Friday, March 23, 2007

Gates Argued for Closing Guantánamo

In his first weeks as defense secretary, Robert M. Gates repeatedly argued that the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had become so tainted abroad that legal proceedings at Guantánamo would be viewed as illegitimate, according to senior administration officials. He told President Bush and others that it should be shut down as quickly as possible.



Mr. Gates’s appeal was an effort to turn Mr. Bush’s publicly stated desire to close Guantánamo into a specific plan for action, the officials said. In particular, Mr. Gates urged that trials of terrorism suspects be moved to the United States, both to make them more credible and because Guantánamo’s continued existence hampered the broader war effort, administration officials said.

Mr. Gates’s arguments were rejected after Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and some other government lawyers expressed strong objections to moving detainees to the United States, a stance that was backed by the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, administration officials said.

As Mr. Gates was making his case, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice joined him in urging that the detention facility be shut down, administration officials said. But the high-level discussions about closing Guantánamo came to a halt after Mr. Bush rejected the approach, although officials at the National Security Council, the Pentagon and the State Department continue to analyze options for the detention of terrorism suspects.

Read the full article at the source.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Iraq: Four years later

From Truthdig: By Robert Scheer





Yep, you did it, George--mission impossible accomplished. Unbelievably, four years of a bungled occupation have managed to make Saddam Hussein's tyranny look good in comparison with "liberated Iraq."

At least, that is the view of the Iraqi weightlifter made famous through a video of him taking a sledgehammer to Saddam Hussein's statue.

"I really regret bringing down the statue," Kadhim al-Jubouri said on British television this week. "The Americans are worse than the dictatorship. Every day is worse than the previous day."

That's the judgment of a man who spent nine years in Hussein's jails, and, unfortunately, it is one shared by a majority of his countrymen, according to an authoritative poll sponsored jointly by ABC, BBC and USA Today: Only 38 percent of Iraqis believe that the country is better off today than under Hussein, while nearly four out of five oppose the presence of coalition forces in Iraq.

Even more disturbing is that 51 percent of Iraqis think it is OK to attack coalition troops--triple the number that thought that way in a 2004 survey. Square that with our president's assurances, offered since the first month of this unnecessary adventure, that the insurgency represents a small handful of terrorists. While most of the antipathy is registered among Sunnis, 94 percent of whom favor attacks on coalition forces, and by only 7 percent of Kurds, a surprising 35 percent of Shiites endorse that sort of violence.

Given the number of Kurds and Shiites who originally welcomed the invasion, it is also startling that 53 percent of all Iraqis polled agreed that "from today's perspective, and all things considered," it was "wrong that U.S.-led coalition forces invaded Iraq in spring 2003."

The poll, part of a series conducted each of the past three years at great risk to 150 pollsters, reveals a sharp rise in anti-American feeling and disapproval of the 2003 invasion.

Read the full article at the source.

Click here (pdf file) for the complete poll data.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Left Behind

( CBS ) When U.S. troops invaded Iraq, they had a major handicap – they didn’t speak the language. There would have been no progress, and likely more American dead, had it not been for Iraqi citizens who volunteered to serve our armed forces as translators.


Many thousands of Iraqis believed in the cause. They signed on as drivers, construction workers and office workers. But now they and their families are being hunted down by insurgents bent on killing them for collaborating. No wonder many are fleeing Iraq, desperate for asylum. But as they appeal to the U.S., many feel they’re being left behind.

As correspondent Scott Pelley reports, they’re finding that America, which was so eager for their help in the beginning, is not so eager to save them now.

Read the full 3 page article here.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

True Confessions? The Amazing Tale of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed




Fun galore!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Liar!



Fun galore!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Confessions of a Torturer

TONY LAGOURANIS DOESN’T fit the profile of a person likely to go wrong by following orders.





He’s lived a footloose life unconstrained by a desire for professional advancement, for the approval of superiors, even for a comfortable home. A freethinker, he read the great works of Western civilization in college and mastered classical languages. It was his desire to learn Arabic as well that took him to Iraq.

And there, as an army interrogator, he tortured detainees for information he admits they rarely had. Since leaving Iraq he’s taken this story public, doing battle on national television against the war’s architects for giving him the orders he regrets he obeyed.

Read the full article here.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Why Does The Times Recognize Israel's 'Right to Exist'?

From the Los Angeles Times via Common Dreams:



by Saree Makdisi

'AS SOON AS certain topics are raised," George Orwell once wrote, "the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: Prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse." Such a combination of vagueness and sheer incompetence in language, Orwell warned, leads to political conformity.

No issue better illustrates Orwell's point than coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the United States. Consider, for example, the editorial in The Times on Feb. 9 demanding that the Palestinians "recognize Israel" and its "right to exist." This is a common enough sentiment — even a cliche. Yet many observers (most recently the international lawyer John Whitbeck) have pointed out that this proposition, assiduously propagated by Israel's advocates and uncritically reiterated by American politicians and journalists, is — at best — utterly nonsensical.

First, the formal diplomatic language of "recognition" is traditionally used by one state with respect to another state. It is literally meaningless for a non-state to "recognize" a state. Moreover, in diplomacy, such recognition is supposed to be mutual. In order to earn its own recognition, Israel would have to simultaneously recognize the state of Palestine. This it steadfastly refuses to do (and for some reason, there are no high-minded newspaper editorials demanding that it do so).

Second, which Israel, precisely, are the Palestinians being asked to "recognize?" Israel has stubbornly refused to declare its own borders. So, territorially speaking, "Israel" is an open-ended concept. Are the Palestinians to recognize the Israel that ends at the lines proposed by the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan? Or the one that extends to the 1949 Armistice Line (the de facto border that resulted from the 1948 war)? Or does Israel include the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which it has occupied in violation of international law for 40 years — and which maps in its school textbooks show as part of "Israel"?

For that matter, why should the Palestinians recognize an Israel that refuses to accept international law, submit to U.N. resolutions or readmit the Palestinians wrongfully expelled from their homes in 1948 and barred from returning ever since?

If none of these questions are easy to answer, why are such demands being made of the Palestinians? And why is nothing demanded of Israel in turn?

Orwell was right. It is much easier to recycle meaningless phrases than to ask — let alone to answer — difficult questions. But recycling these empty phrases serves a purpose. Endlessly repeating the mantra that the Palestinians don't recognize Israel helps paint Israel as an innocent victim, politely asking to be recognized but being rebuffed by its cruel enemies.

Actually, it asks even more. Israel wants the Palestinians, half of whom were driven from their homeland so that a Jewish state could be created in 1948, to recognize not merely that it exists (which is undeniable) but that it is "right" that it exists — that it was right for them to have been dispossessed of their homes, their property and their livelihoods so that a Jewish state could be created on their land. The Palestinians are not the world's first dispossessed people, but they are the first to be asked to legitimize what happened to them.

A just peace will require Israelis and Palestinians to reconcile and recognize each other's rights. It will not require that Palestinians give their moral seal of approval to the catastrophe that befell them. Meaningless at best, cynical and manipulative at worst, such a demand may suit Israel's purposes, but it does not serve The Times or its readers.

And yet The Times consistently adopts Israel's language and, hence, its point of view. For example, a recent article on Israel's Palestinian minority referred to that minority not as "Palestinian" but as generically "Arab," Israel's official term for a population whose full political and human rights it refuses to recognize. To fail to acknowledge the living Palestinian presence inside Israel (and its enduring continuity with the rest of the Palestinian people) is to elide the history at the heart of the conflict — and to deny the legitimacy of Palestinian claims and rights.

This is exactly what Israel wants. Indeed, its demand that its "right to exist" be recognized reflects its own anxiety, not about its existence but about its failure to successfully eliminate the Palestinians' presence inside their homeland — a failure for which verbal recognition would serve merely a palliative and therapeutic function.

In uncritically adopting Israel's own fraught terminology — a form of verbal erasure designed to extend the physical destruction of Palestine — The Times is taking sides.

If the paper wants its readers to understand the nature of this conflict, however, it should not go on acting as though only one side has a story to tell.

Saree Makdisi, a professor of English and comparative literature at UCLA, writes frequently about the Middle East.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Israeli soldiers use Palestinian children as human shields

B'Tselem has accused the Israeli army of using Palestinian children as human shields during a recent raid in the West Bank.




The allegations are based on testimony from a 15-year-old boy, his 24-year-old cousin and also an 11-year-old girl. They said that soldiers had forced them to enter houses ahead of the troops during the raid in Nablus.

The use of human shields is illegal under Israeli and international law.

Read the full report here.

Click here to watch a video testimony from the eleven year old girl. (Windows media player required.)

Note: The Image used in this article is from the archive of images that show the use of human shields by the Israeli army. It is not directly related the current accusations.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

A Conservative's Strategy.

Apologies to those who have already seen this.

Enter the former Reagan Administration official and former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal and contributing editor to the National Review:

How the World Can Stop Bush

By PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS

What would be the consequences of a US or Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear energy sites?

At the 2006 Perdana Global Peace Forum, Australian medical scientist Dr. Helen Caldicott provided an authoritative analysis of the devastating impact on human life that would result from the radiation release from such an attack.

Dr. Caldicott described the catastrophic deaths that would result from a conventional attack on nuclear facilities and the long-term increase in cancer deaths from the radiation release.

Should the attack be made with nuclear weapons--as some of Bush's criminally insane neoconservative advisers advocate--the populations of many countries would suffer for generations from radioactive particles in air, water, and food chains. Deaths would number in the many millions.

Such an attack justified in the name of "American security" and "American hegemony" would constitute the rawest form of evil the world has ever seen, far surpassing in evil the atrocities of the Nazi and Communist regimes.

Dr. Caldicott detailed the horrible long-term consequences for the Iraqi population from the US military's current use of depleted uranium in explosive ammunition used in Iraq. Caldicott explained that "depleted" does not mean depleted of radiation. She explained that each time such ammunition is used, radioactive particles are released in the air and are absorbed into people's lungs. We are yet to see the horrific civilian casualty rate of the American invasion--or the true casualty rate among US troops.

Dr. Caldicott expressed bewilderment why the rest of the world does not stand up to the US and force a halt to its crimes against humanity.

One man heard her--Vladimir Putin, President of Russia.

On February 10 at the 43rd Munich Security Conference, President Putin told the world's assembled political leaders that the US was trying to establish a "uni-polar world," which he defined as "one single center of power, one single center of force and one single master."

This goal, Putin said, was a "formula for disaster."

"The United States," Putin said, truthfully, "has overstepped its borders in all spheres" and "has imposed itself on other states."

The Russian leader declared: "We see no kind of restraint--a hyper-inflated use of force."

To avoid catastrophe, Putin said a reconsideration of the entire existing architecture of global security was necessary.

Putin's words of truth fell on many deaf ears. US Senator John McCain, America's most idiotic and dangerous "leader" after Bush and Cheney, equated Putin's legitimate criticism of the US with "confrontation."

America's new puppets--the states of central and Eastern Europe and the secretary general of NATO, no longer a treaty for the defense of Europe but a military force enlisted in America's quest for empire--lined up with McCain's argument that Russia was in fundamental conflict "with the core values of Euro-Atlantic democracies."

Even the BBC's defense and security correspondent, Rob Watson, jumped on the American propaganda bandwagon, tagging Putin's speech a revival of the cold war.

No delegate at the security conference stood up to state the obvious fact that it is not Russia that is invading countries under pretexts as false as Hitler's and setting up weapons systems on foreign soil in order to achieve military hegemony.

The reception given to Putin's words made it clear to Russia, China, and every country not bribed, threatened or purchased into participation in America's drive for world hegemony that the US has no interest whatsoever in peace. Intelligent people realize that American claims to be a moral and democratic force are mere pretense behind which hides a policy of military aggression.

The US, Putin said, has gone "from one conflict to another without achieving a fully-fledged solution to any of them."

Putin has repeatedly stressed Russia's peaceful intentions and desire to focus on its economy and to avoid a new arms race. In his speech on the 60th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany, Putin said: "I am convinced that there is no alternative to our friendship and our fraternity. With our closest neighbors and all countries of the world, Russia is prepared to build a kind of relationship which is not only based on lessons of the past but is also directed into a shared future."

In his 2006 state of the nation speech, Putin noted that America's military budget is 25 times larger than Russia's. He compared the Bush Regime to a wolf who eats whom he wants without listening. Putin is being demonized by US propagandists, because he insists upon Russia being a politically and economically independent state.

The Bush Regime has taken the US outside the boundaries of international law and is acting unilaterally, falsely declaring American military aggression to be "defensive" and in the interests of peace. Much of the world realizes the hypocrisy and danger in the Bush Regime's justification of the unbridled use of US military power, but no countries except other nuclear powers can challenge American aggression, and then only at the risk of all life on earth.

The solution is nonmilitary challenge.

The Bush Regime's ability to wage war is dependent upon foreign financing. The Regime's wars are financed with red ink, which means the hundreds of billions of dollars must be borrowed. As American consumers are spending more than they earn on consumption, the money cannot be borrowed from Americans.

The US is totally dependent upon foreigners to finance its budget and trade deficits. By financing these deficits, foreign governments are complicit in the Bush Regime's military aggressions and war crimes. The Bush Regime's two largest lenders are China and Japan. It is ironic that Japan, the only nation to experience nuclear attack by the US, is banker to the Bush Regime as it prepares a possible nuclear attack on Iran.

If the rest of the world would simply stop purchasing US Treasuries, and instead dump their surplus dollars into the foreign exchange market, the Bush Regime would be overwhelmed with economic crisis and unable to wage war. The arrogant hubris associated with the "sole superpower" myth would burst like the bubble it is.

The collapse of the dollar would also end the US government's ability to subvert other countries by purchasing their leaders to do America's will.

The demise of the US dollar is only a question of time. It would save the world from war and devastation if the dollar is brought to its demise before the Bush Regime launches its planned attack on Iran.

Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review.

This editorian was originally published on Counterpunch

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Special Message from a Wombat

Click HERE for an important message from a wombat.



(Sorry, I couldn't get the video upload to take on Blogger.)

Friday, March 02, 2007

Secretary of State Cowardly Rice

What would happen if you called Secretary Rice on her contrasting comments on Iraq both pre-9/11 and post-9/11?

Just as a refresher, on July 29, 2001, Rice said on CNN that, "We are able to keep arms from him. His military forces have not been rebuilt. This [the sanctions regime] has been a successful period..." And here is what she said on CNN on September 8th, 2002 during the gear up to war:

...We do know that he is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon. [lie] We do know that there have been shipments going into Iran, for instance -- into Iraq, for instance, of aluminum tubes that really are only suited to -- high-quality aluminum tools that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs. [lie]

We know that he has the infrastructure [lie], nuclear scientists to make a nuclear weapon. And we know that when the inspectors assessed this after the Gulf War, he was far, far closer to a crude nuclear device than anybody thought, maybe six months from a crude nuclear device.

The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don't what the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.

Without further ado, here is what would happen if a reporter confronted Rice regarding these statements:

Thursday, March 01, 2007

We Face a Vietnam-Style Collapse

From the Guardian via Common Dreams:

An elite team of officers advising the US commander, General David Petraeus, in Baghdad has concluded that they have six months to win the war in Iraq - or face a Vietnam-style collapse in political and public support that could force the military into a hasty retreat.

The officers - combat veterans who are experts in counter-insurgency - are charged with implementing the "new way forward" strategy announced by George Bush on January 10. The plan includes a controversial "surge" of 21,500 additional American troops to establish security in the Iraqi capital and Anbar province.

But the team, known as the "Baghdad brains trust" and ensconced in the heavily fortified Green Zone, is struggling to overcome a range of entrenched problems in what has become a race against time, according to a former senior administration official familiar with their deliberations.

"They know they are operating under a clock. They know they are going to hear a lot more talk in Washington about 'Plan B' by the autumn - meaning withdrawal. They know the next six-month period is their opportunity. And they say it's getting harder every day," he said.

Assessment

Some interesting liguistic revelations have come to light in a recent column by Ray McGovern. The Director of National Intelligence, Michael McConnell addressed the Senate Armed Forces Committee this week. At the hearing, he said,
We assess that Iran seeks to develop a nuclear weapon. The information is incomplete, but we assess that Iran could develop a nuclear weapon early-to-mid-next decade.
Hence the rush to bomb now, considering that Iran offered to fully comply on its nuclear program, recognise Israel, and cease all support for militant groups targeting Israel. But then again, that offer doesn't count because it is embarrassing to the U.S. and because the U.S. brushed the offer aside (then attacked the messenger conveying the offer).

But back to the Director's words. Because it is the government, it is important to know, not so much what they said, but what they think the words they used mean. Take "assess," for example. What does that mean. Here is how it has been defined by the government at the time of their last brilliant "assess"ment:
When we use words such as 'we assess,' we are trying to convey an analytical assessment or judgment. These assessments, which are based on incomplete or at times fragmentary information are not a fact, proof, or knowledge. Some analytical judgments are based directly on collected information; others rest on previous judgments, which serve as building blocks. In either type of judgment, we do not have ‘evidence’ that shows something to be a fact.

So, Iran has a nuclear weapons program, but that there is no "'evidence' that shows [that] to be a fact," and there is no "fact, proof, or knowledge" to show that there is. The total lack of a nuclear weapons program found after 1400 days of IAEA go anywhere, anytime inspections remains the only reliable source of information.

One should really take any U.S. "assessments" with a truckload of salt. Here's a blast from the past: in 1995, the "assessment" was that Iran would have a bomb "within five years."

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

When the word "lie" just won't do.

On the right you will see a picture. It is a dog. I am the King of Spain. I wrote War & Peace. Ridiculous lies, right? How about this one:
“The president said this isn’t the fight we entered in Iraq, but it’s the fight we’re in,” [White House press spokesman Tony] Fratto told reporters Friday. “We went in as a multinational force under U.N. authorization to take military action in Iraq. We were there as an occupying force, and now we’re there at the invitation of the sovereign, elected government of Iraq.”

Those of you with a memory stretching back farther than the last episode of Idol will recall that the U.S. did not go to Iraq with UN approval. In fact, as the Secretary General of the UN pointed out, the invasion of Iraq violated the international law, in part by violating the UN Charter.

Ok, the Niger thing was pretty weak, but still. They gave up the terrorist argument after it was debunked. They relied on people dutifully not bothering to read public records to get them to believe Iraq had a dangerous arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Lame stuff, but still, not literally high school level.

Now we get things like a press conference given by anonymous officials, in which no electronic recording devices were allowed, where they displayed a shell with English printing and a Christian calendar date and we are supposed to believe that this is evidence of a need to strike Iran. But this bold rewriting of history has to be the ultimate. I am left stunned. This gives a new standard to the phrase 'insulting one's intelligence.'

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Mean old Mr. Potter assassination attempt

If you haven't heard yet, the Taliban tried to blow up Cheney. They killed up to 14 people in a bomb blast aimed at the VP.

Democrats proving useless yet again

From TomPaine.com via Common Dreams:
As the Bush administration ratchets up its military threat to Iran, the leadership of the Democratic party is providing a free pass to continue on that potentially disastrous course. Congressional leaders have tacitly or explicitly accepted the necessity of keeping the “military option”—meaning a massive, unprovoked air attack on Iran—“on the table,” as have all three of the leading candidates for the party’s presidential nomination.

The Democratic leadership in Congress has defined the Iran issue only in terms of congressional prerogatives to declare war; none have seen fit to say that threatening Iran with an unprovoked attack is an unacceptable option. Leading Democrats refuse to reject the option of aggressive war against Iran because they have bought into one of the central myths of the U.S. national security elite: that the U.S. must use its unchallenged military dominance to coerce Iran on uranium enrichment.

The three leading candidates in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination have all stated their support for continuing to consider the option of military attack. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., told the AIPAC annual convention at the end of January, “In dealing with this threat ... no option can be taken off the table.” Former senator John Edwards was even more vehement in a speech on Iran last month at the Herzliya Conference in Israel. “To ensure that Iran never gets nuclear weapons, we need to keep all options on the table,” he said, and then repeated the point for emphasis. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., appearing on “60 Minutes” recently, declared, “I think we should keep all options on the table.”



An attack on Iran would be illegal under the UN Charter and the Kellogg-Briand Pact and would violate Article VI of the Constitution of the United States of America. Apparently it is risker to be viewed as weak (though you'd have to be bloodthirsty to see obeying the law as weak, in this case) than to chance being a thug by keeping war crimes "on the table."

Monday, February 26, 2007

US funds terror groups to sow chaos in Iran

From the Sunday Telegraph

America is secretly funding militant ethnic separatist groups in Iran in an attempt to pile pressure on the Islamic regime to give up its nuclear programme.



In a move that reflects Washington's growing concern with the failure of diplomatic initiatives, CIA officials are understood to be helping opposition militias among the numerous ethnic minority groups clustered in Iran's border regions.

The operations are controversial because they involve dealing with movements that resort to terrorist methods in pursuit of their grievances against the Iranian regime...

...Funding for their separatist causes comes directly from the CIA's classified budget but is now "no great secret", according to one former high-ranking CIA official in Washington who spoke anonymously to The Sunday Telegraph.

His claims were backed by Fred Burton, a former US state department counter-terrorism agent, who said: "The latest attacks inside Iran fall in line with US efforts to supply and train Iran's ethnic minorities to destabilise the Iranian regime."

Although Washington officially denies involvement in such activity, Teheran has long claimed to detect the hand of both America and Britain in attacks by guerrilla groups on its internal security forces. Last Monday, Iran publicly hanged a man, Nasrollah Shanbe Zehi, for his involvement in a bomb attack that killed 11 Revolutionary Guards in the city of Zahedan in Sistan-Baluchistan. An unnamed local official told the semi-official Fars news agency that weapons used in the attack were British and US-made...

...John Pike, the head of the influential Global Security think tank in Washington, said: "The activities of the ethnic groups have hotted up over the last two years and it would be a scandal if that was not at least in part the result of CIA activity."

Such a policy is fraught with risk, however. Many of the groups share little common cause with Washington other than their opposition to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose regime they accuse of stepping up repression of minority rights and culture.

The Baluchistan-based Brigade of God group, which last year kidnapped and killed eight Iranian soldiers, is a volatile Sunni organisation that many fear could easily turn against Washington after taking its money...

A row has also broken out in Washington over whether to "unleash" the military wing of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), an Iraq-based Iranian opposition group with a long and bloody history of armed opposition to the Iranian regime.

The group is currently listed by the US state department as terrorist organisation, but Mr Pike said: "A faction in the Defence Department wants to unleash them. They could never overthrow the current Iranian regime but they might cause a lot of damage." ...

Read the full article at the Source.

Hersh: U.S. policy benefitting our enemies?

From The New Yorker:

In the past few months, as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, the Bush Administration, in both its public diplomacy and its covert operations, has significantly shifted its Middle East strategy. The “redirection,” as some inside the White House have called the new strategy, has brought the United States closer to an open confrontation with Iran and, in parts of the region, propelled it into a widening sectarian conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has coöperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.

One contradictory aspect of the new strategy is that, in Iraq, most of the insurgent violence directed at the American military has come from Sunni forces, and not from Shiites. But, from the Administration’s perspective, the most profound—and unintended—strategic consequence of the Iraq war is the empowerment of Iran. Its President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has made defiant pronouncements about the destruction of Israel and his country’s right to pursue its nuclear program, and last week its supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on state television that “realities in the region show that the arrogant front, headed by the U.S. and its allies, will be the principal loser in the region.”

...

...The clandestine operations have been kept secret, in some cases, by leaving the execution or the funding to the Saudis, or by finding other ways to work around the normal congressional appropriations process, current and former officials close to the Administration said.

A senior member of the House Appropriations Committee told me that he had heard about the new strategy, but felt that he and his colleagues had not been adequately briefed. “We haven’t got any of this,” he said. “We ask for anything going on, and they say there’s nothing. And when we ask specific questions they say, ‘We’re going to get back to you.’ It’s so frustrating.”

...

The policy shift has brought Saudi Arabia and Israel into a new strategic embrace, largely because both countries see Iran as an existential threat. They have been involved in direct talks, and the Saudis, who believe that greater stability in Israel and Palestine will give Iran less leverage in the region, have become more involved in Arab-Israeli negotiations.

The new strategy “is a major shift in American policy—it’s a sea change,” a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel said. The Sunni states “were petrified of a Shiite resurgence, and there was growing resentment with our gambling on the moderate Shiites in Iraq,” he said. “We cannot reverse the Shiite gain in Iraq, but we can contain it.”

...

Flynt Leverett, a former Bush Administration National Security Council official, told me that “there is nothing coincidental or ironic” about the new strategy with regard to Iraq. “The Administration is trying to make a case that Iran is more dangerous and more provocative than the Sunni insurgents to American interests in Iraq, when—if you look at the actual casualty numbers—the punishment inflicted on America by the Sunnis is greater by an order of magnitude,” Leverett said. “This is all part of the campaign of provocative steps to increase the pressure on Iran. The idea is that at some point the Iranians will respond and then the Administration will have an open door to strike at them.”

...

Last November, Cheney flew to Saudi Arabia for a surprise meeting with King Abdullah and Bandar. The Times reported that the King warned Cheney that Saudi Arabia would back its fellow-Sunnis in Iraq if the United States were to withdraw. A European intelligence official told me that the meeting also focussed on more general Saudi fears about “the rise of the Shiites.” In response, “The Saudis are starting to use their leverage—money.”

...

The Saudis are driven by their fear that Iran could tilt the balance of power not only in the region but within their own country. Saudi Arabia has a significant Shiite minority in its Eastern Province, a region of major oil fields; sectarian tensions are high in the province. The royal family believes that Iranian operatives, working with local Shiites, have been behind many terrorist attacks inside the kingdom, according to Vali Nasr. “Today, the only army capable of containing Iran”—the Iraqi Army—“has been destroyed by the United States. You’re now dealing with an Iran that could be nuclear-capable and has a standing army of four hundred and fifty thousand soldiers.” (Saudi Arabia has seventy-five thousand troops in its standing army.)

Nasr went on, “The Saudis have considerable financial means, and have deep relations with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis”—Sunni extremists who view Shiites as apostates. “The last time Iran was a threat, the Saudis were able to mobilize the worst kinds of Islamic radicals. Once you get them out of the box, you can’t put them back.”

The Saudi royal family has been, by turns, both a sponsor and a target of Sunni extremists, who object to the corruption and decadence among the family’s myriad princes. The princes are gambling that they will not be overthrown as long as they continue to support religious schools and charities linked to the extremists. The Administration’s new strategy is heavily dependent on this bargain.

Nasr compared the current situation to the period in which Al Qaeda first emerged. In the nineteen-eighties and the early nineties, the Saudi government offered to subsidize the covert American C.I.A. proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Hundreds of young Saudis were sent into the border areas of Pakistan, where they set up religious schools, training bases, and recruiting facilities. Then, as now, many of the operatives who were paid with Saudi money were Salafis. Among them, of course, were Osama bin Laden and his associates, who founded Al Qaeda, in 1988.

This time, the U.S. government consultant told me, Bandar and other Saudis have assured the White House that “they will keep a very close eye on the religious fundamentalists. Their message to us was ‘We’ve created this movement, and we can control it.’ It’s not that we don’t want the Salafis to throw bombs; it’s who they throw them at—Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iran, and at the Syrians, if they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran.”

...

The Bush Administration has publicly pledged the Siniora [in Lebanon] government a billion dollars in aid since last summer. A donors’ conference in Paris, in January, which the U.S. helped organize, yielded pledges of almost eight billion more, including a promise of more than a billion from the Saudis. The American pledge includes more than two hundred million dollars in military aid, and forty million dollars for internal security.

The United States has also given clandestine support to the Siniora government, according to the former senior intelligence official and the U.S. government consultant. “We are in a program to enhance the Sunni capability to resist Shiite influence, and we’re spreading the money around as much as we can,” the former senior intelligence official said. The problem was that such money “always gets in more pockets than you think it will,” he said. “In this process, we’re financing a lot of bad guys with some serious potential unintended consequences. We don’t have the ability to determine and get pay vouchers signed by the people we like and avoid the people we don’t like. It’s a very high-risk venture.”

American, European, and Arab officials I spoke to told me that the Siniora government and its allies had allowed some aid to end up in the hands of emerging Sunni radical groups in northern Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley, and around Palestinian refugee camps in the south. These groups, though small, are seen as a buffer to Hezbollah; at the same time, their ideological ties are with Al Qaeda.

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Alastair Crooke, who spent nearly thirty years in MI6, the British intelligence service, and now works for Conflicts Forum, a think tank in Beirut, told me, “The Lebanese government is opening space for these people to come in. It could be very dangerous.” Crooke said that one Sunni extremist group, Fatah al-Islam, had splintered from its pro-Syrian parent group, Fatah al-Intifada, in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, in northern Lebanon. Its membership at the time was less than two hundred. “I was told that within twenty-four hours they were being offered weapons and money by people presenting themselves as representatives of the Lebanese government’s interests—presumably to take on Hezbollah,” Crooke said.

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Leslie H. Gelb, a past president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said that the Administration’s policy was less pro democracy than “pro American national security. The fact is that it would be terribly dangerous if Hezbollah ran Lebanon.” The fall of the Siniora government would be seen, Gelb said, “as a signal in the Middle East of the decline of the United States and the ascendancy of the terrorism threat. And so any change in the distribution of political power in Lebanon has to be opposed by the United States—and we’re justified in helping any non-Shiite parties resist that change. We should say this publicly, instead of talking about democracy.”

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The Bush Administration’s reliance on clandestine operations that have not been reported to Congress and its dealings with intermediaries with questionable agendas have recalled, for some in Washington, an earlier chapter in history. Two decades ago, the Reagan Administration attempted to fund the Nicaraguan contras illegally, with the help of secret arms sales to Iran. Saudi money was involved in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal, and a few of the players back then—notably Prince Bandar and Elliott Abrams—are involved in today’s dealings.

Iran-Contra was the subject of an informal “lessons learned” discussion two years ago among veterans of the scandal. Abrams led the discussion. One conclusion was that even though the program was eventually exposed, it had been possible to execute it without telling Congress. As to what the experience taught them, in terms of future covert operations, the participants found: “One, you can’t trust our friends. Two, the C.I.A. has got to be totally out of it. Three, you can’t trust the uniformed military, and four, it’s got to be run out of the Vice-President’s office”—a reference to Cheney’s role, the former senior intelligence official said.

I was subsequently told by the two government consultants and the former senior intelligence official that the echoes of Iran-Contra were a factor in Negroponte’s decision to resign from the National Intelligence directorship and accept a sub-Cabinet position of Deputy Secretary of State. (Negroponte declined to comment.)

The former senior intelligence official also told me that Negroponte did not want a repeat of his experience in the Reagan Administration, when he served as Ambassador to Honduras. “Negroponte said, ‘No way. I’m not going down that road again, with the N.S.C. running operations off the books, with no finding.’ ” (In the case of covert C.I.A. operations, the President must issue a written finding and inform Congress.) Negroponte stayed on as Deputy Secretary of State, he added, because “he believes he can influence the government in a positive way.”

The government consultant said that Negroponte shared the White House’s policy goals but “wanted to do it by the book.” The Pentagon consultant also told me that “there was a sense at the senior-ranks level that he wasn’t fully on board with the more adventurous clandestine initiatives.” It was also true, he said, that Negroponte “had problems with this Rube Goldberg policy contraption for fixing the Middle East.”

The Pentagon consultant added that one difficulty, in terms of oversight, was accounting for covert funds. “There are many, many pots of black money, scattered in many places and used all over the world on a variety of missions,” he said. The budgetary chaos in Iraq, where billions of dollars are unaccounted for, has made it a vehicle for such transactions, according to the former senior intelligence official and the retired four-star general.

“This goes back to Iran-Contra,” a former National Security Council aide told me. “And much of what they’re doing is to keep the agency out of it.” He said that Congress was not being briefed on the full extent of the U.S.-Saudi operations. And, he said, “The C.I.A. is asking, ‘What’s going on?’ They’re concerned, because they think it’s amateur hour.”

The issue of oversight is beginning to get more attention from Congress. Last November, the Congressional Research Service issued a report for Congress on what it depicted as the Administration’s blurring of the line between C.I.A. activities and strictly military ones, which do not have the same reporting requirements. And the Senate Intelligence Committee, headed by Senator Jay Rockefeller, has scheduled a hearing for March 8th on Defense Department intelligence activities.

Senator Ron Wyden, of Oregon, a Democrat who is a member of the Intelligence Committee, told me, “The Bush Administration has frequently failed to meet its legal obligation to keep the Intelligence Committee fully and currently informed. Time and again, the answer has been ‘Trust us.’ ” Wyden said, “It is hard for me to trust the Administration.”

Sunday, February 25, 2007

US Generals ‘Will Quit’ If Attack On Iran Ordered

Those anti-American generals! <snicker> From the Sunday Times via Common Dreams:

SOME of America’s most senior military commanders are prepared to resign if the White House orders a military strike against Iran, according to highly placed defence and intelligence sources.

Tension in the Gulf region has raised fears that an attack on Iran is becoming increasingly likely before President George Bush leaves office. The Sunday Times has learnt that up to five generals and admirals are willing to resign rather than approve what they consider would be a reckless attack.

“There are four or five generals and admirals we know of who would resign if Bush ordered an attack on Iran,” a source with close ties to British intelligence said. “There is simply no stomach for it in the Pentagon, and a lot of people question whether such an attack would be effective or even possible.”

A British defence source confirmed that there were deep misgivings inside the Pentagon about a military strike. “All the generals are perfectly clear that they don’t have the military capacity to take Iran on in any meaningful fashion. Nobody wants to do it and it would be a matter of conscience for them.

“There are enough people who feel this would be an error of judgment too far for there to be resignations.”

A generals’ revolt on such a scale would be unprecedented. “American generals usually stay and fight until they get fired,” said a Pentagon source. Robert Gates, the defence secretary, has repeatedly warned against striking Iran and is believed to represent the view of his senior commanders.

US Intelligence on Iran Does Not Stand up

From the Guardian via Common Dreams:

Much of the intelligence on Iran's nuclear facilities provided to UN inspectors by American spy agencies has turned out to be unfounded, according to diplomatic sources in Vienna.

The claims, reminiscent of the intelligence fiasco surrounding the Iraq war, coincided with a sharp increase in international tension as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran was defying a UN security council ultimatum to freeze its nuclear programme.

That report, delivered to the security council by the IAEA director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, sets the stage for a fierce international debate on the imposition of stricter sanctions on Iran, and raises the possibility that the US might resort to military action against Iranian nuclear sites.

At the heart of the debate are accusations, spearheaded by the US, that Iran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons. However, most of the tip-offs about supposed secret weapons sites provided by the CIA and other US intelligence agencies have led to dead ends when investigated by IAEA inspectors, according to informed sources in Vienna.

"Most of it has turned out to be incorrect," said a diplomat at the IAEA with detailed knowledge of the agency's investigations. "They gave us a paper with a list of sites. [The inspectors] did some follow-up, they went to some military sites, but there was no sign of [banned nuclear] activities."

"Now [the inspectors] don't go in blindly. Only if it passes a credibility test."

One particularly contentious issue concerned records of plans to build a nuclear warhead, which the CIA said it found on a stolen laptop computer supplied by an informant inside Iran. In July 2005, US intelligence officials showed printed versions of the material to IAEA officials, who judged it to be sufficiently specific to confront Iran.

Tehran rejected the material as forgeries and there are still reservations about its authenticity in the IAEA, according to officials with knowledge of the internal debate inside the agency.

"First of all, if you have a clandestine programme, you don't put it on laptops which can walk away," one official said. "The data is all in English which may be reasonable for some of the technical matters, but at some point you'd have thought there would be at least some notes in Farsi. So there is some doubt over the provenance of the computer."

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