Saturday, August 19, 2006

US names spy operations 'manager' for Cuba, Venezuela

by Maxim KniazkovSat Aug 19, 6:33 AM ET

The United States has named a special "manager" for its intelligence operations against Cuba and Venezuela, in effect putting the two Latin American nations on a par with "axis of evil" states confronted on multiple levels by the administration of President George W. Bush.

North Korea and Iran are the only other countries that have been assigned so-called "mission managers," who supervise intelligence operations against them on what the office of national intelligence director called "a strategic level."

In a statement released Friday, the office of National Intelligence Director John Negroponte said the manager would be responsible "for integrating collection and analysis on Cuba and Venezuela across the intelligence community" and "ensuring the implementation of strategies" that have not been disclosed.

"Such efforts are critical today, as policymakers have increasingly focused on the challenges that Cuba and Venezuela pose to American foreign policy," the statement said.

The director's office said the manager would also be asked to ensure "that policymakers have a full range of timely and accurate intelligence on which to base their decisions."

The document did not say what kind of decisions US officials could be making with regard to either of the targeted countries.

For the moment, the task of handling the Havana-Caracas axis fell to 32-year Central Intelligence Agency veteran J. Patrick Maher, whose previous job was deputy director of the CIA's Office of Policy Support.

His biographical sketch supplied in the announcement indicates he was one of the architects of the CIA's current counterterrorism strategy in violence-torn Colombia and managed the agency's operations in the Caribbean basin.

It was not immediately known whether he was directly involved in planning the 1983 US invasion of Grenada in response of a feared Cuban-backed leftist takeover of the island nation.

The statement made it clear, however, that Maher would be only an "acting" manager while search for a permanent candidate for the job was under way.

The decision to name an interim mission manager appeared to betray a sense of urgency in the Bush administration now that Cuba has entered a period of political uncertainty due to an illness of its longtime communist leader, Fidel Castro.

Castro stunned the world on July 31, when he announced he had temporary ceded his presidential powers and the Communist Party leadership to brother Raul Castro, the defense minister, following his gastrointestinal surgery.

Earlier Friday, Raul Castro announced the mobilization of tens of thousands of troops in response to activities by those he called US "war hawks."

The Bush administration has bolstered its propaganda broadcasts to the island in the wake of Castro's illness. Earlier, it announced a plan to spend 80 million dollars in new money to bring about a pro-Western government in Cuba.

On Friday, it rejected the Cuban transition plan, with State Department spokesman Tom Casey insisting that "some kind of dynastic succession on the island are certainly things that are not only not acceptable to us but we think in the long run aren't going to be acceptable to the Cuban people either."

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a key ally of Castro and the chief supplier of oil to Cuba, said he believed Maher's appointment was also linked to presidential elections that are scheduled in Venezuela for December and that Chavez is widely expected to win.

"This shows us that the empire does not rest, that it is hatching a plan for December or a period before December," the Venezuelan leader told reporters. "But whatever it is, we will thwart it."

on the lighter side of things.....Man trapped waist-deep in chocolate

Sat Aug 19, 9:36 AM ET

It might sound like a chocoholic's dream, but stepping into a vat of viscous chocolate became a two-hour nightmare for a 21-year-old man Friday morning. Darmin Garcia, an employee of a company that supplies chocolate ingredients, said he was pushing the chocolate down into the vat at Debelis Corp. because it was stuck. But it became loose and he slid into the hopper.

"It was in my hair, in my ears, my mouth, everywhere," said Garcia, who has worked at the company for two years. "I felt like I weighed 900 pounds. I couldn't move."

The chocolate was 110 degrees, hotter than a hot tub, said Capt. Greg Sinnen of the Kenosha Fire Department.

Co-workers, police and firefighters tried to free the man but couldn't get him loose until the chocolate was thinned out with cocoa butter.

"It was pretty thick. It was virtually like quicksand," said police Capt. Randy Berner.

Garcia was treated for minor injuries and released.

After more than two hours in the chocolate, does he still have a taste for it?

"Not so much anymore," Garcia said.

A Shaken Landscape

A Shaken Landscape

With a cease-fire in place between Israel and Hezbollah, it's in neither party's interest to resume the fight. The reasons why amount to a dangerous new reality for Israel.
By Robert Padavick, Hot Zone senior producer, Thu Aug 17, 2:15 PM ET

Editor's Note: To better understand what's next for the Mideast in the aftermath of the recent fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, Hot Zone Senior Producer Robert Padavick spoke with Yahoo! News consultant Milt Bearden. In a career spanning three decades, Bearden headed the
CIA's Soviet and Eastern Europe Division and served as station chief in places like Pakistan and Sudan. He also ran the CIA's covert war in Afghanistan from 1986-1989.

With a cease-fire taking hold after over a month of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, parties loyal to both sides are claiming victory. For former senior CIA official Milt Bearden, the winners and losers are clear.

"Where it counts, Hezbollah is clearly the winner," Bearden says. "For Israel ... not winning is losing. And for an irregular force like Hezbollah, not losing is winning."

Now retired, Bearden serves on the board of directors of Conflicts Forum, a U.K.-based nongovernmental organization that works to foster dialogue between Islamist groups and the West. That role has included talks with Hezbollah officials about the group's transition to a more political focus.

Bearden stresses that with fighting over it is in neither Hezbollah's nor Israel's interest to restart it — but for very different reasons. Those differences could partially guide the relative strategies for Israel and Hezbollah as the dust settles in the Middle East.

Hezbollah, Bearden says, now is in prime position for further political gain in Lebanon. The group already has a strong presence in the Lebanese parliament through an alliance with another Shiite group, the Amal Party.

"[Hezbollah] executed their side of the war to the extent that they are national heroes right now," Bearden says. "I think you're going to see that Hezbollah will be a big winner politically."

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah is already taking steps to seize the momentum, announcing that Hezbollah will immediately begin repairing homes in southern Lebanon and even pay a year's rent to owners of damaged homes. The move underscores the extent to which Hezbollah is ingrained religiously and culturally in Lebanon, especially in the Shiite-dominated south, where the group runs an array of social services, including hospitals and schools.

Bearden says it's also possible that Hezbollah, even after sustaining a fierce Israeli barrage, actually could emerge with an expanded military presence in Lebanon — albeit in a different form.

"It seems to me that what we'd better be on the lookout for is the absorption by the Lebanese army of the military wing of Hezbollah," he says.

After a couple false starts the Lebanese cabinet approved a plan Wednesday to deploy 15,000 Lebanese troops in the south to bolster a United Nations force. Those troops began deploying Thursday. But neither Lebanon nor the U.N. seem to be concretely addressing the issue of disarming Hezbollah, even though a previous U.N. resolution calls for it. Bearden says it's a fallacy to consider that a possibility.

"The very concept of destroying Hezbollah or dismantling it is based on a faulty belief that it is somehow external to the fiber of Lebanon. It is not," he says. "There's nobody tough enough to disarm Hezbollah, or willing to do it if they are tough enough."

The scenario of a politically empowered Hezbollah, with militia remnants integrated in the Lebanese army, would present a dangerous new reality for Israel, which Bearden says is not in a position to restart hostilities against a foe that proved able to withstand its superior military might.

Hezbollah's stand against the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), long regarded as a military superpower in the region, amounts to what Bearden calls the "demystification of the IDF." The implications for Israel are serious, in that Hezbollah's success could embolden other groups in the region, particularly the Palestinians, to overcome internal differences and unite against Israel.

"Israeli rule has just taken a huge hit," Bearden says. "I would imagine right now we're going to see serious discussions among Palestinians who say, 'Why not us?'."

Israel, it seems, has few options at the moment. However, there are reports in the Israeli press that Defense Minister Amir Peretz this week hinted at one of them: renewed dialogue with Lebanon, the Palestinians, and even Syria.

Bearden, a staunch advocate for dialogue, even sees the possibility for Israeli dialogue with Iran — although the country is a prime backer of Hezbollah and its leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel.

Still, those on the more "realist side" in Israeli politics, Bearden says, "are going to start saying, 'We need to talk with Iran; we need to talk with Syria.' But also, I can guarantee you, sooner or later they're going to want to talk with Hezbollah and Hamas." Hamas has already proven its political prowess, winning the Palestinian Authority general election in January.

The extent to which the landscape in the Middle East has been shaken is just beginning to emerge. But Israel's fight against Hezbollah, the intent of which was greater security, may have left the country even more on the defensive.

Friday Wingnut Roundup (Saturday Edition)

Friday Wingnut Roundup (Saturday Edition)


Gee, do you suppose the wingnuts have anything to say about Judge Diggs Taylor's ruling on the Dear Leader's Terrorist Surveillance Program™? You know, the program that had absolutely nothing to do with the capture of the British terrorists? Count on it (bonus - which one is a quote?):

Ace of Spades - it's all Jimmy Carter's fault.
Ann Althouse - my goodness Judge Taylor was mean to poor President Bush! Do you think the judge is dumb?
Atlas Shrugs - there's a wiretap case? Who knew? I'm busy planning jihad against the U.N. and Kofi Enema and ... GAAAAHHHH!!!
Blue Crab Boulevard
- I don't know enough to comment on Judge Taylor's decision, so I'll link to other blogs that have reached my predetermined conclusion that it's bad.
Captain's Quarters - Judge Taylor's decision is bad for Bush, so he'd better come up with evidence of another terror plot pretty quick.
Confederate Yankee - Judge Taylor is a Detroit liberal, so what did you expect? Duh!
Debbie Schlussel - it's all the ACLU's fault - well, them and their raft of Islamist, America-hating plaintiffs.
Flopping Aces - liberals made sure Judge Taylor got the wiretap case even though federal cases are assigned using a blind draw.
Free Republic - we're all gonna die!!!
GOP Bloggers - how dare Judge Taylor actually decide the wiretap case - it's not like she's a judge or anything!
Hot Air (Allahpundit) - I don't know enough to comment on Judge Taylor's decision, so I'll link to other blogs that have reached my predetermined conclusion that it's bad. YAHTZEE!
Hugh Hewitt - I still blame the fucking New York Times for this whole thing.
Instapundit - do you think that, just maybe, this could be good for the administration? Oh please oh please oh please ...
Jawa Report - you have a consitutionally-protected right to chat with Ayman al Zawahiri about the weather in Waziristan but so what - we're all gonna die!
JunkyardBlog - many of these plaintiffs who don’t deal with al Qaeda actually lack standing to bring this suit because there is no way they could have suffered any damage if they weren’t talking to someone affiliated with al Qaeda.
Little Green Footballs - we blame Muslims for this decision ... of course, we blame Muslims for everything.
Macsmind - of course al Qaeda had no idea we were trying to listen to their phone calls! Retard!
NRO - (J-Pod) - as usual I have nothing useful to add, so let me take this opportunity to attack Andrew Sullivan for going a tiny bit off-message.
NRO (K-Lo) - as usual I have nothing useful to add, so I'll just link to this DOJ statement that uses the words "Terrorist Surveillance Program" a lot.
Patterico's Pontifications - I told you this would happen ... fucking Carter-appointed moonbat lefty rule-bending idealogue judge. Geeze - I am so smart for predicting this!
Powerline - Hugh Hewitt says that any vote for any Democrat is a vote against victory and a vote for vulnerability - who am I to argue?
Protein Wisdom - even though I didn't read Greenwald's post about the decision, I hereby pronounce it really really stupid.
Real Clear Politics - Mort Kondracke says liberals think a journalist's right to talk to a terrorist trumps Bush's right to listen to terrorist phone calls - who are we to argue?
Red State - we're all gonna die!!!
Sister Toldjah - it is a tale told by an idiot left-leaning Bush-hating Democrat-loving liberal moonbat America-hating judge. Oh yeah, and it signifies nothing! Nyah!
Wizbang! - this is terrible, because the Terrorist Surveillance Program™ was instrumental in capturing those British terrorists and ... what? It wasn't? Oh.

hat tips: Liberal Catnip for some of the links; Comandante Agi - graphic.

Personal data thefts continue unabated.

Aug, 19/20, 2006 -- Personal data thefts continue unabated. The most recent thefts of personal data have been from the medical community. A regional office of Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), the firm in which Tennessee GOP Senator Bill First has a major financial interest, has reported the theft of 10 computers containing "thousands of files" on Medicare and Medicaid patients and their doctors. The time frame of the data is 1996 to 2006 and the files contain Social Security Numbers and dates of birth on individuals in Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, and Washington. The California Department of Mental Health reports the theft of a computer tape containing the Social Security Numbers and dates of birth of 9,468 employees.

Additional clues point to U.S. attack on Iran.

Aug. 19/20, 2006 -- Additional clues point to U.S. attack on Iran. State Department sources report that State's Iran Desk Officer Henry Wooster has suddenly been transferred to another position. Meanwhile, Vice President Dick Cheney's office is assembling a group of neo-cons from the Pentagon, State Department, and the National Security Council to cook up intelligence and talking points that will show Iran to be an imminent nuclear threat.

ABC featured only conservatives defending "necessity" of warrantless surveillance program

Summary: An ABC World News report on a federal district judge's ruling that the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program is unconstitutional featured only Bush administration officials and a senior research fellow from the conservative Heritage Foundation defending the "necessity" of the program. The report did not note that the program's effectiveness has been called into question.

An August 17 ABC World News with Charles Gibson report on District Court Judge Anna Diggs Taylor's ruling that the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program is unconstitutional featured only Bush administration officials and a senior research fellow from the conservative Heritage Foundation defending the "necessity" of the program. While ABC did excerpt Taylor's ruling and air footage of author and journalist James Bamford, a plaintiff in the case, challenging the program's legality, they offered no challenge to the program's effectiveness, which has been called into question.

As Media Matters for America has noted, a January 17 New York Times article cited "current and former officials" in reporting that "virtually all" of the leads generated by the program "led to dead ends or innocent Americans." Rather than noting this, however, ABC aired footage of President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzalez defending the "importance" of the "necessary" and "essential" program, and reported that "many national security experts ... agree that the program is essential" -- airing a clip of Heritage Foundation senior research fellow James Carafano saying: "You cannot argue that programs like this don't help."

From the August 17 broadcast of ABC's World News with Charles Gibson:

CHARLES GIBSON (anchor): The Bush administration suffered a major legal defeat today. A federal judge declared its surveillance program of overseas phone calls from this country conducted without warrants to be unconstitutional. The president has called the program a crucial tool in the war on terror. We turn to ABC's chief White House correspondent, Martha Raddatz.

RADDATZ: The wiretap ruling came with stinging criticism from U.S. District Court Judge Anne Diggs Taylor. "It was never the intent of the Framers to give the president such unfettered control," said the judge, "particularly where his actions blatantly disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights." Judge Taylor said the administration's failure to obtain warrants for the eavesdropping program violated both the right to privacy and free speech.

BAMFORD: What it says is the president of the United States isn't a king. He's just like every other citizen when it comes to a law.

RADDATZ: The White House response to the ruling: "We couldn't disagree more." And the Justice Department immediately appealed the decision.

GONZALES: And we have confidence in the lawfulness of this program. And that's -- and that's why the appeal has been lodged. This is an important program.

RADDATZ: This is a significant blow to the Bush administration, which has strongly defended the legality and the necessity of the program since its disclosure last December.

BUSH: I believe what I'm doing is constitutional, and I know it's necessary.

CHENEY: I can tell you the terrorist surveillance program has been absolutely essential.

RADDATZ: And there are many national security experts who agree that the program is essential.

CARAFANO: We just saw a plot broken up. People planned to kill thousands of people. You cannot argue that there's not a serious problem out there. You cannot argue that programs like this don't help.

RADDATZ: Despite the ruling, the spying program will continue, Charlie, until the appeal has been heard. But that could take some time.

Israeli raid in Lebanon tests truce

Israeli raid in Lebanon tests truce
Sat Aug 19, 2006 11:49 AM ET

By Nadim Ladki

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Helicopter-borne Israeli commandos raided a Hizbollah bastion on Saturday in what Lebanon called a "naked violation" of the U.N.-backed truce that halted Israel's 34-day war with the Shi'ite Muslim group.

Israel said the operation in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley aimed to disrupt weapons supplies to Hizbollah from Syria and Iran. Both countries deny arming the group.

Lebanon's defense minister urged the United Nations to give "clear answers" in response to the raid and warned that if it failed to do so, he might seek to halt the deployment of Lebanese troops to the south of the country.

Lebanese security sources said three Hizbollah guerrillas were killed in a firefight with the Israelis, although Hizbollah said none of its fighters were killed or hurt.

Israel said it had suffered one dead and two wounded.

"It is a naked violation of the cessation of hostilities declared by the Security Council," Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told reporters, referring to an August 11 resolution. He said he had protested to visiting U.N. envoys.

The U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon UNIFIL said it could not comment on the incident because its 2,000-force was based in the south of the country rather than the Bekaa Valley.

However, Lebanese Defense Minister Elias al-Murr said that was not good enough.

"If I don't receive clear answers today at 5:30 pm (1430 GMT) from the United Nations, I may have to ask the cabinet at the beginning of next week to halt the army deployment in the south," he told reporters before meeting the visiting envoys.

The Lebanese security sources said Israeli helicopters unloaded two vehicles carrying commandos who headed toward an office of a Hizbollah leader, Sheikh Mohammed Yazbek, in the village of Bodai. They were intercepted and withdrew under cover of air strikes, they said.

Israel's army said: "Special forces carried out an operation to disrupt terror actions against Israel with an emphasis on the transfer of munitions from Syria and Iran to Hizbollah."

Bodai is 15 km (9 miles) northwest of the ancient city of Baalbek and 26 km (16 miles) from the Syrian border.

The raid coincided with a Lebanese army drive to tighten its grip on the border with Syria. Thousands of troops deployed to block smuggling routes on Saturday, security sources said.

Nevertheless, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said continued Hizbollah arms shipments and the absence of Lebanese and international troops on the border had made the raid necessary.

"Israel reserves the right to act in order to enforce the spirit of the (U.N.) resolution," said spokesman Mark Regev. Other Israeli government officials described it as "a defensive operation" which did not breach the ceasefire.

Resolution 1701 ordered Israel to end "all offensive military actions" and Hizbollah to end all attacks. It also called for an embargo on unauthorized arms supplies to Lebanon.


At least 1,183 people in Lebanon and 157 Israelis were killed in the war. Israel said it had killed more than 530 Hizbollah fighters -- at least five times more than the group has acknowledged. Hizbollah buried 54 guerrillas across Lebanon on Saturday, the largest total on a single day.

The U.N. resolution also called for a strengthened U.N. force to support a Lebanese army deployment in the south.

Fifty French military engineers disembarked at UNIFIL's base in Naqoura in the south, the first reinforcements since the war.

The engineers were among 200 pledged by France, which has disappointed U.N. and U.S. hopes that it would form the backbone of the expanded force to supervise the truce, support the Lebanese army and monitor the withdrawal of Israeli troops.

In his weekly radio address on Saturday, President Bush said the U.N. force would help the Beirut government restore sovereignty and "stop Hizbollah from acting as a state within a state."

The United Nations wants to field an advance force of 3,500 troops by September 2 and the entire complement of 13,000 extra troops by November 4, as authorized by the U.N. resolution.

The Lebanese army began deploying in the south on Thursday. Hizbollah fighters have lain low, without relinquishing their weapons, including the rockets they rained on Israel in the war.

The conflict began after Hizbollah snatched two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12, saying it wanted to trade them for Lebanese and Arab prisoners held in Israel.

The Jewish state is also trying to free another soldier captured in the Gaza Strip on June 25.

Israel seized Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister Naser al-Shaer, a top official of the Hamas militant group, at his home in the occupied West Bank on Saturday.

Hours later, a Palestinian gunman killed an Israeli soldier near the West Bank city of Nablus and was then shot dead by troops, the army and medics said.

(Additional reporting by Jerusalem, Paris and U.N. bureaux)


It's a uExpress postcard!
From: Charles Everett
Subject: UComics Postcard
Message: Hezbollah to rebuild New Orleans? That would be cool!
Ted Rall
Why America Needs Hezbollah

NEW YORK--Surrender, already. For America's sake, let the terrorists win!

Hours after a ceasefire halted a five-week war between Israel and Iranian-backed Islamic militias in Lebanon, reported the New York Times, "hundreds of Hezbollah members spread over dozens of villages across southern Lebanon began cleaning, organizing and surveying damage. Men on bulldozers were busy cutting lanes through giant piles of rubble. Roads blocked with the remnants of buildings are now, just a day after a ceasefire began, fully passable." Who cares if Hezbollah is a State Department-designated terrorist organization? Unlike our worthless government, it gets things done!

The citizens of New Orleans desperately need Hezbollah's can-do terrorist spirit. Outside the French Quarter tourist zone, writes Jed Horne in The New Republic, what was until 2005 our nation's most charming city and cultural center remains "a disaster zone, an area five times the size of Manhattan."

One year after the routine matter of a Gulf Coast hurricane, half the city's population remains refugees--screwed over by a government that hasn't lifted a finger to pretend that it cares. Horne describes "Vast swaths of a city emptied as if by a neutron bomb, with only the fecal brown floodline up under the eaves to suggest what went so very wrong--that, and the ghostly dried brine still coating the dead lawns and landscaping."

New Orleans is a dead city. Incredibly, the politicians don't give a damn. "Now most of the water has gone," the British Daily Mirror newspaper informed readers on the storm's anniversary, "but little else has changed. Driving through the streets, it is shocking to see how much devastation remains and how little rebuilding has taken place."

Americans watched incredulously as their government responded to the desperate pleas of sick and starving Katrina victims by herding them into internment camps, and then issued them $2000 debit cards--an insulting pittance--to compensate them for losing everything they owned. Anyone could see that the federal government had failed its obligation to protect its citizens. Not only had officials refused to shore up crumbling levies, they didn't even try to send in relief after the long-predicted flood. The United States of America, however, is led by men who see things very differently from, well, everyone else. They actually think that Hurricane Katrina victims received too much.

"If you put $2,000 in someone's hands, that's a lot of money," Federal Emergency Management Agency Director David Paulison explained during a July 23 announcement. Due to Bush Administration budget cuts, the victims of future disasters will have to make do with a mere $500.

You know the U.S. has gone Third World when bombed-out Lebanese get a better deal than we do. Remember how hurricane victims couldn't get through to FEMA's perpetually busy hotline? Promising that Hezbollah personnel "in the towns and villages will turn to those whose homes are badly damaged and help rebuild them," Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah ordered Hezbollah militants to canvass damaged neighborhoods and begin repairs at once. Hezbollah gives out "decent and suitable furniture" and a year's free rent to all Lebanese who lost their homes. Unlike the racist government officials who managed the botched response along the Gulf Coast last year, where whites were rescued while blacks were shot, the Shiite terrorist group's offer also applies to Sunnis, Christians and even Jews.

"Hezbollah's reputation as an efficient grass-roots social service network," reported the Times, "was in evidence everywhere. Young men with walkie-talkies and clipboards were in the battered Shiite neighborhoods on the southern edge of Bint Jbail, taking notes on the extent of the damage. Hezbollah men also traveled door to door checking on residents and asking them what help they needed." With terrorists like that, who needs FEMA?

A year after Katrina, officials are still pulling bodies out of the rubble. Dozens of corpses remain unidentified; the president, governor and mayor continue to pass the blame for their willful inaction. George W. Bush still refuses to accept responsibility. Just one day after the Lebanese ceasefire, however, Sheikh Nasrallah had already delivered a thorough accounting of the damage caused by Israel's bombing campaign and launched a comprehensive rebuilding program. "So far," said the Hezbollah leader, "the initial count available to us on completely demolished houses exceeds 15,000 residential units. We cannot of course wait for the government and its heavy vehicles and machinery because they could be a while."

As often occurs during emergencies in the U.S., price gouging for housing, water, gasoline and other essentials was rampant during and after Katrina. Bush did nothing. Nasrallah, by contrast, warned businesses not to exploit the situation: "No one should raise prices due to a surge in demand."

Never argue with a man who buys AK-47s by the boxcar.

"Hezbollah's strength," says Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a professor at the Lebanese American University in Beirut and an expert on the organization, in large part derives from "the gross vacuum left by the state."

Sound familiar? It does to the people of Ladysmith, Wisconsin. The rural town, destroyed by a tornado in 2002, has been abandoned by the government to whom its people paid taxes all their lives.

Maybe we can commission Hezbollah to rebuild the World Trade Center.

(Ted Rall is the author of the new book "Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?," an in-depth prose and graphic novel analysis of America's next big foreign policy challenge.)


Capitol Hill Blue: Israelis raid Lebanon in cease-fire violation

Capitol Hill Blue

Israelis raid Lebanon in cease-fire violation
Aug 19, 2006, 06:09

Hezbollah fighters battled Israeli commandos who landed near the militants' stronghold deep inside Lebanon early Saturday, killing one soldier, in the first large-scale violation of the U.N.-brokered cease-fire between the sides.

Hezbollah said its guerrillas foiled the raid after a gunbattle, and the Israeli army said one soldier was killed and two were wounded, one seriously.

Witnesses said Israeli missiles destroyed a bridge during the raid — the first major violation of the U.N.-imposed cease-fire that took effect Monday following 34 days of fighting.

The Israeli army said the special forces operation aimed "to prevent and interfere with terror activity against Israel, especially the smuggling of arms from Iran and Syria to Hezbollah." It said the commando team completed its mission.

The army said such operations would be carried out until "an effective monitoring unit" of Lebanese or multinational troops was in place.

"If the Syrians and Iran continue to arm Hezbollah in violation of the (U.N. cease-fire) resolution, Israel is entitled to act to defend the principle of the arms embargo," Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev said.

Hezbollah TV and Lebanese security officials said Israeli helicopters dropped off a commando team outside the village of Boudai west of Baalbek in eastern Lebanon.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to release information to the media, said the Israelis apparently were seeking a guerrilla target in a nearby school but had no other details. The officials also reported heavy overflights of Israeli jets.

Lebanon's foreign minister said he immediately informed a visiting U.N. delegation of Israel's violation.

Such a bold operation risked scuttling the fragile cease-fire and suggested Israel was going after a major target near Baalbek — perhaps to rescue two Israeli soldiers snatched by Hezbollah on July 12, or to try to capture a senior guerrilla official to trade for the soldiers.

Hezbollah has said it wants to exchange the two soldiers for Arab prisoners, but the U.N. cease-fire resolution demands Hezbollah unconditionally release the soldiers.

Local media said Sheik Mohammed Yazbeck, a senior Hezbollah official in the Bekaa and a member of the Shura council of the group, may have been the target. Yazbeck is a native of Boudai.

Israeli troops have killed several guerrillas who Israel said threatened its troops in south Lebanon since the cease-fire, and warplanes have flown over the country. But the cease-fire allows military action in self-defense, and the commando raid was by far the most serious incident since Monday.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh said Lebanese authorities found blood at the scene of the raid, indicating Israeli casualties. Salloukh, speaking to reporters after meeting with U.N. envoy Terje Roed-Larsen in Beirut, said he informed the U.N. team of the Israeli action in Baalbek and said the U.N. team would raise the issue with Israeli authorities.

"If Israel continues its violations, it is the responsibility of the (U.N.) Security Council to take action and ask Israel to stop these violations," he said.

A provincial government official, Bekaa Valley Gov. Antoine Suleiman, confirmed the Israeli troop landing. He told the privately owned Voice of Lebanon radio station that the landing party brought with it two vehicles that were later withdrawn after clashes.

Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV said the Israeli commando force landed before dawn and was driving into Boudai when it was intercepted by guerrillas who forced it to retreat under the cover of warplanes, which staged mock raids.

Hezbollah officials on the scene said overflights from Israeli jet fighters drowned the clatter of helicopters as they flew into the foothills of the central Lebanese mountains, dropping commandos and two vehicles they used to drive into the village when the Hezbollah fighters intercepted them in a field.

The commandos identified themselves as the Lebanese army, but the guerrillas grew suspicious and gunfire erupted, the officials said.

Israeli helicopters fired missiles as the commandos withdrew and flew out of the area an hour later, they said.

Witnesses saw bandages and syringes at the site. The also saw a destroyed bridge about 500 yards from the area where the landing took place, after missiles were fired by Israeli aircraft.

Overflights were reported Friday night in the same area.

Israel said late Friday its warplanes have not attacked Lebanon since the cease-fire took effect.

Baalbek is the birthplace of the Iranian and Syrian-backed Hezbollah. The area in the eastern Bekaa Valley, 60 miles north of the Israeli border, is a major guerrilla stronghold.

The U.N. Security Council cease-fire resolution calls for an immediate cessation by Hezbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations.

In letters to Lebanese and Israeli leaders, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has warned the two countries against occupying additional territory and told them to refrain from responding to any attacks "except where clearly required in immediate self-defense."

Annan also told Israel and Lebanon that once the cessation of hostilities took effect there must be no firing from the ground, sea or air into the other side's territory or at its forces.

NY Times , CNN, Fox News uncritically reported GOP suggestion that unwarranted surveillance helped foil U.K. terror p

NY Times, CNN, Fox News uncritically reported GOP suggestion that unwarranted surveillance helped foil U.K. terror plot

In an August 18 article on a federal judge's ruling striking down as unconstitutional the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program, New York Times reporters Adam Liptak and Eric Lichtblau uncritically quoted House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's (R-IL) claim that the program "saved the day by foiling the London terror plot." Liptak and Lichtblau reported that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has not said "whether the program played any role in foiling" the British terror plot, but then reported Hastert's assertion. The report went on to note that Hastert's office "declined to elaborate" on the claim, but, as Media Matters for America has noted, media reports cast considerable doubt on his assertion that intelligence gathered through the warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens and legal residents helped thwart the attack. Indeed, Lichtblau himself reported on August 15 that U.S. law-enforcement agencies found "no links" and "no direct connection" between the London plotters and anyone within the United States. In their reports on the news, CNN justice correspondent Kelli Arena and Fox News chief White House correspondent Bret Baier similarly linked the warrantless domestic surveillance program to the recently foiled plot.

On August 17, Judge Anna Diggs Taylor of the U.S. District Court in Detroit rejected the Bush administration's legal defense of the program -- which since 2001 has authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to eavesdrop on the international communications of U.S. persons without court orders required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA). Taylor ruled that the program violates FISA, as well as the First and Fourth Amendments, and ordered that the program be halted.

In their August 18 article on the ruling, Liptak and Lichtblau reported:

Mr. Gonzales would not say whether the program played any role in foiling a plot last week to set off bombs in airliners bound for the United States from Britain. But Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Republican of Illinois, suggested that it did play a role in the investigation.

In a written statement criticizing Judge Taylor's ruling, Mr. Hastert defended the wiretapping operation and said that "our terrorist surveillance programs are critical to fighting the war on terror and saved the day by foiling the London terror plot."

His office declined to elaborate.

But Liptak and Lichtblau failed to note that the Bush administration and various news outlets -- including the Times -- have asserted that there is no evidence of any U.S. connection to the London plotters -- a fact that would seem to undermine Hastert's claim that the domestic surveillance program "saved the day." For instance, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff stated in an August 11 press conference that "we do not have evidence ... that the plotting [for the attack] was done in the United States." He later added that "we did not see any U.S. internal activity in this plot." Washington Post staff writers Dan Eggen and Spencer S. Hsu reported on August 13 that U.S. law enforcement agencies found "no links" between the plotters and anyone inside the United States. And Lichtblau himself reported in an August 15 article that, according to law enforcement officials, "no links to any Americans have surfaced."

Furthermore, while it has been confirmed that U.S. authorities, once alerted to the London plot, conducted extensive surveillance of suspects within the United States, news reports indicate that the eavesdropping occurred in accordance with FISA, as Media Matters for America noted. Indeed, Lichtblau reported on August 15 that "the Justice Department sought double or triple the usual rate of court-approved wiretaps to monitor the communications of American suspects" in the plot (while, again, Lichtblau reported that U.S. officials found no direct connection to anyone in this country). Eggen and Hsu, in their August 13 article, reported that hundreds of law enforcement officials undertook "dozens of clandestine surveillance and search operations on individuals with possible links to the London plotters," including "people who had been called or e-mailed by suspects or their relatives and acquaintances." But Eggen and Hsu further noted that this surveillance "produced a noticeable surge in applications for clandestine warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court."

Despite the above evidence that the warrantless domestic surveillance program had little -- if anything -- to do with uncovering the London terror plot, CNN justice correspondent Kelli Arena uncritically reported on the August 17 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight an argument attributed to unnamed "[g]overnment officials" that the incident is "a primary example of why the U.S. government sometimes needs to listen in on international communications without a warrant." Similarly, Fox News chief White House correspondent Bret Baier noted on the August 17 edition of Special Report that Taylor's ruling "comes one week to the day after the British terror plot to blow up jetliners was thwarted." He then reported that Gonzales "called the terrorist surveillance program a critical tool to stop more terrorist plots."

From the August 17 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:

ARENA: Government officials point to the alleged plot to blow up jetliners over the Atlantic as a primary example of why the U.S. government sometimes needs to listen in on international communications without a warrant. But a federal judge in Detroit says the National Security Agency's controversial wiretapping program violates free speech and privacy rights.

From the August 17 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

BAIER: The ruling comes one week to the day after the British terror plot to blow up jetliners was thwarted. In a late-afternoon news conference, the attorney general called the terrorist surveillance program a critical tool to stop more terrorist plots.

GONZALES: I believe very strongly that the president does have the authority to authorize this kind of conduct and particularly in a time of war.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Raw Story | Intelligence officials doubt Iran uranium claims, say Cheney receiving suspect briefings

The Raw Story

Larisa Alexandrovna
Published:Friday August 18, 2006

The Bush administration continues to bypass standard intelligence channels and use what some believe to be propaganda tactics to create a compelling case for war with Iran, US foreign policy experts and former US intelligence officials tell

One former senior intelligence official is particularly concerned by private briefings that Vice President Dick Cheney is getting from former Office of Special Plans (OSP) Director, Abram Shulsky.

"Vice President Cheney is relying on personal briefings from Shulsky for current intelligence on Iran," said this intelligence official.

Shulsky, a leading Neoconservative and member of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), headed the shadowy and secretive Department of Defense's OSP in the lead-up to the Iraq war -- helping to locate intelligence that would support the Bush administration's case for war with Iraq.

In an earlier report by Raw Story on an OSP spin-off dubbed the Iranian Directorate (ID), Lt. Col. Barry E. Venable -- a spokesman for the Pentagon -- confirmed that Shulsky was consulting for this new initiative as well.

"Mr. Shulsky continues in his position as Senior Advisor to the USD, focusing on Mid-East regional issues and the [global war on terror]," stated Venable.

Several foreign policy experts, who wish to remain anonymous, have expressed serious concern that much like the OSP, the ID is manipulating, cherry picking, and perhaps even -- as some suspect -- cooking intelligence to lead the U.S. into another conflict, this time with Iran.

"Cheney distrusts the information being disseminated by CIA on Iran," said one former senior intelligence official. "The reports assembled by the Iranian Directorate at the Pentagon differ significantly from the analysis produced by the Intelligence Community. The Pentagon Iranian Directorate relies on thin and unsupported reporting from foreign sources."

In the build-up to the Iraq war, Cheney relied on intelligence almost exclusively from the OSP, which leveled allegations that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. This was later debunked, but no OSP or DOD officials were held accountable for what many believe was a "deliberate effort" to mislead the nation into war.

New Uranium Allegations:

Adding to the similarities between the pre-war build up to Iraq, new allegations of Uranium transactions began aggressively circulating earlier this month. For example, in an August 6th Sunday Times of London article entitled "Iran's plot to mine uranium in Africa," Iran is alleged to have purchased Uranium from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"A United Nations report, dated July 18, said there was 'no doubt' that a huge shipment of smuggled uranium 238, uncovered by customs officials in Tanzania, was transported from the Lubumbashi mines in the Congo.
"Tanzanian customs officials told The Sunday Times it was destined for the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, and was stopped on October 22 last year during a routine check."

The UN report, however, does not mention Iran. It is only the Tanzanian official who does.

The article also quotes the Tanzanian official on his description of the uranium amounts found in each container and how it was located.

"This one was very radioactive. When we opened the container it was full of drums of coltan. Each drum contains about 50kg of ore. When the first and second rows were removed, the ones after that were found to be drums of uranium."

Experts familiar with both African mining and atomic energy have expressed serious concern about these allegations, which have been circulating for some time.

According to a source close to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the story is "highly unlikely" and "not well researched."

This source, who wished to remain anonymous given the nature of the subject, explained that the main concern in the Congolese mines is environmental waste and how it affects workers and villages near the areas where the mining is done.

A former senior US official with experience in the region also finds the story improbable, in this case regarding the Tanzanian interception of a Congo- to- Iran based shipment and the amount transferred.

"My understanding is that the Congolese mines were closed years ago and that any mining now is purely artisanal," said this official.

"[It] would take a lot of labor to produce the volume of uranium they are talking about. The reduction ratio of rock to ore is roughly one hundred to one in the Niger mines. I can't imagine the vein is any richer in the Congo."

Still other experts took issue with the description of the uranium and its suggested purpose, including the sentiment that u-238 is "highly radioactive."

Steven Aftergood, senior research analyst at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), an organization that was formed in 1945 by atomic scientists from the Manhattan Project, is doubtful. "U-238 is one of the isotopic forms of uranium. Another isotopic form, [for example], U-235, is used in fission bombs," explained Aftergood.

"U-238 is not highly radioactive. On the contrary, it decays very slowly. It has a half-life of 4.5 billion years. That means that a given quantity of u-238 would radioactively decay by 50% in 4.5 billion years. So you could hold it in your hand without any adverse effect. On the other hand, it is a toxic metal, and you wouldn't want to inhale or ingest uranium dust if you could avoid it."

But the stories of Iran attempting to purchase uranium from abroad leave many experts highly concerned.

One official close to the United Nations Security Council explained that Iran has its own mines, making any allegations of imported uranium from abroad highly questionable.

"Why would Iran import U-238 when it mines it itself?" The official asked Raw. "This makes no sense whatsoever."

Several sources suggested that the Iranian Directorate, as did its predecessor -- the OSP, may be cherry picking, manipulating, and even planting intelligence abroad that would support a case against Iran in the minds of the public.

Expressing great frustration, one former high ranking intelligence officer said "it is all the Neocons." Asked about the allegations of the uranium transaction from Congo-to-Iran, this source remarked: "Total bullshit."

Wendy Morigi, spokeswoman for U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee Vice-Chairman Jay Rockefeller, would not confirm or deny that the committee had received any information regarding the Iran uranium purchase. "We can't comment on what briefings the committee has received," Morigi stated in an email response.

Morigi did, however, explain that as with any sensitive information, "Generally speaking, it's safe to assume that the committee closely follows everything related to Iran's nuclear program."


Related Raw Story articles:

US military, intelligence officials raise concern about possible preparations for Iran strike

Spurious attempt to tie Iran, Iraq to nuclear arms plot bypassed U.S. intelligence channels

Cheney has tapped Iranian expatriate, arms dealer to surveil discussions with Iran, officials say

Larisa Alexandrovna is managing investigative news editor for Raw Story and regularly reports on intelligence and national security stories.


Robert Fisk: The army is back, but don't expect it to disarm Hizbollah

Independent Online Edition
Published: 18 August 2006

Now you see them, now you don't. Hizbollah weapons? None to be seen. And none to be collected by the Lebanese army. For when this august body of men crossed the Litani river yesterday, their officers made it perfectly clear that it would not be the army's job to disarm the Hizbollah. Nor was anyone in Lebanon surprised. After all, most of the Lebanese troops here are Shias - like the Hizbollah - and in many cases, the soldiers who crossed the Litani are not only from the same southern villages but are related to the guerrillas whom they are supposed to disarm. In other words, a typical Lebanese compromise. So whither UN Security Council Resolution 1701?

True, the French are on their way - or are supposed to be. It is the French - whose own General Alain Pellegrini already commands the small UN force here - who will run the new international army in Lebanon. But are they supposed to disarm Hizbollah? Or fight them? Or just sit in southern Lebanon as a buffer force to protect Israel? The French are still demanding - very wisely - a clear mandate for their role here. But Lebanon does not provide clear mandates for anyone, least of all the French.

The Lebanese gave their soldiers the traditional welcome of rice and rose water when they drove over their newly built military bridges on the Litani. But then, some of the same villagers once gave the same traditional welcome to the Israelis in 1982 - and to Hizbollah after that. But the Lebanese army represented peace in our time - at least for a while - to those who are still digging the corpses of their dead families out of the hill villages of southern Lebanon.

It looked good on television, all those clapped-out Warsaw Pact T-54 tanks and elderly Panhard personnel carriers on flatbed trucks, supposedly returning to the far south for the first time in 30 years. Of course, it wasn't true. Though not deployed on the border, thousands of Lebanese soldiers have been stationed in southern towns since the civil war, dutifully turning a blind eye to Hizbollah's activities, providing none of their fighters were rude enough to drive a truck-load of missiles through their checkpoints.

Among those Lebanese soldiers most familiar with the south were members of the 1,000-strong garrison at the southern Christian town of Marjayoun, who fled after Israel's small ground incursion a week ago. And herein, as they say, lies a tale. For their commander, the Interior Ministry Brigadier General Adnan Daoud, has just been arrested for treason after Israeli television showed him taking tea with an Israeli officer in the Marjayoun barracks. Even worse, Hizbollah's television station Al-Manar - which stayed resolutely on air throughout this latest war despite Israel's best attempts to bomb it out of existence - picked up the Israeli tape and rebroadcast it across Lebanon.

Prior to his arrest, General Daoud was even rash enough to unburden his thoughts to Lauren Frayer, an enterprising reporter for the Associated Press who arrived in Marjayoun in time to record the general's last words before his arrest. The Israelis, he said, "came peacefully up to our gate, asking to speak with me by name". An Israeli officer who introduced himself as Col Ashaya chatted to Daoud about future Israeli-Lebanese military relations.

"For four hours, I took him on a tour of our base." the general said of "Ashaya". "He was probably on an intelligence mission and wanted to see if we had any Hizballah in here." But an hour after the supposedly friendly Israeli left, Israeli tanks blasted their way with shells through the gates of the Lebanese garrison. The Lebanese soldiers did not fire back. Instead, they fled Marjayoun - only to find that their long convoy, which included dozens of civilian cars, was attacked by Israeli pilots who killed seven civilians, including the wife of the mayor, who was decapitated by a missile.

In Beirut, all this was forgotten as the Prime Minister, Fouad Siniora, repeated that there would be no more "states within a state" and that the Hizbollah would leave the area south of the Litani. This statement came under the category of "a likely story". Not only do most of the Hizbollah live in villages south of the Litani but several of their officers made it clear that they had told the Lebanese army not to search for weapons. So much for the disarmament of the Hizbollah south of the Litani river. And so much for President Bush's "war on terror" which the Israelis claim to be fighting on America's behalf.

Bush Vows to Fight Wiretapping Ruling - New York Times

New York Times
Bush Vows to Fight Wiretapping Ruling

WASHINGTON, Aug. 18 — President Bush said today that he is confident that a federal court ruling against his administration’s electronic surveillance program will be overturned, and he described those who hailed the ruling as naïve.

“I would say that those who herald this decision simply do not understand the nature of the world in which we live,” Mr. Bush said in a question-answer session at Camp David, Md. “I strongly disagree with that decision, strongly disagree. That’s why I instructed the Justice Department to appeal immediately. And I believe our appeals will be upheld.”

“We believe, strongly believe, it’s constitutional,” the president added. “And if Al Qaeda is calling into the United States, we want to know why they’re calling.”

A federal judge in Detroit ruled on Thursday that a National Security Agency program to tap the international communications of some Americans without a court warrant violated the Constitution, and she ordered it shut down.

The ruling was the first judicial assessment of the Bush administration’s arguments in defense of the surveillance program, which has provoked fierce legal and political debate since it was disclosed last December. But the issue is far from settled, and the ruling will not take effect at least until after a hearing scheduled for Sept. 7.

In a sweeping decision that drew on history, the constitutional separation of powers and the Bill of Rights, Judge Anna Diggs Taylor of the United States District Court in Detroit rejected almost every administration argument in the case.

Judge Taylor ruled that the program violated both the Fourth Amendment and a 1978 law that requires warrants from a secret court for intelligence wiretaps involving people in the United States. She rejected the administration’s repeated assertions that a 2001 Congressional authorization and the president’s constitutional authority allowed the program.

“It was never the intent of the framers to give the president such unfettered control, particularly when his actions blatantly disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights,” she wrote. “The three separate branches of government were developed as a check and balance for one another.”

Republicans said the decision was the work of a liberal judge advancing a partisan agenda. Judge Taylor, 73, worked in the civil rights movement, supported Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign and was appointed to the bench by him in 1979. She has ruled for the A.C.L.U. in a lawsuit challenging religious displays on municipal property. But she has also struck down a Detroit ordinance favoring minority contractors. “Her reputation is for being a real by-the-books judge,” said Evan H. Caminker, the dean of the University of Michigan Law School.

The government said it would ask Judge Taylor to stay her order at the hearing on Sept. 7.

The Justice Department and the American Civil Liberties Union — which brought the case in Detroit on behalf of a group of lawyers, scholars, journalists and others — agreed that her order would not be enforced until then, but lawyers for the A.C.L.U. said they would oppose any stay after that.

Administration officials made it clear that they would fight to have the ruling overturned because, they said, it would weaken the country’s defenses if allowed to stand.

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, at a hastily called news conference after the decision, said he was both surprised and disappointed by the ruling on the operation, which focuses on communications of people suspected of ties to Al Qaeda.

Administration officials “believe very strongly that the program is lawful,” said Mr. Gonzales, a main architect of the program as White House counsel and the biggest defender of its legality in a series of public pronouncements that began after the program was disclosed by The New York Times last December.

“We’re going to do everything we can do in the courts to allow this program to continue,” he said, because it “has been effective in protecting America.”

Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, also described the surveillance program as a vital and lawful tool. “The whole point is to detect and prevent terrorist attacks before they can be carried out,” Mr. Snow said. “The terrorist surveillance program is firmly grounded in law and regularly reviewed to make sure steps are taken to protect civil liberties.”

Democrats applauded the ruling as an important affirmation of the rule of law, while lawyers for the A.C.L.U. said Judge Taylor’s decision was a sequel to the Supreme Court’s decision in June in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that struck down the administration’s plans to try detainees held in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for war crimes.

“It’s another nail in the coffin of executive unilateralism,” said Jameel Jaffer, an A.C.L.U. lawyer.

But allies of the administration called the decision legally questionable and politically motivated.

“It is an appallingly bad opinion, bad from both a philosophical and technical perspective, manifesting strong bias,” said David B. Rivkin, an official in the administrations of President Ronald Reagan and the first President Bush. “It is guaranteed to be overturned.”

Mr. Gonzales would not say whether the program played any role in foiling a plot last week to set off bombs in airliners bound for the United States from Britain. But Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Republican of Illinois, suggested that it did play a role in the investigation.

In a written statement criticizing Judge Taylor’s ruling, Mr. Hastert defended the wiretapping operation and said that “our terrorist surveillance programs are critical to fighting the war on terror and saved the day by foiling the London terror plot.”

His office declined to elaborate.

Mr. Bush alluded to the London plot today as an example of danger in an era of terrorism, but without asserting that the surveillance program had had a role in its detection. “You might remember last week, working with people in Great Britain, we disrupted a plot,” the president said.

Mr. Gonzales said on Thursday that he expected the ruling to figure in the debate in Congress over how and whether to change federal eavesdropping laws. But he said the exact impact was “hard to predict.”

Among competing proposals, Republican leaders have proposed legislation that would specifically permit the wiretapping program. Some Democrats, however, have introduced legislation that would restrict, or in some cases ban altogether, the government from conducting wiretaps on Americans without a warrant.

The White House is backing a plan, drafted by Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, with the blessing of President Bush, that would allow a secret court to review the legality of the operation.

But in the view of critics, it could also broaden the president’s authority to conduct such operations. Mr. Gonzales said it appeared to administration lawyers that the Specter legislation, if passed by Congress, “would address some of the concerns raised by the judge in her opinion.”

Another element of the Specter legislation would force other lawsuits over the program — like the one brought by the A.C.L.U. in Detroit — to be consolidated into a single action to be heard by the secret court.

Judge Taylor rejected the government’s threshold argument that she should not hear the case at all because it concerned state secrets. Dismissal on those grounds was not required, she wrote, because the central facts in the case — the existence of the program, the lack of warrants and the focus on communications in which one party is in the United States — have been acknowledged by the government.

The government also argued that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue because they had not suffered concrete harm from the program. Judge Taylor ruled that the plaintiffs “are stifled in their ability to vigorously conduct research, interact with sources, talk with clients and, in the case of the attorney plaintiffs, uphold their oath of providing effective and ethical representation of their clients.”

Some plaintiffs, the judge wrote, have had to incur travel expenses to visit clients and others to avoid possible monitoring of their communications.

Going beyond the arguments offered against the wiretapping program by many legal scholars, Judge Taylor ruled that it violated not only the 1978 law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but also the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.

The Supreme Court has never addressed the question of whether electronic surveillance of partly domestic communication violates the Fourth Amendment. Judge Taylor concluded that the wiretapping program is “obviously in violation of the Fourth Amendment.”

The president also violated the Constitution’s separation of powers doctrines, Judge Taylor ruled. Neither a September 2001 Congressional authorization to use military force against Al Qaeda nor the president’s inherent constitutional powers allow him to violate the 1978 law or the Fourth Amendment, she said.

“There are no hereditary kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution,” she wrote, rejecting what she called the administration’s assertion that the president “has been granted the inherent power to violate not only the laws of the Congress but the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution itself.”

Republicans attacked the decision. “It is disappointing that a judge would take it upon herself to disarm America during a time of war,” said Representative Peter Hoekstra, Republican of Michigan, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Judge Taylor did give the government a minor victory, rejecting on national security grounds a challenge to a separate surveillance program involving data mining. That ruling is consistent with recent decisions of federal courts in San Francisco and Chicago.

Judges in those cases drew a distinction between the wiretapping program, which the administration has acknowledged and defended, and the data mining program, which has not been officially confirmed.

David Stout contributed reporting for this article.

NSA Ruling a Victory For the Constitution
NSA Ruling a Victory For the Constitution
By Sarah Olson
t r u t h o u t | Report

Friday 18 August 2006

Judge Anna Diggs Taylor, of the US District Court in Detroit, Michigan, handed the American Civil Liberties Union and their supporters a stunning victory yesterday when she ruled the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program was unconstitutional. Taylor ruled the secret program violated the First and Fourth Constitutional amendments, as well as the separation of powers principle. She also ruled the surveillance program was not sanctioned by the Authorization of the Use of Military Force, nor was it protected from judicial scrutiny by the State Secrets Act as the Department of Justice had argued.

In the landmark decision yesterday, Taylor wrote: "It was never the intent of the Framers to give the President such unfettered control, particularly where his actions blatantly disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights."

The ruling is the first federal challenge to the wiretapping program allowing the NSA to secretly listen to phone calls placed from the US to foreign countries. The Bush administration says the program is used only on a limited number of "terrorist suspects," in extreme cases when it's not convenient to wait for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court warrant. In turn, the ACLU and other civil liberties advocates argue the program violates Constitutionally protected rights to privacy and free speech, and has a chilling effect on communication.

Citing the 1967 US v. Robel ruling, Judge Taylor wrote, "Implicit in the term ‘national defense' is the notion of defending those values and ideas which set this Nation apart. … It would indeed be ironic if, in the name of national defense, we would sanction the subversion of … those liberties … which make the defense of the Nation worthwhile."

Ann Beeson is the ACLU's associate legal director and the lead attorney for the plaintiffs in this case. In a statement yesterday, she said, "By holding that even the president is not above the law, the court has done its duty."

Virginia Kerry, with NSA Public Affairs and Communications, declined to comment on the ruling yesterday, saying, "It would inappropriate to comment on matters of litigation; therefore, we have no information to provide."

The Department of Justice said the Terrorist Surveillance Program is an essential tool for the war on terror, and the Department of Justice has appealed the ruling. "The Terrorist Surveillance Program is a critical tool that ensures we have in place an early warning system to detect and prevent terrorist attacks. In the ongoing conflict with al-Qaeda and its allies the President has the primary duty under the Constitution to protect the American people."

James Bamford is the best-selling author of Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America's Intelligence Agencies and many other books, and is an authority on the NSA. He joined the ACLU's lawsuit, saying: "When NSA was allowed to operate in absolute secrecy, without oversight, it became a rogue agency." Bamford disagrees with the argument that this program protects US citizens against terrorism. "I haven't heard of any great accomplishments this program has had," he said. "In fact, I think there is more legitimacy to the argument this program is more of a hindrance than a help."

Bamford says he's concerned about the possible abuses of individual rights to speech and privacy and about letting a federal surveillance program exist in secret and without public or Congressional oversight, knowledge, or discussion. "To see what happens when there is no regulation on a surveillance program, take a look at the do-not-fly list. There is something like 20,000 names on it."

It's difficult, Bamford says, to know whether or not the NSA is surveiling you. Consequently, if a person is turned down for a small business loan, or rejected from a job with the federal government, it's possible that no one would tell the applicant his name appeared on a NSA security list. "Average Americans can fall into this web and not know about it and not be able to do anything about it. Typically, we have a system of checks and balances, but here, the NSA is judge, jury, and executioner."

Larry Diamond is another ACLU plaintiff against the NSA. He is Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He says: "If the President can construe the law to mean what he wants it to mean, rather than follow what the Congress intended or get the Congress to change and modernize the law, then we no longer live under a rule of law, and our democracy is at risk. We cannot fight for freedom abroad by surrendering it at home."

Diamond is concerned that the NSA warrantless wiretapping program will have an adverse impact on free academic research and communication between countries. "One reason why the United States is held in such low esteem in other parts of the world today is because we are seen as hypocritical: We say we favor the rule of law, but we violate it when it suits us. We are against torture, but we won't unequivocally commit never to practice it. We pressure regimes to adhere to international human rights standards, and then we turn over terrorism suspects to their security agencies, knowing full well these suspects will be tortured. We say we favor democracy and human rights, but we ally with abusive regimes whenever we feel we need to. We vow to promote individual freedom as the central purpose of our foreign policy, and then we violate individual freedom with this secret, warrantless surveillance."

Immigrant communities have suffered disproportionately under this program. Kareem Shora is the Director of Legal Policy at the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, which also signed onto the amicus brief. He lauded the court's decision yesterday, and said that if left unchecked, programs like the NSA's surveillance and wiretapping program would eventually render the Constitution meaningless.

Shora says this program has a chilling effect on speech in immigrant communities. "People in the Arab American community who make calls to the old country typically speak to their families in Arabic. This program has had a chilling effect on that communication." Shora says the US government is not known for its cultural and linguistic sensitivity when it comes to Arab cultures. "These conversations in Arabic are pick up by intelligence personnel and translated. If these translations are off by even one word, the entire meaning of a conversation can be changed and people are detained unnecessarily." In fact, entire families and communities have been ripped apart by these types of intelligence errors, Shora says.

Shora believes it's important to look at the NSA wiretapping surveillance program within the context of a number of post-9/11 policies that have served to frighten and harass immigrant communities. These programs include the now-suspended special registration program, the voluntary interview program, and government surveillance programs.

Leading democratic politicians reacted quickly to the ruling. Congressman John Conyers (D-Mich.), ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, while upholding the necessity and importance of fighting terrorism at home and abroad, said, "I don't believe we advance the cause of fighting terrorism if our government takes Constitutionally dubious shortcuts of little law enforcement value that alienate the very groups in this country whose cooperation is central to fighting this seminal battle."

Russ Feingold, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been trying to get Congressional support for censure of President Bush for his authorization of the NSA surveillance program since March. "Today's district court ruling is a strong rebuke of this administration's illegal wiretapping program," Feingold said on Thursday. "The President must return to the Constitution and follow the statutes passed by Congress. We all want our government to monitor suspected terrorists, but there is no reason for it to break the law to do so. The administration went too far with the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program. Today's federal court decision is an important step toward checking the President's power grab."

Numerous civil rights organizations have signed onto the ACLU lawsuit with friends-of-the-court statements. Today, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund's executive director Margaret Fung said, "We are heartened that the Michigan federal court has struck down the Bush Administration's NSA domestic spying program. This is a tremendous victory for the Asian American community and for all Americans who cherish their rights to free speech and privacy. The President is not above the law, and these governmental abuses of power must end."

For now, Judge Taylor's ruling has handed the ACLU a substantial victory. The Department of Justice has appealed the case, and has announced that both parties have agreed to a temporary stay of Judge Taylor's injunction against the warrantless wiretapping program until the court can hear the Department of Justice's motion for a stay pending appeal.

Sarah Olson is an independent journalist and radio producer. You can reach her at

South Lebanon welcomes country's army

Yahoo! News
South Lebanon welcomes country's army

By LAUREN FRAYER, Associated Press WriterThu Aug 17, 6:20 PM ET

Villagers throwing rice and Hezbollah supporters holding banners welcomed the country's army to south Lebanon on Thursday after a nearly 40-year absence, and the first airliner landed at Beirut airport since fighting began more than a month ago.

Four days into a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah, there was still no firm date for a deployment of an enhanced international force that is supposed to expand to 15,000 troops and join an equal number of Lebanese soldiers. France announced it would provide only 400, and Germany — uneasy given its Nazi past of any possible military confrontation with Israeli soldiers — said it wouldn't send any.

France was expected to lead the U.N. force, and its announcement of such a small number focused attention on its demands for a more explicit mandate, including when to use firepower, and could affect contributions by other countries.

Even though the Israel withdrawal and handover to U.N. forces has gone well thus far, some potential contributors are believed to be concerned about avoiding confrontation with Hezbollah or being caught in the middle of a future conflict.

The U.N. cease-fire resolution called for the force to keep the peace and disarm Hezbollah fighters south of the Litani River. However, the Lebanese government adopted a mandate Wednesday that requires confiscation of Hezbollah arms only if carried in public. It said nothing about the network of Hezbollah rocket bunkers across the 18-mile stretch between the river and the Israeli border.

The deep political divisions in Lebanon resurfaced with the head of the largest parliamentary bloc blasting both Israel and Syria in a fiery nationalistic speech to hundreds of supporters.

Saad Hariri, the leader of an independent, secular bloc that has opposed Syrian domination of Lebanon and is seen as an opponent of Hezbollah, accused Israel of "living off the blood" of Arabs and said Syrian President Bashar Assad was trying to sow strife in Lebanon. Syria and Iran are the main international backers of Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim guerrilla group opposed to Israel.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev, when asked about Hariri's speech, said: "Too often in the Arab world, people think that political legitimacy is attained by bashing Israel."

At least 845 Lebanese were killed in the 34-day war: 743 civilians, 34 soldiers and 68 Hezbollah. Israel says it killed about 530 guerrillas. On the Israeli side, 157 were killed — 118 soldiers and 39 civilians, many from the 3,970 Hezbollah rocket strikes. The figures were compiled by The Associated Press, mostly from government officials on both sides.

In Beirut, the international airport reopened to commercial traffic for the first time since July 13 when it was attacked by Israeli warplanes and gunboats. A Middle East Airlines passenger jet touched down from Amman, Jordan, ending a 36-day Israeli blockade, and a Royal Jordanian flight followed soon after.

The Israeli military said it was coordinating the arrivals, and that the air blockade had not been lifted.
But Middle East Airlines Chairman Mohammed Hout said the blockade was partially lifted to allow flights between Amman and Beirut. Airport officials said full commercial traffic could resume next week.

In southern Lebanon, about 2,500 Lebanese soldiers from the 10th Brigade set up camps within a half-mile of the Israeli border — a key step toward taking control of the whole country for the first time since 1968 and a major demand of the U.N. resolution that so far has halted the fighting.

The deployment marks the first time the Lebanese army has moved in force to a region that was held by Palestinian guerrillas in the 1970s and by Hezbollah since Israeli troops withdrew from the area in 2000.

As the Lebanese troops began spreading out along the frontier at the north end of Israel's Galilee panhandle, a convoy of eight U.N. peacekeeping trucks rumbled into Kfar Kila, just south of here, to take up positions that were held by Israelis before they began withdrawing. Those posts were to be transferred to Lebanese forces, mostly likely by early Friday.

Abu Hussein Awad, a 58-year-old Shiite, claims the distinction of being the Lebanese civilian who lives closest to Israel. His house backs up against the Fatima Gate where Israeli troops withdrew in 2000, ending an 18-year occupation of south Lebanon.

"The army is good, I'm glad they're here," said Awad, who has lived here for 50 years — most of the time Israel has been in existence.

He was asked if he supported Hezbollah.

"I'm Lebanese. I don't like Hezbollah ... . I love Lebanon only — not America, not Iran and not Syria — just Lebanon," he said, listing the key backers of the combatants in the war.

The area of Lebanon's border with Israel was in ruins. In the towns of Adaisse and Taibeh, south and west of Kfar Kila respectively, it was difficult to find a building that was not blackened, pockmarked by artillery or flattened altogether.

Wreckage was strewn through the streets, but new Hezbollah flags flapped in the wind over piles of rubble. In Kfar Kila, young men hung giant yellow banners above intersections. They read: "Rice, they will not see your new Mideast" and "The Great Lebanon has defeated the murderers." Both were signed, Hezbollah.

The only traffic in the towns was young bearded men zipping around piles of wreckage on motorcycles. They spoke quietly into two-way radios, occasionally dismounted to kiss one another on both cheeks, then zipped away. One had a handgun tucked into his belt. Another threw an AK-47 rifle into the back of a pickup truck when a reporter approached.

"I am a Hezbollah fighter, and this is my town," proclaimed 35-year-old Ahmed, who declined to give his full name because he feared retribution. His voice echoed off the shells of vacant, gnarled buildings in Adaisse's main square.

Ahmed pointed to one charred building after another. "That is where 18 of them (Israeli soldiers) died, and five more there," he said, pointing to buildings off the town square. "That over there is my business, a bookshop."

"Why did they (the Israelis) come? Why did they do this?" Ahmed screamed, his cement block house in shambles. "Next time the Israelis come, we'll fight again for sure." He broke open a 6-pack of mineral water he said he snatched from next to the bodies of Israeli soldiers killed days ago here.

Among the soldiers who will be taking up positions in villages like Adaisse and Taibeh was Cpl. Muhammed Abdul Rahim. The 42-year-old Lebanese army ranger from Tripoli, in the far north of the country, said he felt "like a new man today."

"It's a difficult mission, and the times now are still dangerous. I think we have one more week of danger in this country," he said.

The arrival of Adbul Rahim and his comrades was welcomed.

"We've been waiting for 30 years for this army to come," said George Najm, a 23-year-old wedding singer from Qleia. "Today is a new beginning."

"Lebanon is a beautiful country," Najm said as he looked over the valley toward Israel. "But it's been a pretty difficult place to live for the past month."

Marine Corps May Have Cleansed Haditha Files

The New York Times

Inquiry Suggests Marines Excised Files on Killings
By David S. Cloud
The New York Times

Friday 18 August 2006

Washington - A high-level military investigation into the killings of 24 Iraqis in Haditha last November has uncovered instances in which American marines involved in the episode appear to have destroyed or withheld evidence, according to two Defense Department officials briefed on the case.

The investigation found that an official company logbook of the unit involved had been tampered with and that an incriminating video taken by an aerial drone the day of the killings was not given to investigators until Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the second-ranking commander in Iraq, intervened, the officials said.

Those findings, contained in a long report that was completed last month but not made public, go beyond what has been previously reported about the case. It has been known that marines who carried out the killings made misleading statements to investigators and that senior officers were criticized for not being more aggressive in investigating the case, in which most or all of the Iraqis who were killed were civilians. But this is the first time details about possible concealment or destruction of evidence have been disclosed.

The report's findings have been sent to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which is investigating members of the unit involved in the killings, as well as higher-ranking officers in the Second Marine Division. No charges have been brought yet.

The report, based on an investigation by Maj. Gen. Eldon A. Bargewell of the Army, does not directly accuse marines of attempting a cover-up, but it does describe several suspicious incidents, according to the Defense Department officials.

It says that the logbook, which was meant to be a daily record of major incidents the marines' company encountered, had all the pages missing for Nov. 19, the day of the killings, and that those portions had not been found, the officials said.

No conclusions are drawn about who may have tampered with the log. But the report says that Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, the leader of the squad involved in the killings, was on duty at the unit's operations center, where the logbook was kept, shortly after the killings occurred, the officials said.

Neal A. Puckett, a lawyer for Sergeant Wuterich, was unavailable to comment.

Investigators were also initially told by Marine officers that videotape taken by the drone was not available, one of the officials said. The officials added that the marines produced the tape only after General Bargewell had completed his inquiry and they had been asked again to produce it by General Chiarelli.

The report has been closely held within the Defense Department, and the officials who agreed to discuss it did so because they said they thought it should receive wider public attention. They agreed to speak only if their names were not published because they had not been authorized by superiors to discuss its contents.

The deaths occurred outside the town of Haditha after a three-vehicle convoy of marines was hit by a roadside bomb, killing a lance corporal. The squad then began going through houses nearby, killing Iraqis found inside in what defense lawyers have said was a justifiable use of lethal force by marines who believed they were under concerted attack by insurgents.

The Marine Corps issued a press release the next day saying that 15 of the civilian deaths had been caused by the bomb explosion. But several officers in the unit have said they knew even then that marines had killed all 24 of the dead Iraqis, 9 of whom were suspected insurgents.

Since then, the idea that any of the victims were insurgents has been challenged, both by Iraqi survivors and by some American military officials familiar with the case, noting that the victims included 10 women and children and an elderly man in a wheelchair. They have said that evidence suggests that the marines overreacted after the death of their fellow marine and shot the civilians in cold blood.

Marines have told investigators that at least one Iraqi who was shot was brandishing an AK-47 assault rifle. But no records were found that such a weapon was recovered at the scene and turned in to the unit's headquarters, as regulations require, the officials said.

Lt. Col. Sean Gibson, a Marine Corps spokesman, said: "The Marine Corps is committed to a full and thorough investigation of the events that occurred at Haditha on Nov. 19, and the actions that followed that may have contributed to any improper reporting. If allegations of wrongdoing are substantiated, the Marine Corps will pursue appropriate legal and administrative actions."

The decision about whether to take disciplinary action will be made by Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis, the commander of Marine Corps units in the Middle East, based on his review of both the Bargewell report and the results of the criminal investigation still under way.

In addition to faulting officers in the Second Marine Division for not aggressively investigating the Haditha killings, the Bargewell report said the commanders had created a climate that minimized the importance of Iraqi lives, particularly in Haditha, where insurgent attacks were rampant, the officials said.

"In their eyes, they didn't believe anyone was innocent," said one of the officials, describing the attitude of the marines in the unit toward Iraqis. "Either you were an active participant, or you were complicit."

Two days after the Haditha killings, Maj. Gen. Richard A. Huck, then the division commander, asked his staff for a briefing on what had happened, the officials said. General Huck later told investigators that he had ordered the briefing because he was concerned about the reports of civilian casualties, one of the officials said.

But the briefing provided to General Huck contained no mention of the civilian casualties, the investigators learned. Instead, according to one of the officials, it dealt almost entirely with the roadside bomb attack and other insurgent attacks on marines in Haditha throughout the day.

General Huck and other officers from the Second Marine Division have been ordered not to talk about the case, and a telephone call to the unit was referred to Colonel Gibson, the Marine spokesman. But some senior officers have previously defended their response to the killings, saying there was no reason to doubt the account provided by enlisted marines at the time, contending that civilian killings were an unfortunate but accidental byproduct of their pursuit of insurgents.

The involved marines' battalion commander, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, and their company commander, Capt. Lucas McConnell, told investigators that they had not reviewed the scene within the houses after the killings, despite the high number of civilian casualties, one of the officials said. Colonel Chessani was relieved of his command in April; Marine officials would not say whether the Haditha case was involved in the decision but said there were several reasons.

The video taken by the overhead drone was very limited, according to one of the officials. The aircraft was not flying over the site until after the bomb attack, so it only captured the aftermath. Even so, the video appears to contradict statements by marines about what occurred, the officials said.

In particular, it has raised doubts about a claim by enlisted marines that five Iraqis were shot as they were running away after the roadside bombing.

The officials said the video showed the bodies of the five Iraqis on the ground close to the car that they had been riding in, the officials said. In one case, the video appears to show one body stacked on top of another, which the officials said was inconsistent with the account that the men had been shot while fleeing.