Senate demands report on "CIA prisons"
By Vicki Allen
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate demanded a classified account on Thursday of whether the CIA was running a secret prison system as it debated a bill that would regulate the Bush administration's treatment of military detainees.
The call was made following a newspaper report of such a prison network abroad, including facilities in Eastern Europe, that added to concerns in America and overseas about the fate of those held in the U.S.-declared war on terrorism.
Senators also moved to deny detainees at the U.S. Guantanamo Bay prison the right to challenge their detentions with habeas corpus petitions in federal court, a step critics said could undermine efforts to secure their humane treatment.
Lawmakers said they could revisit the Guantanamo issue next week when they hope to complete a $491.6 billion package of defense and nuclear weapons programs.
The White House has threatened to veto the legislation because of an attached measure requiring humane treatment of terrorism suspects and setting rules for their interrogation.
The Senate voted 82-9 for director of National Intelligence John Negroponte to provide Congress' intelligence committees with a classified "full accounting" on any clandestine prison or detention facility run by the U.S. government at any location where terrorism suspects were being held.
The Washington Post reported last week that the CIA had been holding and interrogating al Qaeda captives at secret facilities in Eastern Europe, part of a global covert prison system established after the September 11, 2001, attacks.
Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, said most lawmakers learned about the covert prisons from the newspaper and said his amendment was to "reassert congressional oversight."
The administration has not publicly confirmed or denied the newspaper's account and the House of Representatives said on Thursday it would investigate that disclosure and a number of other recent leaks of national security information.
Voting 49-42, senators backed an amendment to stem the court challenges from terrorism suspects at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham argued that prisoners of war "have never had access to federal courts before." He said the detainees mostly picked up in Afghanistan were clogging courts with challenges ranging from disputing the legality of their detention to the quality of their food.
The vote came just days after the U.S. Supreme Court said it would decide whether Bush has the power to create military tribunals to put Guantanamo prisoners on trial for war crimes.
Several senators, including Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, argued that the habeas corpus change should be weighed more carefully.
Christopher Anders of the American Civil Liberties Union said with the amendment, "persons held at Guantanamo Bay would have no access to the courts to seek protection against government-funded torture, abuse or due-process violations."
Defying the White House, the Senate has included regulations for treatment of military detainees in both this bill authorizing defense programs and a must-pass bill to fund the Pentagon and provide another $50 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The House of Representatives did not include the detainee rules in their versions of the bills, and the issue is expected to be fought out in House-Senate conferences.
Vice President Dick Cheney has worked behind the scenes to press Congress to exempt the CIA if it imposes detainee rules, arguing restrictions would impede efforts to get information to block acts of terrorism.
Democrats and a number of Republicans have rejected Cheney's plan, saying it would be seen as a license for the CIA to engage in torture.
Saturday, November 12, 2005
Senate votes to strip leakers' security clearances
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate has signed off on a provision that would strip the security clearances of any government official who knowingly discloses national security secrets, reflecting lawmakers' anger over recent leaks of classified information to the public.
The GOP-run Senate added the Democratic-sponsored provision to a broad defense policy bill expected to be approved next week. The House version does not include that provision.
"I served in World War II. We had an expression then. It said, 'Loose lips sink ships,'" said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., who sponsored the provision. "Exposing our secrets was a grave offense then and it is a grave offense now."
Under current law, officials do not automatically lose their security clearance if they intentionally reveal classified information.
The provision, approved by the Senate on Thursday, would apply to anyone in the federal government, including those in Congress and on House and Senate staffs who have clearances and who intentionally disclose classified information, including details of a covert agent's identity or a secret operation.
Lautenberg told his colleagues the provision was necessary "given recent developments of which we are all aware."
Last month, I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's now former chief of staff, was indicted on charges that included perjury in a two-year federal probe over who leaked the identity of CIA covert operative Valerie Plame to reporters.
On Nov. 2, a story in The Washington Post discussed the existence of secret CIA detention centers for suspected terrorists in Eastern European democracies and other countries. That triggered calls by GOP leaders on Capitol Hill for a congressional investigation into the purported leak of potentially classified information. The Justice Department also is weighing whether to open a criminal investigation, at the request of the CIA.
And at a conference in San Antonio last week, the top U.S. official for intelligence collection, Mary Margaret Graham, disclosed the closely held total U.S. intelligence budget. She said it is $44 billion.
The Senate implemented an unusual parliamentary procedure called a "standing division" to add the provision to the defense bill without a roll call vote. Under that procedure, approval is granted if enough senators in the chamber at the time rise.
Democrats accused Republicans of denying a request for a roll call vote because they did not want to put their names on record in favor of such a provision. Republicans blamed a time crunch and said they did not want to inconvenience senators wanting to leave Washington for the Veterans Day holiday.
Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had offered a similar proposal in the summer, but some senators were wary of it because it wouldn't have precluded people who mistakenly disclosed classified information from losing their clearance. By adding the word "knowingly," the Senate-passed provision sets a higher bar.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:41 AM
Poll: Majority questions Bush administration ethics
WASHINGTON (AP) — Two crucial pillars of President Bush's public support — perceptions of his honesty and faith in his ability to fight terrorism — have slipped to their lowest point in the AP-Ipsos poll.
While the CIA leak investigation, the mishandling of Hurricane Katrina and high energy costs have all taken their toll, the polling found the Iraq war at the core of Americans' displeasure with the president.
All of those concerns are cutting into traditional Bush strengths.
Almost six in 10 now say Bush is not honest, and a similar number say his administration does not have high ethical standards.
During his re-election bid in 2004, Bush skillfully wove the public's trust of him and faith in his handling of the terror threat into a winning campaign over Democrat John Kerry.
Now, 56% disapprove of the way Bush is handling foreign policy and the war on terrorism, the poll found. Overall, 37% approve of the job Bush is doing as president.
An AP-Ipsos poll last week asked people to state in their own words why they approve or disapprove of the way Bush was doing his job. Almost six in 10 disapproved, and they most frequently mentioned the war in Iraq — far ahead of the second issue, the economy.
"To use an unfortunate metaphor, Iraq is a roadside bomb in American politics," said Rich Bond, a former national Republican chairman.
Iraq has cast a cloud over Bush's public standing in general. The public's view of the likeability of the affable president has dropped from 63% in August to 52% now.
"The war is an overriding issue. Look at the body count on a daily basis," said Tom Rector, a Democrat from Spokane, Wash.
The president has vowed to stay the course in Iraq, bringing democracy to a country infested with terrorists and rocked by explosions almost daily.
The president gets credit from a majority of Americans for being strong and decisive, but he's also seen by an overwhelming number of people as "stubborn," a perception reinforced by his refusal to yield on issues like the Iraq war, tax cuts and support for staffers under intense pressure.
Eighty-two percent of those polled describe Bush as "stubborn," with seven of every 10 Republicans agreeing with that description.
Concern about the administration's ethics has been fueled by the controversy over flawed intelligence leading up to the Iraq war and the recent indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. Libby was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice in the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame, a scandal that touched other top officials in the administration.
That loss of trust complicates Bush's efforts to rebuild his standing with the public.
"Honesty is a huge issue because even people who disagreed with his policies respected his integrity," said Bruce Buchanan, a political scientist from the University of Texas.
Bush, who promised in the 2000 campaign to uphold "honor and integrity" in the White House, last week ordered White House workers, from presidential advisers to low-ranking aides, to attend ethics classes.
Some observers say they aren't impressed.
"It's like shutting the barn door after the horse escaped," said John Morrison, a Democrat who lives near Scranton, Pa.
Some Republicans are nervous about the GOP's political position.
"A lot of elected Republicans are running for the hills in the Northeast," Connecticut GOP strategist Chris DePino said after citing "a waterfall of missteps" by Republicans. Bush and the GOP must return to their message that the United States has been safe from terrorism during his administration, DePino said.
GOP pollster David Winston said Republicans are hoping the strength of the economy and the upcoming elections in Iraq can improve the public's mood about the administration.
Many of those who approve of Bush's job performance pointed to his Christian beliefs and strong values, the second biggest reason given for supporting him — after agreeing with his policies.
"I know he is a man of integrity and strong faith," said Fran Blaney, a Republican and an evangelical who lives near Hartford, Conn. "I've read that he prays every morning asking for God's guidance. He certainly is trying to do what he thinks he is supposed to do."
The poll of 1,000 adults was conducted Nov. 7-9 by Ipsos, an international polling firm, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:39 AM
A month after pledge, FEMA hasn't reopened contracts
WASHINGTON (AP) — Despite a month-old pledge, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has yet to reopen four of its biggest no-bid contracts for Hurricane Katrina work and won't do so until the contracts are virtually complete. A promise to hire more minority-owned firms also is largely unfulfilled.
The no-bid contracts for temporary housing, worth up to $100 million each, were given to Shaw Group Inc., Bechtel Corp., CH2M Hill Inc. and Fluor Corp. right after Katrina struck. Charges of favoritism helped prompt last month's pledge by FEMA acting director R. David Paulison, but now officials with the Homeland Security Department, which oversees FEMA, say the contracts won't be awarded again until February.
The disclosure dismayed some lawmakers and business groups that believe the Bush administration has not done enough to ensure Katrina contracts are spread around. In particular, they say small and minority-owned businesses in the Gulf Coast have been shortchanged.
FEMA promised to boost the number of contracts given to minority-owned businesses but in the last month the percentage has increased only slightly, from 1.5% to 1.8% of the $3.1 billion awarded. That's still well below the 5% of federal contracts normally set aside for minority-owned firms.
"FEMA's performance falls far short," said Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee. "The federal government must make a major shift in both policy and implementation if the lives of the people of the Gulf Coast are to be effectively rebuilt and restored."
Thompson said he would introduce legislation to require the Homeland Security Department to maintain a permanent database for small and minority-owned businesses to be hired as prime contractors, rather than lower-paid subcontractors.
"I am from Mississippi, and I know sharecropping when I see it," Thompson said.
Harry Alford, president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, decried the dearth of small and minority Katrina contracts as "shameful." But he's hopeful, noting that President Bush met with him and other minority leaders Thursday to discuss how to improve business opportunities.
"Less than 2% of contracts going to minority-owned businesses is totally unacceptable," Alford said. "Now is show time. We've been hurt. I think our concerns have been taken seriously, and I believe we're going to work it out."
FEMA also has been criticized for the no-bid contracts. Officials said they awarded those contracts to speed recovery efforts that might have been slowed by competitive bidding, but critics saw it as a way to reward politically connected firms.
Bechtel CEO Riley Bechtel served on Bush's Export Council from 2003-2004, and the Shaw Group's lobbyist, Joe Allbaugh, is a former FEMA director and friend of Bush. Both companies have denied political connections played a factor.
On Oct. 6, acting FEMA chief Paulison declared he was "no fan of no-bid contracts" and pledged to reopen the four deals. But in testimony to Congress on Tuesday, Greg Rothwell, Homeland Security's chief procurement officer, said rebidding won't be done until February.
"Until then, the four companies will continue their work," he told a Senate hearing chaired by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, whose panel is reviewing government efforts to help small businesses rebuild.
FEMA will post advertisements for the work sometime this month. The work will not be prioritized for small or minority-owned businesses, but winners of the deals must submit written plans to DHS detailing efforts to award 40% of their subcontracts to small businesses.
Separately, FEMA will set aside up to $1.5 billion worth of work for small companies to maintain trailers housing Hurricane Katrina evacuees. The 15 contracts worth up to $100 million each will be awarded by Feb. 1, with eight of them specifically designated for minority-owned businesses.
Larry Orluskie, a Homeland Security spokesman, said FEMA had not reopened the contracts yet because it had to process paperwork. Meanwhile, officials are actively seeking to recruit smaller companies by holding workshops and through its website at www.dhs.gov/openforbusiness.
"It's a process," Orluskie said. "We can't have a change with the push of a button. Statements of work have to be cleared."
But the four major firms said this week they had not been notified of the rebidding other than from news reports following Paulison's announcement. Two of them — CH2M Hill and Fluor — said their contract terms already had established that FEMA had an option to end the work in January.
"The February timeframe is news to me," said John Corsi, spokesman for CH2M Hill, based in Englewood, Colo. He said the company had not decided whether it would submit a new bid if FEMA does not extend its contract. "We've been performing the work well, and we stand behind the job."
Brenda Thompson, a spokeswoman for San Francisco-based Bechtel Group Inc., said by February "we expect to have hauled and installed all temporary housing units in our scope of work for FEMA."
Shaw officials have said they intend to compete for the Katrina work once FEMA solicits new bids, saying they are confident they will win based on a strong track record in disaster relief.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:37 AM
Democrats frown on Massachusetts 'KKK' joke
BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Mitt Romney was introduced at a Washington luncheon as the head of a state run by the "modern-day KKK ... the Kennedy-Kerry Klan," drawing rebukes from Democrats and Romney himself.
The comment was made by Gerald Walpin, a New Yorker who is a board member at the conservative law group the Federalist Society, where Romney spoke Thursday.
"Today when most of the country thinks of who controls Massachusetts, I think the modern-day KKK comes to mind — the Kennedy-Kerry Klan," Walpin said, according to Keith Appell, a GOP consultant who works for the Federalist Society.
Later, in a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Romney branded the remarks "ill-advised."
"It's not appropriate to joke about the Ku Klux Klan," Romney said.
The Boston Globe reported in Friday's editions that Romney laughed along with the audience and thanked Walpin for "a very generous introduction." But the Republican governor said he wasn't really paying attention.
"I was looking at my notes and preparing for my speech at the time," he said. "There's not much I can do about speakers who introduce me."
State party Chairman Phil Johnston said he was outraged that Romney could find humor in the remarks about Democratic Sens. Edward Kennedy and John Kerry and the Ku Klux Klan.
"It is embarrassing that Gov. Mitt Romney would laugh at any joke that disparages Catholics, African-Americans, and Jews," he said.
Walpin said Friday he had no regrets about the comment.
"Certain people in Massachusetts have no sense of humor," he told WBZ-AM.
The Federalist Society is among the nation's most influential conservative legal organizations, an important constituency for Romney if he decides to seek the GOP presidential nomination in 2008. Several senior members of the Bush administration are members.
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Posted by politicalstuff at 12:31 AM
Clinton calls impeachment 'egregious abuse'
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) — Former president Bill Clinton called Congress' impeachment of him an "egregious" abuse of the Constitution and challenged those who say history will judge him poorly because of his White House tryst with Monica Lewinsky.
Speaking at an academic conference examining his presidency here Thursday, Clinton challenged historian Douglas Brinkley's comments in a newspaper interview that Clinton would be deemed a great president were it not for his impeachment.
"I completely disagree with that," Clinton said in his speech at Hofstra University. "You can agree with that statement, but only if you think impeachment was justified. Otherwise, it was an egregious abuse of the Constitution and law and history of our country."
Clinton was acquitted by the Senate of perjury and obstruction of justice at his 1999 impeachment trial, which he argued was not about what he called his "misconduct."
"Now if you want to hold it against me that I did something wrong, that's a fair deal," he said. "If you do that, then you have a whole lot of other questions, which is how many other presidents do you have to downgrade and what are you going to do with all those Republican congressmen, you know, that had problems?"
Clinton touted what he called the achievements of his eight-year presidency, from Middle East peace initiatives to turning around the U.S. economy.
His remarks were cheered loudly by the audience.
Clinton said his administration's failures included its slowness to act to halt the genocide in Rwanda and the decision to allow federal agents to raid a cult leader's compound in Waco, Texas. Nearly 80 cult followers died in a fire during the 1993 confrontation.
"We should have waited them out," he said.
The presidential conference is the 11th to be held at Hofstra; the first in 1982 examined the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
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Posted by politicalstuff at 12:22 AM
Friday, November 11, 2005
The New York Times
Senate Approves Limiting Rights of U.S. Detainees
By ERIC SCHMITT
WASHINGTON, Nov. 10 - The Senate voted Thursday to strip captured "enemy combatants" at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, of the principal legal tool given to them last year by the Supreme Court when it allowed them to challenge their detentions in United States courts.
The vote, 49 to 42, on an amendment to a military budget bill by Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, comes at a time of intense debate over the government's treatment of prisoners in American custody worldwide, and just days after the Senate passed a measure by Senator John McCain banning abusive treatment of them.
If approved in its current form by both the Senate and the House, which has not yet considered the measure but where passage is considered likely, the law would nullify a June 2004 Supreme Court opinion that detainees at Guantánamo Bay had a right to challenge their detentions in court.
Nearly 200 of roughly 500 detainees there have already filed habeas corpus motions, which are making their way up through the federal court system. As written, the amendment would void any suits pending at the time the law was passed.
The vote also came in the same week that the Supreme Court announced that it would consider the constitutionality of war crimes trials before President Bush's military commissions for certain detainees at Guantánamo Bay, a case that legal experts said might never be decided by the court if the Graham amendment became law.
Five Democrats joined 44 Republicans in backing the amendment, but the vote on Thursday may only be a temporary triumph for Mr. Graham. Senate Democrats led by Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico said they would seek another vote, as early as Monday, to gut the part of Mr. Graham's measure that bans Guantánamo prisoners from challenging their incarceration by petitioning in civilian court for a writ of habeas corpus.
So it is possible that some lawmakers could have it both ways, backing other provisions in Mr. Graham's measure that try to make the Guantánamo tribunal process more accountable to the Senate, but opposing the more exceptional element of the legislation that limits prerogatives of the judiciary. Nine senators were absent for Thursday's vote.
Mr. Graham said the measure was necessary to eliminate a blizzard of legal claims from prisoners that was tying up Department of Justice resources, and slowing the ability of federal interrogators to glean information from detainees that have been plucked off the battlefields of Afghanistan and elsewhere.
"It is not fair to our troops fighting in the war on terror to be sued in every court in the land by our enemies based on every possible complaint," Mr. Graham said. "We have done nothing today but return to the basics of the law of armed conflict where we are dealing with enemy combatants, not common criminals."
Opponents of the measure denounced the Senate vote as a grave step backward in the nation's treatment of detainees in the global war on terror. "This is not a time to back away from the principles that this country was founded on," Mr. Bingaman said during floor debate.
Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Judiciary Committee and one of four Republicans to vote against the measure, said the Senate was unduly rushing into a major legal shift without enough debate. "I believe the habeas corpus provision needs to be maintained," Mr. Specter said.
A three-judge panel trying to resolve the extent of Guantánamo prisoners' rights to challenge detentions sharply questioned an administration lawyer in September when he argued that detainees had no right to be heard in federal appeals courts.
The panel of the District of Columbia Circuit is trying to apply a 2004 Supreme Court ruling to two subsequent, conflicting decisions by lower courts, one appealed by the prisoners and the other by the administration.
In its June 28, 2004, decision in Rasul v. Bush, the Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 that the Guantánamo base was not outside the jurisdiction of American law as administration lawyers had argued and that the habeas corpus statute allowing prisoners to challenge their detentions was applicable.
Under Mr. Graham's measure, Guantánamo prisoners would be able to challenge only the narrow question of whether the government followed procedures established by the defense secretary at the time the military determined their status as enemy combatants, which is subject to an annual review. The District of Columbia Circuit would retain the right to rule on that, but not on other aspects of a prisoner's case.
Detainees would not be able to challenge the underlying rationale for their detention. "If it stands, it means detainees at Guantánamo Bay would have no access to any federal court for anything other than very simple procedural complaints dealing with annual status review," said Christopher E. Anders, a legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. "Otherwise, the federal courts' door is shut."
If the measure is enacted, civil liberties groups said it would appear to render moot the Supreme Court's decision on Monday to decide the validity of the military commissions that Mr. Bush wants to try detainees charged with terrorist offenses to trial. But some legal experts said the court might be able to move ahead if determined to do so.
Under the Graham amendment, the measure would apply to any application or action pending "on or after the date of enactment of this act."
Elisa Massimino, Washington director of Human Rights First, said: "The Senate acted unwisely, and unnecessarily, in stripping courts of jurisdiction over Guantánamo detainees. Particularly now, as the string of reports of abuse over the past several years have underscored how important it is to have effective checks on the exercise of executive authority, depriving an entire branch of government of its ability to exercise meaningful oversight is a decidedly wrong course to take."
The Senate vote on Thursday came just days after senators voted, for the second time in recent weeks, to back a measure by Mr. McCain to prohibit the use of cruel and degrading treatment against detainees in American custody.
Vice President Dick Cheney has appealed to Mr. McCain and to Senate Republicans to grant the C.I.A. an exemption to allow it extra latitude, subject to presidential authorization, in interrogating high-level terrorists abroad who might know about future attacks. Mr. McCain said Thursday that negotiations with the White House on compromise language were stalemated.
In addition to Mr. Specter, Republicans voting against the bill were Senators John E. Sununu of New Hampshire, Gordon H. Smith of Oregon, and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. The five Democrats voting for the bill were Senators Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Ron Wyden of Oregon.
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:02 AM
Was the Universe "Intelligently Designed" ... by Satan?
Creationists like to say that "intelligent design" is not "religious" is nature because, while it argues for the existence of an all-powerful Creator, it never explicitly says that Creator is the biblical God. They leave those particular dots for individual worshippers - er, I mean students - to connect for themselves. "How can you look at complex biological processes," they ask, "and not see the organizing hand of a Planner at work?"
"ID" critics like physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, a recent guest on the "Colbert Report," respond by pointing out flaws in the universe's alleged "design" - like those pesky asteroids that could plunge the earth into lifeless chaos at any moment. Dr. Tyson et al. argue that imperfections like these refute the idea of a master planner behind all creation.
Let's get the two sides together. "ID"-ers say the Creator need not be "God," and scientists point to major problems with the created universe. So, let's see ... if it wasn't God, who else might have created a reality so filled with deviations, inconsistencies, and problems? Hmm. Could it be ... perhaps ... oh, I don't know ... Satan???
Consider the evidence: Diseases. Torture. Sadness. Pat Robertson. The overwhelming destructive force of antimatter. Michael Bolton's remake of "When A Man Loves A Woman." Yeah, that's right. The evidence of a Devil-Creator is all around us, staring us in the face with its baleful eyes. Do we dare look away?
The idea of physical existence as a satanic creation is hardly a new one but, like lots of other devilish creatures, it may be ready for a facelift. Manicheans, Bogomils, Cathars, Paulicians - they all saw this reality as the creation of a deity who was less righteous (and more aggravating) than God, if not downright evil. Sure, these groups lost out in the competition of early religious sects, and the Religious Right is dominating the game right now - but what's that all about, except a kind of theological Darwinism? Why shouldn't we assume that Satan created this Universe as a playground for himself and his fellow executives at Halliburton?
But then again ... nah. The idea doesn't hold water, if you think about it. After all, there are good things in this universe, too - like health, charity, happiness, Martin Luther King, and Percy Sledge's original version of "When A Man Loves a Woman." The old Muslim idea of Satan as the "lurker" or "whisperer" in the human heart - who has no power other than that people willingly give him - makes more sense to me. That's an interpretation that, when translated into more modern metaphor, addresses the moral and psychological dimensions of evil. And evil only seems to exist in humanity, not in the rest of the universe.
Sorry, creationists. You don't believe this world is the creation of the Devil, and neither do I. And if a merciful God created this Universe in the way you believe, why would he have given us minds with which to interpret it - unless we were meant to use them? The Catholic Church accepts the validity of evolution, aas does virtually every living scientist. The National Council of Churches supports the teaching of science, as do most major Jewish, Buddhist, and Islamic organizations in this country. For everybody except a retrograde few, the truth and power of science are undeniable.
You few who think otherwise want to impose your vision - your 'design' - on everybody else. You may be riding high in Kansas, but you're out on the street in Dover - and you're not too popular in the national opinion polls, either. So, for the so-called "intelligent designers," it looks like it's time to go back to the drawing board.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:53 AM
Thursday, November 10, 2005
Televangelist Robertson warns town of God's wrath
By Alan Elsner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Conservative Christian televangelist Pat Robertson told citizens of a Pennsylvania town that they had rejected God by voting their school board out of office for supporting "intelligent design" and warned them on Thursday not to be surprised if disaster struck.
Robertson, a former Republican presidential candidate and founder of the influential conservative Christian Broadcasting Network and Christian Coalition, has a long record of similar apocalyptic warnings and provocative statements.
Last summer, he hit the headlines by calling for the assassination of leftist Venezuelan Present Hugo Chavez, one of President George W. Bush's most vocal international critics.
"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city," Robertson said on his daily television show broadcast from Virginia, "The 700 Club."
"And don't wonder why He hasn't helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I'm not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that's the case, don't ask for His help because he might not be there," he said.
The 700 Club claims a daily audience of around one million. It is also broadcast around the world translated into more than 70 languages.
In voting on Tuesday, all eight Dover, Pennsylvania, school board members up for re-election lost their seats after trying to introduce "intelligent design" to high school science students as an alternative to the theory of evolution.
Adherents of intelligent design argue that certain forms in nature are too complex to have evolved through natural selection and must have been created by a "designer." Opponents say it is the latest attempt by conservatives to introduce religion into the school science curriculum.
The Dover case sparked a trial in federal court that gained nationwide attention after the school board was sued by parents backed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The board ordered schools to read students a short statement in biology classes informing them that the theory of evolution is not established fact and that gaps exist in it.
The statement mentioned intelligent design as an alternate theory and recommended students read a book that explained the theory further. A decision in the case is expected before the end of the year.
In 1998, Robertson warned the city of Orlando, Florida that it risked hurricanes, earthquakes and terrorist bombs after it allowed homosexual organizations to put up rainbow flags in support of sexual diversity.
Posted by politicalstuff at 4:28 PM
Pentagon probes treatment of 'Able Danger' officer
By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon inspector general is investigating the Defense Intelligence Agency's treatment of an Army colonel who was the first to claim publicly that the government knew about four September 11 hijackers long before the 2001 attacks, officials said on Wednesday.
Among the issues under review is whether the DIA revoked the security clearance of Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer last September in retaliation for repeated comments he made in the media about a military intelligence team code-named Able Danger, sources familiar with the case said.
Revelations about Able Danger, a small data-mining operation that ended in 2000, have reignited debate about whether the United States could have prevented the attacks on New York and Washington that killed 3,000 people and prompted the U.S. war on terrorism.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the inspector general began reviewing Shaffer's case after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld received a written request on October 20 from Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Armed Services.
Shaffer and his attorney met with officials from the inspector general's office on Wednesday.
Shaffer came forward in August with claims that Able Danger had identified September 11 ringleader Mohamed Atta and three other hijackers as al Qaeda members in early 2000. But he said Pentagon lawyers prevented the team from warning the FBI.
Others associated with Able Danger, including the team's former leader, Navy Capt. Scott Phillpott, have since made similar statements. But an exhaustive Pentagon search of tens of thousands of documents and electronic files related to the operation failed to corroborate the claims.
Officials with House and Senate intelligence oversight committees have also said there is little substantiating evidence.
U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon, a Pennsylvania Republican who has championed Able Danger and other data-mining projects, told reporters on Wednesday that Able Danger also uncovered evidence of a threat to U.S. interests in Yemen two days before the 2000 bombing of the Navy destroyer Cole, which killed 17 sailors.
Weldon, who attributed his information to Phillpott, said the Able Danger team passed along the warning through proper channels but no word of danger ever reached the Cole.
"They sent it up but they don't know what happened," Weldon said. "That's part of what needs to be investigated."
Meanwhile, Shaffer's attorneys say their client is in danger of losing his job because the DIA has accused him of obtaining a medal under false pretenses, improperly showing his military identification while drunk and stealing ink pens.
Shaffer's supporters, including Weldon, say the charges are trumped up.
Weldon and Shaffer attorney Mark Zaid both said the DIA recently returned Shaffer's personal effects from his office but mistakenly included several classified documents and another employee's mail.
"There are several inconsistencies between the DIA and LTC Shaffer concerning the facts," Hunter said in his letter to Rumsfeld. "The committee also has concerns with certain aspects of how the DIA has handled this matter."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:21 AM
Chairman Threatens Subpoenas on Katrina
By JEFFREY McMURRAY
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Republican chairman of a House panel investigating the response to Hurricane Katrina threatened Wednesday to issue subpoenas for documents if the White House and other agencies don't provide them by Nov. 18.
Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia made the commitment after a Louisiana Democrat, Charlie Melancon, pointed out the panel still hadn't seen some documents it requested more than a month ago. The original request pertains to the White House, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Health and Human Services and the states of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.
Davis said there had been a significant response from the White House, Alabama and Mississippi and that the Department of Homeland Security had assured him it would provide documents within a week.
"This is progress, but it's not enough," Davis said.
"Lack of compliance is hindering the investigation," Melancon said.
The committee made its initial request in late September and set a due date for Oct. 4. Some of those documents have been provided, including a few pertaining to budget issues and e-mails between former Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown and Homeland Security headquarters.
However, Melancon said most of the key documents are missing - including anything involving Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and correspondence between federal agencies. Louisiana has indicated it will provide documents but has requested an extension, Melancon's office said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:17 AM
TransUnion notifies consumers of data loss
A burglar stole a desktop computer containing sensitive data
News Story by Jaikumar Vijayan
NOVEMBER 09, 2005 (COMPUTERWORLD) - TransUnion LLC, one of the three major credit reporting companies in the U.S., today confirmed that a desktop computer containing the Social Security numbers and other sensitive information belonging to more than 3,600 consumers was stolen from one of its facilities in October.
The theft prompted the company to notify them of the breach on Oct. 21 and offer free credit monitoring services for a year.
In a statement, TransUnion said that a “small” TransUnion sales office in California was burglarized in early October. “One of the items stolen during the incident was a password-protected desktop computer, which may have contained some personal [credit] information on approximately 3,600 consumers,” the company said.
TransUnion notified local law enforcement authorities of the break-in and has assembled its own team to investigate the incident.
Since then, the credit reporting agency has been monitoring the credit reports of the affected consumers. “At this point, we do not believe there is any indication of any fraudulent activity,” it said.
However, the implications of the reported breach could go beyond the customers whose data was stolen if information stored on the missing desktop enables access to databases holding information on other consumers, said Prat Moghe, CEO of Tizor Systems Inc., a Maynard, Mass.-based vendor of activity auditing tools.
TransUnion, along with Experian North America Inc. and Equifax Credit Information Services Inc., maintains credit histories on U.S. consumers that are used by lenders and other businesses for a variety of purposes.
The TransUnion breach is the latest in a series of high-profile data compromises this year involving companies such as ChoicePoint Inc., Bank of America Corp., DSW Inc., Reed Elsevier Inc.’s LexisNexis unit, Card Systems Inc. and several universities.
The rash of disclosures has raised consumer concerns about identity theft and prompted federal lawmakers to propose several new regulations.
Just last week, for instance. a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved a bill that would require companies to notify consumers when their information is stolen. It would also require information brokers to tell the Federal Trade Commission about their plans for safeguarding private data for monitoring and periodic review.
If approved, the bill would override state laws such as California’s much-touted SB 1386 Database Breach Notification Act and would serve as a national breach notification law. The proposed measure, however, requires companies to inform consumers of data breaches only if there is a “significant risk” of fraud.
That clause could provide a big loophole for companies and possibly result in incidents such as the one involving TransUnion to go unreported in the future, warned Alan Paller, director of the SANS Institute, a security research and training firm in Bethesda, Md.
“I believe that 98% of the time companies are not going to disclose breaches” if the law goes into effect, Paller said. “Only 2% are going to be good citizens and report breaches” even if there is nothing to suggest imminent fraud, he added.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:54 AM
Security of FEMA database questioned
Agency officials agree that changes are needed to protect data
News Story by Linda Rosencrance
NOVEMBER 09, 2005 (COMPUTERWORLD) - The Federal Emergency Management Agency has not established adequate controls over sensitive data in its National Emergency Management Information System (NEMIS), according to a redacted report (download PDF) released Monday by Robert Skinner, inspector general of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
FEMA is now part of the DHS’s Emergency Preparedness and Response (EP&R) Directorate.
Although the agency, which came under fire for its slow response to Hurricane Katrina in late August, has developed and maintained many essential security controls for NEMIS, more work needs to be done to protect the database, according to Skinner’s report.
Specifically, FEMA hasn’t implemented effective procedures for granting, monitoring and removing user access, nor has it conducted contingency training or testing, Skinner said. In addition, vulnerabilities were found on NEMIS servers related to access rights and password administration.
NEMIS allows incident tracking and coordination, is used by individuals and small businesses that apply for federal assistance, and processes requests from states for funding of hazard mitigation projects.
“Due to these database security exposures, there is an increased risk that unauthorized individuals could gain access to critical EP&R database resources and compromise the confidentiality, integrity and availability of sensitive NEMIS data,” Skinner wrote in the report. “In addition, EP&R may not be able to recover NEMIS following a disaster.”
He called on FEMA to make sure adequate controls over user access to NEMIS are put in place and urged it to implement an IT contingency training and testing program for NEMIS. He also said FEMA needs to develop corrective action plans to address the vulnerabilities and weaknesses Skinner found.
In response to a draft of the report, FEMA officials agreed with Skinner’s recommendations and said they are moving to correct the deficiencies. Even so, Skinner said FEMA did not offer up a specific plan to address 56 deficiencies, and noted that EP&R has not fully aligned its security program with DHS’s overall policies, procedures or practices.
“For example, security controls had not been tested in over a year; a contingency plan has not been tested; security control costs have not been integrated into the life cycle of the system; and system and database administrators have not obtained specialized security training,” Skinner wrote.
The NEMIS database, which was implemented in 1998, was designed and developed by Fairfax, Va.-based Anteon Corp., using Oracle Corp.’s relational database management system. Although that information was redacted from Skinner’s report, it was available at Anteon’s Web site.
NEMIS replaced FEMA’s legacy system with a fully integrated client/server architecture consisting of more than 31 networked servers installed nationwide, according to Anteon.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:52 AM
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
Under fire from Democrats, Cheney pushes back
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With Vice President Dick Cheney under mounting fire, his office together with the White House and the Republican Party responded with a coordinated counter-attack on Tuesday, accusing Sen. Harry Reid of malicious conduct "unbecoming" his role as Democratic leader.
The White House response -- unusual in its hostile tone and coordination -- was sparked by Reid's charges that Cheney manipulated pre-war intelligence about Iraq and was "behind" the leaking of classified information to discredit White House critics.
Cheney's long-time chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was indicted last month for obstructing justice, perjury and lying after a two-year investigation into the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity.
Cheney has also come under withering criticism for spearheading an effort in Congress to exempt the CIA from an amendment by Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain that would ban torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners.
The counter-attack against Reid may be a sign that the White House is planning a more aggressive campaign against its critics as polls show Bush's approval ratings at all-time lows.
"There's a dark cloud hanging over the White House. It's really a storm cloud. The vice president, who gets his authority from the president, sadly is in the middle of that storm," Reid told reporters.
Cheney was involved in "the manipulation of intelligence to sell the war in Iraq," said Reid, who also accused the vice president of being behind an energy policy that has put "big oil ahead of the American consumer."
"Leaking classified information to discredit White House critics, the vice president is behind that," Reid added.
Plame's identity was leaked to the media in July 2003 after her diplomat husband, Joseph Wilson, accused the Bush administration of twisting intelligence on weapons of mass destruction to justify the war in Iraq.
Within minutes of each other, White House spokesman Scott McClellan, counsel to the vice president Steve Schmidt and the Republican National Committee all issued responses bashing Reid.
McClellan decried Reid's "rants" as "unbecoming of a leader of any party," and said Americans would question "whether Democrats are more concerned about the peoples' priorities or scoring political points at the expense of a dedicated public servant."
Schmidt called Reid's comments "unconscionable personal attacks and malicious," adding: "These are beneath the office of the Democratic leader."
Brian Jones, the RNC's communications director, said Reid's comments were "vicious" and accused him of spinning a "far-flung conspiracy theory."
Jim Manley, Reid's spokesman, brushed aside the criticism, saying "the attack dogs on the right are just trying to personalize this debate."
Libby's indictment in the CIA leak probe has put a spotlight on Cheney's role and how his office made the case for the Iraq war.
According to the indictment, Libby learned from Cheney on June 12, 2003, that Wilson's wife worked in the counterproliferation division of the CIA. Cheney himself could be summoned to testify at an eventual trial.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:43 AM
Virginia, A Republican Problem
by Timothy Naftali
Tim Kaine has just been elected Governor of Virginia and national Republicans should be concerned. All week in Charlottesville, Virginia, a Democratic echo chamber in the center of the state, there was serious pessimism that the Democratic candidate would win, despite the popularity of the current Democratic governor, Mark Warner. Traditionally a Democrat needs to be ahead by 6 or 7 points in the last poll before any election to have any chance to carry the state.
A seasoned local Democratic pol explained this by telling me that Virginian Republicans tend to lie to pollsters about who they are planning to vote for. Leaving that possibly partisan sociology aside, Mark Warner's victory in 2001 was indeed a lot narrower than had been predicted by the polls. With Kaine leading by only a couple of points going into today's vote, he seemed to be a likely loser. Kaine had run on the theme of good government, while trying to stay away from social issues and many of his supporters believed that his campaign was too lackluster. His opponent, Jerry Kilgore, though a weak campaigner enjoyed the enthusiastic support of Virginia's powerful and wealthy religious right. Moreover, in recent days, the Kilgore campaign mounted a mischievous effort to split the Democratic vote by encouraging progressives to support an independent candidate. A flyer entitled "Official Democratic and Progressive 2005 Voters Guide" appeared at the doorsteps of registered Democrats. It featured a donkey and gave reasons why the independent candidate, Russ Potts, was more pro-gay and pro-choice than the Democratic candidate. Only a careful reader could see the fine print that the flyer was developed and paid for by state Republicans. Meanwhile telephone banks started calling registered Democrats to tell them that the independent candidate was more committed to womens' issues than Tim Kaine. When some of the recipients of these calls looked up the organization that claimed credit for giving this progressive advice, they found that it was a Republican PAC. Democrats shook their heads and until tonight worried that these ploys might succeed.
Despite all of these apparent advantages, Kilgore lost by five points. Indeed Kaine's margin of victory was larger than his lead in recent polls and despite the Republican eve-of-the-election trick, the independent vote collapsed with the Democrat the sole beneficiary. This is not supposed to happen in Virginia. And, by the way, this week President Bush made a last-minute campaign stop here to help Kilgore. That was also supposed to help in a Red state.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:41 AM
Evolution suffers Kansas setback
The US state of Kansas has approved science standards for public schools that cast doubt on evolution.
The Board of Education's vote, expected for months, approved the new language criticising evolution by 6-4.
Proponents of the change argue they are trying to expose students to legitimate scientific questions about evolution.
Critics say it is an attempt to inject creationism into schools, in violation of the constitutional separation between church and state.
The decision is part of an ongoing national debate over the teaching of evolution and intelligent design.
The theory of intelligent design holds that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by a higher power.
Definition of science
Tuesday's vote was the third time in six years that the Kansas board has rewritten standards with evolution as the central issue.
Current state standards treat evolution as well-established, a view held by national science groups.
The new standards include several specific challenges, including statements that there is a lack of evidence or natural explanation for the genetic code, and charges that fossil records are inconsistent with evolutionary theory.
It also states that says certain evolutionary explanations "are not based on direct observations... and often reflect... inferences from indirect or circumstantial evidence".
"This is a great day for education," board chairman Steve Abrams told the Reuters news agency.
Decisions about what is taught in Kansas classrooms will remain with 300 local school boards, but the new standards will be used to develop student tests measuring how well schools teach science.
Educators fear pressure will increase in some communities to teach less about evolution or more about creationism or intelligent design.
A federal judge in Pennsylvania is expected to rule soon in a lawsuit against a school district policy that requires science teachers to say that evolution is unproven.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:39 AM
'Intelligent-design' school board ousted in Penn
By Jon Hurdle
DOVER, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Voters on Tuesday ousted a Pennsylvania local school board that promoted an "intelligent-design" alternative to teaching evolution, and elected a new slate of candidates who promised to remove the concept from science classes.
The board of Dover Area School District in south-central Pennsylvania lost eight of its nine incumbents in an upset election that surprised even the challengers, who had been hoping for a bare majority to take control of the board.
The new board, which includes teachers, opposed the incumbents' policy of including intelligent design in science classes.
The ousted board was the first school board in the country to implement such a policy. The challengers also criticized what they called arrogance and secrecy by the incumbent board.
For the last six weeks, the teaching of intelligent design has been challenged in federal court by a group of Dover parents. They said the concept is a religious belief and therefore may not be taught in public schools, because the U.S. Constitution forbids it. They also argue that the theory is unscientific and so has no place in science classes.
Bryan Rehm, one of the winning board members and a former teacher at Dover High School, said the new board will hold a public meeting to decide the precise future of the policy. He said intelligent design will no longer be a part of the science curriculum, regardless of how the court rules.
Defeated board members were not immediately available for comment.
Dover residents have been split on the issue of intelligent design since the board adopted the policy in October 2004.
The policy requires that students be read a four-paragraph statement that says there are "gaps" in Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and that students should consider other explanations of the origins of life, including intelligent design.
Intelligent design holds that some aspects of nature are so complex they must be the work of an unnamed designer, rather than the result of random natural selection, as argued by Darwin's theory.
The trial, which attracted national and international media attention, was watched in at least 30 states where policies are being considered that would promote teaching alternatives to evolution theory.
U.S. President George W. Bush, whose re-election was boosted by many Christian-conservative votes, has said he believes intelligent design should be taught alongside evolution.
U.S. District Judge John Jones is expected to rule on the case in December or January.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:37 AM
Texas Voters Approve Ban on Gay Marriage
Texas Voters Approve Constitutional Ban on Gay Marriage; Maine Preserves Gay-Rights Law
By DAVID CRARY
The Associated Press
- Texas voters Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, making their state the 19th to take that step. In Maine, however, voters rejected a conservative-backed proposal to repeal the state's new gay-rights law.
In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's prestige was on the line as ballots were counted on four measures he promoted as part of a power struggle with public-employee unions and Democratic legislators.
One of his measures, to cap state spending, was defeated, and two others were trailing in early returns one to strip lawmakers of their power to carry out redistricting, and another to make teachers work five years instead of two to pass probation. The only one of the governor's proposals with a lead would require public employee unions to get members' permission before their dues could be used for political purposes.
The same-sex marriage contest in Texas was lopsided; near-complete returns showed the gay-marriage ban supported by about 76 percent of voters. Like every other state except Massachusetts, Texas didn't permit same-sex marriages previously, but the constitutional amendment was touted as an extra guard against future court rulings.
"Texans know that marriage is between a man and a woman, and children deserve both a mom and a dad. They don't need a Ph.D. or a degree in anything else to teach them that," said Kelly Shackelford, a leader Texans For Marriage, which favored the ban.
Gay-rights leaders were dismayed by the outcome, but vowed to continue a state-by-state battle for recognition of same-sex unions.
"The fight for fairness isn't over, and we won't give up," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign. "These amendments are part of a long-standing effort by the extreme right to eliminate any legal recognition for gay people and our families."
In a local Texas election, voters in White Settlement, named 160 years ago after white settlers moved into a mostly Indian area, emphatically rejected a proposal to change the town's name to West Settlement. Some civic leaders felt the traditional name should be changed to lure business investment; nearly 92 percent of voters disagreed.
In Maine, voters spurned a measure placed on the ballot by a church-backed conservative coalition that would have repealed a gay-rights law approved by lawmakers earlier this year. The lawmakers expanded the state's human rights act to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, a step already taken by the five other New England states.
In near-complete returns, about 55 percent of voters were opposing repeal of the new law, which is broadly worded to protect transsexuals and transvestites as well as gays and lesbians.
"This is such a much-needed victory for our national community, because we've experienced so many losses," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "We've got to press forward on nondiscrimination protection, and not let marriage continue to swamp the movement."
California voters, in addition to voting on Schwarzenegger's measures, also were deciding whether to require doctors to give a parent or guardian written notice before performing an abortion on a minor. More than 30 states have laws requiring parental notice or consent; the contest was neck-and-neck with about a third of precincts reporting.
In Washington state, voters approved a measure expanding the state's ban on indoor smoking to include bars, restaurants and non-tribal casinos.
New Jersey voters approved a proposal to have an elected lieutenant governor who would take over if a sitting governor leaves office early. The measure was a response to the gay sex scandal that drove former Gov. James McGreevey from office and installed Senate President Richard Codey as acting governor even as he retained his Senate duties. New Jersey has been one of eight states with no lieutenant governor.
In Republican-governed Ohio, where the 2004 presidential election was marked by complaints of unfair election practices, four election-overhaul measures backed by Democratic-leaning groups were on the ballot, but all were defeated. One of the failed items would have taken redistricting powers away from legislators.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:34 AM
CIA wants Justice review of leaks on prison story
By Vicki Allen and David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The CIA has asked the Justice Department to review a possible leak of classified information to The Washington Post for an article on a secret CIA global prison system, a U.S. official said on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, top Republicans in Congress called for a joint House of Representatives-Senate probe on whether classified material was leaked and national security damaged.
"The leak of classified information contained in the Washington Post story has been referred to the Justice Department by the CIA," said a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"It's illegal to leak classified information and classified information was leaked to the Washington Post," the official said.
The newspaper reported last week that the CIA has been holding and interrogating al Qaeda captives at a secret facility in Eastern Europe, part of a global covert prison system established after the September 11, 2001, attacks.
The Bush administration has not confirmed or denied the report.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois in a letter asked the intelligence committees to determine if the information given to the newspaper was classified and accurate, who leaked it and under what authority, and the actual and potential national security damage from it.
Asked whether the Republican leaders would seek an investigation of the secret prisons, Ron Bonjean, Hastert's spokesman, said, "First we're looking into why we have people leaking classified information."
Democrats said instead of just investigating possible leaks related to that story, Republicans should allow a broad investigation on detainee abuses and whether the Bush administration manipulated intelligence before the Iraq war.
"If the speaker and the majority leader in the Senate are interested in this, they should join with us in getting to the bottom of what went on in bringing this country to war," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.
President George W. Bush has been dogged by questions over the Pentagon's and the CIA's treatment of terrorism suspects. Responding to questions on Monday in Panama, Bush said, "We do not torture," and defended his administration's efforts to stop Congress from imposing rules on prisoner treatment.
The administration also has been hit by the indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, on five counts of obstructing justice, perjury and lying in the two-year probe into the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity after her husband criticized the Iraq war.
Democrats had pushed for an independent commission to probe abuses of terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. But voting 55-43, the Senate largely on party lines on Tuesday rejected the commission in an amendment to a defense policy bill.
Democrats said an independent review was essential to determine whether Bush administration policies led to the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and elsewhere, but Republicans said the Pentagon already had conducted investigations and prosecutions were ongoing.
Democrats and some Republicans have cited The Washington Post story as another reason Congress must set rules for the treatment of military detainees in the wake of the scandal over physical and sexual abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
The Senate has passed an amendment barring torture of detainees and setting standards for their treatment and interrogations, despite the White House's threat to veto a $440 billion defense spending bill if it contained the measure.
The House has not yet voted on that measure.
(additional reporting by Joanne Kenen, Susan Cornwell, Thomas Ferraro and Caren Bohan)
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:33 AM
Poll: Libby Indictment Hits Major Nerve
Poll: More People Say Libby Indictment Important Than Said That About Clinton Lying Under Oath
By WILL LESTER
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - The recent indictment of Vice President Cheney's top aide has struck a nerve with the American public. Four in five, 79 percent, said the indictment of former Cheney aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby on perjury and other charges is important to the nation, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Pew noted that in September 1998, 65 percent said President Clinton's lies under oath were important. Clinton was impeached over his handling of an affair with Monica Lewinsky, but was acquitted by the Senate on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.
Libby was charged with lying to investigators and a grand jury during an investigation of his role in revealing the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame, wife of an outspoken critic of the war against Iraq.
Most Americans, six in 10, say they do not think the news about Libby's indictment has gotten too much coverage.
The concerns about Libby's case come at a time that a growing number of people, 43 percent, now say U.S. and British leaders were mostly lying when they claimed before the Iraq war that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, while an equal number said they were misinformed by bad intelligence.
That's up from 31 percent who felt in February 2004 that the leaders were lying, while 49 percent said they got bad intelligence.
Two-thirds of Democrats say U.S. and British political leaders were lying about weapons of mass destruction and half of independents feel that way. Only one in 10 Republicans said that was the case.
The telephone poll of 1,201 adults was taken Nov. 3-6 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
On the Net:
Pew Research Center http://www.people-press.org
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:31 AM
Monday, November 07, 2005
The Daily Star
In Iraq, they're revisiting Vietnam-era counterinsurgency
By David Ignatius
Daily Star staff
It's a telling fact that the hot book among Iraq strategists this season is "A Better War," an upbeat account of American counterinsurgency policy in the last years of the Vietnam conflict. I noticed that the commander of U.S. Central Command, General John Abizaid, was reading it when I traveled with him in September. The influential State Department counselor Philip Zelikow read the book earlier this year. And I'm told it can be found on bookshelves of senior military officers in Baghdad.
Perhaps it's a measure of just how bad things are going in Iraq that the strategists are looking to Vietnam for models of success. But it's interesting that the Iraq team, like their predecessors in Vietnam 35 years ago, is getting serious about counterinsurgency doctrine after making costly initial mistakes.
"A Better War" was published in 1999 by Lewis Sorley, a former military and intelligence officer. It drew on an extensive collection of documents and tape recordings from the legendary army warrior, General Creighton Abrams, who commanded U.S. forces in Vietnam from 1968 to 1972. The book's contrarian argument is that after Abrams replaced General William Westmoreland - and scuttled his "search and destroy" tactics in favor of a pacification strategy of "clear and hold" - the Vietnam War began to go right.
Indeed, Sorley argues that by early 1972, the United States had effectively won the war and could turn the fighting over to its South Vietnamese allies.
By Sorley's account, it was politics back in America that turned victory into defeat, by blocking American support for the Saigon government after North Vietnamese troops invaded the South en masse in 1974 and 1975. That seems to me a considerable stretch - many other analysts argue that the South Vietnamese Army was never strong enough to prevail against Hanoi. A Vietnamization that required continuous American life-support wasn't much of a victory.
But Sorley offers some fascinating evidence that Abrams' strategy of securing South Vietnam village by village was working better than is generally understood. He quotes the former CIA director, William Colby, who ran the pacification effort (including its controversial "Phoenix" counterinsurgency program), assessing its success: "By 1972, the pacification program had essentially eliminated the guerrilla problem in most of the country."
What caught my eye in Sorley's book was the phrase "clear and hold." For the identical words appeared in Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's October 19 testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in which she laid out the clearest articulation of U.S. strategy in Iraq that I've seen. "Our political-military strategy has to be to clear, hold and build: to clear areas from insurgent control, to hold them securely, and to build durable, national Iraqi institutions," she said.
In Vietnam, Abrams' version of "clear and hold" replaced Westmoreland's ruinous idea that with ever larger U.S. troop levels and a bigger "body count," the U.S could bleed its adversary into submission. Abrams' approach included a sharp drawdown in U.S. troops, an emphasis on training and advising local security forces, a focus on securing the capital, stress on intelligence operations over main-force battles and an aggressive effort to interdict enemy supply lines from neighboring countries. All those same factors are evident in planning for the Iraqi version of "clear, hold and build."
The new U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, appears to be enthusiastic about this counterinsurgency approach. U.S. commanders are now working with Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar province to create a new force known as the "Desert Protectors," as well as a new Sunni-led army division there. Khalilzad has brought from his previous post in Afghanistan a plan for Provincial Reconstruction Teams that could combine military, economic, legal and other tools to provide jobs, social welfare and eventually stability. That plan is eerily reminiscent of some of Colby's ideas about pacification.
The trick is to move from "clear" to "hold." A senior administration official tells me the U.S. is now managing precisely that transition in Mosul, Kirkuk and parts of the Euphrates Valley - bringing in well-trained Iraqi police to fill the vacuum once the insurgents are pushed out. The next big project is for U.S. and Iraqi forces jointly to try to stabilize the Baghdad area. "Clear, hold and build" will fail if it's seen as an exit strategy, this official argues. It must be seen as a strategy for victory, much as Abrams saw his earlier version.
The new focus on counterinsurgency is good, but that doesn't mean it will work. The Vietnam analogy is instructive, and also haunting. At the end of the day, the challenge is for Iraqis, to build a government that works and an army that can stand and fight. Otherwise, "clear and hold" will run into the same brick wall it did a generation ago.
Posted by politicalstuff at 5:00 PM
What Are We Holding Together?
By Peter W. Galbraith
Although it was certainly not his intention, George W. Bush broke up Iraq when he ordered the invasion in 2003. The United States not only removed Saddam Hussein, but it also smashed, and later dissolved, the institutions that enabled Iraq's Sunni Arab minority to rule the country: the army, the security services and the Baath Party. Kurdistan, free from Hussein's rule since 1991, moved to consolidate its de facto independence. Iraq's Shiites, suppressed since the founding of the Iraqi state, have created a theocracy in southern Iraq and have no intention of allowing a central government in Baghdad to roll it back. Iraq's new constitution merely ratifies this result.
There is no reason to mourn the passing of the unified Iraqi state. For Iraq's 80-year history, Sunni Arab dictators held the country together -- and kept themselves in power -- with brutal force that culminated in Hussein's genocide against the Kurds and mass killings of Shiites. As a moral matter, Iraq's Kurds are no less entitled to independence than are Lithuanians, Croatians or Palestinians. And if Iraq's Shiites want to run their own affairs, or even have their own state, on what democratic principle should they be denied? If the price of a unified Iraq is another dictatorship, it is too high a price to pay.
Iraq's Kurds, Shiites and Sunni Arabs do not share the common values and aspirations that are essential to building a unified state. The country's Kurds are avowedly secular and among the most pro-American people in the world. Almost unanimously they want nothing to do with Iraq. Iraq's Shiites, whether we like it or not, have voted overwhelmingly for pro-Iranian religious parties. Iraq's Sunni Arabs, through their own choice, boycotted the constitutional assembly. Some of the leaders who claim to speak for the Sunnis say they want a unified state, though it seems their real concern is that they no longer rule Iraq. Even if it had been done competently, American-led nation-building could not overcome these divisions.
The constitution accommodates all three groups. Each can have its own region. Except for a few matters in the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government, regional law prevails. Thus Kurdistan can continue to be secular while the Shiites can create an Islamic state in southern Iraq if their constituents so choose. Regions can have their own militaries and control part of their water and oil resources.
Logic would suggest that once they come to terms with the fact that they no longer rule Iraq, the Sunni Arabs will realize that the constitutional framework actually protects them from domination by the Shiite majority. It does not leave the Sunni Arabs penniless as some fear; they get a proportionate share of Iraq's oil revenue. But Kurdistan and the Shiite south will manage new oil fields in their own regions. When the Sunni Arabs were in charge, they used Iraq's oil to finance their own development -- and the destruction of Kurdistan and the south. The Kurds and Shiites will not let this happen again.
The United States should focus now not on preserving the unity of Iraq but on avoiding a spreading civil war. The constitution resolves the issues of oil, territory and control of the central government that might intensify conflict. Engaged diplomacy will be required to make these provisions work, especially with regard to the territorial dispute between Kurdistan and Arab Iraq over the ethnically mixed province of Kirkuk. A referendum will decide its status by Dec. 31, 2007. Meanwhile, the United States should promote a special regime for Kirkuk with entrenched power-sharing for all communities, so as to make the referendum's outcome as painless as possible for the losers.
Iraq's political settlement can pave the way for a coalition exit. Foreign forces have no security role in Kurdistan and only a minimal one in the south. In the Sunni areas, the focus should be on developing a regional army that is aligned with moderate political elements. While the Bush administration pretends there is an Iraqi army today, it actually consists of homogenous Kurdish, Shiite or Sunni Arab battalions loyal not to the civilian authorities in Baghdad but to their respective communities.
It is hard to win hearts and minds in the Sunni Arab areas when the Iraqi troops fighting there are seen not as fellow citizens but as alien Kurds and Shiites. There are tribes and other Sunni Arabs willing to fight the terrorists, but not as collaborators. The coalition could base its forces in Kurdistan, where the population would welcome them and where they can be ready to move in case the Sunni Arab military proves unable or unwilling to take on the terrorists.
As Iraq divides, the problem of Baghdad becomes central. Religiously and ethnically mixed, Baghdad is already the front line of the sectarian war between Sunnis and Shiites. Kurdistan's departure from Iraq -- which seems inevitable in the not-too-distant future -- will not greatly affect the city, but the separation of Sunni Arabs and Shiites into independent states would cause havoc. Fortunately, this is much less likely, especially if federal arrangements work.
As Yugoslavia broke up in 1991, the first Bush administration put all its diplomatic muscle into a doomed effort to hold the country together, and it did nothing to stop the coming war. We should not repeat that mistake in Iraq.
The writer, a former U.S. ambassador to Croatia, is senior diplomatic fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. He has advised Kurdish leaders.
Posted by politicalstuff at 4:59 PM
Sunday, November 06, 2005
The New York Times
To Fight the Flu, Change How Government Works
By NEWT GINGRICH and ROBERT EGGE
LAST week, President Bush released plans to prepare the nation for the possibility of an outbreak of deadly influenza, calling for Congress to appropriate $7.1 billion for research and the stockpiling of vaccines and antiviral drugs. As a summary of goals and strategies, the president's plans are commendable. But drafting them was the easy part. Putting them into effect will be the challenge.
The problem with President Bush's plans is that they can't succeed in the current bureaucratic structure. Were the federal government ever entitled to the benefit of the doubt, it forfeited that presumption in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Unless these shortcomings are fixed, we have no grounds to presume the administration's laudable avian flu strategies will be translated into action.
What we need to do to prepare for and respond to a pandemic is change the very way the government delivers services. And to do that, the following initiatives must be integrated into the government's response:
Designate a single, accountable leader. An avian flu pandemic is among the greatest threats to our country today. Given our vulnerability and the amount of work to be done, the president must appoint a leader who is singularly focused on avian flu. This leader must be fully accountable for the government's progress. And the president must make it clear that this leader speaks on his behalf.
Fragmented authority will cripple the administration's efforts. In the president's plan, responsibilities are spread out among a number of United States departmental and agency heads. This is a recipe for disaster that could result in confusion, finger-pointing and neglect. If after the failure of Hurricane Katrina the administration hasn't understood the need for a single, dedicated leader, it hasn't yet faced up to the scale of disaster that a flu pandemic presents.
Replace bureaucratic administration with entrepreneurial management. If an avian flu pandemic sweeps the United States, it will pose a tremendous challenge in terms of speed, lethality and complexity. Federal, state and local governments will need to act with the speed and agility of the information age.
Unfortunately, our government cannot operate at anything approaching this level. Despite modest civil service reforms over the years, the government remains caught up in a bureaucratic process-oriented approach to business. The government's pandemic preparations must be equipped with 21st century entrepreneurial management practices that mirror those of America's best-run corporations. The government will need to stop focusing on process and concentrate instead on results.
To do this, it will need a management system that allows for collaboration between the government and communities similar to the Compstat crime system used by the New York and Los Angeles Police Departments. Compstat links headquarters to each precinct, allowing for accurate intelligence, rapid deployment and relentless follow-up.
Prepare for the days of a phony war mentality. Until we receive word that a pandemic is loose in this country, last week's announcement could well be the high point of public attention to the threat posed by avian flu. The pressure to prepare will decline. And as this happens, government attention will be pulled in other directions.
Resisting this temptation will require strong leadership from the administration and from Congress. But it will also be aided by concentrating on efforts that have multiple uses in peacetime as well as during a pandemic. These dual-use investments will be easier to justify if they are presented as an essential step in preparing for a deadly flu outbreak.
A leading example of such an investment is an electronic health record system, which would allow the federal government to track the course and impact of a pandemic in real time. Public health experts widely agree that this kind of network would not only allow for safer and more efficient care under normal circumstances, but would also equip federal, state and local governments with the data needed to direct scarce therapies, medical teams and supplies to where they are most needed as a pandemic unfolds. There's no good reason why every American couldn't have a preliminary electronic health record by the end of 2006.
While we can be grateful that President Bush has acknowledged the seriousness of a possible deadly flu outbreak and outlined strategies to prepare the nation to respond, much more needs to be done. Focusing on these three initiatives will ensure that we are prepared. The success of the president's plans hinges on getting this right.
Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the United States House of Representatives, is the founder of the Center for Health Transformation. Robert Egge is a project director at the center.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:22 PM
Democrat says Alito unlikely to face a filibuster
By Thomas Ferraro
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A key Democrat said on Sunday that he expects the full Republican-led Senate to vote on U.S. Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito without the threat of a Democratic filibuster.
But Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware said a decision would not be made about such a possible procedural roadblock until more lawmakers meet with President George W. Bush's conservative nominee to the nation's highest court.
"My instinct is we should commit" to an up-or-down vote by the full Senate, said Biden, a member of the Judiciary Committee. "I think the probability is that will happen.
"I think that judgment won't be made ... until the bulk of us have had a chance to actually see him and speak to him," Biden told ABC's "This Week."
The committee is set to begin a confirmation hearing on Alito, a federal appeals judge the past 15 years, on January 9.
If confirmed, Alito would replace the retiring Sandra Day O'Connor, a moderate conservative who has often been the swing vote on the nine-member court on abortion and other social issues.
"What's at stake here ... is whether or not we are going to put a person on the Supreme Court who is sensitive to the most basic and important responsibility of the court: protecting our rights and freedoms," said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat.
Appearing on CBS's "Face the Nation" program, Durbin said: "Some of the opinions that he's handed down are controversial decisions: deciding that the Family and Medical Leave Act did not apply to state employees; authorizing a strip search in a situation involving a mother and her 10-year-old daughter; questions involving the rights of privacy."
A simple Senate majority is needed for confirmation. Republicans hold 55 of the Senate seats but 60 would be required to end a filibuster, a procedural ploy that allows a Senate minority to block a nomination.
Bush nominated Alito last week after a rebellion in the president's conservative base helped prompt the withdrawal of his previous pick, White House counsel Harriet Miers.
While there were complaints Miers had failed to impress many senators, Alito received a favorable review after beginning a series of get-acquainted meetings with lawmakers.
"A large number of them are favorably disposed," said Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican. "I'm very favorably disposed but the important thing is the Democrats." lead to filibuster, but they're certainly reserving all of their options," McCain told "Fox News Sunday."
Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, a leading
liberal voice in Congress, said "it's possible" he will support Alito but first wants answers.
"The people that were so enthusiastic about knocking down Miers are so enthusiastic for this nominee," Kennedy told NBC's "Meet the Press." "We have to find out why ...."
McCain and other members of the "Gang of 14" -- seven Democrats and seven Republicans -- met last week and agreed it was too early to determine if it would permit a filibuster.
Last May, the largely moderate group averted a Senate showdown over some conservative Bush judicial nominees, clearing the way for the confirmation of a number of them while preserving the right of Democrats to filibuster others under "extraordinary circumstances."
(Additional reporting by Philip Barbara)
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:18 PM
Hagel: Torture Exemption Would Be Mistake
By DOUGLASS K. DANIEL, Associated Press Writer
A leading Republican senator said Sunday that the Bush administration is making "a terrible mistake" in opposing a congressional ban on torture and other inhuman treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody.
Sen. Chuck Hagel (news, bio, voting record), considered a potential presidential candidate in 2008, said many Republican senators support the ban proposed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War.
The ban was approved by a 90-9 vote last month in the Senate and added to a defense spending bill. The White House has threatened a veto, but the fate of the proposal depends on House-Senate negotiations that will reconcile different versions of the spending measure. The House's does not include the ban.
Vice President Dick Cheney has lobbied Republican senators to allow an exemption for those held by the CIA if preventing an attack is at stake.
"I think the administration is making a terrible mistake in opposing John McCain's amendment on detainees and torture," Hagel, R-Neb., said on "This Week" on ABC. "Why in the world they're doing that, I don't know."
McCain, citing the Senate vote as well as support from the public and from former Secretary of State Colin Powell and others with government service, said he will push the issue with the White House "as far as necessary."
"We need to get this issue behind us," McCain said on "Fox News Sunday." "Our image in the world is suffering very badly, and one of the reasons for it is the perception that we abuse people that we take captive."
Mistreatment of prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and allegations of mistreatment at the U.S.-run camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have drawn withering criticism from around the world. Human rights organizations also contend that the United States sends detainees to countries that it knows will use torture to try to extract intelligence information.
When the White House failed to kill the anti-torture provision while it was pending in the Senate, it began arguing for an exemption in cases of "clandestine counterterrorism operations conducted abroad, with respect to terrorists who are not citizens of the United States."
The president would have to approve the exemption, according to the administration proposal, and any activity would have to be consistent with the Constitution, federal law and U.S. treaty obligations.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he supports the vice president's efforts to gain a CIA exemption. While contending that the administration opposes torture, Hatch said, "They're going to everything in their power to make sure that our citizens in the United States of America are protected."
Appearing with Hatch on CBS's "Face the Nation," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners "is not what America is all about. Those aren't the values that we're fighting for."
Sen. Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said his vote against the ban doesn't mean he favors torture. He rejected Durbin's comments as "not really relevant to what we are trying to do to detain and interrogate the worst of the worst so that we can save American lives."
Roberts said that success with detention and interrogation depends on the detainee's fear of the unknown. He suggested that passing a law and putting U.S. policies into a manual would tell detainees too much about what to expect.
"As long as you're following the Constitution and there's no torture and no inhumane treatment, I see nothing wrong with saying here is the worst of the worst. We know they have specific information to save American lives in terrorist attacks around the world. That's what we're talking about," Roberts said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:13 PM