Saturday, September 09, 2006
FORT EUSTIS, Va. — Long before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld forbade military strategists to develop plans for securing a postwar Iraq, the retiring commander of the Army Transportation Corps said Thursday. In fact, said Brig. Gen. Mark Scheid, Rumsfeld said "he would fire the next person" who talked about the need for a postwar plan.
Rumsfeld did replace Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff in 2003, after Shinseki told Congress that hundreds of thousands of troops would be needed to secure postwar Iraq. Scheid, who is also the commander of Fort Eustis, made his comments in an interview with the Daily Press. He retires in about three weeks.
In 2001, Scheid was a colonel with the Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East. On Sept. 10, 2001, he was selected to be the chief of logistics war plans. On Sept. 11, he said, "life just went to hell."
That day, Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of Central Command, told his planners, including Scheid, to "get ready to go to war." A day or two later, Rumsfeld was "telling us we were going to war in Afghanistan and to start building the war plan. We were going to go fast.
"Then, just as we were barely into Afghanistan, Rumsfeld came and told us to get ready for Iraq." Scheid said he remembers everyone thinking, "My gosh, we're in the middle of Afghanistan, how can we possibly be doing two at one time? How can we pull this off? It's just going to be too much."
There was already an offensive plan in place for Iraq, Scheid said. To start, the planners were just expanding on it.
"The secretary of defense continued to push on us that everything we write in our plan has to be the idea that we are going to go in, we're going to take out the regime and then we're going to leave," Scheid said. "We won't stay." But Scheid said the planners continued to try "to write what was called Phase 4," the piece of the plan that included post-invasion operations such as security and reconstruction.
Even if the troops didn't stay, "at least we have to plan for it," Scheid said.
"I remember the secretary of defense saying that he would fire the next person that said that," he said. "We would not do planning for Phase 4 operations, which would require all those additional troops that people talk about today. "He said we will not do that because the American public will not back us if they think we are going over there for a long war," Scheid said.
Friday, September 08, 2006
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tells advisers on a tape that Cubans and Puerto Ricans are naturally temperamental because of their combination of “black blood” and “Latino blood.”
“I mean Cuban, Puerto Rican, they are all very hot,” the governor says on the recording of a closed-door meeting obtained by the Los Angeles Times and made available on its Web site Friday. “They have the, you know, part of the black blood in them and part of the Latino blood in them that together makes it.”
The six-minute tape was made earlier this year. On it, Schwarzenegger and Chief of Staff Susan Kennedy speak affectionately of Republican Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia and speculate about her nationality.
Garcia, who is Puerto Rican and a Republican like Schwarzenegger, told the Times the governor’s remarks did not bother her.
“I love the governor because he is a straight talker just like I am,” she said. “Very often I tell him, ‘Look, I am a hot-blooded Latina.’ I label myself a hot-blooded Latina that is very passionate about the issues, and this is kind of an inside joke that I have with the governor.”
Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Margita Thompson called the governor’s remarks “a small part of a long conversation that is taken totally out of context.”
“The governor respects every member of the Legislature and holds them in the highest regard,” Thompson said in a statement. “It is not uncommon for him to have fun and joke with the members while they’re working, especially during very tense negotiations.”
The recording is full of frank and comic assessments of fellow Republicans from Schwarzenegger and his staff.
Kennedy, a Democrat who also worked for former governor Gray Davis, says Republican Assembly leader George Plescia looks like a “startled deer,” and the governor calls Republican legislators a “wild bunch” and a “unique, unruly group.”
It was not known why the session was taped. The Times said Schwarzenegger sometimes records private meetings so speechwriters have a record of his thoughts and speaking patterns.
The newspaper did not say how the tape was obtained. The participants suggest during the meeting that they know they are being recorded.
This shit, along with the attack on the media for not reporting "good news," and those that go so far as to suggest that the media's reporting of events consitutes a fifth column, and the numerous other authoritarian rantings of those who once constituted the "extreme right" and the goddamn President and his administration, makes me feel disturbed about what's gone wrong to allow us to get to this point. I truly cannot understand Bush supporters, nor do I want to try to anymore.
Iraq deaths multiply in new August count
By RAWYA RAGEH, Associated Press Writer Thu Sep 7, 1:20 PM ET
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Updated figures from
Iraq's Health Ministry show there was no significant decline in violent deaths in Baghdad last month, but the U.S. military insisted Thursday the murder rate in the capital had fallen by 52 percent.
Baghdad recorded more than 1,500 violent deaths in August, according to final figures released this week by the Health Ministry. The final count was roughly the same as the figure the ministry released for July, before the U.S.-led security crackdown began in the Baghdad area.
The final figure also was nearly three times the preliminary count released by the same ministry last week.
If accurate, the final figures cast doubt on U.S. and Iraqi claims of a significant reduction in the level of violence here since the crackdown was launched Aug. 7.
Asked about the latest Iraqi figures Thursday, U.S. spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Johnson refused to provide an explanation, merely referring The Associated Press to a statement on a U.S. military Web site that said the murder rate in Baghdad dropped 52 percent from the daily rate for July.
"The violence Baghdad endured in July receded during the month of August," the statement added. "Attacks in Baghdad were well below the monthly average for July."
Deputy Health Minister Hakem al-Zamly this week put the August violent death count for Baghdad at 1,536, based on figures from the city morgue.
However, preliminary Health Ministry figures released last week showed violent deaths in August in Baghdad at just 550, according to Dr. Riad Abdul Amir of the ministry's statistics bureau.
Iraqi officials could provide no explanation for the difference between the preliminary and final August figures, but it could have resulted in part from a late August surge in deaths. More than 250 people were killed in Baghdad in the final week of the month.
Efforts by the AP to contact Amir on Thursday for an explanation were unsuccessful.
Accurate figures on the number of people who have died since the Iraq conflict began in March 2003 have long been difficult to obtain. The Health Ministry relies on reports from government hospitals and morgues.
Poor phone lines and shortages of trained staff and computers can delay entering death reports into databases, which means the preliminary count may have lagged sharply.
But accurate figures are important because Iraqi and U.S. officials — anxious to demonstrate progress as support for the war declines in the U.S. — have used them to claim success in curbing violence in Baghdad.
Last month, U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell said the murder rate in Baghdad fell by 46 percent from July to August.
Iraqi National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie insisted last week that execution-style killings and sectarian violence had dropped by 45 percent in the last six weeks.
Thursday, September 07, 2006
Bush admits to secret prisons
President defends clandestine program, announces trials for 14 top terror suspects
WASHINGTON -- U.S. President George W. Bush admitted for the first time that the CIA has been operating clandestine prisons as he announced plans to try 14 high-profile terrorist suspects -- including the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks -- who have been held at the secret jails.
After his administration spent months steadfastly refusing to confirm the existence of the widely criticized "black sites," Mr. Bush not only acknowledged that terrorists had been "held and questioned outside the United States" by the Central Intelligence Agency but he praised the program as one that had broken up several plots and kept "potential mass murderers off the streets before they were able to kill us." The presumed terrorists, including suspects in the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000 and the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, have already been transferred to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba where 455 other suspects are also being held.
Mr. Bush strongly defended the clandestine program, saying it had saved lives and remained "vital to the security of the United States and our friends and allies." While admitting that procedures used in the detention centres were "tough," Mr. Bush denied any use of torture. "It's against our laws and against our values."
The group of transferred prisoners includes Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, alleged mastermind of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001; Abu Zubaydah, a key link between Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda operatives; and Ramzi Binalshibh, a would-be Sept. 11 hijacker.
The surprise admission by Mr. Bush was part of a series of announcements yesterday timed for maximum political effect just days before the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Mr. Bush said he was introducing legislation that would allow "enemy combatants" to be tried by special military commissions.
The Pentagon also made public new rules banning abusive treatment of prisoners, marking a reversal from earlier policy which said the terrorists did not qualify for that kind of legal protection.
In asking Congress to set out the rules for the military commissions, Mr. Bush was responding to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that earlier trial plans violated U.S. and international law. He was making it clear that in the future the United States will play by the rules of the Geneva Conventions when it comes to the treatment of prisoners.
But by announcing the transfer of the 14 suspects to Guantanamo, Mr. Bush was anxious to portray himself as the leader of the war on terrorism and to put his Democratic opponents on the defensive in the run-up to crucial congressional mid-term elections in November. The families of Sept. 11 victims were invited to witness the President's 35-minute speech in the White House, which was broadcast live on national TV.
Democratic Senator Charles Schumer lashed out at the Bush administration for flouting international law for so long. "Their bull-in-the-china-shop approach -- ignore the Constitution, ignore the rule of law -- has made us worse off than if we had gone to Congress originally."
The existence of the secret prisons and the surreptitious transfer of suspects by chartered aircraft across Europe and Asia was first revealed in November of 2005 by The Washington Post, touching off a wave of indignation, particularly among European governments.
A month later, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spent several days in Europe, refusing to answer any questions about the prisons, pleading that "we have an obligation to defend our people, and we will use every lawful means to do so." National-security adviser Stephen Hadley was no more forthcoming, but he insisted that even if the secret prisons did exist, they wouldn't be used for torture. In his own tortured language, he stated, "The fact that they are secret, assuming there are such sites, does not mean" that torture would be tolerated.
In yesterday's speech, Mr. Bush divulged details of how the questioning of Mr. Zubaydah led first to the capture of Mr. Binalshibh and then to Mr. Mohammed's arrest. He said that the CIA interrogations led to the breakup of a South Asian cell of al-Qaeda that was planning an attack on the United States, likely with the use of aircraft, in addition to breaking up a separate plot involving the use of deadly anthrax.
Mr. Bush said the clandestine facilities were now empty of all prisoners but he said that "having a CIA program for questioning terrorists will continue to be crucial to getting life-saving information." Mr. Bush did not identify where the secret prisons had been located but a report from the Council of Europe in June said it believed there had been sites in Romania and Poland.
Mr. Bush urged Congress to pass the new rules for military commissions during their current month-long session prior to their election recess. But the President's proposed law is likely to prompt a battle in the Senate involving Republican moderates John Warner, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who have drafted a proposal that would include the right of defendants in terrorism cases to have access to all evidence used against them.
Mr. Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, worried that keeping evidence away from a terrorism suspect would set a precedent that other countries could follow if a U.S. soldier were arrested and put on trial.
Critics were quick to lash out at the Bush administration for failing to fully enforce the Geneva Conventions on treatment of prisoners of war. They also are leery of a section of the proposed law that would exempt civilian interrogators of terrorist prisoners from being subject to the U.S. War Crimes Act for abuses they may commit. Mr. Bush claims that if the law isn't changed, "our military and intelligence personnel involved in capturing terrorists and questioning terrorists could now be at the risk of prosecution."
"We must not abandon the very freedoms that define America, and we urge Congress to reject the President's proposal," said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, who said that interrogators who threatened detainees with death or subjected them to other forms of abuse would have a "get out of jail free" card under the proposed law.
Transferred from secret prisons
U.S. President George W. Bush said yesterday that 14 detainees have been transferred from secret Central Intelligence Agency prisons to Guantanamo Bay for trial. He said the CIA facilities have held several well-known terrorist suspects, including:
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed: Born in Pakistan. Alleged to have been a top-tier al-Qaeda leader before being arrested in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, in 2003. Thought to have been the principal planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks against targets in Washington and New York.
Ramzi Binalshibh: Born in Yemen. Believed to have been the "20th hijacker" and to have belonged to an al-Qaeda cell in Germany, where he shared an apartment with ringleader Mohamed Atta. Denied a U.S. visa before the Sept. 11 attacks, and was arrested in Karachi on Sept. 11, 2002.
Abu Zubaydah: Born in Saudi Arabia. Thought to have worked as a recruiter for al-Qaeda and to have led the failed 2000 "Millennium plot" attacks against targets in Amman and Los Angeles. He was captured in Faisalabad, Pakistan, in March of 2002.
Riduan Isamuddin: Born in Indonesia. Known as Hambali and often described as Southeast Asia's answer to Osama bin Laden, he was linked to the 2002 Bali bombings and efforts to spread Islamic theocracy across the region. He was captured in Ayutthaya, Thailand, in August of 2003.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
I no longer have power to save Iraq from civil war, warns Shia leader
By Gethin Chamberlain and Aqeel Hussein in Baghdad
The most influential moderate Shia leader in Iraq has abandoned attempts to restrain his followers, admitting that there is nothing he can do to prevent the country sliding towards civil war.
Aides say Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is angry and disappointed that Shias are ignoring his calls for calm and are switching their allegiance in their thousands
to more militant groups which promise protection from Sunni violence and revenge for attacks.
"I will not be a political leader any more," he told aides. "I am only happy to receive questions about religious matters."
It is a devastating blow to the remaining hopes for a peaceful solution in Iraq and spells trouble for British forces, who are based in and around the Shia stronghold of Basra.
The cleric is regarded as the most important Shia religious leader in Iraq and has been a moderating influence since the invasion of 2003. He ended the fighting in Najaf between Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi army and American forces in 2004 and was instrumental in persuading the Shia factions to fight the 2005 elections under the single banner of the United Alliance.
However, the extent to which he has become marginalised was demonstrated last week when fighting broke out in Diwaniya between Iraqi soldiers and al-Sadr's Mehdi army. With dozens dead, al-Sistani's appeals for calm were ignored. Instead, the provincial governor had to travel to Najaf to see al-Sadr, who ended the fighting with one telephone call.
Al-Sistani's aides say that he has chosen to stay silent rather than suffer the ignominy of being ignored. Ali al-Jaberi, a spokesman for the cleric in Khadamiyah, said that he was furious that his followers had turned away from him and ignored his calls for moderation.
Asked whether Ayatollah al-Sistani could prevent a civil war, Mr al-Jaberi replied: "Honestly, I think not. He is very angry, very disappointed."
He said a series of snubs had contributed to Ayatollah al-Sistani's decision. "He asked the politicians to ask the Americans to make a timetable for leaving but they disappointed him," he said. "After the war, the politicians were visiting him every month. If they wanted to do something, they visited him. But no one has visited him for two or three months. He is very angry that this is happening now. He sees this as very bad."
A report from the Pentagon on Friday said that the core conflict in Iraq had changed from a battle against insurgents to an increasingly bloody fight between Shia and Sunni Muslims, creating conditions that could lead to civil war. It noted that attacks rose by 24 per cent to 792 per week – the highest of the war – and daily Iraqi casualties soared by 51 per cent to almost 120, prompting some ordinary Iraqis to look to illegal militias for their safety and sometimes for social needs and welfare.
Hundreds of thousands of people have turned away from al-Sistani to the far more aggressive al-Sadr. Sabah Ali, 22, an engineering student at Baghdad University, said that he had switched allegiance after the murder of his brother by Sunni gunmen. "I went to Sistani asking for revenge for my brother," he said. "They said go to the police, they couldn't do anything.
"But even if the police arrest them, they will release them for money, because the police are bad people. So I went to the al-Sadr office. I told them about the terrorists' family. They said, 'Don't worry, we'll get revenge for your brother'. Two days later, Sadr's people had killed nine of the terrorists, so I felt I had revenge for my brother. I believe Sadr is the only one protecting the Shia against the terrorists."
According to al-Sadr's aides, he owes his success to keeping in touch with the people. "He meets his representatives every week or every day. Sistani only meets his representatives every month," said his spokesman, Sheik Hussein al-Aboudi.
"Muqtada al-Sadr asks them what the situation is on the street, are there any fights against the Shia, he is asking all the time. So the people become close to al-Sadr because he is closer to them than Sistani. Sistani is the ayatollah, he is very expert in Islam, but not as a politician."
Even the Iraqi army seems to have accepted that things have changed. First Lieut Jaffar al-Mayahi, an Iraqi National Guard officer, said many soldiers accepted that al-Sadr's Mehdi army was protecting Shias. "When they go to checkpoints and their vehicles are searched, they say they are Mehdi army and they are allowed through. But if we stop Sistani's people we sometimes arrest them and take away their weapons."
Western diplomats fear that the vacuum will be filled by the more radical Shia clerics, hastening the break-up of the country and an increase in sectarian violence.
Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's former special representative for Iraq, said the decline in Ayatollah al-Sistani's influence was bad news for Iraq.
"It would be a pity if his strong instincts to maintain the unity of Iraq and to forswear violence were removed from influencing the scene," he said.