Saturday, September 29, 2007

Republicans & Democrats Collaborate to Triangulate

'Triangulate' the American people right out of government.

Republican Senators Call For End to Iraq War, But Only After Bush Leaves Office

The International Herald Tribune reports:
A small group of Republicans facing election fights next year have rallied around war legislation they think could unite the party: Call for an end to U.S. combat in Iraq, but wait until President George W. Bush is almost out of office.

The majority Democrats deemed the proposal a nonstarter and underscored on Friday the difficulty Congress has in striking a bipartisan compromise about the war. What attracts Democrats has repelled Republicans and vice versa, making it impossible so far to find middle ground.
"I don't support it at all," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "It doesn't do anything."

The proposal, by Republican Sen. George Voinovich, would require that Bush change the mission of U.S. troops from combat to primarily support roles, such as training Iraqi security forces and protecting U.S. infrastructure in Iraq. His legislation would set a goal of completing such a mission transition within 15 months.

If enacted immediately, that timeline would not kick in until Bush's last couple of weeks in office.
Now exactly who is it that's playing politics?
"That's very courageous," Reid quipped when a reporter asked him Friday about the proposal.

Co-sponsors of the bill include Sen. Lamar Alexander, Elizabeth Dole and Norm Coleman, all Republicans. Of the sponsors, only Voinovich is not up for re-election in 2008.

In response to Reid's rejection, a Voinovich spokesman said the senator "will continue to work for a bipartisan, nonpolitical compromise so our nation finally speaks with one voice."

Likewise, Alexander said the country is ready for consensus on the war.

"It is inexcusable for the Senate to keep lecturing Baghdad about being in a political stalemate when we continue to be stuck in our own political stalemate on Iraq," he said in an e-mailed statement Friday.

The Senate is in the midst of wrapping up debate on a $672 billion (€474 billion) defense policy bill that would authorize more than a one-half trillion dollars (€350 billion) in annual defense spending and $150 billion (€106 billion) for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including $23 billion (€16 billion) added for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles.
Every budget request that Bush has sent to Congress has been granted...and then some.

Democrats are afraid that if they refuse to give Bush the money to fund the war, they will be blamed when the troops lose their lives and limbs because they didn't have MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles). But the troops not having MRAPs isn't the fault of Democrats or Congress. Congress has paid for them in past budgets, but they haven't gotten to Iraq. Over four years into this war and the few that have gotten to Iraq go to the private contractors and not the troops. Consider that during WWII, our newly industrialized labor force, where women were pressed into service to reproduce the ships and planes that the Japanese destroyed in Pearl Harbor, completed one B24 bomber every 63 minutes. As a matter of fact, within one decade (of December 7, 1941), Americans rebuilt the Navy's arsenal, won the war in the European and Pacific theaters, and went on to rebuild all of Europe and a good part of Japan and the Phillipines.
The bill, on track to be passed on Monday, also would make it easier for Iraqi refugees to apply for U.S. visas. An amendment by Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy, adopted on Thursday, would provide 5,000 special immigrant visas each year for five years; the new visas would be given to Iraqis who fear retribution because they worked for the U.S. government in Iraq.

Senate Democrats tried to attach legislation ordering an end to combat but repeatedly failed to muster the 60 votes needed to overcome parliamentary hurdles.

Sen. Carl Levin, the Democratic chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he worked closely with Voinovich until late Thursday in the hopes of striking a compromise. Levin wants to set the goal in nine months, but acknowledges he lacks the votes to pass it.

After Voinovich suggested extending the goal to 15 months, Democratic support dissipated, said Levin.

"To try to put this off until after the election, rather than a reasonable period of completion, I believe would be to unnecessarily introduce a political element to what is a bipartisan effort," he said.

Voinovich, Alexander and Coleman have been outspoken critics of Bush's war strategy, citing voter frustration with what they say seems an open-ended military commitment in Iraq. Coleman in particular has become a popular political target by anti-war groups hoping to replace him with a Democratic candidate willing to demand troop withdrawals.

But each of the Republican senators has rejected Democratic legislation that includes a timetable for troop withdrawals, contending they do not want to tie the hands of military generals and a wartime president.
Republicans aren't willing to tie their hands in 9 months, but they are willing to do it in 15-months. This is yet one more verification that this war is a fraud, a scam, and these politicians are as guilty of war crimes as Bush and Cheney are.
While the defense policy bill approves war spending for next year, it does not guarantee it; Bush will have to wait for Congress to pass a separate appropriations bill that transfers money to the military's coffers.

Democratic leaders say the recent passage of a stopgap spending bill that funds the Pentagon at 2007 levels gives the military enough money to keep the war going for a few more months. A spending bill to pay for combat through next September might not be passed until early next year, officials said.
This revelation alone should end the careers of the co-sponsors, Senators Voinovich, Dole, Coleman and Alexander.

This legislation exposes problems for both sides of the aisle. Democrats don't come off looking any better, and brings to mind that old joke alleged to have happened to George Bernard Shaw and a woman he'd encountered at a dinner party.
"Madam," he said, "would you sleep with me for one million pounds?"

The woman replied, "I most certainly would!"

"Would you sleep with me for one pound?" Shaw asked.

"What sort of woman do you take me for?" she answered angrily.

"We've already established that," said Shaw. "Now we're just dickering over the price."
Republicans are willing to let American soldiers die for the sake of their individual careers, Republican party unity and overall loyalty to George W. Bush. Both Republicans and Democrats demonstrate with this legislation that they'd be willing to lie to their constituents and kick the can down the road (again) in order to get reelected. And since this past week's Democratic debate at Dartmouth, the top leading contenders for the Democratic nomination (Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards) have all stated that should one of them become president, the U.S. is in Iraq for (Cheney's) 'long war' - at least through 2013, which was as far down the road as the debate's moderater (Tim Russert) kicked that particular question. The only candidates who pledged to bring the troops out were Dennis Kucinich (within 3 months of his inauguration), Bill Richardson (within one year of his inauguration), Mike Gravel (explains how to do it now, with a Democratically controlled Congress committed to ending the war despite not having 60 votes) and Chris Dodd (one to two brigades a month).

I was about to skip over Joe Biden, as he's neither in the top tier of Democratic candidates nor is he pledging to bring the troops out of Iraq (or ending the war) by 2013, but that isn't how things are done here at The Constant American: "When citizens are fully informed, they share liberals' opinions and voting records."

The Democratic presidential candidates at Wednesday's debate at Dartmouth on getting the troops out of Iraq and ending the war:

Part A

Part B

U.S. Sniper Acquitted of Murder, Convicted of Planting Evidence in Iraq

Killings of Iraqis led to court case.

Spc. Jorge G. Sandoval

The Boston Globe reports:
A military panel acquitted US Army Specialist Jorge G. Sandoval of two counts of murder yesterday, apparently swayed by testimony from fellow Army snipers that two Iraqi men were killed on orders from a higher-ranking soldier.

Sandoval was convicted of a less serious charge of planting detonation wire on one of the bodies to make it look like the victim was an insurgent. As a result, he still could face five years in prison. The seven-member jury deliberated less than two hours in clearing him of all but one charge.

Sandoval, 22, of Laredo, Texas, had faced five charges in the deaths of the two unidentified Iraqi men.
In dramatic testimony during the two-day court-martial, Sandoval's colleagues testified they were following orders when they shot the men during two separate events, on April 27 and May 11. The shootings took place near Iskandariyah, a volatile Sunni-dominated area 30 miles south of Baghdad.

Specialist Alexander Flores, of Hayward, Calif., who was in the same squad as Sandoval on the day of the April killing, testified their platoon leader said the suspect was "our guy" and ordered them to move in, which they interpreted as "take the target out."

The suspect, who wore dark clothing and used a sickle to cut grass in a field, matched the general description Iraqi soldiers had given the Americans of one of two insurgents they had faced earlier in the day, according to testimony.

After the killing, Flores said Staff Sergeant Michael Hensley told him to place the detonation wire on the body and in the man's pocket, which he said he did.

But prosecutors cited an interview with Sandoval immediately after his arrest in which he said he planted the wire.

Outside court, Flores stood by his testimony.

"He was just doing his job, as he was told. It's not his fault," said Flores, who, along with the rest of Sandoval's sniper platoon, greeted him with hugs and well wishes.

In the May shooting, Sergeant Evan Vela said Hensley told him to shoot a man who had stumbled upon their snipers' hideout, although he was not armed and had his hands in the air when he approached the soldiers.

"He [Hensley] asked me if I was ready. I had the pistol out. I heard the word shoot. I don't remember pulling the trigger. It took me a second to realize that the shot came from the pistol in my hand," Vela testified, crying.

Sandoval, who was charged with murder because prosecutors said he did nothing to stop the killing, also was acquitted yesterday of charges he planted the weapon on the second man's body.

Vela of Rigby, Idaho, and Hensley of Candler, N.C., are both charged in the case and will be tried separately.

All three soldiers are part of the 25th Infantry Division at Fort Richardson, Alaska.


Friday, September 28, 2007

Moving The Goal Posts Again . . . .

. . . . Only now, it's the U.S. Congress playing armchair quarterback, trying its hand at "re-doing the war"

And the Iraqi Prime Minister and Vice-President don't like it any better. The Associated Press reports:
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Friday rejected a Senate proposal calling for the decentralization of Iraq's government and giving more control to the country's ethnically divided regions, calling it a "catastrophe."

The measure, whose primary sponsors included presidential hopeful Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., calls for Iraq to be divided into federal regions for the country's Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish communities in a power-sharing agreement similar to Bosnia in the 1990s.

In his first comments since the measure passed Wednesday, al-Maliki strongly rejected the idea, echoing the earlier sentiments of his vice president.
"It is an Iraqi affair dealing with Iraqis," he told The Associated Press while on a return flight to Baghdad after appearing at the U.N. General Assembly in New York. "Iraqis are eager for Iraq's unity. ... Dividing Iraq is a problem and a decision like that would be a catastrophe."

Iraq's constitution lays down a federal system, allowing Shiites in the south and Kurds in the north to set up regions with considerable autonomous powers. But Iraq's turmoil has been fueled by the deep divisions among politicians over the details of how it work, including the division of lucrative oil resources.

Many Shiite and Kurdish leaders are eager to implement the provisions. But the Sunni Arab minority fears being left in an impoverished central zone without resources. Others fear a sectarian split-up would harden the violent divisions among Iraq's fractious ethnic and religious groups.

On Thursday, Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi said decisions about Iraq must remain in the hands of its citizens and the spokesman for the supporters of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr agreed.

"We demand the Iraqi government to stand against such project and to condemn it officially," Liwa Semeism told the AP. "Such a decision does not represent the aspirations of all Iraqi people and it is considered an interference in Iraq's internal affairs."

A spokesman for Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Shiite spiritual leader, dismissed the proposal during Friday prayers in Karbala.

"The division plan is against Iraqi's interests and against peaceful living in one united Iraq," Sheik Abdul Mahdi al Karbalaei told worshippers. "Any neighboring country supporting this project will pay the price of instability in the region."

Al-Maliki said he discussed the role of U.S. troops and private security contractors in the country, stressing that Iraq is a sovereign nation and it should have control over its own security.

Security "is something related to Iraq's sovereignty and its independence and it should not be violated," he said.

Al-Maliki's comments follow a Sept. 16 shooting in central Baghdad that killed 11 Iraqi civilians allegedly at the hands of Blackwater USA guards providing security for U.S. diplomats.

The Moyock, N.C.-based company said its employees were acting in self-defense against an attack by armed insurgents. Iraqi officials and witnesses have said the guards opened fire randomly, killing a woman and an infant along with nine other people, but details have widely diverged.

The Washington Post reported Friday that a preliminary U.S. Embassy report found the shooting involved three Blackwater teams.

It said one was ambushed near a traffic circle and returned fire before fleeing the scene, another was surrounded by Iraqis when it went to the intersection and had to be extracted by the U.S. military and a third came under fire from eight to 10 people in multiple locations.

The report said the three teams had been trying to escort a senior U.S. official who had been visiting a "financial compound" back to the U.S.-protected Green Zone when a car bomb struck about 25 yards outside the entrance. The official was unharmed, it said.

An unidentified State Department official described the report to the newspaper and stressed it was only an initial account.

The New York Times also reported Friday that the shootings occurred as Blackwater was trying to evacuate senior U.S. officials with the United States Agency for International Development after an explosion occurred near the guarded compound where they were meeting.

Participants in the operation said at least one guard continued firing on civilians while colleagues called for the shooting to stop, according to the newspaper's account, which cited American officials who have been briefed on the investigation.

It also said those involved have told U.S. investigators they believed they were firing in response to enemy gunfire but at least one guard also drew a weapon on a colleague who did not stop shooting.

American officials have publicly remained mum on their findings pending the results of a series of investigations.

Also Friday, U.S. Army Spc. Jorge G. Sandoval was acquitted of charges he killed two unarmed Iraqis. He was convicted of a lesser charge of planting evidence on one of the bodies to cover up the crime. Sandoval, 22, of Laredo, Texas, was expected to be sentenced Saturday.

In other violence, 10 civilians were killed and 12 others were wounded Friday in an attack on an apartment complex in a primarily Sunni neighborhood in southern Baghdad. And north of Baghdad, at least six people were killed in a busy cafe late Thursday and people celebrated the end of the dawn-to-dusk fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Australia, meanwhile, said it has taken command of the multinational naval task force guarding Iraq's two oil terminals in southern Iraq for the third time. The job protecting the vital facilities rotates between Australia, Britain and the United States.

Iraq is a sovereign nation. I know this is so, because Bush and everyone in his administration told me so:

“Iraq is a sovereign nation which is conducting its own foreign policy,” Bush said in November, 2006.

“Iraq is a sovereign nation, and we stay because they have asked us to be there,” Condoleezza Rice said in October, 2006.

“It’s a sovereign nation; it’s their system, they make those decisions,” Major General William B. Caldwell IV, the U.S. command’s chief spokesman in Iraq, said in January, 2007.

Did the Iraqis get their fingers all purpley for nothing?

Making More Terrorists, Day by Day, Airstrike by Airstrike

Two Iraqi men look out from a damaged window, from where the body of a civilian was recovered, at an apartment building after a U.S airstrike in the Sihha district in Dora southern Baghdad, Iraq, early Friday, Sept. 28, 2007. Iraqi police and witnesses said U.S. troops backed by helicopter gunships raided an apartment building in a primarily Sunni neighborhood in southern Baghdad on killing at list 10 civilians and wounding 12. The U.S. military said it was checking into the report. (AP Photo/Loay Hameed)

An Iraqi man stands behind a pool of blood outside an apartment building after a U.S. air strike in the Sihha district in Dora southern Baghdad, Iraq, early Friday, Sept. 28, 2007. Iraqi police and witnesses said U.S. troops backed by helicopter gun ships raided an apartment building in a primarily Sunni neighborhood in southern Baghdad on killing at list 10 civilians and wounding 12. The U.S. military said it was checking into the report. (AP Photo/Loay Hameed)

Iraqi women react during a funeral after a U.S airstrike in the Sihha district in Dora southern Baghdad, Iraq, early Friday, Sept. 28, 2007. Iraqi police and witnesses said U.S. troops backed by helicopter gunships raided an apartment building in a primarily Sunni neighborhood in southern Baghdad on killing at list 10 civilians and wounding 12. The U.S. military said it was checking into the report. (AP Photo/Loay Hameed )

Iraqi men stand in front of three coffins during a funeral of victims after a U.S. air strike in the Sihha district in Dora southern Baghdad, Iraq, early Friday, Sept. 28, 2007. Iraqi police and witnesses said U.S. troops backed by helicopter gun ships raided an apartment building in a primarily Sunni neighborhood in southern Baghdad on killing at list 10 civilians and wounding 12. The U.S. military said it was checking into the report. (AP Photo/Loay Hameed )

The International Herald Tribune reports:
Iraqi police and witnesses said U.S. troops backed by helicopter gunships raided an apartment building in a primarily Sunni neighborhood in southern Baghdad on Friday, killing 10 civilians and wounding 12. The U.S. military said it was checking into the report.

An unknown number of people also were detained after the 2 a.m. incident in the Sihha district in Dora where clashes took place between U.S. helicopters and gunmen, said a police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
Shaheed Abdul-Al, a 42-year-old metal worker who lives in the area, said his family was awakened by the sound of helicopters, heavy gunfire and bombing.

"We saw a big spark of light with bombing sounds come from the direction of the (targeted) building," he said. "We were horrified and still awake at sunrise."

Ahmed Salim, a 16-year-old student who lives near the targeted complex, said he saw U.S. military vehicles through his window.

"When the Americans left, I and others rushed to the site where people began to rescue victims," he said. "I saw some injured ones and dead bodies."

In violence north of Baghdad, at least six people were killed when four gunmen with long beards wearing military uniforms barged into a busy cafe late Thursday as people were playing a popular game to celebrate the end of the dawn-to-dusk fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

The men arrived in a Russian-made military vehicle used by the Saddam Hussein-era army and opened fire, shouting, "God is great," according to a provincial police officer who asked that his name not be used for fear of reprisals.

The six killed included three off-duty police officers and eight other people were wounded, the officer said.

The attack occurred in Sadiyah, a town some 95 kilometers (60 miles) north of Baghdad in the volatile Diyala province.

So Much For a Democratic President Getting Us Out of Iraq

The Democratic presidential candidates met to debate. Again. Only this time, the message was clear: "Bush got us into this mess and we Democrats (in Congress or the White House) won't be getting us out":

Part A

Part B

Part C

Part D

Part E

Part F

Part G

Part H

Part I

Part J

Part K

Part L

Part M

Part N

Part O

Part P

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Sniper Describes Killing Captive

Testimony in Court-Martial Describes a Sniper Squad Pressed to Raise Body Count

The New York Times reports:
An Army sniper is taught to kill people “calmly and deliberately,” even when they pose no immediate danger to him. “A sniper,” Army Field Manual 23-10 goes on to state, “must not be susceptible to emotions such as anxiety or remorse.”

But in a crowded military courtroom seemingly stunned into silence on Thursday, Sgt. Evan Vela all but broke down as he described firing two bullets into an unarmed Iraqi man his unit arrested last May.

In anguished, eloquent sentences, Sergeant Vela, a member of an elite sniper scout platoon with the First Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, quietly described how his squad leader, Staff Sgt. Michael A. Hensley, cut off the man’s handcuffs, wrestled him to his feet and ordered Sergeant Vela, standing a few feet away, to fire the 9-millimeter service pistol into the detainee’s head.
“I heard the word ‘Shoot,’” Sergeant Vela recalled. “I don’t remember pulling the trigger,” he said. “I just came through and the guy was dead, and it just took me a second to realize the shot had come from the pistol.”

Then, Sergeant Vela said, as the man, a suspected insurgent, convulsed on the ground, Sergeant Hensley kicked him in the throat and told Sergeant Vela to shoot him again. Sergeant Vela, who is not on trial but faces murder charges in connection with the killing, said he fired a second time.

His testimony on Thursday, in the court-martial of Specialist Jorge G. Sandoval Jr., another sniper who is accused of murder, provided a glimpse into the dark moments of a platoon exhausted, emotionally and physically, by days-long missions in the region south of Baghdad that soldiers call the “triangle of death.” In their testimony, Sergeant Vela and other soldiers described how their teams were pushed beyond limits by battalion commanders eager to raise their kill ratio against a ruthless enemy.

During a separate hearing here in July, Sgt. Anthony G. Murphy said he and other First Battalion snipers felt “an underlying tone” of disappointment from field commanders seeking higher enemy body counts.

“It just kind of felt like, ‘What are you guys doing wrong out there?’” he said at the time.

That attitude among superiors changed earlier this year after Sergeant Hensley, an expert marksman, became a team leader, according to soldiers’ testimony. Though sometimes unorthodox, soldiers said, Sergeant Hensley and other snipers around him began racking up many more kills, pleasing the commanders.

Soldiers also testified that battalion commanders authorized a classified new technique that used fake explosives and detonation wires as “bait” to lure and kill suspected insurgents around Iskandariya, a hostile Sunni Arab region south of Baghdad.

As their superiors sought less restrictive rules of engagement — to legalize the combat killing of anyone who made a soldier “feel threatened,” for example, instead of showing hostile intent or actions — the baiting program, as it was known, succeeded in killing more Iraqis suspected of being terrorists, soldiers testified.

But testimony in proceedings for Sergeant Hensley and, on Thursday, for Specialist Sandoval, both of whom face murder charges in connection with separate killings of Iraqi men last spring, suggest that as the integrity of the battalion’s secret baiting program began to crack, so did Sergeant Hensley.

Only a select group of snipers in the battalion were told of the program, but many more were ordered, without explanation, to carry the baiting items on missions, creating rumors that the items were intended to be planted on victims of unjustified killings, soldiers testified.

Sergeant Hensley, according to several snipers, added to such suspicions when he told a junior member of his team to plant a roll of copper wire — clear contraband — on a suspected insurgent that Specialist Sandoval killed on April 27 after being authorized to shoot by his platoon commander.

On a separate mission two weeks earlier, Sergeant Hensley had killed another Iraqi man he said appeared to be “laying wire” near an irrigation ditch, as the man’s wife and children worked and played nearby.

Then on May 11, Sergeant Vela killed the unarmed man. Afterward, as he testified Thursday, Sergeant Hensley pulled an AK-47, a weapon favored by insurgents, out of his pack and placed it on the body, telling his team that the gun would “say” what happened.

Specialist Sandoval’s court-martial on murder charges began here on Wednesday, and is scheduled to conclude Friday. Sergeant Hensley’s court-martial on murder charges is scheduled to begin here Oct. 22.

An evidentiary hearing for Sergeant Vela, who took the stand on Thursday in the Sandoval court-martial after being granted immunity from incriminating himself in that case, is expected later this year.

Sergeant Murphy has been investigated for a killing of another Iraqi man on April 7. Prosecutors have warned two more battalion members that they are also suspected of committing possible crimes as accomplices in the murder cases.

Struggling to explain why a highly trained Army sniper unit, renowned for its lethal economy of patience and discipline, would bog down under a cloud of murder investigations, some soldiers in interviews faulted commanders for pushing units to keep their kill counts high.

Others pointed toward the outsized influence on the unit by Sergeant Hensley, who, according to other soldiers’ testimony, was dealing with two recent deaths: that of a close friend, killed in a roadside bomb, and also the suicide of his girlfriend back home.

“Staff Sgt. Hensley just continued to drive on,” said Specialist Joshua Lee Michaud, in testimony at the July hearing about the sergeant’s toughness. “Both of them didn’t even faze him.”

A trainer of snipers, Sgt. First Class Terrol Peterson, testified Thursday that the very emotions a sniper must control to do his job properly — anxiety and remorse — sometimes emerge in unexpected and painful ways. “When a sniper breaks, he breaks bad,” Sergeant Peterson said.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

"A Coup Has Occurred"

Daniel Ellsberg, the former Defense Department analyst who leaked the secret Pentagon Papers history of the Vietnam War, offered insights into the looming war with Iran and the loss of liberty in the United States at an American University symposium on Sept. 20.

Daniel Ellsberg, the former Defense Department analyst who leaked the secret Pentagon Papers history of the Vietnam War, offered insights into the looming war with Iran and the loss of liberty in the United States at an American University symposium on Sept. 20.

The following is an edited transcript of Ellsberg’s speech, courtesy of
I think nothing has higher priority than averting an attack on Iran, which I think will be accompanied by a further change in our way of governing here that in effect will convert us into what I would call a police state.

If there’s another 9/11 under this regime … it means that they switch on full extent all the apparatus of a police state that has been patiently constructed, largely secretly at first but eventually leaked out and known and accepted by the Democratic people in Congress, by the Republicans and so forth.

Will there be anything left for NSA to increase its surveillance of us? … They may be to the limit of their technical capability now, or they may not. But if they’re not now they will be after another 9/11.

And I would say after the Iranian retaliation to an American attack on Iran, you will then see an increased attack on Iran – an escalation – which will be also accompanied by a total suppression of dissent in this country, including detention camps.

It’s a little hard for me to distinguish the two contingencies; they could come together. Another 9/11 or an Iranian attack in which Iran’s reaction against Israel, against our shipping, against our troops in Iraq above all, possibly in this country, will justify the full panoply of measures that have been prepared now, legitimized, and to some extent written into law.

This is an unusual gang, even for Republicans. [But] I think that the successors to this regime are not likely to roll back the assault on the Constitution. They will take advantage of it, they will exploit it.

Will Hillary Clinton as president decide to turn off NSA after the last five years of illegal surveillance? Will she deprive her administration her ability to protect United States citizens from possible terrorism by blinding herself and deafening herself to all that NSA can provide? I don’t think so.

Unless this somehow, by a change in our political climate, of a radical change, unless this gets rolled back in the next year or two before a new administration comes in – and there’s no move to do this at this point – unless that happens I don’t see it happening under the next administration, whether Republican or Democratic.

The Next Coup

Let me simplify this and not just to be rhetorical: A coup has occurred. I woke up the other day realizing, coming out of sleep, that a coup has occurred. It’s not just a question that a coup lies ahead with the next 9/11. That’s the next coup, that completes the first.

The last five years have seen a steady assault on every fundamental of our Constitution, … what the rest of the world looked at for the last 200 years as a model and experiment to the rest of the world – in checks and balances, limited government, Bill of Rights, individual rights protected from majority infringement by the Congress, an independent judiciary, the possibility of impeachment.

There have been violations of these principles by many presidents before. Most of the specific things that Bush has done in the way of illegal surveillance and other matters were done under my boss Lyndon Johnson in the Vietnam War: the use of CIA, FBI, NSA against Americans.

I could go through a list going back before this century to Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus in the Civil War, and before that the Alien and Sedition Acts in the 18th century. I think that none of those presidents were in fact what I would call quite precisely the current administration: domestic enemies of the Constitution.

I think that none of these presidents with all their violations, which were impeachable had they been found out at the time and in nearly every case their violations were not found out until they were out of office so we didn’t have the exact challenge that we have today.

That was true with the first term of Nixon and certainly of Johnson, Kennedy and others. They were impeachable, they weren’t found out in time, but I think it was not their intention to in the crisis situations that they felt justified their actions, to change our form of government.

It is increasingly clear with each new book and each new leak that comes out, that Richard Cheney and his now chief of staff David Addington have had precisely that in mind since at least the early 70s. Not just since 1992, not since 2001, but have believed in Executive government, single-branch government under an Executive president – elected or not – with unrestrained powers. They did not believe in restraint.

When I say this I’m not saying they are traitors. I don’t think they have in mind allegiance to some foreign power or have a desire to help a foreign power. I believe they have in their own minds a love of this country and what they think is best for this country – but what they think is best is directly and consciously at odds with what the Founders of this country and Constitution thought.

They believe we need a different kind of government now, an Executive government essentially, rule by decree, which is what we’re getting with signing statements. Signing statements are talked about as line-item vetoes which is one [way] of describing them which are unconstitutional in themselves, but in other ways are just saying the president says “I decide what I enforce. I decide what the law is. I legislate.”

It’s [the same] with the military commissions, courts that are under the entire control of the Executive Branch, essentially of the president. A concentration of legislative, judicial, and executive powers in one branch, which is precisely what the Founders meant to avert, and tried to avert and did avert to the best of their ability in the Constitution.

Founders Had It Right

Now I’m appealing to that as a crisis right now not just because it is a break in tradition but because I believe in my heart and from my experience that on this point the Founders had it right.

It’s not just “our way of doing things” – it was a crucial perception on the corruption of power to anybody including Americans. On procedures and institutions that might possibly keep that power under control because the alternative was what we have just seen, wars like Vietnam, wars like Iraq, wars like the one coming.

That brings me to the second point. This Executive Branch, under specifically Bush and Cheney, despite opposition from most of the rest of the branch, even of the cabinet, clearly intends a war against Iran which even by imperialist standards, standards in other words which were accepted not only by nearly everyone in the Executive Branch but most of the leaders in Congress. The interests of the empire, the need for hegemony, our right to control and our need to control the oil of the Middle East and many other places. That is consensual in our establishment. …

But even by those standards, an attack on Iran is insane. And I say that quietly, I don’t mean it to be heard as rhetoric. Of course it’s not only aggression and a violation of international law, a supreme international crime, but it is by imperial standards, insane in terms of the consequences.

Does that make it impossible? No, it obviously doesn’t, it doesn’t even make it unlikely.

That is because two things come together that with the acceptance for various reasons of the Congress – Democrats and Republicans – and the public and the media, we have freed the White House – the president and the vice president – from virtually any restraint by Congress, courts, media, public, whatever.

And on the other hand, the people who have this unrestrained power are crazy. Not entirely, but they have crazy beliefs.

And the question is what then, what can we do about this? We are heading towards an insane operation. It is not certain. It is likely. … I want to try to be realistic myself here, to encourage us to do what we must do, what is needed to be done with the full recognition of the reality. Nothing is impossible.

What I’m talking about in the way of a police state, in the way of an attack on Iran is not certain. Nothing is certain, actually. However, I think it is probable, more likely than not, that in the next 15, 16 months of this administration we will see an attack on Iran. Probably. Whatever we do.

And … we will not succeed in moving Congress probably, and Congress probably will not stop the president from doing this. And that’s where we’re heading. That’s a very ugly, ugly prospect.

However, I think it’s up to us to work to increase that small perhaps – anyway not large – possibility and probability to avert this within the next 15 months, aside from the effort that we have to make for the rest of our lives.

Restoring the Republic

Getting back the constitutional government and improving it will take a long time. And I think if we don’t get started now, it won’t be started under the next administration.

Getting out of Iraq will take a long time. Averting Iran and averting a further coup in the face of a 9/11, another attack, is for right now, it can’t be put off. It will take a kind of political and moral courage of which we have seen very little…

We have a really unusual concentration here and in this audience, of people who have in fact changed their lives, changed their position, lost their friends to a large extent, risked and experienced being called terrible names, “traitor,” “weak on terrorism” – names that politicians will do anything to avoid being called.

How do we get more people in the government and in the public at large to change their lives now in a crisis in a critical way? How do we get Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid for example? What kinds of pressures, what kinds of influences can be brought to bear to get Congress to do their jobs? It isn’t just doing their jobs. Getting them to obey their oaths of office.

I took an oath many times, an oath of office as a Marine lieutenant, as an official in the Defense Department, as an official in the State Department as a Foreign Service officer. A number of times I took an oath of office which is the same oath office taken by every member of Congress and every official in the United States and every officer in the United States armed services.

And that oath is not to a Commander in Chief, which is not mentioned. It is not to a fuehrer. It is not even to superior officers. The oath is precisely to protect and uphold the Constitution of the United States.

Now that is an oath I violated every day for years in the Defense Department without realizing it when I kept my mouth shut when I knew the public was being lied into a war as they were lied into Iraq, as they are being lied into war in Iran.

I knew that I had the documents that proved it, and I did not put it out then. I was not obeying my oath which I eventually came to do.

I’ve often said that Lt. Ehren Watada – who still faces trial for refusing to obey orders to deploy to Iraq which he correctly perceives to be an unconstitutional and aggressive war – is the single officer in the United States armed services who is taking seriously in upholding his oath.

The president is clearly violating that oath, of course. Everybody under him who understands what is going on and there are myriad, are violating their oaths. And that’s the standard that I think we should be asking of people.

Congressional Courage

On the Democratic side, on the political side, I think we should be demanding of our Democratic leaders in the House and Senate – and frankly of the Republicans – that it is not their highest single absolute priority to be reelected or to maintain a Democratic majority so that Pelosi can still be Speaker of the House and Reid can be in the Senate, or to increase that majority.

I’m not going to say that for politicians they should ignore that, or that they should do something else entirely, or that they should not worry about that.

Of course that will be and should be a major concern of theirs, but they’re acting like it’s their sole concern. Which is business as usual. “We have a majority, let’s not lose it, let’s keep it. Let’s keep those chairmanships.” Exactly what have those chairmanships done for us to save the Constitution in the last couple of years?

I am shocked by the Republicans today that I read in the Washington Post who yesterday threatened a filibuster if we … get back habeas corpus. The ruling out of habeas corpus with the help of the Democrats did not get us back to George the First it got us back to before King John 700 years ago in terms of counter-revolution.

We need some way, and Ann Wright has one way, of sitting in, in Conyers office and getting arrested. Ray McGovern has been getting arrested, pushed out the other day for saying the simple words “swear him in” when it came to testimony.

I think we’ve got to somehow get home to them [in Congress] that this is the time for them to uphold the oath, to preserve the Constitution, which is worth struggling for in part because it’s only with the power that the Constitution gives Congress responding to the public, only with that can we protect the world from mad men in power in the White House who intend an attack on Iran.

And the current generation of American generals and others who realize that this will be a catastrophe have not shown themselves – they might be people who in their past lives risked their bodies and their lives in Vietnam or elsewhere, like [Colin] Powell, and would not risk their career or their relation with the president to the slightest degree.

That has to change. And it’s the example of people like those up here who somehow brought home to our representatives that they as humans and as citizens have the power to do likewise and find in themselves the courage to protect this country and protect the world. Thank you.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

U.S. Snipers Accused of 'Baiting' Iraqis

A U.S. soldier holds his sniper position on a rooftop in a Shiite enclave of Sadr City in Baghdad, Iraq, in this April file photo. Army snipers hunting insurgents in Iraq were under orders to "bait" their targets with suspicious materials, such as detonation cords, and then kill whoever picked up the items, according to the defense attorney for a soldier accused of planting evidence on an Iraqi he killed. (AP photo)

The New York Times reports:
Under a program developed by a Defense Department warfare unit, Army snipers have begun using a new method to kill Iraqis suspected of being insurgents, using fake weapons and bomb-making material as bait and then killing anyone who picks them up, according to testimony presented in a military court.
The existence of the classified “baiting program,” as it has come to be known, was disclosed as part of defense lawyers’ efforts to respond to murder charges the Army pressed this summer against three members of a Ranger sniper team. Each soldier is accused of killing an unarmed Iraqi in three separate shootings between April and June near Iskandariya, and with planting “drop weapons” like detonation wires or other incriminating evidence on the bodies of the victims.

In sworn statements, soldiers testifying for the defense have said the sniper team was employing a “baiting program” developed at the Pentagon by the Asymmetrical Warfare Group, which met with Ranger sniper teams in Iraq in January and gave equipment to them.

The Washington Post described the baiting program on Monday.

An Army spokesman, Paul Boyce, said Monday that the Army did not publicly discuss specific methods for “targeting enemy combatants,” and that no classified program authorized the use of “drop weapons” to make a killing appear justified. Army officers involved in evidentiary hearings in Baghdad in July did not dispute the existence or use of a baiting program.

The court-martial of one accused soldier, Specialist Jorge G. Sandoval Jr., is scheduled to begin in Baghdad on Wednesday. The two other soldiers facing premeditated murder charges are Staff Sgt. Michael A. Hensley, the sniper team squad leader, and Sgt. Evan Vela. All three are part of the headquarters of the First Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, Fourth Brigade (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, based at Fort Richardson, Alaska.

None of the soldiers deny that they killed the three Iraqis they are charged with murdering. Through their lawyers and in court documents, the soldiers say the killings were legal and authorized by their superiors. But defense lawyers raised the issue of the baiting program in response to prosecutors’ allegations that the soldiers had planted items, like wire for making bombs, on the bodies of the victims.

A transcript of the hearing was provided by a family member of an accused soldier.

Snipers are among the most specialized of soldiers, using camouflage clothing and makeup to infiltrate enemy locations, and high-powered rifles and scopes to stalk and kill enemy fighters. The three snipers accused of murder had for months ventured into some of the most dangerous areas of Iraq, said lawyers for Sergeant Vela.

“Snipers are special people who are trained to shoot in a detached fashion, not to see their targets as human beings,” said James D. Culp, one of Sergeant Vela’s lawyers. “Snipers have split seconds to take shots, and he had a split second to decide whether to shoot.”

After visiting the sniper unit in Iraq, members of the Asymmetrical Warfare Group gave soldiers ammunition boxes containing so-called “drop items” like bullets, plastic explosives and bomb detonation cords to use to pinpoint Iraqis involved in insurgent activity, according to Capt. Matthew P. Didier, a sniper platoon leader who gave sworn testimony in the accused soldiers’ court hearings.

Captain Didier, in a sworn statement about the program that was obtained by The New York Times, described baiting as “putting an object out there that we know they will use, with the intention of destroying the enemy.”

After placing the bait, snipers observed the area around it, Captain Didier said in his statement. “If someone found the item, picked it up and attempted to leave with the item,” he said, “we would engage the individual, as I saw this as a sign that they would use the item against U.S. forces.” (Engage is a military euphemism for firing on or killing an enemy.)

The Asymmetrical Warfare Group, based at Fort Meade, Md., grew out of a task force created after the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 to develop methods to defeat roadside bombs. Not all of the group’s tactics were meant for sniper units, and most of them have not been publicly disclosed.

For instance, the group last year advised “kill teams” from the Third Brigade, Second Infantry Division, to dig holes resembling those used by insurgents to hide roadside bombs, and to shoot Iraqis who tried to place things in the holes, said a soldier who was briefed on the program and who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid retribution.

The kill teams used the tactic not to kill people, but to wound them with gunshots and then capture and interrogate them, the soldier said. “It’s pretty common, and it’s pretty effective,” the soldier said in an interview. The soldier lamented the disclosure of the baiting and other anti-insurgent combat tactics because “it’s probably saving a lot of soldiers’ lives.”

James Ross, the legal and policy director for Human Rights Watch, said using fake weapons and ammunition as bait to attract and kill insurgents creates blurry ethical boundaries for soldiers fighting in Iraq, and great risk to civilians who are not legal targets in war. International law recognizes that killing “any individual who is directly or indirectly taking part in hostilities” can be justified, Mr. Ross said, but it is not precise about how such distinctions should be applied.

Mr. Ross said the dispersal of ammunition and explosives by American forces as part of an effort to attract insurgents would present obvious human rights problems.

“It seems to me that there are all sorts of reasons that civilians would want to pick up ammunition that is sitting on the ground,” he said.

Specialist Sandoval is the first of the three suspects to be tried in a court-martial. He and Sergeant Hensley were accused of leaving a spool of wire that could be used to detonate roadside bombs in a pocket of the man whom Specialist Sandoval shot in April, on Sergeant Hensley’s command.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Queens, N.Y. Woman Victimized in Brokers' Mortgage Scam

The NY Daily News reports:

The growing wave of foreclosures casting a shadow over the nation's economy just crashed over 63-year-old Eva Murphy of Queens.

The former airport worker says she became a homeowner after a representative of a company called 2000 Homes showed up on her doorstep in December 2005.

The sales rep told her she could afford to buy a house even though she had bad credit and lived on an amalgam of government subsidies.

The 2000 Homes sales rep promised Murphy a house with a mortgage she could afford. She says he suggested a two-family home on Roscoe St. in Jamaica, Queens, for $430,000.

After the closing, she discovered the price was actually $538,000.

Murphy says she was told monthly payments would be about $2,000. She later learned they would be $3,990.

She also learned that even though she has no full-time job, her mortgage application listed her as a $9,000-a-month "marketing manager" for a company owned by her loan officer's husband.

Ten months ago, her house ended up in foreclosure.

"It's a mess," she said.

Murphy's mess is increasingly common among vulnerable low-income borrowers, facilitated by questionable brokers like 2000 Homes, a Daily News investigation has found.

Last month, a survey by state Sen. Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx) showed foreclosures "rising at an alarming rate" in the city as part of the nationwide subprime mortgage crisis.

Klein's survey found 14,561 foreclosures in the city, with nearly 6,000 in Queens, in the 13 months between July 1, 2006, and last July 31.

Most foreclosures involved subprime borrowers like Murphy, would-be homeowners with low credit ratings who did not qualify for conventional mortgages with lower interest rates.

That risky kind of customer is right up 2000 Homes' alley.

With an office in Queens Village and 20 licensed brokers, 2000 Homes has been fined $3,900 for violating regulations aimed at curbing aggressive sales tactics, officials say.

Next month, the company faces a hearing and possible loss of its real estate broker's license in the 2005 sale of a home in St. Albans, Queens, records show.

In that case, 2000 Homes, which was representing the seller, allegedly didn't disclose that one of its brokers was a principal in the company buying the home - as required by law. The buyers flipped the house five months later at a $160,000 profit.

The News also found two other borrowers who alleged that 2000 Homes brokers inflated income on their loan applications.

One was Darlene Smith, who settled a suit accusing 2000 Homes of exaggerating her and her niece's incomes to back up a subprime mortgage on their $259,000 house in Far Rockaway in 2005.

In Murphy's case, 2000 Homes showed up in December 2005. At the time, Murphy says, she was fighting with a landlord she says wanted to evict her.

A month later, 2000 Homes broker Jacob Atzmon told her she had bad credit - but he could help. She just had to cough up $2,250.

She said she borrowed the money from a friend. A handwritten note signed by Atzmon and dated Jan. 25, 2006, states, "I get $2,250 from Miss Eva Murphy for work on her credit report."

Four months later, Murphy went to 2000 Homes to sign papers. When she pointed out that the papers had not been filled out, she was told not to worry about it.

When she later learned what was put in those blanks, she couldn't believe what she saw.

Murphy says she gets $788 a month from Social Security and Workmen's Compensation, $260 a month in welfare benefits and some extra cash collecting cans.

On one of the mortgage applications, which she says was filled out by a 2000 Homes-affiliated employee, Murphy was listed as a $9,000-a-month "marketing manager" for a Diamond District jeweler. On another, she's listed making $7,875 a month at the same job.

This was news to Murphy.

"I haven't worked since Jan. 29, 1991, and now all of sudden I got a job in the diamond industry," said Murphy. "I'm supposed to be a manager or something. Oh, my God. How did they do that?"

One of Murphy's loan applications was signed by Tikva Davaran, who told The News she was a loan officer at Metro Elite Mortgage Corp., which regularly works in concert with 2000 Homes.

Davaran said she or one of her assistants filled out the application after interviewing Murphy. As it happened, Diamond Galaxy, listed as Murphy's alleged "employer" on her mortgage application, was owned by Davaran's husband, Shahriar.

The Davarans claim Murphy briefly worked for Diamond Galaxy. Shahriar Davaran said Murphy "was supposed to do advertising on a computer for us."

"I do not even know how to use a computer," Murphy countered. "I don't even know the man."

Tikva Davaran could not explain why one application lists Murphy's salary as $9,000 a month but another lists it at $7,875.

"I honestly don't recall what happened," Davaran said.

Murphy said she was in a rush at the May 26, 2006 closing because her girlfriend's daughter had been hit by a car.

"I'm trying to hurry out of this closing and they said, 'Wait, wait, wait,'" Murphy said. "I said, No, 'I got to go. ... I'm just signing these papers to get out.'"

She signed for two loans: a $430,400 adjustable rate mortgage starting with a 7.3% interest rate that would reset in 2008, and a $107,600 mortgage repayable in 15 years with a final $91,735.13 balloon payment and an 11.3% interest rate.

She borrowed $5,000 for the down payment.

What is Subprime?

Subprime loans are mortgages written for people with poor credit. Many are so-called exotic loans, including interest-only mortgages, or ones with low front-end rates that adjust later. Subprime mortgages peaked during the recent housing boom, when lenders relaxed credit requirements for borrowers. Some economists fear that large numbers of subprime borrowers could default on their mortgages, either because rates adjust higher or simply because they were poor risks to begin with.

Murphy said 2000 Homes provided her with a lawyer, Jason Oshins, but at the closing, another lawyer, Dean Mavrides, showed up.

A breakdown of Murphy's closing costs shows each lawyer got $750 for the closing, with another $13,182 listed simply as "Oshins, as atty."

Oshins told The News, "I could not answer any of your questions under the scope of privilege."

Mavrides did not return a call.

Eitan Sror, chairman of 2000 Homes, provided a copy of the sales contract, which was dated May 4, 2006, and signed by Murphy, showing the price of the house was $538,000.

"I can't see how she would think otherwise," he said.

Sror said he didn't know about Murphy's loan documents, adding, "We're not required to keep any information that has to do with the mortgage." He denied the company's brokers encouraged the other two accusers to exaggerate incomes.

Murphy says she doesn't know what she'll do if she loses the house.

"I didn't know there was so many dishonest people that they can just sell you a bunch of garbage," she said. "And this is what this is - a bunch of garbage."

Saturday, September 22, 2007

New Fascist World Order

They're watching what you read, they're watching what you write.

The Washington Post:
The U.S. government is collecting electronic records on the travel habits of millions of Americans who fly, drive or take cruises abroad, retaining data on the persons with whom they travel or plan to stay, the personal items they carry during their journeys, and even the books that travelers have carried, according to documents obtained by a group of civil liberties advocates and statements by government officials.

The personal travel records are meant to be stored for as long as 15 years, as part of the Department of Homeland Security's effort to assess the security threat posed by all travelers entering the country. Officials say the records, which are analyzed by the department's Automated Targeting System, help border officials distinguish potential terrorists from innocent people entering the country.

But new details about the information being retained suggest that the government is monitoring the personal habits of travelers more closely than it has previously acknowledged. The details were learned when a group of activists requested copies of official records on their own travel. Those records included a description of a book on marijuana that one of them carried and small flashlights bearing the symbol of a marijuana leaf.
The Automated Targeting System has been used to screen passengers since the mid-1990s, but the collection of data for it has been greatly expanded and automated since 2002, according to former DHS officials.

Officials yesterday defended the retention of highly personal data on travelers not involved in or linked to any violations of the law. But civil liberties advocates have alleged that the type of information preserved by the department raises alarms about the government's ability to intrude into the lives of ordinary people. The millions of travelers whose records are kept by the government are generally unaware of what their records say, and the government has not created an effective mechanism for reviewing the data and correcting any errors, activists said.

The activists alleged that the data collection effort, as carried out now, violates the Privacy Act, which bars the gathering of data related to Americans' exercise of their First Amendment rights, such as their choice of reading material or persons with whom to associate. They also expressed concern that such personal data could one day be used to impede their right to travel.

"The federal government is trying to build a surveillance society," said John Gilmore, a civil liberties activist in San Francisco whose records were requested by the Identity Project, an ad-hoc group of privacy advocates in California and Alaska. The government, he said, "may be doing it with the best or worst of intentions. . . . But the job of building a surveillance database and populating it with information about us is happening largely without our awareness and without our consent."

Gilmore's file, which he provided to The Washington Post, included a note from a Customs and Border Patrol officer that he carried the marijuana-related book "Drugs and Your Rights." "My first reaction was I kind of expected it," Gilmore said. "My second reaction was, that's illegal."

DHS officials said this week that the government is not interested in passengers' reading habits, that the program is transparent, and that it affords redress for travelers who are inappropriately stymied. "I flatly reject the premise that the department is interested in what travelers are reading," DHS spokesman Russ Knocke said. "We are completely uninterested in the latest Tom Clancy novel that the traveler may be reading."

But, Knocke said, "if there is some indication based upon the behavior or an item in the traveler's possession that leads the inspection officer to conclude there could be a possible violation of the law, it is the front-line officer's duty to further scrutinize the traveler." Once that happens, Knocke said, "it is not uncommon for the officer to document interactions with a traveler that merited additional scrutiny."

He said that he is not familiar with the file that mentions Gilmore's book about drug rights, but that generally "front-line officers have a duty to enforce all laws within our authority, for example, the counter-narcotics mission." Officers making a decision to admit someone at a port of entry have a duty to apply extra scrutiny if there is some indication of a violation of the law, he said.

The retention of information about Gilmore's book was first disclosed this week in Wired News. Details of how the ATS works were disclosed in a Federal Register notice last November. Although the screening has been in effect for more than a decade, data for the system in recent years have been collected by the government from more border points, and also provided by airlines -- under U.S. government mandates -- through direct electronic links that did not previously exist.

The DHS database generally includes "passenger name record" (PNR) information, as well as notes taken during secondary screenings of travelers. PNR data -- often provided to airlines and other companies when reservations are made -- routinely include names, addresses and credit-card information, as well as telephone and e-mail contact details, itineraries, hotel and rental car reservations, and even the type of bed requested in a hotel.

The records the Identity Project obtained confirmed that the government is receiving data directly from commercial reservation systems, such as Galileo and Sabre, but also showed that the data, in some cases, are more detailed than the information to which the airlines have access.

Ann Harrison, the communications director for a technology firm in Silicon Valley who was among those who obtained their personal files and provided them to The Post, said she was taken aback to see that her dossier contained data on her race and on a European flight that did not begin or end in the United States or connect to a U.S.-bound flight.

"It was surprising that they were gathering so much information without my knowledge on my travel activities, and it was distressing to me that this information was being gathered in violation of the law," she said.

James P. Harrison, director of the Identity Project and Ann Harrison's brother, obtained government records that contained another sister's phone number in Tokyo as an emergency contact. "So my sister's phone number ends up being in a government database," he said. "This is a lot more than just saying who you are, your date of birth."

Edward Hasbrouck, a civil liberties activist who was a travel agent for more than 15 years, said that his file contained coding that reflected his plan to fly with another individual. In fact, Hasbrouck wound up not flying with that person, but the record, which can be linked to the other passenger's name, remained in the system. "The Automated Targeting System," Hasbrouck alleged, "is the largest system of government dossiers of individual Americans' personal activities that the government has ever created."

He said that travel records are among the most potentially invasive of records because they can suggest links: They show who a traveler sat next to, where they stayed, when they left. "It's that lifetime log of everywhere you go that can be correlated with other people's movements that's most dangerous," he said. "If you sat next to someone once, that's a coincidence. If you sat next to them twice, that's a relationship."

Stewart Verdery, former first assistant secretary for policy and planning at DHS, said the data collected for ATS should be considered "an investigative tool, just the way we do with law enforcement, who take records of things for future purposes when they need to figure out where people came from, what they were carrying and who they are associated with. That type of information is extremely valuable when you're trying to thread together a plot or you're trying to clean up after an attack."

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in August 2006 said that "if we learned anything from Sept. 11, 2001, it is that we need to be better at connecting the dots of terrorist-related information. After Sept. 11, we used credit-card and telephone records to identify those linked with the hijackers. But wouldn't it be better to identify such connections before a hijacker boards a plane?" Chertoff said that comparing PNR data with intelligence on terrorists lets the government "identify unknown threats for additional screening" and helps avoid "inconvenient screening of low-risk travelers."

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said that "we need to be better at connecting the dots of terrorist-related information." (By Stephanie Kuykendal -- Getty Images)

Knocke, the DHS spokesman, added that the program is not used to determine "guilt by association." He said the DHS has created a program called DHS Trip to provide redress for travelers who faced screening problems at ports of entry.

But DHS Trip does not allow a traveler to challenge an agency decision in court, said David Sobel, senior counsel with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has sued the DHS over information concerning the policy underlying the ATS. Because the system is exempted from certain Privacy Act requirements, including the right to "contest the content of the record," a traveler has no ability to correct erroneous information, Sobel said.

Zakariya Reed, a Toledo firefighter, said in an interview that he has been detained at least seven times at the Michigan border since fall 2006. Twice, he said, he was questioned by border officials about "politically charged" opinion pieces he had published in his local newspaper. The essays were critical of U.S. policy in the Middle East, he said. Once, during a secondary interview, he said, "they had them printed out on the table in front of me."

Hear Zakariya Reed on NPR's program, At Home and Abroad: Shared Sacrifices Since September 11th.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Q&A with Investigative Journalist Seymour Hersh

Journalist Seymour M. Hersh, 70, announced his arrival in Washington nearly four decades ago by uncovering the U.S. military massacre of Vietnamese women and children at My Lai and winning the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting. As a freelancer for the tiny Dispatch News Service, he did all this without even leaving the country. Newsweek dubbed him the "scoop artist," and from the start he has served as the official executive pain in the neck -- breaking such stories as the CIA's bombing of Cambodia and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's wiretapping of his own staff.

Recently ranked 26th on GQ's list of "50 Most Powerful People in D.C.," Hersh was among the first to expose the Abu Ghraib prison scandal (chronicled in his latest book, "Chain of Command: The Road From 9/11 to Abu Ghraib"), and he continues today to detail the Bush administration's alleged march to bomb Tehran. Persona non grata in this highly secretive White House, The New Yorker writer was recently dubbed "Cheney's Nemesis" by Rolling Stone magazine, and a former Bush insider told CNN's Wolf Blitzer in early 2003, "Look, Sy Hersh is the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist, frankly."

The Jewish Journal recently spoke with Hersh in advance of his Oct. 4 appearance at UCLA Live, at which he will discuss American foreign policy and the abuse of power under the guise of national security:
Jewish Journal: You wrote in The New Yorker in the spring of 2006 that the United States might not have much more time to focus on Iraq because they had started planning to bomb Iran. That hasn't happened yet. Do you still think it will?

Seymour Hersh At that time it was considered far out. But it's not anymore. I'm still writing about Iran planning. It is very much on the table. And I can tell you right now that there are many Shia right now in the south of Iraq, in the Maliki party, that believe to the core that America is no longer interested in Iraq, but that everything they are doing now is aimed at the Shia and Iran.

JJ: You're not a fan of President George W. Bush. Do you look at things in terms of Jan. 20, 2009?

SH: Absolutely. Absolutely. No matter who will be there.

JJ: Do you have one of those countdown clocks on your desk?

SH: No. Somebody gave me one, but I thought it would be too cute. You know, he's got power. He's still president.

JJ: You mentioned that there are plenty of things you know that you can't write about.

SH: The bottom line is nobody in this government talks to me. I've been around for 40 years -- in Bush I, in the Reagan years, certainly in Democratic regimes, but even in Republican regimes where I am more of a pain -- I've always had tremendous relationships with people. This is the first government in which in order to get my stories checked out to make sure I'm not going to kill some American, I have to go to peoples' mailboxes at night, people I talk to and know, and put it in their mailbox before turning it into The New Yorker, to get them to read it and say, "Oh, Page 4, you better not say that, Hersh."

I can't do that with the government. I used to always go and sit down and talk with the heads of the CIA and heads of other agencies. These guys are just really quantitatively different. You are either with us or against us across the board. And this is why I count days.

JJ: New York magazine has a profile this week of Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report, and they call him "America's Most Influential Journalist." What have bloggers like Drudge done to journalism, and how do you think it compares to the muckrakers that you came of age with?

SH: There is an enormous change taking place in this country in journalism. And it is online. We are eventually -- and I hate to tell this to The New York Times or the Washington Post -- we are going to have online newspapers, and they are going to be spectacular. And they are really going to cut into daily journalism.

I've been working for The New Yorker recently since '93. In the beginning, not that long ago, when I had a big story you made a good effort to get the Associated Press and UPI and The New York Times to write little stories about what you are writing about. Couldn't care less now. It doesn't matter, because I'll write a story, and The New Yorker will get hundreds of thousands, if not many more, of hits in the next day. Once it's online, we just get flooded.

So, we have a vibrant, new way of communicating in America. We haven't come to terms with it. I don't think much of a lot of the stuff that is out there. But there are a lot of people doing very, very good stuff.

JJ: Some people have a problem with muckrakers. Why do you think it is important to shine a light on filth?

SH: I can't imagine what else there is to do in the newspaper business today right now but to write as much as you can about what is going on. Like it, don't like it, what you call filth is the normal vagaries of government and foreign affairs these days.

JJ: Bush recently compared Iraq to Vietnam in a positive way. What do you think he learned from the Vietnam War?

SH: He seems to have learned from lessons that were not very valid. Nobody wants to be a loser. Bush is going to disengage to some degree, and he's going to claim the country is more stable. He's just going to say whatever he wants, and he's going to get away with it because who knows what is going on in Basra. Nobody I know in their right mind would go down there. You'd get whacked.

And the Democrats have fallen into the trap of saying, "We shouldn't get out." As far as I am concerned, there are only two issues: Option A is to get out by midnight tonight, and Option B is to get out by midnight tomorrow.

JJ: Having grown up in a Yiddish home, the son of Polish and Lithuanian immigrants, how would you describe your Jewish identity?

SH: Vague. I like a lot of the historical stuff; I'm agnostic about the religion. But I certainly understand the power of faith, and I wish the American Jews could talk more to some of the Israelis I know and see how open-minded they are about many issues American Jews are not. There is tremendous diversity in Israel. Here the stuff of conversation ends up in a bloody fight; there you can discuss anything.

My [three] children chose: Some went through the bar mitzvah process; some did not. I'm a believer in you do what you want to do. For me, my Jewish heritage comes mainly in literature. I identify very strongly with the Saul Bellows and Philip Roths of this world. But it's so irrelevant that I am Jewish when I write about Jewish issues. It really is for me. It's just like it is irrelevant what my personal opinion is on things.

JJ: I was going to ask if your being Jewish has in any way affected your coverage of Israeli politics, particularly security?

SH: No, no. It gets me in more fights.

JJ: The book "The Israel Lobby" just came out. How would you characterize Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer's assessment of the power of the pro-Israel community?

SH: You can't touch them in terms of being anti-Semitic. They are realists. They are from the realists' school. I haven't read the book, but it's not either/or, either support Israel or don't. It's: try and use the tremendous support and relationship we have to modify their behavior more than we do. But this government and that relationship [with Israel] is really profound, and it is just very secretive between us and Israel. It is not transparent, and that is not healthy for anybody.

JJ: You turned 70 this year. Why keep working so hard?

SH: I don't work that hard. I write four or five pieces a year. Secondly, what do you want me to do? Play professional golf? I can't do that. You do what you can do. And I'm in a funny spot because I have an ability to communicate with people I have known for a number of years. They trust me, and I trust them, so I keep on doing these little marginal stories.

JJ: That's all they are? Marginal?

SH: With these stories, if they slow down or make people take a deep breath before they bomb Iran, that is a plus. But they are not going to stop anybody. This is a government that is unreachable by us, and that is very depressing. In terms of adding to the public debate, the stories are important. But not in terms of changing policy. I have no delusions about that.

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It's a Holiday Today . . . .

. . . . Somewhere in the world.

A global event centered in San Francisco, it's PARK(ing) Day. Artists, activists, and citizens collaborate to temporarily transform parking spots into public parks.

The PARK that is San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's parking space in front of City Hall.

Have We Had Our Fill of This Asshole Yet?

What about this one?

Are we ready to stop being distracted?

Netanyahu Confirms Secret Attack on Syria:
Israel's opposition leader, Binyamin Netanyahu, has given the first confirmation from his country of a mysterious air strike on an unknown target deep in Syria earlier this month - fuelling frenzied speculation about exactly what happened.

The leader of the rightwing Likud party said he had given the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, his backing for the attack, which Damascus said took place on September 6. Before that, the Israeli government had enforced a news blackout on the story.
Asked during a TV interview, Mr Netanyahu said: "When a prime minister does something that is important and necessary to Israel's security ... I give my backing." He refused to give further details.

Syria protested to the UN about the "flagrant violation" of its airspace. Officials in Damascus have reported that their air defences forced Israeli F15 jets to flee, dropping "munitions" and fuel tanks in the desert near the Turkish border.

US and other officials have claimed that Israel hit Syrian targets that may have had links to North Korean nuclear arms - dismissed by Damascus as "a big lie".

Meanwhile, Mr Olmert last night confronted critics within his centrist Kadima party who fear he may concede too much to Palestinians, and urged them to seize an opportunity to make peace after 60 years of conflict. Mr Olmert said he would free more Palestinian prisoners as part of "measured gestures" toward President Mahmoud Abbas as they try to agree terms for a US-sponsored peace conference.