Friday, February 09, 2007

Official's Key Report On Iraq Is Faulted; 'Dubious' Intelligence Fueled Push for War
Official's Key Report On Iraq Is Faulted
'Dubious' Intelligence Fueled Push for War
By Walter Pincus and R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writers

Intelligence provided by former undersecretary of defense Douglas J. Feith to buttress the White House case for invading Iraq included "reporting of dubious quality or reliability" that supported the political views of senior administration officials rather than the conclusions of the intelligence community, according to a report by the Pentagon's inspector general.

Feith's office "was predisposed to finding a significant relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda," according to portions of the report, released yesterday by Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.). The inspector general described Feith's activities as "an alternative intelligence assessment process."

An unclassified summary of the full document is scheduled for release today in a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which Levin chairs. In that summary, a copy of which was obtained from another source by The Washington Post, the inspector general concluded that Feith's assessment in 2002 that Iraq and al-Qaeda had a "mature symbiotic relationship" was not fully supported by available intelligence but was nonetheless used by policymakers.

At the time of Feith's reporting, the CIA had concluded only that there was an "evolving" association, "based on sources of varying reliability."

In a telephone interview yesterday, Feith emphasized the inspector general's conclusion that his actions, described in the report as "inappropriate," were not unlawful. "This was not 'alternative intelligence assessment,' " he said. "It was from the start a criticism of the consensus of the intelligence community, and in presenting it I was not endorsing its substance."

Feith, who was defense policy chief before leaving the government in 2005, was one of the key contributors to the administration's rationale for war. His intelligence activities, authorized by then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz, and coordinated with Vice President Cheney's office, stemmed from an administration belief that the CIA was underplaying evidence of then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's ties with al-Qaeda.

In interviews with Pentagon investigators, the summary document said, Feith insisted that his activities did not constitute intelligence and that "even if they were, [they] would be appropriate given that they were responding to direction from the Deputy Secretary of Defense."

The report was requested in fall 2005 by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), then chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Although the committee and a number of official inquiries had criticized the administration's prewar intelligence, Democratic senators, led by Levin, demanded further investigation of Feith's operation.

"The bottom line is that intelligence relating to the Iraq-al-Qaeda relationship was manipulated by high-ranking officials in the Department of Defense to support the administration's decision to invade Iraq," Levin said yesterday. "The inspector general's report is a devastating condemnation of inappropriate activities in the DOD policy office that helped take this nation to war."

The summary document confirmed a range of accusations that Levin had leveled against Feith's office, alleging inaccurate work.

Feith's office, it said, drew on "both reliable and unreliable" intelligence reports in 2002 to produce a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq "that was much stronger than that assessed by the IC [Intelligence Community] and more in accord with the policy views of senior officials in the Administration."

It stated that the office produced intelligence assessments "inconsistent" with the U.S. intelligence community consensus, calling those actions "inappropriate" because the assessments purported to be "intelligence products" but were far more conclusive than the consensus view.

In particular, the summary cited the defense policy office's preparation of slides describing as a "known contact" an alleged 2001 meeting in Prague between Mohamed Atta, the leader of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, and an Iraqi intelligence officer.

That claim figured heavily in statements by Cheney and other senior administration officials alleging a link between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi regime, but it has since been discredited.

Three versions of the briefing prepared by Feith's office were presented in August and September 2002 -- months before the U.S. invasion of Iraq -- to I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, then Cheney's chief of staff; Rumsfeld; and then-deputy national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, the summary states.

But only "some of the information" in those briefings was "supported by available intelligence," the summary said. The version of the briefing presented to senior Bush officials, it said, contained different information than a presentation to the CIA. Left out of the version for the CIA, the inspector general said, was "a slide that said there were 'fundamental problems' " with the way the intelligence community was presenting the evidence.

While Pentagon officials said in responses cited in the summary that no senior policymakers mistook these briefings as "intelligence assessments," the inspector general said that administration officials had indeed cited classified intelligence that allegedly documented a close al-Qaeda-Iraq relationship.

The policy office, the summary stated, "was inappropriately performing Intelligence Activities . . . that should be performed by the Intelligence Community."

The summary recommended no action within the Defense Department because, it said, the current collaboration under new leadership at the Pentagon and the intelligence community "will significantly reduce the opportunity for the inappropriate conduct of intelligence activities outside intelligence channels."

Staff writer Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.


It Ain't the Speaker Who Needs the Getaway Plane

Huffington Post
Brent Budowsky
It Ain't the Speaker Who Needs the Getaway Plane

A month ago U.S. News and World Report printed the "inside poop" that Republicans were planning to attack the Speaker as a "Marie Antoinette" and would politically decapitate her. (Their spin).

Funny how they never describe Dick Cheney and George Bush, the serious royalists in this town, as Marie Antoinette.

Here is the truth. After 9-11 major security was created for the highest Congressional leaders.

I deal fairly often with one highest level Democrat, and he is very well protected, as he should be. As the Speaker should be.

Speaker Hastert had access to a plane, to travel from Washington to Illinois, without a stopover to refuel. Speaker Pelosi would normally get a plan to travel the far longer distance to California, also without a stopover to refuel. She did not ask for and does not desire any luxury as suggested by the spinners playing out their month old Marie Antoinette attack scam.

The whole story is bogus. The media should be ashamed for repeating attack talking points without checking the facts. Its pathetic.

The Speaker works 7 days, 18 hours a day, and travels across the country to the furthest state from the Capitol. End of story.

The Speaker will survive the blow of this fraud of an attack.

Meanwhile Senate Republicans marched in lockstep to support the surge. Even Senators who sponsored resolutions against it, voted in fact against their own resolution. The House Republicans demeaned the most honest man in Washington, the Iraq Inspector General, in their strategy to defend, excuse or deny more than $10 billion of stolen and lost Iraq money plus 365 tons of cash that disappeared.

The Vice President sweats bullets in the Libby trial.

If anyone in Washington will need a getaway plane, it ain't gonna be the Speaker.


Katrina Victims Suing Army Corps. Over "Unstable" Flood Walls

Army Corps Hit With New Katrina Lawsuit
Associated Press Writer

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- A group of residents whose neighborhood was flooded during Hurricane Katrina added a lawsuit Thursday to the mounting case against the Army Corps of Engineers, saying the agency knew flood walls were unstable.

The suit, which seeks class-action status and unspecified damages, was filed in federal court on behalf of seven residents of the Lakeview area near the 17th Street Canal. The suit alleges that dredging approved by the Corps weakened the soil that supported the canal's levees.

If class-action status is granted, tens of thousands of New Orleans residents could be included, and claims in the tens of billions of dollars could be involved.

A decision last week bolstered the suit's basic premise - the liability of the Corps.

In that ruling, a federal judge allowed a suit to proceed charging the Corps was liable for the flooding of eastern New Orleans and suburban St. Bernard Parish by waters from the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, a navigation channel known locally as Mr. Go.

Thursday's suit was filed by a team of trial lawyers led by Joseph Bruno, who has made a name for himself as a go-to attorney in the mounting case against the Corps. He is also involved in the Mr. Go lawsuit.

"That decision is a clear blueprint on the court's thinking," Bruno said at a news conference at his law office downtown. "We have asked for every damage that could possibly be sustained by anyone in this horrible catastrophe."

The Corps, which typically does not speak about pending litigation, declined to comment.

The viability of Thursday's suit hinges on whether the 17th Street Canal should be considered a navigable waterway or a flood-control project. The canal is one of three main arteries that serve as corridors to pump water out of the city, which sits below sea level, during heavy rainfall. Levees on two of the canals broke during Katrina and caused widespread flooding.

If the court determines that the 17th Street Canal was a flood control project, then the 1928 Flood Control Act would shield the Corps from liability. But if a judge decides it is a navigable waterway, then the Corps, and by extension the federal government, may have to defend their actions at trial.

Though primarily a drainage waterway, fishing boats and other small vessels were tied up along the canal near its mouth for years before Katrina.

The lawsuit's claim is rooted in a permit the Corps issued in 1984 allowing the city to dredge and deepen the canal, increasing its volume. That action, the suit claims, caused "subsurface destabilization of the levee" and led to its collapse under the pressure of Katrina's storm surge from Lake Pontchartrain in August 2005.

The plaintiffs argue that the Corps knew about the weak soil and that academic studies and maps dating to the mid-1800s showed that the ground under the canal walls comprised unstable soil.


Thursday, February 08, 2007

War objector's court-martial ends in mistrial

War objector's court-martial ends in mistrial
By Daisuke Wakabayashi

FORT LEWIS, Washington (Reuters) - A military judge declared a mistrial on Wednesday for the court-martial of a U.S. Army officer who publicly refused to fight in Iraq and criticized the war.

The military judge ruled that First Lt. Ehren Watada had unknowingly signed a document that amounted to a confession of guilt. Watada, 28, had faced up to four years in prison if convicted of one charge of missing movements and two charges of conduct unbecoming an officer for his criticism of the war.

The mistrial was an unexpected ending to a case that had rallied the anti-war movement in the first known court-martial of a U.S. Army officer for publicly refusing to serve in Iraq.

Lt. Col. John Head, the military judge, declared a mistrial after throwing out a "stipulation of fact" -- an agreement over certain facts of the trial -- that forced the government to request a mistrial instead of immediately arguing its entire case over to prove those facts with new witnesses.

The judge said he could not accept the stipulation, because it amounts to a confession to the missing movements charge when Watada stated he is not guilty.

Watada's lawyer, Eric Seitz, told Reuters the mistrial was a "disastrous" outcome for the government because a retrial would constitute double jeopardy, which forbids a defendant from being tried twice for the same crime.

"These events today are going to be the death knell for the government's case," said Seitz, who added that the government faces an uphill climb since it requested the mistrial.

Lt. Col. Robert Resnick, chief of administrative law at Ft. Lewis, contended that double jeopardy had not attached and the government has the legal authority to retry the case.

At the center of the dispute is the defense's assertion that Watada would not go to Iraq because he considered it an unlawful order that would make him party to war crimes and as result, it was not his duty to obey it.

"There is a material misunderstanding over what this stipulation is," said Head.

The judge set the new trial to start in mid-March, but agreed the timing would be subject to change. Watada will report to duty at Fort Lewis until the new trial begins.

Army officials said the mistrial was an example of how the military justice system protects the rights of the accused.


Watada agreed to the stipulation before the court-martial began in exchange for the government dropping two additional charges of conduct unbecoming an officer.

In the stipulation, Watada said he did not board the plane with the rest of his unit to Iraq and admitted to making public statements criticizing the war and accusing U.S. President George W. Bush's administration of deceiving the American people to enter into a war of aggression.

Watada does not dispute the facts, but said it was not an admission of guilt because it does not take into account the intent behind his actions.

Asked by the judge if he thought it was his duty to board the aircraft to Iraq, Watada said no. "I felt the order was illegal," he said in the courtroom.

In a new trial, the defense will be allowed to again file a motion to argue the legality of the war. A new judge may preside over the case and all the proceedings before and during the first trial will be wiped clean.

"Everything will start from scratch," said Resnick.

Before the trial, the judge had ruled that the defense was not allowed to argue whether the war itself is illegal, asserting the matter could not be settled in military court.


George W. Bush's uncle William H.T. "Bucky" Bush tangled in options probe: SEC

Bush's uncle tangled in options probe: SEC
By Tim McLaughlin

NEW YORK (Reuters) - President George W. Bush's uncle, William H.T. "Bucky" Bush, was part of a group of outside directors at a defense contractor who realized about $6 million in unauthorized pay from an options backdating scheme, according to U.S. securities investigators.

Bush and other non-employee directors who served on the board of Engineered Support Systems Inc., now owned by DRS Technologies Inc., are not accused of any wrongdoing in a civil complaint filed on Tuesday by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The SEC complaint, however, says the non-employee directors benefited from stock options not approved by shareholders.

"As a result, the company provided significant additional compensation to its outside directors beyond what shareholders had approved," the SEC complaint said. "These same directors later realized approximately $6 million from the exercise of their addtional stock options."

The complaint did not break out how much Bush and the other outside directors received from a total of 132,000 shares of unauthorized shares.

Bush, whose brother is former President George H.W. Bush, was unavailable for comment. He served on St. Louis-based ESSI's board from 2000 until the St. Louis defense contractor was acquired last year for nearly $2 billion by DRS, which sells engineering services to the U.S. military.

Bush served on ESSI's audit committee and received $2,500 a month in consulting fees, an arrangement that later was ended for him and other outside directors. Bush also received a fixed amount of ESSI shares each year for his work on the board.

Before the DRS deal was approved in January 2006, Bush held ESSI shares worth $3.8 million, SEC filings show.

Between 1995 and early 2005, ESSI's stock climbed nearly 900 percent as the company sold cargo loaders, generators and trailers to the Pentagon. ESSI's board was politically connected and included several retired generals.

The SEC on Tuesday accused ESSI's former chief financial officer, Gary C. Gerhardt, and former controller, Steven J. Landmann, of orchestrating a backdating scheme that spanned six years. In all, executives and directors netted $20 million in unauthorized pay, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in St. Louis.

Outside directors received backdated options issued in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2001, the SEC complaint alleges.

Landmann has agreed to give back about $519,000 in option-related compensation while paying $367,585 in penalties and interest. He did not admit or deny the SEC allegations, and will be permanently barred from serving as an officer of publicly-traded company.

Records unsealed in federal court in St. Louis late last year show that the SEC is investigating Michael F. Shanahan Sr., who co-founded ESSI; his son, who served on the board's compensation committee; and Shanahan Sr.'s son-in-law, David Mattern, who was general counsel.

The SEC wants the Shanahans and Mattern to produce e-mails, meeting notes, telephone logs and board meeting minutes related to the pricing of Engineered Support stock options, court papers show.

The SEC's complaint against Gerhardt said nearly half of the unauthorized and undisclosed gains from options backdating, or about $8.6 million, went to Shanahan Sr. He has not been charged by the SEC.

Court records also show there is an ongoing criminal investigation that mirrors, in part, the SEC's probe.


More U.S. troops died in Iraq over past four months than in any similar period of war

More U.S. troops died in Iraq over past four months than in any similar period of war

WASHINGTON (AP) — More American troops were killed in combat in Iraq over the past four months — at least 334 through Jan. 31 — than in any comparable stretch since the war began, according to an Associated Press analysis of casualty records.

Not since the bloody battle for Fallujah in 2004 has the death toll spiked so high.

The reason is that U.S. soldiers and Marines are fighting more battles in the streets of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, and other cities. And while hostile forces are using a variety of weaponry, the top killer is the roadside bomb.

In some respects it is the urban warfare that U.S. commanders thought they had managed to largely avoid after U.S. troops entered Baghdad in early April 2003 and quickly toppled the Saddam Hussein regime.

And with President Bush now sending thousands more U.S. troops to Baghdad and western Anbar province, despite opposition in Congress and the American public's increasing war weariness, the prospect looms of even higher casualties.

The shadowy insurgency has managed to counter or compensate for every new U.S. military technique for defeating roadside bombs, which over time have proliferated and grown increasingly powerful. The U.S. has spent billions trying to counter that threat, and the Bush administration in its budget 2008 request to Congress this week asked for another $6.4 billion to find more effective defenses against it.

The Pentagon's terse death announcements only begin to tell the story:

_ Sgt. Corey J. Aultz, 31, of Port Orchard, Wash., and Sgt. Milton A. Gist, 27, of St. Louis, died Jan. 30 in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, of wounds from an improvised bomb that detonated near their vehicle.

_ Three days earlier, three soldiers — one just 19 years old — were killed by a roadside bomb in Taji, just north of Baghdad. And a week before that, four soldiers, from towns in the four corners of this country — Florida, New Hampshire, Oregon and California — were killed by a roadside bomb not far from Fallujah.

The increasingly urban nature of the war is reflected in the fact that a higher percentage of U.S. deaths have been in Baghdad lately. Over the course of the war, at least 1,142 U.S. troops have died in Anbar province, the heart of the Sunni Arab insurgency, through Feb. 6, according to an AP count. That compares with 713 in Baghdad. But since Dec. 28, 2006, there were more in Baghdad than in Anbar — 33 to 31.

The surge in combat deaths comes as the Pentagon begins adding 21,500 troops in Iraq as part of Bush's new strategy for stabilizing the country. Most are going to Baghdad, but some are being sent Anbar.

With the buildup, U.S. forces will be operating more aggressively in Baghdad as they try to tamp down sectarian bloodshed, a tactical shift that senior military officials say raises the prospect of even higher U.S. casualties.

"There's clearly going to be an increased risk in this area," Adm. William Fallon, Bush's choice to be the next commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, told his Senate confirmation hearing last week.

Risk is already extraordinarily high from known threats, including roadside bombs.

The frustrating fact about the hunt for a solution to the roadside bomb is that the Americans have improved their ability to find and disarm them before they detonate, and they have outfitted troops in better body armor. But the insurgents still manage to adjust: new tactics in planting the bombs, new, more powerful explosives, different means of detonating them and, amazingly, a seemingly endless supply of materials.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday that 70% of U.S. casualties are caused by such bombs. He said that lately Iran, allegedly in league with renegade Shiite groups in southern Iraq, has had a hand in supplying a more lethal version so powerful it can destroy a U.S. Abrams battle tank, which is shielded with heavy armor.

On Jan. 22, Army National Guard Spc. Brandon L. Stout, 23, of Grand Rapids, Mich., was killed by one of those more powerful bombs, known as an explosively formed projectile, that went off near his vehicle in Baghdad. A week earlier, four soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in the northern city of Mosul.

It is not possible to fully track the trend in bomb-caused deaths by month. The U.S. military considers such information secret because it is considered potentially useful to the insurgents and their backers. Also, the Marines do not announce the specific cause of any of their combat deaths, whereas the Army does.

Hostile forces also have had more success lately shooting down U.S. helicopters, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged Tuesday. He said four U.S. helicopters in recent weeks have been shot down by small arms fire, including a Black Hawk in which all 12 National Guard soldiers aboard were killed.

What's more, there have been troubling new twists to some other attacks, including the sneak attack in Karbala that killed five U.S. soldiers; four of them were abducted and executed by unknown gunmen. U.S. officials say they are studying the possibility that Iranian agents either planned or executed that Jan. 20 attack.

A leading war critic, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said he was aware that U.S. casualties were rising, particularly in Anbar province.

"It doesn't surprise me at all because they are targeting American troops," he said.

Less than a year ago, U.S. commanders were anticipating a different scenario, starting a U.S. withdrawal and a more central role for Iraqi troops in battling the insurgents in major cities. Instead, U.S. troops had to step in more directly as the Iraqis came up short, particularly in Baghdad.

Now, under a new approach announced by Bush on Jan. 10, U.S. troops will be paired up with Iraqi brigades in each of nine districts across Baghdad, rather than operating mainly from large U.S. bases.

"Our troops are going to be inserted into the most difficult areas imaginable — right into neighborhoods, right in the face of the Iraqis," Sen. Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said. "How are we going to avoid the inherent risks that are created?"

The recent rise in U.S. combat deaths has developed with relatively little notice in Congress, which has focused on the broader issue of whether to begin withdrawing forces and, now, whether to opposed Bush's troop buildup.

The American public clearly has soured on the war. In an AP-Ipsos poll taken Jan. 8-10, 62% said they thought, looking back, that it had been a mistake to go to war, while 35% said invading was the right decision.

Gates, while not ruling out a rise in casualties during the buildup, told reporters Jan. 26 that he sees a possibility that some insurgents and renegade militias will back off temporarily "in the hope that they can wait us out and filter back once we're gone."

That could mean a decline in the U.S. casualty rate, at least temporarily. And if Bush's plan — which couples a troop buildup with stronger economic development efforts and a renewed push to get the Iraqis to reconcile their political differences — works as intended, then a drop-off in deaths might be longlasting.

The 334 U.S. troops killed in action in Iraq over the past four months does not include 36 who died of non-hostile causes like vehicle accidents. The previous highest total for those killed in action during any four-month period was 308 between September and December 2004, which included the November battle to retake the city of Fallujah.

The recent increase is not linked to variations in U.S. troop levels. That number shifted from about 137,000 troops at the end of January 2006 to a range of 130,000-150,000 during summer and fall before ending the year at 128,000. It has risen now to about 138,000, with the buildup in Baghdad just getting started.

Since the start of the war in Iraq, nearly 3,100 U.S. troops have died, of which nearly 2,500 were killed in action.

In the first half of 2006 there was a downward trend.

From February, when the bombing of a key Shiite mosque in Samarra, north of Baghdad, triggered a surge in sectarian killings, through May, 194 U.S. troops were killed in action, according to Pentagon figures. That was down from 247 in the previous four months. Shortly afterward, Iraqi civilian deaths surged.

From June through September, the total for U.S. troops killed in action was 214, down from 231 in the same period in 2005.

The upward trend began in August, the same month that U.S. and Iraqi forces launched the second phase of a Baghdad security crackdown, dubbed Operation Together Forward, that ultimately failed. From a total of 38 killed in July, the number rose to 58 in August, 61 in September and 99 in October, according to an Associated Press count.

It slipped to 59 in November but jumped to 96 in December and totaled 80 in January.


Changes made to bioterror warning program

Changes made to bioterror warning program
By Mimi Hall, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — An early-warning program in more than 30 cities aimed at detecting biological weapons was bungled by the Homeland Security Department and has since undergone a revamping, according to a federal watchdog.

Homeland Security Inspector General Richard Skinner released a report Wednesday citing a series of problems in the BioWatch program, which costs $1 million a year per city. Among the issues was sloppy handling and storage of sensors designed to give early warnings of a bioterrorism attack.

Such problems "could jeopardize (the department's) ability to detect biological agents and protect the populace of the United States," the report says.

Jeff Steifel, BioWatch's program manager, says the problems cropped up because the program was created quickly in 2003 in response to concerns that terrorists could spread deadly biological agents in densely populated areas.

Homeland Security officials say they have "taken action to resolve the issues," the report says. Steifel says that "without question, those issues (raised by the report) are resolved."

BioWatch allows government scientists to test the air daily in high-risk cities to see whether anthrax, smallpox or other biological agents have been released. In many cases, existing air pollution monitoring machines were fitted with filters that are removed several times a day and taken to state health labs for testing.

Locations of sensors and the list of cities in the monitoring program are classified for security reasons, but Steifel confirmed that the list includes New York City and Washington.

The number of sensors per city also is secret. But in some cities, Steifel says, 40 sensors were added over the past year, indicating there are at least dozens — and maybe hundreds — in place in each city. Most are outdoors, Steifel says, but some are being added in airport terminals and other places indoors where crowds gather.

The program is run by and paid for by the Homeland Security Department. The Environmental Protection Agency and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also play a role in placing and maintaining the machines and overseeing the lab tests.

Last March, the EPA's own inspector general criticized the agency for improperly placing and monitoring some of the machines.

Wednesday's report cited a host of problems but said all had been resolved to the inspector general's satisfaction. Among the problems:

•At 84% of the labs, exposed filters were not transferred properly from the field.

•At 74% of the labs, bags holding the filters weren't properly decontaminated.

•In 65% of the cities checked, procedural errors were made during handoffs from field workers to lab technicians.

"You won't find those issues prevalent today," Steifel says.

He says the program has successfully run 3 million tests without any false positives. In three years, there have been 15 positive hits for one of the six agents — but all were attributed to naturally occurring bacteria.


Veterans Group Speaks Out on War
Veterans Group Speaks Out on War
Congressional Democrats Let Talk for Them, Bluntly
By Lyndsey Layton and Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writers

When Iraq war veteran Jon Soltz accused Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) of "aiding the enemy," the Democratic senators gathered around him yesterday did not wince. Nor did Democrats object when Soltz, the chairman of a group called, called President Bush and Vice President Cheney "draft dodgers."

In the United States Congress, where decorum usually holds sway, Soltz and his small band of veterans are saying things many Democrats would like to express but can't. And as the politics heat up over the Iraq war, Democratic leaders increasingly are being drawn to Soltz and his angry soldiers. appears to be the most active group trying to influence the debate about the president's plan to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq. Last month, it dispatched veterans to the home states of Republican senators waffling over resolutions on the war. Next, it ran a stark television ad on Super Bowl Sunday that drew national attention. And this week, group members crisscrossed Capitol Hill, trying to persuade lawmakers and their staffs to oppose the troop increase.

Their efforts are supported by a coalition of liberal groups that blocked the president's 2005 plan to privatize Social Security. But this new campaign could prove more difficult.

The veterans are selling a blunt message: The Bush strategy in Iraq is a failure, and adding troops sends more young men and women to their deaths. If you care about the military, they told lawmakers, vote against the troop increase. Legislators who are stalling debate on the matter are "cowards," they said.

This week marked their third pilgrimage to the Capitol. They met privately with the staffs of 11 senators, mostly Republicans. They talked strategy behind closed doors with the Democrats who run the House and then held a media event with those leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), who praised them for speaking out.

Soltz, the group's intense 29-year-old co-founder who served in Iraq in 2003, displayed a fiery impatience with the procedural morass that has paralyzed the Senate. "I don't need some fancy Senate talk about why they can't vote," he said in an interview. "We just want a vote. We need a vote that tells the president that his strategy is not working."

In several news conferences, Soltz accused McConnell of "aiding the enemy" by allowing the Bush administration to build up troops in Iraq at the expense of the hunt for Osama bin Laden. "We are not fighting the war on terrorism, we are in the middle of a civil war," he said, referring to Iraq. "Meanwhile, the guy who attacked this country on 9/11 is living in a cave in Afghanistan."

Soltz called Cheney a "draft dodger," repeating charges he made last month when he disparaged a "president who frankly knows nothing of war and a vice president who knows even less." He said: "Senators on the fence have a choice. They can stand with veterans like us, or they can stand with the draft dodgers down the road."

Democrats said they will not muzzle the veterans. In many ways, the former soldiers and Marines are expressing sentiments the lawmakers want broadcast, and they help inoculate Democrats against Republican claims that opposing the president's plan undermines the troops.

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), who appeared with four veterans yesterday morning, said he saw parallels between and Vietnam Veterans Against the War, the group of protesters he led during Vietnam. He said he recognized the anger he saw in Soltz. "When you come back from fighting the enemy, you are passionate and feel very strongly about duty," Kerry said. "Each one of these folks has earned the right to express their thoughts. Their words ought to stand for themselves. That's exactly how they feel and people ought to listen to them."

In the office of Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), the chief of staff and several aides listened with rapt attention Tuesday as Brian Van Riper, a 25-year-old former Marine machine gunner, told how he struggled with creeping doubts during his Iraq tour that peaked when he met a 12-year-old Iraqi girl with a scarred face and missing leg. She was a casualty of the initial air bombing of Baghdad, Van Riper said. "That night, I felt a tear down my eye," he said.

Soltz, Van Riper and the others got polite if reserved receptions from Republicans, with one exception. The veterans said they stormed out of a Tuesday meeting with Sen. Larry E. Craig's chief of staff. "He was almost dismissive in his tone," said Joe Kramer, 31, who was in the light infantry in Iraq. "We agreed to disagree. Very loudly."

Dan Whiting, a spokesman for Craig, would say only that the Idaho Republican's chief of staff, Mike Ware, sees things differently.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a decorated Vietnam veteran and likely presidential candidate who supports the addition of troops, dismissed as a "handful of veterans" not representative of the military. has 20,000 members, including 1,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, said spokesman Eric Schmeltzer. The PAC is part of a coalition of left-leaning groups organized by Americans United for Change that includes labor unions and liberal groups such as

The veterans group raised just over $1.3 million in the last election cycle. Some of that money came in large doses, from Wall Street and Hollywood sources. Lynne Wasserman, daughter of the late Hollywood mogul Lew Wasserman, shelled out $25,000. Hedge fund owner Kevin Toner, a generous Democratic contributor, gave $25,000, as did Brian Snyder, another New York investor. Other donors include Phil Donahue, Democratic doyenne Beth Dozoretz, TV producer Norman Lear and architect Frank Gehry. At least $20,000 has come from organized labor and another $5,000 came from Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid's (D-Nev.) Searchlight Leadership Fund. But most donations have been $1,000 or less.

Soltz said the group is pro-military and not a front for the Democrats. "I'm a conservative," said Soltz, who volunteered on Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign. "I don't think 20,000 more troops is Democratic, I don't think 20,000 troops is Republican. I think it's stupid."


TV reporter Tim Russert contradicts Libby in perjury trial

TV reporter contradicts Libby in perjury trial
By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A prominent TV reporter contradicted testimony by Lewis "Scooter" Libby on Wednesday as the prosecution neared the end of its perjury case against the former vice presidential aide.

Libby resigned as Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff when he was charged with lying to investigators as they sought to determine who leaked the identity of a CIA operative after her husband Joseph Wilson criticized the Bush administration. Nobody has been charged with intentionally blowing CIA operative Valerie Plame's cover.

Journalist Tim Russert of NBC News said he did not discuss the CIA operative with Libby in July 2003, offering an account sharply at odds with Libby's recorded testimony heard earlier by the jury.

Instead, their conversation was devoted to Libby's complaints about a show on NBC's cable network, Russert said.

"What the hell's going on with 'Hardball'?" Russert recalled Libby saying. "Damn it, I'm tired of hearing my name over and over again."

"He was very quick with his words," Russert added.

Russert is likely the prosecution's last witness. Other government officials and journalists have testified that the White House was bent on discrediting Wilson after he said the Bush administration twisted intelligence about Iraq's nuclear ambitions as it built a case for invasion.

Jurors earlier in the day heard Libby say, in an audio recording of his grand jury testimony, that Cheney first told him about Plame in June 2003, after Wilson had made his charges anonymously.

Libby said he forgot about Plame until Russert mentioned her in a phone conversation a month later, after Wilson had gone public.

Russert said he couldn't have told Libby about Plame because he didn't know about her until her identity was made public a few days later by columnist Robert Novak.

Defense attorney Theodore Wells asked Russert why he didn't try to pry information about Wilson from Libby while he had him on the phone.

"I didn't have the opportunity, because he was focused on complaining about a program I had not seen," Russert said.

Libby's defense team will try to show that he did not intentionally lie to prosecutors, but simply could not accurately remember conversations he might have had about Plame because he was preoccupied with national security matters.

Jurors have heard Libby speak on tape, but they might not hear him in person.

Libby's lawyers have indicated in a court filing that he might not take the stand, although Cheney is expected to testify on his behalf.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

U.S. sent pallets of cash to Baghdad. Where did it go?

U.S. sent pallets of cash to Baghdad
By Jeremy Pelofsky

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Reserve sent record payouts of more than $4 billion in cash to Baghdad on giant pallets aboard military planes shortly before the United States gave control back to Iraqis, lawmakers said on Tuesday.

The money, which had been held by the United States, came from Iraqi oil exports, surplus dollars from the U.N.-run oil-for-food program and frozen assets belonging to the ousted Saddam Hussein regime.

Bills weighing a total of 363 tons were loaded onto military aircraft in the largest cash shipments ever made by the Federal Reserve, said Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

"Who in their right mind would send 363 tons of cash into a war zone? But that's exactly what our government did," the California Democrat said during a hearing reviewing possible waste, fraud and abuse of funds in Iraq.

On December 12, 2003, $1.5 billion was shipped to Iraq, initially "the largest pay out of U.S. currency in Fed history," according to an e-mail cited by committee members.

It was followed by more than $2.4 billion on June 22, 2004, and $1.6 billion three days later. The CPA turned over sovereignty on June 28.

Paul Bremer, who as the administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority ran Iraq after initial combat operations ended, said the enormous shipments were done at the request of the Iraqi minister of finance.

"He said, 'I am concerned that I will not have the money to support the Iraqi government expenses for the first couple of months after we are sovereign. We won't have the mechanisms in place, I won't know how to get the money here,'" Bremer said.

"So these shipments were made at the explicit request of the Iraqi minister of finance to forward fund government expenses, a perfectly, seems to me, legitimate use of his money," Bremer told lawmakers.


Democrats led by Waxman also questioned whether the lack of oversight of $12 billion in Iraqi money that was disbursed by Bremer and the CPA somehow enabled insurgents to get their hands on the funds, possibly through falsifying names on the government payroll.

"I have no knowledge of monies being diverted. I would certainly be concerned if I thought they were," Bremer said. He pointed out that the problem of fake names on the payroll existed before the U.S.-led invasion.

The special inspector general for Iraqi reconstruction, Stuart Bowen, said in a January 2005 report that $8.8 billion was unaccounted for after being given to the Iraqi ministries.

"We were in the middle of a war, working in very difficult conditions, and we had to move quickly to get this Iraqi money working for the Iraqi people," Bremer told lawmakers. He said there was no banking system and it would have been impossible to apply modern accounting standards in the midst of a war.

"I acknowledge that I made mistakes and that, with the benefit of hindsight, I would have made some decisions differently," Bremer said.

Republicans argued that Bremer and the CPA staff did the best they could under the circumstances and accused Democrats of trying to score political points over the increasingly unpopular Iraq war.

"We are in a war against terrorists, to have a blame meeting isn't, in my opinion, constructive," said Rep. Dan Burton, an Indiana Republican.


Guiliani excelled as a crisis manager. But what about the rest of the time? Why the former NYC mayor’s temperament makes him a risky pick for pres
Alter: The Trouble with Rudy’s Temperament

Guiliani excelled as a crisis manager. But what about the rest of the time? Why the former New York City mayor’s temperament makes him a risky pick for president.

By Jonathan Alter

Feb. 6, 2007 - Over the last decade, I’ve seen both good Rudy and bad Rudy up close. The question for voters as he enters the presidential campaign is: which Rudy Giuliani will show up on the trail—and which Rudy would go to work in the White House? And if even a little of the bad Rudy is still around, does that make him temperamentally unsuited to the presidency?

The good Giuliani was a tough and highly effective mayor of New York from 1993 until 2001. He whipped the city into shape after some of the worst years in its history (though it should be noted that crime rates in other cities were plummeting at the same time). Like millions of New Yorkers in the 1980s, I often awoke to find the sidewalks in front of my apartment littered with crack vials. After Giuliani showed up, we began to feel safe almost anywhere. That means a lot.

The world got to know the good Rudy after 9/11. On the day after the terrorist attack, I attached myself to the Giuliani high command and covered him nearly every day for the next two weeks. He was every bit as strong as legend has it: calm, commanding and compassionate. I traveled with him to Ground Zero on Sept. 14—when President Bush famously wielded the bullhorn on the pile of rubble—and on four subsequent visits with dignitaries. I interviewed him several times, and the results cast him in such a glowing light in NEWSWEEK that the Reader’s Digest reprinted one of the stories in a collection about heroes. In my own small way, I helped make the myth.

So why am I so worried about him as president? Why do I think it’s Giuliani, not John McCain, who may have a problem with the Big T—temperament?

The story of the bad Rudy has, in retrospect, been oversimplified. There’s reference to his poor relations with the black community and his mishandling of the 1999 Amadou Diallo case, in which police fired 41 shots at an unarmed African immigrant. The truth is, Al Sharpton was hardly alone in his contempt for Giuliani. Most New Yorkers were horrified, not by his defense of the police, but by the arrogant and astonishingly tone-deaf way in which he handled himself. His ridiculously thin skin and mile-wide mean streak were not allegations made by whiners and political opponents. They were traits widely known to his supporters. Which is why, if you ask Giuliani backers in New York City who was the better mayor—Giuliani or Mike Bloomberg—I’d wager that a strong majority would say Bloomberg.

I recall going over to Gracie Mansion in this period to interview the mayor. I asked him why he had not even spoken to C. Virginia Fields, the Manhattan borough president, for more than two years. (Fields’s experience was hardly unique among elected officials in New York.). “What’s there to talk about?” Giuliani said petulantly.

This is not a minor thing. It’s not like stiffing Sharpton. It’s like the president of the United States saying, “What’s there to talk about?” with the minority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. Any good politician knows how to reach out. Giuliani was acting like a prosecutor, which is no big surprise. The question is whether a prosecutorial and authoritarian approach is right for the highest office.

It’s a good bet that Giuliani would be a strong commander in chief. If terrorists attacked again, he would know what to do. But how about the next month? And the month after that? The president is more than a crisis manager. He’s also the defender of the Constitution and the leader of his party. He holds a moral and intensely political position that calls for great skills of conciliation. If FDR had a famously “first-class temperament,” how should we describe Rudy’s? Third-class?

Of course it’s always possible there’s a “New Rudy.” He once told me that his experience with prostate cancer had changed him. But we saw a “New Nixon” in 1968 and a “New Gore” in 2000 and we all know what they looked like. It’s hard to change who you really are, except around the margins.

Based on the polls, Rudy Giuliani is now the front runner for the GOP nomination. He could very well be president. Instead of obsessing endlessly over whether social conservatives will scrutinize his record closely enough to see that he is not one of them, we should be debating what kind of president Giuliani—or any of the rest of them—would actually make. Let’s begin by talking about temperament.


Prosecutor fired so ex-Rove aide could get his job

Prosecutor fired so ex-Rove aide could get his job
By Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department acknowledged Tuesday that it fired the U.S. government's chief prosecutor in Little Rock for no reason except to replace him with a lawyer who had been an aide to Karl Rove, the Bush administration's chief political strategist.

However, in an appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty rejected criticism that the forced resignations of Bud Cummins and six other U.S. attorneys last year were politically inspired, or amounted to retaliation for the attorneys' involvement in controversial investigations and prosecutions.

McNulty's testimony before the panel, which is investigating the firings of the prosecutors, was part of an exchange with Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. Schumer said the White House's appointment process for prosecutors was "corrupted with political, rather than prudent, considerations."

"What happened here doesn't sound like business as usual; it appears more reminiscent of a different sort of Saturday night massacre," Schumer said, referring to Watergate-era firings at Justice that were ordered by President Nixon.

"When I hear you talk about a politicization of the (Justice) Department, it is like a knife in my back," McNulty responded.

Schumer and other committee members have questioned the department's action, suggesting the administration was taking advantage of a section of the USA Patriot Act that allows the appointment of interim U.S. attorneys for indefinite periods. The process, Schumer and other critics in Congress have said, could allow federal prosecutors to be appointed without having to face confirmation by the Senate.

McNulty said the administration has no plan to circumvent the confirmation process and will send the Senate nominations for permanent replacements for the prosecutors. He said the six prosecutors dismissed besides Cummins — including San Diego U.S. Attorney Carol Lam, who oversaw the corruption prosecution of former congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif. — were let go for performance-related reasons.

Much of Tuesday's hearing focused on Cummins and Lam.

McNulty acknowledged that Cummins had had a successful tenure in Arkansas and that he was asked to step aside last year to allow former White House aide Tim Griffin to take the job.

McNulty said that aside from his political work, Griffin had more prosecutorial experience than Cummins did when he first took the Little Rock job five years ago. The deputy attorney general said Griffin's experience included a stint in Iraq as a military prosecutor.

Before his call to active duty in 2005, Griffin was an aide to Rove at the White House. Griffin's résumé says he "organized and coordinated support for the president's agenda, including the nomination of Judge John Roberts" to be U.S. chief justice.

In Lam's case, McNulty said, the Justice Department considered the political impact of removing her in light of her involvement in the prosecution of Cunningham, who was sentenced to eight years in federal prison last year after pleading guilty to accepting $2.4 million in bribes.

McNulty declined to publicly detail the reasons for her dismissal. But Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., cited letters to the Justice Department and Lam from members of Congress who complained about Lam's alleged inattention to prosecuting smugglers of illegal immigrants.


This is What Congressional Oversight Looks Like

Huffington Post
Lane Hudson
This is What Congressional Oversight Looks Like

Below are clips from Chairman Henry Waxman's Oversight Hearing on Iraq. It's about time that Congress started doing its job of asking questions. For six years, Republicans gave this Admnistration carte blanche to conduct itself in any manner it so pleased. Now, things are different. Democrats are asking questions and expecting answers.

Republicans are even joining forces with the Dems to get Cabinet agencies to comply with information requests. The wheels of Congressional Oversight are a bit squeaky, but thanks to Waxman, they are slowly beginning to hum along once again.

In this video, Paul Bremer, the once "Administrator" of U.S. occupied Iraq, talks about the lessons that Congress should learn about the time that we occupied Iraq as we move forward with rebuilding the country. He even suggests that Congressional legislation may be necessary. But, apparently, this is the first chance he's had to pass along any of his wisdom......(this video is very short)

While Administrator of the Coalition Provisional authority, Paul Bremer, was responsible for the oversight of giving hundreds of billions of dollars of contracts. We've all heard horror stories about who received those contracts. Thankfully, somebody thought ahead and required a certified accounting company to audit all of these contracts that were being awarded. But.....that company wasn't all it was cracked up to be.......(this video is around five minutes)

Here is a paragraph from the Washington Post article that this last video clip is about.

The CPA was designed to be a grand experiment in nation-building, a body of experts who would be Iraq's guide for transforming itself into a model for democracy in the Middle East. Unlike previous reconstruction efforts, it was to be manned by civilians -- advisers on politics, law, medicine, transportation, agronomy and other key areas. They were supposed to be experts, but many of the younger hires who filled the CPA's hallways were longer on enthusiasm than on expertise.

"Grand experiment in nation-building." So much for "grand experiments." But at least now we know part of the reason that our presence in Iraq has been a failure......(this video is around five minutes too)

Lane Hudson was the once anonymous author of the blog that exposed the now famous Foleygate scandal. He is now the owner of News for the Left.


Republicans block debate on Iraq

Republicans block debate on Iraq
By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans blocked a debate on the Iraq war in the U.S. Senate on Monday, dealing a setback to critics of President George W. Bush's plan to send in thousands more troops, but Democrats warned they would not give up trying to force Bush to change course.

Republicans largely united to employ Senate rules against the newly elected Democratic majority to derail the debate on a resolution expressing disagreement with Bush's plan to deploy an additional 21,500 troops in Iraq.

Democrats vowed to return to the subject when it considers billions more in funding for the Iraq war requested by Bush on Monday.

"We are going to debate Iraq. They may stop us temporarily from debating the escalation but they are not going to stop us from debating Iraq," declared Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

The resolution would not have been binding on the president, but it was the first serious attempt by Congress to confront Bush over the unpopular war.

Under Senate rules it needed 60 votes before the 100-member Senate could begin debate. It received only 49, with 47 voting against in a largely party-line vote.

Opponents said the measure, sponsored by Virginia Republican Sen. John Warner and Michigan Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, was a thinly disguised political slap at Bush that would dishearten U.S. troops and signal American disunity.

Republicans also said they voted against the measure in protest because they could not get amendments considered on their terms.

"We were asking for a fair process. We are ready for the debate. We expected to have it this week," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican.

Supporters said the resolution would be a first step, a warning to Bush that he must revamp his strategy to start moving toward a withdrawal of the 138,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

"I am troubled by this," said Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin. "If the Republicans in the Senate cannot swallow the thin soup of the Warner resolution how will they ever stomach a real debate on the war in Iraq?"

Some liberal Democrats want Congress to move immediately to do something with more teeth -- like refusing to fund the additional troops, or capping troop levels.

The White House response was restrained. "All sides have a right to be heard in this debate, and we support Sen. McConnell's and the Republicans' right to be able to offer the amendments they want to offer," spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

Two Republicans refused to follow their party leadership and voted with Democrats to move to debate. They were Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, both of whom face re-election in 2008.

Republican senators facing re-election have an especially difficult decision on Iraq votes given that voters are angry with Bush's war policy and polls show most Americans oppose sending more troops.

(Additional reporting by Donna Smith and Thomas Ferraro)


Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut proposes a "war on terrorism tax"

War tax sought as Congress debates Bush budget
By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An outspoken supporter of the Iraq war on Tuesday called for a new tax to pay for its astronomical cost as Congress opened a debate on President George W. Bush's $2.9 trillion budget plan for next year.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut proposed a "war on terrorism tax" at a Senate hearing during which he said the Pentagon's $622 billion defense budget proposal for fiscal 2008 threatened to crowd out funds for domestic programs.

The lawmaker, a former Democrat turned independent, favors a U.S. troop buildup in Iraq.

Bush traveled to Manassas, Virginia, to deliver the opposite message about the budget he submitted to the Democrat-controlled Congress on Monday.

"This budget can work if Congress resists the temptation to raise your taxes," the Republican president told employees of Micron Technology Inc., a semiconductor manufacturer.

As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan grind on and their costs could hit $662 billion by the end of next year, Congress is becoming increasingly worried about cutting domestic programs to keep wartime budget deficits down.

Even moderate Republicans have rebelled against tight budgets for social programs, saying last year they had been "cut to the bone and into the marrow."

House of Representatives and Senate budget panels want to produce their own spending plans within the next few months.

"I think we have to start thinking about a war on terrorism tax," Lieberman said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Bush's defense budget. "I mean, people keep saying we're not asking a sacrifice of anybody but our military in this war and some civilians who are working on it."

Lieberman did not provide details of his tax idea.


Bush's budget proposal also faced skepticism among Democrats on the House Budget Committee.

"We find the results that you claim unconvincing," Chairman John Spratt, a South Carolina Democrat, told Bush budget director Rob Portman.

Spratt said Bush's plan projects a $61 billion budget surplus in 2012 while assuming only $50 billion in war costs in 2009 and none after that. This year, fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could total around $170 billion.

Bush's budget also does not factor in permanently fixing a quirk in the U.S. tax code so that middle-class taxpayers do not get hit with tax bills designed for the wealthy. The fix could cost around $1 trillion.

"We have good news for the American people," Portman told the committee. "The president's 2008 budget reduces the deficit every year and balances the budget by 2012, while meeting our nation's priorities."

Rep. Marion Berry, an Arkansas Democrat, responded, "My first thought is, if we're doing so good, how come we're so broke?"

U.S. debt has risen $3 trillion since Bush took office in 2001. That debt skyrocketed following an economic slowdown that began in late 2000 and Bush tax cuts amid huge increases in spending for government-run health programs, the military and domestic security after September 11.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel said Bush needs to reach out to Democrats if he wants to accomplish a budget that deals with politically explosive issues like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

"I don't think that I can tell the president what to put on the table and what not to put on the table but I can tell him don't pick a damn fight," Rangel told reporters.

Washington politicians were not the only ones attacking Bush's budget, which would allow domestic discretionary spending to grow by only 1 percent, below the rate of inflation.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, said his state would be hurt by plans to transfer some health care costs to the poor from the federal government to state governments. He also said it was unacceptable to eliminate federal reimbursements for costs of jailing illegal immigrants.

(additional reporting by Kirsten Roberts, Donna Smith and Caren Bohan)


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Grandmothers arrested during protest at military recruiting center

Grandmothers arrested during protest at military recruiting center

Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. Police arrested six women, most of them grandmothers, as they blocked access Friday to a military recruiting center to protest President Bush’s decision to increase troops in Iraq.

The protesters — ages 49 to 75 — sat in front of the recruiting center and refused to let anyone in or out, and some used wheelchairs as props, said Cristy Murray, a spokeswoman for the Surge Protection Brigade.

“We decided to prevent them from coming up with those troops,” she said, referring to Bush’s decision to send 21,500 troops to Iraq. “We want to stop the recruiting of our valuable young people in this country to a place they don’t belong.”

Portland Police Bureau spokesman Sgt. Brian Schmautz said the women were charged with interfering with a police officer, and five also were charged with disorderly conduct.


Cheney's Fund Manager Attacks ... Cheney
Cheney's Fund Manager Attacks ... Cheney
By Brett Arends

The oil-based energy policies usually associated with Vice President Dick Cheney have just come under scathing attack. There's nothing remarkable about that, of course -- except the person doing the attacking.

Step forward, Jeremy Grantham -- Cheney's own investment manager. "What were we thinking?' Grantham demands in a four-page assault on U.S. energy policy mailed last week to all his clients, including the vice president.

Titled "While America Slept, 1982-2006: A Rant on Oil Dependency, Global Warming, and a Love of Feel-Good Data," Grantham's philippic adds up to an extraordinary critique of U.S. energy policy over the past two decades.

What Cheney makes of it can only be imagined.

"Successive U.S. administrations have taken little interest in either oil substitution or climate change," he writes, "and the current one has even seemed to have a vested interest in the idea that the science of climate change is uncertain."

Yet "there is now nearly universal scientific agreement that fossil fuel use is causing a rise in global temperatures," he writes. "The U.S. is the only country in which environmental data is steadily attacked in a well-funded campaign of disinformation (funded mainly by one large oil company)."

That's Exxon Mobil (XOM) .

As for Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Richard Lindzen, who appears everywhere to question global warming, Grantham mocks him as "the solitary plausible academic [the skeptics] can dig up, out of hundreds working in the field."

And for those nonscientists who are still undecided about the issue, Grantham reminds them of an old logical principle known as Pascal's Paradox. It may be better known as the "what if we're wrong?" argument. If we act to stop global warming and we're wrong, well, we could waste some money. If we don't act, and we're wrong ... you get the picture.

As for the alleged economic costs of going "green," Grantham says that industrialized countries with better fuel efficiency have, on average, enjoyed faster economic growth over the past 50 years than the U.S.

Grantham says that other industrialized countries have far better energy productivity than the U.S. The GDP produced per unit of energy in Italy is 50% higher. Fifty percent. Japan: 60%.

And China "already has auto fuel efficiency standards well ahead of the U.S.!" he adds. You've probably heard about China's slow economic growth.

Grantham adds that past U.S. steps in this area, like sulfur dioxide caps adopted by the late President Gerald Ford, have done far more and cost far less than predicted. "Ingenuity sprung out of the woodwork when it was correctly motivated," he writes.

There is also a political and economic cost to our oil dependency, Grantham notes. Yet America could have eliminated its oil dependency on the Middle East years ago with just a "reasonable set of increased efficiencies." All it would take is 10% fewer vehicles, each driving 10% fewer miles and getting 50% more miles per gallon. Under that "sensible but still only moderately aggressive policy," he writes, "not one single barrel would have been needed from the Middle East." Not one.

I repeat: This is not some rainbow coalition. This is not even Al Gore. Grantham is the chairman of Boston-based fund management company Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo. He is British-born but has lived here since the early 1960s.

Grantham is, like most fund managers, prudent, conservative and inclined to favor the free market and smaller government. He has even said he supported Bush-Cheney in 2000. That doesn't make him particularly political. He also manages a portion of the Heinz-Kerry fortune, as well as those of many other wealthy types.

But he's certainly a man Cheney respects highly. According to the vice president's last personal financial disclosure form, filed with the Federal Election Commission, Cheney has somewhere between $1.6 million and $6 million of his family's money invested in four of Grantham's funds. These aren't even index funds. These are discretionary funds, where you trust the manager to look at the landscape, analyze all the data, and make the best investments. Cheney must have a lot of faith in Grantham's judgement and analytical skills.

When I met Grantham last autumn he, quite rightly, refused to confirm that the vice president was a client. But you can see the evidence in Cheney's own personal financial disclosure.

There is an investment angle to Grantham's argument. He says he is "certain" that "oil substitution, energy conservation, and related environment issues will be the biggest investment issue of at last the next several decades." He adds: "It is clear there is no single solution so investment opportunities will be spread very broadly, especially in energy conservation."

He believes we will need more nuclear power.

But he calls corn-based ethanol "more or less a hoax" when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. "U.S. corn-based ethanol, as opposed to efficient, Brazilian sugar-based ethanol, is merely another U.S. farmer-protection program, made very expensive both directly and indirectly by inflating real agricultural prices."

Tell that to the presidential candidates currently stumping the Iowa caucus. (Incidentally, three MIT scientists told me the same thing about corn ethanol more than a year ago when I interviewed them on the subject. After my article appeared in the Boston Herald, I received a snotty letter denying there was any such thing as "an Iowa corn growers' racket." It was from the "chairman of the Iowa Corn Growers' Association.")

Grantham's full letter can be seen on his company Web site [] , though you will need to register. It appears as the second half of the investment missive "Goldilocks Rules."

Grantham blames three decades of political cowardice for America's backward energy policy. As he dryly notes, "U.S. drivers -- the world's richest and some of the best behaved -- would, it was said, never accept increased taxes, where Italian drivers would! Even tax-neutral policies, such as taxing high mileage cars at purchase and subsidizing efficient cars, were never seriously considered."

The result: the fuel efficiency of U.S. cars has actually gone backward since 1982.

The irony is that this isn't, or shouldn't be, a partisan issue. Grantham singles out the Ford administration for his strongest praise on environmental matters. Everyone since, of both parties, has been a failure, he concludes. "The past 26 years have been such a wasted opportunity," Grantham writes. "This country had previously shown leadership in this field. President Ford got us off to a running start in energy efficiency... With a succession of President Fords, we would have ended up as an environmental leader and a great model."

I would love to know what President Ford's former chief of staff thinks of that.

His name? Richard B. Cheney.


Rudy Giuliani Is Not A Hero. As One Father To Another.

Huffington Post
James Boyce
Rudy Giuliani Is Not A Hero. As One Father To Another.

Rudy Giuliani is not a hero.

Do you have children? Can you imagine writing your official biography and not including your children? Rudy can. Here is his biography from his website. He has two children. You'd never know it.

Heroes don't disavow their children to showcase a picture of their third wives.

Heroes don't.

Rudy does.


The Shameful Senate

Huffinton Post
Lane Hudson
The Shameful Senate

Today, the Republicans in the U.S. Senate prevented the American people from hearing a real debate about the president's policy of escalating the war in Iraq. Senator John Warner of Virginia voted to deny debate on his own resolution. That is not only intellectually dishonest, it's despicable.

Speaking of despicable, Joe Lieberman voted to deny a debate on the issue.
Did he forget that he lost his party's nomination because of his views on this subject? Is he so politically tone deaf that he doesn't realize that nearly 80% of the nation feels that escalation is a bad idea?

Republicans Norm Coleman of Minnesota and Susan Collins of Maine voted with the Democrats on the measure. That's because they are among the most vulnerable Republican incumbents in the 2008 election cycle. Senator Collins admitted that the Senate Republican Caucus had a contentious meeting with Vice President Cheney. So, it appears that, because of pressure from the White House (with a current approval rating that ranks right up there with cancer!) many of the Senators who oppose the war in Iraq voted to deny any discussion on the matter. Where were people like Olympia Snowe, Chuck Hagel, and Gordon Smith?

Today's vote was absolutely WOEFUL. It makes me ashamed of the Senate. I worked for that institution for six and a half years. It was always the place of reason and debate. Today, debate was silenced. It's tragic. It's what Republicans are all about.

The people who care about our troops and their families will continue to press for a debate about the policy that brought us into an unjustified war. We will also advocate for the best and quickest way to get our fellow Americans out of that unjustified war.

Please support organizations like who are working night and day to bring us to an end to the failed policy and leadership that is the Iraq War. Our American soldiers and their families deserve better.


Feingold Excoriates Fellow Democrats for Failing to 'Play Hardball' to End Iraq War

Huffington Post
Brad Friedman
Feingold Excoriates Fellow Democrats for Failing to 'Play Hardball' to End Iraq War

During Conference Call with Bloggers, the Wisconsin Senator Highly Critical of Colleagues, 'Washinton Insiders' and Even John Edwards for 'Playing it Safe on This One'

Says 'Dems Trying to Have it Both Ways' While 'Americans are Dying Unnecessarily'...

In a conference call with several bloggers concluded moments ago, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) had a number of harsh words concerning today's procedural bickering and fillibustering by Republicans in the Senate, which stifled both votes on his own resolution to end the Iraq War as well as allowing amendments to several non-binding resolutions that also failed to come to the floor for a full vote.

Feingold's remarks were highly critical not just of the Republicans, but even moreso of his own Democratic caucus colleagues, "Washington insider consultants", and even former Senatorial colleague-turned-presidential candidate John Edwards for failing to take a tough stand to end the war in Iraq.

In a passionate thirty minute call, Feingold stressed, "This is an important moment to see if we're gonna try and end this war. Frankly, I'm disappointed that Democrats are playing it safe on this one."

"We need to play hardball on this. We're gonna have to take the lead on this issue and we're gonna need to tie this place up as long as it takes," he said in describing what he sees as a fear and timidity in his colleagues who now hold a slight majority in the Senate.

"The problem is a whole lot of middle-of-the-road Democrats who refuse to pull the trigger, who refuse to do what needs to be done," Feingold stressed. "Even people who voted against the war" seem afraid, he explained. "It requires courage. It requires brinksmanship."

As we previously reported last spring, after a bloggers' lunch with Feingold in Los Angeles, the progressive third-term Senator continues to place a great deal of blame for the failure to act among his colleagues on the "Washington insiders, particularly from the previous administration...who say if you're going to take a tough stand, they're going to tear you apart."

He said the advice of the "media consultants" and "power structure in Washington" has led fellow Democrats to believe they'll be criticized if they withhold funding for a war they previously supported. Those same insiders, he explained, previously supported the war and are now scared to death about what would happen if their clients -- many of whom who have now admitted their initial support for the war was a mistake -- now took a tough stand to undue that initial mistake.

"They want their cake and to eat it too since they voted for the war. They're trying to have it both ways. That has to end because Americans are dying unnecessarily. Too many of my colleagues are trying to massage this and have it both ways. That has to end."

Feingold was also critical of John Edwards who, he says, has been "masquerading" as a critic of the war, but whose proposal so far only call for refusing to fund the proposed Bush troop escalation in Iraq. Even he, Feingold said, fails in his rhetoric to call for withdraw and a full defunding of the current debacle.

In response to our query about whether or not the Democrats might "call for a straight up or down vote" on some of these matters, as had been demanded by Republicans during similarly contentious matters while they owned the majority, Feingold said that's a possibility that he hopes Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) would consider.

Expressing a mix of both praise and criticism for the Majority Leader's handling of the matter, Feingold acknowledged "some problems with the way [Reid] has handled this," but says "he's a tough guy" and he's been "impressed" by him. He hoped that after today's session Reid might "go home and think over what they did to us today" and consider doing something like that.

In response to a question from Firedoglake's Christy Hardin Smith, asking how bloggers and citizens might help in his fight, Feingold urged folks to call their Congress Members to demand tough action in hopes that it might give them the backbone to do the right thing.

"Call your members and demand a timeline to withdraw the troops and withhold funding after that," he urged.

"I can't go home knowing that there are Wisconsans who are going to die unnecessary because we refused to do the right thing," the Senator concluded near the end of the early evening call.


Jury hears tape of Libby's grand jury testimony; conflicts with testimony of others re: Leak of Plame's name

The New York Times
Court Hears Tapes of Libby’s Grand Jury Testimony

WASHINGTON, Feb. 5 — Prosecutors in the perjury trial of I. Lewis Libby Jr. played audio tapes today in which Mr. Libby was heard testifying under oath before a grand jury that he had not discussed the identity of a Central Intelligence Agency operative with fellow administration officials in the summer of 2003.

The sound of Mr. Libby’s disembodied voice in the courtroom vividly underlined the contrast between his sworn account and the testimony of the parade of prosecution witnesses presented to the jury over the last two weeks.

Mr. Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, is charged with lying to that grand jury and to F.B.I. agents who were investigating the leak to reporters of the identity of the C.I.A. officer, Valerie Wilson.

The jury today listened to 90 minutes of Mr. Libby’s grand jury testimony from March 5, 2004, in which he was questioned in a straightforward, almost friendly manner by the chief prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald. Mr. Libby was heard responding in unstuffy and earnest tones, as if he were sometimes straining to remember correctly.

On the tape, Mr. Libby was heard saying repeatedly that he could not recall any conversation he ever had with Marc Grossman, a senior state department official, about Ms. Wilson.

Mr. Grossman, who was then the undersecretary of state, has already testified about two such conversations. Mr. Grossman told the jury that Mr. Libby anxiously asked him that summer about reports that a former ambassador had traveled to Africa to investigate reports that Saddam Hussein was trying to buy uranium there for his nuclear weapons program.

Mr. Grossman recounted in detail his conversations with Mr. Libby, even noting that one occurred just outside the White House situation room following a meeting of senior officials.

Mr. Grossman told the jury that he had reported back to Mr. Libby at their second meeting that the former ambassador was Joseph C. Wilson IV, and that he had been sent to Africa by the Central Intelligence Agency. He also told Mr. Libby that Mr. Wilson’s wife worked at the C.I.A. and appeared to have had a major role in choosing him for the assignment.

The audio tapes, which were played with a synchronized running transcript on television screens in the courtroom, seemed to hold the attention of the jurors, who also followed the dialogue printed in loose-leaf binders.

Tapes played today were only the first part of what is to be a total of eight hours that the jury will hear.

Judge Reggie B. Walton, concerned that the evidence could put jurors to sleep, warned the jurors to ask for a break if anyone’s attention is flagging.

As the tapes were played, Mr. Libby himself sat mostly motionless and expressionless.

Judge Walton denied a defense motion arguing that the tapes should not be given to the news media to play to the public. The entire eight hours will be released after the jury has heard all the tapes.

The remaining grand jury testimony, which will include Mr. Libby’s second appearance on March 24, 2004, is certain to include denials from Mr. Libby about conversations with other officials who have already testified that they spoke with him about Ms. Wilson. Before recessing for the day, the jury heard some of a recording in which Mr. Libby told the grand jury that he had not talked to one of those officials, Robert Grenier of the C.I.A. about Ms. Wilson.

Mr. Grenier has already testified in detail about his conversation with Mr. Libby about Ms. Wilson.

Ms. Wilson’s name was first disclosed in a July 14, 2003, column by Robert Novak, only days after The New York Times published an op-ed article written by Mr. Wilson asserting that the Bush administration had willfully distorted intelligence about Iraq’s efforts to obtain uranium in the African nation of Niger.

To demonstrate that Mr. Libby lied to the F.B.I. as well, which is charged in the indictment, prosecutors put Deborah S. Bond, an agent, on the stand. Ms. Bond, who was present at the two interviews of Mr. Libby in his Old Executive Office Building office in October and November of 2003 completed her testimony today but acknowledged she may have testified incorrectly last Thursday.

Theodore V. Wells Jr., Mr. Libby’s chief defense lawyer, was magnanimous with a purpose, when he pointed out her error over a conversation between Mr. Libby and Karl Rove, the deputy White House chief of staff.

“I can’t believe I said it,” Ms. Bond said when shown last week’s testimony. Mr. Wells then prodded her to say that she must have answered in good faith but simply forgot, a proposition to which she readily agreed.

It was a reminder to the jury that one of the pillars of Mr. Libby’s defense is that if he spoke inaccurately to the grand jury and investigators, it was only a case of faulty memory.


War objector pleads not guilty at court-martial

War objector pleads not guilty at court-martial
By Daisuke Wakabayashi

FORT LEWIS, Wash (Reuters) - A U.S. Army officer who refused an order to deploy to Iraq, pleaded not guilty on Monday to several charges at a court-martial that calls into question the right of officers to speak out against the war.

First Lt. Ehren Watada, 28, faces a charge of missing movements when he refused to ship out to Iraq with his brigade last summer, and two charges of conduct unbecoming an officer for statements criticizing the war as illegal and immoral.

Watada, whose supporters say he is the first Army officer to publicly refuse to deploy to Iraq, could face up to four years in prison and a dishonorable discharge if he is convicted on all charges.

He refused conscientious-objector status, saying he would fight in Afghanistan but not Iraq.

On the first day of the court-martial in Fort Lewis, an Army base near Seattle, Watada explained that he saw the order to go to Iraq and support combat operations as illegal because the war itself was illegal.

"I had no other choice but to refuse the order," he said.

Watada had hoped to make his case against the war in court, but Lt. Col. John Head, the military judge presiding over the case, denied the defense's request to argue the legality of the war, saying the question cannot be answered in a military court.

Head denied the entire list of possible defense witnesses including constitutional law experts as not relevant to the case. He also limited what the defense could ask potential members of the military panel -- equivalent to a jury in civilian courts -- that will determine Watada's fate.

"It's become almost clear now that there is nothing for us to say in this courtroom," said Watada's attorney, Eric Seitz, who called the decisions "comical" and "atrocious."

There were heated exchanges between the judge and Watada's defense team. After one of Seitz's repeated objections to the judge's rulings, the judge told the lawyer to "leave the theatrics outside the courtroom."

Watada's supporters -- including actor and anti-war advocate Sean Penn -- and opponents rallied outside the gates of the Army base, waving banners and shouting.

The two charges of conduct unbecoming an officer stem from public comments Watada made encouraging soldiers "to throw down their weapons" to resist an authoritarian government at home.

Defense lawyers had intended to argue that Watada's comments were free speech protected under the U.S. Constitution. But the military judge decided before the court-martial that there are limits to an officer's free-speech rights.

A military panel will now decide if Watada's criticism of the war amounted to officer misconduct -- whether it posed a danger to the loyalty, discipline, mission and morale of the troops.

Watada, a native of Hawaii who served for a year in Korea, joined the Army in 2003 after the United States had already invaded Iraq. After returning to America, Watada began to question the reasons behind the U.S. involvement.

(Additional reporting by Rob Sorbo)


Republicans block debate on Iraq

Republicans block debate on Iraq
By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans blocked a debate on the Iraq war in the U.S. Senate on Monday, dealing a setback to critics of President George W. Bush's plan to send in thousands more troops, but Democrats warned they would not give up trying to force Bush to change course.

Republicans largely united to employ Senate rules against the newly elected Democratic majority to derail the debate on a resolution expressing disagreement with Bush's plan to deploy an additional 21,500 troops in Iraq.

Democrats vowed to return to the subject when it considers billions more in funding for the Iraq war requested by Bush on Monday.

"We are going to debate Iraq. They may stop us temporarily from debating the escalation but they are not going to stop us from debating Iraq," declared Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

The resolution would not have been binding on the president, but it was the first serious attempt by Congress to confront Bush over the unpopular war.

Under Senate rules it needed 60 votes before the 100-member Senate could begin debate. It received only 49, with 47 voting against in a largely party-line vote.

Opponents said the measure, sponsored by Virginia Republican Sen. John Warner and Michigan Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, was a thinly disguised political slap at Bush that would dishearten U.S. troops and signal American disunity.

Republicans also said they voted against the measure in protest because they could not get amendments considered on their terms.

"We were asking for a fair process. We are ready for the debate. We expected to have it this week," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican.

Supporters said the resolution would be a first step, a warning to Bush that he must revamp his strategy to start moving toward a withdrawal of the 138,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

"I am troubled by this," said Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin. "If the Republicans in the Senate cannot swallow the thin soup of the Warner resolution how will they ever stomach a real debate on the war in Iraq?"

Some liberal Democrats want Congress to move immediately to do something with more teeth -- like refusing to fund the additional troops, or capping troop levels.

The White House response was restrained. "All sides have a right to be heard in this debate, and we support Sen. McConnell's and the Republicans' right to be able to offer the amendments they want to offer," spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

Two Republicans refused to follow their party leadership and voted with Democrats to move to debate. They were Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, both of whom face re-election in 2008.

Republican senators facing re-election have an especially difficult decision on Iraq votes given that voters are angry with Bush's war policy and polls show most Americans oppose sending more troops.

(Additional reporting by Donna Smith and Thomas Ferraro)


Democrat Edwards offers universal health care plan

Democrat Edwards offers universal health care plan
By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards on Monday proposed spending up to $120 billion a year to fix a "dysfunctional" health care system by requiring health insurance for all Americans and helping to make it more affordable.

Edwards said his health care plan, the first offered by a 2008 White House candidate, was designed to force private companies, government and individuals to share responsibility for insurance coverage.

The price tag would be covered by eliminating President George W. Bush's tax cuts for those making more than $200,000 a year and by cracking down on unpaid taxes, he said.

He said his plan could succeed where others have failed in part because the political climate has changed. Finding ways to cover nearly 47 million uninsured Americans and make health care more affordable and efficient will be at the center of the 2008 campaign debate, he said.

"Our health care system has grown more dysfunctional in the last few years," Edwards, the 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee, said in a Reuters interview.

"The undercurrent for health care reform has become more powerful," he said. "People are concerned, not only about the millions of Americans without health care coverage, but if they have it that they will lose it and the cost is so high."

The plan would create tax credits to subsidize coverage, expand Medicaid and require businesses to offer a comprehensive health care plan to employees or contribute to their coverage through newly created regional non-profit purchasing pools that would offer competing insurance plans and help hold down costs.

Edwards said the plan would allow enough flexibility for consumers to make choices about their insurance without creating extreme burdens on business.

The proposal drew immediate fire from Republican critics, who said Americans would reject any candidate who runs on a platform of higher taxes and more government.

"The 2003 Bush tax cuts produced one of the broadest and strongest economic expansions in the nation's history," said Pat Toomey, president of the anti-tax group Club for Growth.

"It is mind-boggling that John Edwards would seek to derail that expansion for the sake of his big-government, collectivist schemes."

Other Democratic presidential candidates, including Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, support a goal of universal health care but have not offered concrete plans yet on how to get there.

Clinton, the former first lady, presided over the last failed effort to overhaul the health care system in the early 1990s. Edwards proposed increased health insurance coverage for children in the 2004 campaign but stopped short of a universal plan for adults.

He said the problem was worse now and would be one of the top three campaign issues in 2008, along with the war in Iraq and energy dependency.

"We can't make America stronger with incremental changes," he said. "We need significant, transformational change -- it's true in health care, it's true in energy and it's true in how America deals with the world."


Sunday, February 04, 2007

What Part Of CYA Doesn't He Understand?


Truck bomber kills 135 in deadliest Iraq blast

Yahoo! News
Truck bomber kills 135 in deadliest Iraq blast
By Ross Colvin

A suicide bomber killed 135 people on Saturday in the deadliest single bombing in Iraq since the 2003 war, driving a truck laden with one ton of explosives into a market in a mainly Shi'ite area of Baghdad.

The blast, which Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki blamed on Saddam Hussein supporters and other Sunni militants, shattered fruit and vegetable stalls, caved in shopfronts and left the smashed bodies of shoppers strewn in the street.

It came as U.S. and Iraqi troops prepared for a planned offensive seen as a last-ditch effort to stem worsening sectarian bloodshed that kills hundreds in Baghdad every week.

"It was a terrible scene. Many shops and houses were destroyed," said one resident, Jassem, 42, who rushed from his home to help pull people from the rubble after hearing the explosion that rocked central Baghdad.

Maliki vowed in January to launch a crackdown in the capital to crush insurgents who have defied attempts by his government to get control of security, but it has not yet begun.

President Bush has said he is sending 21,500 reinforcements to Iraq, most earmarked for the Baghdad offensive, despite vocal opposition at home, especially among Democrats who now control both houses of Congress.

Speaking to House of Representatives Democrats on Saturday, Bush assured them that his commitment to Maliki's government was not "open-ended" and it would have to meet certain benchmarks.

A U.S. intelligence report said on Friday that escalating violence between minority Sunni Arabs and politically dominant majority Shi'ites met the definition of civil war.

A senior Interior Ministry official, Major General Jihad al -Jaberi, told state television that the suicide bomber had driven a truck with one ton of explosives.

"All Iraqis were shaken today by this crime," Maliki said in a statement in which he again spoke of his government's determination to crush the militants. "The Saddamists and Takfirists (Sunni militants) have committed another crime."

Police said 305 people were wounded. The casualties swamped the capital's hospitals. There were chaotic scenes at Ibn al- Nafis hospital in central Baghdad, where hallways overflowed with wounded on trolleys.

"I was in my shop and there was a great explosion and the roof fell in on me. I woke up here in hospital," said one man at the hospital with blood streaming down his face.

Emergency workers dragged bodies from the debris and piled them on pickup trucks, a Reuters reporter at the scene said.

In Washington, the White House called the suicide bombing an "atrocity" and pledged to help the Iraqi government bring security to Baghdad.

Three car bombs in the same market in December killed 51.


Saturday's blast came hours after Iraq's leading Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, renewed an appeal to Iraqis to avoid violence.

"Everybody knows the necessity for us to stand together and reject the sectarian tension to avoid stirring sectarian differences," his new fatwa, or religious edict, said.

In the worst previous single bombing in Iraq, a suicide car bomber killed 125 people in Hilla south of Baghdad in February 2005. In November 2006 six car bombs in different parts of the Sadr City neighbourhood of Baghdad killed 202 and wounded 250.

The latest bombing will again throw the spotlight on Maliki's planned security sweep in the capital and whether it will succeed where other similar crackdowns have failed.

His critics say an offensive last summer failed because the Iraqi army committed too few troops and because he was reluctant to confront the Mehdi Army militia of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a key political ally.

The Pentagon has said the Mehdi Army now poses a greater threat to peace in Iraq than Sunni Islamist al Qaeda.

A militant group linked to al Qaeda -- the Islamic State in Iraq -- vowed in a Web recording on Saturday to widen its attacks to all parts of Iraq instead of just focusing on Baghdad and would only stop when "Bush signs a surrender accord."

Bush said Maliki's government must take the lead in securing the capital and make political progress in agreeing a new oil law that sets out how revenues should be shared and amending the constitution, a demand of minority Sunnis.

In the northern, ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk, seven car bombs, including a suicide attack, killed at least four people and wounded 37. Two of the cars detonated outside the offices of the main Kurdish parties in the city. The Islamic State in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attacks in an Internet statement.

Further north, another curfew was imposed in Mosul, Iraq's third largest city, after clashes between insurgents and police erupted in several neighbourhoods.

(Additional reporting by Sherko Raouf in Sulaimaniya, Inal Ersan in Dubai, Mariam Karouny and Ibon Villelabeitia in Baghdad, and Caren Bohan in Washington)