Friday, August 31, 2007

We've Met The Enemy & It's Our Own Ignorant Fellow Americans

Iraqi-Americans Removed From Flight For Speaking Arabic

The Iraqi-Americans grounded for speaking Arabic on an American Airlines plane.

Two of the six Iraqi-Americans on the American Airlines plane exhibiting "strange behavior."

This story, at this time, strikes me as suspicious. Six years later and an American woman passenger, terrified by the Bush-Cheney renewed fear campaign, is able to ground a plane due to her own irrational fear and ignorance. To believe that this was on the level, you have to accept that after billions have been squandered not securing the homeland from terrorist attacks, the airlines still have no method for assuring the safety of airline travel and will ground a plane overnight, put all of the passengers up at hotels, because one woman was frightened because of Arabic speakers on her plane.

I'd like to know the identity of the woman who reported these men as exhibiting "strange behavior."

At a time when Bush-Cheney are racheting up the fear card again in order to pressure Congrees into supporting the continuation of the war in Iraq (and, according to the latest reports, expand it to Iran), it wouldn't surprise me to learn that the woman who complained was a Republican operative. reports:
An American Airlines flight from San Diego to Chicago was delayed when passengers complained about a group of Iraqi men speaking Arabic, US media reported today.

The flight was supposed to leave about 11pm on Tuesday when a woman boarding the plane complained about the other passengers, airline spokeswoman Mary Francis Fagan said.

The dispute delayed the plane which was then forced to cancel when it fell under the curfew at San Diego airport, Ms Fagan said, acccording to the Daily Herald online.

According to media reports, the woman complained because the men were speaking Arabic.

Irene McCormack, a spokeswoman for the San Diego Unified Port District said the woman expressed concerns to the flight crew before boarding that six men were speaking a foreign language and exhibiting “strange behaviour”.
The passenger continued telling the crew her concerns, within earshot of the men, after the jet taxied from the gate, Ms McCormack said yesterday.

She said the pilot decided to return to the gate and police were called.

An Associated Press report said the six Iraqi men had been training Marines at Camp Pendleton and worked for Defense Training Systems, a unit of International Logistics Services.

The six Iraqis had been training US Marines at Camp Pendleton and worked for Defence Training Systems, a unit of the Alaska-based International Logistics Services Corp, said the company's chief executive R David Stephens.

“They did nothing wrong,” he said.

A company news release called it “an unfortunate situation for all flight passengers.”

"We were hired for this Government. We can prove ourselves. We are good people, not a bad people," said one of the men involved, Dave Alwatan, who is a US citizen.

"How can we be bad if we are helping our people here - American people? Why are we getting treated like that?" he was quoted as saying by ABC7 Chicago.

All 126 passengers had to be acccommodated overnight and put on other flights on Wednesday.

Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Chicago, was upset about the airline's actions.

"It is one thing to flag suspicious behavior, but to flag a global language? We are deplaning people for who they are, not what they do," Mr Rehab said.

Perhaps the way to put an end to the Bush-Cheney fear campaign is for Americans to turn in Arab-speaking passengers on all domestic flights, and report that they are exhibiting "strange behavior."

If enough planes are grounded and travel was brought to a halt, maybe big business would pressure Bush-Cheney that it's time they stopped their nonsensical "war on terror" and get us back to a time of real life in the real world.

Grooving Into Labor Day Weekend

A Conversation with Seymour Hersh

It Will All Fall Down

From Adbusters:
In the pantheon of legendary journalists, Seymour Hersh stands out as a preeminent chronicler of US power. Born in Chicago in 1937, he came to international prominence with a 1969 report on the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. The report on the hundreds of civilians, primarily women and children, who were slaughtered by US troops energized the anti-war movement and won Hersh a Pulitzer Prize. In later years he wrote on Henry Kissinger, JFK, and Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli who was kidnapped by the Mossad in Rome and imprisoned for 18 years in Israel after exposing Israel’s secret nuclear arsenal.

Famous for using high-level inside sources, Hersh’s reports for the New Yorker on the Iraq War have become a must-read for their revelations on the inner workings of the Bush administration. Richard Perle, a leading neoconservative and one of the authors of the Iraq War, called Hersh the “closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist” after he exposed Perle’s involvement in financial dealings designed to profit from the war. Perle lost his position as chair of the influential Defense Policy Board as a result of the report and threatened to sue Hersh for libel but never followed through. In 2005 Hersh reported that the US was conducting covert operations within Iran to locate targets for a possible attack. In 2006, he revealed that the administration was considering a nuclear strike on Iran, and reported that the US had encouraged Israel to plan and execute the war against Lebanon, in which more than a thousand Lebanese civilians were killed. More recently he has written about US and Saudi support for Sunni jihadists in Lebanon. If the aim of journalism is to hold the powerful to account, Hersh is a towering example on how to do just that. He spoke to Adbusters contributing editor Deborah Campbell from his office in Washington, DC.
DC: Your recent article on the stifling of General Taguba’s inquiry into the Abu Ghraib prison scandal [in which Donald Rumsfeld was accused of misleading Congress] was pretty shocking. What was the most surprising revelation for you?

SH: I’ve given up being surprised by these guys. I would guess the bald affrontery of the contempt for Congress. We already know about their contempt for the press. Just going to Congress and misrepresenting what they know. And we all know they do it.

DC: Why do you think the Bush administration keeps getting away with this kind of behavior?

SH: That’s a question you really have to direct at the Congress and at the mainstream press. Maybe we’re just inured. There’s just so much of this. When you have such a lack of, you know, the word that’s never mentioned anymore is morality, and across the board you basically have people that are diminishing values, diminishing the constitution. To me it shows just how fragile the whole society is. These guys come in and we’ve had a collapse of the military, collapse of Congress, collapse of the press, collapse of the federal government. It’s pretty shocking how easily it slips.

DC: With your story on Lebanon about the US and Saudi Arabia supporting Sunni jihadists, including Fatah al-Islam, we then see the Lebanese army start to fight Fatah al-Islam in a refugee camp in Lebanon. What happened there?

SH: Look, I’m not being querulous but it doesn’t matter what I think. What obviously happened is that, assuming I was right, there’s a pattern here. If you go back two decades, when the war against Russia was being fought in Afghanistan, the Saudis convinced us that they could control the Salafis – Osama Bin Laden, etc. – and we overtly and knowingly aided them and it ended up biting our ass. So it’s not illogical to conclude that one of the things that happened is that people we thought we could control, we could not control. So, right now we are helping the Lebanese army fight people that we indirectly helped support. As usual, it’s complete madness.

DC: You met Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon some time ago. Is fear of him and his popularity their reason for supporting Sunni jihadists at this point?

SH: Sure. Of course.

DC: He’s been branded as a terrorist by the West and the media. What was your impression of him?

SH: I think in Europe he is seen much differently. The Germans certainly negotiated with him; the French do. In fact, Hezbollah was invited by the French government to a conference that may or may not take place on the whole Lebanese crisis. I hear it was delayed because of American protests. So basically this is an American point of view. I think the Brits even have a difference of opinion. And I don’t think there’s any question that, whatever he may have done two decades ago, today he’s certainly playing it responsibly, and his response to the crisis most recently has been pretty interesting, supporting the Lebanese army, etc. So his record speaks for itself. He’s also probably the most influential man in the Middle East right now.

DC: More so than [Iranian president] Ahmadinejad?

SH: Oh my God yes. I don’t think there’s any question. All the popularity polls show, particularly after the war against the Israelis, he was number one in the hit parade. I don’t know if this is true, but I think Ahmadinejad even wanted Hezbollah to come visit him publicly in Tehran at one point in the last six months. He wouldn’t do it, maybe for reasons as simple as his own security. But, he’s quite an imposing figure. And he’s somebody that, were we in the real world, we’d be dealing with. But we’re not in the real world here in Washington DC.

DC: Is his popularity contributing to this whole shift now towards a Sunni-Shia split in the Middle East?

SH: That seems to be this administration’s goal, to mobilize the moderate Sunnis such as they are in Egypt, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, to join with the United States, Great Britain and Israel, against the Shia. Pretty amazing stuff.

DC: Whether the Shia be in Iran or Lebanon or Syria.

SH: Well particularly because they’re in Iran, and then if there’s going to be negotiation between Israel and Syria, one of the Israeli hopes will be to wean the Syrians from Nasrallah and Iran, which I don’t think is possible.

DC: Why the shift? Why is this the new front at this point? Is it because we see the Shia coming to power in Iraq?

SH: Probably. I don’t have a chance to ask the president about this stuff, but it seems clear that it has to do with the failure in Iraq and the possibility that they’re going to have a Shia government in Iraq and a Shia government in Iran. From the American point of view and also from the moderate Sunni point of view it’s pretty scary.

DC: It seems that they never did the math and they realized that one person, one vote, was going to mean a Shia win in Iraq.

SH: Well of course they did the math but, I think that they thought they could control it better than it turned out they could.

DC: Is that a theme? That they seem to think that they can control situations and they consistently get out of hand?

SH: Again, it seems like it is, but it’s also very possible that everything that’s happening is also what they want. It could be, basically, the notion of chaos. Kissinger once said about the Iran-Iraq War back two decades ago when they were killing each other: “Let them kill each other.” Let’s help each side kill the other guy. And that may be one of the theories to explain the Sunnis versus Shia. It’s almost impossible to figure out what they’re thinking.

DC: When it comes to Iran, you’ve written about the internal policy battles where it seems that Cheney has been pushing for a more militaristic approach to Iran. Who do you think is winning the policy battles right now?

SH: I’m actually writing more on this eventually. I don’t even think it’s really been a policy battle; I think it’s always been Cheney. Cheney, Cheney, Cheney. It’s very hard to get reliable information on what the president believes and wants to do. I really do not know, other than that Rice speaks for herself. I’ve always been skeptical of her influence. But nobody really knows. This is the most submerged, hidden, unrealized government we’ve ever had.

DC: Given that you’ve been following US governments since basically Vietnam, how does this administration’s foreign policy compare?

SH: Well, it’s a joke. Look, even in Vietnam, in the worst days, you always had Kissinger. I never thought I’d say it, but if we had a Kissinger around, we at least could be reasonably sure that what seems to be an insane policy would have some protocol to fill. At one point, I remember Kissinger in the early 70s trying to strike a deal to buy, I think, 12 years worth of oil from the Shah of Iran at a bargain price, ten or 12 bucks a barrel, and that would have explained some of the huge arms deals that were going into this failing state. It was inexplicable except there was a side deal. So you always thought, okay, maybe you can’t always see it. So if Kissinger were here, this insanity we’re seeing right now concerning the war in Iraq might be tied to the argument that maybe it’s hiding some complicated form that we just can’t figure out. But without a guy like Kissinger, what you see is what you got.

DC: But you have to wonder if there is some underlying logic. You touched on the chaos model. Iraq appears to be a disaster for US foreign policy but it may not be to people on the inside. You’ve basically inoculated Iraq; you’re close to Iran; you’ve got a big embassy going up; a permanent base in the Middle East; you’re selling arms by the billions.

SH: I don’t buy that. You could argue that the Israelis can move their anti-missile weapons from the borders in Iraq to other borders. But nah, it’s a disaster. Of course they had planned to grab the oil, and they are building a new facility in the Green Zone. And they are probably building at least one base about which we don’t know much. Apparently there is a lot of concrete being poured on the ground somewhere near the border with Iran. They are thinking about permanent bases. It was all part of the strategic plan, but they’re not going to be able to hold any of it. The end will be pretty brutal. In the end the embassy will crumble. It will all fall down. The chaos theory, in broad terms, is simply to let it all go up in smoke. But I don’t believe there is any way that this can work out in a way that makes sense. Even for the Straussian believers in controlled destruction. But again, it could be right. We don’t get much straight talk from this president. One of the American enemies down the line will always be the Saudis. We know they’ve played games, they’ve financed a lot of Salafi groups around the world. And the idea that Saudi Arabia is a moderate state, that Jordan is a moderate state when Abdullah II is holding on by the skin of his teeth, or Mubarak in Egypt who is certainly anything but a democrat. All of these countries are pretty marginal. So I just don’t know what’s going to happen.

DC: Now, if we go back to the beginning of your career, and the story you broke on the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, was it easy to get that kind of story into the public eye?

SH: No. Nobody wanted it. I had to set up an independent news agency and sell it as a syndicated news column, and then tell everybody who bought it that we had the copyright, we had lawyered it, we were going to take responsibility for lawsuits. It was horrible. I mean, I had been a major writer, I’d been with the AP and upi, been a press secretary for a guy who ran for president, had written for a lot of magazines. I knew everybody. Yet I got that story and nobody wanted to touch it. But once we syndicated it and any newspaper who ran it could put a copyright and say, well, somebody else is responsible, then they ran it. But that was pretty horrible. I think we sent it to fifty papers over telex collect – that was the way you did it back then before email – and I think 35 or 36 ran it, most of them as the lead story. So the institution isn’t totally dead. It’s in trouble, but it’s not totally dead.

DC: How do you see the media environment changing since that point?

SH: That’s a big question. Basically, it’s a little shocking to me that the mainstream press has so completely missed the story of this war in Iraq and this presidency. I think when we look back on this era we’re going to be very critical of the press. They really missed one of the great moral issues of our time, just as they missed Vietnam for many years. So it’s really pretty sad.

DC: Where do you see some good journalism happening right now?

SH: Dana Priest in the Washington Post did some good stuff. There’s a kid named Nir Rosen who does some good stuff and has spent a lot of time out there. There are a lot of good journalists out there doing stuff, not all of them necessarily where we can see it. My old newspaper, the New York Times, is basically a huge disappointment to me, not only because of Judith Miller but because they continue to flack for the war. And that’s sort of depressing. After all those years I spent there I am a little astonished that they haven’t figured out a way to be more critical of Bush.

DC: Can you talk at all about what you’re doing right now?

SH: No. Why would I? I’m doing the same thing I’ve been doing since this war began. I haven’t written another story since 9/11. I hate it.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

How Did Roll Call Get The Larry Craig Story?

Now that the two week long coverage of Michael Vick has ended, I guess this Larry Craig story will continue until he resigns from the U.S. Senate. My guess is that will happen when the White House no longer needs the media diverted from the ramped up re-surge in Iraq, and for the coming escalation of the war to include Iran (second week in September, or so I'm hearing).

We on the left are our own worst enemies.

Why isn't anybody asking how a U.S. senator gets arrested on June 11th, pleads out on August 8th, and the public only learns about it (from Roll Call, not the Idahoan, which had deep-sixed their own piece on Craig) on August 28th. The day after Alberto Gonzales, the most corrupt Attorney General since Ed Meese, steps down after months of revelations as to the crimes committed by him and this White House? That story was guaranteed to focus much needed attention on the criminal doings of the Bush administration, and yet remarkably the media's attention gets diverted again, by another Republican sex scandal.

Idaho is a solid red state. It's of no gain for Democrats. Yeah, Craig and Republicans are hypocrites, but what else is new? This isn't going to change any red staters' minds. It will reinforce for homophobes just how tawdry and disgusting they think homosexuality is, and it will reinforce for civil libertarians what a waste of public resources sting operations are.

For Chrissakes, if somebody's foot brushes against yours under a public restroom stall, 'man-up' and say, "I'm not interested, move your Goddamned foot!"

Rightwingers' chutzpah knows no bounds - talk about a 'nanny society.' Rightwingers seem to have only two responses to their homophobia: They either go into macho, 'Matthew Shepherd'-hyperdrive, or they insist that the police hold their hands and lock up pathetic men (tragic really) like Larry Craig.

This is a diversionary story, and not worth the time being given it, but count on liberal blogs to take the bait, too. This is why I say that we are our own worst enemies. We buy into stories like this, too, and listen to old video tapes of Craig (and current police audio tapes) with glee.

How did Roll Call get this story? Because that's what we should be asking.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Bush Wants $50 Billion More for Iraq War

Planned Request Signals Confidence That Congress Won't Prevail on Pullout

At the Washington Post, Thomas E. Ricks writes:
President Bush plans to ask Congress next month for up to $50 billion in additional funding for the war in Iraq, a White House official said yesterday, a move that appears to reflect increasing administration confidence that it can fend off congressional calls for a rapid drawdown of U.S. forces.

The request -- which would come on top of about $460 billion in the fiscal 2008 defense budget and $147 billion in a pending supplemental bill to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq -- is expected to be announced after congressional hearings scheduled for mid-September featuring the two top U.S. officials in Iraq. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker will assess the state of the war and the effect of the new strategy the U.S. military has pursued this year.

The request is being prepared now in the belief that Congress will be unlikely to balk so soon after hearing the two officials argue that there are promising developments in Iraq but that they need more time to solidify the progress they have made, a congressional aide said.
Or perhaps the leak by aides is another in a long line of psyops by the Bush administration that uses his cocky, self-confident presumptions as a tactic to discourage opponents from believing they have a chance in hell of prevailing. It's the same tactic we've seen Bush-Cheney camp employ since they first came on the national scene in 2000.

Going into the post-election days of Florida, James Baker crafted the strategy to revolve around a presumption that Al Gore was somehow trying to steal the election from Bush because more of the ballots for Bush had been counted. Baker's strategy was to prevent any more examination or counting of Florida's ballots, run out the time on the clock for when the already counted ballots had to be certified and do a victory dance around the end zone.

The leak to the media is just such another presumption to keep a cocky, arrogant and failed policy continuing in Iraq:
Most of the additional funding in a revised supplemental bill would pay for the current counteroffensive in Iraq, which has expanded the U.S. force there by about 28,000 troops, to about 160,000. The cost of the buildup was not included in the proposed 2008 budget because Pentagon officials said they did not know how long the troop increase would last. The decision to seek about $50 billion more appears to reflect the view in the administration that the counteroffensive will last into the spring of 2008 and will not be shortened by Congress.

Some consideration is being given to trimming the new request by a few billion dollars, the White House official said. But, he added, "this is pretty close to a done deal." Almost all the spending is relatively noncontroversial, he added, with the vast majority of it necessary just to keep the U.S. military operating in Iraq. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to reporters, said that the supplemental requests are likely to be "rolled together" and considered as one package.

The revised supplemental would total about $200 billion, indicating that the cost of the war in Iraq now exceeds $3 billion a week. The bill also covers the far smaller costs of the war in Afghanistan. The Pentagon said recently that the cost of the Iraq war has surpassed $330 billion, while the war in Afghanistan has cost $78 billion.

"We have said previously that after General Petraeus reports, we will be evaluating what adjustments may need to be made to our pending [fiscal 2008] supplemental request, which was sent up in February with the rest of the budget," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said last night. "I'm going to decline to speculate on this, as General Petraeus has not testified. Nor have any decisions been made at this stage about whether, when or what specific changes could be made."

A House Appropriations Committee aide said that an additional White House spending request has been anticipated but that it was expected to be far smaller, perhaps about $30 billion. "We haven't seen the details, but we'll give it the scrutiny it deserves," said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). "It's long past time for giving blank checks to the administration."

Despite widespread media anticipation of next month's Iraq hearings, Pentagon insiders say they do not expect them to result in any major changes in military strategy. The sessions are expected to occur the week of Sept. 10, with Petraeus and Crocker appearing before a total of four committees in the House and Senate.

"I don't see any surprises" coming out of the hearings, said an officer on the staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He said he expects Petraeus and Crocker to focus on tactical security gains in and around Baghdad in recent months and on shifts in tribal allegiances in favor of U.S. forces, and to argue that those improvements may open a window for greater political reconciliation in Iraq over the next six or seven months.

In any event, this officer said, he expects the current counteroffensive to be maintained into next April. "The surge was designed to last for a year," he said. "I don't think they'll change that."

In a speech yesterday to the convention of the American Legion in Reno, Nev., Bush gave an optimistic assessment of recent events in the war, now in its fifth year. "There are unmistakable signs that our strategy is achieving the objectives we set out," he said. "The momentum is now on our side."

The headline in the Washington Post should have read, "Bush's Next Surge, 'The Money Splurge': Throwing Good Money After Bad"?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Where There's Smoke AND Fire . . . .

. . . . Can Karl Rove Be Far Behind?

Senator Larry Craig (R.-ID) Arrested In Minnesota Airport

Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) was arrested in June at a Minnesota airport by a plainclothes police officer investigating lewd conduct complaints in a men's public restroom, according to an arrest report obtained by Roll Call Monday afternoon.
Craig's arrest occurred just after noon on June 11 at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. On Aug. 8, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct in the Hennepin County District Court. He paid more than $500 in fines and fees, and a 10-day jail sentence was stayed. He also was given one year of probation with the court that began on Aug. 8.
A spokesman for Craig described the incident as a "he said/he said misunderstanding," and said the office would release a fuller statement later Monday afternoon.

After he was arrested, Craig, who is married, was taken to the Airport Police Operations Center to be interviewed about the lewd conduct incident, according to the police report. At one point during the interview, Craig handed the plainclothes sergeant who arrested him a business card that identified him as a U.S. Senator and said, "What do you think about that?" the report states.

Craig was detained for approximately 45 minutes, interviewed, photographed, fingerprinted and released, and police prepared a formal complaint for interference with privacy and disorderly conduct.

According to the incident report, Sgt. Dave Karsnia was working as a plainclothes officer on June 11 investigating civilian complaints regarding sexual activity in the men’s public restroom in which Craig was arrested.

Airport police previously had made numerous arrests in the men’s restroom of the Northstar Crossing in the Lindbergh Terminal in connection with sexual activity.

Karsnia entered the bathroom at noon that day and about 13 minutes after taking a seat in a stall, he stated he could see “an older white male with grey hair standing outside my stall.”

The man, who lingered in front of the stall for two minutes, was later identified as Craig.

“I could see Craig look through the crack in the door from his position. Craig would look down at his hands, ‘fidget’ with his fingers, and then look through the crack into my stall again. Craig would repeat this cycle for about two minutes,” the report states.

Craig then entered the stall next to Karsnia’s and placed his roller bag against the front of the stall door.

“My experience has shown that individuals engaging in lewd conduct use their bags to block the view from the front of their stall,” Karsnia stated in his report. “From my seated position, I could observe the shoes and ankles of Craig seated to the left of me.”

Craig was wearing dress pants with black dress shoes.

“At 1216 hours, Craig tapped his right foot. I recognized this as a signal used by persons wishing to engage in lewd conduct. Craig tapped his toes several times and moves his foot closer to my foot. I moved my foot up and down slowly. While this was occurring, the male in the stall to my right was still present. I could hear several unknown persons in the restroom that appeared to use the restroom for its intended use. The presence of others did not seem to deter Craig as he moved his right foot so that it touched the side of my left foot which was within my stall area,” the report states.

Craig then proceeded to swipe his hand under the stall divider several times, and Karsnia noted in his report that “I could ... see Craig had a gold ring on his ring finger as his hand was on my side of the stall divider.”

Karsnia then held his police identification down by the floor so that Craig could see it.

“With my left hand near the floor, I pointed towards the exit. Craig responded, ‘No!’ I again pointed towards the exit. Craig exited the stall with his roller bags without flushing the toilet. ... Craig said he would not go. I told Craig that he was under arrest, he had to go, and that I didn’t want to make a scene. Craig then left the restroom.”

In a recorded interview after his arrest, Craig “either disagreed with me or ‘didn’t recall’ the events as they happened,” the report states.

Craig stated “that he has a wide stance when going to the bathroom and that his foot may have touched mine,” the report states. Craig also told the arresting officer that he reached down with his right hand to pick up a piece of paper that was on the floor.

“It should be noted that there was not a piece of paper on the bathroom floor, nor did Craig pick up a piece of paper,” the arresting officer said in the report.

On Aug. 8, the day he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in the Minnesota court, Craig appeared via satellite at a ceremony that took place in Idaho in which former Idaho federal Judge Randy Smith was invested into his new position as a judge on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

If this is how men are getting arrested in Minnesota for public lewdity, I think it's bullshit.

But what I want to know is how does a U.S. Senator get arrested in June, plead guilty on August 8th, and the public doesn't hear about it until August 27th?

On a day (and probably the rest of a week) when the news cycles would have been filled with "Gonzales Resigns; What's Bush Going To Do Now?", it's going to be 24/7 of "Larry Craig: Is He Or Isn't He?" stories.

Last week, speculation abounded about Karl Rove's departure from the White House, and what it would mean for Republicans in the 2008 without Karl Rove running Republican dirty tricks campaigns from the White House. I think we now see that a Karl Rove outside of the public eye is a worse nightmare.

From Mike Rogers at during the Mark Foley-House Page program scandal last year:
I have called on Senator Larry Craig to end his years of hypocrisy by leveling with Idahoans about who he really is. I am also calling upon several prominent Idaho social conservative leaders to ask them how they square their anti-gay positions with their support for this leader.

I have done extensive research into this case, including trips to the Pacific Northwest to meet with men who have say they have physical relations with the Senator. I have also met with a man here in Washington, D.C., who says the same -- and that these incidents occurred in the bathrooms of Union Station. None of these men know each other, or knew that I was talking to others. They all reported similar personal characteristics about the Senator, which lead me to believe, beyond any doubt, that their stories are valid.

Larry Craig being mentioned as possibly connected to Congressional scandals is nothing new. Check out these video clips from 1982 when he preemptively denied his involvement in a Congressional sex and drug scandal. (I love what he says about unmarried people back then and how often do politicians issue preemptive denials based on rumors?):

Why does it matter?

Senator Larry Craig has a long history of supporting anti-gay legislation. He voted no on adding sexual orientation to the definition of hate crimes, and expanding hate crimes to include sexual orientation. He's opposed ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, that would benefit gay and lesbian people by prohibiting job discrimination by sexual orientation. He voted for the Defense of Marriage Act and supports a Constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

Congressman Barney Frank about Larry Craig on Real Time with Bill Maher:

Craig is up for reelection in 2008.

Looks Like Gingrich Has Some 'Splainin' To Do

Into Thin Air - He's still out there. The hunt for bin Laden.

At Newsweek, Evan Thomas writes:

The Americans were getting close. It was early in the winter of 2004-05, and Osama bin Laden and his entourage were holed up in a mountain hideaway along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Suddenly, a sentry, posted several kilometers away, spotted a patrol of U.S. soldiers who seemed to be heading straight for bin Laden's redoubt. The sentry radioed an alert, and word quickly passed among the Qaeda leader's 40-odd bodyguards to prepare to remove "the Sheik," as bin Laden is known to his followers, to a fallback position. As Sheik Said, a senior Egyptian Qaeda operative, later told the story, the anxiety level was so high that the bodyguards were close to using the code word to kill bin Laden and commit suicide. According to Said, bin Laden had decreed that he would never be captured. "If there's a 99 percent risk of the Sheik's being captured, he told his men that they should all die and martyr him as well," Said told Omar Farooqi, a Taliban liaison officer to Al Qaeda who spoke to a NEWSWEEK reporter in Afghanistan.
The secret word was never given. As the Qaeda sentry watched the U.S. troops, the patrol started moving in a different direction. Bin Laden's men later concluded that the soldiers had nearly stumbled on their hideout by accident. (One former U.S. intelligence officer told NEWSWEEK that he was aware of official reporting on this incident.)

And so it has gone for six years. American intelligence officials interviewed by NEWSWEEK ruefully agree that the hunt to find bin Laden has been more a game of chance than good or "actionable" intelligence. Since bin Laden slipped away from Tora Bora in December 2001, U.S. intelligence has never had better than a 50-50 certainty about his whereabouts. "There hasn't been a serious lead on Osama bin Laden since early 2002," says Bruce Riedel, who recently retired as a South Asia expert at the CIA. "What we're doing now is shooting in the dark in outer space. The chances of hitting anything are zero."

How can that be? With all its spy satellites and aerial drones, killer commandos and millions in reward money, why can't the world's greatest superpower find a middle-aged, possibly ill, religious fanatic with a medieval mind-set? The short answer, sometimes overlooked, is that good, real-time intelligence about the enemy is hard to come by in any war, and manhunts are almost always difficult, especially if the fugitive can vanish into a remote region with a sympathetic population. (Think how long—five years—it took the FBI to track down Eric Rudolph, the Atlanta Olympic bomber, in the wilds of North Carolina.) That said, the U.S. government has made the job harder than necessary. The Iraq War drained resources from the hunt, and some old bureaucratic bugaboos—turf battles and fear of risk—undermined the effort. The United States can't just barge into Pakistan without upsetting, and possible dooming, President Pervez Musharraf, who seems to lurch between trying to appease his enemies and riling them with heavy-handed repression.

The story of the search for the men known to American spies and soldiers as high-value targets one and two (HVT 1 and HVT 2)—Osama bin Laden and his possibly more dangerous No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri—is a frustrating, at times agonizing, tale of missed opportunities, damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't choices, and outright blunders. It has been related to NEWSWEEK by dozens of American, Pakistani and Afghan military and intelligence officials, as well as a few Qaeda sympathizers like Omar Farooqi. Capturing bin Laden "continues to be a huge priority," says Frances Fragos Townsend, President George W. Bush's chief counterterror adviser. It may be true, as Townsend points out, that Qaeda leaders do not have anything like the safe haven they enjoyed in Afghanistan before 9/11. But it is also true that Al Qaeda has been reconstituting itself in the mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and that the terrorist organization is determined to stage more 9/11s, and maybe soon. "We have very strong indicators that Al Qaeda is planning to attack the West and is likely to attack, and we are pretty sure about that," says retired Vice Adm. John Redd, chief of the National Counterterrorism Center, which coordinates all U.S. intelligence in the so-called Global War on Terror (GWOT). Hank Crumpton, who ran the CIA's early hunt for bin Laden in 2001-02 as deputy chief of the agency's counterterrorism center and recently retired as the State Department's coordinator of counterterrorism, says, "It's bad; it's going to come."

Before 9/11, the hunt for bin Laden was marked by a certain tentativeness, an official reluctance to suck America into the dirty business of political assassination or to get U.S. troops killed. Within days after 9/11, President Bush was vowing to capture bin Laden "dead or alive," and Cofer Black, the CIA's counterterror chief at the time, was ordering his troops to bring back bin Laden's head "in a box." (In fact, CIA operatives in Afghanistan requested a box and dry ice, just in case.) With old-fashioned derring-do, CIA case officers, carrying millions of dollars, choppered into Afghanistan to work with tribesmen to drive out Al Qaeda and its Taliban hosts. The CIA's alacrity caused some heartburn at the Pentagon. According to Bob Woodward's "Bush at War," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld steamed impatiently while the military seemed to dither, stymied by weather and fussing with complex backup and rescue arrangements before the brass would commit any troops.

Rumsfeld's foot-stamping was rewarded. By mid-October, CIA case officers and Army, Navy, and Air Force Special Operations units were working together in unusual harmony, using high-tech air support and, at one point, mounting what Rumsfeld gleefully called "the first cavalry charge of the 21st century" to kill, capture or chase away thousands of jihadists. The Taliban fled for the hills. Bin Laden, it seemed, would be cornered. Indeed, on Dec. 15, CIA operatives listening on a captured jihadist radio could hear bin Laden himself say "Forgive me" to his followers, pinned down in their mountain caves near Tora Bora.

As it happened, however, the hunt for bin Laden was unraveling on the very same day. As recalled by Gary Berntsen, the CIA officer in charge of the covert team working with the Northern Alliance, code-named Jawbreaker, the military refused his pleas for 800 Army Rangers to cut off bin Laden's escape. Maj. Gen. Dell Dailey, the Special Ops commander sent out by Central Command, told Berntsen he was doing an "excellent job," but that putting in ground troops might offend America's Afghan allies. "I don't give a damn about offending our allies!" Berntsen yelled, according to his 2005 book, "Jawbreaker." "I only care about eliminating Al Qaeda and delivering bin Laden's head in a box!" (Dailey, now the State Department's counterterror chief, told NEWSWEEK that he did not want to discuss the incident, except to say that Berntsen's story is "unsubstantiated.")

Berntsen went to Crumpton, his boss at the CIA, who described to NEWSWEEK his frantic efforts to appeal to higher authority. Crumpton called CENTCOM's commander, Gen. Tommy Franks. It would take "weeks" to mobilize a force, Franks responded, and the harsh, snowy terrain was too difficult and the odds of getting bin Laden not worth the risk. Frustrated, Crumpton went to the White House and rolled out maps of the Pakistani-Afghan border on a small conference table. President Bush wanted to know if the Pakistanis could sweep up Al Qaeda on the other side. "No, sir," Crumpton responded. (Vice President Dick Cheney did not say a word, Crumpton recalled.) The meeting was inconclusive. Franks, who declined to comment, has written in his memoirs that he decided, along with Rumsfeld, that to send troops into the mountains would risk repeating the mistake of the Soviets, who were trapped and routed by jihadist guerrilla fighters in the 1980s (helped out, it should be recalled, with Stinger missiles provided by the CIA).

To catch bin Laden, the CIA was left to lean on local tribesmen, a slender reed. NEWSWEEK recently interviewed two of the three tribal chiefs involved in the operation, Hajji Zahir and Hajji Zaman. They claimed that the CIA overly relied on the third chieftain, Hazrat Ali—and that Ali was paid off (to the tune of $6 million) by Al Qaeda to let bin Laden slip away. Ali could not be reached for comment. But Crumpton, who admits that he has no hard evidence, told NEWSWEEK he is "confident" that a payoff allowed Al Qaeda to escape. Unsure which side would win, some tribesmen apparently hedged by taking money from both sides.

Bin Laden was not so much seeking refuge as coming home when he disappeared into the jagged peaks along the frontier of northwest Pakistan. He had always liked hunting and horseback riding in the mountains, and had even built himself a crude swimming pool with a spectacular view near Tora Bora. Though a wealthy Saudi, bin Laden had long since learned to live close to the ground, abjuring his followers to learn to survive without modern comforts like plumbing or air conditioning.

Local Pashtun tribesmen were not about to turn bin Laden in for a reward, even a $25 million one. The strictly observed custom of defending guests, part of an ancient honor code called Pashtunwali, insulated Al Qaeda. The Pakistan central government could do little to crack this social system. The wilds of the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) have been virtually ungovernable for centuries. The British Raj failed, and the Pakistan government never tried very hard, leaving administration up to federally appointed tribal agents and law enforcement in the hands of a local constabulary of dubious loyalty. In the 1980s, during the insurrection against Soviet rule in Afghanistan, the tribal agencies were a kind of staging area for jihadists like bin Laden. Saudi money built hundreds of madrassas—fundamentalist schools that radicalized local youth—and Pakistani intelligence (the ISI) formed alliances with the jihadists to subvert the Soviet-backed Afghan regime.

The American effort to chase bin Laden into this forbidding realm was hobbled and clumsy from the start. While the terrain required deep local knowledge and small units, career officers in the U.S. military have long been wary of the Special Operations Forces best suited to the task. In the view of the regular military, such "snake eaters" have tended to be troublesome, resistant to spit-and-polish discipline and rulebooks. Rather than send the snake eaters to poke around mountain caves and mud-walled compounds, the U.S. military wanted to fight on a grander stage, where it could show off its mobility and firepower. To the civilian bosses at the Pentagon and the eager-to-please top brass, Iraq was a much better target. By invading Iraq, the United States would give the Islamists—and the wider world—an unforgettable lesson in American power. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was on Rumsfeld's Defense Policy Board and, at the time, a close confidant of the SecDef. In November 2001, Gingrich told a NEWSWEEK reporter, "There's a feeling we've got to do something that counts—and bombing caves is not something that counts."

Not four weeks ago, Gingrich said:

"The Bush administration is waging a 'phony war' on terrorism, warning that the country is losing ground against the kind of Islamic radicals who attacked the country on Sept. 11, 2001."

"A more effective approach," said Gingrich, "would begin with a national energy strategy aimed at weaning the country from its reliance on imported oil and some of the regimes that petro-dollars support. None of you should believe we are winning this war. There is no evidence that we are winning this war," the ex-Georgian told a group of about 300 students attending a conference for collegiate conservatives.

He reserved his most pointed criticism for the administration's handling of the global campaign against terrorist groups.

"We've been engaged in a phony war," said Gingrich. "The only people who have been taking this seriously are the combat military."

His remarks seemed to reflect, in part, the findings of a National Intelligence Estimate made public last month.

In the estimate, the U.S. intelligence community concluded that six years of U.S. efforts to degrade the al-Qaida terrorist group had left the organization constrained but still potent, having "protected or regenerated" the capability to attack the United States in ways that have left the country "in a heightened threat environment."

"We have to take this seriously," said Gingrich.

"We used to be a serious country. When we got attacked at Pearl Harbor, we took on Imperial Japan, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany," he said, referring to World War II.

"We beat all three in less than four years. We're about to enter the seventh year of this phony war against ... [terrorist groups], and we're losing."

Successful approach

Gingrich said he would lay out in a Sept. 10 speech what a successful U.S. approach to this threat would have looked like over the past six years.

"First of all, we have to have a national energy strategy, which basically says to the Saudis, 'We're not going to rely on you,' " he said.

The United States imports about 14 million barrels of oil a day, making up two-thirds of its total consumption.

We've heard very little about Gingrich's role on the Defense Policy Board, but from his latest remarks, it fits with what is unfolding about the war in Iraq, and that it was all about the stealing of oil.

Perhaps someone will question him more thoroughly about this at his September 10th speech.
When Franks refused to send Army Rangers into the mountains at Tora Bora, he was already in the early stages of planning for the next war. By early 2002, new Predators—aerial drones that might have helped the search for bin Laden—were instead being diverted off the assembly line for possible use in Iraq. The military's most elite commando unit, Delta Force, was transferred from Afghanistan to prep for the invasion of Iraq. The Fifth Special Forces Group, including the best Arabic speakers, was sent home to retool for Iraq, replaced by the Seventh Special Forces Group—Spanish speakers with mostly Latin American experience. The most knowledgeable CIA case officers, the ones with tribal contacts, were rotated out. Replacing a fluent Arabic speaker and intellectual, the new CIA station chief in Kabul was a stickler for starting meetings on time (his own watch was always seven minutes fast) but allowed that he had read only one book on Afghanistan. One slightly bitter spook, speaking anonymously to NEWSWEEK to protect his identity, likened the station chief to Captain Queeg in "The Caine Mutiny." (CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano insists "station chiefs go through a rigorous, multistep selection process, designed to get leaders with the right skills in the right places.")

The frustrations of the snake eaters are well illustrated by the recollections of Adam Rice, the operations sergeant of a Special Forces A-Team working out of a safe house near Kandahar in 2002. With his close-cropped orange hair and beard, wearing a yellow Hawaiian shirt around the safe house, Rice was not the sort to shine at inspections at boot camp. But he had lived in Kabul as a child (his father had been a USAID worker) and he had been a Special Forces operator for more than two decades. In July 2002, a CIA case officer told Rice that a figure believed to be Mullah Omar, the one-eyed chief of the Taliban, had been tracked by aerial drone to a location in the Shahikot Valley, a short flight to the north. The Taliban chief and his entourage would be vulnerable to a helicopter assault, but the Americans had to move quickly.

Rice was not optimistic about getting timely permission. Whenever he and his men moved within five kilometers of the safe house, he says, they had to file a request form known as a 5-W, spelling out the who, what, when, where and why of the mission. Permission from headquarters took hours, and if shooting might be involved, it was often denied. To go beyond five kilometers required a CONOP (for "concept of operations") that was much more elaborate and required approval from two layers in the field, and finally the Joint Special Operations Task Force at Baghram air base near Kabul. To get into a fire fight, the permission of a three-star general was necessary. "That process could take days," Rice recalled to NEWSWEEK. He often typed forms while sitting on a 55-gallon drum his men had cut in half to make a toilet seat. "We'd be typing in 130-degree heat while we're crapping away with bacillary dysentery and sometimes the brass at Kandahar or Baghram would kick back and tell you the spelling was incorrect, that you weren't using the tab to delimit the form correctly."

But Rice made his request anyway. Days passed with no word. The window closed; the target—whether Mullah Omar or not—moved on. Rice blames risk aversion in career officers, whose promotions require spotless ("zero defect") records—no mistakes, no bad luck, no "flaps." The cautious mind-set changed for a time after 9/11, but quickly settled back in. High-tech communication serves to clog, rather than speed the process. With worldwide satellite communications, high-level commanders back at the base or in Washington can second-guess even minor decisions.

In Pakistan, President Musharraf was wary of his American allies in the War on Terror. In 2002, he told a high-ranking British official: "My great concern is that one day the United States is going to desert me. They always desert their friends."

Isn't it curious how this story comes out within a week of Bush's first-ever comparison of the war in Iraq to the war in Vietnam, and his comments about "the terrorists being emboldened by U.S. pullout from Vietnam." It's as if Evan Thomas is allowing himself to be the echo chamber for the Bush administration's Petraeus-Crocker September report supporting more surge and continued involvement in Iraq.
According to this official, who declined to be identified sharing a confidence, Musharraf cited the U.S. pullouts from Vietnam in the 1970s, Lebanon in the 1980s and Somalia in the 1990s. Still, he quickly gave the Americans considerable leeway to operate inside Pakistan. He did not demand prior approval of Predator attacks, and he allowed "hot pursuit" for American forces five kilometers or more inside the border. (With a grim laugh, one U.S. officer interviewed by NEWSWEEK recalled watching on Predator video as insurgents fled across the border and stopped on what they thought was safe terrain—until a U.S. Special Ops helo reared up and blasted them.) Musharraf told the Americans he understood that they would do what they had to do to attack high-value targets, although he indicated the Pakistanis might have to issue pro forma denunciations. His one request, said a U.S. official who dealt directly with the Pakistani leader, was that bin Laden not be captured alive and be brought to trial in Pakistan.

The cooperation has resulted in some high-profile successes. Working with the Pakistani police, the CIA and FBI helped to capture "KSM"—Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Al Qaeda's operations chief and mastermind of the 9/11 attacks—at a house in Quetta, a city near the Afghan border, on March 1, 2003. Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan, a Qaeda communications expert, was picked up in Karachi in 2004 (and released, to the immense frustration of American officials, last week by the Pakistan government without ever having been formally charged with a crime). KSM's successor as chief of operations, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, was seized in May 2005. Qaeda officials who came down out of the mountains to make contact with jihadists risked exposure, especially if they were at all careless about using cell phones that could be tracked.

But the mountains themselves have remained virtually impenetrable. After Al Qaeda twice tried to assassinate Musharraf in 2003, the Pakistani leader decided he had no choice but to go after the jihadists in their lair. Generals blustered about trapping bin Laden between a "hammer" (American forces operating out of Afghanistan) and an "anvil" (the Pakistani military). Pakistani tanks and helicopter gunships began to rumble and roar into the northwestern territories. But despite periodic claims of success, the fighting on the ground went badly. The Pakistani forces had been trained to fight on the plains of Punjab against the Indian Army. They were not well suited for guerrilla war and sustained heavy casualties. More broadly, questions remain about the loyalties of the Frontier Constabulary, the militia responsible for security in the tribal areas. A Western military officer with experience on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border says that FC troops often fail to warn U.S. units of militants crossing over into Afghanistan; in May 2006 one FC soldier even shot and killed an American officer in Pakistan. Musharraf can rightly claim to have purged the ISI of agents with lingering Taliban and Qaeda sympathies, but the Western officer claims that several of those former agents are now unofficially aiding their former charges.

The Iraq War, meanwhile, has proved to be a black hole for the Americans, devouring men and matériel and absorbing the attention of the brass in Washington. In 2005, the CIA gave President Bush a secret slide show on the hunt for bin Laden. The president was taken aback by the small number of CIA case officers posted to Afghanistan and Pakistan. "Is that all there are?" the president asked, according to a former intelligence official, who declined to be identified discussing White House meetings. The CIA had already embarked on a "surge" of sorts, and doubled the number of officers in the field. But many were inexperienced and raw recruits, and they produced little improvement in "actionable" intelligence.

CIA officials at Langley were anxiously watching their flank. At the Pentagon, Rumsfeld, vexed by the CIA's inability to provide actionable intel, had been pushing to get Special Forces into clandestine operations and gathering of human intelligence (HUMINT). Under an "execute order" approved by President Bush in July 2005, the Pentagon identified 350 Qaeda targets globally, including senior leaders, recruiters, financiers and couriers, according to a high-ranking Defense official who, like others quoted anonymously in this story, did not wish to be identified revealing such matters. The CIA naturally resisted this invasion of its turf. Congressmen and ambassadors grumbled that they were being kept in the dark about the military's black ops.

The Defense official claims that "the Horn of Africa has been a fruitful place" for missions. But when it came to going after the top Qaeda leadership along the Pakistan border, the military was still dogged by poor intelligence and risk aversion. These two chronic failings combined to undo what may have been America's best shot at killing or capturing some top Qaeda leaders since the escape at Tora Bora.

In late 2005, the CIA and the Pentagon's Joint Special Operations Command came up with intelligence that gave them "80 percent confidence" that either Zawahiri, bin Laden's longtime sidekick, or another of bin Laden's highest-ranking lieutenants would be attending a meeting in a small compound just inside Pakistan along its northern border with Afghanistan. "This was the best intelligence picture we had ever seen" about a so-called HVT, said a former intelligence official who was involved in the operation. The spooks and Special Operations Forces planned an airborne commando raid that could have been produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. Some 30 U.S. Navy SEALs were to be flown by C-130 transport planes, under cover of darkness, to a spot high above the Afghan side of the Pakistan border, about 30 to 40 miles away from the target. The SEALs would jump from the plane and use parasails—motorized hang gliders—to fly through the night sky, across the mountains, to a secret staging point close to the compound. They would attack the target and capture Zawahiri or whatever other HVTs were on the premises, killing them only if necessary. The SEALs would then spirit their captives away to another staging point, where two CH-53 helicopters awaited to airlift them back to Afghanistan.

The plan was enthusiastically endorsed by the then CIA Director Porter Goss and JSOC Commander Stanley McChrystal, who was a major at the time. But when the Pentagon's civilian leadership, including Rumsfeld and his principal intelligence adviser, Under Secretary Steve Cambone, pored over the plan, they began raising questions. Was the intelligence good enough to justify the risk to U.S. troops and the possible blowback on Musharraf if the mission went bad? "Can't you get the confidence up to 100 percent?" Pentagon officials asked their CIA counterparts, eliciting frustrated eye-rolling in return, according to the former intelligence officer interviewed by NEWSWEEK. According to a former Defense official close to Rumsfeld, a familiar Pentagon planning maxim had already kicked in: the more uncertain the intelligence, the more precautions the military wants to take. The top brass was asking, were two helicopters really sufficient to extract the SEALs? What if one was shot down or had mechanical problems? Images of the failed 1980 Iranian hostage-rescue mission came to mind. Or Rangers fighting their way through Mogadishu to rescue trapped commandos in the 1993 fiasco known as Blackhawk Down. In order to bolster the rescue part of the plan, JSOC proposed sending in teams of Army Rangers to add security. As discussions continued, the size of the Ranger team grew to 150, about five times the size of the initial commando force.

To Rumsfeld, the operations began to seem more and more like an invasion of Pakistan. Musharraf would have to be consulted, or at least informed. But did that mean his unreliable intelligence service, the ISI, would leak the plan to Al Qaeda? The official close to Rumsfeld says that the SecDef became increasingly wary as he weighed potential risk against reward.

But time was of the essence. The C-130s were circling over the border, the SEALs were ready to jump, while Rumsfeld was still deliberating with the top brass. CIA Director Goss went to the Pentagon to implore him to go ahead. At the last minute Rumsfeld called off the raid. "Believe me, if this had been easy and there were certainty, we'd have done this," says the former Rumsfeld adviser. "There just wasn't certainty."

Certainty is painfully hard to achieve in this hunt, despite America's enormous technological edge. American spy satellites, designed for the cold war against the Soviets, don't have antennas sensitive enough to pick up cell-phone or handheld radio transmissions. So Special Ops teams—known as Task Force Orange—have slipped into the tribal areas to plant listening devices on various peaks. The listening posts have been useful, in several cases pinpointing the locations of Qaeda operatives. But the jihadists have adapted, and use codes to disguise the kind of actionable information the hunters need.

The common saying among intelligence and Special Ops officers is that all the thugs have been killed by now—but the smart guys have survived, and become smarter. Predators have scored some hits, including killing Abu Hamza Rabia, another Qaeda operations chief (al-Libbi's successor), in 2005. (To cloak American involvement, the Pakistani government cooked up the story that Rabia had blown himself up experimenting with explosives.) But the jihadists have learned to avoid the drones: it's easier to hear a Predator, which sounds like a loud model airplane, in the Pakistani hill country than in an Iraqi city. And when the Americans shoot and miss, the consequences can be grave. In January 2006, a Predator fired a Hellfire missile at a house in Damadola, Pakistan, where Zawahiri was supposed to be meeting. Once again, the intel was unreliable: Zawahiri was not there, but more than a dozen civilians were killed, and the survivors were enraged.

By 2006, Musharraf was weary. American focus on Afghanistan was fading; the war in the territories was costly in terms of lives and public sentiment; the jihadists were starting to spill into the cities. The president of Pakistan decided to cut his losses, and in September 2006, his local governor signed a peace deal with tribal militants.

Al Qaeda did not hesitate to assert itself. Jihadists paraded brazenly in Waziristan, dragging "criminals" through the streets. American satellite photos soon showed single files of foreign jihadists, their feet sometimes wrapped in plastic bags against the snow, crossing the Pakistani border into Afghanistan. An Algerian man known as "the Bombmaker," a seasoned veteran of Iraq, set up shop to teach jihadists how to build IEDs. Local militants ruled through assassination and intimidation. The experienced Western military official interviewed by NEWSWEEK described how militants killed a petty merchant and his entire family simply for selling watermelons to the local constabulary. "Imagine what they'd do to the guy who sells out Osama," said the officer.

In late 2006 and early 2007, anxious top American policymakers, including Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, traveled to Pakistan to persuade Musharraf to renew his military operations along the frontier. "There is no question the peace agreement failed Pakistan and it failed us," said Townsend, the White House counterterror chief. The Pakistani president was in a difficult position, risking his unpopular and shaky regime if he cracked down on the jihadists and risking it if he didn't. Once more, Sisyphus began to roll the stone up the hill: Musharraf ordered 20,000 soldiers to march into the territories, to reinforce the 80,000 who were already there. But "I don't think the Pakistani military is going to move wholeheartedly against Al Qaeda," a knowledgeable Pakistani military source told NEWSWEEK. "I don't think their hearts are in it." The tough talk by American politicians calling for unilateral action is not helping matters, says retired Pakistani Army Lt. Gen. Talat Masood, a well-regarded moderate. "It's very humiliating for civilians and the military alike," he says. (Mahmud Ali Durrani, Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, insisted that Pakistan is doing more than the United States to attack Al Qaeda. "The threat to us is far greater," he said.)

U.S. Special Operations Forces have had considerable practice by now chasing jihadists in Iraq and Afghanistan. The JSOC headquarters at Baghram is so full of high-tech listening and tracking equipment that it resembles "something out of 'Star Wars'," says a Pentagon official who has seen the place. In recent months, says John Arquilla, a Special Ops expert at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., the U.S. military has achieved a 100-to-1 kill ratio (100 dead guerrillas to every American). But by calling in airstrikes, the Americans also kill a lot of civilians, which breeds more jihadists. And according to Thomas Johnson, also at the Naval Postgraduate School, the military's continued fixation on body counts and kill ratios is irrelevant and even counterproductive. "When you kill a person it's a multiplication factor. It demands that all the male relatives join the fight."

The Americans will not find top Qaeda leaders unless they can win the trust of local tribesmen who may know their whereabouts. Johnson, an Afghan expert, spent last February at Forward Operating Base Salerno near the Pakistan border, briefing commanders on the tribal custom of Pashtunwali. He says only about 5 percent of American troops in Afghanistan ever leave their bases—a statistic, he believes, that explains better than any other why Americans are struggling in the battle for intelligence. He says most soldiers in Afghanistan don't know simple phrases like "stop," "go," or "put your hands up." Americans continually make cultural blunders, like using canine units to search people's homes (dogs are considered unclean in Muslim culture). Meanwhile the Taliban works at winning the trust and confidence of villagers—or intimidating them. "They go into villages and say, 'The Americans have the watches but we have the time. We might not come back in a week or a year, but you bet your britches we'll eventually come back'," says Johnson.

The American military, understandably, puts a high priority on "force protection," but as a practical matter that means staying behind armor and barricades. Rice, the A-Team sergeant stuck in his safe house near Kandahar, recalls that his team's frustration peaked when a memo came down from the brass at Baghram, ordering men not to initiate fire fights and even not to use words like "death" and "destruction" in their CONOPS. Among Rice's men, it became known as the "limp dick memo." (The Defense Department declined to comment specifically on Rice's memories.)

The American military is forever caught in a dilemma. During the early days of the cold war, the old boys who ran the CIA began to reason that when it came to fighting against an underhanded foe in a battle for global survival, the rules of fair play they had learned as schoolboys no longer applied. If the communists fight dirty, we must, too, they rationalized—or freedom would perish. This ends-justifying-the-means rationale led to foolish and ultimately unsuccessful assassination plots and other dirty tricks that disgraced and demoralized the CIA when the agency's so-called Crown Jewels were revealed during Watergate. After 9/11, Bush administration officials, particularly Vice President Cheney, vowed to take the gloves off against Al Qaeda. But in the aftermath of allegations of torture in secret prisons, there has been a strong push back, particularly among administration lawyers disturbed by the abuse of constitutional rights. According to knowledgeable sources, Rumsfeld's deputy for intelligence, Steve Cambone, engaged in an angry debate with the Pentagon's top lawyer, William Haynes, over the activities of U.S. Special Forces—who in the minds of some government lawyers and lawmakers have been given too much, not too little, license to roam.

The frustrations at the top are understandable. There is a certain desperate quality to the hunt for bin Laden. Some experts think he's constantly on the move; others believe he must be holed up somewhere, never using electronics, impossible to detect. After the close call in 2004, says Omar Farooqi, "the Sheik" shrank his security staff and employed only faithful Arabs. A Western military official who has worked both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border told NEWSWEEK that bin Laden may have deployed small groups of bodyguards spread along the frontier with the same "signature": small security detail, secretive, saying little to local villagers, always moving on. That's a perfect disinformation campaign, says the official. The nearby locals start whispering that bin Laden must be nearby. "Word gets around that it must have been him," he says. "We react. It throws us off the trail and makes us waste assets following bad leads. And it's a cheap and easy way to do."

No wonder the intelligence community is reaching out to anyone who can glean even a hint of bin Laden's whereabouts. As early as November 2001, John Shroder, a geographer at the University of Nebraska, found himself addressing an audience of intelligence officials, analyzing the rock formations behind bin Laden in a video released that October. About all he could do was tell the spooks that bin Laden seemed to be in the western part of Afghanistan's Spin Ghar Mountains. "We were grasping at straws," says Michael Scheuer, who was special adviser to the head of the CIA's bin Laden unit at the time. "We called in geologists. We had the Germans bring in ornithologists because they thought they heard a bird chirping on a video and wanted to see if it was particular to certain regions of South Asia." The agency enlisted doctors to look for signs of kidney disease, which bin Laden was rumored to be suffering from at the time. A Dec. 27, 2001, video, nicknamed by analysts "the Gaunt Tape," shows a haggard-looking bin Laden, who seems to be unable to move his left arm. "But the doctors couldn't pinpoint any problems with his health," says Scheuer.

CIA analysts began calling bin Laden "Elvis" because he was here, there, but really nowhere. Some wonder if he's dead. He has not issued a video since the end of 2004, and he has not been heard on an audiotape for more than a year. It is possible he is incapacitated by disease—the rumors of kidney problems persist. There have been reports that bin Laden has sought medication to be used in the terminal stages of kidney disease. But "I don't have any reason to think he's dead," says Townsend, who sees all the intelligence coming to the office of the president. "It's inconceivable to me to think that he would expire and we wouldn't have some information, intelligence, that something had happened to him."

If he is alive, there is no doubt he means to kill as many Americans as possible. "The Sheik's desire is to strike another blow at the palaces of the West," says Sheik Said, the senior Egyptian Qaeda leader. In 2003, Scheuer points out, bin Laden even managed to gain religious sanction from a radical Saudi cleric to kill "no more than 10 million Americans" with a nuclear or biological weapon.

America remains his obsession. NEWSWEEK interviewed Nasser al Bahri, who served as bin Laden's personal bodyguard for six years. Now under very loose house arrest in Yemen, the former bodyguard still reveres "the Sheik." According to al Bahri, bin Laden used to amuse himself by chanting this bit of doggerel, part of a longer poem by a jihadist poet:

I am the enemy of America
Till this life is over and doomsday comes.
It's the root and trunk of destruction,
It's the evil on the branches of trees.

"The only thing that seems to rile him up is mention of America," says al Bahri. "I think from the very beginning of his childhood he hated America. I don't know why. He won't even drink a Pepsi."

Bin Laden's No. 2, Zawahiri, is just as baleful toward the United States. According to various accounts, it was Zawahiri, a well-educated Egyptian doctor, who before 9/11 persuaded bin Laden to turn his terrorist ambitions from the "near enemy" (the corrupt regimes of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt) to the "far enemy" (the United States). Zawahiri may represent more of a threat to the West than bin Laden. By taking himself off the grid, bin Laden may no longer be in operational control; capturing him might be more symbolic than significant. But meanwhile Zawahiri has become more visible. "In the past two years he has put out more than 30 messages," says Rita Katz, director and founder of the SITE Institute, which monitors jihadist Web sites. She notes that within hours of the storming of the Red Mosque by Pakistani forces, Zawahiri's response was uploaded on the Internet. "I believe he's in or near an urban area where he is able to get news and respond to issues quickly," says Katz. "In 2005, you'd still see videos with cheap fabric backdrops that rippled in the wind. Today, they seem to be using better equipment, complete with artificial backgrounds added postproduction." "Al Qaeda may have seventh-century ideas, but they have 21st-century acumen for communications," says Georgetown University terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman. "Al Qaeda has become a world brand and their videos are the juice that fueled that recognition."

The overarching question is whether Al Qaeda has the ability to strike the United States with another "spectacular" along the lines of 9/11, or possibly something worse. When the Qaeda leadership was driven into the hills in 2001, and many of their top operators were killed or captured, the jihadist movement was sustained by local wannabes. They set off bombs and blew up subways and discos from Indonesia to Britain. But they were not very high-tech, and some were klutzes, like the two mokes who last June failed to set off a pair of car bombs in London and then tried, unsuccessfully, to become suicide bombers at the Glasgow airport. (One eventually did die of his burns, but no civilians were injured when their car caught fire but failed to explode.)

When the United States struck Afghanistan in 2001, "there were probably 3,000 core Al Qaeda operatives," says Arquilla of the Naval Postgraduate School. "We killed or captured about 1,000; about 1,000 more ended up in distant parts of the world. And about 1,000 ended up in Waziristan. But the great terror university in Afghanistan is gone; they've relied on the Web since. They haven't had the hands-on instruction and the bonding of the camps. That's resulted in low-skill levels. Their tradecraft is really much poorer."

The danger now, says Arquilla, is that the longer the Iraq War goes on, the more skilled the new generations of jihadists will become. "They're getting re-educated," he says. "The first generation of Al Qaeda came through the [Afghan] camps. The second generation are those who've logged on [to Islamist Web sites]. The next generation will be those who have come through the crucible of Iraq. Eventually, their level of skill is going to be greater than the skill of the original generation."

It is disturbing to recall that when U.S. forces overran Qaeda training grounds, they found scientific documents discussing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. (Zawahiri is reported to have a particular interest in chem-bio.) A true weapon of mass destruction is very hard to come by, and it may be a while before the jihadists can make, steal or buy a nuclear weapon or a germ bomb capable of killing more than a few people. But dirty bombs are less difficult to craft from conventional explosives and radioactive material, the kind that can be found in the waste bins of hospitals. Crumpton recalls that Zawahiri canceled a planned attack to set off a cyanide bomb in the New York City subways in 2003. "We don't know why," says Crumpton, or what became of the team Al Qaeda recruited to stage the attack but apparently never dispatched to the United States. "You think: Why did he call it off? Where are they?"

Intelligence officials in Europe and America have spent a jittery summer seeing signs that Al Qaeda is gearing up to hit the West in some significant way. In his interview with NEWSWEEK, Admiral Redd of the National Counterterrorism Center was guarded about details. But it was clear from his comments that the terror watchers are seeing signs and hearing chatter that have put them on alert. For an attack on Europe? America? "They would like to come west, and they would like to come as far west as they can," is how Redd puts it. The intelligence community lacks specific information about the movements of terrorists, he said. "What we do have, though, is a couple of threads which indicate, you know, some very tactical stuff, and that's what—you know, that's what you're seeing bits and pieces of, and I really can't go much more into it."

Meanwhile, the hunt for bin Laden goes on. Recently, it has gone all the way back to the beginning—to the Tora Bora region. This summer, about 500 jihadists—Taliban and Al Qaeda, increasingly indistinguishable—infiltrated the area. After three American Special Forces soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in early August, the Americans launched a sweep of bin Laden's old hideout, backed by aerial strikes. Last week a NEWSWEEK reporter, led by a guide, hiked up into the mountains to visit the battlefield.

On the way up, they passed small convoys of American Humvees and Afghan National Army Ford Ranger pickups. Along the trail, past a few dozen unmarked Arab graves from the 2001 bombing, they saw bits of shrapnel, corroded bullets and scraps of military detritus, some of it quite old. Leaflets blew around. They warned the locals that American troops would hunt down people who sheltered terrorists. On the leaflets were garish pictures of evil-looking masked men with glaring white eyes; one had the word OSAMA in a red circle with a diagonal slash through it.

The NEWSWEEK reporter and his guide walked past a series of burned-out Soviet tanks, scrawled with triumphalist Arab graffiti, leftovers from the struggle against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. Eventually, they came to bin Laden's old cave complex, just above a gorge known as the Malawa Valley. On a wide ledge was Osama's old swimming pool, dry now, but with its still spectacular view. There had been rumors of sightings of the Sheik and his entourage. But they were just rumors.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Pulling On The Loose Thread

"Even I Question The 'Truth' About 9/11"

From The Independent, Robert Fisk writes:
Each time I lecture abroad on the Middle East, there is always someone in the audience – just one – whom I call the "raver". Apologies here to all the men and women who come to my talks with bright and pertinent questions – often quite humbling ones for me as a journalist – and which show that they understand the Middle East tragedy a lot better than the journalists who report it. But the "raver" is real. He has turned up in corporeal form in Stockholm and in Oxford, in Sao Paulo and in Yerevan, in Cairo, in Los Angeles and, in female form, in Barcelona. No matter the country, there will always be a "raver".

His – or her – question goes like this. Why, if you believe you're a free journalist, don't you report what you really know about 9/11? Why don't you tell the truth – that the Bush administration (or the CIA or Mossad, you name it) blew up the twin towers? Why don't you reveal the secrets behind 9/11? The assumption in each case is that Fisk knows – that Fisk has an absolute concrete, copper-bottomed fact-filled desk containing final proof of what "all the world knows" (that usually is the phrase) – who destroyed the twin towers. Sometimes the "raver" is clearly distressed. One man in Cork screamed his question at me, and then – the moment I suggested that his version of the plot was a bit odd – left the hall, shouting abuse and kicking over chairs.
Usually, I have tried to tell the "truth"; that while there are unanswered questions about 9/11, I am the Middle East correspondent of The Independent, not the conspiracy correspondent; that I have quite enough real plots on my hands in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Iran, the Gulf, etc, to worry about imaginary ones in Manhattan. My final argument – a clincher, in my view – is that the Bush administration has screwed up everything – militarily, politically diplomatically – it has tried to do in the Middle East; so how on earth could it successfully bring off the international crimes against humanity in the United States on 11 September 2001?

Well, I still hold to that view. Any military which can claim – as the Americans did two days ago – that al-Qa'ida is on the run is not capable of carrying out anything on the scale of 9/11. "We disrupted al-Qa'ida, causing them to run," Colonel David Sutherland said of the preposterously code-named "Operation Lightning Hammer" in Iraq's Diyala province. "Their fear of facing our forces proves the terrorists know there is no safe haven for them." And more of the same, all of it untrue.

Within hours, al-Qa'ida attacked Baquba in battalion strength and slaughtered all the local sheikhs who had thrown in their hand with the Americans. It reminds me of Vietnam, the war which George Bush watched from the skies over Texas – which may account for why he this week mixed up the end of the Vietnam war with the genocide in a different country called Cambodia, whose population was eventually rescued by the same Vietnamese whom Mr Bush's more courageous colleagues had been fighting all along.

But – here we go. I am increasingly troubled at the inconsistencies in the official narrative of 9/11. It's not just the obvious non sequiturs: where are the aircraft parts (engines, etc) from the attack on the Pentagon? Why have the officials involved in the United 93 flight (which crashed in Pennsylvania) been muzzled? Why did flight 93's debris spread over miles when it was supposed to have crashed in one piece in a field? Again, I'm not talking about the crazed "research" of David Icke's Alice in Wonderland and the World Trade Center Disaster – which should send any sane man back to reading the telephone directory.

I am talking about scientific issues. If it is true, for example, that kerosene burns at 820C under optimum conditions, how come the steel beams of the twin towers – whose melting point is supposed to be about 1,480C – would snap through at the same time? (They collapsed in 8.1 and 10 seconds.) What about the third tower – the so-called World Trade Centre Building 7 (or the Salmon Brothers Building) – which collapsed in 6.6 seconds in its own footprint at 5.20pm on 11 September? Why did it so neatly fall to the ground when no aircraft had hit it? The American National Institute of Standards and Technology was instructed to analyse the cause of the destruction of all three buildings. They have not yet reported on WTC 7. Two prominent American professors of mechanical engineering – very definitely not in the "raver" bracket – are now legally challenging the terms of reference of this final report on the grounds that it could be "fraudulent or deceptive".

Journalistically, there were many odd things about 9/11. Initial reports of reporters that they heard "explosions" in the towers – which could well have been the beams cracking – are easy to dismiss. Less so the report that the body of a female air crew member was found in a Manhattan street with her hands bound. OK, so let's claim that was just hearsay reporting at the time, just as the CIA's list of Arab suicide-hijackers, which included three men who were – and still are – very much alive and living in the Middle East, was an initial intelligence error.

But what about the weird letter allegedly written by Mohamed Atta, the Egyptian hijacker-murderer with the spooky face, whose "Islamic" advice to his gruesome comrades – released by the CIA – mystified every Muslim friend I know in the Middle East? Atta mentioned his family – which no Muslim, however ill-taught, would be likely to include in such a prayer. He reminds his comrades-in-murder to say the first Muslim prayer of the day and then goes on to quote from it. But no Muslim would need such a reminder – let alone expect the text of the "Fajr" prayer to be included in Atta's letter.

Let me repeat. I am not a conspiracy theorist. Spare me the ravers. Spare me the plots. But like everyone else, I would like to know the full story of 9/11, not least because it was the trigger for the whole lunatic, meretricious "war on terror" which has led us to disaster in Iraq and Afghanistan and in much of the Middle East. Bush's happily departed adviser Karl Rove once said that "we're an empire now – we create our own reality". True? At least tell us. It would stop people kicking over chairs.

Like Fisk, I've got my own list of oddities about 9/11, not the least of which are a couple of things that have gotten little notice or mention.

The collapse of the Saloman Brothers building, aka WTC building 7, reported as collapsed by the BBC some 20 minutes before it actually collapsed. You can see the building clearly over the reporter's left shoulder:

The second anomaly is the order in which the buildings collapsed. I would think that the buildings would have collapsed in the order in which they were hit, but that's not the case.

The first WTC building hit on 9/11, the north tower, was not the first to collapse. It was the south tower, hit about 15 minutes after the north tower, that collapsed first. It collapsed 56 minutes after it was hit, versus the north tower, which collapsed 102 minutes after it had been hit.

All three building collapses looked to me like controlled demolitions, but I'm certainly no expert. What seems curious to me (and has never been addressed at all) is that the collapse of the buildings was said to be due to the jet fuel pouring down the interiors after the planes hit. Yet the building that collapsed first had less of the plane enter the building (and a much bigger gas burn-plume upon impact than the first) and was on fire for half the time that the other building had been burning from so-called interior gasoline. Building 7 had no gasoline poured into its core, and it came down like a controlled demolition, too.

I don't know what the answer is, if 9/11 was an inside job, a conspiracy. I know that the 9/11 Commission was a farce and there can be no getting beyond it all and moving forward until a legitimate, independent investigation takes place. An investigation where the panel isn't handicapped from the beginning as the 9/11 Commission was, agreeing at the inception to only investigate and report on that which its members could agree on, everything else ignored and omitted from the report.

Friday, August 24, 2007

How One Republican Congressman is Spending His Summer Vacation


Americans Against Escalation of the War in Iraq hosted a Town Hall Meeting with Representative Tom Davis (R-VA, and Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform) and Rand Beers (former Counterterrorism Adviser in the Bush administration, 2002-03) on Thursday, August 23, 2007.

Unfortunately, the meeting turned out to be something of a personal platform for the representative of the organization that was hosting the Town Hall (a young veteran of the war in Iraq), who tightly controlled the event, spoke more than anyone else at the event, chose which of the audience's questions the Congressman was asked, and allowed Davis a fast and easy face-off with his constituents (and an even faster getaway).

Videos of the meeting:

Part 1
In this segment: Comments by Sister Marie Lucey, Religious-Associate Director of the Leadership Conference of Women; Bob Petrusak, Progressive Democrats of America, Virginia Chapter, introduces Congressman Tom Davis.

Part 2
In this segment, comments by Congressman Tom Davis.

Part 3
In this segment: Comments by Iraq war veteran John Bruhns.

Part 4
In this segment: Iraq war veteran John Bruhns introduces Rand Beers, former Counterterrorism Adviser in the Bush administration, 2002-03, and Beers speaks.

Part 5
In this segment, John Bruhn reads a question from the audience: "Can you say there is progress, when the surge, designed to create political space, hasn't made any political progress? This is the bloodiest summer since the surge began; this isn't progress." Both Congressman Tom Davis and Rand Beers respond.

Part 6
In this segment, the questioning starts going south, by John Bruhn becoming confused, mixing up an audience member's question and replacing it with one of his own, about U.S. policy in Anbar province of giving amnesty to insurgents and the Pentagon's loss of 190,000 weapons in Iraq. Both Congressman Tom Davis and Rand Beers respond.

Part 7
In this segment, the meeting continues going south with John Bruhns offers a critique of Tom Davis' comments, and then Bruhns gives his own opinion on the question. Bruhns then asks another question from the audience: "How has the cost of the Iraq occupation affected services such as infrastructure, transportation and human services in your district?"

Part 8
In this segment, Bruhns asks this question from someone in the audience: "Every combat brigade in the army and marine corps is committed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Where will units come from if we are attacked again or suffer another catastrophe on American soil?" Congressman Tom Davis and Rand Beers respond.

Part 9
In this segment, Bruhns reads a question from one of the panelists, Bob Petrusak: "Why can't Congress pressure the administration to follow the Iraq Study Group's recommendations and seriously engage Iran and Syria?" Congressman Tom Davis and Rand Beers respond. John Bruhns thanks Tom Davis profusely. Members of the audience express their outrage over Bruhns' control over the Town Hall meeting and over the focus of the discussion about Iraq, and Bruhns' control over which questions were asked of Congressman Davis.

The position of the host group, Americans Against the Escalation of the War in Iraq, is "the safe redeployment of the troops." That should leave room for many different points of view. However, Bruhns (in his comments in part 3) takes options off the table, seemingly leaving only a draft.

Rhetorically, mystifyingly, throughout the meeting Bruhns expresses his failure to understand what's going on and what we're doing in Iraq. And yet, like the Commander-in-Chief whose call to arms he followed into battle, Bruhns stubbornly held to a point of view that allowed no contradiction. Bruhns' influence over the meeting allowed for the continued false and deceptive Bush/neoconservative narrative about the reasons for the invasion and occupation. That limits policy considerations to an American occupation of Iraq without end or "cut and run."