US swaps high-level terror suspects to Saudi Arabia for British prisoners
- July 3: A tripartite deal between the US, Saudi Arabia, and Britain is revealed: In May 2003 the US traded five high-level Guantanamo detainees, all suspected of being al-Qaeda members, to Saudi Arabia in return for the Saudis freeing five Britons and two others charged by Saudi Arabia of committing terrorist acts. The British government says it believes the seven are innocent, and were tortured into signing false confessions. None of the five terrorist suspects had been considered for release from Guantanamo; in fact, many Pentagon and State Department officials resisted their release, saying they were too dangerous to be released and expressing doubts that the Saudi government will detain them. US officials deny that any prisoners were released in trade for British prisoners, but the swap has been confirmed by British and Saudi officials. Saudi officials contradict each other, with some saying that several of the prisoners had been released, and others saying that all five are still in custody. "We acted in our national interest to reduce the Guantanamo population at a time when we were able to conclude that we had no further need to detain these individuals," says an American with knowledge of the negotiations. "It happened to serve a beneficial diplomatic purpose both with the Saudis and the Brits. But we would never have released these people if we had a further need to detain them in the first place."
- His story is challeged by several current and former Defense Department officials, who say no Saudis had even been under consideration for release prior to the arrangement's being struck. "It didn't seem right," says one military official involved in the process. "The green light had not appeared on these guys in the way that it had on others" who were released. "It was clear that there was a quid pro quo to the deal that we were not aware of." An official in the British Foreign Office says: "We were extremely relieved to get the guys out of Saudi. We worked ceaselessly to get them out." The prisoner exchange works to the benefit of both British and Saudi governments, both under fire from their citizenry for their involvement in the Iraq occupation.
- The British prisoners, convicted in Saudi Arabia for being involved in a car bombing, maintain their innocence and are suing the Saudi government for illegal incarceration and torture; they were held incommunicado for two years, and the former prisoners say their confessions were tortured out of them. The Britons -- Sandy Mitchell, James Cottle, Les Walker, James Lee, Glenn Ballard and Peter Brandon, and a Canadian, William Sampson -- said they were subjected to beating while incarcerated for two years. They had been convicted of a car-bombing in which another Briton, Christopher Rodway, was killed. Many have subsequently said their confessions were forced and are suing the Saudi authorities. Mitchell says, "We were definitely pawns in a game. I was sentenced to crucifixion and beheading for a crime the Saudis knew I did not commit. They had to tell us during the torture sessions what to confess to. It was a set-up from the very beginning." (New York Times/Information Clearinghouse, Independent/Truthout)
US officials censor Hussein's first court hearing
- July 3: US military officials destroyed videotape of Saddam Hussein in chains during his hearings, and deleted the entirety of legal submissions of 11 senior members of his former regime in an attempt to censor the information coming from Hussein's hearings. A US network cameraman who demanded the return of his tapes, which contained audios of the hearings, says he was told by a US officer: "No. They belong to us now. And anyway, we don't trust you guys." American journalists were told by a US admiral that the judge had ordered that no sound recordings of the initial hearings be made, and ordered crews to unplug their mics and recorders. One journalist says, "We learnt later that the judge didn't order us to turn off our sound. The Americans lied -- it was they who wanted no sound. The judge wanted sound and pictures." Another American TV crew member says, "They were rude and they didn't care. They were running the show. The Americans decided what the world could and could not see of this trial -- and it was meant to be an Iraqi trial. There was a British official in the courtroom whom we were not allowed to take pictures of. The other men were US troops who had been ordered to wear ordinary clothes so that they were 'civilians' in the court." US officials censored the tapes taken by CNN, "Al-Djezaira" (a local, American-funded Iraqi channel), and the US government. "Fortunately, they were lazy and they didn't check all the tapes properly so we got our 'audio' through in the satellite to London," says one of the crew members. "I had pretended to unplug the sound from the camera but the man who claimed he was a US admiral didn't understand cameras and we were able to record sound. The American censors at the embassy were inattentive -- that's how we got the sound out." The only thing the Americans managed to censor from most of the tapes was Hussein's comment that "this is theatre -- Bush is the real criminal." Judge Raid Juhi says he wants the world to hear Hussein's voice and words, but in defiance of his ruling, Americans erased the entire audiotape of the hearings of the 11 former Saddam ministers, including that of Tariq Aziz, the former deputy prime minister, and "Chemical" Ali, accused of gassing the Kurds at Halabja. The US Department of Defense tape of their hearings has been taken by the US authorities so there is now no technical record of the words of these 11 men, save for the notebooks of "pool" reporters -- four Americans and two Iraqis - who were present. Juhi recently said, "I have no secrets -- a judge must not be ashamed of the decisions he takes." The Independent, in its report, retorts, "The Americans apparently think differently." (Independent/Truthout)
Army study cites critical shortages and failures during initial invasion
- July 3: An internal study of the Iraqi invasion by the Army reveals that the invasion, far from being the smooth operation touted by the Bush administration, was plagued by a lack of promised equipment, a critical lack of food, water, medical supplies, spare parts, and ammunition, and a dearth of intelligence about the enemy. The study concludes that US forces prevailed despite supply and logistical failures, poor intelligence, communication breakdowns and futile attempts at psychological warfare. The 542-page study, declassified last month, praises commanders and soldiers for displaying resourcefulness and resiliency under trying conditions, and for taking advantage of superior firepower, training and technology. But it also describes a broken supply system that left crucial spare parts and lubricants on warehouse shelves in Kuwait while tank personnel outside Baghdad ripped parts from broken-down tanks and raided Iraqi supplies of oil and lubricants. "No one had anything good to say about parts delivery, from the privates at the front to the generals [at the U.S. command center in Kuwait]," the study's authors concluded after conducting 2,300 interviews and studying 119, 000 documents. Among other highlights, the report revealed that the toppling of the Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad before cheering Iraqis was the brainchild of a US Army colonel, with help from psychological operations units. The report also credited another US Army colonel with shortening the war by "weeks, if not months" with his dramatic "thunder run" into Baghdad. Within the 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized), which spearheaded the US assault on Baghdad, "literally every maneuver battalion commander asserted that he could not have continued offensive operations for another two weeks without some spare parts," the study says.
- The study contradicts the public perception, groomed by the White House, of a technologically superior invasion force that easily drove Hussein from power. In fact, as the authors point out in their battle-by-battle narrative, there were many precarious moments when US units were critically short of fuel and ammunition, with little understanding of the forces arrayed against them. Many soldiers plunged into combat not knowing whether they had enough food or water to sustain themselves in punishing heat and blinding sandstorms. "stocks of food barely met demand," the study says. "There were times when the supply system was incapable of providing sufficient MREs [meals ready to eat] for the soldiers fighting Iraqi forces." Military intelligence provided little useful information about the deployment or intentions of Iraqi forces, the study concludes. Most significantly, military planners did not anticipate the effectiveness or ferocity of paramilitary forces that disrupted supply columns and mounted suicide charges against 70-ton Abrams tanks. Some of those same forces, using tactics refined during the invasion, are part of the current insurgency.
- The report adds say that the military's "running start" -- the strategy of launching the invasion before all support units had arrived -- made it difficult for commanders to adjust quickly from major combat to postwar challenges. Because combat units outraced supply and support units, combat commanders were caught unprepared when Hussein's regime collapsed after three weeks. "Local commanders were torn between their fights and providing resources -- soldiers, time and logistics -- to meet the civilian needs," the report reads. "Partially due to the scarce resources as a result of the running start, there simply was not enough to do both missions." The principal authors, retired Colonel Gregory Fontenot, Lieutenant Colonel E.J. Degen, and Lieutenant Colonel David Tohn, warn that Iraqi forces could have created significant problems if they had attacked relatively undefended US units staging in Kuwait in the winter of 2002-03. Those units arrived without significant firepower or reinforcements and were vulnerable to a surprise attack. (Los Angeles Times/San Francisco Chronicle)
- July 3: The Army study of the Iraqi invasion cited above confirms that the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue outside of Baghdad, one of the most famous photo ops of the invasion, was stage-managed by a US Marine colonel specializing in psychological operations, or "psyops." It was a quick-thinking Army psychological operations team that made it appear to be a spontaneous Iraqi undertaking. After the colonel, not named in the report, selected the statue as a "target of opportunity," the psychological team used loudspeakers to encourage Iraqi civilians to assist, according to an account by a unit member. But Marines had draped an American flag over the statue's face. "God bless them, but we were thinking...that this was just bad news," one member of the psychological unit said. "We didn't want to look like an occupation force, and some of the Iraqis were saying, 'No, we want an Iraqi flag!'" Someone produced an Iraqi flag, and a sergeant in the psychological operations unit quickly replaced the American flag. Ultimately, a Marine recovery vehicle toppled the statue with a chain, but the effort appeared to be Iraqi-inspired because the psychological team had managed to pack the vehicle with cheering Iraqi children. (Los Angeles Times/CommonDreams)
- July 3: An "11th hour splurge" has drained the Iraq Development Fund of all but $900 million of the $20 billion formerly available. Most of the money is proving difficult to trace, though most is believed to have gone to lucrative contracts with American corporations ostensibly responsible for leading the reconstruction of Iraq -- many linked to Halliburton. The money, most of which comes from Iraqi oil sales, is being traced by the General Accounting Office. "This lack of accountability creates an environment ripe for corruption and theft at every level," reports oversight group Christian Aid in a report titled "Fueling Suspicion: the Coalition and Iraq's Oil Billions." The money was doled out by the now-disbanded CPA under the aegis of Paul Bremer. (Baltimore Sun/Independent Media)
- July 3: Dick Cheney says the Democrats are to blame for rising gas prices. While he admits rising consumption and decreasing domestic production have led to high gasoline prices, he also says that Congressional Democrats have blocked proposed drilling in the Alaska wilderness that might provide gas and oil for consumption. "John Kerry and John Edwards voted no," Cheney says to a hand-picked crowd of supporters in Arkansas. "It's another area where I think there is a significant difference." He goes on to say, "Anybody that might disagree with their liberal philosophy doesn't get to come to the floor of the Senate for a vote, and that's just wrong." He doesn't explain how the Democrats manage this, since the Republicans control both houses of Congress and the only way to block a vote, a filibuster, is a tool the Democrats have been reluctant to use. (AP/The Agonist)
- July 3: Former senior CIA analyst Ray McGovern calls US representative Porter Goss, the administration's apparent choice to head the CIA, Dick Cheney's "cats' paw," and says Goss's nomination will be sheer partisan politics. Like Nixon's CIA head James Schlesinger, who brazenly told CIA officials that his job was to protect Nixon, Goss will likely skip the normal chain of command and report directly to Cheney and political handler Karl Rove instead of national security advisor Condoleezza Rice.
- McGovern writes, "Goss would almost certainly follow lame-duck director George Tenet's practice of reading to the president in the morning and become an integral part of the 'White House team.' The team-membership phenomenon is particularly disquieting. If the failure-prone experience of the past few years has told us anything, it is that being a 'team member' in good standing is the kiss of death for the CIA director's primary role of 'telling it like it is' to the president and his senior advisers. It was a painful moment of truth when former Speaker Newt Gingrich -- like Cheney, a frequent visitor to CIA headquarters -- told the press that Tenet was 'so grateful to the president that he would do anything for him.' One need look no farther than what has become known as a latter-day Whore of Babylon -- the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of Oct. 1, 2002, the very title of which betrayed a politically correct, but substantively wrong, conclusion: 'Iraq's Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction.' And bear in mind that it was only several months after President Bush decided to attack Iraq that Tenet commissioned that estimate. Not unreasonably, Congress was wondering about the views of the intelligence community, and the White House needed congressional acquiescence. No problem. 'Slam-dunk' Tenet, following White House instructions, ensured that the estimate was cooked to the recipe of Cheney's tart speech of August 26, 2002. 'We know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons,; Cheney said, and the estimate Tenet signed gave belated endorsement - with 'high confidence,' no less -- to that lie. The intelligence process, of course, was not the only thing undermined. So was the Constitution.
- "Various drafts of that NIE, reinforced with heavy doses of 'mushroom-cloud' rhetoric, were used to deceive congressmen and senators into ceding to the executive their prerogative to declare war -- the all-important prerogative that the framers of the Constitution took great care to reserve exclusively to our elected representatives in Congress. What was actually happening was clear to intelligence analysts, active and retired. [McGovern's organization] Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity were not the only ones to expose it as clearly and often as the domesticated US media would allow." According to McGovern, Goss, then the head of the House Intelligence oversight committee, knew the NIE was bogus, but allowed it to go unchallenged.
- "This is what CIA would get with Porter Goss at the helm," McGovern writes. "Appointing Goss would administer the coup de grace to intelligence analysts trying to survive while still speaking truth without fear or favor. The only saving grace for them would be the likelihood that they would be spared 'multiple visits' by Cheney to the inner sanctum where it used to be possible to produce unvarnished analysis without vice presidents and other policy makers looking over their shoulders to ensure they 'had thought of everything.' Goss, who has a long history of subservience to Cheney, could be counted upon to play the Cheney/Gingrich/et al. role himself."
- He adds, "The Democrats warn smugly that an attempt by the administration to confirm a new CIA director could become an embarrassing referendum on CIA's recent performance, but they miss the point entirely -- and show, once again, that they can't hold a candle to Rove for political cleverness. The name of the administration's game is to blame Iraq on intelligence failures, and Goss already did so last week in what amounted to his first campaign speech for the job of director. Consider court historian Bob Woodward's book, Plan of Attack, which Condoleezza Rice and other officials have promoted. Rice has publicly confirmed Woodward's story about Tenet misleading the president by claiming the evidence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was a 'slam dunk.' While there is ample evidence of ineptitude on Tenet's part, this now-famous vignette obscures the fact that President Bush had unleashed the dogs of war well before checking to see if there was any credible intelligence to justify doing so. As the election nears, it serves the administration nicely to keep the focus on intelligence shortcomings and to make it appear that the president was misled -- on weapons of mass destruction, for example. And Porter Goss is precisely the right person to cooperate in this effort. I can imagine Rove laughing up his sleeve last week at word that the Democrats are urging Senate minority leader Tom Daschle to prepare for extensive confirmation hearings this fall. (In my mind's eye I can see Rove musing, Bring em on!)
- "The report due later this month by the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating intelligence performance regarding the long-sought-after Iraqi weapons of mass destruction is said to be scathing in its criticism of CIA. No problem. This too will help keep the focus where the White House wants it -- the more so since committee chair and Republican stalwart Pat Roberts can be counted on to do whatever Cheney and Rove tell him to do. It was not until Roberts was instructed to give Tenet the cold shoulder that the latter began to see the handwriting on the wall. And Republicans are also in control of the 9/11 commission, which will be issuing its own report later this month. There are already signs that Republican commissioners have begun to water down findings critical of the administration, while highlighting those critical of intelligence performance. Goss was happy to let the Senate intelligence committee take the lead in investigating intelligence performance on key issues like weapons of mass destruction and, before he decided to promote his candidacy for director, he generally chose to keep his committee's head (and his own) down. With good reason. The myriad shortcomings in intelligence work appeared on his somnolent watch; by any reasonable standard, he bears some responsibility for impaired oversight -- not only on Iraq, but on 9/11 as well." Goss was instrumental in ensuring that the investigation of 9/11 launched by his congressional committee stayed well within the bounds required from the administration. No mention of the infamous August 6, 2001 PDB was made in its report, and Goss was a key player in the FBI's investigation of members of Congress for leaking information to the media.
- McGovern concludes, "There seems a better than even chance the Bush administration will nominate Goss, and use the nomination hearings as yet another forum at which to blame the Iraq debacle on faulty intelligence. And, as a bonus for Bush, if there is time before the election, it would seem a safe bet that Goss will be able to bring to heel recalcitrant analysts who are still 'fighting the problem,' still staring in disbelief at the given wisdom (given, apparently, only to the Pentagon and White House) that Iraq and al-Qaeda were in bed with each other." (Truthout)
- July 3: Many Iraqis have little faith that the Saddam Hussein trial is anything but a US-orchestrated spectacle, according to Sami Ramadani, a London-based exile from Hussein's regime. The court case is "deceptive," he writes, and the fact that many of Hussein's accusers, including interim prime minister Iyad Allawi, are former Hussein allies, does nothing to bolster the trial's credibility. He quotes an Iraqi citizen as saying, "If they give Saddam a fair trial, they will all end up with him in the dock -- Kissinger, Reagan, Thatcher, Blair, the two Bushes and Allawi." (Guardian)
- July 3: Liberal congressman Jim McDermott tells an audience in India that he wouldn't be surprised to learn that the Bush administration has already captured Osama bin Laden and is waiting for the right moment in the electoral process to unveil him. "There are already rumors circulating that Osama bin Laden is being held somewhere already and it's only that they are trying to decide what day they should bring him out," he says. McDermott tacitly accuses the administration of a similar scheme in a remark to a reporter after the capture of Saddam Hussein. "I don't know if it was definitely planned on this weekend, but I know they've been in contact with people all along who knew basically where he was," McDermott reportedly said after Hussein's reported capture. Later news reports have proven that Hussein was not captured when, where, or how we were told. (World Net Daily)
"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." -- Ben Franklin
Karpinski accuses Rumsfeld of authorizing Abu Ghraib torture
- July 4: General Janis Karpinski, formerly the head of Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison, confirms that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld authorized torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Karpinski, who was excoriated by the 2004 Taguba report, has steadfastly claimed that orders from higher up bound her hands in preventing torture and abuse at the prison during her tenure there. Karpinski says she has seen classified documents with Rumsfeld's signature authorizing "dogs, food deprivation and sleep deprivation." Rumsfeld's office says any such authorizations did not come from him, and would have had to come from US Central Command, headed by General John Abizaid. Documents have been released from the Bush administration showing that any torture or abuse at the Guantanamo Bay detention camps would have had to have been authorized by Rumsfeld personally.
- July 4: 98% of the $18.4 billion approved by Congress for "emergency" aid to Iraq remains unspent nearly nine months after it was made available. The reason seems to be that US authorities in Washington and Iraq don't like the Congressional oversight that comes with the money, and have preferred to spend the $20 billion allocated to the Development Fund for Iraq, which has far less oversight. Reports from June 28 (see item from that date) indicate that billions of DFI dollars cannot be accounted for after being spent in an "11th hour splurge" by the exiting CPA, and that billions that can be traced have been awarded in cushy no-bid contracts to companies such as Halliburton. Only $366 million of the $18.4 billion U.S. aid package had been spent as of June 22, the White House budget office told Congress in a recent report that offered the first detailed accounting of the massive reconstruction package. Thus far, according to the report, nothing from the package has been spent on construction, health care, sanitation and water projects. More money has been spent on administration than all projects related to education, human rights, democracy and governance combined. Of $3.2 billion earmarked for security and law enforcement, a key US goal in Iraq, only $194 million has been spent. Another central objective of the aid program was to reduce the 30 percent unemployment rate, but money has been spent to hire only about 15,000 Iraqis, despite US promises that 250,000 jobs would be created by now.
- US officials involved in the reconstruction blame security concerns and bureaucratic infighting between the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House for delays in the allocation of funds. By the time the Pentagon's contracting office in Baghdad began awarding contracts, the risk of kidnapping and other attacks aimed at foreign workers was so dire that many projects never began. Several Western firms that won contracts have summarily withdrawn their employees from Iraq. Fewer than 140 of the 2,300 reconstruction projects that were to be funded with the US aid package are underway, according to US officials. CPA and Bush administration officials have a range of reasons -- some say excuses -- as to why the money has not yet been used to help Iraqis. Some Iraqi officials have criticized the contrasting spending practices. The occupation authorities "came here and spent a lot of our money but very little of theirs," says one senior Iraqi official, who refused to be identified on the grounds that criticism could affect his relationship with the new US Embassy. The official does not contest the CPA's decision to use the development fund money to pay the expenses of running Iraq's government during the occupation, but he condemns spending on what he called "less essential projects that should have been left up to the Iraqis to decide. They wanted to do things their way before they left," the official says. Much of the Congressional money actually spent went to Halliburton, largely for that firm to import gasoline into Iraq, whose large oil reserves are not producing enough gas. Halliburton has been repeatedly accused of overcharging for gasoline and other materials, costing Iraq and the US taxpayer billions in overages and "disappeared" funds. (Washington Post/Truthout)
Couple arrested and handcuffed for wearing anti-Bush shirts to 4th celebration
- July 4: A FEMA worker who attends a 4th of July rally in Charleston, West Virginia, featuring a speech by President Bush is arrested, handcuffed, and ordered to leave West Virginia after being spotted wearing an anti-Bush T-shirt. (Spectators wearing pro-Bush paraphenelia were not questioned.) They will contest the charges with the support of the American Civil Liberties Union.
- Nicole Rank, a Texan working in West Virginia as part of FEMA's response to floods in the area, and her husband Jeff attend the rally after acquiring tickets through their employer. Those who applied for tickets were required to supply their names, addresses, birth dates, birthplaces and Social Security numbers. A two-page document given to ticket holders said they were prohibited from bringing certain items to the event, including weapons, video-recording equipment, food, beverages, umbrellas, signs and banners. T-shirts, political buttons and lapel pins were not on the list of prohibited items. Dozens of rally goers openly wore pro-Bush apparel, and Bush campaign materials, including T-shirts and pins, were on sale at the rally. Bush's appearance was called a presidential visit, not a campaign appearance, and thererfore was paid for by taxpayer funds.
- The Ranks attend the rally wearing handmade T-shirts, with Nicole's saying "Love America, Hate Bush" and Jeff's saying "Regime Change Begins at Home." Both she and her husband are arrested for trespassing; the Charleston police claim they were in a no-trespassing area and refused to leave. The police say the Ranks wore jackets over their shirts as they passed through the security checkpoints, and then once inside, opened their jackets to display their shirts; the Ranks confirm that is accurate, because they did not want to be denied entrance. The police ask them to leave and join protestors in the "designated protest area," well away from the rally itself, and when the Ranks refused to leave, they were arrested.
- "We stood there for ten, fifteen minutes," Rank later recalls. "Then these two guys came up. They looked like young Republican volunteers. They were wearing polo shirts. They had little tags around their necks. [One of the men] said, 'You have to either take those shirts off or leave.' We were dumbfounded. We said, 'No, why do you think that?' And he replied, 'This is not a political event, so you have to take the shirts off.' This was just really absurd. There were people standing all around us with pro-Bush things on. Bush hats, pins, shirts. You could buy pro-Bush paraphernalia right there at the event." Nicole adds, "They were even selling a set of Bush-Cheney playing cards." While Jeff stands his ground, asserting his First Amendment rights, and Nicole takes pictures of the challenge, other audience members in pro-Bush regalia begin defending the Ranks and supporting their right to state their views peacefully. "They may be crazy, but it's their right," Jeff recalls one saying. A short time later, after the Ranks join the crowd in singing the national anthem, a group of police officers appear and ask the Ranks if the volunteers had asked them to either remove their shirts or leave. Jeff responds, "'Look, you have seen the sum total of our protests. We're not going to yell, we're not going to heckle, and we're not going to do anything crazy. We're just going to stand here, and you guys are welcome to stand here with us if you feel that we pose a danger or if you're worried about our safety.' One of their lines had been, 'We're worried about your safety." Instead, the police demand that the Ranks either comply with the request to remove the shirts or leave, or they will be arrested. "I finally said, 'You guys do what you have to do,'" Jeff Rank recalls. "'We're going to stand here and do what we know that we are allowed to do.' And so they called over the arrest team."
- Nicole recalls that the arrest team is composed of "various members of different state law enforcement agencies. There were probably eight police officers in our immediate vicinity." She sees two men who appear to be Secret Service agents, "dressed in the typical men-in-black outfits," standing nearby. The Ranks are dismayed when, after the arrest team arrived on the scene, many of the Bush supporters who had originally supported their right to stand and watch now begin heckling and verbally abusing them. "The police officers now said that they needed to protect us from the hecklers," Nicole recalls. "Well, we tried to point out that the people who had started heckling us hadn't been bothering us until they showed up." The Ranks refuse to leave voluntarily, even after the police take them by the arms and try to walk them out of the rally. Instead, the Ranks sit down on the ground. The Ranks are handcuffed, escorted out of the rally, charged with trespassing, and released pending a court appearance. Nicole remembers that most of the officers are polite except for one, who begins screaming when she asks to take a photo of Jeff being handcuffed. "He got aggressive and started screaming at me, saying that I was causing trouble." Though some news reports falsely state that the Ranks were forcibly carried out, and some report that the Ranks kicked and spat at officers, they actually walk quietly with their police escorts. "What I do remember was 'America the Beautiful' was playing on the loudspeakers while we were being walked out in handcuffs," Jeff recalls. "If you saw it in a movie, you'd go, 'Ah, this isn't real.' It was one of those very surreal moments."
- "You have to realize that neither of us had ever protested anything before," recalls Jeff Rank over a year later. "This was our first political protest. Ever. All we wanted to do was wear our anti-Bush T-shirts and quietly listen to him speak. His visit to Charleston wasn't a campaign stop, so it would be open to the public. I guess the reason we chose that particular form of protest was because whenever you'd watch television news coverage of Bush speaking at these events, there would be only Bush supporters appearing in the background. We wanted to wear something identifying us as non-supporters." He adds that the purpose for their arrest and removal was apparently to get them off the premises as soon as possible. "It doesn't matter if the charge sticks," he says. "It doesn't matter if you're charged with jaywalking or littering or trespassing -- just get them off the property right now. It'll take two hours to be processed through the system, and that'll be enough time for Bush to give his speech and get out of town. And that's exactly what happened." The Ranks are charged with trespassing and released on their personal recognizance, two and a half hours after their arrest, and well after the rally has ended.
- FEMA has told Nicole that she is to leave West Virginia immediately and return to Texas; Jeff says she has been fired, though FEMA refuses to confirm or deny the firing. "All we can say is that our federal coordinating officer, Lou Botta, sent Nicole home," says a FEMA spokesperson. "We cannot comment further, to protect her privacy. Federal privacy laws prevent us from saying anything." "We weren't doing anything wrong," says Jeff. Nicole's supervisor accuses her of jeopardizing FEMA's mission in West Virginia, to which she retorts, "How many people are going to turn down free checks from the federal government just because of something I did?" She is not immediately fired, but FEMA kicks the Ranks out of their hotel lodgings and confiscates Nicole's FEMA badge.
- Robert Bastress, a West Virginia University law professor who specializes in civil liberties, says it is unlawful to prohibit people like the Ranks from wearing anti-Bush shirts or buttons at such an event. "Obviously, you have a right to engage in nondisruptive protest," he says. "If you were legally there, you cannot be asked to leave because of whatever message is on a button or a T-shirt or a hat." He says key questions are "whether the [Bush speech] was a public forum, whether you were lawfully there and what was the manner in which you were engaging in your expression." From the information available, the Ranks were there lawfully, the event was a public forum as it was billed as a "presidential appearance" and was funded by state and federal tax dollars, and the Ranks' protest was completely non-violent. Event organizers could prohibit signs, designating a place where people could carry signs, says Bastress. "But they can't make those decisions based on what the content of any sign says." Bastress also said it makes no difference whether Sunday's event was an official presidential visit or a political rally. "That area was open to anybody who had a ticket," he says. "Once you were lawfully in there, you were entitled to even-handed treatment."
- Ironically, Bush tells the crowd as the Ranks are being hauled away, "On this Fourth of July, we confirm our love of freedom, the freedom for people to speak their minds, the freedom for people to worship as they so choose. Free thought, free expression, that's what we believe." The West Virginia Gazette Mail protests the treatment of the Ranks in an editorial on July 9. A police spokesman said, "There was nothing we could do." The Gazette Mail responds, "Yes, police had a choice. They could have let the couple express their anti-Bush feelings, just as others in the crowd were expressing pro-Bush feelings. The Bush supporters weren't dragged away in handcuffs. Theoretically, the Independence Day event was a public, patriotic ceremony open to all people of all political views. But it had the flavor of a Republican campaign rally. Many in the Statehouse crowd wore Bush emblems and chanted 'four more years.' Party agents passed out Bush buttons and waved voter registration sheets. The couple criticizing Bush stood out as a glaring exception to the GOP mood. ...Was she sent back to Texas for wearing a shirt denouncing the president? Has her government job been terminated? ...The right to criticize the government is the most precious freedom spelled out in the First Amendment of America's Bill of Rights. When police manhandle a couple for rebuking the president, but do nothing to others praising the president, a basic element of US democracy has been injured."
- Washington State's Tri-City Herald writes, "Those in charge of security at President Bush's Fourth of July speech in West Virginia on Sunday need some schooling in the definition of irony. On a day the nation celebrates its freedom, Bush handlers and Charleston police apparently decided to make an exception for Bush's event on the state Capitol grounds. In his speech to 3,000 supporters, Bush said, '...Free thought, free expression, that's what we believe.' Except in Charleston. Except on the Fourth of July. And except for Bush critics."
- Since Bush took office in early 2001, people have been banned from displaying anti-Bush messages at dozens of Bush appearances across the country. In September 2003, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit against the Secret Service, seeking an injunction against the Bush administration for segregating protesters at his public appearances. The Secret Service agreed that such censorship was wrong, says Witold Walczak, one of the lawyers that filed the lawsuit. "They had an internal memo dated September 2002, saying they couldn't treat protesters differently or worse" than anyone else at a presidential appearance, Walczak says. "The judge said any agent responsible for doing so could be held liable for damages." The Secret Service had been telling local police to sequester anyone displaying an anti-administration message, usually in areas completely out of sight and earshot of Bush. Because the Secret Service agreed with the ACLU that it shouldn't be doing that, the judge dismissed the lawsuit. "Prior to filing our suit in September, we'd get a couple of confirmed 'protest zone' complaints every month," says Walczak. "After we filed, there were practically none. We had two documented incidents between September and March: one in Little Rock, Arkansas, and one in Knoxville, Tennessee." Now, the ACLU and other organizations lawyers like Walczak are carefully monitoring cases like the Ranks', and two similar incidents recently in Pennsylvania. "We're trying to assess what is going on at these appearances...whether these 'protest zones' are resuming," Walczak says. "We are continuing to monitor all campaign events by both Republican and Democratic candidates. We're prepared to go back into court if we see discrimination occurring."
- Because Bush's Fourth of July stop in Charleston was billed as an official presidential visit, not a campaign rally, "That makes it an even more glaring violation of the First Amendment," says Andrew Schneider, executive director of the ACLU of West Virginia. "It's an Orwellian way to keep speech out of sight of those the speech is intended to critique.... We want to nip this in the bud before it becomes a habit of future administrations."
- The Ranks decide to return to Charleston to fight the trespassing charge, and contact the ACLU for legal representation. On July 15, they appear in court, flanked by a phalanx of reporters, and learn that days before, the Charleston city council had passed a resolution officially apologizing to the Ranks. The court dismisses the charges, and the Ranks are free to go. The Ranks and the ACLU file a civil suit against the government, naming as defendants the White House Office of Presidential Events and the head of the Secret Service, and several "John Does," including the two young Republican aides and state law enforcement officials."
- The Ranks both say they would protest again. "Nothing that Jeff and I did was illegal," says Nicole. "We hadn't done anything wrong from the beginning. I don't regret anything that we did. I wouldn't go out and look for that kind of trouble -- but by the same token, what we did was exercise our right to speak out and participate in the democratic process. I would do it again in an instant." Jeff adds, "Post-9/11, a lot of people got caught up behind the flags they were waving and didn't stop to think about what was really going on and what those flags really stood for. They didn't stop to think for themselves. ...It certainly has cost us, both on personal and financial levels. Yet there's a reluctance for people to stand up and do these things. And I don't think that's unique to our time in history. But unless people exercise their constitutional rights, those rights will erode." (West Virginia Gazette Mail (original story no longer available, but can be read here), West Virginia Gazette Mail, Tri-City Herald, West Virginia Gazette Mail, Nicole and Jeff Rank/Bill Katovsky)
- July 4: The Toronto Star's Mitch Potter writes of his untimely exit as an embedded reporter with the US 1st Cavalry in Camp Victory, outside Baghdad. Potter was told, "I want you off this base by morning" by Brigadier General Jeff Hammond. The reason? Potter's articles featuring uncensored comments by ordinary soldiers on the ground that appeared in the Star in the days before. Potter's stories featured comments ranging the gamut from unvarnished support for the Iraq occupation to frank disgust with the entire situation. Hammond apparently didn't like the fact that any negative comments from soldiers appeared in the media. Potter notes that a colleague who reported for the Chicago Sun-Times, the Houston Chronicle, and the Jerusalem Post was similarly ousted after another general deemed his stories "bad for morale." Hammond explains, "There were, in my view, incorrect editorial statements interspersed in Mr. Potter's reporting." Specifically, Hammond says that fears among US soldiers that Iraqis are out to kill them, as expressed by one soldier quoted in an article, are not at all "commonplace," as the article stated. He also says that, that among US soldiers, there is not a "paranoia" over whether Iraqi soldiers with whom they are working side-by-side are with them or against them. He says the article, in raising the possibility, was "misleading." Hammond did not dispute the accuracy of a quote from a US soldier who said, "This sucks. They call us occupiers and I don't blame them. This is all a waste of time," Hammond calls the quote gratuitous. "soldiers are going to gripe. Humans are going to gripe." (Toronto Star)
- July 4: Liberal author and filmmaker Michael Moore says it is past time for liberals, progressives, and antiwar protesters to reclaim the American flag as a symbol for their beliefs. He writes that he, like many others, stopped flying the flag after Vietnam: "I knew that [the soldiers who died in Vietnam] had made a sacrifice. But their sacrifice wasn't for their country: They were sent to die by men who lied to them. Those men -- presidents, senators, government officials -- wrapped themselves in the flag too, hoping that their lies would never be questioned, never be discovered. They wrapped themselves in the very flag that was placed on the coffins of my friends and neighbors. I stopped singing the national anthem at football games, and I stopped putting out the flag.
- "I realize now I never should have stopped.
- "For too long now we have abandoned our flag to those who see it as a symbol of war and dominance, as a way to crush dissent at home. Flags are flying from the back of SUVs, rising high above car dealerships, plastering the windows of businesses and adorning paper bags from fast-food restaurants. But these flags are intended to send a message: 'You're either with us or you're against us,' 'Bring it on!' or 'Watch what you say, watch what you do.'
- "Those who absconded with our flag now use it as a weapon against those who question America's course. They remind me of that famous 1976 photo of an anti-busing demonstrator in Boston thrusting a large American flag on a pole into the stomach of the first black man he encountered. These so-called patriots hold the flag tightly in their grip and, in a threatening pose, demand that no one ask questions. Those who speak out find themselves shunned at work, harassed at school, booed off Oscar stages. The flag has become a muzzle, a piece of cloth stuffed into the mouths of those who dare to ask questions.
- "I think it's time for those of us who love this country -- and everything it should stand for -- to reclaim our flag from those who would use it to crush rights and freedoms, both here at home and overseas. We need to redefine what it means to be a proud American."
- Moore is joined in his call by writers Peter Dreier and Richard Flacks, who note, "Conservatives, we are told, wave the flag. Or wear it on their lapels. Leftists, by contrast, only scorn it. Or burn it. Since the Vietnam War era, many liberals and progressives have been uncomfortable about patriotism. They equate it with jingoism and militarism. They have been reluctant to wave the flag. They weren't sure it was theirs. And George W. Bush's brand of blind 'my country right or wrong' jingoism has, on this Fourth of July, only deepened the dilemma. ...In the midst of a controversial and increasingly unpopular war, and with a presidential election under way that will shape the nation's direction, there is no better way to celebrate America than to wav[e] a flag and remember...it's also yours." (Los Angeles Times/Truthout, Los Angeles Weekly/AlterNet)
- July 5: A British intelligence report to be issued next week will blame Britain's intelligence chiefs for the intelligence errors used to justify the war against Iraq. The report will also debunk Prime Minister Tony Blair's determined assertions that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, leaving Blair with little choice than to admit he was in error. The report, issued by Lord Butler and a team of five investigators, will characterize the situation as the worst bungle by British intelligence since Argentina invaded the Falklands in 1982. Butler and his team are still arguing over whether or not to officially name the head of the Government's Joint Intelligence Committee, John Scarlett, and the head of MI6 intelligence service Richard Dearlove, as allowing misleading information into a "dossier" Blair used to make the case for war. The report will also criticize the Blair administration's top lawyer, Lord Goldsmith, who advised the PM that the war was legal. Senior Labour MP Ann Taylor is said to be opposed to "naming and shaming" individuals. If Scarlett, promoted by Blair as MI6 chief, is blamed, it will be especially embarrassing for Blair. The career "spy" had "ownership" of the Iraq WMD dossier and worked with former spin chief Alastair Campbell to make the case for war to a skeptical Parliament and public. The now infamous dossier of September 2002 claimed Iraq could launch weapons within 45 minutes. Six months ago Blair said: "I have absolutely no doubt in my mind the intelligence was genuine." But MI6 chiefs are now ready to accept their agents supplied them with wrong information about WMDs. Yesterday Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the UK's former Iraq envoy, admitted "we were wrong," and added, "There is no doubt the stockpiles we feared might be there, were not there." Sir Jeremy also said he expected British troops not to be withdrawn from Iraq until 2006. He said: "I think we have to stay there through this 18-month transition which has just started." (Daily Mirror)
- July 5: Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's former envoy to Iraq, makes the clearest admission yet that intelligence that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons was wrong. He says, "We were wrong on the stockpiles, we were right about the intention." Greenstock tells a BBC interviewer, "There is no doubt that the stockpiles that we feared might be there are not there. We didn't know they were there, but we thought that there was a considerable danger that they were there, because the intelligence, not just in the American and British systems but in the French, German and Russian systems, also was quite compelling at the time." Greenstock says that the Bush administration was unduly influenced by the Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi and underestimated the potential problems of post-war security. (Independent/Truthout)
- July 5: Elizabeth Wilmshurst, the former deputy legal adviser to the Foreign Office who resigned after ministers ignored her advice that the war in Iraq was illegal, issues a damning legal critique of the occupation, claiming that the alleged abuse of prisoners "could amount to war crimes." Wilmshurst tells Britain's Independent that "it could be alleged that the use of force in Iraq was aggression" while "the kinds of abusive treatment of Iraqi prisoners that have been alleged could amount to war crimes." She adds that the Bush administration's "war on terror" is legal "nonsense" -- conferring no more powers on the US to detain prisoners than "the war against obesity" -- and Bush's policy of pre-emptive self-defense is illegal under international law. Wilmshurst, who is now head of the international law program at the think-tank Chatham House, also raises questions about the powers of detention the Americans have in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay. She says it violates the Geneva Conventions to deny inmates in Guantanamo Bay a formal assessment of their status. (Independent/Truthout)
- July 5: Officials and experts around the world are warning that the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and other US detention facilities is destroying the moral authority of the United States to effect change in global affairs. "It's caused incredible harm to our position in the world," says Felix Rohatyn, the financier and former US ambassador to France, referring specifically to the prison abuse scandal. "I'm a refugee," adds Rohatyn, who came to the US six decades ago, fleeing Nazi-occupied France. "I know what America stood for when I came here. That's not the way we are looked at now." Musa Hitam, a former deputy prime minister of Malaysia, cites the case of his country as an example of diminished US moral authority. When Musa led a lonely campaign four years ago to abolish a tough internal security law in Malaysia, Western governments vocally supported him, believing that the law calling for detention without trial was anachronistic in the fast-modernizing country. Today, Musa says that outside calls to drop the internal security act have been reduced to a whisper. Musa says he senses an "embarrassed silence" from Western diplomats, especially from the United States, which once described the law as draconian and denounced its use against Anwar Ibrahim, a top politician who fell out of favor and remains in a Malaysian prison, where he was beaten, notoriously, by a chief of police. "What we were alleged to have done is chicken feed, is nothing, compared to what the US administration has done," says Musa. "Leadership by example is in tatters now, as far as the US is concerned." The government in Malaysia has cited the US's actions in Iraq in defense of its internal-security act, says Zainah Anwar, a Malaysian women's rights activist. "They say: 'Even the United States believes in detention without trial. If the democratic, developed, civilized West can have such a law, why are you clamoring to repeal the law?'" Zainah says. Amnesty International's Alex Arriga notes that Liberia's now-deposed dictator, Charles Taylor, detained journalists who criticized his rule last year, he labeled them "enemy combatants," the US term for Guantanamo detainees. "Governments are clearly citing the war on terror to legitimize their repressive practices," Arriaga says. "We have seen a proliferation of what we would consider to be very repressive legislation." The former director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, John Esposito, says, Many people now critical are people who were great admirers of our principles and values. ...Abu Ghraib in particular has seriously undermined our ability to preach to the world. There's a question about how much moral authority is even left." Arriga says that the revelations about Abu Ghraib are particularly tough to explain away. "It is devastating," Arriaga says. "It makes it so much more difficult to advocate on behalf of victims of torture all over the world -- incredibly so -- because the US is sending the message that international standards apply only when convenient." Esposito agrees, saying, "We are a great country, but how are we going to now move forward and pressure others in light of what we've done?" (International Herald Tribune/Truthout)
- July 5: Bloggers on both sides of the political divide are becoming a larger and more prominent part of the presidential race, according to an Agence France Press profile, with both conventions inviting selected bloggers to participate in the festivities. The article notes the tremendous effectiveness of the Dean campaign's use of Internet blogging to raise money and awareness before anyone else caught on. The Democratic convention has hired former Gore speechwriter Eric Schnure to handle its official convention blog; the Republican convention is still considering who to have run its convention blog. Blogger Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, founder of the liberal and highly successful Daily Kos political blog, says of the official party blogs, "They have no personality, they never talk about anything remotely interesting. They are so risk-aversed that they would rather say nothing than say something that might be interesting." Moulitsas points out that the Bush campaign blog doesn't even allow for public comment. Most bloggers feel they are the watchdogs of the media and political stories often brew on bloggers websites before they make it into newspapers. "stories often bounce around and you get an echo chamber where the top bloggers talk about things," says Peter Daou, a longtime blogger, who now helps write blog entries for John Kerry's campaign website. "By studying the blog carefully, you can sometimes get a sense of what's coming. They'll telegraph things that are going to come in the future." Bloggers helped bring Trent Lott's racist remarks during the 2003 celebration of Strom Thurmond's birthday to the fore, which resulted in Lott's resignation as Senate Majority Leader. But media critics caution against treating bloggers as real journalists, especially highlighting instances such as reports of an alleged affair between Kerry and intern Alexandra Polier. Many conservative bloggers were eager to spread the reports. "It's just the latest manifestation of the vanity press," says Steve Lovelady, managing editor of Columbia Journalism Review's Campaign Desk, that analyzes bloggers as part of its media coverage. "Most of them don't consider themselves journalists and I'll be the first to tell you that," Lovelady says. (AFP/ICE)
Blair admits Iraqi WMDs may never be found
- July 6: British prime minister Tony Blair admits that Iraq's supposed cache of weapons of mass destruction may never be found, but insists they may have been "hidden, removed or destroyed." He tells the Commons liaison committee of senior MPs, "I was very, very confident the Iraq Survey Group would find them -- I have to accept we haven't found them and we may not find them." Blair's admission comes a week before the Butler Survey Group is expected to release a report excoriating his administration for lying about Iraq's WMDs as part of a concerted US-UK effort to build a case for invading Iraq. (Guardian)
CIA withheld data showing Iraq had no WMDs before invasion
- July 6: It is revealed that the CIA withheld information confirming that Iraq under Saddam Hussein had long ago abandoned any programs to develop weapons of mass destruction, even as Bush repeatedly told the world that Iraq's WMDs were a threat to civilization. The information was elicited by the Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence. The Senate report, intelligence officials say, concludes that the agency and the rest of the intelligence community did a poor job of collecting information about the status of Iraq's weapons programs, and that analysts at the CIA and other intelligence agencies did an even worse job of writing reports that accurately reflected the information they had. Among the many problems that contributed to the committee's harsh assessment of the CIA's prewar performance were instances in which analysts may have misrepresented information, writing reports that distorted evidence in order to bolster their case that Iraq did have chemical, biological and nuclear programs, according to government officials. The Senate found, for example, that an Iraqi defector who supposedly provided evidence of the existence of a biological weapons program had actually said he did not know of any such program. In another case concerning whether a shipment of aluminum tubes seized on its way to Iraq was evidence that Baghdad was trying to build a nuclear bomb, the Senate panel raised questions about whether the CIA had become an advocate, rather than an objective observer, and selectively sought to prove that the tubes were for a nuclear weapons program. The committee refuses to speculate on whether the White House pressured the CIA into presenting only select intelligence and withholding other information. In hindsight, the Senate panel and many other intelligence officials now agree that there was little effort within the American intelligence community before the war to question the basic assumption that Mr. Hussein was still seeking to produce illicit weapons. Evidence that fit that assumption was embraced; evidence to the contrary was ignored or seen as part of a clever Iraqi disinformation campaign. (New York Times/Independent Media)
- July 6: Only 90 of the over 5,700 people in custody in Iraq -- less than 2% -- are foreign fighters, giving more evidence to disproving the Bush administration claims that foreigners make up the majority of the insurgents battling US forces in Iraq. The information comes from defense officials who refuse to be named. Of the 90 foreign captives, about half are from Syria and others are from Arab countries including Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Yemen and Saudi Arabia, according to the officials. Analyst Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington says that "the overwhelming mass of those involved in the insurgency are Iraqi nationals who are simply opposed to the US invasion and foreign occupation. That doesn't mean that there are not small, dispersed cells of foreign fighters, including some loosely affiliated with al Qaeda." Cordesman adds that it was doubtful if such groups around the country had "a central nervous system." USA Today reported that U.S.-led military forces had detained 17,700 people -- including some 400 foreign nationals -- in Iraq since last August who were considered to be enemy fighters or security risks. Most were freed after a review board found they didn't pose significant threats, the newspaper said. (Reuters/Houston Chronicle)
- July 6: "Enemy combatant" Jose Padilla, incarcerated for three years in a South Carolina prison camp without being formally charged with a crime, refiles his lawsuit against the federal government. The Supreme Court threw out his original lawsuit, ruling that it should not have been filed in a New York district court. Padilla's lawyer has refiled the case in the Charleston, South Carolina district court. Padilla was originally detained as a "material witness" in the 9/11 bombings shortly after the attacks, and was later confined under the accusation of plotting to build and set off a so-called "dirty bomb" in the US. An appeals court has ruled that the government either needs to formally charge him with a crime or free him, but the ruling has been suspended while the Supreme Court considers his case. US attorneys have regaled the media with extraordinary tales of Padilla's villany, but have consistently refused to let anyone, including his lawyer, see any of the evidence they claim to have to bolster their claims. Padilla is demanding due process as granted to anyone indicted for a crime under the Constitution. The government claims that the president has the authority to hold Padilla indefinitely without charge or due process due to Padilla's supposed connection to international terrorism. (CBS)
Kerry chooses Edwards as running mate
- July 6: Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry names fellow senator John Edwards of North Carolina as his running mate, ending a secretive four-month search. Kerry chose Edwards, the preference of many Democratic party leaders and activists, from a list of around 25 possible vice-presidential candidates. Kerry calls Edwards "a man who has shown guts and determination and political skill in his own race for the presidency of the United States." In a written message to supporters, Kerry says, "In the next 120 days and in the administration that follows, John Edwards and I will be fighting for the America we love. I can't tell you how proud I am to have John Edwards on my team or how eager I am for the day this fall when he stands up for our vision and goes toe-to-toe with Dick Cheney." The Bush campaign counters the announcement with a political ad featuring GOP senator John McCain; McCain had been the subject of many a rumor as a possible choice for Kerry's VP. (The Chicago Tribune, among others, provides a little pro-Bush spin by incorrectly noting that "McCain, a popular Republican and veteran, repeatedly declined invitations to join Kerry's ticket." In reality, Kerry never invited McCain to run as his vice-president.) In selecting a partner, aides say, Kerry was looking for a combination of compatibility, experience and excitement as well as someone whose biography helped frame the campaign's message for the four months leading up to Election Day. "The importance of the choice in the electorate's mind is: What does it say about the candidate?" says author and law professor Joel Goldstein. "Geography is not nearly important as it once was. Now you have to run a national campaign. You can't pick someone with the idea that this guy is going to carry the South for me. You can't send someone to one region and have them camp out there." However, history shows the choice of a vice-president rarely has influenced the outcome of an election. Not since John Kennedy selected Lyndon Johnson in 1960 -- the two went on to win Texas -- has a running mate's region of the country proved to help conquer an otherwise difficult state to win. That election was also the last time a senator won the presidency and the last time the presidential and vice presidential nominees both were senators.
- Interestingly, the New York Post incorrectly reported the same day of the announcement that Kerry would select US representative Richard Gephardt as his running mate, an announcement that came directly from owner Rupert Murdoch. According to the New York Times, "Mr. Murdoch, the chairman and chief executive of the News Corporation, called his tip in to the Post's news desk just after 10 on Monday night, between the first and second editions," causing an editor to rewrite the paper's original article about Kerry's VP announcement. Apparently, this is nothing new at Murdoch-owned news outlets, as Dan Cox, former senior media reporter at the Post recently wrote: "Barely a day went by when Murdoch didn't force feed items about his rival media moguls and their particular transgressions. ....Not only were we not allowed to ask Murdoch any specific questions about these 'tips,' we were not allowed to check their veracity -- anywhere. Murdoch expected us to use them wholesale, unattributed of course." (Chicago Tribune, Center for American Progress)
- July 6: Voting rights activist Bev Harris, founder of Black Box Voting, says that this November's e-voting is going to be a "train wreck" marred by hacking, fraud, and conflicts of interest. "We have a train wreck that's definitely going to happen," she says. "We have conflict of interest, we've taken the checks and balances away, and we know the votes are already being miscounted fairly frequently. This is going to be huge." She has found numerous instances where Republican lawmakers and business magnates own large stakes in voting machine manufacturers such as Diebold, Sequoia Systems, and ES&S. Even her supporters find her at times abrasive and confrontational, but there is little doubt that she is working to uncover what she characterizes as massive, systemic election fraud designed to thwart the will of the voters and place unelected Republicans in office. "I didn't want to get involved in this," she says. "I just don't understand how anyone could discover this stuff and live with themselves if they didn't say anything about it." (AP/Fall River Herald News)
- July 6: Former BBC chairman Gavyn Davies accuses the Blair administration of a "witch hunt" against the BBC, and also accuses Downing Street of deliberately discrediting weapons expert David Blair. Blair, a key BBC source in the initial debunking of the Iraqi WMD claims, later committed suicide when his name was mysteriously revealed as a source of information. Davies says he is "proud" to have stood up to Downing Street even though it resulted in the end of his career in public life and the departure from the BBC of the director general, Greg Dyke. Davies accuses the government of waging a campaign against the BBC "in a remorseless and aggressive manner, with scant regard for the freedom of the press, or the independence of the BBC. ...They may have thought that they were pursuing a legitimate grievance. From where I sat, their methods of seeking redress for that grievance looked more like a witch-hunt." Of Kelly, Davies says, "The government discovered that David Kelly was the source of the BBC story, and instantly decided to expose him, and discredit him, simultaneously. When David Kelly tragically committed suicide, the government found Lord Hutton to conduct a public inquiry. The evidence given to Lord Hutton suggested that both the BBC and the government may have made some errors, but that much of the gist of [reporter Andrew] Gilligan's original story [debunking the Iraqi WMD claims, based on information provided by Kelly] had been correct." (Guardian)
- July 6: Federal district court nominee James Leon Holmes is confirmed by the Senate. Holmes, the former president of Arkansas Right to Life, is an ardent anti-abortion activist who wrote in 1997 that "the wife is to subordinate herself to her husband" and "the woman is to place herself under the authority of the man" in the same way that "the church is to place herself under the protection of Christ." In 1980, Holmes wrote that "Concern for rape victims is a red herring because conceptions from rape occur with approximately the same frequency as snowfall in Miami." Holmes is apparently ignorant of the fact that in a single year 32,000 women become pregnant because of rape. His record of judicial activism, and his zealous antipathy for the rights of gays and minorities, makes him yet another hallmark candidate for the Bush judiciary. (Independent Judiciary, Eric Alterman and Mark Green)
Bush coordinates the search for bin Laden with the November election, and pressures Pakistan to deliver him during the Democratic convention
- July 7: The Bush administration is pressuring the Pakistani government to deliver Osama bin Laden and other "high value targets" before the November presidential elections, obviously hoping that the capture or confirmed assassination of a major terrorist leader such as bin Laden, Ayman Al Zawahiri, or the Taliban's Mullah Mohammed Omar, would bolster Bush's sagging poll numbers and give him a much-desired boost before the election. "It would be best," says an aide to Bush, "if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July." Since this spring, numerous senior Bush administration officials such as CIA director Tenet, Secretary of State Powell, Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca, State Department counterterrorism chief Cofer Black, and a top CIA South Asia official, have visited Pakistan to urge General Pervez Musharraf's government to do more in the war on terrorism. Although the administration denies it has geared the war on terrorism to the electoral calendar -- "Our attitude and actions have been the same since September 11 in terms of getting high-value targets off the street, and that doesn't change because of an election," says National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack -- the New Republic has confirmed that Pakistani security officials have been told they must produce bin Laden, Zawahiri, or Omar by the election.
- According to one source in Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, "The Pakistani government is really desperate and wants to flush out bin Laden and his associates after the latest pressures from the US administration to deliver before the [upcoming] U.S. elections." In 2002 and 2003, no specific timetables for these so-called HVT captures was communicated to Pakistan, but with the election approaching and Bush's re-election hopes beginning to sag, the administration is fiercely pressuring Pakistan to deliver at least one HVT before the election. Another official, this one from the Pakistani Interior Ministry, which is responsible for internal security, explains, "The Musharraf government has a history of rescuing the Bush administration. They now want Musharraf to bail them out when they are facing hard times in the coming elections." Neither source agreed to be identified, citing worries that they could face long jail terms under Pakistan's Official Secrets Act for talking to the press. A third source, an official who works under ISI's director, Lieutenant General Ehsan ul-Haq, says that the Pakistanis "have been told at every level that apprehension or killing of HVTs before [the] election is [an] absolute must." What's more, this source claims that Bush administration officials have told their Pakistani counterparts they have a date in mind for announcing this achievement: "The last ten days of July deadline has been given repeatedly by visitors to Islamabad and during [ul-Haq's] meetings in Washington." McCormack denies the claim, saying, "I'm aware of no such comment." But according to this ISI official, a White House aide told ul-Haq last spring that "it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July," the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston.
- The Bush administration is combining its pressure on Pakistan with a range of enticements and threats to achieve these captures. In March, Powell designated Pakistan a major non-NATO allya status that allows its military to purchase a wider array of US weaponry. Powell pointedly refused to criticize Musharraf for pardoning nuclear physicist A.Q. Khan, who, the previous month, had admitted exporting nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea, and Libya. Instead, Powell called Khan's transgressions an "internal" Pakistani issue. Additionally, the administration is pushing a five-year, $3 billion aid package for Pakistan through Congress over Democratic concerns about the country's proliferation of nuclear technology and lack of democratic reform. What Pakistan most wants from the US, though, is a number of F-16 fighters, and Powell has yet to commit to this sale. Pakistan fears that if it doesn't produce the HVTs on schedule, it won't receive the planes. The Pakistani government also fears that, if they don't deliver, either Bush or a prospective Kerry administration would turn its attention to the apparent role of Pakistan's security establishment in facilitating Khan's illicit proliferation network.
- One Pakistani general recently in Washington confided in a journalist, "If we don't find these guys by the election, they are going to stick this whole nuclear mess up our a**hole." Pakistani officials believe that their best interests lie in Bush's re-election. "In Pakistan, there has been a folk belief that, whenever there's a Republican administration in office, relations with Pakistan have been very good," says Khalid Hasan, a US correspondent for Pakistan's Daily Times. By contrast, there's also a "folk belief that the Democrats are always pro-India." Recent history has tended to reinforce those beliefs. The Clinton administration inherited close ties to Pakistan, forged a decade earlier in collaboration against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. But, by the time Clinton left office, the United States had tilted toward India, and Pakistan was under US sanctions for its nuclear activities. All this has given Musharraf reason not just to respond to pressure from Bush, but to feel invested in him -- and to worry that Kerry, who called the Khan affair a "disaster," and who has proposed tough new curbs on nuclear proliferation, would adopt a less friendly posture.
- In large part because of the increased US pressure, Musharraf has, over the last several months, significantly increased military activity in the tribal areas, regions that enjoy considerable autonomy from Islamabad and where, until Musharraf sided with the United States in the war on terrorism, Pakistani soldiers had never set foot in the nation's 50-year history. Thousands of Pakistani troops fought a pitched battle in late March against tribesmen and their al-Qaeda affiliates in South Waziristan in hopes of capturing Zawahiri. The fighting escalated significantly in June. Attacks on army camps in the tribal areas brought fierce retaliation, leaving over 100 tribal and foreign militants and Pakistani soldiers dead in three days. Last month, Pakistan killed a powerful Waziristan warlord and al-Qaeda ally, Nek Mohammed, in a dramatic rocket attack that villagers say was facilitated by aB US spy plane. Until this recent pressure from the US, Pakistanis and some Americans had been reluctant to carry the war on terrorism into the tribal areas. A Pakistani offensive in that region, aided by American high-tech weaponry and perhaps Special Forces, could unite tribal chieftains against the central government and precipitate a border war without actually capturing any of the HVTs. Military action in the tribal areas "has a domestic fallout, both religious and ethnic," Pakistani Foreign Minister Mian Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri said last year. Some American intelligence officials agree. "Pakistan just can't risk a civil war in that area of their country. They can't afford a western border that is unstable," says a senior intelligence official, who anonymously authored the recent book Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror and who says he has not heard that the current pressures on Pakistan are geared to the election. "We may be at the point where [Musharraf] has done almost as much as he can." "Pushing Musharraf to go after al-Qaeda in the tribal areas may be a good idea despite the risks," concludes the New Republic article. "But, if that is the case, it was a good idea in 2002 and 2003. Why the switch now? Top Pakistanis think they know: This year, the president's reelection is at stake." (The New Republic, Truthout)
- July 7: Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi has approved a draconian new spectrum of legislation giving him power to unilaterally declare martial law in Iraq, to impose curfews anywhere in the country, to ban groups he considers seditious, and to order the detentions of people suspected of being security risks. Critics of the Allawi regime immediately accuse him of implementing laws written by US lawyers, and of being a US puppet. The legislation also allows Allawi to take direct control of all security and intelligence forces in the area under emergency rule, freeze Iraqi citizens' bank accounts, severely restrict travel, wiretap phones, and "appoint a military or civilian commander to assume administration of an emergency area" with the help of an emergency force, as long as the president -- currently Sheik Ghazi Ajil al-Yawar -- approves. Human rights groups immediately warn of warrantless arrests and indefinite detentions without charge. Senior American military officials say they will support Allawi in his efforts to end the insurgency, including help Iraqi forces enforce martial law. "Iraq has begun to look just like any other Arab country," writes British journalist Robert Fisk. (New York Times/Truthout, Independent/Truthout)
Enron's Kenneth Lay indicted
- July 7: Former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay is indicted for criminal activities surrounding the company's collapse. The indictment from a grand jury is sealed, and the criminal charges faced by Lay have not been disclosed. Houston-based Enron was the nation's 7th largest publicly owned firm when it unravelled in the final months of 2001 amid disclosures that it had used off-the-books deals to hide billions of dollars in debt and inflate profits. Separately, the US Securities and Exchange Commission plans to file civil fraud charges against Lay. Lay, once a leading US industrialist and close friend of Bush, who fondly nicknamed him "Kenny Boy," now faces felony charges stemming from the Enron debacle. When asked about the indictment during a Michigan appearance, Bush walked away from the microphone without answering. Lay, as head of then Houston Natural Gas, led a 1985 merger that formed the modern Enron. He became an aggressive political player who lobbied lawmakers such as Bush and his father, former President George H.W. Bush, to deregulate natural gas markets. Generous campaign donations -- at one time he was the current President Bush's top contributor -- helped gain access to the halls of power. Enron used deregulation to become a dominant force in electricity trading in the 1990s and served as a role model for dozens of other firms that mimicked its no-holds-barred trading practices. But the burgeoning merchant power industry imploded after Enron's collapse and the California power crisis of 2000-2001. Lay was Enron's chief executive for most of the company's history, but handed the post to Jeffrey Skilling in February 2001. Skilling suddenly resigned in August 2001; Lay resumed as CEO until he quit in January 2002. (Skilling also faces criminal indictment.) Lay claims his personal fortune has plummeted from over $400 million to less than $20 million because of losses over Enron stocks. It is widely believed that much of Lay's fortunes have been hidden, perhaps in accounts controlled by other Lay family members. (Reuters/SafeHaven)
- July 7: The Senate report expected to harshly criticize US prewar intelligence regarding Iraq will sidestep the issue of if, and how much, the White House pressured the CIA, the FBI, and other intelligence agencies to select intelligence that bolstered their view of Iraq as a threat to the US, and to suppress intelligence showing Iraq had no weapons that could threaten either the US or its Middle Eastern neighbors. The commission issuing the report will not address the issue until it issues a further report, not expected until after the November elections. The Bush administration is expected to use the report to deflect blame for prewar intelligence failures onto the country's intelligence agencies, and particularly the CIA and resigning director George Tenet. Democrats will try to focus attention on the issue by releasing as many as a half-dozen "additional views" to supplement the bipartisan report. "How the administration used the intelligence was very troubling," says Senator Ron Wyden. "They took a flawed set of intelligence reports and converted it into a rationale for going to war." The 410-page report will be heavily redacted before it is made public. (New York Times/Global Exchange)
- July 7: The House votes to overturn Bush administration restrictions on gift parcels that Americans can send to family members in Cuba, one of the few political defeats suffered by the second-term president. The 221-194 vote is won by a coalition in which Democrats were joined by nearly four dozen farm-state and free-trade Republicans to rebuff the president. The vote came just four months from an Election Day in which Bush would like to once again win Florida, the pivotal state in his 2000 victory, by gaining the support of that state's Cuban-Americans. The House vote followed a familiar pattern of recent years in which the Republican-run House, and sometimes the Senate, has voted to block Bush policies restricting trade and travel with Cuba. Last year, both chambers voted to end curbs on travel to Cuba by Americans, only to see lawmakers back away after Bush issued a veto threat. "It's hard to think of an economic sanction that does more harm to the welfare of families in Cuba, or does more to make the US seem mean-spirited toward families who already have the misfortune to live under communism," says Republican representative Jeff Flake, one of the sponsors of the bill. Cuban-American representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart, another Republican, adds that the proposal is "dishonest" and "condescending.... It seeks to undermine an entire policy President Bush has just implemented...to hasten the Democratic transition in Cuba." The new Commerce Department rules, which took effect July 1, bar people from shipping items including clothing, seeds, veterinary medicine and soap-making ingredients to Cubans. The administration and its supporters have said the restrictions are aimed at weakening Castro. They say the Cuban government seizes the packages and demands money from families before the parcels are delivered -- payments they say garner Castro millions of dollars annually. Opponents say the rules, like others limiting trade and travel, will do little to hinder Castro. They have also accused Bush of politically motivated restrictions aimed at courting Florida's Cuban-American voters. The amendment was offered to a $39.8 billion measure financing the departments of Commerce, Justice and State next year. The Senate has yet to write its version of the bill. (AP/Truthout)
Experts conclude Iraq occupation has strengthened Islamic terrorism
- July 7: Analysis by experts within and outside of the US government shows that, far from helping win the war on terror, the Iraqi invasion and subsequent occupation have not just hampered US efforts to counter terrorism, but have actively encouraged Muslims and others around the world to join terrorist organizations. It has severely impaired the efforts to find and eliminate al-Qaeda cells in Afghanistan, has opened a new front for terrorists in Iraq that previously did not exist, and has given extremists new reason to violently oppose Western interests. Perhaps most important, it has dramatically speeded up the process by which al-Qaeda the organization has morphed into a broad-based ideological movement -- a shift, in effect, from bin Laden to bin Ladenism. "If Osama believed in Christmas, this is what he'd want under his Christmas tree," says one senior intelligence official. Another counterterrorism official suggests that Iraq might begin to resemble "Afghanistan 1996," a reference to the year that bin Laden seized on Afghanistan, a chaotic failed state, as his new base of operations. Even Kenneth Pollack, one of the nation's leading experts on Iraq, whose book The Threatening Storm made the most authoritative case for overthrowing Saddam Hussein, says, "My instinct tells me that the Iraq war has hindered the war on terrorism. You had to deal with al-Qaeda first, not Saddam. We had not crippled the al-Qaeda organization when we embarked on the Iraq war."
- US interests have been severely damaged throughout the Muslim world and even on a global scale. Rohan Gunaratna, a Sri Lankan expert on al-Qaeda, points out that "sadness and anger about Iraq, even among moderate Muslims, is being harnessed and exploited by terrorist and extremist groups worldwide to grow in strength, size, and influence." And Vincent Cannistraro, a former chief of counterterrorism at the CIA under presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, says the Iraq war "accelerated terrorism" by "metastasizing" al-Qaeda. Today, al-Qaeda is more than the narrowly defined group that attacked the United States on September 11, 2001; it is a growing global movement that has been energized by the war in Iraq.
- It was not like this in the months following 9/11. Many in the global community, including many Muslims, supported the US's war against the Taliban. Not so the invasion of Iraq; that war not only negated the goodwill enjoyed by the US after the WTC attacks, but it also dragged the United States into what many see as a conflict with the Muslim world, or ummah, in general. Samer Shehata, a professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University, says the Iraq war has convinced "many Muslims around the world, perhaps a majority, that the war on terrorism is in fact a war against Islam." Author Jason Burke adds that the Iraq war "appears to be clear evidence to many that the perception of the militants is in fact accurate and that the ummah is engaged in a war of self-defense. This has theological implications -- jihad is compulsory for all Muslims if the ummah is under attack." This is not just arcane religious dogma, but a key reason why Americans are dying in such numbers in Iraq and why al-Qaeda is experiencing such a revitalization. The Koran has two sets of justifications for holy war; one concerns a "defensive" jihad, when a Muslim land is under attack by non-Muslims, while the other countenances offensive attacks on infidels. Generally, Muslims consider the defensive justification for jihad to be the more legitimate. It was, for instance, a defensive jihad that clerics invoked against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s. To the extent that Sunni Muslims -- the vast majority of Muslims -- have a Vatican, it is Al Azhar University in Cairo, the pre-eminent center of Muslim thought. Before the Iraq war, Al Azhar released a fatwa, a ruling on Islamic law, to the effect that if "crusader" forces attacked Iraq, it was an obligation for every Muslim to fight back. The clerics of Al Azhar were not alone in this view. The prominent Lebanese Shiite scholar Sheikh Fadlullah also called on Muslims to fight American forces in Iraq. In contrast, after 9/11, Sheikh Fadlullah had issued a fatwa condemning the attacks, as did the chief cleric of Al Azhar. Throughout the Muslim world, leading clerics who condemned what happened on 9/11 have given their blessing to fighting against the occupation of Iraq -- and as demonstrated by the attacks in Madrid in March, jihadists are prepared to take that fight to the invaders' home turf. Former FBI counterterrorism official Harry Brandon says the Iraq war "serves as a real rallying point, not only for the region, but also in Asia. We've seen very solid examples of them using the Iraq war for recruiting. I have seen it personally in Malaysia. The Iraq war is a public relations bonanza for al-Qaeda and a public relations disaster for us the longer it goes on." Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's prediction that the occupation of Iraq would create "a hundred bin Ladens" is beginning to look all too real. The US may soon find itself facing something akin to a global intifada.
- A key failure in the war on terror is the resurgent ability of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's leaders, to set the agenda for terror attacks around the world. After bin Laden called for attacks against Western economic interests in October 2002, a French oil tanker and an Indonesian disco catering to Western tourists were bombed. In September 2003, Zawahiri denounced Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf for supporting the U.S. campaign against al-Qaeda; as a result, two assassination attempts were made on his life. And after bin Laden called for retaliation against countries that were part of the coalition in Iraq in late 2003, terrorists attacked an Italian police barracks in Iraq, a British consulate in Turkey, and commuter trains in Madrid. According to a May report by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, al-Qaeda is now "fully reconstituted," with a "new and effective modus operandi," a presence in as many as 90 countries, and "over 18,000 potential terrorists still at large." How has the US handled this resurgence? By yanking desperately needed resources from the hunt for bin Laden and Zawahiri, and piling them in Iraq. By January 2002, with the Taliban defeated and Afghanistan in chaos, the Bush administration refocused its efforts on its upcoming invasion of Iraq. Substantial numbers of Arabic speakers at the CIA and the National Security Agency were directed to focus on Iraq rather than the hunt for al-Qaeda. "By January 2002, serious planning began for the invasion of Iraq," says Cannistraro, "and that meant drawing down Arabic language resources from CIA and electronic intelligence gathering."
- In addition, says Richard Clarke, who headed counterterrorism efforts under both presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, unmanned Predator spy planes were deployed away from Afghanistan to Iraq in March 2003, and satellites surveying the Afghan-Pakistani border were diverted to the Gulf region. Perhaps most cripplingly, Special Operations soldiers were pulled out of Afghanistan in the spring of 2002 to search for Scud missile sites in western Iraq. Only after Hussein's capture in December 2003 did these key troops go back to Afghanistan and resume their pursuit of al-Qaeda leaders, giving the leaders 18 months of relative freedom to rebuild and refocus. When the Taliban was defeated, al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations in Afghanistan were disorganized, fractured, and on the run. Instead of continuing the pressure on these terror groups, the Bush administration gave them the opportunity to reform while they pursued other interests in Iraq. Now the terrorists are back on their feet, and in Afghanistan the situation is untenable. US forces often find themselves ambushed, but rarely close with their attackers: "We've seen one al-Qaeda person in the last six months," says demolition expert Sergeant Joe Frost. Today, only 20,000 US troops are stationed in Afghanistan, a country the size of Texas and nearly 50 percent larger than Iraq, where 140,000 U.S. troops haven't been enough to create stability.
- Kathy Gannon, who has covered Afghanistan for the past 16 years for the Associated Press, says that the security situation is "as bad as it's ever been" -- and she includes the years during and before the Taliban reign. The power of regional warlords has surged, challenging Hamid Karzai's central government and creating space for the Taliban to quietly emerge from the shadows. Taliban leader Mullah Omar and military commander Jalaluddin Haqqani both remain at large, as does Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a Pashtun warlord whose forces are regularly engaging US soldiers. Meanwhile, Afghanistan has become the world's largest source of opium, the raw material for heroin. The country is now one of the world's leading narco-states, and money from the $2.3 billion drug trade is reportedly making its way into al-Qaeda's coffers. According to Barnett Rubin, a senior fellow at New York University and an authority on the region, Afghanistan is "obviously in danger of reverting to a failed state."
- Not only has the administration's focus on the war in Iraq fatally crippled the hunt for al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, it has undermined the war on terrorism around the world. The majority of the populaces in three key US allies in the Middle East, Jordan, Pakistan, and Morocco, support bin Laden. In those and other Middle Eastern countries, the approval rating for the US is at or below 10%. Mother Jones observes, "Of course, admiration for bin Laden and dislike for the United States do not necessarily translate into a desire to attack Westerners. But the war against bin Laden is in large part a war of ideas -- and on that front, the war in Iraq has damaged the United States' cause and broadened the pool of al-Qaeda recruits." While Iraq under Saddam Hussein was not a home for terrorists, it has now become what experts call a "supermagnet" for jihadists. "We've created the World Series of terrorism," says one senior government counterterrorism official. Judith Yaphe, who was the CIA's senior analyst on Iraq during the first Gulf War, says Iraq is "open to terrorism in a way that it was not before. The lack of central authority makes it more amenable to terrorists." Iraq is convenient for Arab militants, who can blend into its society in a way they did not in Bosnia, Chechnya, or Afghanistan. Dr. Saad al-Fagih, a leading Saudi dissident, says that hundreds of Saudis have gone to fight in Iraq; one source of his, he says, compares Iraq to "Peshawar during the 1980s," a reference to the Pakistani city that attracted Muslims from around the world seeking to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.
- Iraq will remain an important theater of operations for al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups for years to come. It is tragically ironic that one of the key reasons the Bush administration was able to sell the war to America's citizenry is because of the false rationale that Iraq was a haven for terrorists, and by toppling Hussein and occupying Iraq, a powerful blow against Islamic terrorism would be struck. In fact, the opposite is true. "Prior to 2003 and our invasion, Iraq rarely figured on the international terrorism charts," notes Johnson. "Now Iraq has had the third-largest number of terrorist fatalities after Israel and India." In response, the US has developed the "flypaper" theory, explained by General Ricardo Sanchez in July 2003, who said that Iraq "is what I would call a terrorist magnet.... And this will prevent the American people from having to go through attacks back in the United States." The absurdity of this theory is palpable. As Mother Jones observes, "Before the war, the Bush administration would hardly have made the case that we were going to occupy Iraq so that our men and women in uniform would attract terrorists eager to kill them." Nor has the Iraqi "flypaper" served to stop jihadists from attacking elsewhere. Over the past year, more than 100 people have died in attacks against Western and Jewish targets in Turkey and Morocco; car bombs in Saudi Arabia have killed scores more; a suicide attacker in August 2003 bombed a Marriott hotel in Indonesia, killing 12; and the train bombs in Madrid left 191 people dead. These numbers do not take into account the thousands of people who have been killed in the past year in insurgencies in places such as Kashmir, Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia -- all conflicts in which the broader al-Qaeda movement plays a significant role.
- Al-Qaeda is not the small, fanatical bunch of hardcore Islamist terrorists portrayed by Bush and the media. Mother Jones explains: "The network is perhaps best understood as a set of concentric rings, growing more ill defined as they spread outward. At the core is al-Qaeda the organization, which bin Laden and a dozen or so close associates formed in 1989, and which eventually expanded to 200 to 300 core members who have sworn an oath of allegiance to bin Laden, their emir, or prince. It was al-Qaeda the organization that attacked the United States on September 11, 2001. The second concentric ring consists of perhaps several thousand men who have trained in al-Qaeda's Afghan camps in bomb making, assassination, and the manufacture of poisons. Beyond that ring are as many as 120,000 who received some kind of basic military training in Afghanistan over the past decade. An undetermined number of those fighters are now sharpening their skills as insurgents from Kashmir to Algeria. The Madrid attacks in March are emblematic of what is emerging as the fourth and perhaps most ambiguous -- and potentially most dangerous -- ring in the al-Qaeda galaxy. The attacks were carried out by a group of Moroccans with few links to al-Qaeda the organization. Some of the conspirators did try to establish direct contact with the inner core of al-Qaeda, but that effort seems to have been unsuccessful, and they carried out the attacks under their own steam. These attacks may well represent the future of 'al-Qaeda' operations, most of which will be executed by local jihadists who have little or no direct connection to bin Laden's group. This is a worrisome development, because it suggests that al-Qaeda has successfully transformed itself from an organization into a mass movement with a nearly unlimited pool of potential operatives." Had the US succeeded in destroying al-Qaeda's core leadership in Afghanistan when it had the opportunity, the war on terror might well have proven successful. Instead, most of al-Qaeda's leadership, and the bulk of its foot soldiers, still live and are still active. And the war against Iraq has been, in terms of containing terror, a colossal failure. Mother Jones writes, "What we have done in Iraq is what bin Laden could not have hoped for in his wildest dreams: We invaded an oil-rich Muslim nation in the heart of the Middle East, the very type of imperial adventure that bin Laden has long predicted was the United States' long-term goal in the region. We deposed the secular socialist Saddam, whom bin Laden has long despised, ignited Sunni and Shia fundamentalist fervor in Iraq, and have now provoked a 'defensive' jihad that has galvanized jihad-minded Muslims around the world. It's hard to imagine a set of policies better designed to sabotage the war on terrorism." (Mother Jones)
- July 7: Former CIA intelligence analyst David Wright says that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist leader operating in Iraq, has few, if any, ties to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden. Wright writes, "There is no evidence that Zarqawi...has ever been an al-Qaeda member -- although Cheney and a few others in the Bush administration continue to try to paint him that way, apparently for political reasons. Zarqawi is a dangerous, highly effective militant Islamist. His tactical and strategic abilities have been behind perhaps 50% or more of the most effective attacks against the US and Coalition forces (and the UN, Red Cross and peaceful Iraqis) over the past year. Zarqawi makes common cause with Osama Bin Laden (UBL) and al-Qaeda in some respects. So far, however, there does not appear to be any evidence whatsoever that Zarqawi has received ANY money, personnel, direction, or support of any nature from UBL or al-Qaeda. In the past year he is known to have twice tried to get support from UBL, without success. In one intercepted letter he said that if UBL and al-Qaeda would support him and his resistance group in Iraq, he would accept UBL as his leader and support him in turn. No sign, however, of any response." Wright asks the Washington Post and other American media outlets to reconsider their identification of Zarqawi as an al-Qaeda operative: "This is a rather important point, since repetition by the Post of the Bush administration 'Big Lie' connecting Zarqawi to al-Qaeda appears to be a callous effort to influence US public opinion without any factual basis. It is factual to mention (as often as you feel appropriate) that a few members of the Bush administration contend that Zarqawi is related to al-Qaeda. (One senior member of Congress indeed conflates Abu Musab al Zarqawi with Ayman al Zawahiri, an Egyptian physician who is indeed UBL's senior surviving assistant.) But it is important to recognize that neither the US military, the CIA nor Colin Powell make this claim. ...Ironically, Zarqawi did go from Jordan to Afghanistan for training back in the Eighties, in the days when the US wanted help in pushing the Soviets out -- guess who provided the money for his training! But Zarqawi thereafter created camps separate from those of UBL; and has ever since been seen as a competitor, not a member of UBL's team." (Informed Comment/Truthout)
- July 7: Senior Defense Department official John A. "Jack" Shaw conducted unauthorized investigations of Iraq reconstruction efforts, and used their results to push for lucrative contracts for friends and their business clients, according to current and former Pentagon officials and documents. Shaw, deputy undersecretary for international technology security, represented himself as an agent of the Pentagon's inspector general in conducting the investigations. In one case, Shaw disguised himself as an employee of Halliburton and gained access to a port in southern Iraq after he was denied entry by the US military. In at least two instances, Shaw reported putative problems with reconstruction efforts and directed that they be "solved" by awarding multi-million dollar contracts to companies headed by his friends and business colleagues. Shaw's actions are the latest to raise concerns that senior Republican officials working in Washington and Iraq have used the rebuilding effort in Iraq to reward associates and political allies. One of Shaw's close friends, the former top US transportation official in Iraq, is under investigation for his role in promoting an Iraqi national airline with a company linked to the Saddam Hussein regime. The FBI is currently investigating Shaw's activities. The FBI also is looking into allegations that Shaw tried to steer a contract to create an emergency phone network for Iraq's security forces to a company whose board of directors included a friend and one of Shaw's employees. Shaw justifies his investigations under a special agreement with the Pentagon inspector general, Joseph Schmitz. The August agreement created a temporary office headed by Shaw called the International Armament and Technology Trade Directorate. Its mission was to cooperate with the inspector general on issues related to the transfer of sensitive US technologies or arms to foreign countries. Shaw frequently cited the agreement in his dealings with reporters and the military, telling them it allowed him to "wear an IG hat" to conduct investigations. In a recent letter to the inspector general, he said the agreement gave him "broad investigatory authority." Shaw is apparently exaggerating the extent of his authority, in light of the agreement's contention that Shaw "may recommend" that the inspector general initiate audits, evaluations, investigations and inquiries, but does not give him investigative powers. "Jack Shaw was never authorized to do any kind of investigation or auditing on his own," says one source close to Schmitz. "The agreement was not for that. He's trying to cram more authority into that agreement than it gives him." Schmitz canceled the agreement two weeks after Shaw was first accused of tampering with the emergency phone network contract. (Los Angeles Times/Truthout)
- July 7: Conservative radio commentator Michael Weiner, better known as Michael Savage, compares John Edwards to Nazi propagandist Josef Goebbels: "And yet John Edwards has the nerve to say that he fought for the little guy by fighting HMOs and insurance companies. It's utterly -- It's a big lie. It's absolutely a Goebbels lie that if you tell a big lie often enough it becomes the truth. It's the absolute opposite of what he did." It is interesting to note that aside from Savage's misrepresentation of Edwards's record as both a senator and a trial lawyer (both of which are replete with examples of Edwards's battles against HMOs and insurance companies), Savage and other conservatives have been quick to scream foul when liberals use any sort of Nazi comparison against Bush or other Republicans. Savage apparently likes the Goebbels comparison: on June 4, he called progressive financier, philanthropist, and political activist George Soros, "George Goebbels Soros." (Soros is a Hungarian-born Jew who survived the Nazi occupation of Communist Budapest.) Other conservatives such as Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck have compared liberal commentators Al Franken and Michael Moore to Goebbels. (Media Matters)