U.S. attorney general, said in an interview. Subsequent high court rulings were based on revulsion at "the unfairness and brutality of it and later on the idea that confessions ought to be free and uncompelled."
Leon asked whether U.S. courts could review detentions based on evidence from torture conducted by U.S. personnel.
Boyle said torture was against U.S. policy and any allegations of it would be "forwarded through command channels for military discipline." He added, "I don't think anything remotely like torture has occurred at Guantanamo" but noted that some U.S. soldiers there had been disciplined for misconduct, including a female interrogator who removed her blouse during questioning.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said Tuesday it has given the Bush administration a confidential report critical of U.S. treatment of Guantanamo detainees. The New York Times reported the Red Cross described the psychological and physical coercion used at Guantanamo as "tantamount to torture."
The combatant status review tribunals comprise three colonels and lieutenant colonels. They were set up after the Supreme Court ruled in June that the detainees could ask U.S. courts to see to it they had a proceeding in which to challenge their detention. The panels have reviewed 440 of the prisoners so far but have released only one.
The military also set up an annual administrative review which considers whether the detainee still presents a danger to the United States but doesn't review enemy combatant status. Administrative reviews have been completed for 161.
Boyle argued these procedures are sufficient to satisfy the high court.
Noting that detainees cannot have lawyers at the combatant status review proceedings and cannot see any secret evidence against them, detainee attorney Wes Powell argued "there is no meaningful opportunity in the (proceedings) to rebut the government's claims."
Leon suggested that if federal judges start reviewing the military's evidence for holding foreign detainees there could be "practical and collateral consequences ... at a time of war."
And he suggested an earlier Supreme Court ruling might limit judges to checking only on whether detention orders were lawfully issued and review panels were legally established.
Leon and Judge Joyce Hens Green, who held a similar hearing Wednesday, said they would try to rule soon on whether the 59 detainees may proceed with their lawsuits.
Posted by politicalstuff at 7:19 PM
Friday, December 03, 2004
The New York Times
December 3, 2004
Don't Expect the Government to Be a V-Chip
By MICHAEL K. POWELL
Washington — TIME to take a deep breath. The high pitch at which many are discussing the enforcement of rules against indecency on television and radio is enough to pop an eardrum. It is no surprise that those who make a handsome living by selling saucy fare rant the loudest - it drives up the ratings. The news media further fan the flames, obsessed with "culture war" stories that slot Americans into blue-state and red-state camps.
Overheated words, however, obscure what should be an important debate over two American values that are, at times, in tension. As one deeply suspicious of government involvement in the regulation of content, I understand and often agree with those who stand up for the cherished value of free speech. But as a parent, I respect the desire of the American people for a minimum level of decency on the public airwaves - particularly where their children are concerned. The often unenviable task of striking a balance between these two competing values falls to the Federal Communications Commission.
Broadcasters have always had the responsibility of making decisions about what programs are appropriate. The majority have done well. In the history of broadcast television, there have been only four indecency fines. Yet when certain broadcasters trade responsible restraint for torrid sensationalism in the relentless race for ratings, it should come as no surprise that escalating calls for the government to enforce indecency laws aggressively are the result.
The F.C.C.'s job of regulating indecent content on the airwaves is not optional; it has been required ever since Congress first made the broadcast of obscene, indecent and profane material illegal more than 70 years ago. The law continues to enjoy strong bipartisan support.
Even so, there are important limits placed on the F.C.C. Our rules do not ban indecent content entirely; they merely restrict its broadcast during times in which children are likely to be in the audience, namely from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Courts have consistently held these rules constitutional, accepting that the government has a compelling interest in protecting children from inappropriate material.
For material to be indecent in the legal sense it must be of a sexual or excretory nature and it must be patently offensive. Mere bad taste is not actionable. Context remains the critical factor in determining if content is legally indecent. Words or actions might be acceptable as part of a news program, or as an indispensable component of a dramatic film, but be nothing more than sexual pandering in another context. That context and the specific facts of each program are reasons the government can't devise a book of rules listing all the bad stuff. In 2001, however, the agency issued policy guidelines summarizing the case law on indecency, and each new ruling since then clarifies what is prohibited.
But we are not the federal Bureau of Indecency. We do not watch or listen to programs hoping to catch purveyors of dirty broadcasts. Instead, we rely on public complaints to point out potentially indecent shows. In recent years, complaints about television and radio broadcasts have skyrocketed, and the F.C.C. has stepped up its enforcement in response. Advocacy groups do generate many complaints, as our critics note, but that's not unusual in today's Internet world. We are very familiar with organized protests when it comes to media issues, but that fact does not minimize the merits of the groups' concerns. Under the law, we must independently evaluate whether a program violates the standard, no matter whether the program in question generates a single complaint or thousands.
When the commission makes the determination that a program is indecent, we typically fine the licensee that broadcast it. Although the commission has the authority to fine an artist personally, we have never done so nor do I support doing so. Over the years, fines had become trivial. A routine violation generally received a paltry $7,000 fine, with the maximum fine being $27,500. The agency has increased penalties significantly, recognizing that they must be large enough for billion-dollar media companies to stop treating fines as a minor cost of doing business.
Some have also questioned why the commission is unwilling to issue rulings before a broadcast, as was the case with the recent network showing of "Saving Private Ryan," a film the commission had previously held was not indecent. While ABC and its affiliates understandably would have liked to know the program was in bounds before proceeding, the precedent of submitting programming or scripts for government review borders dangerously on censorship. The Communications Act expressly forbids the F.C.C. from banning a program before broadcast, and any such effort might very well run afoul of the First Amendment. This is a step I do not want to take.
The commission's indecency rules apply to broadcast television and radio but not to cable, newspapers or the Internet because the Supreme Court interprets the First Amendment in a way that affords stronger constitutional protection to these sources than to broadcasting. The argument goes that broadcasting is different because it is uniquely pervasive, with children having easy access. Government can limit content in the public interest because broadcasters use a public resource, the airwaves. Yes, it is strange that First Amendment protections are weaker or stronger depending on what channel you are watching, but under current Supreme Court precedent that's the way it is. And I believe that any effort to extend regulation of content to other media would be contrary to the Constitution.
We take all these limitations seriously and believe we have acted in a balanced manner. If one slices through the rhetoric, you'll find that most opponents of the agency's strong enforcement efforts believe that the government simply should not impose any decency standard at all. Berating citizens who believe in values and reasonable limits is insulting and polarizing and distracts from the legitimate issues of this policy debate. Critics of the law should instead focus their efforts on changing the law, if that's what they want. Until then, the American people have a right to expect that the F.C.C. will continue to fulfill its duty of upholding the law, while being fully cognizant of the delicate First Amendment balance that must be struck.
Michael K. Powell is the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.
Posted by politicalstuff at 9:54 PM
The New York Times
December 3, 2004
A False Start on Social Security
Even before the debate has truly begun over the centerpiece of President Bush's second-term domestic agenda - creating private retirement accounts within Social Security - White House and Congressional budget leaders have been floating the idea that it won't require a major increase in the federal budget deficit. This is dangerously misguided. Unwilling to raise taxes, Congress and the administration will have to borrow well over $1 trillion to turn the president's wish into reality.
For a country that already needs to borrow $2 billion a day just to stay afloat, that gargantuan price tag for privatization is one reason it's a bad idea. It is far from the only reason, and arguably not even the main one. Yesterday, for instance, the president's top economist said privatization would very likely lead to major benefit cuts, which could be devastating for people who lost money in their private accounts. For now, however, the cost issue is moving to center stage in Washington. It is imperative to refute the suggestion that private accounts would somehow, magically, pay for themselves.
The issue is how to pay full benefits to people at or near retirement if Social Security money starts going into private accounts. Since current wage earners cover the benefits for current retirees, every dollar workers invest elsewhere has to be replaced. This is the so-called transition cost, estimated at $1 trillion to $5 trillion.
To convince the public that those costs won't matter, privatization advocates are concocting a ruse something like this: Borrow, say, $2 trillion today to establish private accounts, with the expectation that they'll generate such tremendous personal savings that the government will be able to cut future Social Security benefits by an even larger amount and use the savings to erase the debt, plus interest, some 40 years down the line. By this sleight of hand, the money borrowed is not new debt, and there's no need to count it toward the deficit.
Remember how Enron used off-the-books maneuvers to pretend it had no debt? Remember how well that worked out?
For privatization advocates who have been stumped by how to pay for the transition to private accounts, this ploy has significant political advantages: creating the illusion that Social Security privatization entails no cost would bolster the case for privatization for an unwitting public. It would also give political cover to legislators and other policy makers who want to be on the president's team but may otherwise balk at the huge deficits that come with playing along.
What accounting gimmickry won't do - and this is crucial - is fool America's lenders, like the central banks of China and Japan, and other participants in the financial markets. Whether it's recorded on the nation's books or not, ever more government borrowing will, sooner or later, reduce lenders' appetite for Treasury debt, forcing up interest rates as the government scrambles to attract the money it needs.
This is not a distant and theoretical danger. Last month, Alan Greenspan, the Fed chairman, flatly stated that America's lenders would eventually tire of financing our deficits. Underscoring his comments, the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note hit a four-month high this week, as the ever-weaker dollar continued to lure investors away from dollar-based debt.
The immense additional borrowing envisaged by privatization advocates would accelerate and intensify these disturbing trends, precisely the opposite of what the government should be doing. Trying to hide the borrowing would create the impression - an accurate one, as it turns out - that our government is fiscally irresponsible. The global financial community would respond by upping the pressure because lenders demand tougher terms from feckless borrowers.
Privatization advocates will tell you that the cost of creating private accounts today must be compared with the cost of doing nothing to reform Social Security. This is specious. First, no reasonable person is suggesting that nothing be done. The proper comparison is between a plan to borrow trillions and a plan to phase in slowly a modest package of tax increases and benefit cuts that would preserve the current system's essential protections without borrowing or dubious accounting.
Second, borrowing to finance the transition to private accounts could very well cost more than doing nothing. If private accounts didn't perform as well as their proponents hope - and the proponents are by and large a very optimistic bunch - the government might need to take on even more debt decades hence to rescue the old people who ended up without adequate retirement income.
Solid accounting must underlie Social Security reform. Once that's in place, let the debate begin.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:55 AM
The New York Times
December 3, 2004
A Street Cop's Rise From High School Dropout to Cabinet Nominee
By CHRISTOPHER DREW
This article was reported by Kevin Flynn, William K. Rashbaum, Eric Lipton and Christopher Drew and written by Mr. Drew.
When the second jet crashed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, Bernard B. Kerik, the New York City police commissioner, was standing a block away, shouting evacuation orders through the torrent of debris. For the man in charge of protecting New York, he wrote later, that moment "was unimaginable."
So was Mr. Kerik's personal trajectory. The high school dropout and onetime street cop and undercover narcotics detective was serving as the third police commissioner of a lame-duck mayor that morning. But in the aftermath of the attack, Mr. Kerik, like Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, was thrust squarely into the national spotlight.
He caught the attention of President Bush, who sent Mr. Kerik to Iraq to create a police force after the invasion, gave him a speaking role at the Republican National Convention and is expected to nominate him today as the next secretary of homeland security.
Mr. Kerik's rise from a harsh upbringing to likely Cabinet nominee has much to do with his powerful patron, Mr. Giuliani, whom he first served as a bodyguard. Along the way, Mr. Kerik has developed a reputation as a tough-talking, sometimes coarse law enforcer who rarely stands on ceremony. He is known as a relentless boss who likes to shake up the status quo and toss out subordinates he considers slackers.
When Mr. Kerik was appointed to a top job in the New York City Department of Correction in the mid-1990's, one official told the department's commissioner: "Congratulations. You've just hired Rambo."
His style is likely to contrast with that of Tom Ridge, the first head of the department, who was widely seen as diligent, but who critics said was not hard-charging enough to cut through the turf battles that hamper the effort to meld 22 agencies into one domestic security department.
But running Homeland Security - the largest federal department created since the Defense Department in 1949 - also goes far beyond anything Mr. Kerik has done. If confirmed, he will oversee security of the nation's borders, ports and airports and will be in charge of the Secret Service, the Coast Guard, customs and much of the immigration service, and there are bound to be questions about how he can handle such an immense job.
Mr. Kerik, who declared bankruptcy as a young police officer, also could face questions about how he made millions of dollars since leaving city government, mainly through his partnership in a consulting firm led by Mr. Giuliani. Most recently, he sold $5.8 million of stock in a company that makes stun guns used by many police forces.
As police commissioner, he had less than friendly relations with the F.B.I., and occasionally was criticized for his use of power. In writing his memoirs, which touched on 9/11 and detailed his abandonment by his mother, who was a prostitute, he used police officers to conduct research, a move that earned him a $2,500 fine from the city's Conflicts of Interest Board. He was also once accused of dispatching homicide investigators to question and fingerprint several Fox News employees whom his publisher, Judith Regan, apparently suspected of stealing her cellphone and necklace.
In the last few years, Mr. Kerik, 49, has spoken broadly about the lessons of Sept. 11 and the kind of response that terrorism requires.
In an interview earlier this year, he said that one of his most important experiences in Iraq was "to see the hatred for the United States and what certain elements out there thought of the U.S. and how dangerous it could be."
He added that many "say that we have to sort of put 9/11 behind us, move on."
"You can't put it behind us," he said, "and you can't forget about it. Because if and when you do, they're going to come back."
Mr. Kerik, whose wife, Hala, was born in Syria, also spent time in the Middle East in the early 1980's, when he was security chief for the royal family's hospitals in Saudi Arabia.
That was just one of many stops in Mr. Kerik's journey, which began in rough-and-tumble neighborhoods in Newark, Paterson and in Ohio, where his mother abandoned the family when he was 2 years old.
In his autobiography, "The Lost Son," Mr. Kerik wrote that he learned only in researching the book in 2001 that his mother had been a prostitute and that she died from a severe blow to the head, possibly murdered by her pimp.
He also wrote that as he got older, he had a "flair for truancy" and dropped out of high school to join the Army, where he became a military policeman and martial arts specialist, and finished work on his general equivalency diploma. He also wrote that when he was stationed in Korea, he fathered a child out of wedlock. By his early 30's, he was making $50,000 a year as a jail warden in Passaic County, N.J., but he gave that up to pursue a long-time dream: a chance to become a New York street cop, at just over half that pay.
He later became a highly decorated undercover narcotics detective and then, after befriending Mr. Giuliani during a mayoral campaign, he was appointed to a series of jobs at the city's Correction Department.
At that department, where he was commissioner from 1998 to 2000, he and other officials used an array of tools and tactics, including a huge SWAT team and electric stun shields, to reduce slashings and stabbings among inmates by more than 90 percent.
Mr. Kerik then served as Mr. Giuliani's police commissioner for 16 months, a tenure largely dominated by the attack on Sept. 11, 2001.
During the last 12 months of his term, violent crime in New York City registered its biggest drop in five years, a decline that came as the rates of violent crime in many other cities started to increase and when many thought the city's crime rate could go no lower. Across the city, both violent crime and overall crime fell by more than 12 percent.
Mr. Kerik took over a department that was viewed with increasing hostility in the city's minority neighborhoods. He quickly began visiting church and other community leaders and worked to mend the frayed ties.
Mr. Kerik also liked to talk about the management principles he picked up through his reading, but his style as a police executive was largely influenced by his affinity for personal loyalty, his straight-ahead manner and a taste for instinctive decisions.
"I'm not big on doing things that are a waste of time," Mr. Kerik said in an interview in 2001. "'If it's a waste of time, get rid of it. If it's a bad manager, get rid of them."
With his massive neck and bodyguard's physique, Mr. Kerik never looked much like a paper pusher, even on days when he would open his briefcase to show off the papers he was writing for his mail-order bachelor's degree, which he finally earned from Empire State College in New York in 2002.
Before the Sept. 11 attacks and in the days afterward, Mr. Kerik was critical of the level of sharing of intelligence by federal agencies, particularly the F.B.I., and his comments presaged the sort of intelligence critique later leveled by the 9/11 Commission. That kind of criticism made him few friends, however, among some federal law enforcement officials, including some with whom he will have to work if he is confirmed.
After the attacks, he appeared before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee and said, "Local police forces are on the front line, and are uniquely situated to gather information which, when coupled with federal intelligence, can not only solve cases but, much more important, prevent attacks from occurring."
The Police Department lost 23 officers on Sept. 11, the most ever in a single day. Mr. Kerik slept in his office for weeks afterward, supervising patrols and coordinating with federal and state agencies. The department also found itself facing an entirely new mission, with a need to help pioneer bioterror and other defenses.
In 2002, after Mr. Giuliani's term as mayor ended, Mr. Kerik joined him in forming Giuliani Partners, a business consulting firm.
Part of Mr. Kerik's job was as one of the firm's very public faces, speaking at events around the United States on topics ranging from how real estate executives can better protect their office buildings to disaster readiness tips for local government officials in suburban New York.
In the presentations, Mr. Kerik typically focused on New York City's response to the terrorist attack, or on its efforts to reduce crime. But his appearances were often sponsored by companies that were selling just the kinds of products that the former police commissioner was indirectly promoting, like Nextel, the cellular phone company that many police and fire departments use.
After the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003, Mr. Kerik took a four-month leave from the lucrative firm to go to Baghdad at President Bush's request and help set up Iraq's new national police force. He left just as the insurgency was expanding there and bombings were becoming common.
Mr. Kerik has also served on the board of directors of Taser, a company that makes stun guns used by police departments. Critics claim that at least 50 people have died since 2001 after being shocked, though the company says there is scant evidence for that claim.
Nonetheless, its stock has soared as the use of the devices has spread. And company filings show that Mr. Kerik recently exercised options he had received as a director and sold $5.8 million of its stock.
When news of Mr. Kerik's appointment began spreading yesterday, former city officials predicted he would take on the sprawling homeland security bureaucracy with his customary energy and directness.
"He liked getting up at 2 a.m. and making a surprise visit at one of the jails," said Michael P. Jacobson, a former correction commissioner whom Mr. Kerik served as a deputy for several years.
"He won't have any problem knocking heads with federal bureaucrats, and some of that is for the good," said John F. Timoney, chief of the Miami Police Department, who served in New York City.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:38 AM
The New York Times
December 3, 2004
Health Care Technology Is a Promise Unfinanced
By STEVE LOHR
From the president on down, the Bush administration has been a proponent of modernizing the nation's creaky health care system with information technology.
But while the administration's words of support for a high-technology future for health care have been plentiful, the dollars, it seems, are scarce.
The huge federal spending bill recently approved by Congress eliminated a seemingly modest $50 million request for the office of Dr. David J. Brailer, who was appointed the national health information technology coordinator in May.
Dr. Brailer acknowledged his disappointment in an interview yesterday. "The money is important," he said. "This was a bad bounce, and it shows how big our education challenge is."
One critic of the action was less guarded in his comments. "Congress, in its infinite wisdom, zeroed-out David Brailer's office," said Newt Gingrich, the Republican former House speaker, who is the founder of the Center for Health Transformation, a health policy group. "They couldn't find $50 million to signal that David Brailer has a real job and what he's doing is important. Frankly, I think it's a disgrace."
The Bush administration, Mr. Gingrich said, bore most of the responsibility. "No one in the White House or in the senior staff of the Department of Health and Human Services fought for this," he said.
Most of the investment for electronic health records and networks for sharing information will now have to come from private industry, probably billions of dollars over the next several years.
The $50 million requested for Dr. Brailer's office was to have been used to provide seed money for health information demonstration projects that would encourage the industry to agree on technology standards, hasten investment by private companies and accelerate the adoption of modern information technology by doctors and hospitals.
Bringing patient records and prescriptions out of an era of ink and paper into the computer age, health experts agree, would make health care more efficient and reduce medical errors, saving lives and dollars.
President Bush repeatedly sounded that theme this year, starting with his State of the Union address. "By computerizing health records," he said, "we can avoid dangerous medical mistakes, reduce costs and improve care."
In a debate with Senator John Kerry in October, Mr. Bush said that much of the high and rising cost of health care resulted from hospitals, clinics and doctors' not using "any information technology." Health care, he asserted, was trapped in the past, the "equivalent of buggy-and-horse days, compared with other industries here in America."
"We've got to introduce high technology into health care," the president added. "We're beginning to do it."
The Department of Health and Human Services played host in July to a three-day conference in Washington to promote investment in health information technology. "Electronic health information will provide a quantum leap in patient power, doctor power and effective health care," Tommy G. Thompson, the health secretary, said.
But the appropriations setback for the national health information technology office raises questions about the administration's commitment.
Dr. Brailer, a physician and economist who joined the administration in May, said that he was not an expert in the ways of Washington and was not involved in the budget negotiations. "But I have absolute confidence that the president is totally behind what we are doing," he said, "and it is far more than a rhetorical commitment. And I've been given assurances that the momentum we've built up will not be lost."
Dr. Brailer, who reports to Secretary Thompson, will not lose his job. His principal role is to coordinate and encourage the efforts of government and the health care industry to adopt digital records that share standards.
The budget of the Department of Health and Human Services is more than $500 billion a year. Most of that is pledged to federal obligations like Medicare, but the department does have more than $60 billion in discretionary funds. So it is possible that money could find its way into Dr. Brailer's office to finance some of its favored projects.
Industry executives, meanwhile, said the decision in Congress was disappointing, but probably not a serious blow or a reason yet for companies to rethink their plans to invest in health care information technology.
"This comes after real progress this year under David Brailer," said Michael Raymer, a senior vice president of IDX Systems, a maker of health information technology software. "And after all, the $50 million would have been mostly a symbolic down payment."
Jon Zimmerman, a senior vice president of Siemens Health Services, a supplier of information technology for health companies, said: "The Bush administration showed real leadership with the appointment of David Brailer, but Congress and the administration missed an opportunity to continue its leadership by funding his office. This is not a show stopper, though."
Dr. Brailer's $50 million request lost out in a year of concern about the widening federal budget deficit and Bush administration priorities like tax cuts and the Iraq war. And further funds for the Department of Health and Human Services were going to be difficult to justify in place of the hundreds of smaller local projects that were earmarked for special attention by senators and representatives.
"It looks like classic micropolitics," said James A. Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University in Washington. "If you don't have someone at the table, defending your request in the final negotiations, you lose. Brailer didn't have somebody at the table."
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:11 AM
The New York Times
December 3, 2004
From Bush Aide, Warning on Social Security
By EDMUND L. ANDREWS
WASHINGTON, Dec. 2 - Calling the current system of Social Security benefits unsustainable, a top economic adviser to President Bush on Thursday strongly implied that any overhaul of the system would have to include major cuts in guaranteed benefits for future retirees.
"Let me state clearly that there are no free lunches here," said N. Gregory Mankiw, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, at a conference on tax policy here.
"The benefits now scheduled for future generations under current law are not sustainable given the projected path of payroll tax revenue," he added. "They are empty promises."
Mr. Mankiw's remarks suggested that President Bush's plan to let people put some of their Social Security taxes into "personal savings accounts" would have to be accompanied by changes in the current system of benefits.
Throughout the presidential campaign and in remarks after he was re-elected, Mr. Bush focused almost exclusively on these accounts as a crucial way to shore up Social Security. Most experts have said that the accounts must be accompanied by other belt-tightening measures. When asked about cuts in future benefits, Mr. Bush, however, has said only that any overhaul should make no changes in the benefits for people in retirement or near retirement. The president has said that overhauling the Social Security system would involve "costs," but so far he has not indicated what those might be.
In his speech, Mr. Mankiw flatly rejected raising taxes as a means of saving the federal retirement system, which government actuaries say is on track to become insolvent by 2042 if no changes are made to the current law. Instead, he took particular aim at a specific feature of current law under which retirement benefits are linked to the rise in wages rather than the rise in consumer prices.
"Each generation of retirees receives higher real benefits than the generation before it," Mr. Mankiw said. Because wages typically climb faster than inflation, he said, an average worker retiring in 2050 would get benefits that are 40 percent higher, after inflation, than a comparable worker who retires this year.
Mr. Mankiw emphasized that Mr. Bush has yet to decide on a specific proposal for fixing Social Security, except that it would have to include personal accounts and that it would not include raising taxes. But the issue he highlighted is at the center of a major debate within the administration and among Congressional Republicans.
Policy analysts say changing the way benefits are calculated could save trillions of dollars in decades to come. But it would imply significant reductions from the benefits promised under today's laws. The idea behind personal accounts is that workers, by making investments in stocks and bonds, could more than make up the difference with extra earnings.
In what seemed an effort to anticipate complaints that a new system would reduce future benefits, Mr. Mankiw warned that the benefits promised under current law are fictitious because they cannot be afforded.
"Be wary of comparisons between a new, reformed Social Security system and current law," Mr. Mankiw said. "Unless a listener is discerning, empty promises will always have a superficial appeal."
Claire Buchan, a White House spokeswoman, said Mr. Bush had not decided on a specific plan and refused to comment on any need for reductions in future benefits.
"The president is committed to strengthening Social Security for younger workers so they don't face the massive tax increases or benefit reductions that are certain with inaction," Ms. Buchan said.
The specific issue that Mr. Mankiw highlighted on Thursday, though seemingly obscure, involves the level at which a person's initial benefit is set at the time he or she retires. Under the current formula, which was established by Congress in 1978, the annual benefit is pegged to increases in average wages while the person was working.
The idea was to keep retirement incomes in line with overall wages from generation to generation, and analysts said the formula was far more generous than simply pegging benefits to inflation.
Kent Smetters, a former Treasury official under President Bush who is now an associate professor at the Wharton School of Business, said linking benefits to inflation would in itself save trillions of dollars. But Professor Smetters said the idea was not as tame as it sounded. Although retirement incomes would not be eroded by inflation, the guaranteed benefits of retired people would be lower, and lower than average incomes, as time went on.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:43 AM
Giuliani Flunkey Kerik Gets Homeland Security Nomination
Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who became a millionaire by helping Rudolph Giuliani's company sell post-9/11 "anti-terrorism" services, has been nominated by George W. Bush to replace Tom Ridge as head of Homeland Security. Giuliani highlighted Kerik at the Republican National Convention by referring to him in this bizarre anecdote about what Giuliani did in the midst of the 9/11 attacks: "I grabbed the arm of then Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and I said to him 'Bernie, thank God, George Bush is our President." Kerik's lucrative record in the "fear of terrorism" makes him an ideal choice for the Bush administration.
Kerik, who recently sold "$5.8 million of stock in a company that makes stun guns used by many police forces" once declared bankruptcy when he was a young police officer. As police commissioner, he was fined $2,500 by the City's Conflict of Interest Board, after using police officers to conduct research into his mother's death for content in his 2001 autobiography.
He is also accused of using homicide detectives "to question and fingerprint several Fox News employees whom his publisher, Judith Regan, apparently suspected of stealing her cellphone and necklace." This is the man who will run "the largest federal department created since the Defense Department in 1949... oversee security of the nation's borders, ports and airports and will be in charge of the Secret Service, the Coast Guard, customs and much of the immigration service," as the New York Times reports.
Tom Ridge, who used terrorism alerts to frighten voters during the presidential election campaign, may very well be seen as a model public servant compared to Kerik. The rise of Rudolph Giuliani's one-time chauffeur to such an elevated federal position is a sure sign that the former Mayor of New York City is a force to be reckoned with within the Republican Party. The tapping of Kerik is also an indication that homeland security is not a real priority for the Bush administration.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:08 AM
Former Bush Campaign Official Indicted
Thu Dec 2, 2:40 AM ET
By ERIK STETSON, Associated Press Writer
CONCORD, N.H. - President Bush (news - web sites)'s former New England campaign chairman was indicted Wednesday on charges he took part in the jamming of the Democrats' get-out-the-vote phone lines on Election Day 2002.
James Tobin, 44, stepped down Oct. 15 — two weeks before Election Day — after the Democrats accused him of involvement.
"I am saddened to learn that this action has been taken against me," he said in a statement. "I have great respect for the justice system and plan to fight back to clear my name."
In 2002, six phone lines run by the Democrats and the Manchester firefighters union were tied up for 1 1/2 hours by 800 computer-generated hang-up calls. Federal prosecutors said Tobin and other Republicans had hired a company to make the calls to disrupt the organizations' get-out-the-vote efforts.
Tobin was charged with conspiracy to commit telephone harassment and aiding and abetting. He could get up to five years in prison.
At the time of the jamming, Tobin was Northeast political director for the Republican Senatorial Committee, which works to elect Republicans to the Senate.
Among the races affected by the jamming was the Senate contest between Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Rep. John E. Sununu. Sununu won by about 20,000 votes.
The Democrats praised the indictment but questioned its timing.
"I think it's unfortunate the Justice Department (news - web sites) delayed, for whatever reasons that it did, until after the election," state Democratic chairwoman Kathy Sullivan said. "I hope this was not delayed for political reasons."
Over the summer, Chuck McGee, former executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and admitted paying $15,600 to a Virginia telemarketing company that hired another business to make the calls. A GOP consultant with the telemarketing company also pleaded guilty. The two men are awaiting sentencing.
Posted by politicalstuff at 9:22 AM
Is this American?
Molly Ivins - Creators Syndicate
12.02.04 - AUSTIN -- It is both peculiar and chilling to find oneself discussing the problem of American torture. I have considered support of basic human rights and dignity so much a part of our national identity that this feels as strange as though I'd suddenly become Chinese or found Fidel Castro in the refrigerator.
One's first response to the report by the International Red Cross about torture at our prison at Guantanamo is denial. "I don't want to think about it; I don't want to hear about it; we're the good guys, they're the bad guys; shut up. And besides, they attacked us first."
But our country has opposed torture since its founding. One of our founding principles is that cruel and unusual punishment is both illegal and wrong. Every year, our State Department issues a report grading other countries on their support for or violations of human rights.
The first requirement here is that we look at what we are doing -- and not blink, not use euphemisms. Despite the Red Cross' polite language, this is not "tantamount to torture." It's torture. It is not "detainee abuse." It's torture. If they were doing it to you, you would know it was torture. It must be hidden away, because it's happening in Cuba or elsewhere abroad.
Yes, it's true, we did sort of know this already. It was clear when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in Iraq that the infection had come from Guantanamo. The infamous memos by Alberto Gonzales, our next attorney general, and by John Ashcroft's "Justice" Department pretty well laid it out.
In a way, Abu Ghraib, as bizarrely sadistic as it was, is easier to understand than this cold, relentless and apparently endless procedure at Gitmo. At least Abu Ghraib took place in the context of war. At Guantanamo, there is no threat to anyone -- Americans are not being killed or hurt there.
The Red Cross report says, "The construction of such a system, whose stated purpose is the production of intelligence, cannot be considered other than an intentional system of cruel, unusual and degrading treatment, and a form of torture."
Our country, the one you and I are responsible for, has imprisoned these "illegal combatants" for three years now. What the hell else do we expect to get out of them? We don't even release their names or say what they're charged with -- whether they're Taliban, Al Qaeda or just some farmers who happened to get in the way (in Afghanistan, farmers and soldiers are apt to be the same).
If this hasn't been established in three years, when will it be? How long are they to be subjected to "humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes, use of forced positions"?
In the name of Jesus Christ Almighty, why are people representing our government, paid by us, writing filth on the Korans of helpless prisoners? Is this American? Is it Christian? What are our moral values? Where are the clergymen on this? Speak out, speak up.
The creepiest aspect of the Red Cross report is the involvement of doctors and psychiatrists in something called "Biscuit" teams. Get used to that acronym: It stands for Behavioral Science Consultation Team and will end up in the same category of national shame as Wounded Knee. According to The New York Times, Biscuit teams are "composed of psychologists and psychological workers who advise the interrogators." Shades of Dr. Mengele.
An earlier Red Cross report questioned whether "psychological torture" was taking place. I guess that's what you call sleep deprivation and prolonged exposure to extremely loud noises while shackled to a chair. The beatings reported would not be psychological torture. I pass over the apparently abandoned practice of sexual taunting. The Red Cross also reports a far greater incidence of mental illness caused by stress.
If you have neither the imagination nor the empathy to envision yourself in such circumstances, please consider why the senior commanders in the military are so horrified by this. It's very simple. Because, if we do this, if we break international law and the conventions of warfare, then the same thing can be done to American soldiers who are captured abroad. Any country can use exactly the same lame rationale about "enemy combatants" to torture American troops in any kind of conflict. Then we would protest to the Red Cross, of course.
I suppose one could argue that we're fighting people who chop off the heads of their prisoners, so there. Since when have we taken up Abu al-Zarqawi as a role model? In the famous hypothetical example, you might consider torture justified if you had a terrorist who knew where a bomb was planted that was about to go off. But three years later? Some people have got to be held accountable for this, and that would include Congress.
My question is: What are you going to do about this? It's your country, your money, your government. You own it, you run it, you are the board of directors. They are doing this in your name. The people we elect to public office do what you want them to. Perhaps you should get in touch with them.
Posted by politicalstuff at 9:10 AM
In Ohio 2004, it's the People versus the Party of Hate & Terror and the Party of Duck and Run...but will the Democrats now stand and fight?
by Harvey Wasserman & Bob Fitrakis
December 1, 2004
As the Reverend Jesse Jackson rocked a cheering crowd here in Columbus Sunday, a national movement was born. Shouts of "you got that right!" rang through the hall as Jackson preached that what Karl Rove and George Bush and Kenneth Blackwell are doing to the 2004 vote in Ohio would not fly in Iraq or Ukraine or Afghanistan.
Jackson plans to return to Columbus on Thursday as his organization Rainbow/PUSH files a legal challenge to overturn Ohio's election results. On Saturday, December 4, Jackson will join voter rights advocates for a symposium at Columbus' Africentric School on the near east side. Earlier in the day, demonstrators will gather at the Ohio Statehouse to protest voter suppression and irregularities that occurred on November 2.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has finally joined a legal challenge to the 2004 Ohio vote.
Central Ohio, America's leading test market, the quintessential home of college football and Wendy's hamburgers, has become Ground Zero in the struggle of the century over a vote count that has not yet been certified. More and more commentators are drawing parallels between Ohio and Ukraine where "losing" candidates received 53% and 54% respectively, in exit polls.
Word has spread that the election of 2004 is being stolen, starting here. Withholding of ballots and voting machines, rigging of electronic equipment, harassment, intimidation, official misinformation and a recount stonewall are just some of the GOP dirty tricks and corruption that define the 2004 Ohio vote. When Ohio's Republican Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell runs an election while co-chairing the Ohio Bush campaign, it's not hard to guess how a vote count will go -- except that it's not yet over.
Apathy was not an issue here. Thousands of activists and ordinary citizens desperate to rid the nation of George W. Bush poured into Ohio with the uniformly expressed intent of saving our democracy. Countless streets throughout the state were canvassed over and over and over again. Phone callers overran their lists. Election day volunteers stood around with nothing to do because there were so many of them.
But the Bush/Rove fix was in. And exactly how it was done is becoming clear thanks to grassroots groups like the Election Protection Coalition, the League of Pissed-Off Voters, CommonCause and many more.
Along with theft and deception, this year's attempted replay of Bush coup 2000 has entrenched the GOP's official credentials as the party of Hate & Terror. As the most catastrophic domestic regime since Herbert Hoover, the Rovian machine had just three cards to play.
First, Karl Rove fired up the GOP hate base with gay marriage. In Ohio, that was the Issue One campaign to amend the state Constitution to outlaw gay marriage and domestic partnerships. Blackwell also co-chaired this campaign.
In 1988 Bush One ran against Willie Horton, a black man freed from prison under Democratic nominee Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts. Choreographed by Lee Atwater, Rove's gutter guru, Bush pushed the race hate button for all it was worth. This year, "Protection of marriage" became the code word for GOP anti-gay bigotry. New target, same game.
Second, Rove used the terror bogey, the bedrock of all totalitarian campaigns. With bin Laden's "October Surprise" GOP campaign pitch the Friday before the vote, Rove and Osama made Bush a cartoon of simple-minded "steady strength." The 9/11 attacks happened on Bush's watch; but Rove made terror this year's Reichstag fire for a violent, authoritarian regime.
Third, Rove made sure there was a war on. Bush attacked Iraq for its oil, his Daddy karma, and more. But Rove is a student of history who knows that no sitting president has been ousted during a war. It could have been Korea or Grenada, Iran or Grand Fenwick. But when Bush mouthed the words "war president" he was playing Rove's trump card.
The GOP's other ace was John Kerry, whose vote for the Iraq war left him open to Rove's flip flop attacks. On Iraq, the economy, the ecology and more, Bush has been merely a flop.
Kerry's tainted Iraq votes polluted his war record and his standing as an alternative to endless war. Yet with stellar debate performances and a decent final month, Kerry may have actually carried the national vote -- if there were a fair count.
But with ballots still being bitterly contested in Ohio, Florida and elsewhere, Kerry conceded too soon. His plea for "national healing" raised gales of laughter at Fox and Rove's White House.
Kerry seemed to be walking away from the tens of millions of good-hearted Democrats and democrats who pinned their hopes on him to end the Bush nightmare.
It was a terrible moment for grassroots organizers who mobilized thousands of inner city and other voters for Kerry, only to see them turned away at the polls or their ballots shredded with every Rovian dirty trick imaginable. In a horrific display of contempt for the democratic process and for people of color, similar things were done in Florida and, to varying degrees, in every other swing state.
In the past weeks, it's become abundantly clear that a fair vote count in Ohio would have given Kerry the presidency. Having pledged to "make every vote count," Kerry had a solemn obligation to guarantee just that.
Tens of thousands of people came out in the rain, stood in line up to eleven hours, and were utterly trashed by the GOP machine. Kerry had a sacred duty to honor those people by not conceding until every one of those cases had been heard and every one of those instances made part of the national record. His concession gave GOP bloviators open season to proclaim victory for a bigot-based theocracy based on endless war, total terror and a terminal assault on American democracy.
But grassroots groups have fought back with citizen hearings to get the stories of disenfranchised voters certified. We've organized, campaigned and publicized until it's become clear that this story will not go away.
Independent citizen groups, including the Green and Libertarian Parties, CommonCause, Move-on.org and others are kicking in to organize and train the hundreds of volunteers it will take to monitor the re-count in Ohio's 88 counties.
By fighting tooth and nail against a fair recount, Ken Blackwell is leading the GOP machine in admitting it has something to hide. It is supremely illogical to scorn "conspiracy theorists" who question the November 2 vote count while desperately stonewalling an open accounting.
We are not backing down. What's at stake here is not just a single presidential election, but the right of all Americans to vote and to have those votes counted in all future elections.
And, finally, attorneys representing the Kerry-Edwards campaign have filed papers in Delaware County, Ohio, to intervene in legal proceedings in defense of Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb, Libertarian Michael Badnarik and their legal counsel, the National Voting Rights Institute, who are seeking a recount of all votes cast for president in the Ohio 2004 general election.
The grassroots will not surrender to the Party of Hate, Terror and Shredded Ballots. As in Ukraine, the whole world is starting to watch.
This election is not over.
Harvey Wasserman and Bob Fitrakis are co-authors of the upcoming ANOTHER STOLEN ELECTION: VOICES OF THE DISENFRANCHED, 2004, from www.freepress.org, of which they are senior editor and publisher. Wasserman is lead plaintiff in a FOIA lawsuit demanding access to all Ohio voting machines; Dr. Fitrakis, an attorney, convened and moderated central Ohio hearings that took scores of affidavits from Ohioans denied their right to vote.
Posted by politicalstuff at 9:05 AM
Updated FRIDAY DEC. 3, 2004: LePore ups the ante: $3,000 ... no, $4,000 ... no, $7,000 for election records.
Though she has yet to present us with a bill, Theresa LePore has been upping the ante every time she talks to the media. It will be at least $3,000, she told the Orlando Sentinel.
That is ... $4,000, she told the Palm Beach NBC affiliate.
Now the $4,000 is for "research" and the $3,000 is for "copies."
Lessee now...at $20 per hour for "research," that is 500 hours to retrieve the same records request that most counties are charging $20 for.
"How much will it be?" Andy Stephenson asked another Florida county, up in the north panhandle.
"Oh, that'll be about a dollah," the supervisor said.
My my my. LePore's records must be gold-plated. We are supposed to get the official bill tomorrow.
Snohomish County wants about $2,500 for their records.
We also did statewide FOIA requests in all 50 states. Texas gave the records to us for free. Colorado charged $1,900 for 3,500 pages of documents. Michigan wants $125,000 just to look for the records. (All got the exact same request.)
(This is what democracy looks like?)
Posted by politicalstuff at 8:57 AM
December 2, 2004
I should clarify what I wrote in this space last night about Countdown’s interaction with Bev Harris of Black Box Voting. My staff is not certain that any of our messages to Ms. Harris inviting her on the show since the week of November 15 have specifically asked her for permission to play the videotapes of her work trying to audit the Florida vote. We think so, but I’ve got only three people booking all the guests on this program, and they each probably make about 100 calls a day.
Complicating our effort is the fact that even as we hoped to provide a platform to publicize and illuminate her efforts, Ms. Harris had returned none of the messages left on her own voicemail by Countdown staffers since she spoke to our staffers briefly, twice, during the week of November 8. Only today did she even get back in touch with us, and was so belligerent, threatening, and demanding, that we have chosen to withdraw our invitation to her to appear, or to have videotape of her efforts played, on Countdown.
Threats against myself or my staff will not be tolerated. We are not only busting our humps on the voting irregularities beat, but we remain the only mainstream news organization to continue to cover this vital story. These are my people — they are running professional risks I can’t begin to describe — and I will stand up for them, first, last, and always.
Posted by politicalstuff at 8:54 AM
December 2, 2004
Jackson verses Blackwell
SECAUCUS - The complaint about the voting irregularities story has been that it has been a little austere, a little impersonal. Part of its lack of appeal to the mainstream media has been its lack of “name players” — the aloofness of John Kerry, as an example. You wouldn’t think you’d have to sex up something as important as the integrity of the democratic process, but it turns out that in these early years of the 21st Century, you have to sex up everything — ask Monday Night Football.
But, not to worry, two players have taken to the stage, big-time. If Ohio actually gets the notice it deserves, the credit will go to Reverend Jesse Jackson, and Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell.
You will recall that in his syndicated Op-Ed column (appearing principally in The Chicago Sun-Times) earlier this week, Jackson wrote the Ohio vote count was "marred by intolerable, often partisan, irregularities and discrepancies,” and added that "U.S. citizens have as much reason as those in Kiev to be concerned that the fix was in."
During the day Thursday, Secretary Blackwell's media secretary was firing back... calling the column blatantly inaccurate: "We expect someone writing an Op-Ed and a syndicate distributing that Op-Ed would fact-check information and have a responsibility to the facts."
Proving two can play at this game, Blackwell has written his own Op-Ed piece in response, and it was made available to newspapers today. Jesse in turn, actually turned up on CNN this evening on Paula Zahn's news hour, talking about the same stuff he talked about on Countdown on Tuesday, and that we've been talking about here since the week after the election. Somehow I'm thinking it was a good idea that Blackwell and Jackson appeared on consecutive nights on Countdown, and not the same one.
Blackwell, incidentally, got sued by the Greens and Libs again. The Badnarik and Cobb parties are already due back in court tomorrow to try to get a Federal Judge to vacate the temporary restraining order against the re-count inside Delaware County, Ohio. Today, they filed another federal action, naming Blackwell directly, accusing him of stalling the re-count and abusing his authority. The suit asks that the recount begin immediately... since the electoral college is scheduled to meet just eleven days from now — although its vote won’t be opened by congress until January 6.
Blackwell gets to wait until Monday to certify the state’s vote, even though all 88 counties in the Buckeye State have finished their own confirmations. Data is still sketchy, but it turns out election officials accepted about 77% of the provisional ballots — about 121,000 of them. No statewide count of the provisionals yet, though results reported by one county — Franklin (that's Columbus), indicated that Senator Kerry had gotten nearly 7,700 of the more-than 12,000 provisional votes counted.
But of all the developments out of Ohio, the most provocative, clearly, is still stalled under the weight of its own paperwork. The Alliance for Democracy is not quite ready with its challenge to the vote yet. Lawyer Cliff Arnebeck, with who else but Reverend Jackson by his side today on the steps of the Ohio Supreme Court, said that the group hopes to file its election challenge tomorrow — if not, Monday — but it’s not guaranteeing anything.
If and when it gets around to it, the Alliance will be asking one high court justice to set the election results aside, pending a full investigation and hearing. Arnebeck said today he believes that if all ballots were counted in what he calls a "traditional context,” the outcome would not just swing from President Bush’s 130,000 vote election night lead — it would swing all the way in the opposite direction, and give Kerry a 130,000 vote lead.
“Once we file the litigation.” Arnebeck added, “aggressive discovery will proceed, and we'll get to the truth. I want to reemphasize once again as we did at the previous press conference that the purpose here is not partisan, the purpose here is not destructive toward anyone and we invite all candidates, we invite the Bush campaign and the Kerry campaign to join and cooperate in a non-partisan effort to find the truth, gather the facts, and assure the public, and assure both candidates, that this is an honest election."
Arnebeck sounded a little like a protestor in Kiev: "Our presidential election affects not just this country but all the citizens of the world. And therefore it's absolutely essential that the person who assumes the mantle of that office has the full confidence of our public and the world community that it was an honest election.”
Posted by politicalstuff at 8:45 AM
Thursday, December 02, 2004
Thursday Dec. 2, 2004 -- Black Box Voting requests retraction from Keith Olbermann, along with an explanation of why MSNBC alleged such an untruth. We have given Olbermann the opportunity to correct his factually flawed editorial by having Bev Harris appear on his show.
Contrary to Olbermann's assertions, neither he nor his staff have EVER asked Harris to show anyone the Volusia County tapes. They have not asked Harris to come on the show since November 8. Harris did not come to Florida until November 12.
Olbermann's producers had asked Harris to appear on the Countdown show twice, on Nov. 5 and Nov. 8. Each time, after Harris cleared her schedule to appear and shortly before the show, Olbermann's producers canceled the appearance without explanation.
Harris showed the Volusia County tapes to CNN cameramen, but Harris has never been asked to show any Volusia County materials to any MSNBC producers, or NBC producers. The NBC local affiliate in Palm Beach County asked for the LePore videotape, which Harris promptly provided. The tapes, when showed without editing, show clearly that Olbermann's report was not accurate about the LePore incident either. An edited version of the LePore tape was aired on both Orlando and Palm Beach County NBC affiliates last night.
Also contrary to Olbermann's claims, Harris is not making a documentary, but the makers of the Votergate documentary, an independent team who captured the Volusia County trash incident on film, are eager to interview Keith Olbermann on camera to ask him why he produced this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 3:26 PM
The New York Times
December 1, 2004
Abu Ghraib, Caribbean Style
Ever since the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, the Bush administration has claimed that the abuses depicted in those horrible photos were an isolated problem that was immediately fixed. The White House has repeatedly proclaimed its respect for the Geneva Conventions, international law and American statutes governing the treatment of prisoners.
An article in The Times on Tuesday by Neil A. Lewis showed how hollow those assurances are. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, where the United States warehouses men captured in Afghanistan, have been subject to unremitting abuse that is sometimes "tantamount to torture." This continued well after the Abu Ghraib scandal came to light, and it may still be going on.
The Red Cross said it first complained about Guantánamo in January 2003. It found mistreatment similar to that at Abu Ghraib, including beatings, prolonged isolation, sexual humiliation and prolonged "stress positions" for prisoners. But the Red Cross found a new, disturbing practice at Guantánamo: the use of medical personnel to help interrogators get information.
The Red Cross reported the same level of abuse in the spring of 2003. By this June, it said, the regime was "more refined and repressive." The Red Cross did say fearful Guantánamo prisoners complained less frequently in 2004 than in 2003 about female interrogators who exposed their breasts, kissed prisoners, touched them sexually and showed them pornography. But it's hard to see that as progress.
The administration's response to the Red Cross report was unsurprising. The military brushed off the Red Cross's complaints when they were made, just as it did at Abu Ghraib. Yesterday, Lawrence Di Rita, a spokesman for Mr. Rumsfeld, said the Red Cross had "their point of view," which was not shared by the Bush administration. The Red Cross's point of view, however, is reflected in the Geneva Conventions and in American law. The recent debate over prisoner abuse has not been brought to the courts, but the Supreme Court has ruled that Mr. Bush cannot suspend due process for prisoners of his choosing.
The White House, the Pentagon and the Justice Department clearly have no intention of addressing the abuse. Indeed, Mr. Bush has nominated one of the architects of the administration's prisoner policy, the White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, to be attorney general. The general who set up the system at Guantánamo is now in charge of prisons in Iraq.
Only Congress can hold the administration accountable and begin to repair the damage to American values and America's image caused by the mistreatment of prisoners. Republican and Democratic senators - like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, and Hillary Clinton and Carl Levin - have tried hard to investigate prisoner abuse. But Republican leaders have ignored the issue. Senator John Kerry never even raised it during the campaign.
Congress should demand that the Central Intelligence Agency stop stonewalling on the release of its inspector general's report on the role of intelligence officers at Abu Ghraib. During confirmation hearings, the Senate Judiciary Committee should press Mr. Gonzales about why he signed off on two legal opinions that justified torture and claimed that Mr. Bush could suspend the Geneva Conventions whenever he liked. They should ask what he intends to do about fixing the problem.
Senator John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, should resume his valuable hearings on prisoner abuse. Ideally, he would finally ask the Senate leadership to create a investigative committee with subpoena powers to impose accountability on high-ranking generals and civilian officials.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:43 AM
The New York Times
December 2, 2004
U.S. to Increase Its Force in Iraq by Nearly 12,000
By ERIC SCHMITT and THOM SHANKER
WASHINGTON, Dec. 1 - The American military presence in Iraq will grow by nearly 12,000 troops by next month, to 150,000, the highest level since the invasion last year, to provide security for the Iraqi elections in January and to quell insurgent attacks around the country, the Pentagon announced Wednesday.
The Pentagon is doing this mainly by ordering about 10,400 soldiers and marines in Iraq to extend their tours - in some cases for the second time - for up to two months, even as their replacement units begin to arrive. The Pentagon is also sending 1,500 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division in the next two weeks for a four-month tour.
By extending the tours of some 8,000 soldiers from two brigades, the Army is risking problems with morale and retention by breaking its pledge to keep troops on the ground in Iraq for no more than 12 months, some commanders and military experts said.
Commanders had signaled for weeks that there was a likelihood that additional troops would be needed to provide security for elections scheduled for Jan. 30, and the Pentagon took a first step in October by ordering 6,500 troops to extend their tours. But the force levels announced Wednesday are larger than many officers had expected and reflect the insurgents' deadly resiliency and the poor performance by many newly trained Iraqi security forces in the face of rebel assaults, military officers said.
Senior officers in Iraq and Washington said that after the Falluja offensive, they did not want to lose the momentum in pressing insurgents in other restive parts of Iraq, like Mosul and Babil Province. At the same time, commanders say they need to keep a sizable force in Falluja to stabilize the city as reconstruction efforts get under way there.
But those requirements demand more troops, especially combat-hardened forces whose experience is seen as essential in attacking the insurgents and providing support to Iraqi security forces. Putting even a squad of Americans inside police stations will stiffen the resolve of local forces and prevent routs like that in Mosul, where newly minted Iraqi police forces fled last month when attacked by small numbers of rebels, American officers said Wednesday.
"It's mainly to provide security for the elections, but it's also to keep up the pressure on the insurgency after the Falluja operation," Brig. Gen. David Rodriguez, a military spokesman, told reporters at the Pentagon.
Under the military's plan, about 3,500 members of the Second Brigade of the First Cavalry Division, based at Fort Hood, Tex., were ordered to stay an additional 45 days, until early March, for a total of about 14 months. The unit had originally been scheduled to leave in mid-November, but that departure was delayed until Jan. 12, General Rodriguez said. The First Cavalry Division is responsible for security in Baghdad, but it also provided soldiers for the cordon around Falluja.
About 4,400 troops from the Second Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division, a Hawaii-based unit now operating as part of the First Infantry Division north of Baghdad, had its departure date in early January delayed 60 days, bringing its total deployment to about 14 months, General Rodriguez said. The tours of 160 soldiers from the 66th Transportation Company, based in Germany, were also extended by two months, he said.
In addition, the departure date of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, with 2,300 marines from Okinawa, Hawaii and California, will be extended to mid-March, he said.
The two 82nd Airborne battalions will be sent to conduct security missions in Baghdad's International Zone, where top American and Iraqi government officials work, General Rodriguez said. This will free up more experienced troops from the First Cavalry Division to carry out missions elsewhere in Iraq, he said.
In advance of the elections in Afghanistan in October, the military sent about 600 troops from the 82nd Airborne to provide security there.
Military officials said Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top American commander in Iraq, had decided to extend the tours of more experienced troops, and to take advantage of their knowledge of the insurgents and region, rather than accelerate the arrival of fresh troops from units like the Third Infantry Division, which will be arriving in January.
In particular, a senior military officer in Iraq said, American and Iraqi forces have forced insurgent and terrorist leaders to flee their former safe haven in Falluja, and additional troops would ensure that they remained on the run and could not settle in another Iraqi city.
At the Pentagon, civilian officials and military officers said they had been concerned that the order to increase troops would be heard by the American and Iraqi public and by insurgents as an acknowledgement that the mission was in trouble.
"But what we're really saying today is that we are committed to the mission, and that we are going to do everything we can to achieve security before the elections," a senior officer said.
American commanders said they learned an important lesson when insurgents responded to the offensive against Falluja by mounting their own counteroffensive, attacking police stations and a range of Iraqi security forces in other cities.
In Mosul, for example, a number of Iraqi policemen simply surrendered their neighborhood stations and headquarters when they came under insurgent attack, even though the guerrillas were vastly outnumbered.
But one Army commander in Iraq said that in those Mosul police stations where American troops were operating, even in small numbers, the new Iraqi security forces had shown resolve and held their ground.
The additional American troops will allow commanders to salt more Iraqi police stations with small, squad-size units of American forces to train the police, advise emerging Iraqi commanders and help steel the wills of Iraqi forces to stand up to the insurgents, this officer said.
More troops will also allow commanders to ease, even if slightly, the grueling days and long nights of missions now assigned throughout the American military in Iraq.
But military personnel specialists warned that the temporary force increases, which are scheduled to last from January to mid-March, might last longer than officials expect.
"The department is managing the force as frugally and carefully as possible, but we may not fall much below the 150,000 level for more than a year," said Richard I. Stark, a retired colonel who is a troop specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here.
The Army has previously extended deployments for soldiers in Iraq twice, causing complaints from some soldiers and some families.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:31 AM
U.S. Generals in Iraq Were Told of Abuse Early, Inquiry Finds
By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 1, 2004; Page A01
A confidential report to Army generals in Iraq in December 2003 warned that members of an elite military and CIA task force were abusing detainees, a finding delivered more than a month before Army investigators received the photographs from Abu Ghraib prison that touched off investigations into prisoner mistreatment.
The report, which was not released publicly and was recently obtained by The Washington Post, concluded that some U.S. arrest and detention practices at the time could "technically" be illegal. It also said coalition fighters could be feeding the Iraqi insurgency by "making gratuitous enemies" as they conducted sweeps netting hundreds of detainees who probably did not belong in prison and holding them for months at a time.
The investigation, by retired Col. Stuart A. Herrington, also found that members of Task Force 121 -- a joint Special Operations and CIA mission searching for weapons of mass destruction and high-value targets including Saddam Hussein -- had been abusing detainees throughout Iraq and had been using a secret interrogation facility to hide their activities.
Herrington's findings are the latest in a series of confidential reports to come to light about detainee abuse in Iraq. Until now, U.S. military officials have characterized the problem as one largely confined to the military prison at Abu Ghraib -- a situation they first learned about in January 2004. But Herrington's report shows that U.S. military leaders in Iraq were told of such allegations even before then, and that problems were not restricted to Abu Ghraib. Herrington, a veteran of the U.S. counterinsurgency effort in Vietnam, warned that such harsh tactics could imperil U.S. efforts to quell the Iraqi insurgency -- a prediction echoed months later by a military report and other reviews of the war effort.
U.S. treatment of detainees remains under challenge. Representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross recently told U.S. military officials that the treatment of inmates held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was "cruel, inhumane and degrading" (story, Page A10). Herrington's report, which was commissioned by Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, the top intelligence officer in Iraq, said some detainees dropped off at central U.S. detention facilities other than Abu Ghraib had clearly been beaten by their captors.
"Detainees captured by TF 121 have shown injuries that caused examining medical personnel to note that 'detainee shows signs of having been beaten,' " according to the report, which later concluded: "It seems clear that TF 121 needs to be reined in with respect to its treatment of detainees."
A group of Navy SEALs who worked as part of the task force has been charged with abuse in connection with the deaths of two detainees they arrested in the field. One died in a shower room at Abu Ghraib on Nov. 4, 2003, a month before Herrington arrived for his review.
A military source who participated in Task Force 20, the predecessor to TF 121, said the task forces comprised several 12-man units that had targeted missions, such as searching for Hussein loyalists and terrorists. TF 20, which had about 1,000 soldiers, incorporated Army Rangers, members of Delta Force and Special Forces units working with CIA agents. They planned their missions nearly autonomously and answered either directly to the theater commander or to officials in Washington, the source said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the missions were classified.
Task Force 121 added Navy SEAL units but was slightly smaller overall. Herrington wrote that an officer in charge of interrogations at a high-value target detention facility in Baghdad told him that prisoners taken by TF 121 showed signs of having been beaten.
Herrington asked the officer whether he had alerted his superiors to the problem, and the officer replied: "Everyone knows about it."
While several investigations have been completed into the Abu Ghraib scandal and U.S. interrogation practices in Iraq, an official military inquiry into the detention activities of Special Operations forces has not been released. That probe, headed by Brig. Gen. Richard P. Formica, was expected to be presented to Congress earlier this year, but a Pentagon spokesman said it is ongoing.
Of the Herrington report, a Pentagon official said top generals in Iraq, including Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, who at the time directed U.S. forces there, reported the alleged abuses to officials at U.S. Central Command, which oversees military activities in the Middle East. The official said TF 121 was investigated, but he could not provide results.
"The Herrington report was taken very seriously," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the report has not been released.
The report also provided an early account of the practice of holding some detainees -- sometimes called "ghost detainees" -- in secret and keeping them from international humanitarian organizations. Herrington also wrote that agents from other government agencies, which commonly refers to the CIA, regularly kept ghost detainees by not logging their arrests.
Nearly six months later, Defense Department officials were forced to acknowledge the practice because of the Abu Ghraib scandal. Soldiers who worked at the prison said several detainees were hidden, and a prison logbook showed a consistent stream of them from October 2003 to January 2004.
Herrington, who is considered an expert in human intelligence operations, ran programs during Operation Desert Storm and in Panama and was part of the controversial Phoenix Program, which targeted the roots of the Viet Cong insurgency in Vietnam. He compiled his report after a week-long trip to Iraq beginning Dec. 2, 2003, joined by a military intelligence officer and an Army intelligence official from the Pentagon.
His ultimate conclusion was that much needed to be done to increase intelligence capabilities, which he called below average, though he praised Fast's determination.
"Given the fact that the United States and its coalition partners paid and continue to pay a steep price in losses and national treasure to lay our hands on these detainees, it is disappointing that the opportunity to thoroughly and professionally exploit this source pool has not been maximized, in spite of your best efforts and those of several hundred MI [military intelligence] soldiers," Herrington wrote to Fast in the Dec. 12 report. "Even one year ago, we would have salivated at the prospect of being able to talk to people like the hundreds who are now in our custody. Now that we have them, we have failed to devote the planning and resources to optimize this mission."
Herrington, contacted by telephone, declined to discuss the report. A Pentagon official said Fast personally requested Herrington's visit, and the report indicates Fast was interested in improving U.S. intelligence and detention operations, saying that "in spite of efforts to upgrade this effort, [she] remained concerned about its state of health."
In the 13-page report, Herrington wrote that overcrowding and a lack of resources caused the Army to use "primitive prison accommodations" for even the most important targets. He said that led to the loss of considerable significant intelligence and might have fueled the Iraqi insurgency.
He added that some detainees were arrested because targets were not at home when homes were raided. A family member was instead captured and then released when the target turned himself in -- a practice that, Herrington wrote, "has a 'hostage' feel to it."
A separate report by the Center for Army Lessons Learned, issued this past May and intended for internal use, gave the sense that some Army tactics served to "alienate common Iraqis who initially supported the coalition."
The 134-page CALL report singled out the practice of detaining female family members to force wanted Iraqi males to turn themselves in, similar to Herrington's findings.
"It is a practice in some U.S. units to detain family members of anti-coalition suspects in an effort to induce the suspects to turn themselves in, in exchange for the release of their family members," the report stated. The CALL report also was critical of the delays in notifying family members about the status of detainees held in U.S. custody, reminding family members of Hussein's tactics.
Herrington's report also noted that sweeps pulled in hundreds and even thousands of detainees who had no connection to the war. Abu Ghraib, for example, swelled to several thousand more detainees than it could handle. Herrington wrote that aggressive and indiscriminate tactics by the 4th Infantry Division, rounding up random scores of detainees and "dumping them at the door," was a glaring example.
As the United States recently has picked up its counterinsurgency efforts, the number of new detainees has again surged.
"Between the losers and dead end elements from the former regime and foreign fighters, there are enough people in Iraq who already don't like us," Herrington wrote. "Adding to these numbers by conducting sweep operations . . . is counterproductive to the Coalition's efforts to win the cooperation of the Iraqi citizenry. Similarly, mistreatment of captives as has been reported to me and our team is unacceptable, and bound to be known by the population."
Staff writer Thomas E. Ricks contributed to this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:17 AM