Saturday, April 23, 2005

This just in: Army finds Army Innocent. Sky is also blue.

Yeah, who didn't see this coming? Another miscarriage of justice, but I've lost track of how many there have been now. It's hard to be outraged when you're drowning in a sea of bullshit.

From Yahoo! News:

Top Army Brass Cleared in Abu Ghraib Case

By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer

WASHINGTON - Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, faulted by some for leadership failures in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, has been cleared by the Army of all allegations of wrongdoing and will not be punished, officials said.

Three officers who were among Sanchez's top deputies during the period of the prisoner abuse in the fall of 2003 also have been cleared. An Army Reserve one-star general has been reprimanded, and the outcome of seven other senior Army officer cases could not be learned Friday.

Sanchez, who became the senior U.S. commander in Iraq in June 2003, two months after the fall of Baghdad, has not been accused of criminal violations. It is unclear, however, whether the controversy surrounding his role in Iraq will stand in the way of his earning a fourth star. He is nearing the end of his tenure as commander of the Army's 5th Corps, based in Germany.

After assessing the allegations against Sanchez and taking sworn statements from 37 people, the Army's inspector general, Lt. Gen. Stanley E. Green, concluded that the allegations were unsubstantiated, according to officials familiar with the details of Green's probe.

Green reached the same conclusion in the cases of two generals and a colonel who worked on Sanchez's staff.

The officials who disclosed the findings spoke only on condition of anonymity because the results on Sanchez and 11 other officers who were the subject of Green's scrutiny have not yet been publicly released and Congress has not been fully briefed.

Posted by crimnos @ 9:24 AM :: (0) comments

Friday, April 22, 2005

Reprehensible: Fundamentalists Plan to Withhold Funding from Judges

This is repulsive. Every time I think the fundies can't surprise me any more with the amount of collateral damage they're willing to inflict on innocent people in the name of their ideology, they power up and surprise me yet again.

From the LA Times:

WASHINGTON — Evangelical Christian leaders, who have been working closely with senior Republican lawmakers to place conservative judges in the federal courts, have also been exploring ways to punish sitting jurists and even entire courts viewed as hostile to their cause.

An audio recording obtained by the Los Angeles Times features two of the nation's most influential evangelical leaders, at a private conference with supporters, laying out strategies to rein in judges, such as stripping funding from their courts in an effort to hinder their work.

The discussion took place during a Washington conference last month that included addresses by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who discussed efforts to bring a more conservative cast to the courts.

Frist and DeLay have not publicly endorsed the evangelical groups' proposed actions. But the taped discussion among evangelical leaders provides a glimpse of the road map they are drafting as they work with congressional Republicans to achieve a judiciary that sides with them on abortion, same-sex marriage and other elements of their agenda.

"There's more than one way to skin a cat, and there's more than one way to take a black robe off the bench," said Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, according to an audiotape of a March 17 session. The tape was provided to The Times by the advocacy group Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

DeLay has spoken generally about one of the ideas the leaders discussed in greater detail: using legislative tactics to withhold money from courts.

"We set up the courts. We can unset the courts. We have the power of the purse," DeLay said at an April 13 question-and-answer session with reporters.

The leaders present at the March conference, including Perkins and James C. Dobson, founder of the influential group Focus on the Family, have been working with Frist to eliminate the filibuster for judicial nominations, a legislative tool that has allowed Senate Democrats to stall 10 of President Bush's nominations. Frist is scheduled to appear, via a taped statement, during a satellite broadcast to churches nationwide Sunday that the Family Research Council has organized to build support for the Bush nominees.

The March conference featuring Dobson and Perkins showed that the evangelical leaders, in addition to working to place conservative nominees on the bench, have been trying to find ways to remove certain judges.

Perkins said that he had attended a meeting with congressional leaders a week earlier where the strategy of stripping funding from certain courts was "prominently" discussed. "What they're thinking of is not only the fact of just making these courts go away and re-creating them the next day but also defunding them," Perkins said.

He said that instead of undertaking the long process of trying to impeach judges, Congress could use its appropriations authority to "just take away the bench, all of his staff, and he's just sitting out there with nothing to do."

These curbs on courts are "on the radar screen, especially of conservatives here in Congress," he said.

Dobson, who emerged last year as one of the evangelical movement's most important political leaders, named one potential target: the California-based U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

"Very few people know this, that the Congress can simply disenfranchise a court," Dobson said. "They don't have to fire anybody or impeach them or go through that battle. All they have to do is say the 9th Circuit doesn't exist anymore, and it's gone."

Robert Stevenson, a spokesman for Frist, said Thursday that the Senate leader does not agree with the idea of defunding courts or shutting them down, pointing to Frist's comments earlier this month embracing a "fair and independent judiciary." A spokesman for DeLay declined to comment.

The remarks by Perkins and Dobson drew fire from Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who charged that the two leaders were more brazen in such private encounters with supporters than their more genteel public images portray.

"To talk about defunding judges is just about the most bizarre, radical approach to controlling the outcome of court decisions that you can imagine," Lynn said.

Frist is expected to try as early as next week to push the Senate to ban filibusters on judicial nominations — a move so explosive that Democrats are calling it the "nuclear option."

Democrats have been using the filibuster to block 10 of Bush's appeals court nominees who they believe are too extreme in their views, but the skirmishes are considered a preview of a highly anticipated fight over replacing the ailing Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, whose retirement is considered imminent.

"Folks, I am telling you all that it is going to be the mother of all battles," Dobson predicted at the March 17 meeting. "And it's right around the corner. I mean, Justice Rehnquist could resign at any time, and the other side is mobilized to the teeth."

The remarks by Perkins and Dobson reflect the passion felt by Christians who helped fuel Bush's reelection last year with massive turnout in battleground states, and who also spurred Republican gains in the Senate and House.

Claiming a role by the movement in the GOP gains, Dobson concluded: "We've got a right to hold them accountable for what happens here."

Both leaders chastised what Perkins termed "squishy" and "weak" Republican senators who have not wholeheartedly endorsed ending Democrats' power to filibuster judicial nominees. They said these included moderates such as Sens. Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. They also grumbled that Sens. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and George Allen of Virginia needed prodding.

"We need to shake these guys up," Perkins said.

Said Dobson: "Sometimes it's just amazing to me that they seem to forget how they got here."

Even Bush was not spared criticism. Dobson and Perkins encouraged their supporters to demand that the president act as aggressively on the judiciary as he has for his Social Security overhaul.

"These are not Bill Frist's nominees; these are President George W. Bush's nominees," Perkins said. "He needs to be out there putting pressure on these senators who are weak on this issue and standing in obstruction to these nominations," he said.

Dobson chided Frist, a likely 2008 presidential contender, for not acting sooner on the filibuster issue, urging "conservatives all over the country" to tell Frist "that he needs to get on with it."

Dobson also said Republicans risked inflicting long-term damage on their party if they failed to seize the moment — a time when Bush still has the momentum of his reelection victory — to transform the courts. He said they had just 18 months to act before Bush becomes a "lame-duck president."

"If we let that 18 months get away from us and then maybe we got Hillary to deal with or who knows what, we absolutely will not recover from that," he said.

Perkins and Dobson laid out a history of court rulings they found offensive, singling out the recent finding by the Supreme Court that executing minors was unconstitutional. They criticized Justice Anthony M. Kennedy's majority opinion, noting that the Republican appointee had cited the laws of foreign nations that, Dobson said, applied the same standard as "the most liberal countries in Europe."

"What about Latin America, South America, Central America? What about China? What about Africa?" Dobson asked. "They pick and choose the international law that they want and then apply it here as though we're somehow accountable to Europe. I resent that greatly."

DeLay has also criticized Kennedy for citing foreign laws in that opinion, calling the practice "outrageous."

As part of the discussion, Perkins and Dobson referred to remarks by Dobson earlier this year at a congressional dinner in which he singled out the use by one group of the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants in a video that Dobson said promoted a homosexual agenda.

Dobson was ridiculed for his comments, which some critics interpreted to mean the evangelist had determined that the cartoon character was gay.

Dobson said the beating he took in the media, coming after his appearance on the cover of newsmagazines hailing his prominence in Bush's reelection, proved that the press will only seek to tear him down.

"This will not be the last thing that you read about that makes me look ridiculous," he said.

Posted by crimnos @ 6:57 PM :: (1) comments

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

From Daily Kos: Of Boiling Men Alive In Our Name

Amazing piece here:

Of Boiling Men Alive In Our Name
by LeftHandedMan

Wed Apr 20th, 2005 at 01:41:33 PDT

One of the CIA's jet planes used to render purported terrorists to other countries--where information is extracted by any means necessary--made 10 trips to Uzbekistan. In a segment of CBS's 60 Minutes on these CIA torture missions (March 5), former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray told of the range of advanced techniques used by Uzbek interrogators:

"drowning and suffocation, rape was used . . . and also immersion of limbs in boiling liquid."

But it was much more than mere limb immersion.

The Village Voice

Diaries :: LeftHandedMan's diary :: :: Trackback ::

Two nights later on ABC's World News Tonight, Craig Murray told of photos he received of an Uzbek interrogation that ended with the prisoner actually being boiled to death!

Murray, appalled, had protested to the British Foreign Office in a confidential memorandum leaked to and printed in the Financial Times on October 11 of last year:

"Uzbek officials are torturing prisoners to extract information [about reported terrorist operations], which is supplied to the U.S. and passed through its Central Intelligence Agency to the U.K., says Mr. Murray." (Emphasis added.)

Prime Minister Tony Blair quickly reacted to this undiplomatic whistle-blowing.

Craig Murray was removed as ambassador to Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan is the sprawling badlands of a former soviet buffer state run by the merciless dictator Islam Karimov. Although Mr. Karimov has a name that makes him sound like a MacGuyver villian, he makes people who oppose him... die. Not a big purple finger waver that the Bush or Blair administration advertises widely to the American or British people during this time of 'made for TV' color-coded democratic 'revolutions'. He is just a ruthless thug willing to rent the backalleys and darkened rooms of his prisons out to the United States and her allies (at your expense) to rip people's fingernails out with pliars. When you sit down in a panic on April 15th trying to get your tax forms in the mail with the 15th postmark displayed over your crooked stamp, you might be upset that Lockheed is building a warplane you think is wasteful with your taxes. It would flay the mind and stagger the soul to imagine just how low your tax dollars can go in this world if you dig deep enough. Because, somewhere in the world, the Boston Red Sox former team plane, paid for by you and moving under vague new call signs without the owner's knowlege, may be taking a man from Lebanon (who may not be guilty of anything but being on a suspect list) to an ugly place. A spot where there is a tall metal lobster pot set beneath a halogen lamp and over a propane burner waiting for nothing more than water, its newest victim, and a struck match. Worse, it is a tub with a media section. A corner gallery for a grimy camera and a jaded photographer to keep a visual running score of the events. A photographer who has more than likely flooded a big file cabinet or two with the other 'interviews' his bosses have conducted on an 'off-the-books but substantial' U.S. dole.

There are no frills to the british embassy station there, just the basics; electricity, running water, and military security to protect you on the compound. You don't wander around outside of the compound embracing the Uzbek natives and drinking in the local culture with a Manchester United jersey on or a New England Patriots hat. Leaving the compound without an escort is a violation of security protocol. You don't want to get into a misunderstanding with the local security forces. Mr. Karimov has a secret police force that can make people evaporate like ashes in the air above a fire if it suits his whim. Its not an easy place to accept as a diplomatic assignment, but its a great place to lose somebody you want to 'cease to exist'. Most Prison facilities in Uzbekistan are Soviet era cement monoliths that were last maintained with hard Russian cash sent from Moscow prior to 1991. You don't get sent to the Uzbek capitol as a reward for a big donation to the re-election campaign of a President or a Prime Minister.

And the CIA doesn't put somebody on a plane to Uzbekistan or Syria or Libya... unless they want to spend your U.S. tax dollars to make somebody scream before they die. The absolute ruler makes a killing in the killing business. They get lots of practice on political prisoners and the head thug's potential rivals for power.


"Uzbekistan provides a vital base for U.S. operations in neighbouring Afghanistan. U.S. financial aid [to Uzbekistan] provides a bulwark against Russian influence." And--dig this--an October 16 Financial Times editorial points out that because the Bush administration supports the barbaric government of President Karimov, the U.S. "has given [Karimov] the confidence to sell a long-running campaign against internal dissidents as part of the campaign against Al Qaeda." (Emphasis added.) -Philip Stephens, the Financial Times

In 2003, Fatima Mukhadirova sent photographs of her son--who was tortured to death in an Uzbek prison--to the British embassy. As reported in Muslim Uzbekistan (February 12, 2004): "His teeth were smashed, his fingers were stripped of nails, and his body had been cut, bruised and scalded." His mother was put on trial "for attempted encroachment on the constitutional order" to convince her to shut up about what was done to her son. (She was subsequently convicted and sentenced to six years in prison.) -Nat Hentoff, The Village Voice

-There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. US State Department -Uzbekistan Review Released March 31, 2003


Craig Murray isn't exactly living like a hero these days either. If you do a little research on him you find that his appearance on ABC News is dismissed as 'payback' by Bush administration supporters and Blair apologists in the UK because he was fired from his job in a way that clouds his diplomatic resume. Since the events contained in this story he hasn't exactly brought great rewards on himself for telling his story. But who knows? Maybe he's not a good guy at all. Maybe he's just a guy they say he is who has been working in diplomatic circles trying to cover his ass so that when another PM comes to power... he can try to get another diplomatic job. Like an assistant coach in the NFL fired by a powerful coach or owner trying to both lay low and network so that the next coach might consider giving him a job. What I do know is this... somebody handed a manila evelope to him once at the embassy. But no matter if he is a hero or goat in his heart... he came forward and told a painful truth because of the horrors that he witnessed in the palm of his hand. He revealed a story about an envelop filled with the images of a writhing man slowly being boiled alive in a large metal container. Photographed by people who do this sort of thing for a living, because you don't take a series of candid photographs of somebody boiling alive and thrashing around begging for mercy if you've never done it before. You don't keep detailed records of horrors that chill the soul, you keep detailed records of mundane things for the files.

In the name of saving freedom, and preserving our democratic way of life, with our money.

-Just think about this:

You are from Egypt. Or Lebanon. A reckless cousin of yours begins to attend a radical cleric's mosque and begins to practice an extreme brand of radical Islamic fundamentalism. It is a tragedy for your family, but worse, for your father. You see, your father is the man that your now-radical cousin is named after. This man who has chosen to walk an ugly, evil path in this life is his brother's eldest son and you were all once so very close that your uncle honored your father this way. Now, your cousin is a controversial figure in your house. His spiritual leader is dismissed by your family as a thug who exploits people to do things he wouldn't do himself. He is a parasite of people of passionate faith. Your mother and father will be damned before they let you hang around with a nutcase you share a blood bond with who might get you killed for some coward who wouldn't blow himself up (for all of his raging nonsense to the contrary) in a crowded market of innocent jewish (and palestinian) strangers in a million years. You know that one day soon it is likely that your cousin will be dead, by his own hand, in a manner that you yourself find to be a complete blashphemy to your faith.

Then your father vanishes.

Now, after he has been missing for a year, you discover half, or three quarters, of the details about what happened to your father. He's dead. Worse, there is no body to mourn over, because it was desecrated and destroyed by the people who killed him. He died in a dark cell somewhere (in Uzbekistan) because an American (an anonymous CIA case officer) saw your radical cousin's name flash on an alert and had him snatched up by the authorities while he was on a business trip to Jordan. While beating him senseless, he proved to be a hard case. He kept saying that it was not him but some obviously non-existent 'nephew' that was really the wanted party. It was just a mistake, but that couldn't be, because the CIA doesn't make mistakes. The name on the list matches. The photo is an arab man with a beard. Same Height. Build. Hometown. Its a done deal. Frustrated by the denials and his holding out, the CIA made sure he was packed off for a harder interrogation at the hands of a less restrained ally. There, he was boiled alive until the flesh peeled off his legs and he begged for the man with the digital camera taking photos of his thrashing around to shoot him and stop the pain. Some animal took photos. You know this because you follow the western media when you can through your parents satilite dish getting European news channels. People were fired for exposing this horror, and the people who promoted the program that caused it to happen were promoted to more powerful positions in the British and American governments.

Now... your crazy hateful cousin comes around again. He spouts his violent, ugly, and evil views in a rant. Your grandfather (taking over now as the head of the household) lets him come and go with a blessing. Your mother lets him come and go in a dazed state of mourning. They give him money. And every word of hate rings in your ears as gospel now. Somewhere... an American (whose innocent children will die needlessly for nothing more than doing humanitarian aid work in the wrong place at the wrong time during a time of madness and illogic) sits in front of his TV unaware of all of this. He just sits. Breathlessly awaiting the latest Nancy Grace screed on the all-important Michael Jackson case. Like a giant clueless pickle in a sweater resting on an old family lazyboy... pickling in his ignorant bliss.

How many 'mistakes' are terrorists now? Its a fundamental question that needs to be rationally pursued to fully wage a pre-emptive war on terrorism. You don't short circuit hate by mindlessly creating more of it. That is the very definition of why the Bush Administration, and its lackey bulldog Tony Blair, have completely fucked up the War on Terrorism with their institutionalized stupidity. Somewhere, hidden in an office, or a vault, or a microfilm case, or on a compact disc... there are photos, records, videos, logs, detailed case works of things that Joseph Megele would be proud of. We know it, they won't show it. Its been completely white washed and covered up. During the immediate post Abu Graib scandal period US congresspeople said that there were more photos and videos of 'interviews' that would cause strong men to damned near vomit on the floor next to them should they be released.

I know. I know. I know.
This diary could have been written a year ago.
This diary could have been written two years ago.

It is still happening, still being covered up, and still coming out in odd little volcanic leaks that slip through the fingers of powerful men and women doing evil things in the name of freedom. Mr. John Bolton, bullyboy bastard and bain of powerless secretaries, file clerks, and first year analysts... is still lying through his teeth to Congress, while on the docket and bucking for a promotion. Covering up and excusing away this sort of hellish garbage was his bread and butter with the administration. Theoretically, John Bolton, if confirmed, may find himself having to have to stand in the gallery of the United States and lecture the representatives from Uzbekistan on their attrocious human rights records. In our name. As they sit and nod in 'shame', knowing that any real condemnation with teeth will be vetoed by the US because the Uzbek representative has a LOT of photos and files that could be trouble if things get too serious. The question is... how many countries now have in their posession an 'uh uh uh... not so fast' file to wave at the United States when we are in a position of trying to lead the world based on our 'moral superiority'? "Oh... I wouldn't do that Mr. Bolton. Remember these... these photos? The color photos? Remember that giant fry-O-lator we built? You had us french fry those three fellows from the United Arab Emeriates? Well, we actually used that wonderful device 123 times and your prisoners and our prisoners are all easily lumped together... and, how shall we say it.... ah... just like in the American movies? We go down... you go down."

Question: "As commander in chief, what is it that Uzbekistan can do in interrogating an individual that the United States can't?"

George W. Bush repeated his talking point: "We seek assurances that nobody will be tortured."

-There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. US State Department -Uzbekistan Review Released March 31, 2003

The 2003 analysis was held to the available 2002 data. Read it over, its a horrorshow without the new data added in.

There were no confirmed reports of political killings.
Followed by details of... political killings.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
Followed by... reports of obvious politically motivated disappearances.
The Constitution provides for freedom of thought, speech, and convictions; however, in practice, the Government continued to restrict these rights severely.
No wonder Bush loves these guys.

If you try to access 2004 or 2005:

Page Not Available

Sorry, you have tried to access a page that is not available. (Like reason, sanity, longterm thinking, and restraint in the Bush White House.)

Posted by crimnos @ 8:15 PM :: (0) comments

Monday, April 18, 2005


Does God walk the earth in the shoes of American providence? The Culture War has always held a special place in my heart as an example of the warring sides of the American spirit: those who would seek to impose a misguided morality on the rest of the country versus those who believe that we should continue to make social progress. The battle lines were drawn some time ago, in the early 1980s, when a small but vocal element of fundamentalist Christians declared a certain segment of society (to wit: my segment of society) as public enemy number one. Since then, these forces, often posing as something less than they actually are, have been working to take power in the public sphere and transform this country into a theocracy. They have the ear of the President, and a lot of other significant policymakers in and around Washington.

I have every reason to suspect that the next two years will be the final stage for the biggest battles of the culture wars: the gay marriage amendment (where the Dominionists have already won huge battles), abortion rights, and an actual proposed amendment that politicians cannot be impugned as long as they claim they are acting under God’s will. This is not the time to be weak or pander to these forces. Now let’s be clear: I am not opposed to those of faith, I am opposed to those who think that they have the direct line to God and can dictate their own views to the rest of us.

So what is Dominionism, anyway?

It began around 1982, when Christian broadcasters such as Pat Robertson began rallying their followers to become politically active. From The Frontlines of the Culture War: “Whereas, until the eighties, fundamentalist Christians mainly worried about communism, in 1986, Francis Schaeffer, a noteworthy evangelical theologian, called secular humanism the greatest threat to Christianity ever. In the week of July 7 that year, on The 700 Club, Schaeffer stated:
“Today we live in a humanist society. They control the schools. They control public television. They control the media in general. . . .

“He went on to state:

“If you don’t revolt against tyranny and this is what I call the bottom line, is that not only do you have the privilege but the duty to revolt. When people force upon you and society that which is absolutely contrary to the Word of God, and which is really tyranny . . . we have a right to stand against it as a matter of principle.
On April 29, 1985, Billy Graham, again on The 700 Club, called upon evangelicals to get themselves politically involved and active. Since about 1982, the ranks of this movement have swelled to about thirty-five million. The movement is centered around hatred of and political opposition to what it considers to be the secular-humanist agenda (maintaining a strict separation of church and state, liberal views on marriage, keeping creationism out of the schools, internationalist cooperation, a rejection of the notion of the fallen state of man, etc.). This is combined with the “dominionist” agenda (reversing Roe v. Wade, eliminating public schooling and the New Deal, turning the American government into “God’s Dominion” led by evangelicals, etc.) Explaining this agenda in his book, The Secret Kingdom, Pat Robertson explains:

It is clear that God is saying, “I gave man dominion over the earth, but he lost it. Now I desire mature sons and daughters who will in My name exercise dominion over the earth and will subdue Satan, The unruly, and the rebellious. Take back My world from those who would loot it and abuse it. Rule as I would rule.” [p. 201]

The truth is that this worldview, that America should be God striding on Earth, appeals to a certain segment of society, those who need their political messages as intellectually simple as the lives they lead. These are the people who don’t have much hope for improvement in their social status, and who feel disenchanted and disfranchised with the current system and are seeking to destroy it. Unfortunately, with any system comes such people. I would even argue that President Bush himself is just such a man; reviled by classmates, always written off, the black sheep of his family. Dominionism offers them something unique: it tells them that they alone are chosen by God, that they are special and deserve a special place in life. It thus becomes a feedback loop: because you are special, you deserve this power. Now that you have this power, you can make yourself even more exceptional, which you, of course, deserve because you’re special.

The question is how much power such a group can gain, and how much they are able to tear away from the existing edifice. As we have seen for the last five years, they can tear away quite a lot, and it this that has driven me into such a deep depression: what can be done when the people who seek to claim power cannot be argued with logically? It often feels like there is nothing to be done.

For a last bit of food for thought, consider that this group controls the most powerful nuclear arsenal in the world. Then think about what that means for the rest of us, who don’t think the end is nigh.

Nuclear Options
Do we need new nukes?
By Fred Kaplan
Posted Friday, April 15, 2005, at 2:19 PM PT

The nuclear gurus are staging a comeback. Their wedge of opportunity is a technical debate that's emerged inside the weapons labs, a debate so arcane that probably only a few hundred scientists can engage its issues fully. Yet the outcome of this debate could zap new jolts of life into a vast nuclear complex—of strategic thinking, nuclear testing, warhead production, and missile deployment—that's lain moribund for more than a decade.

The spark of all this is a nuclear warhead called the W-76, the hydrogen bomb packed inside roughly 3,300 of the United States' 5,000 or so strategic nuclear weapons. Eight of them are packed inside every Trident I and Trident II missile, which are loaded into the U.S. Navy's fleet of submarines that roams the oceans, under the surface, undetectable and therefore invulnerable to pre-emptive attack. In short, the W-76 is the mainstay of America's nuclear deterrent.

When the W-76s came into the arsenal between 1972 and 1987, they were expected to have a 20-year lifespan. Most of the warheads have long passed that expiration date, and the remaining few are approaching it. So, this is the question: Is the W-76 literally obsolete? Does it work anymore? If the president pushed the button, would these bombs explode? If it seems very likely that they wouldn't, should we build a new warhead? And if we go that far, should we test it to make sure it works—that is, explode it underground and, in the process, break the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which the United States signed in 1995 and started observing under the first President Bush in '92? (Every country in the world except India, Pakistan, and North Korea has signed it, though the United States and China haven't ratified it.) And as long as we're building and testing a new warhead, should we simply go with a remodeled W-76—or design something new for the post-Cold War era?

In other words, uncertainties about the W-76's reliability open a back door for a slew of nuclear weapons programs—mini nukes, bunker-busters, electromagnetic-pulse enhancers, and so forth—that critics in Congress and elsewhere have managed to block when the assault has been frontal.

Two questions need to be considered in this exercise: First, is there anything to this claim that the W-76s are duds? Second, does it matter?

The first question is complicated, but one thing is clear: The initial forecast that the W-76 would have only a 20-year lifespan is almost certainly wrong. Since the early '90s, the Department of Energy's weapons labs have put the W-76 through several elaborate modifications—new or more refined neutron generators, re-entry bodies, safety locks, arming and fusing systems, and so forth. A new round of refurbishment, called the W-76 Life Extension Program, scheduled to get under way in two years, will supposedly give the warhead an additional 30 years. (For a detailed description of all these enhancements, click here.)

Yet some veteran weapons scientists claim the W-76 had a crucial design flaw all along. The warhead was jam-packed with electronic gear, yet it had to be sufficiently small and light for eight of them to fit into a single Trident missile. As a result, the casing is very thin—so thin that, these scientists say, the slightest shockwave (say, the shock of being launched out of a submarine missile tube or separating from the missile-rocket's first stage in outer space) could disable the explosive mechanism inside; in short, the warhead would not explode with nearly enough power to destroy targets of much size or resilience. (For a slightly more elaborate explanation, click here.)

As a result, these scientists say, a life-extension program is a waste of time and money. Instead, they propose phasing out the W-76 and accelerating the Reliable Replacement Warhead, a little-known but already fast-growing R&D program, which is consuming $1.3 billion in this year's military budget alone.

Which side is right on this question? The answer is probably beyond the ken of any outsider. This month, Donald Rumsfeld instructed the Defense Science Board to appoint a Task Force on Nuclear Capabilities to evaluate the controversy. But the two men named to chair the panel—John Foster and retired Gen. Larry Welch—all but predetermine its conclusions. Foster was for years the director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which built the hydrogen bomb and most of the U.S. warheads built in the half-century since. A very intelligent and articulate scientist who has served on countless government advisory boards over the decades, Foster has long been an ardent advocate of new and more refined nuclear weapons. Welch capped his long career as the U.S. Air Force chief of staff, and in recent years has headed panels that call for accelerating missile defense and, more pertinently, expanding the lifespan of the nuclear arsenal.

In short, it's a pretty sure bet that this panel will conclude we need new warheads.

Which leads to the second question: Does any of this matter? Would America's power and influence erode—would our leaders be less able to deter aggression or fight wars—if it suddenly appeared that two-thirds of our nuclear weapons might as well be cardboard cutouts?

A case can be made that it doesn't much matter; that beyond a certain number, nuclear weapons exert no influence on the international balance of power; and that, if nuclear war does break out, all the fine-tuned strategies for waging such a thing—and which have justified a large nuclear arsenal—will almost certainly go up in smoke.

My own view is that we could get by with far fewer nukes. But a case could be made for a different view. In any event, the question is too important to be left to the random grind of attrition. It's intellectually evasive to disarm by default—i.e., by passively letting the warheads wear out. More to the point, it's not a politically sustainable position; there are nuclear advocates in positions of power who will not allow it.

A new nuclear debate is getting ready to rage. In many ways, it's a resumption of a debate that took center stage in national security politics for a 30-year run, from the outset of the U.S.-Soviet arms race in the early 1960s through the end of the Cold War in the early '90s. The setting is brand new, but the questions are the same: What roles do nuclear weapons play in war and peace? How many do we need? What kinds of targets should they be aimed at in order to fulfill those roles? One side of this debate—the side for "many roles," "more weapons," and "lots of targets"—has already begun to make its case. The other side will get steamrollered unless it gets started, too.

Posted by crimnos @ 9:05 AM :: (0) comments