Friday, March 28, 2008

Mosaic News - 3/27/08: World News from the Middle East

From Worship To War

Reverend Wright Sermon - Video

" We want revenge, we want payback and we don't care who gets hurt "

When a Great Power Goes Mad

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By Robert Parry

With the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War and the grim milestone of 4,000 U.S. dead, the nation has been awash with news retrospectives on the war and speeches by politicians, mostly offering sanitized versions of what’s transpired.

With a few exceptions, these media/political reflections have had the feel of self-rationalizations, more than self-criticisms. They’ve conveyed a sense that the U.S. system is doing just fine, thank you, although a few mistakes were made.

So, you have President George W. Bush, the chief author of this catastrophic war, declaring that “normalcy is returning back to Iraq” even as fighting rages across much of the country and rockets rain down on the highly fortified Green Zone in Baghdad.

Bush’s comment invited comparisons to the acronym coined by U.S. Army soldiers during World War II: SNAFU for “situation normal, all fucked up.”

In the news media, there were specials, including a much-touted PBS Frontline two-parter on “Bush’s War” which followed the mainstream line of mostly accepting the Bush administration’s good intentions while blaming the disaster on policy execution – a lack of planning, bureaucratic rivalries, rash decisions and wishful thinking.

The chief interviews for the program were with former Bush administration officials and with journalists – such as Michael Gordon and John Burns of the New York Times whose influential reporting helped set the stage for the war – and with Bob Woodward, whose Bush at War was a generally flattering account of Bush’s decision-making.

Remaining outside the frame of mainstream U.S. debate was any serious examination of the war’s fundamental illegality.

During the post-World War II trials at Nuremberg, the United States led the world in decrying aggressive war as “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

Yet, Frontline and other mainstream U.S. news outlets shy away from this central fact of the Iraq War: by invading Iraq without the approval of the U.N. Security Council and under false pretenses, the Bush administration released upon the Iraqi people “the accumulated evil of the whole” – and committed the “supreme” war crime.

An obvious reason why the mainstream U.S. press can’t handle this truth is that to do so would mean that President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, a host of other U.S. officials and even some prominent journalists could be regarded as war criminals.

To accept that reality would, in turn, create a moral imperative to take action. And that would require a great disruption in the existing U.S. power structure, which hasn’t changed much since Bush won authorization from Congress in October 2002 to use force and then invaded Iraq in March 2003.

Not only are Bush and Cheney still in office – and two of the three remaining presidential candidates, John McCain and Hillary Clinton, voted for the war – but the roster of top Washington journalists remains remarkably intact from five years ago.

Iraq War hawk Fred Hiatt still runs the Washington Post’s editorial pages where you can still read the likes of Charles Krauthammer, David Ignatius, Richard Cohen and a bunch of other columnists who pushed for the war.

The same is true for the New York Times’s op-ed page, where writers like Thomas Friedman have prospered despite their erroneous war judgments and where one of the few changes has been to recruit prominent neoconservative William Kristol, who has used his column to chide Americans who won’t hail Bush’s courageous war leadership.

Deeper Trends

In evaluating this corrupt political/media elite, a historian might want to go back even further and wonder how someone as eminently unqualified and unfit as George W. Bush became president of the most powerful nation on earth.

How did a technologically sophisticated country like the United States with a relatively free press get led down this dangerous path? Why did so many American voters in 2000 believe made-up stories about Al Gore’s supposed delusions, like the apocryphal quote, “I invented the Internet”?

Indeed, how did a seemingly endless supply of myths and half-truths take root in the American psyche?

Going back even a bit further, how were Americans sold on the happy tales of Ronald Reagan’s presidency as the blood of U.S.-supported dirty wars in Central America and elsewhere was washed from the nation’s memory bank?

Why in a media environment with 24-hour cable news programming has intelligent dissent against U.S. foreign policy been so marginalized and excluded? Why are editors and producers so afraid of allowing some of these voices to be heard? How has such a destructive “group think” been allowed to take hold?

One of the obvious answers is fear – at least fear that one’s career would be irreparably damaged by wandering too far outside the safety of the herd.

And while running with that herd, it’s understood that there’s much greater safety in veering right, given the well-funded conservative attack groups that have devoured the careers of many independent-minded journalists who refused to bend.

(I’ve tried to address this history in my books, including Lost History, Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, as well as at

Well-Spoken Madness

While many Americans – both inside and outside Washington – recognize these real-world constraints on how politicians and journalists address issues, the larger consequences are less understood.

What these trends have done over the past three decades is not just shift the dominant U.S. political/media system to the right. Nor have they just constructed a “group think” that excludes reasonable points of view that challenge the conventional wisdom.

The cumulative effect of this willful conformity and this informal censorship has been to engender a form of collective madness at the decision-making levels of the U.S. government -- and within the upper echelons of the news media.

But it is a flexible form of insanity in which reality is alternatively banished – as it was in the early phases of the Iraq War, from WMD "mushroom clouds" through "Mission Accomplished" – and then is brought in for retooling when matters get too far out of control, when the jarring gap between the official line and the truth starts to destabilize the national political consensus.

In listening to the measured tones of the Frontline narration – not to mention the well-dressed ex-government officials and the well-spoken mainstream journalists – I was left with the feeling that a new synthetic “reality” was being lowered in to replace the older discredited version.

It was as if the bloody madness that President Bush inflicted on the people of Iraq – aided and abetted by many witting and unwitting American accomplices – was being drained of its crimson hue and stripped of its human horrors.

Forget the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead and maimed. Forget the innumerable lives destroyed and the millions displaced. Forget the bizarre forms of torture at Abu Ghraib and the widespread mistreatment of detainees at other Iraqi prisons.

After all, we were being told, the war’s architects were honorable and reasonable men and women who were trying to do the right thing, but sadly they were undermined by bureaucratic inertia, back-biting and, yes, incompetence. It was just one big SNAFU.

But, with a few changes here and there – a new general or two, a tweaked counter-insurgency strategy, some more U.S. soldiers and a bit more patience – everything will work out just fine.

No need for national guilt. No need for accountability. No reason to purge the editorial offices of leading newspapers and TV networks. No reason to talk about impeachment or war-crimes tribunals for committing the "supreme" crime against world peace. No need for any of that.

As President Bush said on March 27, “normalcy is returning back to Iraq,” if you don’t take note of the mayhem all around. One might add that a similar form of “normalcy is returning back to Washington,” if you don’t take note of all the lies and the self-deceptions.

Net Neutrality's Quiet Crusader

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By Cecilia Kang

Bearing video cameras, laptops and cellphones, a small army of young activists flooded into a recent federal meeting in protest.

Members of public-interest group Free Press weren’t there to support a presidential candidate or decry global warming. The tech-savvy hundreds came to the Federal Communications Commission’s hearing at Harvard Law School last month to push new rules for the Internet.

For the first time, Congress and the FCC are debating wide-reaching Web regulations and policies that would determine how much control cable and telecommunications companies would have over the Internet. The issue has given rise to a new political constituency raised on text messaging and social networking and relies on e-mail blasts and online video clips in its advocacy.

Although Free Press has generated buzz for its aggressive and sometimes controversial tactics online, its ringleader in Washington is an unlikely crusader. A soft-spoken 30-year-old PhD candidate, Ben Scott has become an operator in multibillion-dollar battles involving corporate titans, regulators and consumers debating policies over who controls the media and the Internet.

“There have been policy moments in the past when the market has been shaped by decisions made in Washington — radio in the 1930s, television in the 1950s and cable in the 1980s. That moment is now for the Internet,” said Scott, who runs a nine-member office.

Working mostly behind the scenes, Scott has been a driving force for “net neutrality,” a concept that in policy terms has come to mean enforcement of open access online, so cable and telecom operators cannot block or delay content that travels over their networks. In a complaint filed at the FCC last November, Scott and his staff called for action against Comcast, which admitted it slowed content over its network involving the BitTorrent file-sharing site.

Scott and the group’s 500,000 members, most of whom joined online, helped sell their argument. Free Press drew together strange bedfellows, including the Christian Coalition, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Gun Owners of America, and helped set in motion a broader debate on the issue that resulted in the recent FCC hearing in Cambridge, Mass. Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) also sponsored a bill to strengthen governance against Internet service providers trying to control consumers’ Web access over their networks.

“Ben has exquisite political judgment and is a key player in net neutrality and wireless issues because he represents a new, grass-roots dynamic in the battle against media concentration and the communications colossus,” said Markey, chairman of the House subcommittee on telecommunications and the Internet.

Under pressure, Comcast yesterday said it would work with BitTorrent to improve the transfer of large files over the network.

Free Press’s critics — who spoke on condition of anonymity because discussions on net neutrality policy are ongoing — say the group often oversimplifies complex technical issues, dismissing the importance of some network management practices that block spam and pornography, for example. Free Press is also not the populist group it makes itself out to be, critics noted, partnering with corporate interests when it suits its goals, as it did with Google on net neutrality. Also, they said the group is not as boot-strapped as it may appear, with donors such as billionaire George Soros and singer Barbra Streisand.

Free Press has more than $5 million in funding, in part from major foundations such as the Soros Open Society Institute. Its annual lobbying budget is $250,000, compared with the $13.8 million spent by Verizon Communications, $17.1 million by AT&T and $8.9 million by Comcast last year.

The group, founded in 2003, was the brainchild of Scott’s doctoral adviser, University of Illinois media history professor Robert McChesney. Its first mandate was to fight policy changes allowing greater media consolidation between local newspapers and broadcast concerns.

Scott, who was in Washington at the time, joined soon after.

“It was the moment when core policies were being set up on the future of digital media and communications,” McChesney said. “For Ben, who had studied this stuff, it was like asking a political scientist to be chief of staff to the president.”

The issue also resonated with Free Press’s fast-growing membership. Members regularly blasted the FCC and lawmakers with e-mails, video and online petitions. They flooded the agency’s hearings on media ownership around the country to protest the rules. A Philadelphia district court eventually overturned the regulations, sending the FCC back to the drawing board.

“What we’ve done is organize the massive pent-up frustration that the media wasn’t measuring up,” Scott said.

Harnessing that is sometimes just a matter of capturing a moment and publicizing it online.

When Free Press employees discovered Comcast had paid people to attend the hearing at Harvard and appear supportive of the company, it blasted e-mails with photos and video of some hired stand-ins sleeping in the front rows. The video was viewed 60,000 times on YouTube.

Members of Free Press “are people in their 20s and 30s who are active in politics, who have grown up on the Net, who have come to learn and appreciate the value of the Net and want to preserve it,” said Richard Whitt, the Washington telecom and media counsel for Google.

If the issues are new to Washington, so is Scott’s understated style.

The son of a Methodist minister, Scott is no bombast. He doesn’t interrupt people. When he speaks — whether it’s about media ownership or low-power radio — he does so with a studied economy of words, and in a voice that makes people crane to hear him.

“Ben Scott and his people are bringing thoughtful, knowledgeable arguments and doing their homework,” said Blair Levin, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus. “And they never are saying they want you do something ‘because we said so.’ ”

Scott’s kindred spirit at the FCC might be Democratic commissioner Michael J. Copps, also a student of history who recently read a biography on Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Scott and Copps recently bonded over the book, drawing comparisons between the New Deal and net neutrality. At another meeting that day, Scott and the other Democratic commissioner, Jonathan S. Adelstein, held forth on legal definitions and case law for net neutrality.

Scott understands that effectiveness lies in the ability to cater the message to the right audience.

“Ultimately power is transacted on a personal level,” he said, “and ultimately people make decisions based on conversations with people that they trust.”

Catherine Bohigian, chief of the FCC’s Office of Strategic Planning, said Scott keeps discussions going by advocating without aggression.

“You are able to talk about issues and don’t have personalities that get in the way,” she said. “We’ve been on the other side with him on some issues; but being a nice guy, you want to work with him.”

It’s not that Free Press’s approach doesn’t occasionally backfire.

On Valentine’s Day, as part of an e-mail campaign, Free Press posted an fictional online video of FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin in a hotel room with big corporate lobbyists.

“Let’s just say I didn’t get calls back from the chairman’s office for a couple weeks,” Scott said.

Eventually Scott was forgiven, and Martin consulted him about a net neutrality hearing scheduled for next month at Stanford University.

“There have been times I might have agreed or disagreed with the position he’s taken, but his ability to mobilize at the grass-roots level and advocate and communicate effectively has certainly had an influence at the commission,” Martin said of Scott.

At Scott’s urging, Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) wrote a bill in June to expand the number of low-power radio stations on the FM dial — an issue that had languished for a long time.

After low-power advocates Pete “Petri Dish” Tridish and Hannah Sassaman approached Scott three years ago to craft their message and go against the powerful National Association of Broadcasters, Doyle took up their cause.

“What people don’t know is that getting a bill like this together requires a lot of hard work. It’s laborious, and a lot of people don’t want to do it,” Doyle said. “But Ben and his people are coming prepared and with all the facts and figures and willing to do the hard work and that makes us on the committee really take notice.”

Fed May Rethink Greenspan's Hands-Off Approach Towards Bubbles

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By Craig Torres and Vivien Lou Chen

Federal Reserve officials may be rethinking their aversion to acting against asset-price bubbles, an article of faith during former Chairman Alan Greenspan's 18 years at the helm.
After this month's near-collapse of Bear Stearns Cos., Minneapolis Fed Bank President Gary Stern -- the longest-serving policy maker -- said in a speech yesterday that it's possible ``to build support'' for practices ``designed to prevent excesses.'' New York Fed President Timothy Geithner, whose district bank took on almost $30 billion of Bear Stearns assets to rescue the firm, argued two years ago for a larger role for asset prices in decision-making, and there's no indication his views have changed.

For Fed policy makers, ``the consequences of their permissiveness have become so disastrous that they simply can't keep singing the same old tune in public,'' said Tom Schlesinger, executive director at the Financial Markets Center in Howardsville, Virginia.

While the soul-searching is unlikely to result in immediate changes to monetary policy, Stern's comments show how the credit freeze has forced officials to scrutinize long-held philosophies about the Fed's role in markets, and even ask how their current policies may undercut those views.

``As a risk manager, the Fed needs to take account of both directions, not just dealing with the aftermath,'' said Bruce Kasman, chief economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in New York. ``We have had two asset-prices bubbles in the last 10 years that have had big implications for the Fed's desire for a more stable macroeconomy.''

Stern's Reflection

Stern, 63, has been president of the Minneapolis Fed since 1985 and is currently a voting member of the rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee. In his speech to the European Economics and Financial Centre in London yesterday, he said that ``while I have not yet changed my opinion that asset-price levels should not be an objective of monetary policy, I am reviewing this conclusion in the wake of the fallout from the decline in house prices and from the earlier collapse of prices of technology stocks.''

He added that ``it is well within the realm of possibility for policy makers to build support for, and at least obtain tolerance of, policies designed to address excesses.''

Fed officials have spent years wrestling with how to prevent bubbles without damaging the economy through high interest rates, and few have come up with an answer. That's partly because the debate focused on use of the main policy rate instead of regulatory tools.

Greenspan Philosophy

For two decades, the ruling philosophy has been Greenspan's. ``It is far from obvious that bubbles, even if identified early, can be pre-empted at a lower cost than a substantial economic contraction and possible financial destabilization,'' Greenspan told the American Economic Association in 2004.

``I have always said if we could defuse a nascent asset bubble, I would be all for it,'' Greenspan, 82, said in an e- mailed response to a question yesterday. ``The reason I am against is that in my experience it cannot be done. I know of no occasion when such actions have been successful.''
But his successor, Ben S. Bernanke, and his team now find themselves reconsidering their approach to everything from regulation to the fate of the world's largest securities dealers. The collapse of the U.S. subprime-mortgage market has led to $208 billion in writedowns and credit losses since the start of 2007, pushing Bear to the brink of bankruptcy before its purchase by JPMorgan.

In his public remarks, Bernanke, 54, has opposed using interest rates to rein in asset prices, favoring keeping the benchmark rate focused on managing growth and inflation.

Role For Regulation

At the same time, he does see a role for regulations to reduce the likelihood of bubbles and protect institutions when they pop. He is also open to using other tools, as his response to the seven-month credit crisis has shown. And if the Fed gets more supervisory responsibility for securities firms, officials are likely to take more interest in policies that can discipline markets and balance incentives, economists said.

``If it is the case that asset prices matter for the intermediation of credit, then they have to worry about it,'' said Vincent Reinhart, former director of the Fed's Monetary Affairs Division, and now a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

The Fed has cut the benchmark rate 2 percentage points this year, the fastest pace in two decades. Bernanke has also changed the composition of the Fed balance sheet, absorbing more mortgage bonds, and swapping Treasuries for even private-label and commercial mortgage-backed securities, in effect influencing prices of securities tied to housing.

Bailout `Hazards'

Stern has spoken publicly only seven times in the last year. The Minneapolis president co-authored a 2004 book called ``Too Big to Fail: the Hazards of Bank Bailouts,'' which concluded that while governments shouldn't avoid public support for creditors of failing banks, they should minimize that backing because of the distortions it produces.

``If someone like that, steeped in the Fed's traditions, opens the door to a new or different approach to policy, we have to take it seriously,'' said Robert McTeer, a former president of the Dallas Fed.

To contact the reporter on this story: Vivien Lou Chen in San Francisco at

Ex - Ala. Governor to Be Freed Friday

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Montgomery, Ala. - Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman is not just getting to go home after spending nine months in federal prison. He's also getting a chance to testify before Congress about possible political influence over his prosecution.

A federal appeals court on Thursday ordered Siegelman released pending the appeal of his corruption case, just hours after the House Judiciary Committee announced that it wants to hear his views when it probes claims of selective prosecution by the Justice Department.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in its ruling Thursday, said the former governor had raised "substantial questions of fact and law" in challenging his conviction.

The once-popular Democrat began serving a sentence of more than seven years last June on his conviction on six bribery-related counts and one obstruction count. Siegelman, 62, has been serving the sentence at a federal prison in Oakdale, La.

"It's a sweet day. He's an innocent man and he's been in prison for nine months," said Siegelman's attorney, Vince Kilborn.

Siegelman has maintained that certain Republicans targeted him after he was elected governor in 1998. The House committee has begun reviewing his case as part of a broader investigation into allegations of political meddling in federal prosecutions.

The committee hopes to hear from Siegelman in May. Committee Chairman John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, believes Siegelman "would have a lot to add to the committee's investigation into selective prosecution," committee spokeswoman Melanie Roussell said.

Federal prosecutors accused Siegelman of appointing then-HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy to a hospital regulatory board in exchange for Scrushy arranging $500,000 in contributions to Siegelman's campaign for a statewide lottery.

Scrushy, who was tried along with Siegelman, also was convicted on bribery counts and is serving a sentence of nearly seven years. The 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta, has ruled that the multimillionaire Birmingham businessman is a potential flight risk, but that Siegelman is not.

The court refused Thursday to reconsider an earlier ruling denying Scrushy's request to be released on bond while his conviction is being appealed.

Scrushy attorney Art Leach said he is disappointed his client will have to remain in prison for at least another six months while the case is appealed.

"I am extremely disappointed, particularly after they said in the Siegelman case that there are substantial issues on appeal," Leach said.

Siegelman also was convicted of a separate obstruction of justice charge concerning $9,200 he received from a lobbyist to help with the purchase of a motorcycle. His attorneys have said it was a legitimate transaction.

Kilborn said that he and other attorneys were working to have Siegelman released from the Louisiana prison as soon as they can deliver a certified copy of the court's order to prison officials. It was not immediately clear when that would occur.

U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller had refused to allow Siegelman to remain free on appeal while challenging his conviction. But the 11th Circuit said Thursday he met the legal standard to be freed in the "complex and protracted" case.

Chief prosecutor Louis Franklin said he was "very disappointed" by the ruling, but still expects the appellate court will rule against Siegelman's appeal.

"I don't view this as a setback. The order is very short and concise and only deals with whether he is entitled to bond pending appeal," Franklin said.

The appeals process had been delayed for months after the court reporter during the trial died and the transcript was not completed as it normally would have.

Shut Guantanamo, ex-diplomats say

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Powell, Kissinger, Albright, Baker and Christopher also urge the next president to open talks with Iran.

Athens, Georgia - Five former U.S. secretaries of State on Thursday urged the next presidential administration to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and open a dialogue with Iran.

The former chiefs of American diplomacy, who served in Democratic and Republican administrations, reached a consensus on the two issues at a conference in Athens aimed at giving the next president some bipartisan foreign policy advice.

Each of them said closing the prison in Cuba would bolster America’s image abroad.

"It says to the world: ’We are now going back to our traditional respective forms of dealing with people who potentially committed crimes,’ " said Colin L. Powell, who served as President Bush’s first secretary of State.

Powell was joined by Henry A. Kissinger, James A. Baker III, Warren Christopher and Madeleine K. Albright, who sat in a round-table discussion sponsored by the University of Georgia at a sold-out conference center in downtown Athens.

Kissinger called Guantanamo a "blot on us" and agreed it should be closed, but wondered aloud about the consequences of a closure.

Baker, a lawyer who served in President George H.W. Bush’s Cabinet, said he had struggled with its legal implications.

"It gives us a very, very bad name, not just internationally," he said. "I have a great deal of difficulty understanding how we can hold someone, pick someone up, particularly someone who might be an American citizen - even if they were caught somewhere abroad, acting against American interests - and hold them without ever giving them an opportunity to appear before a magistrate."

The former secretaries of State also urged that the U.S. open a line of dialogue with Iran, each saying it was important to maintain contact with adversaries and allies alike.

Albright stressed the importance of finding "common ground," and Christopher urged diplomats to explore opening contact with other "vectors of power," such as clerics and former political leaders. Albright and Christopher served under President Clinton.

Baker suggested the dialogue could center on a common dilemma, saying a "dysfunctional Iraq, a chaotic Iraq, is not something that’s in the interest to Iran. There’s every incentive on their part to help us, the same way they did in Afghanistan."

Kissinger urged an open - if delicate - line of communication with Iran.

"One has to talk with adversaries," said Kissinger, who served the Nixon and Ford administrations.

Powell compared the potential talks to difficult visits he made to Syria while he served as America’s chief diplomat.

"They are not always pleasant visits," he said. "But you’ve got to do it."

Tapes’ Destruction Hovers Over Detainee Cases

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By Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane

Washington - When officers from the Central Intelligence Agency destroyed hundreds of hours of videotapes documenting harsh interrogations in 2005, they may have believed they were freeing the government and themselves from potentially serious legal trouble.

But nearly four months after the disclosure that the tapes were destroyed, the list of legal entanglements for the C.I.A., the Defense Department and other agencies is only growing longer. In addition to criminal and Congressional investigations of the tapes' destruction, the government is fighting off challenges in several major terrorism cases and a raft of prisoners' legal claims that it may have destroyed evidence.

"They thought they were saving themselves from legal scrutiny, as well as possible danger from Al Qaeda if the tapes became public," said Frederick P. Hitz, a former C.I.A. officer and the agency's inspector general from 1990 to 1998, speaking of agency officials who favored eliminating the tapes. "Unknowingly, perhaps, they may have created even more problems for themselves."

In a suit brought by Hani Abdullah, a Yemeni prisoner at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a federal judge has raised the possibility that, by destroying the tapes, the C.I.A. violated a court order to preserve all evidence relevant to the prisoner. In at least 12 other lawsuits, lawyers for prisoners at Guantánamo and elsewhere have filed legal challenges citing the C.I.A. tapes' destruction, said David H. Remes, a Washington lawyer representing 16 prisoners.

"This is like any other cover-up," Mr. Remes said. "We've only scratched the surface."

Plans for the possible prosecution of another prisoner, Ali al-Marri, who has been held since 2003 in a naval brig in Charleston, S.C., could be in jeopardy after the Pentagon recently revealed that it had destroyed some tapes of Mr. Marri's interrogation. Other tapes showing rough treatment of Mr. Marri, which were discovered in a Pentagon review ordered after the C.I.A. revelations and have been preserved, could prove embarrassing if presented at his trial.

The destruction of tapes has also prompted challenges from lawyers for Zacharias Moussaoui, the convicted Qaeda operative who had unsuccessfully sought testimony at his trial from Abu Zubaydah, one of the two Qaeda suspects whose interrogation videotapes were destroyed in November 2005. At that time, a defense motion seeking records of Abu Zubaydah's interrogation was pending before a federal court in Virginia.

This motion in the Moussaoui case, among other legal challenges, has raised questions about a statement in December by the C.I.A. director, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, that he understood the tapes were destroyed only after it was determined that they were "not relevant to any internal, legislative, or judicial inquiries."

A C.I.A. spokesman, Paul Gimigliano, said General Hayden "certainly stands by his statement." He added: "The C.I.A. has been cooperating with the Department of Justice, the courts and the Congress. The reviews of this matter are not complete, and it is only fair to let them conclude before trying to draw conclusions from them or about them."

Officially, the C.I.A. has said that the tapes were destroyed primarily because of concerns that their public exposure could endanger the safety of C.I.A. officers. But in interviews in recent months with several officers involved in the decision, they said that a primary factor was the legal risks that officers shown on the tape might face.

Lawyers involved in the cases said it still appeared unlikely that a terrorist suspect could go free as a result of the destruction of the videotapes. But they said that judges might decide to exclude evidence in some of the cases, potentially undermining the government's position and jeopardizing future prosecutions.

All of the court challenges are playing out against the backdrop of the criminal investigation, led by a veteran prosecutor, John H. Durham, who is examining whether destruction of the tapes was an illegal obstruction of justice. A separate investigation by the House Intelligence Committee will soon begin interviewing officials from the White House and the C.I.A., possibly under subpoena, about their roles in the destruction of the tapes.

Congressional officials said that among the White House officials they intend to interview are David S. Addington, chief counsel for Vice President Dick Cheney, and former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. The list of current and former C.I.A. officials includes the former C.I.A. directors George J. Tenet and Porter J. Goss as well as several C.I.A. lawyers who gave legal advice about the tapes.

Little is known about the progress of the criminal investigation led by Mr. Durham. But his team has interviewed members of the Sept. 11 commission, including Philip D. Zelikow, the panel's former executive director, as part of an inquiry into whether the C.I.A. broke the law by withholding the tapes from the commission.

Mr. Hitz, the former C.I.A. inspector general, said the government's legal woes could be traced to what he believed was an unwise decision to use harsh physical pressure during interrogations. Those techniques had Justice Department approval. But a public backlash set in, which was a factor in the C.I.A.'s decision to destroy the tapes in late 2005.

By then, the C.I.A.'s secret detention program was tied up in a complex web of legal claims and counterclaims.

Beyond that, Mr. Durham, the prosecutor, has found 17 court orders in 21 lawsuits that required preservation of evidence, and he has said in court papers that his team is investigating whether the tapes' destruction violated those orders.

One of the court orders, issued in July 2005 by Judge Richard W. Roberts of the Federal District Court in Washington, required the preservation of all evidence related to Hani Abdullah, the Yemeni prisoner at Guantánamo, who is accused of attending a Qaeda training camp in 2001 and other offenses. Judge Roberts said in a January order that Mr. Abdullah's lawyers had made a plausible case that Abu Zubaydah would have been asked about their client in interrogations.

Mr. Abdullah's lawyers, who are challenging his detention as an enemy combatant, assert that the tapes might have helped their case, either by showing Abu Zubaydah did not know their client or that anything incriminating he may have said resulted from harsh treatment.

The remaining tapes of Mr. Marri, the prisoner at the Charleston brig who is challenging his indefinite detention, could create legal headaches for Justice Department lawyers should they someday bring him to trial.

During any future trial, Mr. Marri's lawyers could show a jury interrogation tapes showing that he had been treated roughly. In addition, they could exploit the Pentagon's admission that it has destroyed some tapes of Mr. Marri's interrogation to make the case that the government withheld evidence from the defense.

Despite all the legal complications, those in the C.I.A. who got rid of the videotapes may have achieved one of their presumed goals: preventing a torture prosecution, said Deborah Colson, a senior associate at Human Rights First.

"It may be impossible to reconstruct any criminal conduct that was caught on the tapes," Ms. Colson said.

Palestinians Fear Two-Tier Road System

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By Ethan Bronner

Beit Sira, West Bank - Ali Abu Safia, mayor of this Palestinian village, steers his car up one potholed road, then another, finding each exit blocked by huge concrete chunks placed there by the Israeli Army. On a sleek highway 100 yards away, Israeli cars whiz by.

"They took our land to build this road, and now we can't even use it," Mr. Abu Safia says bitterly, pointing to the highway with one hand as he drives with the other. "Israel says it is because of security. But it's politics."

The object of Mr. Abu Safia's contempt - Highway 443, a major access road to Jerusalem - has taken on special significance in the grinding Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For the first time, the Supreme Court, albeit in an interim decision, has accepted the idea of separate roads for Palestinians in the occupied areas.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel told the Supreme Court that what was happening on the highway could be the onset of legal apartheid in the West Bank - a charge that makes many Israelis recoil.

Built largely on private Palestinian land, the road was first challenged in the Supreme Court in the early 1980s when the justices, in a landmark ruling, permitted it to be built because the army said its primary function was to serve the local Palestinians, not Israeli commuters. In recent years, in the wake of stone-throwing and several drive-by shootings, Israel has blocked Palestinians' access to the road.

This month, as some 40,000 Israeli cars - and almost no Palestinians - use it daily, the court handed down its decision, one that has engendered much legal and political hand-wringing.

The one-paragraph decision calls on the army to give a progress report in six months on its efforts to build separate roads and take other steps for the Palestinians to compensate them for being barred from Highway 443. It is the acceptance of the idea of separate road systems that has engendered commentary, although legal experts say there is a slight chance that the court could reconsider its approach when it next examines the issue.

"There is already a separate legal system in the territories for Israelis and Palestinians," said Limor Yehuda, who argued the recent case for the civil rights association on behalf of six Palestinian villages. "With the approval of separate roads, if it becomes a widespread policy, then the word for it will be 'apartheid.' "

Many Israelis and their supporters reject the term, with its implication of racist animus.

"The basis of separation is not ethnic since Israeli Arabs and Jerusalem residents with Israeli ID cards can use the road," argues Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a conservative research organization. "The basis of the separation is to keep out of secure areas people living in chaotic areas. If the Palestinian Authority, which has thousands of men under arms, had fought terror, this wouldn't have been necessary."

The court's latest decision is significant because it accepted the idea in principle put forth by the army - that while it had no choice but to ban Palestinian traffic from the road because of anti-Israel attacks on it, some of which it says originated from the surrounding villages, it would build separate roads for the Palestinians.

The court has never ruled on the legality of separate roads, despite a growing network of them around the West Bank. If this interim decision reflects its view that such a system is legally acceptable, that represents a big new step. A court spokeswoman said the justices would not comment.

David Kretzmer, an emeritus professor of international law at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, wrote in an op-ed article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz of what he called the "judicial hypocrisy" of Israel's reign over the territories manifest in this case.

He said that while the changed security circumstances of recent years may have forced a change in the road's mixed use, "the unavoidable conclusion is that, as unfortunate as this may be, Israelis should not be allowed to travel on the road that was built, let's not forget, for the benefit of the local population.

"But the military government has, of course, decided otherwise: Israelis will be allowed to travel on the road, while Palestinians - for whom, the court's ruling says, the road was paved - cannot use it, and access to the road from local Palestinian villages will be blocked."

For many Israelis, however, the dozens of attacks that have taken place on the road in recent years are reason enough to ban Palestinian traffic there and to limit Palestinians to other routes. In 2001, for example, five Israelis were killed by gunfire on Highway 443 and since then a number of others have been injured from stone-throwing.

Still, the legal case seems more complicated. In The Jerusalem Post, Dan Izenberg wrote that international law and Israeli court decisions were unambiguous on the fact that the road should primarily serve Palestinians rather than Israelis, but that the court was in a delicate position just now because of growing public discontent with it over other issues.

"The High Court in this case cannot stray too far from the interests of the Israeli public, especially at a time when it has more than its share of enemies," he wrote. "The court knows that Israelis who rely on Highway 443 would not easily accept a ruling that causes them such inconvenience."

Gershom Gorenberg, an Israeli who wrote a book critical of Israeli settlements, runs a blog called South Jerusalem ( on which he has posted documents from the 1960s and 70s showing that the governments planned to expand the Jerusalem corridor with settlements and a bigger road after conquering East Jerusalem in the 1967 war. In that sense, he says, the government and army were never honest in what they told the Supreme Court about the purpose of Highway 443.

"Think of the road itself as a settlement," he said, "part of the conscious effort to change the character of the area, giving it an Israeli stamp. The point was to make it impossible for Israel ever to return certain parts of the land. It is true that Palestinians had free movement on 443 in the 1980s and 1990s before the restrictions were imposed. But to claim that it was built for them does not line up with the paper trail. The cover story of this road has been blown."

For the 30,000 Palestinians who live in the surrounding villages, lack of access to Highway 443 has been a constant source of difficulty. In one village, A Tira, 14 taxis have permits to travel the road during daylight but locals say that has not eased the burden much.

Each morning, a crowd gathers at the blocked entrance to A Tira, waiting for the Israeli soldiers to open a gate so they can take one of the taxis to Ramallah, the capital of the West Bank.

"Ten days ago, my brother had a heart attack and we had trouble transferring him to a Ramallah hospital," lamented Said Salameh, 51, a taxi driver who has a permit for the road, as he stood by the entrance one recent morning. "When the gate closes at night, we can't move outside the village."

Sabri Mahmoud, a 36-year-old employee of the Palestinian Authority, agreed. "I am always late to work because of this," he said. "Our life is controlled by the opening hours of the gate. You feel like you live in a cage."

For many legal commentators in Israel, the most distressing part is that by giving Highway 443 to Israelis and barring Palestinians, Israel is protecting its citizens not from terrorism but from traffic - granting them an alternative to the crowded main Jerusalem road.

Ms. Yehuda, the civil rights lawyer, said that the Supreme Court's 1982 ruling specifically stated that if the point of the road was primarily to serve Israelis, then it may not be built. Yet now, she added, "The state is essentially aiming to safeguard the convenience of the service road for Israelis who commute from Tel Aviv and the central plains to Jerusalem and vice versa."

Classified Memo Reveals Iraqi Prisoners as "Starving"

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By Jason Leopold

A classified memo written by a top military official stationed in Western Iraq reveals that a prison in downtown Fallujah is so overcrowded and dirty that it does not even meet basic “minimal levels of hygiene for human beings.”

“The conditions in these jails are so bad that I think we need to do the right thing in terms of caring for the prisoners even with our own dollars, or release them,” says the memo, written late last month by Maj. Gen. John Kelly, commander of U.S forces in western Iraq.

The classified document, leaked to the website Wikileaks, a website where whistleblowers can "reveal unethical behavior in their governments and corporations," was authenticated by the organization.

The memo contains other shocking revelations about conditions at the jail, including a massive shortage of food and water. The prison is said to be run by Iraqi officials. US Marines oversee operation of the facility.

“I found the conditions there to be exactly (unbelivable [sic] over crowding, total lack of anything approaching even minimal levels of hygiene for human beings, no food, little water, no ventilation) to those described in the recent (18 February) FOX news artickle [sic] by Michael Totten entitled the "Dungeon of Fallujah.,” says Kelly’s memo click here “We need to go to general quarters on this issue right now... To state that the current system is broken would erroneously imply that there is a system in place to be broken."

Totten, an independent journalist, said the prison can house a maximum of 110 prisoners but he discovered that there were more then 900 cramped into the facility. US contractors built the prison in 2005 which is located next to the US Joint Communications Center is

It is unknown who Kelly, the military commander in Iraq, sent the memo to. A Pentagon spokesman did not return calls for comment late Wednesday.

Kelly wrote that when he inspected the prison “iraqis [sic] and marines present throughout my inspection as to why these conditions existed, three conditions were universaly [sic] cited as problems in Fallujah as well as the rest of Anbar,” the commander’s memo says.

“First, there is zero support from the government for any of the jails in Anbar. No funds, food or medical support has been provided from any ministry,” Kelly added. “Second, the police that run Anbar's jails are the same personnel responsable [sic] for investigating crimes. These jailer/investigators are undermanned and more often than not spend most of their time out begging and scavenging for food than investigating crimes. (It is unlikely the prisoners will eat today)...I believe the Iraqi police are doing the best they can, and they literally begged me on humanitarian, moral and religious grounds to help them help the prisoners by somehow moving the government to action.”

In a report published earlier Wednesday, Lt. Col. Michael Callanan told United Press International that following an inspection of the prison by Kelly, US forces decided to “advise and assist” Iraqis managing the jail and are providing food to the prisoners.

"They are being fed now," Callanan told UPI.

The US military turned over control of Fallujah to the 1st Iraqi Army Division in December 2006. Since then. the US military and top White House officials have cited Fallujah as a city where efforts to install democratic values and the rule of law have paid off. Hundreds of millions of dollars has been spent in that city alone to train Iraqi police and security forces.

But Kelly’s memo contradicts the Bush administration's claims.

He describes how the US military, after five years since the US invaded the country and more than half-a-billion dollars spent by US taxpayers, still cannot seem to find success training Iraq security forces.

“The Iraqi police will ultimately be the ones whose shoulders the burden of winning or losing the fight will be carried,” the classified memo says. “To date, little attention has been paid to the Iraqi corrections system in Anbar and its current discrepancies will prevent the [Iraqi police] from becoming a professional law enforcement force unless immediate and significant support is provided.”

Colombia says it found uranium linked to FARC

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The seizure of up to 66 pounds of low-grade uranium linked to the FARC rebels adds weight to the evidence found in a captured rebel laptop that the guerrillas were interested in buying and selling the material, according to the Colombian Defense Ministry.

But the 30 kilos of uranium found Wednesday in plastic bags dug up about three feet from a road in southern Bogotá was "impoverished," the ministry said, and in that state could not have been used to make a radioactive bomb.

Authorities were waiting for further analysis to determine how dangerous the material found really is, armed forces commander Freddy Padilla said at a press conference late Wednesday.

It was not clear if Colombian authorities meant that they had found depleted uranium, which is the residue left after the mineral is processed to make nuclear energy or nuclear weapons. In its natural state, uranium has low radioactivity and it has to be enriched through a sophisticated process to generate nuclear energy or to make nuclear weapons. According to Colombian daily El Tiempo, the country does not possess the technology to enrich uranium.

The Colombian government has used details of an alleged deal, to buy up to 50 kilos of uranium at $2.5 million a kilo, found in emails on Reyes' computer to prove the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, was planning to enter the international terrorism trade from its sanctuary set up in the jungle about one mile from the Colombia-Ecuador border.

A ministry statement Wednesday said that on March 20 informants gave military intelligence officers a sample of uranium allegedly acquired by FARC rebels. Mining experts analyzed the sample and on Tuesday confirmed it to be ''impoverished'' uranium.

The informants led the military to the rest of the stash in Pasquilla, a district in Bogotá's Comuna 20 neighborhood, the ministry said. The uranium was found Wednesday, hidden near the road that leads to San Juan de Sumapaz, a longtime rebel stronghold.

RCN TV showed footage of jeans-clad authorities pulling white cloth bags out of the brush off the side of a road.

Two pieces, one rectangular and another round, each about 33 lbs, were found covered in dirt, Padilla said.

'According to the informants, it's the material the FARC was negotiating that appears in Reyes' seized computer,'' Padilla said. ''The seizure is of great benefit, because it prevents the FARC from counting on this kind of material'' which it has wanted since 2005, he said.

He said the material was transferred to the mining ministry for more analysis on where it came from.

Padilla added the informants were people close to ''Belisario'' whose name appeared in Reyes' computer as the person charged with finding the radioactive material. Belisario, Padilla said, is not a guerrilla but rather a business contact.

Word of a possible effort by Colombian rebels to acquire uranium was first revealed earlier this month when the Colombian National Police rifled through one of several computers found at Reyes' bombed camp.

Some experts questioned the veracity of the emails, saying it was unlikely the FARC was engaged in such a business.

One of the computers contained a Feb. 16 e-mail discussing a deal to buy uranium, which can be used to make dirty bombs in which conventional explosives disperse radioactive materials. The emails suggested that the rebels may have intended to sell the uranium to a third party, rather than use it themselves.

''Another of the themes is the one on uranium,'' said the e-mail allegedly written by a man identified as Edgar Tovar to Raúl -- an apparent reference to Reyes, the FARC's No. 2 man.

''There's a man who supplies me with material for the explosive we prepare, and his name is Belisario and he lives in Bogotá,'' the note reads. ``He sent me the samples and the specifications and they are proposing to sell each kilo for two and a half million dollars, and that they supply and we look for someone to sell to, and that the deal should be with a government that can buy a huge amount. They have 50 kilos ready and can sell much more.''

Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos later said the note proved the FARC was ``negotiating to get radioactive material, the principal base for making dirty weapons of destruction and terrorism.''

''This shows that these terrorist groups ... constitute a grave threat not just to our country but to the entire Andean region and Latin America,'' he added.

The FARC has denied any uranium deal.

''Only developed nations like the United States and others have the conditions and the technology required to process uranium, not a guerrilla movement that still fights for people's dignity with rifles and even sticks,'' a FARC statement previously published by the Colombian media said.

Japan Inflation Up, Jobless Rate Worsens

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TOKYO — Japan's inflation rate climbed at its fastest rate in a decade in February and the jobless rate worsened to 3.9 percent under data released Friday, raising concerns about the health of the world's second-largest economy.

The core consumer price index, which excludes volatile fresh food prices, rose 1.0 percent in February from a year ago — the fastest reading since March 1998, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications said.

Japan has long struggled with deflation, or falling prices, but Friday's data, which also marked the fifth straight month of gains, show that higher prices for imported oil and commodities are adding pressure on living costs.

Separate data released by the ministry said household spending was flat in February from a year earlier, an indication that the economy was getting less support from domestic demand, while exports that have long driven the nation's growth are also losing steam.

The result fell short of the 2.5 percent rise expected in surveys by Dow Jones Newswires and Nikkei.

Economy Minister Hiroko Ota voiced concerns that recent sharp rises in consumer prices could have a negative impact on consumption growth.

"With economic growth pausing and workers' wages not increasing, I cannot say that recent rises in consumer prices are good," Ota told a news conference. "I'm concerned about how such price rises — mostly stemming from rises in gasoline and food prices — will affect consumers."

Separately, Japan's unemployment rate stood at a worse-than-expected 3.9 percent in February, the Ministry of Public Management said. The results reflected slowing domestic and overseas growth, which has made business less willing to hire workers.

Japan's unemployment rate was 3.8 percent in January.

The ministry said the total number of jobless was down by 40,000 on year, marking the 27th consecutive month of decline.

The jobless rate registered to 4.0 percent in September and October before dropping to 3.8 percent in November and staying flat for three months.

The core CPI for the Tokyo metropolitan area for March rose a preliminary 0.6 percent on year, the data showed. The number is considered a leading indicator for nationwide consumer prices.

More powers for financial watchdog?

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By Joe Churcher

City whistleblowers could soon be offered immunity from prosecution under plans to beef up the UK's financial watchdog, Chancellor Alistair Darling has indicated.

The Government was urged to grant the Financial Services Authority (FSA) US-style powers in the wake of last week's slump in a major bank's share price amid claims of market manipulation.

A London-based hedge fund was reported to have circulated rumours about UK companies, including Britain's biggest mortgage lender HBOS in a bid to make money when their share prices fell.

Amid global financial turmoil, Mr Darling told the Guardian he wanted to see a crackdown and that that meant the authorities needed "the tools to do the job".

"I can't allow us to get into a situation where people quite deliberately manipulate markets for personal gain and with the potential to de stabilise the financial system," he said.

"We have a duty to ensure we have clean and efficient markets. We will come down hard on people manipulating the system.

"People are getting away with it and the time has come for us to start looking at it again.

"If a handful of people are up to no good we have to make sure the authorities have the tools to do the job."

The Guardian said FSA investigators would be given the "specified prosecutor" status already enjoyed by tax officials, the Serious Fraud Office and the director of public prosecutions.

A spokeswoman for the FSA, which has asked for the powers, welcomed the move, part of a package of measures designed to tackle the present worldwide period of uncertainty.

House price growth is weakest since 1996

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By Steve Hawkes and Grainne Gilmore

House prices are rising at the slowest rate for 12 years in a blow that could force the Bank of England to bring forward an interest rate cut to April, Britain’s second-biggest mortgage lender said today.

Figures from the Nationwide showed that the price of a typical house dropped this month by 0.6 per cent — or nearly £250 — to an average of £179,100.

The decline means that the annual rate of house price inflation is 1.1 per cent, the lowest since March 1996.

Fionnuala Earley, group economist for Nationwide, said it was clear that there was a “sharp slowdown” in house prices.

She said: "The outlook for UK house prices is clearly more downbeat. Some of the downside risks we idenitfied in November have become a reality — most notably the continued turmoil in the financial markets."

She added that the collapse of Bear Stearns in the US and the rumours over the health of HBOS was likely to force the Bank of England to put aside fears over inflation and cut rates next month to "loosen conditions in financial markets".

A survey reported yesterday suggested that inflation could spiral to 3.6 per cent over the next 12 months.

Ms Earley said: “We think these latest developments, along with the continued weakening in the housing market, will mean that the [Bank of England] will bring forward its rate cut to April.”

Howard Archer, chief economist for Global Insight, gave warning today that there was the real possibility of a "sharp correction" in the property market.

He has been predicting a 5 per cent fall in both this year and next.

Mr Archer said: "We believe the downside for house prices will be limited to some extent by the rising number of households, an overall shortage of supply, high employment, further gradual but steady interest rate cuts over the coming year and the fact that few vendors are currently having to sell for 'distressed' reasons.

"Nevertheless, the current escalation of the credit crunch means that there is an increased risk that a significantly sharper housing market correction could occur."

Nationwide was one of two big lenders to put up its mortgage rates yesterday to close the door to all but the most creditworthy customers in a move that is expected to leave tens of thousands of borrowers struggling to secure a home loan.

The building society raised the rate on one of its most popular products by 0.57 per cent and said that it did not want to take on many more customers because doing so would add too much risk on to its books.

Within hours of the announcement, Norwich & Peterborough Building Society said that it was increasing its mortgage rates by up to half a percentage point.

There are fears that if other lenders followed suit, the property market could slow further.

The number of first-time buyers coming to the market has slowed, with a third fewer mortgages taken out for house purchases last month than in February 2007.

One mortgage industry source yesterday said: "The credit crunch feels like a stomach bug for borrowers — periods of calm followed by nasty spasms. This is the start of a spasm."

Nationwide urged homeowners today to put the slowdown in the housing market into context.

Typical house prices are 11 per cent higher than two years ago and 47 per cent higher than five years ago — the equivalent of £30 a day for the past five years.

Ms Earley said: "If prices were to fall in line with consumers' expectations, they would still be higher than two years ago.

"A moderate fall in prices at this stage should not be unwelcome and should help to ensure greater stability in the market going forward."

Dollar Heads for Biggest Weekly Drop Against Euro in a Month

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By Agnes Lovasz and Kosuke Goto

The dollar headed for its biggest weekly decline in a month against the euro as traders raised bets the Federal Reserve will cut interest rates to avert a recession.

The currency was also poised to drop versus the British pound and the Swiss Franc before a U.S. government report today that will probably show growth in consumer spending slowed. The yen fell against the Australian and New Zealand dollars as gains in stocks prompted traders to increase holdings of higher- yielding assets funded with loans from Japan and Switzerland.

``There are further declines ahead for the dollar,’’ said Antje Praefcke, a Frankfurt-based currency strategist at Commerzbank AG, Germany’s second-largest bank. ``The U.S. is probably facing a recession and the Fed will cut rates further. There are ongoing problems with the financial sector. All of this is not good news for the dollar.’’

The dollar traded at $1.5763 per euro at 9:15 a.m. in London, from $1.5779 yesterday in New York and $1.5431 a week ago. The U.S. currency rose to 100.18 yen, from 99.65 yesterday and 99.58 at the end of last week. Japan’s currency weakened to 157.91 per euro, from 157.21 yesterday and 153.55 on March 21. The dollar, which dropped 2.2 percent this week, will trade in the $1.5750 to $1.58 range today before falling to a record $1.60 within the next two weeks, Praefcke predicted.

New Zealand’s dollar advanced after a statistics bureau report showed the nation’s economic growth accelerated at the fastest annual pace in three years in the fourth quarter. The currency rose to as high as 80.68 U.S. cents, before trading at 80.44 cents, from 80.35 cents. It also gained 0.6 percent to 80.50 yen. The Australian dollar strengthened 0.2 percent to 92.08 U.S. cents and 0.5 percent to 92.04 yen.

Pound, Asian Currencies

The pound fell to a record 79.14 pence against the euro after an industry report showed consumer confidence slumped to a 15-year low this month.

The Taiwan dollar dropped 0.8 percent to NT$30.389 on speculation the central bank will curb its gains to protect exporters, after the biggest advance this quarter since June 1987. The bank probably intervened at least twice yesterday, according to a Credit Suisse Group report.

South Korea’s won fell 0.5 percent to 992.97 per dollar after a central bank report showed a third consecutive current- account deficit and Yonhap news agency reported that North Korea had fired short-range missiles.

``The North Korean missiles had a limited impact,’’ said Tetsuhisa Hayashi, chief manager of foreign-exchange trading in Tokyo at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Ltd., a unit of Japan’s largest publicly traded lender. ``It didn’t launch missiles toward Japan, but into the sea between China and Korea.’’

Carry Trades

The yen dropped against the Australian dollar as the MSCI Asia-Pacific Index of regional stocks rose 1.1 percent. In carry trades, speculators get funds in a country with low borrowing costs and invest in one with higher returns, earning the spread between the two. The risk is currency moves erode those profits.

``Gains in stocks are prompting yen sales,’’ said Hayashi.

Lower currency volatility may also encourage carry trades. Implied volatility on one-month dollar-yen options fell to 16.50 percent, from 16.65 percent yesterday. Traders quote the gauge of expectations for future currency swings as part of pricing options.

The Dollar Index traded on ICE Futures in New York, which tracks the currency against those of six trading partners, was at 71.78, from 71.66 yesterday and 72.71 a week ago. It reached a record low of 70.698 on March 17.

The dollar has fallen 0.7 percent against the pound this week, and traded at $1.9954, from $2.0072 yesterday. It has also declined 1.1 percent versus the Swiss franc, and traded at 0.9973 franc, from 0.9941 in New York.

Dollar Drop

The U.S. dollar has fallen 8 percent against the euro this year, heading for its sixth straight quarterly loss and the biggest since 2004 as the Fed slashed interest rates by 3 percentage points since September to 2.25 percent. Personal spending rose 0.1 percent last month, the smallest gain in more than a year, a Commerce Department report will show today, according to a Bloomberg News survey.

Futures on the Chicago Board of Trade show traders increased bets the Fed will lower its target rate by a half-percentage point on April 30. The futures showed a 42 percent chance of a reduction to 1.75 percent, compared with 36 percent the previous day. The remaining bets were for a cut of a quarter-point.

The yen remained lower against the dollar after a government report showed Japan’s consumer prices rose at the fastest pace in a decade in February, prompting some investors to cut bets the Bank of Japan will lower its 0.5 percent benchmark interest rate this year.

There is a 54 percent chance the central bank will reduce the rate to 0.25 percent by December, according to calculations by JPMorgan Chase & Co. using interest-rate swaps. The odds were down from 71 percent on March 19.

US shipped fuses for nuclear-armed missiles to Taiwan

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By Patrick Martin

In what Pentagon officials said was a major breach in US nuclear weapons security, the Defense Logistics Agency has acknowledged shipping four large electrical fuses used in nuclear missile warheads to the Taiwanese military two years ago.

The four cone-shaped fuses, each about two feet tall, were sent in packing crates labeled as spare batteries for helicopters. They were finally returned to the United States last week, after the Taiwanese military notified the Pentagon.

The admission sparked an international uproar, with China complaining loudly over the supplying of such a sensitive weapons component to a regime that it regards as a bitter rival and potential military antagonist.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang issued a statement expressing “strong displeasure” and demanding the US provide an account to China to “eliminate the negative effects and disastrous consequences created by this incident.”

President Bush telephoned Chinese President Hu Jintao to assure him that the transfer was inadvertent and did not represent a shift in US policy towards Taiwan.

The Bush administration claimed that the fuses were not usable in Taiwan, since the country’s military has no intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), let alone those with nuclear warheads. All such assertions must be viewed skeptically, however, since the Pentagon has every reason to conceal the truth if a transfer of nuclear technology was actually intended.

The Washington Post put the case in notably cautious language, writing: “Taiwan has no known nuclear weapons program and the fuses would be of no known use to its Defense Ministry. At the same time, the island’s government mounted a nuclear weapons research program at one point, and the issue remains extremely sensitive in China.”

According to the official account, delivered by Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne at a press conference Monday, the cones were shipped from F. E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming to a Pentagon warehouse in Utah, and from there on to Taiwan, filling an order from the Taiwanese military for helicopter batteries.

It was not clear at what point in the shipping process the packing crates containing the nuclear warhead fuses were labeled as batteries, but they apparently arrived in that condition in Taiwan in August 2006.

Six months later, Taiwanese military technicians opened the crates and saw the contents were not batteries. The Pentagon was notified, and an e-mail correspondence ensued that stretched over more than a year, with Pentagon logistics officials supposedly believing that it was merely a question of the wrong batteries being sent.

Finally, last week, Taiwanese officials notified the Pentagon that they were in possession of components for a missile carrying a nuclear warhead, and the cones were packed up and shipped back hurriedly to the United States.

Secretary Wynne tried to explain the shipment as an innocent clerical error, declaring, “In an organization as large as the DOD, the largest and most complex in the world, there will be mistakes. But they cannot be tolerated in the arena of strategic systems, whether they are nuclear or only associated equipment. Our policy on Taiwan arms sales has not changed.”

According to the Pentagon account, the cone fuses are part of the standard equipment of the older 1960s-era Mark 12 version of the Minuteman nuclear weapon. About 700 such missiles are still in use, and the fuses signal when the missile is close enough to the target to begin its detonation sequence. The fuses are being phased out of the US nuclear weapons system in favor of the updated Mark 12A, and shipped to the Utah depot for permanent storage.

How they were then forwarded to Taiwan will be the subject of an internal Pentagon investigation. A separate full-scale inventory of all nuclear weapons and components was ordered by Defense Secretary Gates, the Pentagon announced Thursday, in response to the Taiwan incident.

Whatever the exact circumstances that led to the shipment—and the public will certainly not learn this from any Pentagon-run probe—the incident is the second involving alleged mishandling of nuclear weapons or components in the past year.

Last August, an Air Force B-52 bomber flew from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana with six armed nuclear-tipped cruise missiles mounted on its wings. Since Barksdale is the home base for US stealth bombers, such as those which carried out long-range strikes against Iraq and Afghanistan, this has led to considerable speculation that an operation was underway to position US nuclear weapons for a possible strike against Iran.

In the aftermath of that event, four lower-ranking officers were relieved of duty, charged with negligence and inattention. In the latest incident, the claim of innocent error is even more difficult to believe, since there were at least ten quarterly weapons inventories at the US bases that should have noted the absence of the four nuclear cone fuses.

Why the Clintons’ profiting off near-slavery is not a campaign issue

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By Bill Van Auken

In the long run-up to the Pennsylvania primary, the Democratic campaign has descended ever deeper into a negative and personal mudslinging contest between the two remaining contenders, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Broadcast news cycles have become dominated by an unending stream of barbs and accusations from each side, the most prevalent of late dealing, on the one hand, with sermons delivered by the pastor of Obama’s church and, on the other, with Hillary Clinton’s flight of the imagination to Bosnia a dozen years ago.

It is curious that in this toxic political environment, the Obama campaign has steered clear of one revelation concerning the Clintons that surfaced earlier this month. The media has virtually ignored it as well.

Last month, agents of the Brazilian Labor Ministry’s slave-labor investigations unit raided facilities run by Brenco (Brazil Renewable Energy Co.), a biofuel company operating in the states of Goiás and Mato Grosso, where some 1,500 workers, most of them cane cutters, were kept in what the ministry described as “degrading” conditions akin to slavery.

Workers at five separate locations inspected by the ministry “complained they were suffering from hunger and cold, and all of the locations were overcrowded and with terrible sanitary conditions. They were apparently held against their will in the abysmal housing provided them, not allowed to leave after their workday was through.

Details of the raids first surfaced in Folha de São Paulo, Brazil’s largest newspaper, on March 8. Hundreds of workers freed in the raids managed to get their final wages and a bus ticket home, most of them returning to the impoverished northeastern states of Ceará, Maranhão and Piauí.

What was also revealed in the investigation was that former US president—and husband of the Democratic presidential candidate—Bill Clinton was an investor in the firm.

According to a financial disclosure form filed by Hillary Clinton last year, the couple’s stake in Brenco was valued at up to $50,000.

A Clinton spokesman described the investment as “small” and claimed that the ex-president had been assured that the Brazilian company was “committed to the highest ethical standard with regard to the treatment of its workforce and the environment.”

While $50,000 may be small for the Clintons—Hillary Clinton reported income as high as $12 million on her Senate disclosure form last May—it is more than an average American household earns in a year. And it would take the cane cutters whose labor is the base of Brenco’s profits 22 years to earn that much money—a physical impossibility given the exceedingly short life expectancy of those doing this back-breaking work.

Clinton’s feigned shock over the appalling working and living conditions of the Brenco workers is hardly credible. The grinding oppression of the some 200,000 cane cutters who are exploited by Brazil’s growing and highly profitable ethanol industry is hardly unknown. As a WSWS correspondent from São Paulo noted in an article last June on a cane cutter dying from overwork, these workers confront “a world of wage slavery in which the precarious conditions of labor have reduced the working life of the average cane cutter to below that of the slaves of the nineteenth century.”

As for Clinton’s faith that the industry was maintaining the “highest standards” in relation to the environment, this is merely laughable. The ethanol boom’s promotion of a sugarcane monoculture, the burning of fields and the dumping of waste threaten to unleash an ecological catastrophe.

The reality is that the Clintons’ investment in a slave-labor ethanol firm in Brazil is merely a manifestation of the way in which the couple have enriched themselves on the basis of political connections established while they were in the White House.

The investment was made through Yucaipa Co., a Los Angeles-based private equity firm, run by billionaire Democratic Party fundraiser and Clinton confidante Ron Burkle. Bill Clinton was hired by the firm as an “advisor” and is expected to get a payout of some $20 million when he leaves it, probably in the coming months.

This immense wealth flowing to the Clintons on the basis of their political connections is what made it possible for Hillary Clinton to plunk down $5 million of her own money to bail out a near-bankrupt campaign earlier this year.

Bill Clinton’s spokesman, Matt McKenna, told the Associated Press that the former president is “taking steps to ensure that there is an appropriate transition for his business relationships should Senator Clinton become the Democratic nominee.” According to some reports, one of these “steps” has included investing his money in Yucaipa’s Cayman Island-based firms, a tactic used to avoid paying taxes.

The Brenco investment was no accident, but clearly something offered to the well connected with the expectation of super-profits. The company was founded by Henri Philippe Reichstul, the former chief executive of Brazil’s powerful state-owned oil firm, Petrobras. According to Folha, others who have invested in Brenco include close Clinton ally James Wolfensohn, the former World Bank president, Hollywood producer and Democratic fundraiser Steven Bing, America Online founder Stephen Case and Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla.

Given the bitter and often personal attacks that have characterized both sides during the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination, one might expect the revelation that the Clintons were profiting off an insider deal that put their money into a slave-labor operation in Brazil would provide valuable ammunition for the Obama campaign. Yet the Illinois Senator’s camp has said nothing about the matter.

Similarly, the revelation got the scantest coverage in the press. A Google News search for “Clinton” and “Brenco” turns up just four entries, none of them from a US daily newspaper or broadcast network.

Why is the subject virtually taboo? Quite simply because the behavior of the Clintons is not an aberration, but rather the norm for bourgeois politics in America.

While the Obamas trail far behind the Clintons in terms of personal wealth, their gross income increased fivefold since his taking office in the US Senate, averaging $1.3 million a year in 2005 and 2006.

Moreover, both of the candidates’ campaigns are richly funded by Wall Street. Senator Clinton has received some $6.29 million in political contributions from the securities and investment industries, while Senator Obama trails only slightly, with $6.03 million. Both have raked in more than double the amount that has gone to the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee, John McCain, and more than four times as much as Al Gore received over the entire 2000 campaign.

Wall Street’s immense profits over the past period have been accrued in no small measure by investments in what is known in the financial industry as “emerging markets,” where brutal exploitation like that imposed upon the Brazilian cane cutters produces handsome returns for the multimillionaires and billionaires who dominate the markets.

Neither Obama nor Clinton has any interest in casting a spotlight on these ugly truths, given that both candidates posture as economic populists to win votes, while remaining firmly committed to defending the profit interests of a ruling financial elite into which they themselves are being integrated.

Stalled assault on Basra exposes the Iraqi government's shaky authority

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By Patrick Cockburn

The Iraqi army's offensive against the Shia militia of the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Basra is failing to make significant headway despite a pledge by the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to fight "to the end".

Instead of being a show of strength, the government's stalled assault is demonstrating its shaky authority over much of Baghdad and southern Iraq. As the situation spins out of Mr Maliki's control, saboteurs blew up one of the two main oil export pipelines near Basra, cutting by a third crude exports from the oilfields around the city. The international price of oil jumped immediately by $1 a barrel before falling back.

In Baghdad, tens of thousands of supporters of Mr Sadr, whose base of support is the Shia poor, marched through the streets shouting slogans demanding that Mr Maliki's government be overthrown. "We demand the downfall of the Maliki government," said one of the marchers, Hussein Abu Ali. "It does not represent the people. It represents Bush and Cheney."

The main bastion of the Sadrist movement is impoverished Sadr City, which has a population of two million and is almost a twin city to Baghdad. The densely packed slum has been sealed off by US troops. "We are trapped in our homes with no water or electricity since yesterday," said a resident called Mohammed. "We can't bathe our children or wash our clothes."

The streets are controlled by Mehdi Army fighters, many of whom say they expect an all-out American attack, though this seems unlikely since the US says that an attack on the Shia militias is a wholly Iraqi affair.

In Basra, Iraqi forces have cordoned off seven districts but appear stalled in their effort to dislodge the Mehdi Army fighters. Masked gunmen in some cases have captured or seized abandoned Iraqi army vehicles and painted pro-Sadrist slogans on their armour.

A co-ordinated mortar bombardment struck the main police base in the city beside the Shatt al-Arab waterway and there was heavy shooting in the main commercial street of Iraq's southern capital. An Interior Ministry source said that 51 people had been killed and more than 200 wounded in three days of fighting in Basra. There was an attempt to assassinate Basra's police chief in which three of his bodyguards were killed by a bomb.

Mr Maliki's surprise offensive against the Mehdi Army is likely to have repercussions far beyond Iraq. The Americans must have agreed to the attack though they had previously praised the six-month ceasefire declared by Mr Sadr on 29 August and renewed in February as being one of the main reasons why violence had fallen in Iraq. Although Mr Sadr has said the truce is continuing it is ceasing to have much meaning.

President George Bush praised Mr Maliki yesterday saying he faces a "tough battle against militia fighters and criminals". He said that the Iraqi Prime Minister had taken a bold decision "in going after the illegal groups in Basra".

But the rapid increase in violence may puncture optimism in the US over the "success" of the surge in leading to a turning point in the five-year-long war.

The Green Zone, the heavily fortified centre of American power in Iraq, was wreathed in smoke yesterday as it was struck by rockets and mortars fired from Shia neighbourhoods. In a further blow to the belief that the surge has restored law and order, one of the two Iraqi spokesmen for the Baghdad security plan, which is at the heart of the surge strategy, was kidnapped and three of his bodyguards killed before his house was set on fire. The victim was Tahseen Sheikhly, a Sunni who often appeared with American officials to proclaim the success of the surge.

Clashes are now taking place across Iraq and most of the Shia districts in Iraq. In the middle of last year a Mehdi Army commander said that his militia controlled 80 per cent of Shia Baghdad and 50 per cent of the capital as a whole. This is probably only a slight exaggeration. There has also been heavy fighting in Kut on the Tigris, where 44 have been killed and 75 wounded, and in Hilla on the Euphrates where 60 people died. In past months the Sadrists have been locked in a struggle for Diwaniya, also on the Euphrates south of Baghdad, where they have been fighting police units controlled by Badr, the militia of the other great Shia party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI).

When he first came to power, Mr Maliki balanced between ISCI and the Sadrists but has steadily become closer to the first party and has shown growing hostility to Mr Sadr. The last great battle between the Sadrists and the Iraqi government backed by the Americans was in Najaf in 2004 and was ended by the intervention of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani who wanted the Sadrists humbled but not crushed. He also did not want to see the Shia community divided into warring factions. It is possible that the Grand Ayatollah may seek to mediate again but Mr Maliki may find it difficult to compromise after his claim that he will win control of Basra.

The government has about 15,000 soldiers and the same number of police in Basra but this is not a great number in a city of two million. The police are closely linked to the militias and are unlikely to prove a resolute ally against the Mehdi Army.

How Lethally Stupid Can One Country Be?

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By David Michael Green

Watching George W. Bush in operation these last couple of weeks is like having an out-of-body experience. On acid. During a nightmare. In a different galaxy.

As he presides over the latest disaster of his administration (No, it's not a terrorist attack -- that was 2001! No, it's not a catastrophic war -- that was 2003! No, it's not a drowning city -- that was 2005! This one is an economic meltdown, ladies and gentlemen!) bringing to it the same blithe disengagement with which he's attended the previous ones, you cannot but stop and gaze in stark comedic awe, realizing that the most powerful polity that ever existed on the planet twice picked this imbecilic buffoon as its leader, from among 300 million other choices. Seeing him clown with the Washington press corps yet once again -- and seeing them fawn over him, laugh in all the right places, and give him a standing ovation, also yet once again -- is the equivalent of having all your logic circuits blown simultaneously. Truly, the universe has a twisted and deeply ironic sense of humor. Monty Python is about as funny -- and as stiff -- as Dick Nixon, by comparison.

It's simply incomprehensible. It's not so astonishing, of course, that a country could have a bad leader whose aims are nefarious on the occasions when they are competent enough to rise to that level of intentionality. Plenty of countries have managed that feat, especially when -- as was the case with Bush -- every sort of scam is employed to steal power, and then pure corruption and intimidation used to keep it. History is quite littered indeed with bimbos and petty criminals of this caliber. What is harder to explain is how the citizens of a country of such remarkable achievements in other domains, and with the capacity to choose, allow this to happen. And then stand by silently watching for eight years as the tragedy unfolds before their eyes.

But let's give credit where credit is due. This is precisely by design. This is exactly the outcome intended by the greatest propaganda-promulgating regime since Hermann Göring set fire to the Reichstag. It was Göring himself who famously reminded us that, "Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. ...Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country." Sure worked in Germany. And it worked even better here, because these guys were so absolutely careful to avoid exposing the costs of their war to those who could demand its end. For example, by some counts, there are more mercenaries in Iraq, at extremely high cost, than there are U.S. military personnel.

There's only one reason for that. If the administration implemented the draft that is actually necessary to supply this war with adequate personnel, the public would end both the war and the careers of its sponsors, post haste. For the same reason, this is the first American war ever which has not only not been accompanied by a tax increase, but has in fact witnessed a tax cut. Likewise -- to "preserve the dignity" of the dead, of course -- you are no longer permitted to see photographs of flag-draped caskets returning to Dover Air Force Base. And the press are embedded with forces who are also responsible for their safety, which is just a fancy way of saying that they're so censored they make Pravda look good. It is, in short, quite easy for average Americans to get through their day, every day, without the war impacting their lives in any visible respect, and that is precisely what hundreds of millions of us are doing, week in and week out. All of this is courtesy of an administration that couldn't run a governmental program to save its own life -- but, boy, it sure as hell knows how to market stuff.

Perhaps Americans and American democracy are no wiser or better than any other people or political system, even today, even after the worst century of warfare in human history, even after the mirror-image experience of Vietnam. Maybe the experience of Iraq hasn't even changed them, and they'll once again follow like lemmings when led to war by pathetic creatures such as George W. Bush, 50 years from now. Or five years from now. Or even five months from now, as Dick Cheney tees up a confrontation with Iran in order keep Democrats out of the White House and himself out of jail.

Sure, presidents and prime ministers, no less than kings and führers, will lie their countries into war. Sure, they're very good at it and getting better all the time. Definitely a frightened people are more prone to stupidity than those lucky enough to contemplate in the luxury of quiet safety. Without question, it helps an awful lot -- if you're just Joe Sixpack, out there trying to figure out international politics in between a long day's work, helping the kids with their algebra homework, and the Yankee game -- to have a checking-and-balancing Congress, a responsible opposition party, and/or a critical media helping you to understand the issues accurately, rather than gleefully capitulating to executive power at every opportunity. But that by no means excuses a public who was fundamentally far more lazy than they were ignorant or confused. And lazy is one thing when you're talking about a highway bill or even national healthcare. But when it comes to war, lazy is murder.

I don't think it took a giant leap of logic to understand that this war was bogus from the beginning, even based on what was known at the time. The war was sold on three basic arguments, each of which could have been easily dismantled even then with a little thoughtful consideration.

The first was WMD, of course. So, OK, perhaps your average American didn't know that the United States government (including many in the current administration) had actually once supplied Saddam Hussein the material to make these evil weapons and had covered for him at the United Nations and elsewhere when he used them. This historical myopia is very much part of the problem, of course. Americans are so ready to denounce supposed enemies without doing the slightest bit of historical homework to make sense of the situation. If you don't know that the United States actually canceled elections and helped assassinate a "democratic" president in Vietnam, of course you're going to support war there. If you don't know that the United States toppled a democratically elected Iranian government to steal the country's oil and then installed a brutal dictatorship in its place, of course you're going to be angry at U.S. diplomats being held hostage. And if you don't bother to learn the true history of Iraq, perhaps you'll find the WMD argument quite persuasive.

But, in fact, even without the historical background information, it never made a damn bit of sense. Iraq had been pulverized by war and sanctions for over 20 years prior to 2003. Two-thirds of its airspace was controlled by foreign militaries. Its northern region was effectively autonomous, a separate country in all but name. It was in no position to attack anyone. Moreover, it hadn't attacked anyone -- not the United States or anyone else. Indeed, it hadn't even threatened to attack anyone. Shouldn't that be part of the calculation in determining whether to go to war? Do we really want to give carte blanche to any dry (we hope) drunkard in the White House who today wants to bomb Norway ("They're stealing our fish!") or tomorrow wants to invade Burkina Faso ("They dress funny!")?

Too often, of course, the historical answer to that question has unfortunately been yes, we apparently do want to do that. But let's consider the massive warning signs in this case, even apart from what could be known about the administration's lies at the time. Shouldn't it have been enormously problematic that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11? Even the administration never had the gall to make that claim. Wasn't it transparent to anyone that America had plenty on its plate already in dealing with the enemy we were told we had, rather than adding a new adventure to the pile? And why wasn't this thing selling throughout the world, or even amongst the traitorous half of the Democratic Party in Congress? Remember how everyone at home and abroad -- yes, including the French -- supported the United States and its military actions in Afghanistan only 12 months before? Shouldn't it have been a warning sign of epic proportions that these same folks wouldn't countenance a war in Iraq just a year later? That the administration had to yank its Security Council resolution off the table, even after breaking both the arms of every member-state around the horseshoe table, because it could still only get Britain and two other patsies to lie down for this outrage, out of a total of 15, and nine needed to pass?

And how about the logic of that whole WMD thing, after all? Did anyone ever stop to think that 36 other countries were thought to have clandestine WMD programs, including around a dozen that are pretty hostile to the United States? Did anyone not remember that the Soviets once had nearly 25,000 strategic nuclear warheads pointed in our direction? What ever happened to the logic of deterrence? To mutually assured destruction? And what about the mad rush to go to war, preempting the U.N. weapons inspectors from doing their job? Are we really OK with the notion that instead of "risking" whatever would have been at risk by giving the inspectors another six or eight weeks to finish up, we've instead bought this devastating war down on our own heads for no reason at all?

The second rationale for war was the bogus linkage between Iraq and al Qaeda. The extent and ramifications of this lie are so significant that the White House, it was just recently revealed, squelched a Pentagon report showing no connections between the two. Remember how definitive Cheney and the rest were of this supposed al Qaeda linkage, based pretty much entirely on a meeting between two operatives in Prague which likely didn't even take place? Now we find out that the Department of Defense has spent the last five years combing through a mere 600,000 documents, and found zero evidence of such a link. Not some evidence. Not mixed evidence. Zero evidence.

Then, once again, there's the matter of that whole pesky logic thing. Pay attention now, class. What do we know about al Qaeda? They are devoted to religious war -- jihad -- in the name of replacing governments across the Middle East with theocracies, or better yet recreating the old Islamic caliphate stretching across the region, right? Right. Now if this vision could have more thoroughly contradicted Saddam's agenda for a secular dictatorship seeking regional domination on his own Stalinist terms, it is hard to imagine how. You don't need a Ph.D. in international politics to see that these two actors were about as antithetical to each other as the Republican Party is to integrity.

Lastly, Bush's little adventure in Mesopotamia was supposed to bring democracy to the region, remember? Never mind, of course, that there has long already been a fairly thriving Islamic democracy, right next door. Oops! It's called Turkey. And let's not forget Mr. Bush's long-standing devotion to democracy, as he amply demonstrated in the American election of 2000. Or as he has continually manifested by bravely and publicly pushing the Chinese to democratize. Just as he has with his pals in Egypt and especially the family friends running Saudi Arabia, the recipient of more American foreign aid than nearly any other country in all the world.

What is clear is that the reasons given to the American public for the war in Iraq were entirely bogus. This much is already on the public record, from the Downing Street memos [] and beyond. Even if we can only speculate on why they actually invaded -- oil, glory, personal insecurity, Israel, clobbering Democrats, Middle Eastern dominance -- what we know for sure is that the rationale fed to the public was a knowingly fabricated pack of scummy lies []. It wasn't about WMD, it wasn't about links to al Qaeda, and it sure wasn't about democracy.

But even if we can't identify the true motivations within the administration for invading, we can surely begin to see the costs. Probably a million Iraqi civilians are dead []. Over 4 million are displaced and now living as refugees []. Together, these equal a staggering one-fifth of the population of the entire country. Meanwhile, the remaining four-fifths are living in squalor, fear and a psychological damage so extensive that it is hard to grasp. America has lost 4,000 soldiers, with perhaps another 30,000 gravely wounded. Hundreds of thousands more will be scarred for life from their experiences in the hell of Mr. Bush's war. Our military is broken and incapable of responding to a real emergency, at home or abroad. Our economy will sustain a blow of perhaps $3 trillion before all is said and done. Our reputation in the world is in the toilet. We have turned the Iranian theocracy into a regional hegemon. And we have massively proliferated our own enemies within the Islamic community. That would be one hell of an expensive war, even if the reasons given for it were legitimate. It is nearly incomprehensible considering that they were not.

This week, a man died in France, the last surviving veteran of World War I, a devastating conflict that -- even a century later -- nobody can really explain to this day. Meanwhile, Dick Cheney, John McCain and Joe "Make-me-SecDef-Mac-oh-please-pick-me-Mac" Lieberman parachuted into Iraq for photo-ops to sustain the war they don't have the integrity or the guts to abandon. Never mind that their visits had to be by surprise, and that they stroll around the Green Zone wearing armored vests -- surely the most powerful measures of the war's success imaginable. Of course, to be fair, we've only been at it for five years now. Perhaps after the remaining 95 on McCain's agenda go by, Americans will finally be safe enough in Iraq to announce their visits in advance.

So, happy anniversary, America! You put these people in charge, and then -- after seeing in explicit in detail what they were capable of -- you actually did it again in 2004! You stood by in silence watching the devastation wrought upon an innocent people, produced in your name and financed by your tax dollars. And you continue to do just that again, now in Year Six.
Brilliant! Put on your party hat, America. You won the prize.

You've successfully answered the musical question, "How lethally stupid can one country be?"
David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University. He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles ( but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at