Friday, June 08, 2007

U.S. death toll in Iraq passes 3,500

Yahoo! News
U.S. death toll in Iraq passes 3,500
By KIM GAMEL, Associated Press Writer

The four-year U.S. military death toll in Iraq passed 3,500 after a soldier was reported killed in a roadside bombing in Baghdad. A British soldier was also shot to death Thursday in southern Iraq, as Western forces find themselves increasingly vulnerable under a new strategy to take the fight to the enemy.

The British ambassador to Iraq, meanwhile, signaled his government was ready to talk to those behind the abduction of five Britons in Baghdad last month. Iraqi officials have said they believe the Britons were taken by the Mahdi Army militia, which is largely loyal to the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

In a rare televised interview, al-Sadr blamed the United States for Iraq's woes, often referring to it as "the occupier" and accusing it of being behind the sectarian violence, the growing schism between Iraq's majority Shiites and once-dominant Sunni Arabs and economic hardships.

"We are now facing a brutal Western assault against Islam," he said, draped in his traditional black robe and turban. "This agenda must be countered with a cultural resistance," he said.

The mounting U.S. casualties, most by makeshift bombs placed in potholes on roads or in fields where troops conduct foot patrols, come as American troops work with Iraqi forces on the streets and in remote outposts as part of a joint crackdown on sectarian violence.

A U.S. soldier was killed and two others were wounded Wednesday when a roadside bomb exploded during combat operations in a southwestern section of Baghdad, the military said Thursday. At least 3,501 U.S. service-members have been killed since the beginning of the war, according to an Associated Press count.

They include at least 23 American deaths during the first six days of June — an average of almost four per day, a similar pace to that in May. American troops deaths reached 127 in May, making it the third-deadliest month since the war started in March 2003. The average is nearly double the roughly two a day killed in June 2006.

A British soldier also was shot to death and three others were wounded Thursday while on patrol in southern Iraq, according to Britain's Ministry of Defense, pushing to at least 150 the number of deaths reported by the British military.

Separately, the British ambassador to Iraq, Dominic Asquith, appealed to the kidnappers of five Britons to release them or open negotiations.

The five — four security guards and a consultant — were abducted from the Iraqi Finance Ministry on May 29 by some 40 heavily armed men who then rode off with them in the direction of the sprawling Shiite district of Sadr City.

Iraqi officials say the Mahdi Army may have grabbed the men in retaliation for the killing by British forces of the militia's commander in the southern city of Basra.

"I ask those holding them to release them so they may return to their families," Asquith said. Then, in a clear offer to consider demands, he added, "We have people here in Iraq who are ready to listen to any person about this incident, or any person who may be holding these men and who may wish to communicate."

The Mahdi Army, which fought U.S. forces in 2004, has been blamed for many of the sectarian attacks in Iraq. The U.S. accuses Iran of fueling the violence by providing weapons and training fighters.

On Thursday, al-Sadr said he maintains "friendship and good relations" with Iran but rejects any interference by Tehran in Iraq's affairs.

"I must maintain friendship and good relations with Iran but nothing else," he said.

The anti-American cleric dodged a question about his disappearance from public view during which he was believed to have been in Iran.

The interview on Iraqi state television was believed to be al-Sadr's first since he re-emerged in public nearly two weeks ago. The program, which aired Thursday, was taped Sunday at his office in the holy city of Najaf, according to his aides. Al-Sadr had dropped out of sight at the start of a U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown in February.

Despite the crackdown, bombings, shootings, mortar attacks and execution-style killings left at least 63 Iraqis dead nationwide Thursday. They included 32 unidentified men who were handcuffed, blindfolded and shot to death in Baghdad — the apparent victims of so-called sectarian death squads usually run by Shiite militias like the Mahdi Army.

Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, stressed it was too early to see results because the buildup of some 30,000 extra U.S. forces for the operation would not be complete for nearly two more weeks.

"We achieved some early success through the first several months of the effort. The sectarian murder and execution rate was cut by over two-thirds, and then we saw it come back a bit during the month of May," he told CNN.

"We do have some aggressive plans to ... go after al-Qaida and some of the sanctuaries they've been able to build and dispatch car bombs from for some time. That won't be without a fight, but it is something that we must do in the areas around Baghdad to provide better security for the people in Baghdad," he said.

The day's deadliest attack was a simultaneous suicide bombing of a bus and a truck in the town of Rabia, near the Syrian border.

The truck exploded at a police station, killing at least five policemen and five civilians and wounding 22 other people, including 14 policemen, according to army Capt. Mohammed Ahmed.

A guard shot the driver as he approached the building, but the truck still penetrated its blast walls and exploded, destroying the one-story structure, said Ahmed, an officer with the army's Third Division, which oversees the area.

Another bomber driving a minibus struck a building about 500 yards away at the same time, according to police officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared retribution. They said five Britons working in the building were wounded. British officials could not immediately be reached to confirm that report.

In Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, three policemen were killed and four others wounded when a suicide driver blew up his automobile at their checkpoint, police said.

The post was just 50 yards from the traffic police headquarters, said a police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity since he wasn't authorized to talk to the media.

In Baghdad, a bomb beneath a parked car exploded at lunchtime outside a falafel restaurant, killing at least seven people and wounding 14, police reported. The teeming slum, which is a Mahdi Army stronghold, has repeatedly been targeted by Sunni extremists seeking to terrorize the Shiite majority and inflame hostilities between the Muslim sects.

Friday morning, two parked cars exploded simultaneously at a bus terminal in the southern Iraqi town of Qurna, killing at least 15 and wounding 20 others, police reported. The casualty toll was expected to rise, said a Qurna police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to deal with the media.

Iraqi journalist Sahar al-Haidari, 45, was shot to death while she was waiting for a taxi Thursday in a predominantly Sunni area in the northern city of Mosul. Al-Haidari covered political and cultural news for the independent Voices of Iraq news agency and was the second employee of the organization to be killed in little more than a week.


Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub in Baghdad contributed to this report.


Edwards assails Clinton's terror remarks

Yahoo! News
Edwards assails Clinton's terror remarks
By BETH FOUHY, Associated Press Writer

Presidential contender John Edwards on Thursday disputed Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton's claim that the U.S. is safer since Sept. 11 and contended GOP candidate Rudy Giuliani will never win if he embraces President Bush's policies.

Speaking on the New Yorkers' home turf — and not far from Ground Zero — Edwards dismissed Clinton's comments in Sunday's debate in which she said the nation is safer now that it was before the terrorist attacks. Clinton's other top rival, Sen. Barack Obama (news, bio, voting record), also has challenged her claim.

"Today, as a result of what George Bush has done, we have more terrorists and fewer allies," Edwards said at a news conference. "There was no group called al-Qaida in Iraq before this president's war in Iraq."

He never mentioned Clinton by name but the subject was obvious.

Clinton advisers said she had been referring to improvements in domestic and airline security in the wake of the attacks.

Like Clinton, Edwards, the former North Carolina senator, voted to authorize military action against Iraq in 2002 and supported the concept of a global war on terror throughout his 2004 presidential bid. He was quoted during that campaign as saying he believed the country was safer than it had been before Sept. 11.

On Thursday, he said his views had changed as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated.

Edwards also assailed the Republican candidates for their tough talk on Iraq and global terror, arguing that they were trying to be "George Bush on steroids." He singled out Giuliani, the former New York City mayor widely praised for his leadership after the attacks.

"If Mayor Giuliani believes that what the president has done is good ... and runs a campaign for the presidency saying 'I will give you four more years of what this president has done,' he's allowed to do that. He will never be elected president, but he is allowed to do that," Edwards said.

In response, Giuliani campaign spokeswoman Katie Levinson said, "John Edwards' track record of predicting election outcomes speaks for itself."

Clinton's campaign declined to comment, pointing to a statement released by New York Sen. Chuck Schumer after Sunday's debate.

Despite the Bush administration's failures, America's first responders have worked tirelessly over the last six years to make the nation's cities and towns safer," Schumer said. "As a senator from New York, Hillary Clinton is grateful every day for their efforts."


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Bipartisan Senate Group Embraces Iraq Study Group's Findings; Compromise Bill Would Call for Iraq Withdrawal by Early 2008

ABC News
Bipartisan Senate Group Embraces Iraq Study Group's Findings
Compromise Bill Would Call for Iraq Withdrawal by Early 2008

Almost six months after former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana presented a comprehensive strategy for Iraq known as the Iraq Study Group recommendations -- which President Bush did not quite enthusiastically embrace -- a bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced legislation Tuesday to use the group's recommendations as the foundation for future U.S. policy in Iraq.

Perhaps most notably the bill -- which is supported by several conservative Republicans -- aims to begin the withdrawal of U.S. combat brigades by early 2008 if certain benchmarks are met.

"We really need a political situation in Washington, D.C., as we do in Baghdad," one of the authors of the bill, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., told ABC News. "I'm trying to give [the president] an option. I hope he regards this as a friendly gesture, something he can embrace after a few weeks."

Asked how much longer Republican senators would show patience with the president's surge strategy, Alexander said, "Not too much longer."

Press for Iraq Withdrawal in 2008

Alexander and Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., are leading the bipartisan group, which includes Democratic Sens. Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Republican Sens. Bob Bennett of Utah, Judd Gregg and John Sununu of New Hampshire.

The bill, which the senators said has been approved by Baker and Hamilton, would also create an Iraq International Support Group for diplomacy; make training, equipping and advising the Iraqi military and security forces the first U.S. priority; create a new senior adviser position for economic reconstruction in Iraq; and mandate that the president include the cost of the war in his annual budget request instead of making it a supplemental item.

Referring to reports of some U.S. diplomatic contact with Iran and Syria, Alexander said that the president is "almost backing into the Iraq Study Group recommendations."

"Well, if that's the case," the Tennessee Republican continued, "why not embrace it and use it as a basis for a longer-term but limited presence in Iraq?"

Pressing for Action

Democrats have promised to add some sort of Iraq proposal to the forthcoming defense authorization for 2008.

Speaking just off the Senate floor Tuesday, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he appreciates the gesture from the Republicans, and while he supports more forceful action, he did not discount the proposal from Alexander and Salazar.

"I appreciate the bipartisan nature of those who believe this should go forward," Reid told reporters. "And it's one of the things we're taking a look at. Certainly, I believe that should be something much stronger than that. But that certainly is good."

Reid, who brought forth a number of varying withdrawal proposals before the Senate prior to legislation that did not include such a condition, added, "I'm glad to see even Republicans acknowledging the president should have accepted that from the patriots who came up with that months ago. He shouldn't have ignored it."

Casey added in a statement that "unless we achieve more bipartisan consensus in the Congress that a change is necessary, an impasse will continue."

In the House, Reps. Mark Udall, D-Colo, and Frank Wolf, R-Va., are working on companion legislation.


Canada denies Winnie Mandela visa

Canada denies Winnie Mandela visa
Canada has denied a visa to the South African anti-apartheid activist Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

The ex-wife of Nelson Mandela was to attend the premiere of an opera about her life - called The Passion of Winnie- in the city of Toronto.

In 1991 she was convicted of kidnapping and being an accessory to murder.

Canadian authorities can refuse entry into the country on the grounds of a criminal record, although it is not clear that has happened in this case.

Her application was turned down a day before she was to arrive in Toronto, for a gala fundraising dinner.

The organisers, the arts group MusicaNoir, said they were devastated and do not know why her visa was withheld.

They said Mrs Madikizela-Mandela's daughter and two security guards did receive visas.

The decision was made by the Canadian embassy in South Africa.

Canadian immigration officials in Ottawa have not given any reason why the visa application was denied.

MusicaNoir pointed out that Mrs Madikizela-Mandela was permitted to visit the United States two weeks ago to receive an award for her work with Aids organisations.

Known as one of South Africa's most famous anti-apartheid activists, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is also a controversial figure.

A six-year prison sentence for kidnapping a young activist who was later murdered was suspended on appeal.

In 2003 she was found guilty on charges of fraud and theft.

Story from BBC NEWS:


Déjà Vu: McCain Shines in New Hampshire, Rudy Seems Unhinged

Huffington Post
Arianna Huffington| BIO
Déjà Vu: McCain Shines in New Hampshire, Rudy Seems Unhinged

Manchester, N.H. -- As is usually the case in a Republican debate, the big winner of the night was God.

But John McCain finished a close second.

This was vintage McCain. Perhaps energized by being in New Hampshire, home of his greatest political triumph in 2000, he provided the two most emotional moments of the night. The first came in his response to a question asked by Erin Flanagan, whose younger brother had been killed in Iraq eight days before he was scheduled to return home in December 2005.

McCain rose from his chair and, his voice choked with emotion, thanked her for her brother's service and offered "a little straight talk" on the war, which he said had been "badly mismanaged for a long time," leading to "unnecessary" deaths.

Of course, he then went on to defend the current surge strategy, and warned of Iraq turning into "a center of terrorism" if we withdraw -- but, however wrong his position, it was McCain at his passionate best.

Indeed, he so clearly connected with the woman and the audience that every other candidate immediately followed suit and began getting off their stools for just about every answer given after that (David Bohrman, CNN's Washington bureau chief, the mastermind behind the debates' split format, told me that he was surprised that none of the Democrats had stood up from their seats in the second half of their debate. "I told them there were no seat belts on their chairs and they should feel free to get up if they wanted to. But no one did.").

McCain also took what could be his greatest liability in the GOP primaries -- his sponsorship of the immigration bill -- and turned it to his advantage by connecting immigration to military service, his resume trump card.

"My friends," he said, "I want you, the next time you're down in Washington, DC, to go to the Vietnam War Memorial and look at the names engraved in black granite. You'll find a whole lot of Hispanic names." And with that, the hot button issue of immigration was instantly and powerfully covered in a patriotic patina. It won't end the howls from the GOP base, but it might win him some converts to his position among independents -- which is especially important in New Hampshire where independent voters are a plurality, and can choose as late as Election Day which party primary they vote in.

And thanking Tom "Press 1-thru-10 for English" Tancredo in Spanish was a nice touch.

By contrast, Rudy Giuliani seemed a tad unhinged. He tried to have it both ways when it came to terror and national security, claiming on one hand that the sacrifice of American lives in Iraq "is one of the reasons we're safe now in the United States," while on the other hand repeatedly raising the specter of Islamic terrorists who will do us all in if we don't put him in the White House.

He wasted no time in referencing the plot to attack JFK airport, working it into his second answer of the night, in response to a question about Iran. He also lumped the questionable JFK plot with the equally questionable Fort Dix plot -- making it sound like both of those gangs that couldn't jihad straight had taken their orders directly from Osama bin Laden.

He also twice sang the praises of "nation-building," and suggested that things might be going better in Iraq if we... kept better statistics? "We should probably have an IraqStat program, in which we measure how many people are going to school, how many factories are open, how many people are going back to work." At another point he offered this ode to good data: "You get what you measure; if you don't measure success, you have failure."

But in all his talk about stats, he never mentioned the most important numbers: the number of Americans killed, and the hundreds of billions of dollars squandered in Iraq.

He also showed that he is marching in lock step with Laura Bush on the real problem with Iraq (other than a lack of good stats): the darn media just not reporting enough of the good news going on there. "Suppose General Petraeus comes back in September," he said, "and reports that things are going pretty well. Are we going to report that with the same amount of attention that we would report the negative news?" Damn you, David Gregory!

For his part, Mitt Romney, the third member of the GOP top tier, swung for the fences -- reaching for a Reaganesque Big Picture Optimism -- but struck out, managing to draw little more than head scratches with his repeated admonitions that we need to "stop worrying about the problems" and "focus on the future" -- a bright future made glorious by selling "products" to Chinese consumers. Exactly what products are we going to be selling them, Mitt -- labels that read, "Made in China"?

A few other debate quick hits:

Romney's makeup seemed off. During the first part of the debate, it looked like he had a shiner under his right eye. He needs to put in a call to Kriss Soterion who did Hillary's killer makeup job on Sunday. (I saw her after the Democratic debate and invited her to blog.)

Mike Huckabee was very smooth, very articulate (particularly when talking about his religious faith), and the funniest of the bunch. Too bad he really believes the world was Created in six days.

It was amazing to see how far the Republicans have come on the need to change our energy policy, stressing the need for an Apollo Project and making the case that our dependence on foreign oil is a national security crisis. The discussion on energy could have been lifted directly from a Democratic debate... or a Detroit Project ad.

Tommy Thompson had the jaw dropper of the night, claiming that George W. Bush would be the perfect person to lecture the youth of America on "honesty" and "integrity." Sure, he can go on a lecture tour with Scooter Libby and Duke Cunningham. And enough of the "I'm not the actor" jokes, Governor. Thompson should go ahead and just quit now.


A New Poll Suggests That Play-It-Safe 'Centrists' Are Weakening the Democratic Party

Huffington Post
RJ Eskow
A New Poll Suggests That Play-It-Safe 'Centrists' Are Weakening the Democratic Party

If Sunday night's debate improved Hillary Clinton's chances of capturing the nomination, poll results released Tuesday suggest that she and other "centrists" are losing the very independents they need to win the general election. Congressional reluctance to take decisive action on Iraq is driving these critical voters away from the Democrats - and they're taking the party's base with them.

Most observers, including me, believe that Sen. Clinton won Sunday night's debate (although Edwards was giving her a good run until Wolf Blitzer stopped giving him air time in the second half). And Sen. Clinton moved effectively to neutralize Iraq as a divisive issue for Democrats when she said "the differences among us are minor. The differences between us and the Republicans are major."

Unfortunately, the poll numbers don't offer much to support the play-it-safe strategy advocated by Sen. Clinton and other Congressional Democrats. In increasing numbers, the American public is beginning to agree with the assessments made by a number of liberal commentators: that the Democrats were given a majority in 2006 to take charge and end the Iraq war, and that their failure to do so leaves voters doubtful about their ability to lead.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll concluded the following, according to a report in the Post:

Disapproval of Bush's performance in office remains high, but the poll highlighted growing disapproval of the new Democratic majority in Congress. Just 39 percent said they approve of the job Congress is doing, down from 44 percent in April, when the new Congress was about 100 days into its term. More significantly, approval of congressional Democrats dropped 10 percentage points over that same period, from 54 percent to 44 percent. Much of that drop was fueled by lower approval ratings of the Democrats in Congress among strong opponents of the war, independents, and liberal Democrats. (emphasis mine)

The report goes on to say that "while independents were evenly split on the Democrats in Congress in April (49 percent approved, 48 percent disapproved), now 37 percent said they approved and 54 percent disapproved." That's a precipitous drop among the voters that are most in play. It augurs badly for the Democrats' prospects in 2008 under a triangulating 'safety first' war strategy.

Democrats hoping to persuade independent voters that they are ready to lead will also be disappointed by this figure: "In April, 59 percent of independents said Democrats were taking a stronger role, but that figure has dropped 15 points, to 44 percent." That's a sign that Democrats are already perceived as weak by this critical voting bloc.

Sure, the poll also confirms President Bush's ongoing unpopularity, but many Democrats don't seem to realize that he won't be a candidate next year.

These numbers suggest what many have suspected for a long time: Many Congressional Democrats in the Clinton/Emanuel mold confuse "independent" voters with "centrists," and mistakenly assume that independents fail to align with either party because their views lie somewhere between the two.

There's little evidence for this assertion. In fact, ideas like "Unity '08" that are based on the "unaligned centrist" model have failed to gain public interest. It's more plausible to think that many "independents" avoid party affiliations because they believe all politicians are cynical, fearful, self-interested, and pandering. The Democrats' timid behavior on the war is more likely to reinforce that perception than change it. The results among independent voters are likely to be devastating for the triangulators and their party.

The poll also shows how poorly this timorous approach is playing among core Democratic voters. "Among liberal Democrats," the Post reports, "approval of congressional Democrats dropped 18 points." That's a precipitous decline in a short time.

If Democrats don't take firmer action they may well find themselves going into the 2008 election with a double handicap. Swing voters will consider them cynical and fearful of taking bold action, while the party base is dispirited and open to third party alternatives (or staying at home). Without the clear and present danger of a Bush/Cheney ticket Dems can't count on the Fear Factor to save them again. If Congressional leaders and leading Presidential candidates don't change their strategy, 2008 could turn into a surprise blowout ... for the Republican Party.


House panel votes to boost domestic security

House panel votes to boost domestic security
By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States would spend more to combat illegal immigration and prepare for terrorist and weather-related disasters under legislation approved on Tuesday by a House of Representatives panel that ignores a White House veto threat.

The Appropriations Committee sent to the full House a $36.3 billion domestic security bill for fiscal 2008, which starts October 1. This year, the U.S. is spending $33.7 billion.

In approving the bill, the Democratic-controlled panel ignored White House veto threats against any spending bill moving through Congress that exceeds President George W. Bush's request. This bill would breech that level by about $2.1 billion.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat, said the added money represented "a modest change in priorities that will help meet some of the crucial needs" of the country.

The legislation offers a glimpse at how Democrats want to rearrange government spending since taking control of Congress in January.

Since the September 11 attacks, Democrats often have accused Bush and Republicans in Congress of not increasing spending enough to secure the U.S. against a chemical weapons attack at a port, a bombing of a mass transit system or for natural disaster protection and cleanup.

As a result, the legislation would spend about $50 million more for customs and border protection than Bush sought and $2 billion more than his February request for security preparedness and disaster relief.

Funding would continue for construction of a controversial border fence in the southwest at the $1 billion level Bush requested. But the Department of Homeland Security would have to justify how each segment of the fence would be the most effective way to secure parts of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Republican Rep. Harold Ford of Kentucky complained the restrictions "can potentially impede installation of critical border security systems."

The bill would prohibit the federal government from preempting stricter state and local government rules on chemical security. Lawmakers from states with large concentrations of chemical plants, such as New Jersey, have been clamoring for better protections against attack.

The bill also tries to ensure that illegal immigrants convicted of crimes are deported upon release from prison. The legislation attempts to improve communications between federal authorities and state prisons.

In a May 11 letter, White House budget chief Rob Portman warned he would "recommend the president veto any appropriations request that exceeds his request."

Portman reminded lawmakers Bush has asked for a maximum of $933 billion in spending next year on all "discretionary" programs, which do not include payment of retirement benefits or medical care for the poor and elderly. Congressional Democrats want to add about $20 billion to that tab.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Guantanamo war crimes trials screech to halt

Guantanamo war crimes trials screech to halt
By Jane Sutton

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - U.S. military judges dropped all war crimes charges on Monday against the only two Guantanamo captives facing trial, rulings that could preclude trying any of the 380 prisoners held at the U.S. base in Cuba any time soon.

The judges said they lacked jurisdiction under the strict definition of those eligible for trial by military tribunal under a law the U.S. Congress enacted last year.

"It's another demonstration that the system simply doesn't work," said the tribunals' chief defense counsel, Marine Col. Dwight Sullivan.

The rulings did not affect U.S. authority to indefinitely hold the 380 foreign terrorism suspects detained at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in southeast Cuba.

But it was the latest setback for the Bush administration's efforts to put the Guantanamo captives through some form of judicial process. It was forced to rewrite the rules last year after the U.S. Supreme Court deemed the old tribunals illegal.

Charges were dropped for Omar Khadr, a Canadian captured in a firefight in Afghanistan at age 15. Khadr, now 20, was accused of killing a U.S. soldier with a grenade and wounding another in a battle at a suspected al Qaeda compound in Afghanistan in 2002.

Charges were also dropped for Salim Ahmed Hamdan of Yemen, who is accused of driving and guarding Osama bin Laden. Hamdan last year won a U.S. Supreme Court challenge that scrapped the first Guantanamo tribunal system.

Both had been charged with conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism. Khadr also faced charges of murder, attempted murder and spying, the latter for allegedly conducting surveillance of U.S. military convoys in Afghanistan.


Both defendants had been declared "enemy combatants" during administrative hearings begun at Guantanamo in 2004 to determine if there were grounds to continue holding them.

But the judge for Hamdan's case, Navy Capt. Keith Allred, said that definition was broad enough to include captives who supported the Taliban or al Qaeda without actually engaging in combat.

He said the Military Commissions Act adopted by the U.S. Congress in 2006 set more stringent rules and allowed only those designated as "unlawful enemy combatants" to face trial in the Guantanamo tribunals.

Allred said that law limited the tribunals' jurisdiction to "those who actually engaged in hostilities."

No Guantanamo captives have been formally designated as "unlawful enemy combatants," and defense lawyers said none could be tried unless they first faced proceedings reclassifying them as such.

Hamdan was relieved and "still hopes he's going to get a fair trial," said his military lawyer, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift.

A Pentagon spokeswoman, Army Maj. Beth Kubala, said it would be speculative to draw conclusions about the future of the tribunal system. She called the tribunals fair, transparent and legitimate and said the rulings demonstrated that "the military judges operate independently."

Allred and the judge in the Khadr case, Army Col. Peter Brownback, left open the possibility of refiling charges against the two defendants if they were reclassified.

But defense lawyers and rights groups said any trials should be moved to the regular U.S. federal court system or the long-established court-martial system.

"At this point, detainees have been more successful committing suicide in Guantanamo than the government has been successful in getting detainees to trial," Amnesty International observer Jumana Musa said.

Four prisoners have committed suicide at Guantanamo since the detention and interrogation camp opened in 2002.


Wyoming Sen. Craig Thomas dies at 74

Wyoming Sen. Craig Thomas dies at 74

WASHINGTON (AP) — Wyoming Sen. Craig Thomas, a three-term conservative Republican who stayed clear of the Washington limelight and political catfights, died Monday. He was 74.

The senator's family issued a statement saying he died Monday evening at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. He had been receiving chemotherapy for acute myeloid leukemia.

Just before the 2006 election, Thomas was hospitalized with pneumonia and had to cancel his last campaign stops. He nonetheless won with 70% of the vote, monitoring the election from his hospital bed.

Two days after the election, Thomas announced that he had just been diagnosed with leukemia.

Gov. Dave Freudenthal, a Democrat, will appoint a successor from one of three finalists chosen by the state Republican party.

"Wyoming had no greater advocate, taxpayers had no greater watchdog, and rural America had no greater defender than Craig Thomas," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday night. "The Senate is a lesser place without Craig here, but the state of Wyoming and our nation are much better places because he was here."

Thomas was a low-key lawmaker who reliably represented the interests of his conservative state, often becoming involved in public lands issues. He worked in behind-the-scenes posts to oversee national parks, including Yellowstone in Wyoming.

He was also an advocate for domestic energy and minerals production. He worked to protect Wyoming's mining industry from foreign competition and backed efforts to get a federally funded coal gasification plant built in the state.

Wyoming's other senator, Republican Mike Enzi, said Monday evening that he was "so stunned."

"The Senate will not be the same," he said. "Craig was the core of our delegation. He was a fierce advocate for Wyoming. ... He was my senior senator, a confidant, mentor and friend. ... I will miss him."

Gov. Freudenthal said he and his wife have known Thomas for many decades and his death "is a very big loss to the people of this state."

"He carried the values that we treasure in Wyoming to Washington and had many successes," Freudenthal said.

After his first round of chemotherapy, Thomas returned to the Senate in December, a month earlier than expected. A few months later, he said he felt better than he had in a long time. But he returned to the hospital for a second round of chemotherapy in May.

"I'm resolved to do all I can to keep the leukemia in check," he said then. "I've been feeling very good over the last several months — even returning to my regular morning run. But I've always known that further treatments are common and could periodically be part of this thing."

Thomas entered Congress in a special election in 1989 to replace Dick Cheney when the future vice president was named defense secretary by the first President Bush. Thomas won that race with 52% of the vote.

In 1994, Thomas won his first Senate race by beating former Gov. Mike Sullivan 59% to 39%. Thomas was re-elected by a wide margin in 2000, winning 74% of the vote against Democrat Mel Logan and Libertarian Margaret Dawson.

Thomas had previously served five years in the Wyoming Legislature.

He was born in Cody, Wyo., and was raised on a ranch. He graduated from the University of Wyoming with a degree in agriculture, then served four years in the U.S. Marines.

He also was vice president of the Wyoming Farm Bureau and general manager of the Wyoming Rural Electric Association.

He is survived by his wife, Susan, and four children.

According to Peggy Nighswonger, Wyoming's elections director, the governor has five days to appoint one of the party's three nominees once he receives the names. That person will serve until the next general election in 2008.

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Supreme Court makes it harder to sue over credit reporting

USA Today
Supreme Court makes it harder to sue over credit reporting

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court ruled in favor of two insurers Monday, limiting the instances in which insurers must tell customers that their credit ratings are affecting how much they pay.

The justices said Geico did not violate the Fair Credit Reporting Act and that Safeco might have but did not do so recklessly.

Consumer groups have said the notification requirement was crucial to cleansing credit reports of inaccurate information.

The ruling is likely to affect class-action lawsuits that seek damages for consumers who say they should have been notified but weren't.

For a company to be found liable, Justice David Souter wrote, its conduct must entail an unjustifiably high risk of harm that is either known to a company or is so obvious it should have been known.

The court ruled that the law's notification requirements apply to initial applicants. That means that new customers will be informed when their credit scores affect the rates they're being quoted.

But the justices overturned an appeals court ruling that would have required notification of the vast majority of customers. Notification would have been the rule unless consumers were paying the lowest rate given to those with the best credit ratings.

The companies lost on their contention that in order to be found liable for a willful violation, it must be shown that they knew they were breaking the law. The court said "reckless disregard" was sufficient. But the justices laid down a restrictive definition.

The court's ruling on the liability question was unanimous, while the decision on notification was 7-2.

On the liability question, the justices took "a middle-of-the-road position," said Gene Schaerr of the law firm of Winston & Strawn. "The court adopted what initially would have been a pro-plaintiff position, but in actually applying the definition, they have a very narrow interpretation of 'reckless.' "

The court's decision on liability will be beneficial, predicts Delaware Insurance Commissioner Matthew Denn, leading insurers to take more care in conducting business.

Credit-reporting agencies generate more than 1.5 billion consumer reports a year. Congress passed the credit-reporting law in 1970 to protect consumers from flaws in the system and to allow businesses to gauge risk more accurately.


Why Wasn't the Headline "Bombers Not Smart Enough to Bomb JFK"?

Huffington Post
Why Wasn't the Headline "Bombers Not Smart Enough to Bomb JFK"?
Anthony Kaufman

Why didn't the headlines read "Bombers Not Smart Enough to Bomb JFK" or "Plot to Blow-up JFK Unfeasible"? No, as is often the case in our post-9/11 paranoid universe, media hype and authoritarian fear-mongering conspire to freak us out.

On Saturday night, local New York news stations -- in flashy "team-coverage" packages -- declared a major plot to destroy John F. Kennedy airport had been uncovered. Complete with frightening court-drawings of the "dark-skinned" alleged ring-leader and maps that showed a path of destruction stretching all the way from Queens to New Jersey, the news painted a picture of impending doom a la 24, thwarted at the last minute by brave undercover sources working for the F.B.I. Even HuffPost's link to the Associated Press story "Authorities Charge 4 in NYC Terror Plot" offered little explanation of the near-impossibility of the supposed plot. Needless to say, I went to sleep scared out of my wits, worried for the safety of my friends and family.

The next morning, of course, I found buried deep into the news coverage reporting about how would-be mass murderer Russell Defreitas was "not smart enough" to carry out such a plot, and the plot, itself, probably wouldn't have worked anyway. Oh, no matter, right-wing bloggers and conservative pundits went hog-wild all-day Sunday (perfectly timed) with the BREAKING news, using the charges to justify their attacks on all things Islamic and their "war on terror."

While most folks have a healthy distrust of the press, it's all too easy to get swept up in the media maelstrom around such trumped-up counter-terrorism proclamations.

I am reminded, of course, of the front-page news stories of Jose Padilla, the so-called "dirty bomber," whose mis-label stuck on him like super-glue, despite the fact that the charges against him three-and-a-half years later made no mention of a dirty bomb. What do people remember? The shocking lead-item statements of imminent apocalypse made by Attorney General John Ashcroft or the little news story on page three some years later that showed just how ineffectual and unthreatening Padilla was? Or what about the so-called "Detroit Sleeper Cell," whose case proved to be a mockery of the U.S. justice system, revealing it to be overzealous, and let's face it, completely racist?

Is it a coincidence that the alleged plots to attack Fort Dix and JFK come at a time when this U.S. Administration's support is flagging, and Americans are increasingly doubtful of its ability to effectively fight terrorism. While we'll never know for sure, there's one thing that is certain:The media needs to do a better job of cutting through the propaganda.


Marines move to discharge protesting Iraq vet

Marines move to discharge protesting Iraq vet
By Carey Gillam

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters)- A U.S. military disciplinary panel on Monday recommended that a decorated combat Marine be involuntarily discharged after he joined an anti-war demonstration and spoke out against the Iraq war.

The three-member panel at a Marine command center in Kansas City recommended that 25-year-old Marine Cpl. Adam Kokesh be given a general discharge -- one step below an "honorable discharge" and a reflection of "significant negative" conduct.

Kokesh was accused of misconduct for wearing desert fatigues at a protest in Washington in March to mark the fourth anniversary of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Kokesh said he would appeal the recommendation, which stops short of the honorable discharge he wants but is better than the dishonorable discharge that could have been recommended.

"I'm standing on principle and we're going to contest this on principle. It's not going to go away," he said.

Kokesh is one of three U.S. Iraq combat veterans and members of a group called Iraq Veterans Against the War whom the government has threatened to punish over their roles in the anti-war demonstration.

Kokesh was also charged with misconduct for responding to a Marine investigator with a profanity.

He maintained that he has been acting as a civilian since his discharge from active duty in November 2006 and decried the action by the Marines as a restraint on freedom of speech and a "corrupt" and political act by the U.S. military.

"It's clear these tactics of intimidation are being used against members of Iraq Veterans Against the War," said Kokesh, who wore a black anti-war T-shirt to the hearing. "Freedom of speech means the right to say what other people don't want to hear."

The government argued that Kokesh was still a member of the "Individual Ready Reserves," which meant he could be called back to duty and was subject to some military conduct regulations.

"This is an administrative discharge for the good of the service," said Marine Col. Patrick McCarthy. "It is not a freedom of speech issue. This is about uniform violation and disrespect to an officer."

However Kokesh was asked during the hearing if he was a "card-carrying member" of the Iraq Veterans Against the War, what membership entailed and if he voted in the last presidential election.

Marine Cpt. Jeremy Sibert, a member of the reserves who presented the government's case, argued that Kokesh's action in the demonstration was potentially damaging to the military because it came during deliberations by Congress over funding for the Iraq war.

Sibert also said Kokesh's conduct could have harmed recruiting efforts and affected public opinion about the Marines and the war.

Supporters from around the country staged a protest outside the Marine command center, holding signs and banners supporting Kokesh and criticizing President George W. Bush over the war. Many wore red badges bearing a tally -- 3,495 -- of U.S. military deaths in Iraq.

"It's an insane war," said 68-year-old Andy Wasowski, a Korean War veteran who traveled from New Mexico to support Kokesh.

The recommendation now goes for final disposition to Brig. Gen. Darrell Moore, commander of the Marine Corps Mobilization Command in Kansas City.

Among the protesters was 22-year-old Liam Madden of Boston, who is also being investigated.

The third Iraq veteran investigated -- 23-year-old Cloy Richards of Salem, Missouri, who was wounded in combat -- was also at the protest. But Richards agreed not to wear his uniform in protests in the future in order to keep his disability benefits.