Chairman of Voting Reform Panel Resigns
By ERICA WERNER, Associated Press Writer
The first chairman of a federal voting agency created after the 2000 election dispute is resigning, saying the government has not shown enough commitment to reform.
DeForest Soaries said in an interview Friday that his resignation would take effect next week.
Though Soaries, 53, said he wanted to spend more time with his family in New Jersey, he added that his decision was prompted in part by what he called a lack of support.
"All four of us had to work without staff, without offices, without resources. I don't think our sense of personal obligation has been matched by a corresponding sense of commitment to real reform from the federal government," he said.
Soaries, a Republican former New Jersey secretary of state, was the White House's pick to join the Election Assistance Commission, created by the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to help states enact voting reforms.
A Baptist minister, Soaries was confirmed by the Senate in December 2003 and elected the independent agency's first chairman by his three fellow commissioners. His term as chairman ended in January 2005 and since then he has stayed on as a commission member.
Soaries and the other commissioners complained from the beginning that the group was underfunded and neglected by the lawmakers who created it.
"It's bad enough to be working under extremely adverse circumstances, but what throws your thinking into an abyss, as it were, is why you would be doing that when, for instance, you have to beg Congress for money as if the commission was your idea," Soaries said.
White House spokesman Allen Abney said only, "We appreciate his service and we are working to fill the vacancy promptly."
Envisioned as a clearinghouse for election information that would make recommendations about technology and other issues and distribute $2.3 billion to states for voting improvements, the commission initially couldn't afford its own office space. The commissioners were appointed nine months later than envisioned by the Help America Vote Act, and of a $10 million budget authorized for 2004, the panel received just $1.2 million.
Soaries said the commission could claim some credit for last November's relatively smooth election, including recommending "best practices" to voting administrators and getting the election reform money to states faster than it otherwise would have gone. The commission has sent about $1.8 billion to states so far.
But the commission has failed to preside over the kinds of sweeping reforms some hoped for, with many counties still relying in November on the same punch-card and lever machines derided after the 2000 election. Soaries said the commission is making progress with improvements, including technical guidelines and centralized voter registration lists, that are supposed to be in place for the 2006 election.
"There is so much more work to do to bring federal elections to the standard I think that the citizens expect, and there doesn't seem to be a corresponding sense of urgency among the policy-makers in Washington," Soaries said. "Nor does there seem to be a national consensus among leaders of the states about what success looks like."
Soaries said election reform was on the front burner after the 2000 presidential recount, but it moved to the back burner — and stayed there — after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer (news, bio, voting record), the No. 2 House Democrat and a lead sponsor of the Help America Vote Act, said Soaries' resignation underscored a need to give the commission adequate resources.
"I hope this administration and Congress seriously consider Mr. Soaries' observations as we develop the fiscal year 2006 budget," Hoyer said.
The commission also has run into opposition from state officials accustomed to running their own elections and wary of federal involvement. Earlier this year, the National Association of Secretaries of State approved a resolution asking Congress to dissolve the Election Assistance Commission after 2006.
But Soaries said that despite his frustration and Congress' lack of engagement, he saw a lasting role for the Election Assistance Commission.
"Someone's got to wake up every morning with the mission of improving federal elections in a way that assures the voting public that they can have confidence in voting," he said.
On the Net:
Election Assistance Commission: http://www.eac.gov
originally published Apr 22, 5:02 PM ET
Saturday, April 23, 2005
DOE seeks new firm for school testing
By Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Education Writer
A series of public-school testing mix-ups has prompted the Department of Education to seek a new deal with a test development company other than Harcourt Assessment Inc., which has contracted with the state for about the past 30 years.
The decision not to extend Harcourt's $22.1 million, four-year contract for providing and scoring standardized tests came after officials discovered that materials provided by the company included errors for the second straight year.
Some materials were also delivered to the wrong schools, and other schools received materials that were incomplete, the department said.
"This series of errors has thrown our testing program into virtual chaos and places the department at risk under the federal No Child Left Behind Act," schools superintendent Pat Hamamoto said in a letter to Harcourt. "It is difficult for schools to see Harcourt as a credible provider, and therefore, the department is unable to justify using Harcourt's services."
Harcourt's contract requires it to develop, administer and score next year's Hawai'i State Assessment and a new science assessment. The deal will be terminated after that, Hamamoto said.
Harcourt spokesman Mark Slitt said this year's materials contained a single error in the test portion presented to students, and that the company regretted the mistake. "This year that was one live test item that was flawed," he said. "There was a seventh-grade math item that had a flaw, despite our best efforts of checking and rechecking. And so that particular item will not be counted, and no students will be adversely affected. It's not going to count against their score in any way, and it does not undermine the overall validity of the test."
The delivery problems were caused by glitches in a new warehouse system and subcontractors that did not deliver according to schedule, Slitt said.
Last year, Harcourt acknowledged at least 45 flaws on reading and math tests taken by thousands of Hawai'i students, including an actual test question.
"Any flaw is one flaw too many, however, and we recognize that we're not perfect," Slitt said. "We're striving for perfection. Through all the hard work that we've put in improving our quality-control processes and putting in additional checks and cross-checks, we've reduced substantially the number of defects from last year."
But Hamamoto said the company's services overall were "significantly worse this year than in previous years."
"Given the deterioration in the quality of the services ... the department has no choice but to seek another contractor for our statewide student assessment program," Hamamoto wrote.
Slitt said Harcourt provides standardized testing materials in about 20 states, and intends to bid on Hawai'i's new contract when it is made available.
Reach Johnny Brannon at firstname.lastname@example.org or 525-8084.
originally published April 19, 2005
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:25 PM
The New York Times
April 23, 2005
Uncle Dick and Papa
By MAUREEN DOWD
It was a move so smooth and bold, accomplished with such backstage bureaucratic finesse, that it was worthy of Dick Cheney himself.
The éminence grise who had long whispered in the ear of power and who had helped oversee the selection process ended up selecting himself. In Cheneyesque fashion, he searched far and wide for a pope by looking around the room and swiftly deciding he was the best man for the job.
Just like Mr. Cheney, once the quintessentially deferential staff man with the Secret Service code name "Back Seat," the self-effacing Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has clambered over the back seat to seize the wheel (or Commonweal). Mr. Cheney played the tough cop to W.'s boyish, genial pol, just as Cardinal Ratzinger played the tough cop to John Paul's gentle soul.
And just like the vice president, the new pope is a Jurassic archconservative who disdains the "if it feels good do it" culture and the revolutionary trends toward diversity and cultural openness since the 60's.
The two leaders are a match - absolutists who view the world in stark terms of good and evil, eager to prolong a patriarchal society that prohibits gay marriage and slices up pro-choice U.S. Democratic candidates.
The two, from rural, conservative parts of their countries, want to turn back the clock and exorcise New Age silliness. Mr. Cheney wants to dismantle the New Deal and go back to 1937. Pope Benedict XVI wants to dismantle Vatican II and go back to 1397. As a scholar, his specialty was "patristics," the study of the key thinkers in the first eight centuries of the church.
They are both old hands at operating in secrecy and using the levers of power for ideological advantage. They want to enlist Catholics in the conservative cause, turning confession boxes into ballot boxes with the threat that a vote for a liberal Democrat could lead to eternal damnation.
Unlike Ronald Reagan and John Paul II, the vice president and the new pope do not have large-scale charisma or sunny faces to soften their harsh "my way or the highway" policies. Their gloomy world outlooks and bullying roles earned them the nicknames Dr. No and Cardinal No. One is called Washington's Darth Vader, the other the Vatican's Darth Vader.
W.'s Doberman and John Paul's "God's Rottweiler," as the new pope was called, are both global enforcers with cult followings. Just as the vice president acted to solidify the view of America as a hyperpower, so the new pope views the Roman Catholic Church as the one true religion. He once branded other faiths as deficient.
Both like to blame the media. Cardinal Ratzinger once accused the U.S. press of overplaying the sex abuse scandal to hurt the church and keep the story on the front pages.
Dr. No and Cardinal No parted ways on the war - though Cardinal Ratzinger did criticize the U.N. But they agree that stem cell research and cloning must be curtailed. Cardinal Ratzinger once called cloning "more dangerous than weapons of mass destruction."
As fundamentalism marches on - even Bill Gates seems to have caved to a preacher on gay rights legislation because of fear of a boycott - U.S. conservatives are thrilled about the choice of Cardinal Ratzinger, hoping for an unholy alliance. They hope this pope - who seems to want a smaller, purer church - encourages a militant role for Catholic bishops and priests in the political process.
Cardinal Ratzinger did not shrink from advising American bishops in the last presidential election on bringing Catholic elected officials to heel. He warned that Catholics who deliberately voted for a candidate because of a pro-choice position were guilty of cooperating in evil, and unworthy to receive communion. Vote Democratic and lose your soul. "Panzerkardinal," as he was known, definitely isn't a man who could read Mario Cuomo's Notre Dame speech urging that pro-choice politicians be allowed in the tent and say, "He's got a point."
The Republicans can build their majority by bringing strict Catholics and evangelicals - once at odds - together on what they call "culture of life" issues.
But there's a risk, as with Tom DeLay, Dr. Bill Frist and other Republicans, that if the new pope is too heavy-handed and too fundamentalist, his approach may backfire.
Moral absolutism is relative, after all. As Bruce Landesman, a philosophy professor at the University of Utah, pointed out in a letter to The Times: "Those who hold 'liberal' views are not relativists. They simply disagree with the conservatives about what is right and wrong."
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:41 AM
The New York Times
April 23, 2005
Fat and Happy
By JOHN TIERNEY
Porkers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your diets!
But don't start wearing spandex just yet.
For those of us lacking six-pack abs, this week's report that the overweight live longer is the greatest medical news in history. The authors of this study deserve a Nobel, not just for medicine, but for peace, too.
They have taken away the favorite cudgel of the scolds who used the "obesity epidemic" as an excuse to attack the flabby. The supposedly deadly consequences of fat provided the scientific rationale for the last politically correct form of prejudice.
The fatophobes are fighting on, disputing the new study and arguing that it still shows the fatal dangers of being seriously obese. But they have lost the scientific high ground. Not only do people of "normal" weight die younger than the moderately overweight, the study shows, but thin people die even younger than those of normal weight.
After decades of listening to emaciated ascetics lecture us about diet and exercise, it's tempting to return the favor. We could turn into activists ourselves and stand in picket lines outside gyms with signs proclaiming, "StairMaster = Death."
We could denounce the dangerous role models provided by the zero-body-fat actresses on "Desperate Housewives," or go to Vogue's offices for an intervention with its social X-ray of an editor, Anna Wintour.
"Anna, we want you to put Kirstie Alley on the cover, but that's not why we're here. We're here because we love you and we don't want to lose you. Now, please, for our sake, try this crème brûlée."
But we need to be realistic. One study will not change people's minds, because the crusade against fat was never just about science.
The activists fighting the evil junk-food industry always had a streak of neo-puritanism in them. They cited scientific research to justify their battle against fatty foods, but then campaigned hysterically against Olestra, the calorie-free fat substitute.
Despite the research showing Olestra to be generally safe, the prospect of Americans enjoying fat-free junk food was just too sinful to allow. So was the prospect of calorie-free colas. When soft-drink companies replaced sugar with aspartame, the food police again ignored the research and kept imagining dangers.
It never made scientific sense to terrify women about having flabby hips or thighs, because it was recognized long before this week's study that lower-body fat was medically benign by comparison with the fat at the waist - the kind in the beer guts of men at risk for heart attacks.
In four-fifths of the societies studied by anthropologists, people have sensibly considered a plump pear-shaped body to be the female ideal. Subcutaneous fat was traditionally a sign of fertility and health, a status indicator showing that a woman was not too poor to afford food.
But as food became cheaper and more available, the ideal changed. Avoiding temptation in the midst of plenty became a virtue and a status symbol of the rich. Thinness became a form of conspicuous consumption, what might be called conspicuous conservation.
George Armelagos, an anthropologist at Emory University, calls this shift the King Henry VIII and Oprah Winfrey Effect. In Tudor England, it took hundreds of gardeners, farmers, hunters and butchers to keep Henry VIII fat. In America today, anyone can bulk up without help, but it takes a new set of vassals - personal trainer, nutritionist, private chef - to keep Oprah from looking like Henry VIII.
As long as it's more expensive to be thin, fat will not be fashionable, no matter what scientists find. The survival-of-the-flabbiest theory will not make jiggly hips hip or love handles lovable, so spandex and tube tops are still out of the question.
But the new study does give us ammunition for the beach this summer. The trick is to be subtle when confronted with glistening hardbodies. Don't insult them. Gaze admiringly, and bemoan your own paunch. Then sigh and talk about the future responsibilities you have - children to raise, the mortgage to pay off, the relatives to support.
When the hardbody looks confused, stop and gaze admiringly again before continuing: "God, I wish had your body - and your courage. Good for you! Don't listen to those medical nerds. Go for it! Live lean, die young, leave a beautiful corpse."
For Further Reading:
The Anti-Pleasure Principle: The "food police" and the pseudoscience of self-denial by Jacob Sullum. Reason magazine, July 2003.
Consuming Passions: The Anthropology of Eating by Peter Farb and George J. Armelagos. HoughtonMifflin, 279 pp., 1980.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:40 AM
The New York Times
April 23, 2005
A Civil Debate Over Civil Union
One of the amazing things about Connecticut's approval of a law guaranteeing the rights of gay couples was the almost placid way the political process worked. This is a pioneering law - the first enacting civil union voluntarily, without court pressure - yet it was adopted with a minimum of political fireworks. There are healthy lessons in this for the rest of the nation as this vital human right progresses.
Connecticut's legislators were obviously influenced by shifting public opinion in favor of taking the historic step, but even more by the gatherings across the state where gay couples invited politicians and neighbors into their homes to experience their domestic lives firsthand. This grass-roots lobbying by gay and lesbian couples proved that their humanity was not to be denied, even if the word "marriage" was denied to them as the final compromise was passed by large, bipartisan margins and was enthusiastically signed by Gov. Jodi Rell, a Republican.
The law firmly extends to gay couples the same rights and protections guaranteed to married heterosexuals, including tax and insurance benefits, family leave, hospital visits and more. Its passage was undoubtedly eased by an amendment that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. But there's cause for optimism that this obstacle may be removed, considering the state's progressive path since the day, 40 years ago, when the courts finally struck down a puritanical law that criminalized birth control.
In the past 15 years, Connecticut has protected gays and lesbians under hate-crime, employment and housing laws, and allowed unmarried couples to raise adopted children. Just as civil union was the next logical step, so may the term marriage be finally extended someday.
Other states are heading in a different direction. Fourteen have banned gay marriage in the last year, with Kansas going further and outlawing civil union. But Connecticut's new law and the bolstering of gay unions in Vermont, Massachusetts and California provide a response to the tendency of civil libertarians to presume that lawmaking is transitory and less reliable than a court decision. Critical as the courts are, there's nothing more stirring than the sight of a legislature, representing the will of the people, passing laws to protect the rights of a vulnerable minority group.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:39 AM
The New York Times
April 23, 2005
In Portland, Ore., a Bid to Pull Out of Terror Task Force
By SARAH KERSHAW
Citing irreconcilable differences with how the Federal Bureau of Investigation has operated in a post-Sept. 11 world, city officials in Portland, Ore., said yesterday that they planned to pull their police officers out of an F.B.I.-run antiterrorism task force.
Federal officials said no other city had taken such an action.
Mayor Tom Potter, a Democrat and former Portland police chief, along with several city commissioners, said they expected the City Council to approve the move next week.
Mr. Potter said that several sticking points in negotiations with the F.B.I. over how investigations are conducted and who has "top secret" security clearance had prompted his decision to remove the two officers, now detailed to the antiterrorism task force, from under the auspices of the F.B.I.
At a news conference yesterday, Mr. Potter was joined by the F.B.I.'s highest-ranking official in Portland and an official from the United States attorney's office there, in what appeared to be a show of forced congeniality. City officials said in interviews that it was clear there was hostility between the F.B.I. special agent in charge in Portland, Robert J. Jordan, and the mayor, but that they had appeared to mend fences before the news conference.
Mr. Potter said that the city's law enforcement agencies would still cooperate with the F.B.I., although his officers, if the plan is approved, would report to the Police Department, not the F.B.I.
"I do not take this step lightly," Mr. Potter said at the news conference. "We're not severing our ties; we're only changing them."
The move by Mayor Potter is not the first time that Portland, which has often shown an independent streak, has clashed with the F.B.I. In November 2001, the Police Department announced that its officers would not cooperate with the government's efforts to interview thousands of Muslim men in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
In a telephone interview after the news conference, Mr. Potter said his main rationale for this decision was that the F.B.I., in negotiations over the last several weeks, had refused to give him and his police chief the same top secret clearance given to the two officers on the antiterrorism task force. In negotiations, the bureau agreed to give the police chief clearance, officials said, but refused to give it to the mayor, who under Portland government tradition is also the police commissioner, with oversight over the department.
This angered Mr. Potter, he said, adding that his lack of security clearance would effectively render him unable to know, in highly classified investigations or other cases, what his own police officers were doing.
"It's important that I know what they know," the mayor said. "Because that is part of the oversight process. If there are things that I don't know that they know, there's always an opportunity for something to go wrong."
In brief remarks at the news conference, Mr. Jordan said: "We collectively have discussed many different proposals. I fully respect the mayor's right and responsibility to provide appropriate oversight of city police officers."
"I make the commitment to you, Mr. Mayor," Mr. Jordan added, "and to the citizens of Portland that we will continue to work with you and the Portland Police Bureau to protect the public's safety."
F.B.I. officials in Washington declined to comment on Mr. Potter's decision and his negotiations with the bureau, saying the situation was being handled by the local field office and Mr. Jordan, who, his office said yesterday, would be unavailable to comment further.
While Mr. Potter focused heavily in his announcement yesterday on the security clearance sticking points, he indicated he was also concerned about how the F.B.I., which last year wrongly arrested and detained a Muslim resident of a Portland suburb, Brandon Mayfield, and then apologized, was handling the protection of civil rights for area citizens in their antiterrorism efforts.
City Commissioner Randy Leonard, who drafted the resolution that would remove the officers from the task force, was more blunt about his concerns about the antiterrorism law known as the USA Patriot Act and how the F.B.I. was enforcing it, including its tactics in the high-profile Mayfield case.
"It would be disingenuous to say I have not been influenced by this kind of national sense - international, really - that we have taken this hard swing to the right in terms of guaranteeing personal freedoms of the citizens of this country," Mr. Leonard said.
Referring to the F.B.I., Mr. Leonard, a former Portland fire department lieutenant, added, "We as a city are not ceding over our police officers to them."
City Commissioner Dan Saltzman - there are four commissioners, and the mayor also has a vote on the Council - had not made up his mind yet, pending a review of the agreement between the city and the F.B.I., his chief of staff, Jeff Cogen, said yesterday. But it appeared likely the mayor would secure a majority.
"The commissioner was disappointed that the city and the F.B.I. were unable to reach agreement," Mr. Cogen said. "But he knows the negotiations were done in good faith."
Janine Robben contributed reporting from Portland, Ore., for this article.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:38 AM
Senate Seeks Iraqi Invitation
By The New York Times
WASHINGTON, April 22 - Leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee have urged Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to seek a formal invitation from the new Iraqi government for American troops to remain until domestic security forces are capable of fully defending their country.
A letter on April 18 from Senator John W. Warner of Virginia, the Republican committee chairman, and Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat, argued that the initiative could "substantially reduce the daily threats to U.S., coalition and Iraqi security forces."
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:38 AM
The New York Times
April 23, 2005
Kurds' Leaders Said to Attempt to Block Shiite
By ROBERT F. WORTH and RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr.
BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 22 - Some leading Kurdish political figures are trying to stall the formation of a new Iraqi government in an effort to force out Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the Shiite chosen two weeks ago as prime minister, Iraqi and Western officials said.
Such an effort could further delay forming a government at a sensitive time. The past week has seen a sharp increase in insurgent violence, including the downing Thursday of a commercial helicopter that left 11 people dead. One of the victims was apparently executed by the attackers.
American officials say the continuing failure to form a new government - almost three months after elections - could be contributing to the resurgent violence.
The political momentum generated by the elections has "worn off a bit," an American official here said Friday, and that "has given the insurgents new hope. The best thing to undermine the insurgency is to maintain momentum on the political process."
A spokesman for the Kurdish alliance denied Friday evening that there was any effort to unseat Dr. Jaafari. But Kurdish leaders have never been comfortable with religious figures like Dr. Jaafari, the leader of one of Iraq's best-known Shiite religious parties. Any successful campaign against him could derail the pact between the Shiite and Kurdish alliances that emerged two months ago, opening the possibility of a new alignment that would favor more secular figures like the departing prime minister, Ayad Allawi.
The American official said Friday that he expected that a new government would be formed within the next week with Dr. Jaafari as prime minister.
But several Iraqi political figures said they doubted that would happen. They cited strong opposition to Dr. Jaafari in the Kurdish alliance, which has agreed to form a coalition government with the Shiite majority. Under Iraq's transitional law, Mr. Jaafari will automatically lose his position if he does not name a cabinet by May 7, a month after his appointment.
"The Kurds are intent on delaying the government so that Jaafari will fall," said Sami al-Askari, a member of the Shiite alliance. A Western diplomat in Baghdad confirmed the effort to "filibuster" the negotiations.
Shiite officials say Kurds who oppose Dr. Jaafari offer several reasons, including a growing conviction that he does not favor the kind of federal arrangement that would allow for strong Kurdish autonomy.
If Dr. Jaafari is displaced, Iraq's new president, Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and his deputies would then be forced to choose a new prime minister, the most powerful job in the government.
That would be a significant setback for the national assembly, which took more than two months just to agree on a new leadership. The delay sowed deep anger and disillusionment among ordinary Iraqis, who risked their lives to vote.
A further delay would stir more public rancor, and would further complicate efforts to meet the Aug. 15 deadline for drafting a new constitution.
Already, American officials say, the continuing absence of a new government may be strengthening the hands of insurgents, who launched more deadly attacks on Friday, including a car bombing outside a Shiite mosque in southern Baghdad that killed at least 9 Iraqis and wounded 26.
With the interim government led by Dr. Allawi in limbo, Iraq is suffering from something of a political vacuum. Local governments in several areas are showing signs of disorder, with some police officials acting independently of the federal government, the American official said.
Dr. Jaafari has always had some opponents among the Shiites.
But it is mostly Kurds who have led the new effort to oust him from the prime minister's seat, Shiite officials say. Late last month, Massoud Barzani, the leader of one of the two major Kurdish parties, made clear that he was deeply opposed to having Dr. Jaafari as prime minister, said a Shiite official.
"We cannot trust this man," Mr. Barzani said of Dr. Jaafari, according to the Shiite official.
The Kurdish opposition stems in part from a perception that Dr. Jaafari favors a strong centralized government and might not allow the Kurds the kind of regional autonomy they have enjoyed since 1991, Shiite leaders say.
It is true that last year, as a member of the American-appointed Iraqi governing council, Dr. Jaafari was one of several Shiite leaders who initially refused to sign Iraq's transitional constitution, saying he opposed a provision that would allow a two-thirds majority in any 3 of Iraq's 18 provinces to nullify the document in a referendum later this year. Dr. Jaafari, charged that the measure was undemocratic. Shiites represent 60 percent of Iraq's population.
He eventually signed, but said he might lead an effort to reverse the provision. That alarmed some groups here, including the Kurds.
Kurdish political figures, who tend to be secular, generally view Shiite religious groups such as Dr. Jaafari's Dawa Party with deep distrust, fearing that they will bring aspects of Islamic law into Iraq's legal code.
One important element has been the party of Dr. Allawi, which won 40 of the 275 seats in Iraq's national assembly in January.
The Shiite and Kurdish alliances agreed to try to include Dr. Allawi's party in the new government. But he has been insisting on four cabinet posts, including key positions such as the Defense or Oil ministries. He has also demanded a deputy prime ministerial position.
Shiite officials say Dr. Jaafari cannot offer that much to Dr. Allawi without facing a rebellion among the Shiites. But the Kurdish leadership insists that Dr. Allawi be accommodated, said Salam al-Maliki, a member of the Shiite alliance.
Shiite leaders believe the Kurdish alliance is using Dr. Allawi's party as a wedge to prevent the formation of a government, said Mr. Askari, the Shiite politician.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:37 AM
The New York Times
April 23, 2005
Cheney Backs End of Filibustering
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
WASHINGTON, April 22 - Vice President Dick Cheney plunged the White House into the judicial confirmation battle on Friday by saying he supported changing the Senate rules to stop the Democrats from blocking judicial nominees and would, if needed, provide the tie-breaking vote.
In addition on Friday, Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority Republican whip, asserted that Republicans would have the votes needed to execute that change.
"There is no justification for allowing the blocking of nominees who are well qualified and broadly supported," Mr. Cheney told a gathering of the Republican National Lawyers Association. "The tactics of the last few years, I believe, are inexcusable.
"If the Senate majority decides to move forward and if the issue is presented to me in my elected office as president of the Senate and presiding officer, I will support bringing those nominations to the floor for an up-or-down vote," he said. "On the merits, this should not be a difficult call to make."
Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic minority leader, responded by accusing Mr. McConnell of bluffing and President Bush of lying.
"Last week, I met with the president and was encouraged when he told me he would not become involved in Republican efforts to break the Senate rules," Mr. Reid said in a statement, referring to a breakfast held between President Bush and Congressional leaders. "Now it appears he was not being honest, and that the White House is encouraging this raw abuse of power."
Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said Mr. Cheney's comments showed that the White House had "stepped over the line by interfering with the Senate to reduce checks and balances," adding, "The White House has always wanted to reduce the Senate's power."
The statements by Mr. Cheney and Mr. McConnell redoubled the Republican commitment to making good on their threat. Senate Republican leaders have faced advertisements from liberal interest groups attacking the move, internal polls showing the public is of two minds about the issue, a chilly response from business-group lobbying allies and several expressions of reluctance from a handful of Republican senators.
Senate aides say that Senator Bill Frist, the Republican majority leader, has decided to defer a fight over the rule change until at least after the May recess, postponing a confrontation that many had expected as early as next week.
Many in the party are pushing Dr. Frist to try to settle the rule change before the end of the Supreme Court term in June - a time when retiring justices typically announce their departures - but he has never set a timetable. On Friday, his spokesman, Bob Stevenson, said Dr. Frist still intended to offer the Democrats a compromise, although he has said any proposal would still entail confirming the nominees.
Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee is continuing to set the stage for a possible showdown. Next week, the committee plans to send to the floor at least two more appeals court nominees over Democratic opposition, bringing the number of nominees on deck for approval to six.
The Democrats have indicated they plan to block four of those by employing a filibuster, a parliamentary tactic used by Congressional minorities to hold up a vote.
Senate rules require 60 votes to close debate on a confirmation, allowing Democrats to thwart the action by mustering 41 votes.
Republicans, who have a 55-member majority, are threatening to lower the threshold for closing debate on all nominations to a simple majority. They say they need only 50 votes plus Vice President Cheney to make the change. Democrats call this the nuclear option, and say they will use other parliamentary rules to bring the Senate to a virtual standstill if Republicans use it.
Democrats have blocked about 10 of Mr. Bush's roughly 50 appellate court nominees, although that is only a small percentage of the more than 200 total judges that have been confirmed.
One of those scheduled for approval by the committee is Judge William H. Pryor Jr., a Catholic and opponent of abortion rights whose previously blocked nomination has become a favorite cause of the party's Christian conservative wing. Republican strategists, however, said Friday that Judge Priscilla R. Owen, a friend of the president from Texas, was favored as the poster nominee for the filibuster fight, and that it could occur as early as the second week of May, when the Senate returns from recess.
But Republicans did not persuade some of their closest allies.
On Thursday afternoon, Dr. Frist convened a meeting with top officials of major business groups, including the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, to enlist their support for the fight, officials of the groups said.
But the business groups pointedly declined to back him, these officials said, in part because in response Democrats have threatened to tie the Senate in knots that would block the group's legislative priorities like the energy bill and tort reform. The next morning, Tom Donohue, president of the United States Chamber of Commerce, told a gathering of journalists that the group had no interest in supporting the fight over the confirmation rules.
Some Republican senators continue to express reservations. Two, John McCain of Arizona and Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island, have said they oppose the move.
On Wednesday, Senator Arlen Specter, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, warned that the parties were headed for "mutually assured destruction."
"At certain junctures of American history," Mr. Specter said in a speech on the floor, "the fate of our system of government has rested on the ability of members of this body to transcend party loyalty for national interest," he said. "I believe the Senate currently faces such a challenge between party-line voting on filibusters and potential voting on the 'constitutional or so-called nuclear' option."
Internal polls conducted for Senate Republicans by the Winston Group show they have their work cut out for them, said a person familiar with the results. Asked about the plan to end the Democrats judicial filibusters, 51 percent of respondents oppose the idea and 37 percent support it. But 80 percent believed that nominees deserve a yes-or-no vote, this person said.
Several conservative groups, including the anti-union National Right to Work Committee, the Gun Owners of America and the National Pro Life Alliance, oppose the change, arguing that conservatives have often relied on filibusters too.
Theodore B. Olson, President Bush's former solicitor general, wrote in an op-ed article published Thursday in The Wall Street Journal that both parties should "stop using judicial appointments to excite special interest constituencies and political fund-raising."
Still, Friday morning, Senator McConnell told the Christian Broadcasting Network that "what Senate Republicans are simply trying to do is get us back to the procedure that operated quite nicely for 214 years" when judicial appointments were voted up or down on the floor.
Mr. McConnell added, "We will have the votes."
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:35 AM
The New York Times
April 23, 2005
Four Top Officers Cleared by Army in Prison Abuses
By ERIC SCHMITT
WASHINGTON, April 22 - A high-level Army investigation has cleared four of the five top Army officers overseeing prison policies and operations in Iraq of responsibility for the abuse of detainees there, Congressional and administration officials said Friday.
Among the officers was Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, who was the top commander in Iraq from June 2003 to July 2004. He was the highest-ranking officer to face allegations of leadership failure in connection with the scandal, but he was not accused of criminal misconduct.
Barring new evidence, the inquiry, by the Army's inspector general, effectively closes the Army's book on whether the highest-ranking officers in Iraq during the Abu Ghraib prison scandal should be held accountable for command failings described in past reviews.
Only one of the top five officers, whose roles the Senate Armed Services Committee had asked the Army to review, has received any punishment. That officer, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, an Army Reserve officer who commanded the military police unit at the Abu Ghraib prison, was relieved of her command and given a written reprimand. She has repeatedly said she was made the scapegoat for the failures of superiors.
The findings, which provoked outrage from some civil rights groups and Democratic aides, came nearly a year after shocking photographs of American military police officers stacking naked Iraqi prisoners in a human pyramid and of other abuses first telecast nationally. Shortly afterward, an internal Army report chronicled the virtual collapse of the command structure at Abu Ghraib, outside Baghdad, in the fall of 2003.
So far, only a small number of soldiers, mostly from the enlisted ranks, have faced courts-martial for their actions at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. Dozens of others have faced administrative discipline for abusing captives at other detention sites and battlefield interrogation stations across Iraq.
An independent panel led by former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger concluded last August that General Sanchez had failed to make sure that his staff was dealing with Abu Ghraib's problems. A separate Army investigation, called the Kern-Fay-Jones report, found that at one point General Sanchez approved the use of severe interrogation practices that led indirectly to some of the abuses.
The Schlesinger inquiry last summer also determined that General Sanchez's deputy, Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski, failed to act quickly enough to make urgent requests to higher levels for more troops at the understaffed prison.
But those inquiries were not empowered to impose any punishments; that was left up to the Army.
The new review, by the Army inspector general, Lt. Gen. Stanley E. Green, exonerated General Sanchez and General Wojdakowski of the allegations that were included in one or more of the 10 major investigations over the past year into detainee abuse.
It also found to be "unsubstantiated" allegations against Maj. Gen. Barbara G. Fast, the former chief intelligence officer in Iraq who oversaw the interrogation center at Abu Ghraib, and Col. Marc Warren, the command's top legal officer. The Schlesinger panel said Colonel Warren had failed to report prisoner abuses witnessed by the Red Cross to his boss for more than a month, and that General Fast had failed to advise General Sanchez properly about the management of interrogations at the prison.
While General Sanchez and the other top officers may not have done everything right, the inquiry said, their failures came as they struggled to combat a fast-growing insurgency and a booming prison population, all with an understaffed headquarters.
But some Democratic aides on Capitol Hill, civil rights groups and lawyers for lower-ranking soldiers who have been disciplined voiced dismay on Friday at the findings, which they said would fuel the perception that the Army was trying to protect its senior leaders at the expense of junior officers and enlisted soldiers.
Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, denounced the findings and urged the Bush administration to appoint a special independent counsel to look up the military and Pentagon civilian chains of command. "This further underscores the military's inability to look into allegations of torture and abuse," Mr. Romero said in a telephone interview. "It's just another effort to paper over the scandal."
Guy Womack, a lawyer for the Army reservist who the government had called the ringleader in the abuse, Specialist Charles A. Graner Jr., said he had interviewed Generals Sanchez and Wojdakowski and agreed with the Army's findings about them. But he said General Fast and Colonel Warren were more directly involved in overseeing detention policy and operations and should have been disciplined. "It's a joke," he said.
Democratic aides, who along with their Republican counterparts were briefed this week on the Army inquiry's findings, said Friday that they disagreed with the conclusions and would review the full investigation before determining their next step.
Army officials defended the investigation as an exhaustive inquiry that included a review of the 10 major inquiries so far, sworn statements from 37 senior officials, including L. Paul Bremer III, the former top civilian administrator in Iraq, as well as information gathered from dozens of criminal investigations and courts-martial.
"The recommendations and decisions are consistent with, and appropriate to, the findings of these very thorough investigations," Brig. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, the Army's top spokesman, said in a statement.
Senator John W. Warner, the Virginia Republican who heads the Armed Services Committee, declined in a statement to comment directly on the Army's findings, but signaled he would call a hearing on senior officer accountability in the detainee abuse scandal. A spokesman for Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the committee's ranking Democrat, declined to comment.
As a result of the findings of the Schlesinger panel and other military inquiries, Mr. Warner's committee directed the Army in September to review the cases of General Sanchez and at least four other senior officers in Iraq to determine if any should be held accountable and disciplined.
The Army expanded that inquiry to 12 officers of the rank of colonel or higher, including anyone of that rank who was criticized in at least one of the 10 major investigations.
Four senior Defense Department officials, who provided details about the inquiry on the condition of anonymity because several members of Congress had not been fully briefed, declined to identify the officers under scrutiny, although the five whom Congress has focused on were well known. Nor did they say whether any of seven other officers under scrutiny were disciplined. Congressional aides said they had not yet been briefed on those cases.
The 12 officers under scrutiny by the inspector general do not include the top two military intelligence officers at Abu Ghraib, Col. Thomas M. Pappas and Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan. Senior military officials said they were being examined by separate investigations that could lead to criminal charges.
General Green, the inspector general, has completed his review of allegations against 11 of the 12 officers, officials said. If the allegations were not substantiated, no action was taken. If they were, the files were forwarded to the Army judge advocate general, the senior military lawyer, Maj. Gen. Thomas Romig, who could recommend a wide range of disciplinary options, from no action to counseling to a career-killing reprimand. The 12 officers had the right to respond to the findings before any disciplinary action were taken.
A senior military official said there were no criminal allegations against any of the 12 officers.
General Sanchez, once considered for promotion to be the four-star commander of military operations in Latin America, remains the head of the Army's V Corps, based in Germany. It is unclear whether he will be given a new assignment when his command ends this summer or whether he will retire.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:33 AM
Friday, April 22, 2005
April 22, 2005
Bolton: Outrageous Outtakes
by Ari Berman
** The delay in the John Bolton proceedings may be the first time a Bush Administration confirmation hearing has produced an unexpected result. The unforeseen outcome was all the more amazing considering how Republicans attempted to shove Bolton down the Senate's throat. In a precursor to the brewing battle over judicial nominations, Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist shut down all Senate business on the day of the vote, preventing Democrats from seeking more time. When Senator Barbara Boxer objected, a majority of Republicans overruled her, prompting the Senate to meet that day, confident that only a rushed hearing could give Bush his man at the UN.
** The Senate Foreign Relations Committee didn't get any help from the State Department either. The 17th paragraph of a Washington Post article on Wednesday contained the revelation that "Condoleezza Rice told her senior staff she was disappointed about the stream of allegations and said she did not want any information coming out of the department that could adversely affect the nomination." Condi's gag order may violate 18 U.S.C Section 1505 of US law, which prohibits any threat that results in impediment of an investigation. The penalty? A fine or imprisonment of five years. We prefer the latter.
** What's more, the hearings revealed that Bolton was eavesdropping on confidential National Security Agency intercepts, possibly to gain ammunition to use against his internal State Department enemies, more and more of whom keep turning up. Bolton made ten such demands, but the State Department and NSA still have not provided the intercepts, leaving the committee in the dark about which officials Bolton spied on and why. As Laura Rozen writes, "John Bolton misuses intelligence the way communists use it in police states." And the Bush Administration hides intelligence the same way the Politburo used to.
** Luckily for the country, Republican George Voinovich emerged as the lone voice of Republican opposition. Immediately after his objection derailed a vote, the Republican attack squad went into action. An ad running in Voinovich's home state of Ohio by the anti-UN group Move American Forward takes the form of a folksy husband and wife conversation: "Wife: Shame on Senator Voinovich. After the Democrats smeared Condoleeza Rice for Secretary of State and Alberto Gonzales for Attorney General, how could Voinovich side with the Democrats in smearing John Bolton? Husband: It seems like Senator Voinovich has become a traitor to the Republican Party. Wife: Enough's enough." Yes, enough's enough. It's time for Rice and Gonzales to be re-confirmed.
** If the Committee hearings didn't blow to pieces Chairman Richard Lugar's "moderate" cover, his decision last week to support Bill Frist's nuclear option for judicial nominees certainly did. "I would not take a stand against my party's view," Lugar explained. That's clear. But taking a stand for a UN ambassador and right-wing judiciary he so obviously loathes makes Lugar's fealty all the more revolting. Even Bolton's old boss, Colin Powell, long considered the "good soldier," has refused to back his discordant deputy this time around.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:11 AM
Iraq Group Threatens to Kill Romania Hostages - TV
DUBAI (Reuters) - Insurgents gave Romania four days to withdraw its troops from Iraq in order to save the lives of three Romanian journalists kidnapped last month, Al Jazeera television reported on Friday.
"They gave the Romanian government four days from the date of the videotape to withdraw its forces from Iraq or they would kill them," the Arabic broadcaster said.
It broadcast a new video it had received, showing the two men and a woman who were abducted on March 28 in Baghdad.
"She called on the Romanian people to protest in order to pressure the Romanian government," Al Jazeera said.
The video separately showed a fourth hostage, Mohamad Munaf, the translator for the journalists, who has U.S., Romanian and Iraqi citizenship, as two men pointed guns at his head.
The channel said Munaf called on President Bush to intervene to ensure his release.
The video showed the hostage-takers' name as the previously unheard-of "Squadrons of Mu'adh bin Jebel," in reference to a figure from early Islamic history.
Romania has 800 troops with the U.S.-led force in Iraq and remains committed despite recent opinion polls showing 55 percent of Romanians want the troops to come home.
Analysts have said if the kidnappers demand a withdrawal, public pressure on the government will increase.
More than 150 foreigners have been seized in Iraq over the past year. Most were freed after negotiations or ransom but about a third were killed. Many more Iraqis have been abducted.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:07 AM
Bush Nominates Pace as Top U.S. Military Officer
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush on Friday nominated Marine Gen. Peter Pace, who has played a key role in shaping strategy in the war on terrorism, to serve as chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Bush said Pace "knows the job well" having served as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff since 2001. "This is a huge task, even in peace time," Bush added.
Once confirmed by the Senate, Pace, 59, would become the first Marine Corps officer to serve as chairman -- the highest ranking U.S. military officer and principal military adviser to the president and defense secretary.
As chairman, Pace will face daunting problems at the Pentagon as U.S. budget deficits clash with the rising cost of warships, fighter jets and other high-tech programs planned to replace aging Cold War weaponry.
"I know the challenges ahead are formidable," Pace said.
Bush also nominated Navy Adm. Edmund Giambastiani Jr., 56, a former senior military assistant to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, to replace Pace as vice chairman.
Bush stumbled over Giambastiani's name, and joked that he would henceforth refer to him as "Admiral G."
Pace, seen as closely aligned with Rumsfeld, previously headed Southern Command, responsible for U.S. military operations in Latin America.
As Joint Chiefs of Staff vice chairman, Pace has been involved in overseeing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Pace would replace Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, 63, who is set to retire on Sept. 30.
Myers has been the top U.S. military officer since Oct. 1, 2001, just after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
Pace, born in Brooklyn and raised in Teaneck, New Jersey, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy before serving in the Vietnam War, where he led a rifle platoon.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff consists of a chairman and vice chairman as well as the top officers of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:06 AM
The New York Times
Districts and Teachers' Union Sue Over Bush Law
By SAM DILLON
Opening a new front in the growing rebellion against President Bush's signature education law, the nation's largest teachers' union and eight school districts in Michigan, Texas and Vermont sued the Department of Education yesterday, accusing it of violating a passage in the law that says states cannot be forced to spend their own money to meet federal requirements.
Some legal scholars said that the union, the National Education Association, had assembled a compelling cause of action. Still, they added, since the case has few close precedents, it was difficult to judge the suit's prospects.
But it was clearly another headache for Margaret Spellings, the secretary of education, who is trying to resolve a federal-state conflict over the law, known as No Child Left Behind, that has taken on new forms in recent days. A day before the suit was filed, Utah's Republican-dominated Legislature approved the most far-reaching legislative challenge to the law.
Both the Utah measure, which requires educators there to spend as little state money as possible in carrying out the federal law's requirements, and the union lawsuit rely heavily on the same section of the federal law, which prohibits federal officials from requiring states to allocate their own money to fulfill the law's mandates.
This month, Connecticut's attorney general also announced the intention to sue the department on the same grounds, saying that the testing the law requires costs far more than the money the state is given to pay for it.
"If the facts about educational spending are as the plaintiffs allege, then this lawsuit has good prospects of winning," said David B. Cruz, a constitutional law professor at the University of Southern California. "It is a strong case because the statutory language is clear. The law says nothing in the act shall be interpreted to impose requirements that aren't being funded."
Since Ms. Spellings took office in January, she has pledged to improve relations with the nation's educators, which had frayed partly because of the law's demands for sweeping changes in local education practices.
The law requires that every racial and demographic group in every school must score higher on standardized tests every year. Falling short can bring sanctions, including the closing of schools.
Ms. Spellings has promised more flexibility, but those assurances have failed to blunt resistance to the law, even in strongly Republican states like Texas, which is defying a federal ruling on the testing of disabled children.
"If I were sitting in the White House, I would be concerned about the backlash against the law," said Patricia Sullivan, who tracks education politics closely as director of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington group. "It's growing, and it's breaking out in many states."
In Utah yesterday, Tim Bridgewater, an aide to Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., a Republican, said that the governor would sign the bill that was approved on Tuesday. During the debate, several lawmakers protested the growth of federal influence on Utah's schools, asserting that while Washington paid 8 cents of every education dollar in the state, the law had given it virtually total control.
In a statement yesterday, Secretary Spellings said that though most school decisions should be made locally, "the federal government plays an important role" by keeping educators' attention on minority students who lag behind.
"States across the nation who have embraced No Child Left Behind have shown progress," she said. "The same could be true in Utah, whose achievement gap between Hispanics and their peers is the third largest in the nation and has not improved significantly in over a decade."
"Returning to the pre-N.C.L.B. days of fuzzy accountability and hiding children in averages will do nothing" to help Utah students, she added. Ms. Spellings did not comment on the lawsuit filed and financed by the National Education Association, but her spokesman, Susan Aspey, called it "regrettable."
"President Bush and Congress have provided historic funding increases for education, and yet we continue to hear the same weak arguments from the N.E.A.," Ms. Aspey said. "Four separate studies assert that the law is appropriately funded and not a mandate."
The union suit was filed in Federal District Court in Detroit, which has jurisdiction over one of the plaintiff school districts, in Pontiac, Mich., an urban system with 21 schools and 11,000 students, most of them blacks.
Other districts in the suit were Laredo, Tex., a mostly Hispanic district with 23,000 students and 30 schools; and six rural Vermont districts with a total attendance of about 1,500 students, most of them white.
In the complaint, the union argues that the law has already obligated the nation's schools to face "multibillion-dollar national funding shortfalls." The Bush administration contests this assertion, citing significant raises in federal education aid since President Bush took office.
The complaint seeks a court order notifying states and districts that they are not required to spend their own money to comply with the federal requirements.
"The law says that you don't have to do anything it requires unless you receive the federal money to do it," said Robert H. Chanin, the union's lead counsel. "There's a promise in the law, and it is unambiguous."
Robert W. Adler, a University of Utah law professor, said he was skeptical about the suit's prospects, because "generally, the Supreme Court has not been receptive to the unfunded federal mandates argument."
But the wording of the law, Mr. Adler said, might provide the plaintiffs a firmer legal standing than similar cases have enjoyed in the past.
Sylvia Bruni, superintendent of the Laredo schools, which have an annual budget of $170 million, said that her district this year had been obligated to spend $8.2 million of its own funds to comply with the federal law. Mostly, she said, those funds were spent to lengthen the school day and year, and to offer Saturday classes for students who had fallen short on standardized tests.
"It's all focused on passing the tests," she said.
originally published April 21, 2005
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:58 AM
Powell Playing Quiet Role in Bolton Battle
GOP Senators Sought Views on Nominee
By Jim VandeHei and Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writers
Former secretary of state Colin L. Powell is emerging as a behind-the-scenes player in the battle over John R. Bolton's nomination as ambassador to the United Nations, privately telling at least two key Republican lawmakers that Bolton is a smart but very problematic government official, according to Republican sources.
Powell spoke in recent days with Sens. Lincoln D. Chafee (R.I.) and Chuck Hagel (Neb.), two of three GOP senators on the Foreign Relations Committee who have raised concerns about Bolton's confirmation, the sources said. Powell did not advise the senators to oppose Bolton, but offered a frank assessment of the nominee as a man who was challenging to work with on personnel and policy matters, according to two people familiar with the conversations.
"General Powell has returned calls from senators who wanted to discuss specific questions that have been raised," said Margaret Cifrino, a Powell spokeswoman. "He has not reached out to senators," and considers the discussions private.
A spokesman for Chafee confirmed that at least two conversations took place. Bolton served under Powell as his undersecretary of state for arms control, and the two were known to have serious clashes.
Powell's tenure as secretary of state was often marked by friction with the White House on a range of foreign policy issues, disagreements that both sides worked to keep from surfacing. It is not Powell's style to weigh in strongly against a former colleague, but rather to direct people to what he sees as flaws and potential problems, former associates say. Powell's views are highly influential with many Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill.
Those who know Powell best said two recent events provide insight into his thinking. Powell did not sign a letter from seven other former U.S. secretaries of state or defense supporting Bolton, and his former chief of staff, Lawrence B. Wilkerson, recently told the New York Times that Bolton would be an "abysmal ambassador."
"On two occasions, he has let it be known that the Bolton nomination is a bad one, to put it mildly," a Democratic congressional aide said. "It would be great to have Powell on the record speaking for himself, but he's unlikely to do it."
With a final committee vote delayed until next month, Chafee is studying Bolton's record and withholding judgment, his spokesman said. Chafee told reporters Wednesday he is "much less likely" to support Bolton because of questions about his credibility.
President Bush yesterday accused Democrats of blocking Bolton's nomination for political reasons, as the White House intensified its campaign to confirm Bolton and discredit his critics.
"John's distinguished career and service to our nation demonstrates that he is the right man at the right time for this important assignment," Bush said in a speech to insurance agents. "I urge the Senate to put aside politics and confirm John Bolton to the United Nations."
Yet it was Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) who prevented a final vote in the Foreign Relations Committee this week and called for more time to study Bolton's past. "The senator's motives are to do what is best for the American people," said Marcie Ridgway, Voinovich's spokeswoman.
Chafee and Hagel share Voinovich's concerns. Powell called Hagel, asking the Nebraska Republican if he should return Chafee's call. Hagel said that he should and that he should be frank, the sources said.
"I think it's being held up because Democrats oppose John Bolton, oppose him with passion," said Foreign Relations Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), when asked whether politics were to blame for the delay.
Bush entered the increasingly tense showdown over Bolton's nomination as both sides are digging in for a tough fight over the confirmation of the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Democrats are charging that Bolton is a bully with a history of berating people he works with and of seeking to remove those who disagree with him. The White House is accusing Democrats of using "trumped-up" charges to prevent a highly qualified Republican from shaking up the United Nations. The committee yesterday failed to agree on whether Bolton should be called back to answer more questions.
Bolton has been accused of mistreating subordinates, including threatening a female former government contractor and misleading members about the handling of classified materials. Initially, Democrats opposed Bolton because of his negative comments about the United Nations. Their attack now centers on his character and temperament. "I do not believe that's a convincing case," Lugar said.
Former State Department official Carl W. Ford Jr. told the committee last week that in 2002 Bolton sought to remove two intelligence analysts who refused to endorse a speech he was preparing on Cuba's weapons capability.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), ranking Democrat on the committee, last week released a letter from Melody Townsel, a former subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Kyrgyzstan, charging that Bolton harassed her over work-related matters more than a decade ago. Since then, at least two people have denied Townsel's charges.
Democratic committee sources said Biden and others are opening new lines of inquiry, including looking into a report posted yesterday on Newsweek's Web site that Bolton twice clashed angrily with Thomas Hubbard, a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea.
Hubbard, who was appointed by Bush, has discussed his concerns about Bolton's credibility with committee members. Hubbard also challenged Bolton's testimony to the committee that he had praised Bolton for a 2003 speech denouncing Kim Jong Il, the leader of North Korea, as a "tyrannical dictator."
White House officials are moving quickly to address concerns among Republicans. Matthew R. Kirk, the president's liaison to the Senate, grabbed Voinovich shortly after this week's hearing to tell him the White House stands ready to provide him any information he wants, GOP sources said.
"John Bolton is someone who has a long record of getting things done, and sometimes that's going to make people mad," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.
The White House also helped organize Republicans to speak out in favor of Bolton yesterday. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on the Senate floor that Bolton's temper should not disqualify him. "I believe John Bolton could provide the medicine the United Nations needs," he said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:17 AM
Senate Passes $81 Billion War Spending Bill
Thu Apr 21, 6:52 PM ET
By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed an $81.3 billion spending bill to keep U.S. combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan running and to provide additional help to last December's tsunami victims.
By a vote of 99-0, the Senate passed the emergency spending bill that also funds some new domestic security measures, including the hiring of additional border agents.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, a Mississippi Republican, said the bill would "continue to support the additional funding that's needed for this fiscal year for our troops in the field, for those who are deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world." The fiscal year ends at the end of September.
Last month, the House of Representatives passed its own measure to speed delivery of funds President Bush sought for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The two chambers will try to work out their differences quickly and send the legislation to Bush for signing.
One major area of disagreement is over the administration's plans to build a new embassy in Baghdad. The House deleted money for the construction project, largely due to concerns about record U.S. budget deficits.
The Senate has included $592 million for the project, which would be the largest U.S. embassy in the world.
There are also differences over immigration reform, including new hurdles for foreigners seeking asylum and prohibitions on driver's licenses for illegal aliens which were embraced by the House.
The Senate sidestepped a broad immigration reform debate but did approve an amendment to temporarily lift the cap on foreign workers doing seasonal work in low-paying U.S. jobs.
Pentagon planners say they need an infusion of about $75 billion by next month to ensure the timely delivery of combat materials, including weapons, medical supplies and body armor. The legislation also provides bigger death benefits to families of soldiers killed in combat.
Once the spending bill is enacted, the running tally on Iraq and Afghanistan war costs for the United States would rise to nearly $300 billion, with about two-thirds of that total dedicated to the fighting in Iraq.
Before passing the bill, senators agreed to add $213 million to buy more armor-protected "Humvee" military vehicles through the end of this year.
Late last year, the Pentagon scurried to procure more armored Humvees after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld heard soldier complaints that troops in Iraq had to forage for scrap metal to protect their vehicles from insurgent attacks.
The House bill contains $185 billion in added funding for Humvees.
The Bush administration has not provided Congress with long-term estimates of Iraq war costs, which has rankled some lawmakers. In response, the Senate used the emergency spending bill to call on the White House to do a better job of estimating those costs in upcoming budget documents.
Related to December's Indian Ocean tsunami, the Senate provided about $907 billion in additional funding, slightly below Bush's request.
The money would be used to reimburse the U.S. military for some of its emergency relief efforts and to provide about $656 million for a tsunami recovery and reconstruction fund, as well as money for improving a U.S. early warning system for detecting tsunamis.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:14 AM
Sept. 11 Suspects Go on Trial In Madrid
Case Caps Probe of Al Qaeda in Spain
By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, April 22, 2005; Page A01
MADRID, April 21 -- Two weeks before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a Syrian immigrant in Spain received a phone call from London. The caller reported that he had "entered the field of aviation" and that "classes were going well." He added, mysteriously, that "the throat of the bird has been slit."
The call was recorded by Spanish police as part of a long-term investigation into a suspected network of Islamic radicals, but it was weeks before the possible significance of the conversation was understood. Prosecutors here now say they believe "the bird" was a symbolic reference to the American bald eagle and that the caller was sending a message that the Sept. 11 hijackings were ready to proceed.
The wiretap will be a key piece of evidence against the Syrian, Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, and two other men suspected of being al Qaeda members who go on trial in Madrid on Friday after a 3 1/2 -year investigation into the role Spain may have played as a staging ground for the Sept. 11 attacks.
Each is charged with nearly 3,000 counts of accessory to murder and membership in a terrorist organization. Yarkas, who has been in jail since November 2001, denies the charges against him, as do the two other men.
The defendants face charges that they knowingly helped in the hijackings by providing money and cover to two of the plot's ringleaders during a rendezvous in a Spanish coastal town two months before the attacks. The trial will include 21 other defendants charged with terrorism-related crimes, making it the largest criminal prosecution in Europe aimed at al Qaeda.
No one has been successfully prosecuted for playing a role in the Sept. 11 attacks. German courts have tried two accused members of the Hamburg cell that oversaw the hijackings, but one defendant's conviction was overturned and the other man was found not guilty.
In Alexandria, Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen, is scheduled to plead guilty Friday in federal court to participating in the plot. While such a plea would represent a breakthrough for U.S. prosecutors, there are doubts about Moussaoui's mental competency and uncertainty about what role he will admit to playing in the conspiracy.
More than 43 months after the hijackings, considerable gaps remain in investigators' understanding of how the plot was carried out. One concerns a 12-day period in July 2001 after the lead hijacker, Mohamed Atta, flew from Florida to Spain for a meeting with Ramzi Binalshibh, a key conspirator and friend of Atta's from Germany.
U.S. and European officials have concluded that the meeting was called to set a date for the hijackings and was prompted by al Qaeda's founder, Osama bin Laden, who was growing impatient with the pace of preparations.
In recently filed court papers, Spanish prosecutors said they had new evidence that Atta and Binalshibh met in the coastal town of Tarragona on July 16, 2001, with Mohamed Belfatmi, an Algerian, to discuss final arrangements for the hijackings.
The meeting, according to the court documents, was organized by Belfatmi and three other al Qaeda members in Spain who also knew about the plot. But for five of the 12 days Atta and Binalshibh were in Spain, investigators have no idea where the pair were or what they were doing.
Starting two weeks before the attacks, Binalshibh, Belfatmi and two other members of the Hamburg cell left Europe for Pakistan, investigators have concluded. At least three of the men took connecting flights through Spain.
Prosecutors are expected to introduce new evidence during the trial, but so far, little has emerged publicly that directly shows the defendants were willing, knowing participants in the Sept. 11 conspiracy. In the German trials, the two defendants successfully argued that they were merely doing favors for fellow Muslims and knew nothing of the plot.
"The proof we have against the people here is legally quite weak," said Rafael L. Bardaji, who was strategic adviser on security issues to Jose Maria Aznar, Spain's prime minister at the time of the attacks. "I'm convinced they were in on the plot. But we have a tremendous gap between what we think they did and the ability to prove them guilty."
"They are really only accused of playing a logistical role," said Antonio Remiro, a professor of international relations and law at Autonoma University in Madrid. "The prosecutor is going to have to prove that they knew what those meetings were all about. Otherwise, there is only evidence that they were part of a terrorist group but had no link to September 11."
U.S. counterterrorism officials have said they remain keenly interested in the Spanish connection to Sept. 11 but have learned little from their interrogations of al Qaeda members, including Binalshibh, who was captured in Pakistan in 2002 and is in U.S. custody at a secret location.
Dietrich Snell, a staff lawyer for the Sept. 11 commission, which issued its final report on the hijackings last year, told a German court last month that Binalshibh has offered his interrogators no real explanation for why he met Atta in Spain.
Snell said the commission was "very interested particularly in finding if there was a connection between al Qaeda elements in Spain and the attacks on Sept. 11" but was unable to come up with any new information on its own.
A Staging Ground
In 1996, five years before al Qaeda grabbed the world's attention with the Sept. 11 attacks, Spanish authorities opened a major investigation into the emerging presence of Islamic radicals on their soil.
Led by Baltasar Garzon, an investigative magistrate in Madrid known for his attempted prosecution of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and other notable cases, Spanish officials uncovered a network of religious extremists that raised money and found recruits to fight in Bosnia and Afghanistan.
Several members were kept under surveillance, but none was arrested until November 2001, when investigators realized that al Qaeda had used Spain as a staging ground for the attacks in the United States.
Garzon released a 700-page indictment in September 2003, charging 35 people -- including bin Laden -- with terrorism and other crimes. The number of defendants was later expanded to 41. Two dozen are in Spanish custody and will go on trial Friday, while the remainder are at large or awaiting extradition.
In court papers, Garzon stated that Yarkas, the Syrian who moved to Madrid in the early 1980s, was instrumental in creating a network of Islamic radicals in Spain that later gave money and support to al Qaeda as part of the Sept. 11 conspiracy. Garzon concluded that it was "crystal clear" that Yarkas knew details about the hijackings in advance.
According to a superseding indictment filed in February, Yarkas and three other suspects "gave logistical support as well as protection" to Atta and Binalshibh when the two conspirators flew to Spain in July 2001. Prosecutors allege that Yarkas was in repeated phone contact with the Algerian al Qaeda member who was present at the July 16 meeting between Atta and Binalshibh, and that Yarkas's phone number was found in an apartment in Germany used by the Hamburg cell.
Spanish prosecutors have collected other bits of evidence that al Qaeda drew more support from their country than previously believed. Two suspects, for instance, are accused of providing a stolen Spanish passport to Binalshibh before his trip to Tarragona, an indication that ties between the Hamburg cell and the Spanish network were long-standing.
Another key piece of evidence will be a collection of videotapes showing the World Trade Center, the Golden Gate and Brooklyn bridges and other U.S. landmarks. The videos were recorded in 1997 by one of the defendants, Ghasoub Abrash Ghayoun, who told investigators he was filming on behalf of an architect friend in Madrid. The friend later said he knew nothing about the tapes.
Ghayoun, like Yarkas and several other defendants in the case, is a Syrian native who moved to Spain in the 1980s. Spanish investigators say the Syrian members of the al Qaeda cell are members of the Muslim Brotherhood and used their connections to build the network in Spain and recruit money and fighters for radical Islamic causes.
Manuel Tuero, an attorney for another of the defendants, Mohammed Zouaydi, who is accused of financing terrorism, said prosecutors were stretching their case. "It's based on information that is very circumstantial," he said. "Someone was here in Spain and saw or visited a certain person. Well, just because Americans may have coincidentally been in an establishment with Al Capone does not mean that they were in his gang."
According to prosecutors, the Syrians in Spain were in frequent contact with two fellow Syrians in Germany, Mamoun Darkazanli and Mohammed Zammar, who were also members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
U.S. and European investigators say they believe these two men helped recruit the core Hamburg cell members and may have originally put them in contact with al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan.
Most of the accused Syrians are middle-aged businessmen with worldwide contacts, both in commercial and radical Islamic circles. Yarkas traveled to London on 20 occasions to meet with a leading radical imam and al Qaeda sympathizer known as Abu Qatada, according to Spanish court records.
Special correspondents Pamela Rolfe in Madrid and Shannon Smiley in Hamburg contributed to this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:12 AM
Thursday, April 21, 2005
A Democratic Dishonor Roll
04/21/2005 @ 2:02pm
April 13, 2005, was a dark day for Democrats. As House Republicans gleefully passed legislation to repeal the estate tax permanently, 42 Democrats--about one-fifth of the party's caucus in the House--went along for the limo ride. It's true that 160 Democrats did vote against this unjustifiable tax break for the wealthiest of Americans. (Only one GOPer said nay to it.) But the three-and-a-half dozen Democrats who sided with Denny Hastert and Tom DeLay gave ammo to Republicans and their conservative allies in the punditry who were now able to claim the repeal was a bipartisan action that had drawn significant Democratic support. Once again, the Democrats botched an opportunity to signal clearly that there is a sharp difference between Ds and Rs and that the Republicans care more about millionaires than middle- and low-income Americans while Dems do not.
There was no good policy reason for a Democrat to vote to kill the estate tax outright. (Perhaps some of the 42 felt that opposing the estate tax repeal would bring upon them a barrage of ads claiming they support the "death tax.") Under existing law, the estate tax is scheduled to decrease gradually over the next four years and is then repealed totally in 2010 before returning in full force in 2011. The Republicans came up with this nutty schedule several years ago to keep the cost of their tax cuts within agreed upon budget limits. And they wanted to make Bush's tax cuts look less expensive than they were. But that was obviously a ruse at the time. The GOPers were not interested in truly being fiscally responsible. And this repeal will add, according to the Tax Policy Center, $270 billion to the national debt in the next decade. It also will only benefit a very small number of taxpayers--perhaps about 30,000. This is a sop for the super-rich. Estates smaller than $1.5 million (or $3 million a couple) are now exempt from the tax. And when the House Democrats offered to raise the exemption to $3.5 million--which would exempt all but the top .3 percent of estates--the Republicans said no. They wanted the deepest-pocketed Americans--that is, the heirs of these people--to have more in their pockets.
Bush and the Republicans have tossed out phony arguments to grease the way for killing the estate tax. In particular, they have resorted to three-hankies rhetoric in claiming the estate tax causes the sons and daughters of family farmers to sell their farms once their folks pass on. In 2001, when this debate began, the American Farm Bureau could not identify a single farm that had been lost due to the estate tax. And as the Tax Policy Center notes, "In fact, few small farms and businesses appear to be subject to the estate tax, although many families may undergo costly planning to avoid it." Repealing the estate tax is only about making sure the kids of rich people end up wealthier. And if this GOP campaign to comfort the comfortable succeeds, there will be much more pressure to cut the federal budget and chop away at programs that benefit low- and middle-income Americans. This was a vote in favor of class warfare--that is, warfare against those Americans with less.
Which brings us to the Dishonor Roll. Here are the 42 Democrats who collaborated with the GOP's relieve-the-rich effort. Do with this information what you will.
Bud Cramer (AL-5)
Marion Berry (AK-1)
Mike Ross (AK-4)
Sam Farr, (CA-17)
Dennis Cardoza (CA-18)
Jim Costa (CA-20)
Loretta Sanchez (CA-47)
Bob Filner (CA-51)
John Salazar (CO-3)
Sanford Bishop (GA-2)
John Barrow (GA-12)
David Scott (GA-13)
Melissa Bean (IL-8)
Jerry Costello (IL-12)
Leonard Boswell (IA-3)
Ben Chandler (KY-6)
William Jefferson (LA-2)
Charlie Melancon (LA-3)
Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-2)
Albert Wynn (MD-4)
Collin Peterson (MN-7)
William Clay (MO-1)
Ike Skelton (MO-4)
Shelley Berkley (NV-1)
Steve Israel (NY-2)
Carolyn McCarthy (NY-4)
Edolphus Towns (NY-10)
G.K. Butterfield (NC-1)
Mike McIntyre (NC-7)
Tim Ryan (OH-17)
Dan Boren (OK-2)
Darlene Hooley (OR-5)
Lincoln Davis (TN-4)
Bart Gordon (TN-6)
Ruben Hinojosa (TX-15)
Chet Edwards (TX-17)
Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18)
Henry Cuellar (TX-28)
Jim Matheson (UT-2)
Rick Boucher (VA-9)
Rick Larsen (WA-2)
Nick Rahall (WV-3)
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:56 PM
Yahoo will give family slain Marine's e-mail account
WIXOM, Mich. (AP) — E-mail provider Yahoo has pledged to give the family of a Marine killed in Iraq full access to their son's e-mail account, ending a court battle that began after his parents sought messages he wrote before his death.
By Paul Sancya, AP
An Oakland County probate judge signed an order Wednesday directing Yahoo Inc. to provide the contents of the e-mail account used by Lance Cpl. Justin M. Ellsworth, 20, who was killed Nov. 13 while inspecting a bomb in Al Anbar province.
Yahoo, which originally refused the family's request to hand over the account, did not fight the order and gave the family a CD containing more than 10,000 pages of material.
But John Ellsworth, Justin's father, said he found only e-mails his son received and nothing he had written, even e-mails the younger Ellsworth had sent home.
"Maybe that's all he had ... Maybe that's all he did," John Ellsworth said. "I'm not sure what I've got in front of me."
The family found only their own messages to Justin Ellsworth, as well as spam and a few e-mails from people they had never heard of.
A spokeswoman for Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo said the CD should have contained the Marine's outgoing as well as his incoming e-mail messages.
"We will do whatever it takes to help Mr. Ellsworth access all of the files on the disc," Mary Osako told The Associated Press on Thursday. She said Yahoo would deliver a paper copy of the contents to the family early next week.
Justin Ellsworth's job was to locate and destroy hidden bombs. He discovered one while on patrol and noticed the device lacked wires, suggesting it was remote-controlled. He warned fellow Marines to clear the area but was caught by the blast.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:50 PM
One (Especially) Sad Death in Iraq
by David Corn
Marla Ruzicka deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Unlike Paul Wolfowitz or George Tenet, she shouldn't get it for botching the job in Iraq. No, she ought to receive it for trying damn hard to make America live up to its ideals in Iraq and elsewhere. But the medal would have to be awarded posthumously--because on Saturday, Marla, an irrepressible 28-year-old from California, was killed by a bomb when a suicide bomber, who was apparently trying to strike a US convoy on the highway to Baghdad International Airport, pulled up alongside her car pulled and detonated the explosives. Faiz Ali Salaam, her 43-year-old associate and the father of a two-month-old daughter, was also killed.
I met Marla several years ago. During the early months of the (still unfinished) war in Afghanistan, I became obsessed with the idea of providing compensation for the civilians killed or injured in Afghanistan as the result of the US military action. Few others--in the media, on Capitol Hill, in the foreign policy community--shared my concern, which rose from both a humanitarian sentiment and a sense of national self-interest. If the United States was killing and maiming civilians in Afghanistan to protect ourselves--even if inadvertently--it seemed to me Washington should do whatever it could not to piss off further the people in Afghanistan (and other countries) by ignoring the plight of the noncombatants. Soon after writing about this, I was contacted by Marla. She had been in Kabul, where she had conducted surveys to assess the extent of civilian casualties, and she was now in Washington pressing for US assistance to the families harmed. She had been doing the hard--and dangerous--on-the-ground work.
I was much impressed by her, as were others in Washington. She was a passionate, facts-driven advocate who cared about the individual lives of victims so often kept out of our collective conscience by being described as "collateral damage." No, she urged, they count, too. As much as our fallen neighbors struck down on September 11. And she meant that quite literally. She argued that these people ought to be counted; their deaths should be recorded by someone, especially since the Bush administration showed a particular disinterest in mounting such calculations or even acknowledging the damage done to civilians. Marla wanted to chronicle the truth and aid the afflicted. She was brave. She was concerned. She was a hero.
During one of our conversations after the major fighting was done in Afghanistan, we discussed her future. She was not finished with her Afghanistan work, but she sensed there was a bigger issue afoot: the general attitude toward civilian victims of war. She was right. We both saw that a war in Iraq was on its way. There will be antiwar activists raising hell, I told her, and Marla easily could be one of their leaders. But she had identified and filled a crucial need overlooked by so many others in the antiwar movement. She had made herself indispensable to the cause of social justice, and she had, in a way, transcended the typical ideological and policy disputes. I encouraged her to continue and expand her efforts.
Marla did engage in organizing against the war in Iraq, but once Bush launched the invasion, she created a small, nonprofit outfit called the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC). Shortly after the invasion, she quickly organized a team of 160 Iraqis to conduct a survey. These researchers interviewed thousands and documented nearly 2,000 civilian deaths from the start of the invasion to May 1, 2003--the day Bush prematurely declared the end of major military operations in Iraq. "The purpose of the survey is not to quantify the total humanitarian impact of the war in Iraq, but rather to identify victims and families of those in need of recognition and assistance," CIVIC later noted. "... Each death, injury and house that was destroyed represents a story and a need." After her death, Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, told the Associated Press that it had been Ruzicka's idea to create a special fund in last year's multibillion-dollar foreign aid bill to help Iraqis whose businesses had been damaged by US bombs.
The innocent casualties of war were too real for Marla. In November 2003, she sent an email to Alternet in which she described one small tragedy in Iraq:
As terrorists wreak havoc on life in Baghdad, innocent families are getting caught in the crossfire.
On the 24th of October, former teacher Mohammad Kadhum Mansoor, 59, and his wife, Hamdia Radhi Kadhum, 45, were traveling with their three daughters -- Beraa, 21, Fatima, 8, and Ayat, 5 years old -- when they were tragically run over by an American tank.
A small grenade was thrown at the tank, causing it to loose control and veer onto the highway, over the family's small Volkswagen. Mohammad and Hamdia were killed instantly, orphaning the three girls in the backseat. The girls survived, but with broken and fractured bodies. We are not sure of Ayat's fate; her backbone is broken.
CIVIC staff member Faiz Al Salaam monitors the girls' condition each day. Nobody in the military or the U.S. Army has visited them, nor has anyone offered to help this very poor family.
The only assistance from U.S. forces in Iraq is via the neighborhood Central Military Operations Center (CMOC). If the girls can get to their offices, their case will be filed and heard via a town council. This offers little hope for these girls, who are faced with immediate needs and a broken future.
The U.S. needs to have a clear procedure to respond to cases like Ayat's. CIVIC is working to try to establish such a system of assistance, but for now, the very least we can do to show our sympathy is to help Ayat and her sisters ourselves.
Thank you, and let's hope and pray for a peaceful Iraq.
The task that Marla had assumed for herself was to make America better--even when she disagreed with the government. She opposed the war in Iraq. But once the United States began killing people in Iraq, she wanted this mission conducted with true concern for those errantly harmed. In December 2003, the San Francisco Chronicle published an accurate profile of her. It noted:
Marla Ruzicka's life is driven by numbers. The numbers of Iraqi civilians dead, the numbers of the wounded. How many of their homes have been destroyed?
As founder of CIVIC (Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict), Ruzicka works 15-hour days in the thick of the war zone, going door to door to assess the harm done to innocent Iraqis caught in the line of fire. Ruzicka then uses that information to lobby the U.S. government for assistance....
While the Defense Department keeps official records of U.S. troops killed and wounded (440 and 2,470 as of Dec. 1), no one has stepped forward to do the same for Iraqi civilians but Ruzicka, the self-appointed watchdog of civilians harmed in recent Middle East conflicts....
An unofficial survey she undertook in Afghanistan confirmed 824 dead. Returning to the United States, she lobbied Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to insert language in an appropriations bill that would provide $3.75 million to help victims. In July, the money started trickling in to the devastated country....
"Marla is an exceptionally determined, energetic and brave young woman who has traveled to the front lines to focus attention on an issue that too often gets ignored," he said. "Civilians bear the brunt of the suffering in wars today, but there is no policy to help them. Marla and her organization have helped put a human face on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq by identifying the victims and their needs, and by lobbying for assistance."
...Would she ever consider doing something a little ... safer?
"To have a job where you can make things better for people? That's a blessing," she said. "Why would I do anything else?"
Author Peter Bergen, a friend of hers, noted yesterday,
One really interesting thing is that Marla was very opposed to the Iraq war before it began, but once the war started I never heard her express any opinion about the war itself. Once the war started she just wanted to help people who were hurt, not engage in a debate about the merits of the war. Beneath her Californian happy-go-luck demeanor Marla was a very hardheaded realist about what needed to be done. The war happened. People were hurt. She wanted to help them. And an example of her realistic approach is how she worked in Afghanistan and Iraq compensating the families who died. Marla had no patience for people who demonstrated against the war, and did nothing else.
Marla told one interviewer, "My long-term goal is to get a desk at the State Department that looks at civilian casualties." It seems like that would be a natural. Shouldn't a nation keep track of and be concerned about the damage done to civilians when it engages in military actions? Yet what a dream that was--and remains.
There will be memorials for Marla Ruzicka. Senators Patrick Leahy and Barbara Boxer have said they will offer tributes to her on the Senate floor. Last night after I heard the news of her death, I looked in on my two daughters--age four and five-and-a-half. Thinking of Marla's parents, Nancy and Clifford Ruzicka, I imagined how proud I will be if my children grow up to be women who have the sort of strength and conviction Marla possessed. And how scared I will be.
CIVIC was the brainchild of one helluva woman. But the idea, the simple idea--that we care about the innocent people killed in our name--was much larger than one person. Or it should be. Unlike the leaders of the US government, Marla knew that America--for humanitarian and security reasons--had an obligation to help noncombatants injured by US forces. Marla deserved many more years. And the people she helped and tried to help deserved more assistance from this idealistic American.
She will, of course, not be receiving the Medal of Freedom from a president who leads an administration that has said it does not bother to collect data on civilians killed or injured by its military and that has been tremendously slow to compensate the innocent Afghan and Iraqi civilians who have lost loved ones, limbs, homes and businesses due to US military actions. In fact, according to an article in The Washington Post, Marla had "stayed in Baghdad longer than she had planned because she believed she had found the key to establishing that the U.S. military kept records of its civilian victims, despite its official statements otherwise, colleagues said."
In the years I have written this column I don't think I have ever asked a reader to make a donation to an organization. But please consider contributing to CIVIC. You can do so by clicking here:
It won't be just for Marla. It will be for the people she lived and died for--and for a principle that all Americans ought to consider seriously: when we fight a war, we are responsible for the triumphs and for the costs.
Originally published 04/18/2005
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:09 PM