Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A Likely Story

As the evidence accumulates, the Evening Standard’s allegations of terrorist planning have fallen apart.

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By George Monbiot

Something unusual is going to happen tomorrow. The Press Complaints Commission, Britain’s only arbiter of fairness and accuracy in our newspapers, is due to make a ruling. What’s so odd about that? Well, as Nick Davies shows in his book Flat Earth News, out of 28,000 complaints to the PCC submitted over ten years, it managed to make a formal adjudication on just 448, or 1.6%(1). Most of the time it finds a reason to look the other way. This isn’t too surprising: 6 of its 16 commissioners are newspaper or magazine editors(2).

But tomorrow’s case is so serious, and the evidence that has accumulated over the past seven months so strong, that even the PCC can’t brush it under the carpet. It concerns the Evening Standard’s reporting of the climate camp established close to Heathrow last August. Soon after it opened, the paper accused the campers of putting the lives of millions at risk by planning to invade the airport and plant hoax bombs. The story was repeated by the Sun, the Mail, the Express, the Telegraph and the BBC. I have now seen the correspondence about this case. It makes astonishing reading.

The front page article, written by the paper’s chief reporter and headlined “Militants will hit Heathrow”, claimed that “climate change activists plan to use illegal tactics such as hoax suspicious packages to cause maximum disruption at one of the busiest times of the year. They have also discussed simultaneous assaults on the airport’s security fence to stretch police resources to the limit.”(3) Inside the paper a journalist called Rashid Razaq, who spent a night undercover in the camp, reported that one man was “urging us to ‘get them panicked with different things at the same time like bags left around the airport and people climbing the fence.’ Late that night, I saw two protesters checking out the security fences.”(4) As the organisers of the camp began to probe, the story started to fall apart. They also discovered that this is not the only occasion on which Rashid Razaq has been accused of taking liberties with the truth.

How did Mr Razaq see protesters “checking out the security fences”? The camp was over a kilometre from the airport fence: he could not have seen anyone from there. When challenged by the campers, the Evening Standard claimed that “Mr Razaq had left the camp to go to a nearby petrol station to buy food when he was returning to the camp with a colleague, Sebastian Meyer. Their route back took them close to the perimeter fence of the airport, where he saw two men whom he recognised from the camp. One was trying to climb the fence while another kept watch.”(5) The Standard contends that “It was a sufficiently light night to recognise faces”.(6)

There are several problems with this story. As photos and maps produced by the campers show, neither the petrol station nor any part of the route to the camp is close enough to the fence to recognise faces(7,8). Sebastian Meyer is a professional photographer. If, somehow, they had seen people at the fence, and managed to recognise them as protesters, why did they not take photographs? I put this question to the Evening Standard’s managing editor, Doug Wills. “He didn’t take any photos of it because it was pitch black.”(9) But the Standard had already claimed that “it was a sufficiently light night to recognise faces”. I asked Mr Wills for a map reference for the section of fence. He has not been able to provide one. And why, if one of the protesters was trying to climb the fence – a more serious matter than merely “checking it out” - did Mr Razaq not report this?

What about the claim that the protesters were planning to plant hoax bombs? The Standard explains that the man who raised the plan was “white and in his late 20s”. “He used words to the effect: ‘we need to make people sit up and take notice. Leave some packages around Heathrow. That’ll make them take notice.”(10) This is a completely different statement to the one quoted in Razaq’s article. In the published version someone else - “a woman in her thirties” - says “we have to make people sit up and take notice”(11). None of the alleged statements amounts to a “plan” by the camp.

But the real problems arise when you see Mr Razaq’s notes, which were obtained by the PCC after several requests from the campers. At first Mr Razaq claimed that “I made an accurate note of what was said as soon as the meetings finished.”(12) But when the notes were released, they turned out to be dated “13/8”, the day after the events Mr Razaq describes(13). They contain none of the damning quotes or descriptions the Evening Standard published. The only quoted speech was an intention to make “a big impact and make people around the world sit-up and take notice, to know we mean business”, this time attributed not to a man in his 20s or a woman in her 30s, but to a “group of three campaigners.” Why did Mr Razaq record this and not the far more serious instigation to plant hoax packages, supposedly made by the same man, in the same breath, at the same meeting?

Mr Razaq has also been accused of misreporting by the Freud Museum in London. In January 2007 he claimed it was showing a film containing footage from Al Qaeda recruitment videos, “outlawed in most Western countries”(14). It wasn’t. The curator told me “He made up details. He put in facts that were completely wrong. I think he is one of those journalists who is prepared to just go and make up a story.”(15) Doug Wills, the Standard’s managing editor, told me that the curator himself had informed Razaq that the Qaeda film was in the exhibition. Mr Wills forwarded an email from him, which mentions the film but not its inclusion in the show(16). Ironically, the title of the exhibition was “Paranoia”.

In January 2008, Razaq wrote that he had gone undercover as a cleaner in Barnet Hospital, and found that staff were flouting basic safety rules(17). The hospital tells me that he was in fact employed as a porter, and that he misunderstood or misreported the rules(18). The Standard insists Razaq was a cleaner. When I spoke to Mr Razaq, he referred me to statements by the managing editor.

Is the Evening Standard worried about his reporting? Not a bit of it. Of the Heathrow coverage it says “we are 100 percent satisfied that our published reports were fair and accurate on a matter of public interest.”(19) They were not just Razaq’s work, but the product of “an extensive operation organised by an extremely experienced team of executives and senior reporters”(20). When the Freud Museum sent a letter of complaint, the paper neither published the letter nor replied to it(21). The problem seems to be a systemic one.

I don’t know how the Press Complaints Commission will rule. But the evidence I have seen suggests that if the Evening Standard is not required to publish a correction we need a bolder arbiter.



1. Nick Davies, 2008. Flat Earth News, p364. Chatto and Windus.

2. http://www.pcc.org.uk/about/whoswho/members.html

3. Robert Mendick, 13th August 2007. Militants Will Hit Heathrow. Evening Standard – West End Final.

4. Rashid Razaq, 13th August 2007. In the shambolic climate camp, protesters plot campaign on panic. Standard – West End Final.

5. Susan Ryan, acting managing editor, the Evening Standard, 8th October 2007. Letter to Hannah Beveridge, Press Complaints Commission.

6. ibid.

7. Alex Harvey, the Camp for Climate Action. 26th September 2007. Map included in letter to Hannah Beveridge, Press Complaints Commission.

8. Alex Harvey, the Camp for Climate Action. 18th January 2007. Pictures included in letter to Hannah Beveridge, Press Complaints Commission.

9. Doug Wills, by phone, 3rd March 2008.

10. Susan Ryan, acting managing editor, the Evening Standard, 8th October 2007. Letter to Hannah Beveridge, Press Complaints Commission.

11. Rashid Razaq, 13th August 2007. In the shambolic climate camp, protesters plot campaign on panic. Standard – West End Final.

12. Quoted by Doug Wills, 17th September 2007. Letter to Hannah Beveridge, Press Complaints Commission.

13. A photocopy of the notes was included with a letter from Doug Wills, 22nd November 2007 to Hannah Beveridge, Press Complaints Commission.

14. Rashid Razaq, 10th January 2007. Film of 9/11 terrorists celebrating is displayed at art show. Evening Standard.

15. Predrag Pajdic, by phone, 29th February 2008.

16. Email from Predrag Pajdic to Khaled Ramadan, 9th January 2007.

17. Rashid Razaq, 7th January 2008. Standard reveals hospital workers flouting basic rules on hygiene. Evening Standard.

18. Press Office, Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals NHS trust, by phone, 29th February 2008.

19. Doug Wills, 11th December 2007. Letter to Hannah Beveridge, Press Complaints Commission.

20. Doug Wills, 12th February 2008. Letter to Hannah Beveridge, Press Complaints Commission.

21. Predrag Pajdic, by phone, 29th February 2008.

Israel answers Rice's peace push with tanks in Gaza

Abbas refuses to resume negotiations without comprehensive cease-fire

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OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israel launched a new incursion into Gaza Tuesday, overshadowing a new peace push by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice even as she was holding talks with Premier Ehud Olmert. Rice had earlier met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who broke off all contacts with Israel Sunday after a previous incursion killed over 120 people, including dozens of civilians and 22 children, and who responded to her call for a resumption of talks with a demand for a comprehensive cease-fire.

Israeli forces backed by helicopters clashed with Hamas gunmen after several tanks entered the Gaza Strip east of the city of Khan Yunis, witnesses said. Hamas forces opened fire with small arms and mortars at the Israeli forces that entered southern Gaza near the Kissufim crossing between Israel and the Hamas-ruled territory, the witnesses said.

According to Palestinian security sources, Israeli troops were laying siege to the home of a member of the hard-line Islamic Jihad movement in the village of Al-Karara, several hundred meters from the border.

The incursion came as Olmert held talks with Rice, who had earlier called for Israel to be "very cognizant of the effects of its operations on innocent people."

The US chief diplomat called on both Israel and the Palestinians to renew peace talks that were dealt a major blow by the deadly Israeli onslaught of the past week.

"We look forward to the resumption of negotiations as soon as possible," Rice said after meeting Abbas.

She argued that President George W. Bush's goal of resolving the decades-old conflict and inking a historic peace deal by the end of his term in January 2009 was still possible.

"I still believe that that can be done," she told reporters.

Bush, too, said after meeting Jordan's King Abdullah in Washington that he was still "optimistic" about the prospects for the peace talks, relaunched at a US conference in November after a seven-year freeze.

Bush urged the two sides to "step up" efforts to end the violence and reach a deal.

Abbas did not say when he might return to the negotiating table, but insisted that "the negotiations are necessary and we are committed to them."

Lead Palestinian negotiator Ahmad Qorei told reporters talks would resume once Israel's military attacks in the Palestinian territories ended.

Abbas called for a truce between Israel and the Palestinians, both in his West Bank powerbase and in Gaza, which has been ruled since June by the rival Hamas movement after the Islamists routed his forces.

"I insist on the necessity of installing a comprehensive truce in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank so that we can reach our goal of making 2008 a year of peace," Abbas said.

But Hamas rejected the Palestinian president's call for a reciprocal cease-fire, insisting the blame lay with Israel.

"We consider the statements of the Palestinian president about the truce an unbalanced call because the problem lies in the occupation, not in the Palestinian people," its spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

The bloodshed continued on Tuesday, with Israeli raids killing two Palestinians in Gaza, from which militants fired three rockets, with one falling inside the Jewish state.

Rice reiterated that the rocket fire had to stop and called on Israel - which earned international condemnation for excessive use of force during the Gaza attacks - to spare innocent lives during its raids.

"The US ... understands Israel's right to defend itself, but Israel needs to be very cognizant of the effects of its operations on innocent people," she said.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned that the strikes on Gaza would continue as long as militants fired rockets, and he placed the responsibility for the killing of civilians on Hamas.

"The operations will continue," he said during a visit to northern Israel. "To those who criticize us, our friends among us, I say that the responsibility lies with those who fire rockets."

Rice's visit coincided with the publication of a Vanity Fair article saying that she and Bush covertly worked to oust Hamas after it won 2006 parliamentary elections, breaking Fatah's decades-long hold on power.

Citing confidential documents, the magazine said the United States sought to arm a force led by Fatah loyalists to oust Hamas militants from power, but that the plan backfired.

"Instead of driving its enemies out of power, US-backed Fatah fighters inadvertently provoked Hamas to seize total control of Gaza," it said. - AFP

l WASHINGTON: US President George W. Bush said Tuesday he was still "optimistic" about winning a Middle East peace deal before he leaves office in January, but urged Israelis and Palestinians to do more.

"Ten months is a long time. May seem short to you, but there's plenty of time to get a deal done," Bush added as he discussed the sputtering peace process with Jordan's King Abdullah II at the White House.

"This is a process that, you know, always has two steps forward and one step back. We've just got to make sure that it's only one step back," Bush declared after the talks foundered amid the violence in Gaza. - AFP

Bio tech promises disease vaccines via food

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By J. Mark Lytle

A seemingly bizarre experiment in genetically engineering plants has come up with a strain of rice that could make vaccination injections a thing of the past.
Researchers working at the University of Tokyo's Institute of Medical Science are working with experts in the fields of drugs, agrobiology and genetics to change the makeup of rice to include cholera proteins.

Anti-disease technologyWhen the rice is fed to laboratory mice, it causes them to develop antibodies to cholera in the same way a standard vaccination would work.
AdvertisementThe implications - if the team can increase the load to a level suitable for humans - are that important drugs could be delivered easily in rice that can be cooked and eaten, instead of having to be transported carefully and distributed like traditional medicines.

Other diseases are also being tackled, as are other foodstuffs. So far, these include influenza vaccines in rice and anti-cancer interferon drugs carried by strawberries.

Mosaic News - 03/03/08: World News From The Middle East

Inside Story - Attack on Gaza

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has suspended peace talks with Israel, demanding that it ends its offensive on Gaza.

Israel's five-day offensive on the Gaza Strip has so far killed more than 100 Palestinians, many of them civilians.

Israel claims it is acting in self-defence in response to cross-border rocket attacks by Hamas.

But Israel has been strongly criticized by the European Union and United Nations, who have condemned its use of "excessive" and "disproportionate" force.

Inside Story, with presenter Sami Zeidan, examines the possible outcomes.

Worshippers of Death

Zahra Maladan is an educated woman who edits a women's magazine in Lebanon. She is also a mother, who undoubtedly loves her son. She has ambitions for him, but they are different from those of most mothers in the West. She wants her son to become a suicide bomber.
At the recent funeral for the assassinated Hezbollah terrorist Imad Moughnaya -- the mass murderer responsible for killing 241 marines in 1983 and more than 100 women, children and men in Buenos Aires in 1992 and 1994 -- Ms. Maladan was quoted in the New York Times giving the following warning to her son: "if you're not going to follow the steps of the Islamic resistance martyrs, then I don't want you."
Zahra Maladan represents a dramatic shift in the way we must fight to protect our citizens against enemies who are sworn to kill them by killing themselves. The traditional paradigm was that mothers who love their children want them to live in peace, marry and produce grandchildren. Women in general, and mothers in particular, were seen as a counterweight to male belligerence. The picture of the mother weeping as her son is led off to battle -- even a just battle -- has been a constant and powerful image.
Now there is a new image of mothers urging their children to die, and then celebrating the martyrdom of their suicidal sons and daughters by distributing sweets and singing wedding songs. More and more young women -- some married with infant children -- are strapping bombs to their (sometimes pregnant) bellies, because they have been taught to love death rather than life. Look at what is being preached by some influential Islamic leaders:
"We are going to win, because they love life and we love death," said Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah. He has also said: "[E]ach of us lives his days and nights hoping more than anything to be killed for the sake of Allah." Shortly after 9/11, Osama bin Laden told a reporter: "We love death. The U.S. loves life. That is the big difference between us."
"The Americans love Pepsi-Cola, we love death," explained Afghani al Qaeda operative Maulana Inyadullah. Sheik Feiz Mohammed, leader of the Global Islamic Youth Center in Sydney, Australia, preached: "We want to have children and offer them as soldiers defending Islam. Teach them this: There is nothing more beloved to me than wanting to die as a mujahid." Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a speech: "It is the zenith of honor for a man, a young person, boy or girl, to be prepared to sacrifice his life in order to serve the interests of his nation and his religion."
How should Western democracies fight against an enemy whose leaders preach a preference for death?
The two basic premises of conventional warfare have long been that soldiers and civilians prefer living to dying and can thus be deterred from killing by the fear of being killed; and that combatants (soldiers) can easily be distinguished from noncombatants (women, children, the elderly, the infirm and other ordinary citizens). These premises are being challenged by women like Zahra Maladan. Neither she nor her son -- if he listens to his mother -- can be deterred from killing by the fear of being killed. They must be prevented from succeeding in their ghoulish quest for martyrdom. Prevention, however, carries a high risk of error. The woman walking toward the group of soldiers or civilians might well be an innocent civilian. A moment's hesitation may cost innocent lives. But a failure to hesitate may also have a price.
Late last month, a young female bomber was shot as she approached some shops in central Baghdad. The Iraqi soldier who drew his gun hesitated as the bomber, hands raised, insisted that she wasn't armed. The soldier and a shop owner finally opened fire as she dashed for the stores; she was knocked to the ground but still managed to detonate the bomb, killing three and wounding eight. Had the soldier and other bystanders not called out a warning to others -- and had they not shot her before she could enter the shops -- the death toll certainly would have been higher. Had he not hesitated, it might have been lower.
As more women and children are recruited by their mothers and their religious leaders to become suicide bombers, more women and children will be shot at -- some mistakenly. That too is part of the grand plan of our enemies. They want us to kill their civilians, who they also consider martyrs, because when we accidentally kill a civilian, they win in the court of public opinion. One Western diplomat called this the "harsh arithmetic of pain," whereby civilian casualties on both sides "play in their favor." Democracies lose, both politically and emotionally, when they kill civilians, even inadvertently. As Golda Meir once put it: "We can perhaps someday forgive you for killing our children, but we cannot forgive you for making us kill your children."
Civilian casualties also increase when terrorists operate from within civilian enclaves and hide behind human shields. This relatively new phenomenon undercuts the second basic premise of conventional warfare: Combatants can easily be distinguished from noncombatants. Has Zahra Maladan become a combatant by urging her son to blow himself up? Have the religious leaders who preach a culture of death lost their status as noncombatants? What about "civilians" who willingly allow themselves to be used as human shields? Or their homes as launching pads for terrorist rockets?
The traditional sharp distinction between soldiers in uniform and civilians in nonmilitary garb has given way to a continuum. At the more civilian end are babies and true noncombatants; at the more military end are the religious leaders who incite mass murder; in the middle are ordinary citizens who facilitate, finance or encourage terrorism. There are no hard and fast lines of demarcation, and mistakes are inevitable -- as the terrorists well understand.
We need new rules, strategies and tactics to deal effectively and fairly with these dangerous new realities. We cannot simply wait until the son of Zahra Maladan -- and the sons and daughters of hundreds of others like her -- decide to follow his mother's demand. We must stop them before they export their sick and dangerous culture of death to our shores.

The Gaza Bombshell

After failing to anticipate Hamas's victory over Fatah in the 2006 Palestinian election, the White House cooked up yet another scandalously covert and self-defeating Middle East debacle: part Iran-contra, part Bay of Pigs. With confidential documents, corroborated by outraged former and current U.S. officials, David Rose reveals how President Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Deputy National-Security Adviser Elliott Abrams backed an armed force under Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan, touching off a bloody civil war in Gaza and leaving Hamas stronger than ever.Go to OriginalBy David Rose
The Al Deira Hotel, in Gaza City, is a haven of calm in a land beset by poverty, fear, and violence. In the middle of December 2007, I sit in the hotel's airy restaurant, its windows open to the Mediterranean, and listen to a slight, bearded man named Mazen Asad abu Dan describe the suffering he endured 11 months before at the hands of his fellow Palestinians. Abu Dan, 28, is a member of Hamas, the Iranian-backed Islamist organization that has been designated a terrorist group by the United States, but I have a good reason for taking him at his word: I've seen the video.
It shows abu Dan kneeling, his hands bound behind his back, and screaming as his captors pummel him with a black iron rod. "I lost all the skin on my back from the beatings," he says. "Instead of medicine, they poured perfume on my wounds. It felt as if they had taken a sword to my injuries."
On January 26, 2007, abu Dan, a student at the Islamic University of Gaza, had gone to a local cemetery with his father and five others to erect a headstone for his grandmother. When they arrived, however, they found themselves surrounded by 30 armed men from Hamas's rival, Fatah, the party of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. "They took us to a house in north Gaza," abu Dan says. "They covered our eyes and took us to a room on the sixth floor."
The video reveals a bare room with white walls and a black-and-white tiled floor, where abu Dan's father is forced to sit and listen to his son's shrieks of pain. Afterward, abu Dan says, he and two of the others were driven to a market square. "They told us they were going to kill us. They made us sit on the ground." He rolls up the legs of his trousers to display the circular scars that are evidence of what happened next: "They shot our knees and feet—five bullets each. I spent four months in a wheelchair."
Abu Dan had no way of knowing it, but his tormentors had a secret ally: the administration of President George W. Bush.
A clue comes toward the end of the video, which was found in a Fatah security building by Hamas fighters last June. Still bound and blindfolded, the prisoners are made to echo a rhythmic chant yelled by one of their captors: "By blood, by soul, we sacrifice ourselves for Muhammad Dahlan! Long live Muhammad Dahlan!"
There is no one more hated among Hamas members than Muhammad Dahlan, long Fatah's resident strongman in Gaza. Dahlan, who most recently served as Abbas's national-security adviser, has spent more than a decade battling Hamas. Dahlan insists that abu Dan was tortured without his knowledge, but the video is proof that his followers' methods can be brutal.
Bush has met Dahlan on at least three occasions. After talks at the White House in July 2003, Bush publicly praised Dahlan as "a good, solid leader." In private, say multiple Israeli and American officials, the U.S. president described him as "our guy."
The United States has been involved in the affairs of the Palestinian territories since the Six-Day War of 1967, when Israel captured Gaza from Egypt and the West Bank from Jordan. With the 1993 Oslo accords, the territories acquired limited autonomy, under a president, who has executive powers, and an elected parliament. Israel retains a large military presence in the West Bank, but it withdrew from Gaza in 2005.
In recent months, President Bush has repeatedly stated that the last great ambition of his presidency is to broker a deal that would create a viable Palestinian state and bring peace to the Holy Land. "People say, 'Do you think it's possible, during your presidency?' " he told an audience in Jerusalem on January 9. "And the answer is: I'm very hopeful."
The next day, in the West Bank capital of Ramallah, Bush acknowledged that there was a rather large obstacle standing in the way of this goal: Hamas's complete control of Gaza, home to some 1.5 million Palestinians, where it seized power in a bloody coup d'état in June 2007. Almost every day, militants fire rockets from Gaza into neighboring Israeli towns, and President Abbas is powerless to stop them. His authority is limited to the West Bank.
It's "a tough situation," Bush admitted. "I don't know whether you can solve it in a year or not." What Bush neglected to mention was his own role in creating this mess.
According to Dahlan, it was Bush who had pushed legislative elections in the Palestinian territories in January 2006, despite warnings that Fatah was not ready. After Hamas—whose 1988 charter committed it to the goal of driving Israel into the sea—won control of the parliament, Bush made another, deadlier miscalculation.
Vanity Fair has obtained confidential documents, since corroborated by sources in the U.S. and Palestine, which lay bare a covert initiative, approved by Bush and implemented by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, to provoke a Palestinian civil war. The plan was for forces led by Dahlan, and armed with new weapons supplied at America's behest, to give Fatah the muscle it needed to remove the democratically elected Hamas-led government from power. (The State Department declined to comment.)
But the secret plan backfired, resulting in a further setback for American foreign policy under Bush. Instead of driving its enemies out of power, the U.S.-backed Fatah fighters inadvertently provoked Hamas to seize total control of Gaza.
Some sources call the scheme "Iran-contra 2.0," recalling that Abrams was convicted (and later pardoned) for withholding information from Congress during the original Iran-contra scandal under President Reagan. There are echoes of other past misadventures as well: the C.I.A.'s 1953 ouster of an elected prime minister in Iran, which set the stage for the 1979 Islamic revolution there; the aborted 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, which gave Fidel Castro an excuse to solidify his hold on Cuba; and the contemporary tragedy in Iraq.
Within the Bush administration, the Palestinian policy set off a furious debate. One of its critics is David Wurmser, the avowed neoconservative, who resigned as Vice President Dick Cheney's chief Middle East adviser in July 2007, a month after the Gaza coup.
Wurmser accuses the Bush administration of "engaging in a dirty war in an effort to provide a corrupt dictatorship [led by Abbas] with victory." He believes that Hamas had no intention of taking Gaza until Fatah forced its hand. "It looks to me that what happened wasn't so much a coup by Hamas but an attempted coup by Fatah that was pre-empted before it could happen," Wurmser says.
The botched plan has rendered the dream of Middle East peace more remote than ever, but what really galls neocons such as Wurmser is the hypocrisy it exposed. "There is a stunning disconnect between the president's call for Middle East democracy and this policy," he says. "It directly contradicts it."
Preventive Security
Bush was not the first American president to form a relationship with Muhammad Dahlan. "Yes, I was close to Bill Clinton," Dahlan says. "I met Clinton many times with [the late Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat." In the wake of the 1993 Oslo accords, Clinton sponsored a series of diplomatic meetings aimed at reaching a permanent Middle East peace, and Dahlan became the Palestinians' negotiator on security.
As I talk to Dahlan in a five-star Cairo hotel, it's easy to see the qualities that might make him attractive to American presidents. His appearance is immaculate, his English is serviceable, and his manner is charming and forthright. Had he been born into privilege, these qualities might not mean much. But Dahlan was born—on September 29, 1961—in the teeming squalor of Gaza's Khan Younis refugee camp, and his education came mostly from the street. In 1981 he helped found Fatah's youth movement, and he later played a leading role in the first intifada—the five-year revolt that began in 1987 against the Israeli occupation. In all, Dahlan says, he spent five years in Israeli jails.
From the time of its inception as the Palestinian branch of the international Muslim Brotherhood, in late 1987, Hamas had represented a threatening challenge to Arafat's secular Fatah party. At Oslo, Fatah made a public commitment to the search for peace, but Hamas continued to practice armed resistance. At the same time, it built an impressive base of support through schooling and social programs.
The rising tensions between the two groups first turned violent in the early 1990s—with Muhammad Dahlan playing a central role. As director of the Palestinian Authority's most feared paramilitary force, the Preventive Security Service, Dahlan arrested some 2,000 Hamas members in 1996 in the Gaza Strip after the group launched a wave of suicide bombings. "Arafat had decided to arrest Hamas military leaders, because they were working against his interests, against the peace process, against the Israeli withdrawal, against everything," Dahlan says. "He asked the security services to do their job, and I have done that job."
It was not, he admits, "popular work." For many years Hamas has said that Dahlan's forces routinely tortured detainees. One alleged method was to sodomize prisoners with soda bottles. Dahlan says these stories are exaggerated: "Definitely there were some mistakes here and there. But no one person died in Preventive Security. Prisoners got their rights. Bear in mind that I am an ex-detainee of the Israelis'. No one was personally humiliated, and I never killed anyone the way [Hamas is] killing people on a daily basis now." Dahlan points out that Arafat maintained a labyrinth of security services—14 in all—and says the Preventive Security Service was blamed for abuses perpetrated by other units.
Dahlan worked closely with the F.B.I. and the C.I.A., and he developed a warm relationship with Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, a Clinton appointee who stayed on under Bush until July 2004. "He's simply a great and fair man," Dahlan says. "I'm still in touch with him from time to time."
"Everyone Was Against the Elections"
In a speech in the White House Rose Garden on June 24, 2002, President Bush announced that American policy in the Middle East was turning in a fundamentally new direction.
Arafat was still in power at the time, and many in the U.S. and Israel blamed him for wrecking Clinton's micro-managed peace efforts by launching the second intifada—a renewed revolt, begun in 2000, in which more than 1,000 Israelis and 4,500 Palestinians had died. Bush said he wanted to give Palestinians the chance to choose new leaders, ones who were not "compromised by terror." In place of Arafat's all-powerful presidency, Bush said, "the Palestinian parliament should have the full authority of a legislative body."
Arafat died in November 2004, and Abbas, his replacement as Fatah leader, was elected president in January 2005. Elections for the Palestinian parliament, known officially as the Legislative Council, were originally set for July 2005, but later postponed by Abbas until January 2006.
Dahlan says he warned his friends in the Bush administration that Fatah still wasn't ready for elections in January. Decades of self-preservationist rule by Arafat had turned the party into a symbol of corruption and inefficiency—a perception Hamas found it easy to exploit. Splits within Fatah weakened its position further: in many places, a single Hamas candidate ran against several from Fatah.
"Everyone was against the elections," Dahlan says. Everyone except Bush. "Bush decided, 'I need an election. I want elections in the Palestinian Authority.' Everyone is following him in the American administration, and everyone is nagging Abbas, telling him, 'The president wants elections.' Fine. For what purpose?"
The elections went forward as scheduled. On January 25, Hamas won 56 percent of the seats in the Legislative Council.
Few inside the U.S. administration had predicted the result, and there was no contingency plan to deal with it. "I've asked why nobody saw it coming," Condoleezza Rice told reporters. "I don't know anyone who wasn't caught off guard by Hamas's strong showing."
"Everyone blamed everyone else," says an official with the Department of Defense. "We sat there in the Pentagon and said, 'Who the fuck recommended this?' "
In public, Rice tried to look on the bright side of the Hamas victory. "Unpredictability," she said, is "the nature of big historic change." Even as she spoke, however, the Bush administration was rapidly revising its attitude toward Palestinian democracy.
Some analysts argued that Hamas had a substantial moderate wing that could be strengthened if America coaxed it into the peace process. Notable Israelis—such as Ephraim Halevy, the former head of the Mossad intelligence agency—shared this view. But if America paused to consider giving Hamas the benefit of the doubt, the moment was "milliseconds long," says a senior State Department official. "The administration spoke with one voice: 'We have to squeeze these guys.' With Hamas's election victory, the freedom agenda was dead."
The first step, taken by the Middle East diplomatic "Quartet"—the U.S., the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations—was to demand that the new Hamas government renounce violence, recognize Israel's right to exist, and accept the terms of all previous agreements. When Hamas refused, the Quartet shut off the faucet of aid to the Palestinian Authority, depriving it of the means to pay salaries and meet its annual budget of roughly $2 billion.
Israel clamped down on Palestinians' freedom of movement, especially into and out of the Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip. Israel also detained 64 Hamas officials, including Legislative Council members and ministers, and even launched a military campaign into Gaza after one of its soldiers was kidnapped. Through it all, Hamas and its new government, led by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, proved surprisingly resilient.
Washington reacted with dismay when Abbas began holding talks with Hamas in the hope of establishing a "unity government." On October 4, 2006, Rice traveled to Ramallah to see Abbas. They met at the Muqata, the new presidential headquarters that rose from the ruins of Arafat's compound, which Israel had destroyed in 2002.
America's leverage in Palestinian affairs was much stronger than it had been in Arafat's time. Abbas had never had a strong, independent base, and he desperately needed to restore the flow of foreign aid—and, with it, his power of patronage. He also knew that he could not stand up to Hamas without Washington's help.
At their joint press conference, Rice smiled as she expressed her nation's "great admiration" for Abbas's leadership. Behind closed doors, however, Rice's tone was sharper, say officials who witnessed their meeting. Isolating Hamas just wasn't working, she reportedly told Abbas, and America expected him to dissolve the Haniyeh government as soon as possible and hold fresh elections.
Abbas, one official says, agreed to take action within two weeks. It happened to be Ramadan, the month when Muslims fast during daylight hours. With dusk approaching, Abbas asked Rice to join him for iftar—a snack to break the fast.
Afterward, according to the official, Rice underlined her position: "So we're agreed? You'll dissolve the government within two weeks?"
"Maybe not two weeks. Give me a month. Let's wait until after the Eid," he said, referring to the three-day celebration that marks the end of Ramadan. (Abbas's spokesman said via e-mail: "According to our records, this is incorrect.")
Rice got into her armored S.U.V., where, the official claims, she told an American colleague, "That damned iftar has cost us another two weeks of Hamas government."
"We Will Be There to Support You"
Weeks passed with no sign that Abbas was ready to do America's bidding. Finally, another official was sent to Ramallah. Jake Walles, the consul general in Jerusalem, is a career foreign-service officer with many years' experience in the Middle East. His purpose was to deliver a barely varnished ultimatum to the Palestinian president.
We know what Walles said because a copy was left behind, apparently by accident, of the "talking points" memo prepared for him by the State Department. The document has been authenticated by U.S. and Palestinian officials.
"We need to understand your plans regarding a new [Palestinian Authority] government," Walles's script said. "You told Secretary Rice you would be prepared to move ahead within two to four weeks of your meeting. We believe that the time has come for you to move forward quickly and decisively."
The memo left no doubt as to what kind of action the U.S. was seeking: "Hamas should be given a clear choice, with a clear deadline: … they either accept a new government that meets the Quartet principles, or they reject it The consequences of Hamas' decision should also be clear: If Hamas does not agree within the prescribed time, you should make clear your intention to declare a state of emergency and form an emergency government explicitly committed to that platform."
Walles and Abbas both knew what to expect from Hamas if these instructions were followed: rebellion and bloodshed. For that reason, the memo states, the U.S. was already working to strengthen Fatah's security forces. "If you act along these lines, we will support you both materially and politically," the script said. "We will be there to support you."
Abbas was also encouraged to "strengthen [his] team" to include "credible figures of strong standing in the international community." Among those the U.S. wanted brought in, says an official who knew of the policy, was Muhammad Dahlan.
On paper, the forces at Fatah's disposal looked stronger than those of Hamas. There were some 70,000 men in the tangle of 14 Palestinian security services that Arafat had built up, at least half of those in Gaza. After the legislative elections, Hamas had expected to assume command of these forces, but Fatah maneuvered to keep them under its control. Hamas, which already had 6,000 or so irregulars in its militant al-Qassam Brigade, responded by forming the 6,000-troop Executive Force in Gaza, but that still left it with far fewer fighters than Fatah.
In reality, however, Hamas had several advantages. To begin with, Fatah's security forces had never really recovered from Operation Defensive Shield, Israel's massive 2002 re-invasion of the West Bank in response to the second intifada. "Most of the security apparatus had been destroyed," says Youssef Issa, who led the Preventive Security Service under Abbas.
The irony of the blockade on foreign aid after Hamas's legislative victory, meanwhile, was that it prevented only Fatah from paying its soldiers. "We are the ones who were not getting paid," Issa says, "whereas they were not affected by the siege." Ayman Daraghmeh, a Hamas Legislative Council member in the West Bank, agrees. He puts the amount of Iranian aid to Hamas in 2007 alone at $120 million. "This is only a fraction of what it should give," he insists. In Gaza, another Hamas member tells me the number was closer to $200 million.
The result was becoming apparent: Fatah could not control Gaza's streets—or even protect its own personnel.
At about 1:30 p.m. on September 15, 2006, Samira Tayeh sent a text message to her husband, Jad Tayeh, the director of foreign relations for the Palestinian intelligence service and a member of Fatah. "He didn't reply," she says. "I tried to call his mobile [phone], but it was switched off. So I called his deputy, Mahmoun, and he didn't know where he was. That's when I decided to go to the hospital."
Samira, a slim, elegant 40-year-old dressed from head to toe in black, tells me the story in a Ramallah café in December 2007. Arriving at the Al Shifa hospital, "I went through the morgue door. Not for any reason—I just didn't know the place. I saw there were all these intelligence guards there. There was one I knew. He saw me and he said, 'Put her in the car.' That's when I knew something had happened to Jad."
Tayeh had left his office in a car with four aides. Moments later, they found themselves being pursued by an S.U.V. full of armed, masked men. About 200 yards from the home of Prime Minister Haniyeh, the S.U.V. cornered the car. The masked men opened fire, killing Tayeh and all four of his colleagues.
Hamas said it had nothing to do with the murders, but Samira had reason to believe otherwise. At three a.m. on June 16, 2007, during the Gaza takeover, six Hamas gunmen forced their way into her home and fired bullets into every photo of Jad they could find. The next day, they returned and demanded the keys to the car in which he had died, claiming that it belonged to the Palestinian Authority.
Fearing for her life, she fled across the border and then into the West Bank, with only the clothes she was wearing and her passport, driver's license, and credit card.
"Very Clever Warfare"
Fatah's vulnerability was a source of grave concern to Dahlan. "I made a lot of activities to give Hamas the impression that we were still strong and we had the capacity to face them," he says. "But I knew in my heart it wasn't true." He had no official security position at the time, but he belonged to parliament and retained the loyalty of Fatah members in Gaza. "I used my image, my power." Dahlan says he told Abbas that "Gaza needs only a decision for Hamas to take over." To prevent that from happening, Dahlan waged "very clever warfare" for many months.
According to several alleged victims, one of the tactics this "warfare" entailed was to kidnap and torture members of Hamas's Executive Force. (Dahlan denies Fatah used such tactics, but admits "mistakes" were made.) Abdul Karim al-Jasser, a strapping man of 25, says he was the first such victim. "It was on October 16, still Ramadan," he says. "I was on my way to my sister's house for iftar. Four guys stopped me, two of them with guns. They forced me to accompany them to the home of Aman abu Jidyan," a Fatah leader close to Dahlan. (Abu Jidyan would be killed in the June uprising.)
The first phase of torture was straightforward enough, al-Jasser says: he was stripped naked, bound, blindfolded, and beaten with wooden poles and plastic pipes. "They put a piece of cloth in my mouth to stop me screaming." His interrogators forced him to answer contradictory accusations: one minute they said that he had collaborated with Israel, the next that he had fired Qassam rockets against it.
But the worst was yet to come. "They brought an iron bar," al-Jasser says, his voice suddenly hesitant. We are speaking inside his home in Gaza, which is experiencing one of its frequent power outages. He points to the propane-gas lamp that lights the room. "They put the bar in the flame of a lamp like this. When it was red, they took the covering off my eyes. Then they pressed it against my skin. That was the last thing I remember."
When he came to, he was still in the room where he had been tortured. A few hours later, the Fatah men handed him over to Hamas, and he was taken to the hospital. "I could see the shock in the eyes of the doctors who entered the room," he says. He shows me photos of purple third-degree burns wrapped like towels around his thighs and much of his lower torso. "The doctors told me that if I had been thin, not chubby, I would have died. But I wasn't alone. That same night that I was released, abu Jidyan's men fired five bullets into the legs of one of my relatives. We were in the same ward in the hospital."
Dahlan says he did not order al-Jasser's torture: "The only order I gave was to defend ourselves. That doesn't mean there wasn't torture, some things that went wrong, but I did not know about this."
The dirty war between Fatah and Hamas continued to gather momentum throughout the autumn, with both sides committing atrocities. By the end of 2006, dozens were dying each month. Some of the victims were noncombatants. In December, gunmen opened fire on the car of a Fatah intelligence official, killing his three young children and their driver.
There was still no sign that Abbas was ready to bring matters to a head by dissolving the Hamas government. Against this darkening background, the U.S. began direct security talks with Dahlan.
"He's Our Guy"
In 2001, President Bush famously said that he had looked Russian president Vladimir Putin in the eye, gotten "a sense of his soul," and found him to be "trustworthy." According to three U.S. officials, Bush made a similar judgment about Dahlan when they first met, in 2003. All three officials recall hearing Bush say, "He's our guy."
They say this assessment was echoed by other key figures in the administration, including Rice and Assistant Secretary David Welch, the man in charge of Middle East policy at the State Department. "David Welch didn't fundamentally care about Fatah," one of his colleagues says. "He cared about results, and [he supported] whatever son of a bitch you had to support. Dahlan was the son of a bitch we happened to know best. He was a can-do kind of person. Dahlan was our guy."
Avi Dichter, Israel's internal-security minister and the former head of its Shin Bet security service, was taken aback when he heard senior American officials refer to Dahlan as "our guy." "I thought to myself, The president of the United States is making a strange judgment here," says Dichter.
Lieutenant General Keith Dayton, who had been appointed the U.S. security coordinator for the Palestinians in November 2005, was in no position to question the president's judgment of Dahlan. His only prior experience with the Middle East was as director of the Iraq Survey Group, the body that looked for Saddam Hussein's elusive weapons of mass destruction.
In November 2006, Dayton met Dahlan for the first of a long series of talks in Jerusalem and Ramallah. Both men were accompanied by aides. From the outset, says an official who took notes at the meeting, Dayton was pushing two overlapping agendas.
"We need to reform the Palestinian security apparatus," Dayton said, according to the notes. "But we also need to build up your forces in order to take on Hamas."
Dahlan replied that, in the long run, Hamas could be defeated only by political means. "But if I am going to confront them," he added, "I need substantial resources. As things stand, we do not have the capability."
The two men agreed that they would work toward a new Palestinian security plan. The idea was to simplify the confusing web of Palestinian security forces and have Dahlan assume responsibility for all of them in the newly created role of Palestinian national-security adviser. The Americans would help supply weapons and training.
As part of the reform program, according to the official who was present at the meetings, Dayton said he wanted to disband the Preventive Security Service, which was widely known to be engaged in kidnapping and torture. At a meeting in Dayton's Jerusalem office in early December, Dahlan ridiculed the idea. "The only institution now protecting Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in Gaza is the one you want removed," he said.
Dayton softened a little. "We want to help you," he said. "What do you need?"
"Iran-Contra 2.0"
Under Bill Clinton, Dahlan says, commitments of security assistance "were always delivered, absolutely." Under Bush, he was about to discover, things were different. At the end of 2006, Dayton promised an immediate package worth $86.4 million—money that, according to a U.S. document published by Reuters on January 5, 2007, would be used to "dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism and establish law and order in the West Bank and Gaza." U.S. officials even told reporters the money would be transferred "in the coming days."
The cash never arrived. "Nothing was disbursed," Dahlan says. "It was approved and it was in the news. But we received not a single penny."
Any notion that the money could be transferred quickly and easily had died on Capitol Hill, where the payment was blocked by the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. Its members feared that military aid to the Palestinians might end up being turned against Israel.
Dahlan did not hesitate to voice his exasperation. "I spoke to Condoleezza Rice on several occasions," he says. "I spoke to Dayton, to the consul general, to everyone in the administration I knew. They said, 'You have a convincing argument.' We were sitting in Abbas's office in Ramallah, and I explained the whole thing to Condi. And she said, 'Yes, we have to make an effort to do this. There's no other way.' " At some of these meetings, Dahlan says, Assistant Secretary Welch and Deputy National-Security Adviser Abrams were also present.
The administration went back to Congress, and a reduced, $59 million package for nonlethal aid was approved in April 2007. But as Dahlan knew, the Bush team had already spent the past months exploring alternative, covert means of getting him the funds and weapons he wanted. The reluctance of Congress meant that "you had to look for different pots, different sources of money," says a Pentagon official.
A State Department official adds, "Those in charge of implementing the policy were saying, 'Do whatever it takes. We have to be in a position for Fatah to defeat Hamas militarily, and only Muhammad Dahlan has the guile and the muscle to do this.' The expectation was that this was where it would end up—with a military showdown." There were, this official says, two "parallel programs"—the overt one, which the administration took to Congress, "and a covert one, not only to buy arms but to pay the salaries of security personnel."
In essence, the program was simple. According to State Department officials, beginning in the latter part of 2006, Rice initiated several rounds of phone calls and personal meetings with leaders of four Arab nations—Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. She asked them to bolster Fatah by providing military training and by pledging funds to buy its forces lethal weapons. The money was to be paid directly into accounts controlled by President Abbas.
The scheme bore some resemblance to the Iran-contra scandal, in which members of Ronald Reagan's administration sold arms to Iran, an enemy of the U.S. The money was used to fund the contra rebels in Nicaragua, in violation of a congressional ban. Some of the money for the contras, like that for Fatah, was furnished by Arab allies as a result of U.S. lobbying.
But there are also important differences—starting with the fact that Congress never passed a measure expressly prohibiting the supply of aid to Fatah and Dahlan. "It was close to the margins," says a former intelligence official with experience in covert programs. "But it probably wasn't illegal."
Legal or not, arms shipments soon began to take place. In late December 2006, four Egyptian trucks passed through an Israeli-controlled crossing into Gaza, where their contents were handed over to Fatah. These included 2,000 Egyptian-made automatic rifles, 20,000 ammunition clips, and two million bullets. News of the shipment leaked, and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, an Israeli Cabinet member, said on Israeli radio that the guns and ammunition would give Abbas "the ability to cope with those organizations which are trying to ruin everything"—namely, Hamas.
Avi Dichter points out that all weapons shipments had to be approved by Israel, which was understandably hesitant to allow state-of-the-art arms into Gaza. "One thing's for sure, we weren't talking about heavy weapons," says a State Department official. "It was small arms, light machine guns, ammunition."
Perhaps the Israelis held the Americans back. Perhaps Elliott Abrams himself held back, unwilling to run afoul of U.S. law for a second time. One of his associates says Abrams, who declined to comment for this article, felt conflicted over the policy—torn between the disdain he felt for Dahlan and his overriding loyalty to the administration. He wasn't the only one: "There were severe fissures among neoconservatives over this," says Cheney's former adviser David Wurmser. "We were ripping each other to pieces."
During a trip to the Middle East in January 2007, Rice found it difficult to get her partners to honor their pledges. "The Arabs felt the U.S. was not serious," one official says. "They knew that if the Americans were serious they would put their own money where their mouth was. They didn't have faith in America's ability to raise a real force. There was no follow-through. Paying was different than pledging, and there was no plan."
This official estimates that the program raised "a few payments of $30 million"—most of it, as other sources agree, from the United Arab Emirates. Dahlan himself says the total was only $20 million, and confirms that "the Arabs made many more pledges than they ever paid." Whatever the exact amount, it was not enough.
Plan B
On February 1, 2007, Dahlan took his "very clever warfare" to a new level when Fatah forces under his control stormed the Islamic University of Gaza, a Hamas stronghold, and set several buildings on fire. Hamas retaliated the next day with a wave of attacks on police stations.
Unwilling to preside over a Palestinian civil war, Abbas blinked. For weeks, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia had been trying to persuade him to meet with Hamas in Mecca and formally establish a national unity government. On February 6, Abbas went, taking Dahlan with him. Two days later, with Hamas no closer to recognizing Israel, a deal was struck.
Under its terms, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas would remain prime minister while allowing Fatah members to occupy several important posts. When the news hit the streets that the Saudis had promised to pay the Palestinian Authority's salary bills, Fatah and Hamas members in Gaza celebrated together by firing their Kalashnikovs into the air.
Once again, the Bush administration had been taken by surprise. According to a State Department official, "Condi was apoplectic." A remarkable documentary record, revealed here for the first time, shows that the U.S. responded by redoubling the pressure on its Palestinian allies.
The State Department quickly drew up an alternative to the new unity government. Known as "Plan B," its objective, according to a State Department memo that has been authenticated by an official who knew of it at the time, was to "enable [Abbas] and his supporters to reach a defined endgame by the end of 2007 The endgame should produce a [Palestinian Authority] government through democratic means that accepts Quartet principles."
Like the Walles ultimatum of late 2006, Plan B called for Abbas to "collapse the government" if Hamas refused to alter its attitude toward Israel. From there, Abbas could call early elections or impose an emergency government. It is unclear whether, as president, Abbas had the constitutional authority to dissolve an elected government led by a rival party, but the Americans swept that concern aside.
Security considerations were paramount, and Plan B had explicit prescriptions for dealing with them. For as long as the unity government remained in office, it was essential for Abbas to maintain "independent control of key security forces." He must "avoid Hamas integration with these services, while eliminating the Executive Force or mitigating the challenges posed by its continued existence."
In a clear reference to the covert aid expected from the Arabs, the memo made this recommendation for the next six to nine months: "Dahlan oversees effort in coordination with General Dayton and Arab [nations] to train and equip 15,000-man force under President Abbas's control to establish internal law and order, stop terrorism and deter extralegal forces."
The Bush administration's goals for Plan B were elaborated in a document titled "An Action Plan for the Palestinian Presidency." This action plan went through several drafts and was developed by the U.S., the Palestinians, and the government of Jordan. Sources agree, however, that it originated in the State Department.
The early drafts stressed the need for bolstering Fatah's forces in order to "deter" Hamas. The "desired outcome" was to give Abbas "the capability to take the required strategic political decisions … such as dismissing the cabinet, establishing an emergency cabinet."
The drafts called for increasing the "level and capacity" of 15,000 of Fatah's existing security personnel while adding 4,700 troops in seven new "highly trained battalions on strong policing." The plan also promised to arrange "specialized training abroad," in Jordan and Egypt, and pledged to "provide the security personnel with the necessary equipment and arms to carry out their missions."
A detailed budget put the total cost for salaries, training, and "the needed security equipment, lethal and non-lethal," at $1.27 billion over five years. The plan states: "The costs and overall budget were developed jointly with General Dayton's team and the Palestinian technical team for reform"—a unit established by Dahlan and led by his friend and policy aide Bassil Jaber. Jaber confirms that the document is an accurate summary of the work he and his colleagues did with Dayton. "The plan was to create a security establishment that could protect and strengthen a peaceful Palestinian state living side by side with Israel," he says.
The final draft of the Action Plan was drawn up in Ramallah by officials of the Palestinian Authority. This version was identical to the earlier drafts in all meaningful ways but one: it presented the plan as if it had been the Palestinians' idea. It also said the security proposals had been "approved by President Mahmoud Abbas after being discussed and agreed [to] by General Dayton's team."
On April 30, 2007, a portion of one early draft was leaked to a Jordanian newspaper, Al-Majd. The secret was out. From Hamas's perspective, the Action Plan could amount to only one thing: a blueprint for a U.S.-backed Fatah coup.
"We Are Late in the Ball Game Here"
The formation of the unity government had brought a measure of calm to the Palestinian territories, but violence erupted anew after Al-Majd published its story on the Action Plan. The timing was unkind to Fatah, which, to add to its usual disadvantages, was without its security chief. Ten days earlier, Dahlan had left Gaza for Berlin, where he'd had surgery on both knees. He was due to spend the next eight weeks convalescing.
In mid-May, with Dahlan still absent, a new element was added to Gaza's toxic mix when 500 Fatah National Security Forces recruits arrived, fresh from training in Egypt and equipped with new weapons and vehicles. "They had been on a crash course for 45 days," Dahlan says. "The idea was that we needed them to go in dressed well, equipped well, and that might create the impression of new authority." Their presence was immediately noticed, not only by Hamas but by staff from Western aid agencies. "They had new rifles with telescopic sights, and they were wearing black flak jackets," says a frequent visitor from Northern Europe. "They were quite a contrast to the usual scruffy lot."
On May 23, none other than Lieutenant General Dayton discussed the new unit in testimony before the House Middle East subcommittee. Hamas had attacked the troops as they crossed into Gaza from Egypt, Dayton said, but "these 500 young people, fresh out of basic training, were organized. They knew how to work in a coordinated fashion. Training does pay off. And the Hamas attack in the area was, likewise, repulsed."
The troops' arrival, Dayton said, was one of several "hopeful signs" in Gaza. Another was Dahlan's appointment as national-security adviser. Meanwhile, he said, Hamas's Executive Force was becoming "extremely unpopular I would say that we are kind of late in the ball game here, and we are behind, there's two out, but we have our best clutch hitter at the plate, and the pitcher is beginning to tire on the opposing team."
The opposing team was stronger than Dayton realized. By the end of May 2007, Hamas was mounting regular attacks of unprecedented boldness and savagery.
At an apartment in Ramallah that Abbas has set aside for wounded refugees from Gaza, I meet a former Fatah communications officer named Tariq Rafiyeh. He lies paralyzed from a bullet he took to the spine during the June coup, but his suffering began two weeks earlier. On May 31, he was on his way home with a colleague when they were stopped at a roadblock, robbed of their money and cell phones, and taken to a mosque. There, despite the building's holy status, Hamas Executive Force members were violently interrogating Fatah detainees. "Late that night one of them said we were going to be released," Rafiyeh recalls. "He told the guards, 'Be hospitable, keep them warm.' I thought that meant kill us. Instead, before letting us go they beat us badly."
On June 7, there was another damaging leak, when the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Abbas and Dayton had asked Israel to authorize the biggest Egyptian arms shipment yet—to include dozens of armored cars, hundreds of armor-piercing rockets, thousands of hand grenades, and millions of rounds of ammunition. A few days later, just before the next batch of Fatah recruits was due to leave for training in Egypt, the coup began in earnest.
Fatah's Last Stand
The Hamas leadership in Gaza is adamant that the coup would not have happened if Fatah had not provoked it. Fawzi Barhoum, Hamas's chief spokesman, says the leak in Al-Majd convinced the party that "there was a plan, approved by America, to destroy the political choice." The arrival of the first Egyptian-trained fighters, he adds, was the "reason for the timing." About 250 Hamas members had been killed in the first six months of 2007, Barhoum tells me. "Finally we decided to put an end to it. If we had let them stay loose in Gaza, there would have been more violence."
"Everyone here recognizes that Dahlan was trying with American help to undermine the results of the elections," says Mahmoud Zahar, the former foreign minister for the Haniyeh government, who now leads Hamas's militant wing in Gaza. "He was the one planning a coup."
Zahar and I speak inside his home in Gaza, which was rebuilt after a 2003 Israeli air strike destroyed it, killing one of his sons. He tells me that Hamas launched its operations in June with a limited objective: "The decision was only to get rid of the Preventive Security Service. They were the ones out on every crossroads, putting anyone suspected of Hamas involvement at risk of being tortured or killed." But when Fatah fighters inside a surrounded Preventive Security office in Jabaliya began retreating from building to building, they set off a "domino effect" that emboldened Hamas to seek broader gains.
Many armed units that were nominally loyal to Fatah did not fight at all. Some stayed neutral because they feared that, with Dahlan absent, his forces were bound to lose. "I wanted to stop the cycle of killing," says Ibrahim abu al-Nazar, a veteran party chief. "What did Dahlan expect? Did he think the U.S. Navy was going to come to Fatah's rescue? They promised him everything, but what did they do? But he also deceived them. He told them he was the strongman of the region. Even the Americans may now feel sad and frustrated. Their friend lost the battle."
Others who stayed out of the fight were extremists. "Fatah is a large movement, with many schools inside it," says Khalid Jaberi, a commander with Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, which continue to fire rockets into Israel from Gaza. "Dahlan's school is funded by the Americans and believes in negotiations with Israel as a strategic choice. Dahlan tried to control everything in Fatah, but there are cadres who could do a much better job. Dahlan treated us dictatorially. There was no overall Fatah decision to confront Hamas, and that's why our guns in al-Aqsa are the cleanest. They are not corrupted by the blood of our people."
Jaberi pauses. He spent the night before our interview awake and in hiding, fearful of Israeli air strikes. "You know," he says, "since the takeover, we've been trying to enter the brains of Bush and Rice, to figure out their mentality. We can only conclude that having Hamas in control serves their overall strategy, because their policy was so crazy otherwise."
The fighting was over in less than five days. It began with attacks on Fatah security buildings, in and around Gaza City and in the southern town of Rafah. Fatah attempted to shell Prime Minister Haniyeh's house, but by dusk on June 13 its forces were being routed.
Years of oppression by Dahlan and his forces were avenged as Hamas chased down stray Fatah fighters and subjected them to summary execution. At least one victim was reportedly thrown from the roof of a high-rise building. By June 16, Hamas had captured every Fatah building, as well as Abbas's official Gaza residence. Much of Dahlan's house, which doubled as his office, was reduced to rubble.
Fatah's last stand, predictably enough, was made by the Preventive Security Service. The unit sustained heavy casualties, but a rump of about 100 surviving fighters eventually made it to the beach and escaped in the night by fishing boat.
At the apartment in Ramallah, the wounded struggle on. Unlike Fatah, Hamas fired exploding bullets, which are banned under the Geneva Conventions. Some of the men in the apartment were shot with these rounds 20 or 30 times, producing unimaginable injuries that required amputation. Several have lost both legs.
The coup has had other costs. Amjad Shawer, a local economist, tells me that Gaza had 400 functioning factories and workshops at the start of 2007. By December, the intensified Israeli blockade had caused 90 percent of them to close. Seventy percent of Gaza's population is now living on less than $2 a day.
Israel, meanwhile, is no safer. The emergency pro-peace government called for in the secret Action Plan is now in office—but only in the West Bank. In Gaza, the exact thing both Israel and the U.S. Congress warned against came to pass when Hamas captured most of Fatah's arms and ammunition—including the new Egyptian guns supplied under the covert U.S.-Arab aid program.
Now that it controls Gaza, Hamas has given free rein to militants intent on firing rockets into neighboring Israeli towns. "We are still developing our rockets; soon we shall hit the heart of Ashkelon at will," says Jaberi, the al-Aqsa commander, referring to the Israeli city of 110,000 people 12 miles from Gaza's border. "I assure you, the time is near when we will mount a big operation inside Israel, in Haifa or Tel Aviv."
On January 23, Hamas blew up parts of the wall dividing Gaza from Egypt, and tens of thousands of Palestinians crossed the border. Militants had already been smuggling weapons through a network of underground tunnels, but the breach of the wall made their job much easier—and may have brought Jaberi's threat closer to reality.
George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice continue to push the peace process, but Avi Dichter says Israel will never conclude a deal on Palestinian statehood until the Palestinians reform their entire law-enforcement system—what he calls "the chain of security." With Hamas in control of Gaza, there appears to be no chance of that happening. "Just look at the situation," says Dahlan. "They say there will be a final-status agreement in eight months? No way."
"An Institutional Failure"
How could the U.S. have played Gaza so wrong? Neocon critics of the administration—who until last year were inside it—blame an old State Department vice: the rush to anoint a strongman instead of solving problems directly. This ploy has failed in places as diverse as Vietnam, the Philippines, Central America, and Saddam Hussein's Iraq, during its war against Iran. To rely on proxies such as Muhammad Dahlan, says former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, is "an institutional failure, a failure of strategy." Its author, he says, was Rice, "who, like others in the dying days of this administration, is looking for legacy. Having failed to heed the warning not to hold the elections, they tried to avoid the result through Dayton."
With few good options left, the administration now appears to be rethinking its blanket refusal to engage with Hamas. Staffers at the National Security Council and the Pentagon recently put out discreet feelers to academic experts, asking them for papers describing Hamas and its principal protagonists. "They say they won't talk to Hamas," says one such expert, "but in the end they're going to have to. It's inevitable."
It is impossible to say for sure whether the outcome in Gaza would have been any better—for the Palestinian people, for the Israelis, and for America's allies in Fatah—if the Bush administration had pursued a different policy. One thing, however, seems certain: it could not be any worse.

'US plot against Hamas' revealed

Go to OriginalThe US plotted to overthrow the democratically elected Hamas government in the Palestinian territories, according to leaked documents obtained by Al Jazeera.One of the documents appears to show that Washington tried to persuade Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president and leader of Fatah, to remove Hamas from power. One document, dated March 2007, states "the plan will enable the Palestinian leadership to be more credible in the eyes of Israel and the others".But, when that plan failed, the US set up an operation to fund Fatah fighters and drive Hamas out. In Cairo, Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, justified the arming of Fatah, saying the situation had called for it.She said she had not read a report in Vanity Fair magazine which quoted a former US intelligence official said to be knowledgable of the US plans to overthrow Hamas after it failed to convince Abbas to dissolve the cabinet. US support "It is very clear that Hamas is being armed. And it is very clear that they are being armed in part by the Iranians," Rice said on Tuesday."So if the answer is that if Hamas gets armed by the Iranians and nobody helps to improve the security capabilities of the legitimate Palestinian Authority security forces, that's not a very good situation." Rice said that international forces, including the US, would therefore continue to work with the PA to bolster its forces to keep security in its mandated region. Responding to Rice's comments about Iranian support for Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, the exiled Hamas political leader, told Al Jazeera Rice was "lying". "Their main concern is to provoke Iran," Meshaal said. "I'm saying it again if they have proof of this let them produce it". "Everyone knows the origins of the Israeli weapons, it's American made while our men are using very simple homemade arms," he said. The US has openly supported Fatah and after Hamas seized control of Gaza in June 2007, the US announced an $80m funding deal for Fatah's security services in the West Bank.Nour Odeh, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Ramallah, said that many Palestinians would be upset that Fatah appeared to have played into the hands of an American foreign policy that wanted to make an example out of Hamas, whom the US labels a "terrorist" organisation.Emerging evidence Hamas won democratic elections in January 2006, prompting Western governments, which have refused to engage with Hamas, to threaten to withdraw financial aid to the Palestinians. Left with little international support, by June that year Hamas and Fatah had agreed to form a unity government but were unable to broker a conclusive end to factional fighting on the streets of Gaza. Allegations the US sought to remove Hamas in a coup dates back to 2006, after the group had come to power through Palestinian elections. The leaked documents include a memo sent to Fatah officials, apparently by a senior US diplomat in Jerusalem in November 2006, encouraging Fatah to declare a state of emergency and take control. The memo stated: "If Hamas does not agree [to accept a new government] within the prescribed time, you should make clear your intention to declare a state of emergency and form an emergency government explicitly committed to that platform." The plan was ignored by Abbas who instead formed a unity government with Hamas in 2007, intended to bring an end to fighting between the two factions. The unity government, agreed in February 2007 with the mediation of Saudi Arabia, appears to have prompted the second document and a plan to oust Hamas by force, with the US bolstering Mohammed Dahlan, the head of Fatah's security forces. But the unity government failed to end factional fighting and in June Hamas seized Gaza, dividing the Palestinian territories into Gaza and the Fatah-controlled West Bank. There has been no official response from Abbas regarding the documents. No official US stamps or seals appear on the document_

Foreclosure Plans Benefit Banks, but Do Little for Homeowners

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By Dean Baker

Taxpayers foot the bill to finance bailout plans.

Washington DC - Many of the recent proposals to help homeowners facing foreclosure provide little relief for most of the families at risk of losing their home, according to a report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Under these rescues, taxpayers end up underwriting a bailout that could reap billions of dollars in profit for banks and mortgage holders.

The report, "Subprime Rescue Plans: Backdoor Bank Bailouts," examines the basic logic of these plans, focusing on the proposal offered by the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS), to illustrate which parties stand to gain most if the government buys or guarantees bad mortgage debt.

"House prices have been falling at a 16 percent annual rate and will likely continue to fall. This means homeowners will build little or no equity throughout the duration of plans like this," said Dean Baker, author of the report.

This study shows that under these plans, homeowners will get to keep their house, but will be paying 85 percent more than if they rented a similar property. They will have little hope of accruing equity in a house that is falling in price and in which the initial terms of the mortgage have already put them underwater. Furthermore, depending on the rate of foreclosure, taxpayers could plausibly end up paying as much as $75,000 for each homeowner who stays in their home.

Under the OTS plan, falling house prices are particularly problematic, since a homeowner would need to accumulate enough equity to offset the bank's loss on the initial mortgage before they can claim a dime for themselves. Since most moderate-income homeowners only stay in their house for relatively short periods of time (the median is four years), most will accumulate no equity at all.
CEPR's analysis of these plans can be found here.

Now Europe Must Take on the Ahmadinejad Challenge

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By Gilles Kepel

Sunday March 2 and Monday March 3, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is on an official visit to Baghdad: Tehran parades around as the central protagonist of any way out of the Iraq crisis and Washington is forced to ratify its role. Yesterday, the option of an American strike against Iranian nuclear installations was on the table at the White House; the president of the Islamic republic was a pariah, deemed untouchable in the West for having called for "Israel to be wiped off the map," as Nicolas Sarkozy recalled at a recent Crif [Representative Council of French Jewish institutions] dinner. Received with honors in an Iraq under American protectorate today, he effects his big comeback as the "regional superpower" of the Persian Gulf. Has George Bush gone to Canossa by allowing the poster boy for the "Axis of Evil" to be welcomed in a country where 160,000 American troops are stationed? And is Ahmadinejad's triumph what his zealots proclaim? Beyond the paradoxes, the reality is more complex and fits into the process of opening a system of overall negotiations in the Middle East that will ultimately include the nuclear issue, the Lebanese-Syrian crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation. The Europe over which France will soon preside would be well-advised to take measure of the situation and maintain its own role therein if it wishes to count in the future of peace in the great Euro-Mediterranean-Gulf region that will be its natural place in the globalized planet of the twenty-first century, between the American hammer and the Asian anvil.

Ahmadinejad's visit first of all cements Tehran's decisive influence on the various Iraqi Shiite militias which, by going on the offensive against the Sunni and al-Qaeda in 2006, had unleashed a virtual civil war. The Sunni tribes and factions - excluded from Iraq's political and economic future, dispossessed of the steady oil income confiscated by Shiites and Kurds by virtue of the new Constitution - had used the head of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the "cutthroats' sheik" al-Zarqaoui, to conduct a bloody jihad against their Shiite compatriots, the primary victims of suicide attacks. Initially supposed to limit their targets to "infidel" foreign troops only, they primarily killed "heretic" Iraqi civilians. After allowing chaos, which put the American Army and American leaders under pressure, to move in, Tehran has prodded its Shiite protégés in Iraq to mark a truce - to which the greater part of the 2007 drop in violence is due. If Iraq has temporarily vacated The New York Times' front page during this electoral period, allowing Republicans and Democrats to confront one another over the sub-prime crisis or the social safety net, it's thanks to the Islamic Republic rather than to President Bush sending 30,000 additional soldiers at the beginning of 2007. However, this way Iran invites itself into the United States' presidential campaign, as Khomeini did during the US embassy hostage crisis in 1979-1980 that contributed to Carter's defeat and Reagan's election. Like his mentor, Ahmadinejad hopes to sell his vote to McCain, Obama or Hillary Clinton for a high price.

Yet the Iranian president, who arrives in Baghdad this Sunday, is not really in any better position domestically than his colleague George W. Bush. The policy of confrontation, at least of the verbal variety, with the United States, Israel and the West has manifested itself in an impoverishment of the country caused by financial and economic sanctions, and in spite of the incredible increase in hydrocarbon prices which has barely benefitted Iranian citizens, unlike their Arab neighbors in the Gulf Cooperation Council. The armed "Pasdaran generation" and the militias of the Guardians of the Revolution it represents is in conflict with the clergy, frightened by its adventurism, and with the Iranian middle classes, who live on Western time through satellite television and don't understand why they are deprived access to prosperity when the price of crude oil exceeds $100 a barrel. Faced with this coalition that threatens to make him lose the March 14 legislative elections, Ahmadinejad is counting on this visit to Iraq to provide him the status of an internationally acknowledged head of state. But negotiations or the outline of a dialogue with the West will benefit the Reformists first of all, and that's the Iranian president's dilemma. His power paradoxically stems from the freeze he exerts on the Lebanese presidential election via Hezbollah, on recognition of Israel, etc. With respect to his domestic adversaries, beginning to negotiate could be the kiss of death for him.

The Bush administration's policy, the "war against terror" that was supposed to reorganize the Middle East under the United States' leadership, has failed with the Iraqi fiasco; the Islamist apotheosis promised by bin Laden, Zawahiri and their ilk, thanks to jihad and martyrdom, has not succeeded in mobilizing the Arab masses; and "the Islamic State of Iraq," established by al-Qaeda in the Sunni provinces, has no reality outside the Internet. Bush and bin Laden's common enemy, Shiite and revolutionary Iran, is in a situation today that favors negotiation. While the American presidency, delegitimized by its failure, handicapped by electoral uncertainty, cannot take on this challenge, it's up to Europe to show the way, in partnership with the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, an institution formed against Iran in 1981, but which welcomed Ahmadinejad during its last summit in Qatar. This challenge, which is a challenge of civilization, will be one of the major tasks for the French presidency of the European Union: we must evaluate the stakes involved and demonstrate political will.

The Cost of a Week in Hell

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How far off were they? Well, it depends on which figure you choose to start with. Here's the range: According to key officials in the Bush administration back in 2002-2003, the invasion and reconstruction of Iraq was either going to cost $60 billion, or $100-$200 billion. Actually, we can start by tossing that top figure out, since not long after Bush economic advisor Larry Lindsey offered it in 2002, he was shown the door, in part assumedly for even suggesting something so ludicrous.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz championed the $60 billion figure, but added that much of the cost might well be covered by Iraqi oil revenues; the country was, after all, floating on a "sea of oil." ("To assume we're going to pay for it all is just wrong," he told a congressional hearing.) Still, let's take that $60 billion figure as the Bush baseline. If economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes are right in their recent calculations and this will turn out to be more than a $3 trillion war (or even a $5-7 trillion one), then the Bush administration was at least $2,940,000,000,000 off in its calculations.
That definitely qualifies as a ballpark figure for an administration that never saw a budget estimate for one of its imperial dreams that it couldn't hike. Take just one of its major "reconstruction" projects: getting the vast U.S. embassy staff out of a former palace of Saddam Hussein and into a brand-new, almost Vatican-sized "embassy," a genuine mother ship, being built from the ground up inside Baghdad's heavily fortified (and often heavily shelled) Green Zone. Originally scheduled to open in mid-2007, what will undoubtedly be the largest "diplomatic" mission on the planet was initially budgeted for $592 million. Predictably, its price tag soared another $144 million, and now comes in at $736 million, as yet unopened. In December 2007, the State Department officially certified it "substantially complete," but, as with most Bush administration construction projects in that country, it remains in a state of staggering unreadiness; two of the State Department employees who worked on it are now "under criminal investigation"; and the State Department is dragging its feet about handing over relevant documents to Congress. Ho-hum.
Nothing, of course, has been cheap for American taxpayers who are financing the Bush administration's war policies. It's been like putting up money for an administration staffed by shopaholics let loose in Neiman Marcus or gambling addicts freed to roam Las Vegas with no betting limits.
But what does money matter? After all, this administration has been spending as if there were no tomorrow. And now, with tomorrow staring them in the face, the latest scare tactic seems to be claiming that doing anything about present policies will simply be… too expensive. Not long after the price of oil crested above $103 a barrel, Karl Rove, for instance, predicted that any serious "redeployment" from Iraq would mean… $200 a barrel oil.
Sigh… Fortunately, we've got William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation, to try to put Bush spending policies in its wars of choice into perspective. Tom
War is Hell, But What the Hell Does it Cost?One Week at War in Iraq and Afghanistan for $3.5 BillionBy William D. Hartung
War is hell -- deadly, dangerous, and expensive. But just how expensive is it?
In a recent interview, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz asserted that the costs of the Iraq war -- budgetary, economic, and societal -- could reach $5 trillion.
That's a hard number to comprehend. Figuring out how many times $5 trillion would circle the globe (if we took it all in one dollar bills) doesn't really help matters much, nor does estimating how many times we could paper over every square inch of Rhode Island with it. The fact that total war costs could buy six trillion donuts for volunteers to the Clinton, Obama, McCain, and Huckabee campaigns -- assuming a bulk discount -- is impressive in its own way, but not all that meaningful either. In fact, the Bush administration's war costs have already moved beyond the human scale of comprehension.
But what if we were to try another tack? How about breaking those soaring trillions down into smaller pieces, into mere millions and billions? How much, for instance, does one week of George Bush's wars cost?
Glad you asked. If we consider the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan together -- which we might as well do, since we and our children and grandchildren will be paying for them together into the distant future -- a conservative single-week estimate comes to $3.5 billion. Remember, that's per week!
By contrast, the whole international community spends less than $400 million per year on the International Atomic Energy Agency, the primary institution for monitoring and preventing the spread of nuclear weapons; that's less than one day's worth of war costs. The U.S. government spends just $1 billion per year securing and destroying loose nuclear weapons and bomb-making materials, or less than two days' worth of war costs; and Washington spends a total of just $7 billion per year on combating global warming, or a whopping two weeks' worth of war costs.
So, perhaps you're wondering, what does that $3.5 billion per week actually pay for? And how would we even know? The Bush administration submits a supplemental request -- over and above the more than $500 billion per year the Pentagon is now receiving in its official budget -- to pay for the purported costs of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and for the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). If you can stay awake long enough to read the whole 159-page document for 2008, it has some fascinating revelations.
For example, to hear the howling of the white-collar warriors in Washington every time anyone suggests knocking a nickel off administration war-spending requests, you would think that the weekly $3.5 billion outlay is all "for the troops." In fact, only 10% of it, or under $350 million per week, goes to pay and benefits for uniformed military personnel. That's less than a quarter of the weekly $1.4 billion that goes to war contractors to pay for everything from bullets to bombers. As a slogan, insisting that we need to keep the current flood of military outlays flowing "for Boeing and Lockheed Martin" just doesn't quite have the same ring to it.
You could argue, of course, that all these contracting dollars represent the most efficient way to get our troops the equipment they need to operate safely and effectively in a war zone -- but you would be wrong. Much of that money is being wasted every week on the wrong kinds of equipment at exorbitant prices. And even when it is the right kind of equipment, there are often startling delays in getting it to the battlefield, as was the case with advanced armored vehicles for the Marine Corps.
But before we get to equipment costs, let's take a look at a week's worth of another kind of support. The Pentagon and the State Department don't make a big point -- or really any kind of point -- out of telling us how much we're spending on gun-toting private-contract employees from companies like Blackwater and Triple Canopy, our "shadow army" in Iraq, but we can make an educated guess. For example, at the high end of the scale, individual employees of private military firms make up to 10 times what many U.S. enlisted personnel make, or as much as $7,500 per week. If even one-tenth of the 5,000 to 6,000 armed contract employees in Iraq make that much, we're talking about at least $40 million per week. If the rest make $1,000 a week -- an extremely conservative estimate -- then we have nearly $100 million per week going just to the armed cohort of private-contract employees operating there.
Now, let's add into that figure the whole private crew of non-government employees operating in Iraq, including all the cooks, weapons technicians, translators, interrogators, and other private-contract support personnel. That combined cost probably comes closer to $300 million per week, or almost as much as is spent on uniformed personnel by the Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marines.
By one reliable estimate, there are more contract employees in Iraq alone -- about 180,000 -- than there are U.S. troops. There are thousands more in Afghanistan. But since many of these non-military employees are poorly paid subcontract workers involved in cooking meals, doing laundry, and cleaning latrines, the total costs for the services of all private-contractor employees in Iraq probably runs somewhat less than the costs of the uniformed military. Hence our estimate.
So, if $650 million or so a week is spent on people, where does the other nearly $3 billion go? It goes for goods and services, from tanks and fighter planes to fuel and food. Most of this money ends up in the hands of private companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and the former Halliburton subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown and Root.
The list of weapons and accessories paid for from our $3.5 billion is long and daunting:
$1.5 million for M-4 carbines (about 900 guns per week);$2.3 million for machine guns (about 170 per week);$4.3 million for Hellfire missiles (about 50 missiles per week);$6.9 million for night vision devices (about 2,100 per week);$10.8 million for fuel per week;$5 million to store and transport that fuel per week;$14.8 million for F-18E/F fighter planes per week (one every four weeks);$23.4 million for ammunition per week;$30.7 million for Bradley fighting vehicles (10 per week).
And that's only a very partial list. What about the more mundane items?
"Laundries, showers, and latrines" cost more than $110,000 per week;"Parachutes and aerial delivery systems" cost $950,000 per week;"Runway snow removal and cleaning" costs $132,000 per week;Flares cost $50,000 per week.
Some of these figures, of course, may cover worldwide military operations for the U.S. armed forces. After all, by sticking the acronym GWOT in the title of any supplemental war-spending request, you can cram almost anything into it.
Then there are the sobering figures like: $2.4 million per week for "death gratuities" (payments to families of troops killed in action) and $10.6 million per week in "extra hazard pay."
And don't forget that all the death and destruction lurking behind these weekly numbers makes it that much harder to get people to join the military. But not to worry, $1 million per week is factored into that supplemental funding request for "advertising and recruitment" -- not enough perhaps to fill the ranks, but at least they're trying.
Keep in mind that this only gives us a sense of what we do know from the public Pentagon request; there's plenty more that we don't know. As a start, the Pentagon's breakdown of the money in its "emergency" supplemental budget leaves huge gaps.
Even your own congressman doesn't know for sure what is really in the U.S. war budget. What we do know is that the Pentagon and the military services have been stuffing more and more projects that have nothing to do with the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, or even the war on terror, into those war supplementals.
Layered in are requests for new equipment that will take years, or even decades, to build and may never be used in combat -- unless the Iraq war really does go on for another century, as John McCain recently suggested. These "non-war" items include high-tech armored vehicles and communications devices for the Army as well as new combat aircraft for the Air Force.
Even though these systems may never be used on our current battlefields, they are war costs nonetheless. If they weren't inserted into the supplemental requests for Iraq and Afghanistan, they might never have been funded. After all, who wants to vote against a bill that is allegedly all "for the troops," even if it includes weapons those troops will never get?
These add-ons are not small change. They probably cost in the area of $500 million per week.
Given all of this, it may sound like we have a fair amount of detail about the costs of a week of war. No such luck. Until the "supplemental" costs of war are subjected to the same scrutiny as the regular Pentagon budget, there will continue to be hundreds of millions of dollars unaccounted for each and every week that the wars go on. And there will be all sorts of money for pet projects that have nothing to do with fighting current conflicts. So don't just think of that $3.5 billion per week figure as a given. Think of it as $3.5 billion… and counting.
Doesn't that make you feel safer?
William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation. He is the author of And Weapons for All (Harper Collins, 1994) and How Much Are You Making on the War, Daddy? A Quick and Dirty Guide to War Profiteering in the Bush Administration (Nation Books, 2004). His commentaries on military and economic issues have appeared in the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, and the Nation magazine.
[Source Note: Readers who want to check out the latest Department of Defense supplemental request for war-fighting funds can click here (PDF file) and read, "FY 2008 Global War on Terror Pending Request" from the Office of the Secretary of Defense.]