Saturday, November 25, 2006

GOP's Specter On Unchanged Bush Wiretapping Program: "For Every Day That Passes, There's An Invasion Of Privacy That Could Be Cured"

The New York Times
Despite a Year of Ire and Angst, Little Has Changed on Wiretaps

WASHINGTON, Nov. 24 — When President Bush went on national television one Saturday morning last December to acknowledge the existence of a secret wiretapping program outside the courts, the fallout was fierce and immediate.

Mr. Bush’s opponents accused him of breaking the law, with a few even calling for his impeachment. His backers demanded that he be given express legal authority to do what he had done. Law professors talked, civil rights groups sued and a federal judge in Detroit declared the wiretapping program unconstitutional.

But as Democrats prepare to take over on Capitol Hill, not much has really changed. For all the sound and fury in the last year, the National Security Agency’s wiretapping program continues uninterrupted, with no definitive action by either Congress or the courts on what, if anything, to do about it, and little chance of a breakthrough in the lame-duck Congress.

While the Democrats have vowed to press for more facts about the operation, they are of mixed minds about additional steps.

Some favor an aggressive strategy that would brand the program illegal and move to ban it even as the courts consider its legality. Others are more cautious, emphasizing the rule of law but not giving Republicans the chance to accuse them of depriving the government of important anti-terrorism tools.

Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, who will take over as House speaker in January, favors an investigation to determine how the security agency’s program actually operated and what its legal framework is under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, a senior aide to Ms. Pelosi said. Administration officials said they were concerned they could have to shut down a program they deemed vital to national security.

The 1978 law requires counterterrorism officials to obtain court orders to eavesdrop on people inside the United States. But the security agency’s program involved eavesdropping without warrants on the international telephone and e-mail communications of Americans and others in this country suspected of links to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

Congressional Republicans, for their part, see a missed opportunity to resolve the many questions hovering over the operation during a year in which they still commanded majorities in the House and Senate.

“We could’ve fixed this early on,” said Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a believer that the surveillance program violates the 1978 law.

“For every day that passes,” Mr. Specter said in an interview, “there’s an invasion of privacy that could be cured.”

To understand the helter-skelter nature of the debate over the wiretapping program, one need look no further than Mr. Specter.

After the program was publicly disclosed last Dec. 15, the senator called it an “inappropriate” usurpation of presidential authority that “can’t be condoned.” He signed onto a bill last summer written by Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, that would effectively ban the program as it is now operated and require a court order for all wiretapping of Americans.

Then, after a series of confidential meetings with the White House, Mr. Specter worked out a compromise to bring the program before a secret intelligence court to test its constitutionality. He was promptly pummeled by Democrats and editorial writers for giving away too much to the White House.

Mr. Specter changed course again last week and submitted yet another proposal that would require warrants for eavesdropping on communications coming out of, but not into, the United States, and would put the whole issue on a fast track to the Supreme Court. Its fate, like its predecessors’, is unclear.

Along the way, Mr. Specter has clashed with politicians on the left and the right. He got into a public spat with Vice President Dick Cheney when the latter succeeded in keeping Mr. Specter from subpoenaing telecommunications executives to testify about cooperation with the security agency, and he traded terse words with Senator Russell D. Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, over Mr. Feingold’s efforts to have the Senate vote to censure the president over the wiretapping.

“It’s always difficult,” Mr. Specter said, “to get legislation on a controversial issue that has such political overtones.”

The lack of a resolution has left many shaking their heads. Some officials said the unanswered questions had cast doubt on the public credibility of broader intelligence operations and created occasional confusion among intelligence agents over what was and was not allowed in tracking terrorism suspects.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty over this program,” said a former senior intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the wiretapping program is classified.

“We’ve had a wasted year at this point,” the former official said, “and nothing has been done to try to really figure out how or whether we should amend the process.”

The program was secretly approved by Mr. Bush weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks. Since then, the security agency, which has historically been restricted from spying within the United States, has monitored thousands of international telephone calls and e-mail messages to and from people in this country, people with knowledge of the operation say. Senior administration officials say it has been critical in helping to identify previously unknown plots, but other government officials involved in the operation have said that it has often led to dead ends and to people with no clear links to terrorism.

The administration has steadfastly defended the program and has warned of a serious threat to national security were it stopped.

In a speech last week, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales labeled as “myth” the idea that the program “is an invasion of privacy and an unlawful eavesdropping tool.” The program, he said, “does not invade anyone’s privacy, unless you are talking to the enemy in this time of war.”

The legal authority, the administration argues, rests on both the president’s inherent constitutional authorities as commander in chief as well as a Congressional resolution passed days after Sept. 11 that authorized the use of military force against Al Qaeda.

The only judge to rule directly on the question, Judge Anna Diggs Taylor of Federal District Court in Detroit, rejected the administration’s claims to broad executive authority, ruling the program illegal in August and ordering it shut down.

“There are no hereditary kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution,” the judge wrote.

The Justice Department is appealing that decision, as well as a separate ruling in San Francisco allowing lawsuits against telecommunication companies to proceed. In that case, Judge Vaughn Walker of Federal District Court rejected the government’s assertion that the lawsuits should be quashed because they touched on “state secrets” and risked harming national security.

Justice Department officials said they were hopeful they would succeed in overturning the Detroit ruling, but they acknowledged they were concerned over where the courts would ultimately come down.

“It would certainly be good to have clarity on this,” said a senior Justice Department official, who was given anonymity to discuss the department’s internal thinking. “Do people want resolution on a program this important? Sure.”

Even after the Democrats won control of Congress this month, Mr. Bush pushed the passage of wiretapping legislation as a priority for the lame-duck session that concludes next month. During that brief window before Democrats take power, administration officials also hope to push through related measures that would effectively insulate telecommunications and government officials from legal liability growing out of the wiretapping.

But Republicans and Democrats alike give the White House virtually no chance of moving substantive wiretapping legislation before January.

An aide to Ms. Pelosi noted that the White House has until now agreed only to limited briefings on the program.

“There is bipartisan interest in seeing whether the administration’s claims that the program can’t comply with F.I.S.A. are indeed so,” the aide said. “We were legislating on an issue where the full parameters were not known or well understood.”


New push to allow imported drugs expected in Congress

USA Today
New push to allow imported drugs expected in Congress

WASHINGTON (AP) — Efforts to allow Americans access to cheaper prescription drugs from abroad should blossom once Democrats assume control in Congress, but it won't be a top priority, lawmakers and health care experts said.

Members of the House and Senate are gearing up for a renewed push to change federal law and permit broader imports of prescription drugs from Canada and elsewhere, where certain medicines can cost less than two-thirds what they do in the United States. Their hope is the imports will drive down prices at home.

"The pressure is not to tell people you have to go outside this country to buy prescription drugs. The pressure is to force the pharmaceutical companies to re-price their drugs in the U.S.," said Sen. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat who has introduced with Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, a bill to make importation of prescription drugs legal.

The issue remains overwhelmingly popular with voters, even though the government estimates it would do little to actually cut the prices Americans pay for prescription drugs. And there is continued opposition to imported drugs as well.

Still, Republicans and Democrats alike see the shift in control of Congress as an opportunity to advance previously blocked legislation. The issue generally is called reimportation, since many of the medicines are made in the United States or by U.S. companies.

"Things were headed in the right direction with reimportation to begin with, but the election will speed up that process because it's removed leadership that was opposed to reimportation. I am a Republican and support leadership in general, but on reimportation they were opposed to it," said Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana.

Vitter and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., recently sponsored legislation to halt the seizures of imported Canadian drugs for personal use — something the government now allows only on a limited basis.

And Vitter continues to block confirmation of Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, President Bush's nominee to lead the Food and Drug Administration, until federal drug import laws are further relaxed.

As for the FDA, the agency says it can't vouch for the safety or efficacy of imported drugs. This summer, the FDA said testing revealed fake versions of Lipitor and other widely used prescription drugs ordered through websites linked to a Canadian pharmacy but shipped from other countries.

Nelson, too, intends to make such legislation a priority. He wants to either bar the use of government funds to enforce the rules or authorize the import of drugs certified as safe from Canada and select other countries on a case-by-case basis, spokesman Dan McLaughlin said.

The drug industry, which generally opposes such legislation, is bracing for an onslaught.

"I don't think there's any question there will be renewed attempts to pass reimportation legislation in the new Congress. It's a fight that's been going on for years now. Given the new leadership and its priorities, we expect it to pop up again," said Ken Johnson, senior vice president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

But don't hold your breath, said Drew Altman, president and chief executive officer of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health care research organization. Imported drug legislation is not at the top of Democratic leadership's list of priorities. And Bush, who's also raised questions about the safety of imported drugs, could veto legislation to make it happen.

Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has made cheaper prescription drugs part of her immediate plans for the House. Yet Pelosi's focus is on negotiating lower prices with drug companies for Medicare beneficiaries. The same goes for Sen. Harry Reid, the next Senate majority leader. Reid spokesman Jim Manley said reimportation was among "a whole host of other issues."

"Timing is another thing," said David Certner, legislative policy director for the AARP. "This would be presumably something we see later in the day."

If and when it does come to the fore, not everyone is taking Democratic support as a given.

"A lot of people say, 'Oh, it's just the Democrats,' but it's not. It depends on where you're from, and who are your constituents," said Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., a key sponsor of previous reimportation legislation.

Still, Emerson says the issue will have a "fighting chance" in the new Congress, even without a veto-proof majority. Others are less sanguine.

"This is one of those things where I think that the conventional wisdom may not be accurate. I personally think reimportation has a much tougher prospect of moving with the Democrats in charge, particularly in the House," said Ira Loss, an analyst at Washington Analysis.

Loss points to the potential opposition of Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., who will take over as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that oversees the FDA. Dingell previously has warned of the safety risks posed by imported drugs — as do both the FDA and pharmaceutical industry.

Reimportation advocates believe Canada could provide the U.S. with prescription drugs that are both cheap and safe. Canadians, for instance, pay on average just 62% as much for prescription drugs as do Americans, according to the 2005 annual report from that country's Patented Medicine Prices Review Board.

But lower prices overseas wouldn't automatically translate into massive savings for U.S. consumers, according to a 2004 study by the Congressional Budget Office.

The study found that allowing drug imports from a broad set of countries would cut drug spending by $40 billion over 10 years, or by about 1%. Limiting it to Canada would produce a "negligible reduction" in drug spending, it found.

Despite such estimates, public support remains strong, according to polls by the Kaiser Family Foundation and others.

"It's an issue whose popularity with the public is out of proportion to its potential benefit in terms of driving down drug costs," Altman said.


US Interference Allowed UK Liquid Terror Plot Suspects To Escape

The Independent
US interference 'allowed terror gang to escape'
By Jason Bennetto, Crime Correspondent

A team of suspected terrorists involved in an alleged UK plot to blow up trans-atlantic airliners escaped capture because of interference by the United States, The Independent has been told by counter-terrorism sources.

An investigation by MI5 and Scotland Yard into an alleged plan to smuggle explosive devices on up to 10 passenger jets was jeopardised in August, when the US put pressure on authorities in Pakistan to arrest a suspect allegedly linked to the airliner plot.

As a direct result of the surprise detention of the suspect, British police and MI5 were forced to rush forward plans to arrest an alleged UK gang accused of plotting to destroy the airliners. But a second group of suspected terrorists allegedly linked to the first evaded capture and is still at large, according to security sources.

The escape of the second group is said to be the reason why the UK was kept at its highest level - "critical" - for three days before it was decided that the plotters no longer posed an imminent threat.

The alleged airliner plot caused chaos and fear at airports throughout Britain when details emerged in August of an alleged plan to smuggle liquid explosives on board up to 10 flights and destroy them after take-off.

As a result of the alert, airports banned passengers from carrying liquids in their hand luggage and imposed tough new security checks.

The operation was one of the largest undertaken by the police and MI5, yet two counter-terrorism sources suggested that the intervention of the Americans was due to "inexperience and naivety" and that they were after a "short-term success".

American intelligence chiefs are understood to have persuaded the Pakistani authorities to arrest a British citizen, called Rashid Rauf, on Wednesday 9 August this year.

Mr Rauf was suspected of being closely linked to group of men and women in Britain who were allegedly involved in the airliner terror plot, and the arrest prompted emergency meetings involving ministers, police and intelligence chiefs - who were still investigating the case.

Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman, who has overall responsibility for the Metropolitan Police's anti-terrorist investigations, was forced to abandon a family holiday in Spain and catch an easyJet flight to Britain, arriving at 3am on Thursday 10 August.

Fearful that the arrest might tip off the alleged plotters, Scotland Yard, in consultation with MI5, decided to act and sanctioned a series of raids in the early hours of Thursday. The police arrested 24 men and women and later charged 13 in connection with the alleged terror plan. Britain has requested the extradition of Mr Rauf.

Scotland Yard has declined to comment about any other groupings who may have been involved in the alleged plot.

John Reid, the Home Secretary, downgraded the threat after three days from "critical" to "severe", meaning an attack was "highly likely", but not imminent.

It is understood that one of the main reasons why the highest level of alert was maintained was that authorities were trying to establish whether the second group was capable of an attack. After they satisfied themselves that it did not have the equipment to launch an assault, the threat level was downgraded.


Gates advocated airstrikes against Nicaragua in '84, documents say

USA Today
Gates advocated airstrikes against Nicaragua in '84, documents say
By George Gedda, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — In 1984, Robert Gates, then the No. 2 CIA official, advocated U.S. airstrikes against Nicaragua's pro-Cuban government to reverse what he described as an ineffective U.S. strategy to deal with communist advances in Central America, previously classified documents say.

Gates, President Bush's nominee to be defense secretary, said the United States could no longer justify what he described as "halfhearted" attempts to contain Nicaragua's Sandinista government, according to documents released Friday by the National Security Archive, a private research group.

In a memo to CIA Director William Casey dated Dec. 14, 1984, Gates said his proposed airstrikes would be designed "to destroy a considerable portion of Nicaragua's military buildup" and be focused on tanks and helicopters.

He also recommended that the United States prevent delivery to the Sandinistas of such weapons in the future. The administration, he said, should make clear that a U.S. invasion of the country was not contemplated.

The target of Gates' anxieties was Nicaragua's leftist president, Daniel Ortega.

Ironically, Gates' nomination to succeed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was announced just days after Ortega capped off a surprise political comeback by winning election as Nicaraguan president after three previous bids were rejected by the voters.

Ortega has recast himself as a moderate, assuring Nicaraguans that his Marxist-Leninist days are over.

Gates saw a calamitous situation in Central America in December 1984. Congress had ordered a halt to U.S. support for the Contra rebels, leaving Ortega free, as Gates saw it, to establish Nicaragua as a "permanent and well-armed" ally of the Soviet Union and Cuba.

He said the United States should acknowledge that the existence of a Marxist-Leninist regime in Nicaragua closely allied to Moscow and Havana "is unacceptable to the United States and that the United States will do everything in its power short of invasion to put that regime out."

In addition to airstrikes, he recommended withdrawal of U.S. recognition of the Nicaraguan government and recognition of a Nicaraguan government in exile that would be entitled to U.S. military support.

Economic sanctions should be considered, "perhaps even including a quarantine," Gates wrote.

His proposals were never adopted, but the administration attempted to circumvent the Contra aid ban by secretly funneling money to the rebels that had been obtained through arms sales to Iran. Democrats say they will question Gates during his Senate confirmation about his knowledge of the Iran-Contra scandal, which erupted two years after he sent his memo to Casey.

Gates' grim prediction in the memo of disaster in Central America did not come to pass. Congress renewed aid to the Contras in 1986. In February 1990, Nicaraguans dealt a blow to the Soviet Union and Cuba by voting Ortega out of office. And within two years, the Soviet Union had disappeared.


Press Freedom: US Drops To 53rd Place

Huffington Post
Blake Fleetwood
Press Freedom: US Drops To 53rd Place.

The US dropped 9 places in the 2006 Index of Press Freedom by Reporters Without Borders issued last month.

52 countries ranked higher and 115 ranked lower.

Finland, Iceland, Ireland and the Netherlands tied for first, with no recorded censorship, threats, intimidation or physical reprisals -- criterion that the Paris-based group uses to rank countries.

The US was outranked by most of the European counties, but also by such unlikely nations as Slovakia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Estonia, Namibia, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Botswana.

As you might expect, the three worst violators of free expression were North Korea, at the bottom of the Index at 168th place, Turkmenistan (167th) and Eritrea (166th).

One particularly egregious US case cited is the jailing of Josh Wolf, a freelance journalist and blogger, who has been imprisoned more than four months for refusing to hand over video tapes he filmed in San Francisco of a protest against the G8 Summit last year.

"As journalists we use our cameras and words to share the world around us," Josh Wolf wrote from jail.

"We hope that shedding light on the situation will help to bring about change and that having a camera rolling will help curtail injustice. As they say, 'The whole world is watching.'"

Earlier this week the Ninth Federal Appeals Court ruled that Wolf might be imprisoned until July 2007 when the Grand Jury expires. The video footage of the attack on a police car was aired by a cable TV station and then picked up by local affiliates of the national networks.

"He's not a criminal," said Lucie Morillion of Reporters Without Borders. "He was just protecting his sources, which is something many journalists have to do. The court decision is absurd."

"This young blogger does not represent any threat to national security, so keeping him in custody is a completely disproportionate step," said a representative of the worldwide press freedom organization -- a.k.a. Reporters Sans Frontiers -- after the November 16th ruling.

"The judges seem to want to teach a lesson to Wolf, a young man whose insolence exasperated them."

Wolf's only hope would be a successful appeal to the US Supreme Court, which does not look promising in this climate.

Other cases of US press intimidation include Sudanese cameraman Same al-Hajj, who works for the pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Jazzeera, who has been held without trial since June 2002 at the US military base at Guantanamo; and Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein, who has been held by US authorities in Iraq since April. The AP has been trying to secure his release for seven months.

During the first year of the index, in 2002, the US was ranked 17th. The US has fallen nine places since last year's ranking of 44, and 36 places since 2002.

Relations between the media and the Bush administration sharply deteriorated after the Justice Department increasingly used "national security" and the Patriot Act to intimidate journalists who questioned "the war on terrorism," according to the group.

33 US state courts recognize some form of Shield Law, but the Federal Courts have consistently refused to recognize the media's right not to reveal its sources. In recent years the US government has shown renewed zeal, threatening journalists whose investigations have no connection at all with terrorism.

Bloggers -- including us at the Huffington Post -- and websites, as well as grassroots journalists, are becoming increasingly vulnerable. They do not seem to be protected by any US laws at all, since they are not paid MSM staff professionals. But as the Judith Miller case shows, even New York Times reporters are not immune.

Other countries' rankings include: Canada (16), Israel (50), Mexico (132), Iraq (154), China (163) and Cuba (165).

In addition to the US, other developed nations that also fell in the rankings are France, Japan, and Denmark.

France (35th) slipped five places during the past year, to make a loss of 24 places in five years. The increase in searches of media offices and journalists' homes is disturbing media organizations and trade unions.

Rising nationalism and the system of exclusive press clubs (kishas) threatened democratic gains in Japan, which fell 14 places to 51st. The newspaper Nihon Keizai was firebombed and several journalists physically attacked by far-right activists (unyoke).

Fallout from the row over the "Mohammed cartoons"

Denmark (19th) dropped from first place because of serious threats against the authors of the Mohammed cartoons published in 2005. For the first time in recent years in a country that is very observant of civil liberties, journalists have needed police protection due to threats against them.

Currently about 120 journalists and 53 bloggers are in jail worldwide for attempting to provide news and opinion.

Without press freedom, there can be no democracy, and without democracy......


Thursday, November 23, 2006

October deadliest month ever in Iraq

October deadliest month ever in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq - At least 101 Iraqis died in the country's unending sectarian slaughter Wednesday, and the U.N. reported that 3,709 Iraqi civilians were killed in October, the highest monthly toll of the war and one that is sure to be eclipsed when November's dead are counted. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq also said citizens were fleeing the country at a pace of 100,000 each month, and that at least 1.6 million Iraqis have left since the war began in March 2003.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

What the Technology Industry Can Expect from a New Democratic Congress

Huffington Post
Jason Pontin
What the Technology Industry Can Expect from a New Democratic Congress

What should technologists--entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, researchers, employees of publicly traded technology companies, and any one who depends on their products and services--expect from a Democratic Congress? If history and ideology is any guide, something from very different from the mixture of neglect and wariness that characterized recent Republican attitudes.

For ideological reasons, Republican legislators and administrations have been reluctant to regulate emerging technologies: they see it as a violation of the principle of economic liberty.

For geographic reasons, Republicans have been closely tied to established, traditional industries, and tend to favor these industries with tax and other benefits: the reddest of American states are dominated by oil, agriculture, and the defense industries. For historical reasons, and perhaps because of a barely suppressed hostility to academic culture, Republicans have been disinclined to fund research whose only end is discovery: for the last six years, funding for basic research has declined, unless researchers could demonstrate that their work would contribute to the War on Terror. For instance, funding for the National Institutes of Health has declined in the past three years.

By contrast, Democrat legislators have seen regulation of new technologies as not only a proper function of government, but as a necessary contribution to technology ventures: they think that in the absence of common, universal standards, technologies fracture into rival, proprietary camps. Democrats are comfortable with the curious ecologies of technology industries, and are eager to be associated with the glamour of startups: in California , Washington State, New York, and Massachusetts , entrepreneurs and venture capitalists regularly contribute to Democratic candidates and freely offer their advice and support.

Lastly, Democrats want to fund long-term research: they understand that new technologies never emerge only because they are pulled into the market by consumer demand, but also because academic and government research has supported basic research for which there was no immediate economic benefit.

In consequence, a Democratic Congress will be friendly towards technology ventures, will fund discovery-based research that will create more, new technologies, but will at the same time be much more ready to regulate emerging technologies.

In coming weeks, I will describe specifically what this will mean for specific technologies. But at the very least, we can anticipate some useful and also some not-so-useful new developments. More stem-cell research will be funded at the state level, and Democratic legislators will challenge the federal ban on funding of new stem cell lines. Net neutrality, which would protect an Internet that did not favor any particular class of applications, and which was defeated six times during the years of Republican rule, will be revisited and might very easily pass.

On the other hand, a Democratic Congress might feel empowered to invest in a particular technology in preference to another, something that is usually better decided by the pull of markets. Worse, Democrats might want to regulate emerging social networks like MySpace in the interests of protecting minors.

But at the least, we will see something we've not seen since for years: a federal government that is not baffled by new technologies and technology ventures, but appreciates their capacity to grow existing markets, to create businesses where none existed before, and to expand human possibilities.


Stupidity, Ignorance, Lies, Myths, Panic & Fear

Huffington Post
Larry Beinhart
Stupidity, Ignorance, Lies, Myths, Panic & Fear

George Bush went to Vietnam. He was asked how that war compared to this war and his answer was, "We'll succeed unless we quit."

It is time to get serious about the history of the war in Vietnam. The failure to do so is part of what permits idiocies like this war.

The great myth, and it's clearly the myth that George Bush believes, is that the US lost the war in Vietnam because liberals, Hollywood actresses, hippies and CBS News subverted our will to fight.

That's not true.

We lost the war in Vietnam because we were fighting for something we could not achieve.

We were fighting to convince the Vietnamese to accept a variety of Western backed dictators, crooks, and cowboy colonels as their leaders. We were opposed by an idealistic, disciplined, organized and relative uncorrupt movement with a charismatic leader.

That was our goal in the conflict. It's not the reason we went to war.

We went to war because of a mythology.

It was a mythology very like the one that George Bush has created as the context for the War in Iraq.

Back then, we saw the world in bi-polar terms. The Free World vs. Communism.

Because the world was bi-polar we had to count anyone who was anti-Communist as good and support them. So dictators and juntas and mini-fascists all over the globe got to be counted as members of the Free World.

It also meant that all Communists had to be the enemy, and, indeed were part of a world that was united against. Any step forward for any one of them was a loss for us in the overall war.

It was clear that Vietnam could never invade the United States. They were no direct threat to us. Indeed, Ho Chi Minh expressed a great deal of admiration for the United States and offered friendship.

But we had to stop South Vietnam from going Communist because if we didn't lots of bad things would happen. All of South East Asia would fall like dominoes. After that, Indonesia, the Phillipines, Australia, India, and soon we would be surrounded and alone.

So we went to war. We fought for ten years. 58,000 Americans died.153,000 were wounded. At least 1,000,000 Vietnamese died.

Then we withdrew.

What happened? Was the vast Communist bloc strengthened?

Not exactly. Within five years, China went to war with Vietnam.

It was fairly short war. Vietnam won.

Meantime, Cambodia had been taken over by the Khmer Rouge. They were communists too, but too extreme for the Vietnamese. So Vietnam invaded Cambodia to get rid of Pol Pot and his madmen. That went on for nine years.

We continued to treat Vietnam as a pariah nation for twenty years.

Finally in 1995 we 'normalized relations.'

When George Bush got there in 2006 he found a Communist country. But a friendly one. Willing to do business. A great tourist destination.

In short, what he found, was what we could have had for the asking back in 1961. Or in 1947 for that matter.

It's easy to say that's 20-20 hindsight.

Could that have been known before we went to war in Vietnam?

The answer is that, yes, it could.

Was that known to the people in power, before we went to war? Or, if not then, early in the course of the war?

The answer to that is also yes.

Not, perhaps, with absolute certainty, but certainly it was known.

So why do we go ahead? Why were we trapped in the myths?


Not fear of communism. The fear on the part of our politicians of being called, "soft on Communism."

Both Kennedy and Johnson, at least at times, knew we couldn't win. Yet said they were afraid to be a president who "lost Vietnam." Then Richard Nixon came into power and lost Vietnam.

Nixon never got blamed for it. That's because he sort of owned the "soft on communism" franchise and he wasn't about to use it on himself.

Is this an argument that somehow we should not have fought Communism then and we should not fight terrorism or Islamo-fascism now or whatever else threatens us in the future?

No, it's not.

Actually, there were many places where we stood up to, subverted, or acted against the communists where we were very successful. And those countries are almost certainly better off for it.

Yet here's a real oddity. There are only five countries that remain Communist today: Vietnam, Laos, North Korea, Cuba and China.

We fought wars in the first three.

We should divide the Korean into two parts, two separate wars even. In the first part the North invaded the South and we entered the war to repel the invasion. That was very successful. In the second part, we invaded the North to make the whole country non-Communist. That was a great failure.

We backed an invasion of Cuba, we attempted numerous assassinations, and we have it embargoed to this day.

As for China, we backed the Nationalists against the Reds. Then we defended Taiwan (a success story) and tried to keep Red China isolated and ostracized.

Roughly speaking, the countries we fought the hardest are the ones that remain Communist today.

People will unite against a common enemy. Left to their own devices, they will, slowly, begin to question what's wrong with themselves.

The next lesson is this. Even if we agree to think of the War on Terror as something like the Cold War, we still have to think of the various battles one at a time. They are separate events and require separate responses.

The threat of force, as a deterrent, is extremely useful.

Actual force, going to war, is extremely good for repelling an invader and restoring a regime. It worked in South Korea. It worked when Saddam invaded Kuwait.

But actual force has it's limits. It's very dangerous to invade a country.

It can be done. But only if there's a viable replacement and we can get in and get out, as we did in Panama and Grenada.

But if we have to stay and put in or prop up a regime and become an occupying power, then it's a disaster.

But if there isn't one, it's Vietnam. Or Iraq.

There, very briefly, are some of the lessons that George Bush should have learned by comparing the two. The strictly practical ones, this does not address moral or legal issues.

Since he failed, the media which surrounds him should have done the job and pointed it out to us. Particularly since he failed. They were skeptical of him. They raised their eyebrows. Some even said quagmire. But they didn't attack the myths, the lies and the ignorance.

There are real threats in the world. But they need real solutions. Our guide to real solutions, is real history. Otherwise, we are led by panic and fear into stupidity.


GOP's Hagel: ‘The Time For More Troops Is Past,’ McCain’s Plan Is ‘Not Realistic,’ ‘The Wrong Approach’
Hagel: ‘The Time For More Troops Is Past,’ McCain’s Plan Is ‘Not Realistic,’ ‘The Wrong Approach’

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), a prominent conservative member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said today on MSNBC that Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) plan to send 20,000 more troops to Iraq is “not realistic.”

“The time for more troops is past,” he said. “We don’t want to put more troops in now. Even if we had them, that’s the wrong approach.” Watch it:

Full transcript:

MITCHELL: Let’s talk a bit about some of the plans that the Pentagon is supposedly considering, first of all, sending 20,000 more troops into Iraq, a short-term surge, an effort to try to stabilize Baghdad. Is that realistic? And is that cover for more quickly phasing out and withdrawing?

HAGEL: Andrea, it is not realistic. General Abizaid noted that when he was here last week before the Senate Armed Services Committee. We don’t have the troops. That’s number one.

Number two, even if we did, it’s the wrong approach. The time for more troops is past.

We’ve been in Iraq now almost four years. We went in completely undermanned, under-managed. We didn’t understand what we were getting into. We didn’t have the plans. We should have gone in with three times the troops that we had.

Those days are over. We’re not going to recapture that and go back and unwind those bad decisions.

We don’t want to put more troops in now. Even if we had them, that’s the wrong approach.

There’s not going to be a military resolution that decides the outcome of Iraq. It will be a political solution. It will include the Iraqi people, countries like Iran, Syria, Jordan and other countries around it.

Our options there are very limited right now. I hope that the president will be able to use the Baker-Hamilton commission to build a new bipartisan foundation in order to start moving this country, the United States, out of Iraq.


Democrats call for ouster of health official

Democrats call for ouster of health official
By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Several Democratic lawmakers asked the Bush administration on Monday to replace its new family-planning chief because he has worked for a health provider that opposes the use of birth control.

Dr. Eric Keroack's record as an opponent of birth control and abortion makes him a poor choice to oversee a $280 million reproductive-health program, seven House of Representatives Democrats said in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt.

"We are concerned that Dr. Keroack has promoted policies -- including the refusal to distribute contraception even to married women -- that directly conflict with the mission of the federal program," the letter said.

Keroack last week was named head of HHS's Office of Population Affairs, which funds birth control, pregnancy tests, breast-cancer screening and other health services for 5 million poor people annually. HHS estimates that the program helps to prevent 1.3 million unwanted pregnancies each year.

The office also oversees a $30 million program that encourages sexual abstinence among teens.

An HHS spokeswoman said Keroack is a skilled doctor and a nationally recognized expert on preventing teen pregnancy.

"We have confidence that he'll perform his duties effectively and in accordance with the law," HHS spokeswoman Christina Pearson said by e-mail.

Keroack previously served as medical director for A Woman's Concern, a chain of Boston-area pregnancy clinics that advise against the use of contraception and advocate abstinence as a way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Keroack has spoken at abstinence conferences across the country and has written that people who have more than one sex partner have a diminished neurological capacity to experience loving relationships.

His appointment does not need to be approved by the Senate, but Democrats will have the power to force him to testify when they control Congress next year.

One of those who signed the letter, California Rep. Henry Waxman, will be chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, while New York Rep. Louise Slaughter is expected to chair the Rules Committee. Others sit on committees that oversee HHS and control its budget.

"Less than two weeks ago the American public made it clear that they want a middle ground approach to our nation's most pressing problems," New York Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey said in a statement. "Unfortunately, this appointment says loudly and clearly that the president simply did not get that message."


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Judge Orders FBI to Correct Disclosures re: royal treatment of bin Laden Family and other Saudi Royals in days after 9/11

Yahoo! News
Judicial Watch: Judge Orders FBI to Correct Disclosures

WASHINGTON, Nov. 20 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced today that U.S. District Court Judge Richard W. Roberts of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has ordered the Federal Bureau of Investigation to submit "proper disclosures" to the Court and Judicial Watch by December 15, 2006 concerning the U.S. government's evacuation of Saudi royals and members of the bin Laden family from the United States immediately following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

In an analysis of the FBI documents produced to date, Roberts criticizes the adequacy of redaction descriptions, the accuracy of the sworn statement submitted with the documents, the validity of exemption claims, and other errors in the FBI's disclosures. Roberts' order also denied the U.S. government's request for summary judgment in Judicial Watch's lawsuit filed under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (Judicial Watch v. Department of Homeland Security & Federal Bureau of Investigation, No. 04-1643 (RWR)) Judicial Watch filed its original FOIA request on Oct. 7, 2003.

"The FBI's 220-page annotated production and accompanying...Declaration together do not, as they must, provide sufficient detail or precision about the withheld information...the FBI's motion for summary judgment will be denied and the FBI will be directed to file disclosures that fairly meet the requirements of (court precedent)," wrote Judge Roberts, noting that one particular FBI exemption argument "strains credulity."

Judicial Watch previously released a declassified "Secret" FBI report, dated September 24, 2003, entitled: "Response to October 2003 Vanity Fair Article (Re: (Redacted) Family Departures After 9/11/2001)." The report contains many redactions that the Justice Department claims were made in the privacy interests of the Saudi subjects identified in the report. New information detailing flights of Saudis out of the U.S. from Las Vegas, and Providence, RI are also in the report, as well as FBI procedures in processing the Saudi flights. It is apparent from the report that Bin Laden family members and Saudi royals were subject to only cursory, pro forma questioning by the FBI prior to their evacuation from the United States.

"We're pleased the court refuses to allow the FBI to cover its tracks by playing games with the open records process," said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. "The American people have a right to know why Saudi royals and members of the bin Laden family received special treatment in the days after 9/11."

To read the court order, and all other documents concerning the Saudi flights, visit Judicial Watch's Internet site,


Bush picks medical director of organization opposing premarital sex, contraception and abortion to lead the nation's family planning program

Yahoo! News
Doc's appt. angers family planning group
By ANDREW BRIDGES, Associated Press Writer

The Bush administration, to the consternation of its critics, has picked the medical director of an organization that opposes premarital sex, contraception and abortion to lead the office that oversees federally funded teen pregnancy, family planning and abstinence programs.

The appointment of Eric Keroack, a Marblehead, Mass. obstetrician and gynecologist, to oversee the federal Office of Population Affairs and its $283 million annual budget has angered family-planning advocates.

Keroack currently is medical director of A Woman's Concern, a Christian nonprofit. The Dorchester, Mass.-based organization runs six centers in the state that offer free pregnancy testing, ultrasounds and counseling. It also works to "help women escape the temptation and violence of abortion," according to its statement of faith. And it opposes contraception, saying its use increases out-of-wedlock pregnancy and abortion rates.

"A Woman's Concern is persuaded that the crass commercialization and distribution of birth control is demeaning to women, degrading of human sexuality and adverse to human health and happiness," its contraception policy reads in part.

"The appointment of anti-birth control, anti-sex education advocate Dr. Eric Keroack to oversee the nation's family planning program is striking proof that the Bush administration remains dramatically out of step with the nation's priorities," Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement.

A message left with A Woman's Concern was not immediately returned Friday.

Keroack's appointment as deputy assistant secretary for population affairs does not require Senate confirmation. He is expected to start work in the next several weeks, Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Christina Pearson said.

The department's assistant secretary for health, Dr. John Agwunobi, cited Keroack's experience in working primarily with "women and girls in crisis" in lauding his appointment.

"He regularly speaks to youth audiences on sexual risk behaviors and has been nationally recognized for his work on preventing teen pregnancy," Agwunobi said.


Office of Population Affairs:

A Woman's Concern:


Monday, November 20, 2006

The trial of Saddam Hussein was so flawed that its verdict is unsound, the advocacy group Human Rights Watch says.

Saddam trial 'flawed and unsound'
The trial of Saddam Hussein was so flawed that its verdict is unsound, the advocacy group Human Rights Watch says.

The former Iraqi leader was sentenced to death on 5 November after being convicted of crimes against humanity.

But HRW said it had documented "serious administrative, procedural and substantive legal defects" that meant he did not get a fair trial.

The Iraqi government has dismissed the report, telling the BBC that the trial was both "just and fair".

Appeal controversy

Saddam Hussein has two more weeks to lodge an appeal against the verdict - but his lawyer claims he has been blocked from doing so.

Chief defence lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi told the BBC his team had been prevented from filing appeal papers. Under Iraqi law it must be done within a month of sentencing.

However, the chief prosecutor, Jafaar al-Mousawi, has told the BBC it was a fair trial.

He said the appeal would be automatic because a death sentence had been passed - and that the relevant papers had been sent to the appeal court.

Mr al-Mousawi's claims that the trial was fair were echoed by Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari:

"We believe strongly that the trial was fair and Saddam Hussein had every right to defend himself," he told the BBC. "The procedure, I think, in the court, was witnessed by the whole world."

"It wasn't something done behind closed doors or through summary justice, as was the case during his rule. And we stand really by the court's verdict, and we believe the trial was just and fair."

Historical record

Saddam Hussein and seven co-defendants all faced charges of crimes against humanity relating to the deaths of 148 people in the mainly Shia town of Dujail following an assassination attempt on the Iraqi leader in 1982.

Two of his co-defendants also received death sentences.

Saddam Hussein is now being tried on a different set of charges relating to a military campaign against ethnic Kurds in the late 1980s, in which more than 180,000 people are alleged to have died.

The New York-based HRW group said the trials were among the most important since the Nazi trials in Nuremberg after World War II.

They "represent the first opportunity to create a historical record concerning some of the worst cases of human rights violations, and to begin the process of a methodical accounting of the policies and decisions that give rise to these events", the report said.

The BBC's David Loyn in Baghdad says HRW's disappointment is the greater because it considers the Iraqi court to have failed to take account of the international significance of this trial and the one currently under way.

Supporters of war crimes trials say that they can improve healing after conflict, our correspondent says, but like so much else in post-Saddam Iraq, his trial does not seem to have achieved that lofty ambition.

Lawyers murdered

HRW based its scathing assessment on extensive observation of court proceedings, and interviews with judges, prosecutors, defence lawyers and court administrators involved.

The imposition of the death penalty - an inherently cruel and inhumane punishment - in the wake of an unfair trial is indefensible
Human Rights Watch

The trial took just over one year to complete and was the first case brought before the Iraqi High Tribunal.

Proceedings were marked by frequent outbursts by both judges and defendants.

Three defence lawyers were murdered, three judges left the five-member panel and the original chief judge was replaced.

Defence lawyers boycotted proceedings but HRW said court-appointed counsel that took their place lacked adequate training in international law.

In addition, important documents were not given to defence lawyers in advance, no written transcript was kept and paperwork was lost, said HRW.

The defence was also prevented from cross-examining witnesses and the judges made asides that pre-judged Saddam Hussein.

'Indefensible penalty'

The US-led Coalition Provisional Authority decided that the Dujail trial would be held by an Iraqi court in Iraq, ruling out an international tribunal or a mixed Iraqi-international court under UN auspices, the HRW report said.

Because Iraqi lawyers and judges had been isolated from international criminal law, this decision resulted in a court that lacked the expertise to prosecute crimes against humanity on its own, the report said.

Defence counsel come under criticism in the report for trying to use the court as a political platform.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government was guilty of influencing the independence of the judges, the report said, to the extent that the first chief judge resigned.

"Under such circumstances the soundness of the verdict is questionable," HRW concludes.

"In addition, the imposition of the death penalty - an inherently cruel and inhumane punishment - in the wake of an unfair trial is indefensible."

Story from BBC NEWS:


Mass. Gov. Romney Asks Courts To Intervene In Effort To Block Gay Marriage

Yahoo! News
Romney seeks Mass. court help on gay marriage ban
By Kevin McNichols

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said on Sunday he would ask the state's highest court to intervene to let voters decide on a proposal to ban gay marriage in the only U.S. state where it is legal.

"This week we will file an action before the courts calling upon the judiciary to protect the constitutional rights of our citizens," Romney, a potential Republican presidential contender in 2008, told a rally organized by opponents of gay marriage.

Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, a conservative Christian organization that opposes gay marriage, said his group would also file lawsuits seeking to put the measure to the ballot.

Lawmakers in the state's Democrat-controlled legislature earlier this month dealt a huge blow to opponents of gay marriage when they adjourned without voting on a constitutional amendment that would have helped pave the way for the ballot question in 2008.

Romney, a vocal critic of gay marriage, plans to ask the state's Supreme Judicial Court, which legalized gay marriage, to order Massachusetts' secretary of the commonwealth to put the amendment on the ballot, his spokesman, Eric Fehrnstrom, said on Sunday.

Roughly 8,000 same sex couples have wed in the state since they got the right in 2004, but opponents of gay marriage say the issue should be up to voters to decide.

Speaking from the steps of the city's historic gold-domed statehouse, Romney, who is retiring and will be replaced by a Democratic governor in January, addressed nearly 5,000 people demonstrating for and against same sex marriage, according to state police estimates.

"It is an embarrassment that this governor is using the steps of the state house to promote bigotry and to promote his own presidential campaign because that is all this is. It is flat-out, unadulterated opportunism," said Boston resident Robyn Ochs.

In order for the proposal to ban gay marriage to get on the ballot in 2008, 25 percent of Massachusetts' 200-member Legislature would have to approve the measure in the current legislative session and one more time before the general election in 2008.

The Legislature returns on January 2, the last day of the session, but it is not expected to consider the amendment.


Palestinians Form Human Shield To Protect Hamas Leaders

Yahoo! News
Palestinian shields foil Israeli strikes
By SARAH EL DEEB, Associated Press Writer

Hundreds of Palestinians serving as human shields guarded the homes of two top militants Sunday, a new tactic that forced Israel to call off missile strikes on the buildings and re-evaluate a mainstay of its aerial campaign in Gaza.

In recent months, the Israeli air force has repeatedly struck the homes of militants after warning residents by phone to clear out. Israeli security officials said they did not know how to respond to the human shield tactic, but pressed ahead with other airstrikes Sunday.

In Gaza City, an aircraft fired a missile at a car, killing one man and wounding nine, including two Hamas militants. Four of the wounded were children, ages 5 to 16, who suffered shrapnel injuries, hospital officials said.

The military said the target of the strike was a vehicle carrying senior members of the Hamas rocket launching operation.

The standoff over the homes of the militants began late Saturday when Mohammed Baroud, local leader of the Popular Resistance Committees, was informed by the army that his house would be hit. The three-story building is home to 17 people from Baroud's family. Another militant from Hamas also received a warning.

Instead of fleeing, though, the two decided to stay in their homes and called in reinforcements. They were quickly joined by crowds of supporters, including dozens of armed men, who gathered on balconies, rooftops and in the streets outside.

"Death to Israel. Death to America," the crowds chanted. Local mosques and Palestinian TV and radio stations also mobilized supporters.

Baroud, involved in rocket attacks on Israel, said he and his fellow militants had planned the response a few days earlier when another house was destroyed in a missile strike.

The army said it called off the nighttime airstrikes because of the crowds. It condemned what it said was a cynical exploitation "by the terrorists of uninvolved people as human shields."

Israeli military officials acknowledged they had no solution for the standoff. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

By Sunday afternoon, about two dozen women were milling around on Baroud's roof, shielded from the sun by green tarp. One story below them, about a dozen men were resting on mattresses.

Baroud's mother, Umm Wael, said shifts had been organized in preparation for a long standoff. "Where should we go?" she said. "We will stay here or die in the house. Let them bring it down on our heads."

Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas stopped by to show support. "We are so proud of this national stand. It's the first step toward protecting our homes, the homes of our children," he said.

Also Sunday, Hamas militants in Gaza fired eight rockets at the Israeli town of Sderot, seriously wounding one person. Last week, a Sderot woman was killed in a rocket attack.

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and demanded he invoke his authority to put an end to the rocket fire, the Defense Ministry said. Peretz told Abbas that Israel would not tolerate continued barrages.

Abbas responded by telling Peretz to stop Israel's military escalation in the Palestinian territories, according to the Palestinian news agency, WAFA.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert criticized a U.N. resolution that calls on Israel to pull its troops from Gaza and requests a fact-finding mission into the death of 19 members of an extended family killed in an Israeli artillery attack earlier this month.

The resolution — which passed the General Assembly on Friday — received support from all members of the European Union after last-minute changes were made to soften the tone. Israel, Australia and the United States voted against it.

Olmert said Israel will not halt its five-month offensive in Gaza, which he said is a response to rocket fire from Palestinian militants, even though civilians are frequently caught in the crossfire.

He lashed out at members of the international community "who on their moral high-horse and eye-rolling ways view it as correct to initiate a U.N. resolution condemning us."

Hamas and Abbas' more moderate Fatah have been at loggerheads since the Islamic group came to power after winning January parliamentary elections. In recent weeks, the sides have been trying to put aside their differences and form a unity government in the hopes of ending international sanctions imposed on the government.

Israel and Western donor nations have demanded that Hamas renounce violence, recognize Israel's right to exist and accept past peace deals. Hamas rejects the conditions, and the emerging coalition government is expected to take a vague position toward Israel.

Haniyeh acknowledged that despite progress in the talks, there were no guarantees the new government would persuade the international community to lift sanctions.

"We want to feel more secure, to be more comfortable that they are going to be committed to these guarantees and lift the siege," Haniyeh told reporters after visiting the Baroud home.


Associated Press Writer Ibrahim Barzak contributed to this report.


Senior Democrat calls for military draft with alternate choice of public service

Here is the beginning of my post.

Senior Democrat calls for military draft
By Jackie Frank

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An influential Democratic lawmaker on Sunday called for reinstatement of the draft as a way to boost U.S. troop levels and draw a broader section of the population into the military or public service.

U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, the incoming chairman of the House of Representatives' tax-writing committee, said he would introduce legislation to reinstate the draft as soon as the new, Democratic-controlled Congress convenes in January.

[inserted from the end of this article, so this doesn't read like most of the press will report it:
Rangel said his legislation on the draft would also offer the alternative of a couple of years of public service with educational benefits.]

Asked on CBS' "Face the Nation" if he was still serious about the proposal for a universal draft he raised a couple of years ago, he said, "You bet your life. Underscore serious."

"If we're going to challenge Iran and challenge North Korea and then, as some people have asked, to send more troops to Iraq, we can't do that without a draft," he said.

Rangel, who opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, also said he did not think the United States would have invaded Iraq if the children of members of Congress were sent to fight. He has said the U.S. fighting force is comprised disproportionately of people from low-income families and minorities.

"I don't see how anyone can support the war and not support the draft. I think to do so is hypocritical," he said.

The New York Democrat had introduced legislation to reinstate the draft in January 2003 before the Iraq invasion. The Pentagon has said the all-volunteer army is working well and there is no need for a draft, and the idea had no traction in the Republican-led Congress.

Democrats gained control of both the House and Senate for the first time in 12 years in the November 7 election, and a wholesale change in the leadership of Congress is to be made in January. Rangel is to head the House Ways and Means Committee, which is charged with U.S. tax and trade legislation.

The draft was in place from 1948 to 1973, when the United States converted to an all-volunteer army. But almost all men living in the United States - including most male noncitizens - are required to register with the Selective Service upon reaching 18, and federal benefits, including financial aid for college studies, are contingent on registration.

Rangel said his legislation on the draft would also offer the alternative of a couple of years of public service with educational benefits.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

We're Here To Clean Up The Mess


U.S. vets make Vietnam-Iraq comparisons

U.S. vets make Vietnam-Iraq comparisons

HANOI (Reuters) - Aging American veterans of the unpopular Vietnam War are passing the torch of political advocacy to a younger generation coming out of Iraq with many of the same physical and mental scars.

The transition is happening as U.S. President George W. Bush becomes the second president to visit Vietnam since the Americans were chased out in April 1975 by Communists who unified the country and remain its one-party rulers.

His administration is globally criticized for its handling of the Iraq occupation and Bush himself has made a comparison between the Iraq carnage and the height of the Vietnam conflict.

"It is again the same thing, we've got money for bullets and bombs, we don't have money for bandages and medicines," Vietnam veteran Tom Leckinger said in his office in Hanoi, referring to what he sees as deficiencies in post-war health and other services for men and women who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"That's a huge similarity which is doing nothing but angering these folks," said Leckinger, 56, who is the representative in Hanoi of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (VVAF).

In the United States, VVAF changed its name six weeks ago to Veterans for America with the mission of "uniting a new generation of veterans with those from past wars to address the causes, conduct and consequences of war".

It is just one of several veterans advocacy groups.

On Saturday, Bush will visit the Hanoi office of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command that works on returning any prisoners of war and remains of those missing in action from past conflicts.

Bush, 50, who was a pilot in the Texas National Guard during the war but was not called up for Vietnam, arrived in Hanoi on Friday for a state visit and to attend the weekend Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.

His predecessor Bill Clinton visited in 2000, five years after the normalization of diplomatic ties between former foes.

Post-traumatic stress disorder and the consequences of exposure to toxic material are just two of the similar problems experienced by survivors of Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam.

"For us, it was dioxin/agent orange and for them it's depleted uranium," Leckinger said.

Iraq war veteran Garett Reppenhagen says betrayal by leaders, being sent to war based on questionable intelligence and shifting rationales for staying there, is another common feeling.

"I am not sitting across from another generation of veterans in 20 years listening to how they were betrayed by their government and sent to war without proper training and equipment, without a plan and for causes that have proved fraudulent," Reppenhagen wrote in an email.

Reppenhagen, a Cavalry/Scout Sniper in the 1st Infantry Division in Baquaba, Iraq in 2004-2005, appeared last week on U.S. television with Vietnam War veteran Bobby Muller, founder of VVAF. Other groups such as Vietnam Veterans Against the War are supporting Iraq Veterans Against the War on anti-war activities.

The Vietnam War killed 58,000 U.S. troops and three million Vietnamese military and civilians.

As of Thursday, 2,863 Americans have been killed and more than 20,000 wounded in Iraq since the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein. An estimated 51,000 to 58,000 Iraqi troops and civilians have been killed.


Leahy Seeks Documents on Detention

Leahy Seeks Documents on Detention
Associated Press

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who will chair the Senate Judiciary Committee next year, asked the Justice Department to release two newly acknowledged documents, which set U.S. policy on how terrorism suspects are detained and interrogated.

The CIA recently acknowledged the existence of the documents in response to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The first is a directive President Bush signed giving the CIA authority to establish detention facilities outside the United States and outlining interrogation methods that may be used against detainees.

The second is a 2002 memo from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel to the CIA's general counsel regarding interrogation methods that the spy agency may use against al-Qaeda leaders.

"The American people deserve to have detailed and accurate information about the role of the Bush administration in developing the interrogation policies and practices that have engendered such deep criticism and concern at home and around the world," Leahy wrote Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.

Leahy asked Gonzales to produce any revisions and analyses of those and other memos. He also requested agency documents that interpret the scope of interrogation practices permitted and prohibited by the Detainee Treatment Act or the Military Commissions Act.

The Justice Department will respond appropriately, spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said yesterday.

But he added that "it is vital to protect national security secrets," particularly in sensitive programs overseen by the intelligence committees. Roehrkasse also said the department will weigh whether the documents being sought fall under the category of confidential deliberations, including legal advice.


Padilla Case Raises Questions About Anti-Terror Tactics; Treatment in Brig Could Hinder His Prosecution

Padilla Case Raises Questions About Anti-Terror Tactics
Treatment in Brig Could Hinder His Prosecution
By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer

After he was arrested in 2002, Jose Padilla was considered so dangerous that he was held without charges in a military prison for more than three years -- accused first of plotting a radiological "dirty bomb" attack and later of conspiring with al-Qaeda to blow up apartment buildings with natural gas.

But now, nearly a year after his abrupt transfer into a regular criminal court, the Justice Department's prosecution of the former Chicago gang member is running into trouble.

A Republican-appointed federal judge in Miami has already dumped the most serious conspiracy count against Padilla, removing for now the possibility of a life sentence. The same judge has also disparaged the government's case as "light on facts," while defense lawyers have made detailed allegations that Padilla was illegally tortured, threatened and perhaps even drugged during his detention at a Navy brig in South Carolina.

The Justice Department denied the allegations of torture last week and is pursuing an appeal of the conspiracy ruling in hopes that the charge will be reinstated. Prosecutors on Thursday also took the unusual step of revealing that Abu Zubaida, an al-Qaeda lieutenant now imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was a key source who led authorities to capture Padilla.

But some legal scholars and defense lawyers argue that the government's case is so fundamentally weak, and its legal options so limited, that Padilla could draw a relatively minor prison term or even be acquitted. The trial has already been postponed once, until January, and is almost certain to be delayed again.

The difficulties have reignited a debate in legal circles over whether terrorism suspects such as Padilla can be effectively prosecuted in regular criminal courts, or whether the Bush administration blew its chances by relying on questionable interrogation methods that cannot be used to build a criminal case.

Stephen I. Vladeck, an associate law professor at the University of Miami who has closely watched Padilla's case as it has unfolded in South Florida, said an acquittal or mixed result "would certainly add fodder to the position that the courts are not set up to handle these kinds of cases. But it also adds fodder to the other side that says they never had anything to begin with.

"This is the government's shot," Vladeck said. "It's certainly not near as strong a case as it was made out to be when the indictment was unsealed."

Padilla, now 35, was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and had a history of criminal trouble as a teenage gang member in Chicago before moving to Florida and converting to Islam in the 1990s. He was first thrust into the spotlight in June 2002, when then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft made a television appearance from Moscow to announce Padilla's arrest and designation as an "enemy combatant" by President Bush.

Two years later -- facing growing legal challenges over its decision to indefinitely detain a U.S. citizen without charges -- the administration took the unusual step of outlining a host of new allegations against Padilla, playing down the original accusations involving a "dirty bomb" plot.

James B. Comey, then the deputy attorney general, detailed Padilla's alleged travels around the Middle East from 2000 to 2002, including a trip to an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, meetings with senior al-Qaeda leaders and preparations for blowing up apartment buildings inside the United States.

Comey characterized many of these allegations as based on admissions by Padilla, and was candid in saying that much of the information could not be used in a criminal court -- a fact that has greatly complicated the government's position in the current case.

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales announced Padilla's indictment in late 2005, when he was added to a previous terrorism-support case in South Florida. By moving Padilla into criminal court, the administration managed to sidestep a potential ruling from the Supreme Court on whether the government had the authority to hold a U.S. citizen such as Padilla without charges.

The indictment did not mention the previous allegations against Padilla, or any planned attacks on U.S. soil. Instead, it alleged that Padilla joined two other defendants, Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi, in funneling money to terrorist groups for battles overseas.

Padilla's defense team, led by lawyers at the federal public defender's office in Miami, has attacked the case on several fronts, pushing for access to the alleged evidence against Padilla while also arguing that ill treatment during his confinement has polluted the government's case.

U.S. District Judge Marcia G. Cooke, appointed by Bush in 2004, rejected prosecutors' efforts to make defense attorneys adhere to special security restrictions and ordered the government to provide more access to evidence.

Padilla's attorneys say that his voice is heard on only eight of about 50,000 FBI wiretap recordings in the case, and that there is no mention of violence or jihad on any of the recordings connected to him.

In a motion to dismiss the case in October, federal public defender Michael Caruso and his team also alleged that Padilla "was tortured for nearly the entire three years and eight months of his unlawful detention. The torture took myriad forms, each designed to cause pain, anguish, depression and, ultimately, the loss of will to live. The base ingredient in Mr. Padilla's torture was stark isolation for a substantial portion of his captivity."

Among other things, the defense alleges that Padilla was held for 1,307 days in a 9-by-7-foot cell, isolated for days or weeks at a time, physically assaulted and threatened with execution and other violence, kept awake with lights and noises, and forced to take mind-altering drugs, possibly PCP or LSD.

The government counters that Padilla offers no evidence to back up the allegations and that, besides, his treatment by the military is irrelevant to the criminal case against him.

Robert M. Chesney, a specialist in national security law at Wake Forest University, said he thinks the government will be able to fend off many of the current challenges to its case, including Cooke's decision to throw out the murder conspiracy charge.

But he and other legal scholars on both sides of the debate say that the government's case could prove troublesome in front of a jury because of Padilla's seemingly minor role in the alleged conspiracy. It also remains to be seen whether the administration might try to rename Padilla as an enemy combatant if its prosecution begins to fall apart.

"I think the prosecution is ultimately going to emerge victorious on these legal questions," Chesney said. "But, from Day One, we've never had sufficient admissible evidence to fully prosecute Jose Padilla. That's the real problem they have, and it's been a problem from the beginning."

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.


Unlike Clinton, Bush Sees Hanoi in Bit of a Hurry

The New York Times
Unlike Clinton, Bush Sees Hanoi in Bit of a Hurry

HANOI, Vietnam, Sunday, Nov. 19 — President Bush likes speed golf and speed tourism — this is the man who did the treasures of Red Square in less than 20 minutes — but here in the lake-studded capital of a nation desperately eager to connect with America, he set a record.

On Saturday, Mr. Bush emerged from his hotel for only one nonofficial event, a 15-minute visit to the Joint P.O.W./M.I.A. Accounting Command, which searches for the remains of the 1,800 Americans still listed as missing in the Vietnam War.

There were almost no Vietnamese present, just a series of tables displaying photographs of the group’s painstaking work, and helmets, shoes and replicas of bones recovered by the 425 members of the command. He asked a few questions and then sped off in his motorcade.

On Sunday morning, Mr. Bush attended an ecumenical church service in an old French-built Catholic basilica to underscore the need for greater religious freedom.

But the mood of this trip could not have been more different from the visit of another president, Bill Clinton, exactly six years ago this weekend, when he seemed to be everywhere.

And while the difference says much about the personalities of two presidents who both famously avoided serving in the war here, it reveals a lot about how significantly times have changed — and perhaps why America’s “public diplomacy” seems unable to shift into gear.

In 2000, tens of thousands of Hanoi’s residents poured into the streets to witness the visit of the first American head of state since the end of the Vietnam War. Mr. Clinton toured the thousand-year-old Temple of Literature, grabbed lunch at a noodle shop, argued with Communist Party leaders about American imperialism and sifted the earth for the remains of a missing airman.

On Saturday, Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, conceded that the president had not come into direct contact with ordinary Vietnamese, but said that they connected anyway.

“If you’d been part of the president’s motorcade as we’ve shuttled back and forth,” he said, reporters would have seen that “the president has been doing a lot of waving and getting a lot of waving and smiles.”

He continued: “I think he’s gotten a real sense of the warmth of the Vietnamese people and their willingness to put a very difficult period for both the United States and Vietnam behind them.”

Perhaps, but the Vietnamese have barely seen or heard from Mr. Bush. He spoke at his first stop, Singapore, promising that “America will remain engaged in Asia.” But the response was tepid — the invited audience somehow missed several of built-in applause lines — and one senior Singaporean diplomat, declining to be quoted by name, said there was little in the speech “that his father didn’t say to us 15 years ago.”

Others questioned whether the United States was so fixated on the Middle East that China had been given free rein to spread its influence.

Here in Vietnam, what has been missing, at least so far, are the kinds of emotional moments of reconciliation that marked Mr. Clinton’s visit. Mr. Clinton took the two sons of the missing airman, Lt. Col Lawrence G. Evert, to a rice paddy in Tien Chau, a tiny town 17 miles northeast of Hanoi. There, they searched for remnants of the colonel’s F-150D Thunderchief, which crashed during a bombing run in 1967. Scores of nearby villagers joined in the effort, and the soil gave up the airman’s bones.

There will be none of that for Mr. Bush, but he plans to highlight the new Vietnam on Sunday and Monday at its stock exchange in Ho Chi Minh City. Then he moves on to Indonesia for a few hours to meet “civic leaders,” something he did three years ago in a stopover in Bali.

But Mr. Bush is not staying overnight in the world’s most populous Muslim nation, which Washington has portrayed as a critical test in the struggle to promote moderate, democratic Islamic states. The Secret Service said it was too dangerous, so he will spend the night in Hawaii.

Waiting for One More Star

The Hadong Silk shop in this city’s Old Quarter is the first port of call for well-heeled visitors on the hunt for the tailor-made silkwares for which Vietnam has become famous. This weekend, with heads of state from 21 countries in town for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, a parade of dignitaries streamed in for fittings of made-to-order shirts, dresses and suits.

Laureen Harper, the wife of Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, showed up on Friday, made a few purchases and signed the guestbook for Dang Thi Thu Thuy, the petite, exquisitely dressed owner. Ditto for Australia’s first lady, Janette Howard.

But Mrs. Thuy was searching for more. “We really hope that Mrs. Bush will come into our store,” she says. “We are waiting for her, but she hasn’t come.”

The walls of Hadong Silk are lined with giant framed photos of Hillary Rodham Clinton, who came to the shop during Mr. Clinton’s visit in 2000. There is a photo of Mrs. Clinton towering over three saleswomen, another of her standing next to Mrs. Thuy, both clad in silk suits, and one upstairs of her, surrounded by Secret Service agents, perusing silk blouses.

Vu Thi Thu Huong, a saleswoman, said the shop was so excited after Mrs. Clinton left, having bought 10 raw silk shirts for her husband, that the distinctive square collar on their men’s silk shirts was renamed the “Bill Clinton Collar.”

So, will there be a “George Bush Collar”?

Mrs. Thuy shrugged. “I’m not sure,” she said. She gestured to her camera, and said, “If she comes we will take her picture, too.”

Mrs. Bush visited the Temple of Literature, a monument to the legacy of Confucius, and the Museum of Ethnology, which focuses on Vietnam’s 54 ethnic groups. With the spouses of other leaders, she saw water puppets. It is unclear whether she bought any silk.

Statements of New Times

The Vietnamese are teetering somewhere between welcoming and overwhelmed as world leaders zoom through their streets and jam the hotels so fully that several diplomats have been housed in youth hostels.

The country wants to portray itself as a rising competitor to China, but this is still a city with the slow-paced feel of an Asia that has been largely lost, one where the bicycle and the moped are the chief modes of transportation, and where old houses cooled by lazy ceiling fans have yet to be bulldozed for look-alike condos, Beijing-style.

But it is also a place that reminds visitors of who prevailed over the Americans. One building that Mr. Bush zipped past is the Military History Museum, which displays a giant sculpture made of the broken fuselages and wings of downed French and American aircraft. The place was close to empty when Mr. Bush and his colleagues were meeting, but had he stopped by he would have heard a pretty one-sided account of the December 1972 bombing of Hanoi, and seen photographs of a troubled President Lyndon Johnson.

Just down the road, a giant banner mixes old and new. “The Great Ho Chi Minh Is Still Alive in Our Modernizaton and Industrial Progress!” it proclaims of the man who proclaimed Vietnamese independence.

If Mr. Ho were still alive, and able to sit up from his spot in the mausoleum, he would have seen road signs advertising the underwriting of the conference by Citigroup and Samsung.


Embittered Insiders Turn Against Bush

Embittered Insiders Turn Against Bush
By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer

The weekend after the statue of Saddam Hussein fell, Kenneth Adelman and a couple of other promoters of the Iraq war gathered at Vice President Cheney's residence to celebrate. The invasion had been the "cakewalk" Adelman predicted. Cheney and his guests raised their glasses, toasting President Bush and victory. "It was a euphoric moment," Adelman recalled.

Forty-three months later, the cakewalk looks more like a death march, and Adelman has broken with the Bush team. He had an angry falling-out with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld this fall. He and Cheney are no longer on speaking terms. And he believes that "the president is ultimately responsible" for what Adelman now calls "the debacle that was Iraq."

Adelman, a former Reagan administration official and onetime member of the Iraq war brain trust, is only the latest voice from inside the Bush circle to speak out against the president or his policies. Heading into the final chapter of his presidency, fresh from the sting of a midterm election defeat, Bush finds himself with fewer and fewer friends. Some of the strongest supporters of the war have grown disenchanted, former insiders are registering public dissent and Republicans on Capitol Hill blame him for losing Congress.

A certain weary crankiness sets in with any administration after six years. By this point in Bill Clinton's tenure, bitter Democrats were competing to denounce his behavior with an intern even as they were trying to fight off his impeachment. Ronald Reagan was deep in the throes of the Iran-contra scandal. But Bush's strained relations with erstwhile friends and allies take on an extra edge of bitterness amid the dashed hopes of the Iraq venture.

"There are a lot of lives that are lost," Adelman said in an interview last week. "A country's at stake. A region's at stake. This is a gigantic situation. . . . This didn't have to be managed this bad. It's just awful."

The sense of Bush abandonment accelerated during the final weeks of the campaign with the publication of a former aide's book accusing the White House of moral hypocrisy and with Vanity Fair quoting Adelman, Richard N. Perle and other neoconservatives assailing White House leadership of the war.

Since the Nov. 7 elections, Republicans have pinned their woes on the president.

"People expect a level of performance they are not getting," former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said in a speech. Many were livid that Bush waited until after the elections to oust Rumsfeld.

"If Rumsfeld had been out, you bet it would have made a difference," Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said on television. "I'd still be chairman of the Judiciary Committee."

And so, in what some saw as a rebuke, Senate Republicans restored Trent Lott (Miss.) to their leadership four years after the White House helped orchestrate his ouster, with some saying they could no longer place their faith entirely in Bush.

Some insiders said the White House invited the backlash. "Anytime anyone holds themselves up as holy, they're judged by a different standard," said David Kuo, a former deputy director of the Bush White House's faith-based initiatives who wrote "Tempting Faith," a book that accused the White House of pandering to Christian conservatives. "And at the end of the day, this was a White House that held itself up as holy."

Richard N. Haass, a former top Bush State Department official and now president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said a radically different approach to world affairs naturally generates criticism. "The emphasis on promotion of democracy, the emphasis on regime change, the war of choice in Iraq -- all of these are departures from the traditional approach," he said, "so it's not surprising to me that it generates more reaction."

The willingness to break with Bush also underscores the fact that the president spent little time courting many natural allies in Washington, according to some Republicans. GOP leaders in Congress often bristled at what they perceived to be a do-what-we-say approach by the White House. Some of those who did have more personal relationships with Bush, Cheney or Rumsfeld came to feel the sense of disappointment more acutely because they believed so strongly in the goals the president laid out for his administration.

The arc of Bush's second term has shown that the most powerful criticism originates from the inside. The pragmatist crowd around Colin L. Powell began speaking out nearly two years ago after he was eased out as secretary of state. Powell lieutenants such as Haass, Richard L. Armitage, Carl W. Ford Jr. and Lawrence B. Wilkerson took public the policy debates they lost on the inside. Many who worked in Iraq returned deeply upset and wrote books such as "Squandered Victory" (Larry Diamond) and "Losing Iraq" (David L. Phillips). Military and CIA officials unloaded after leaving government, culminating in the "generals' revolt" last spring when retired flag officers called for Rumsfeld's dismissal.

On the domestic side, Bush allies in Congress, interest groups and the conservative media broke their solidarity with the White House out of irritation over a number of issues, including federal spending, illegal immigration, the Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers, the response to Hurricane Katrina and the Dubai Ports World deal.

Most striking lately, though, has been the criticism from neoconservatives who provided the intellectual framework for Bush's presidency. Perle, Adelman and others advocated a robust use of U.S. power to advance the ideals of democracy and freedom, targeting Hussein's Iraq as a threat that could be turned into an opportunity.

In an interview last week, Perle said the administration's big mistake was occupying the country rather than creating an interim Iraqi government led by a coalition of exile groups to take over after Hussein was toppled. "If I had known that the U.S. was going to essentially establish an occupation, then I'd say, 'Let's not do it,' " and instead find another way to target Hussein, Perle said. "It was a foolish thing to do."

Perle, head of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board at the time of the 2003 invasion, said he still believes the invasion was justified. But he resents being called "the architect of the Iraq war," because "my view was different from the administration's view from the very beginning" about how to conduct it. "I am not critical now of anything about which I was not critical before," he said. "I've said it more publicly."

White House officials tend to brush off each criticism by claiming it was over-interpreted or misguided. "I just fundamentally disagree," Cheney said of the comments by Perle, Adelman and other neoconservatives before the midterm elections. Others close to the White House said the neoconservatives are dealing with their own sense of guilt over how events have turned out and are eager to blame Bush to avoid their own culpability.

Joshua Muravchik, a neoconservative at the American Enterprise Institute, said he is distressed "to see neocons turning on Bush" but said he believes they should admit mistakes and openly discuss what went wrong. "All of us who supported the war have to share some of the blame for that," he said. "There's a question to be sorted out: whether the war was a sound idea but very badly executed. And if that's the case, it appears to me the person most responsible for the bad execution was Rumsfeld, and it means neocons should not get too angry at Bush about that."

It may also be, he said, that the mistake was the idea itself -- that Iraq could serve as a democratic beacon for the Middle East. "That part of our plan is down the drain," Muravchik said, "and we have to think about what we can do about keeping alive the idea of democracy."

Few of the original promoters of the war have grown as disenchanted as Adelman. The chief of Reagan's arms control agency, Adelman has been close to Cheney and Rumsfeld for decades and even worked for Rumsfeld at one point. As a member of the Defense Policy Board, he wrote in The Washington Post before the Iraq war that it would be "a cakewalk."

But in interviews with Vanity Fair, the New Yorker and The Post, Adelman said he became unhappy about the conduct of the war soon after his ebullient night at Cheney's residence in 2003. The failure to find weapons of mass destruction disturbed him. He said he was disgusted by the failure to stop the looting that followed Hussein's fall and by Rumsfeld's casual dismissal of it with the phrase "stuff happens." The breaking point, he said, was Bush's decision to award Medals of Freedom to occupation chief L. Paul Bremer, Gen. Tommy R. Franks and then-CIA Director George J. Tenet.

"The three individuals who got the highest civilian medals the president can give were responsible for a lot of the debacle that was Iraq," Adelman said. All told, he said, the Bush national security team has proved to be "the most incompetent" of the past half-century. But, he added, "Obviously, the president is ultimately responsible."

Adelman said he remained silent for so long out of loyalty. "I didn't want to bad-mouth the administration," he said. In private, though, he spoke out, resulting in a furious confrontation with Rumsfeld, who summoned him to the Pentagon in September and demanded his resignation from the defense board.

"It seemed like nobody was getting it," Adelman said. "It seemed like everything was locked in. It seemed like everything was stuck." He agrees he bears blame as well. "I think that's fair. When you advocate a policy that turns bad, you do have some responsibility."

Most troubling, he said, are his shattered ideals: "The whole philosophy of using American strength for good in the world, for a foreign policy that is really value-based instead of balanced-power-based, I don't think is disproven by Iraq. But it's certainly discredited."