Friday, August 31, 2007

D.C. Dept. of Public Works: Illegal to Post Signs Promoting Anti-War Mass March

By Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 16, 2007; Page B01


An anti-war coalition yesterday defied the D.C. government and the National Park Service by refusing to take down dozens of signs advertising an upcoming march.

The D.C. Department of Public Works accused the ANSWER Coalition of breaking city rules by putting signs on utility boxes and using a glue that the agency said will make the posters difficult to remove. The Park Service said the signs are defacing federal property.

Coalition members said the adhesive won't create problems and accused the government of a "politically motivated" bid to silence their efforts against the war in Iraq.

The city and Park Service notified the coalition on Monday that it must remove the signs. The city gave ANSWER a 72-hour deadline and warned the group that it faces nearly $10,000 in fines -- $150 for each of the 65 posters. The Park Service set no deadline but told the group that it would have to pay for the cleanup if it did not comply.

ANSWER, which has sponsored numerous protests in Washington, kept the signs in place on utility boxes, lampposts and other objects across the city, including along the Mall and near the White House.

The signs promote an anti-war march set for Sept. 15, the date that Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is to provide a much-anticipated progress report to President Bush and Congress. Organizers are hoping that tens of thousands of people join the march, which is scheduled to begin at the White House and end at the Capitol.

D.C. officials said they identified other problems with the posters, such as more than three signs put up on one side of a single block, signs that did not state the date they were posted, and signs stuck on utility boxes. In addition, D.C. officials said, no one filed copies of the posters with the mayor's office as required, along with the name, address and phone number of the creator of the signs.

ANSWER organizers said they use legal, water-soluble paste to hang the signs and provide all sign-hangers with a copy of D.C. regulations. They argue that no one should have to notify the government of his or her political opinions.

"We don't consider these fines to have any legal basis," said Sarah Sloan, ANSWER's national staff coordinator. "So there is no need to remove the signs or pay the fines."

The group plans to appeal if fines are imposed and is considering legal action against the city, Sloan said.

The Department of Public Works decided to crack down two weeks ago when employees reported seeing large signs glued in improper places that would take 20 to 30 minutes each to remove, said spokeswoman Vera Jackson. The department often fines individuals or organizations that violate city regulations, she said, adding that this was aimed at keeping the city clean and had nothing to do with politics.

"The District hosts marches and protests all the time," Jackson said. "And the DPW never weighs in on the issues."

ANSWER'S attorney, Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice, said such a government crackdown on political posters was unprecedented. If officials truly wanted to make the city clean, she said, they would fine politicians.

"During election season, there are thousands and thousands of posters hanging off every single inch of the city," she said.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

More Iraqi Weapons found in Manhattan Than in Iraq

By Edith M. Lederer


UNITED NATIONS (AP) - U.N. weapons inspectors discovered a potentially hazardous chemical warfare agent that was taken from an Iraqi chemical weapons facility 11 years ago and mistakenly stored in their offices in the heart of midtown Manhattan all that time, officials said Thursday.

The material, identified in inventory files as phosgene - a chemical substance used in World War I weapons - was discovered Aug. 24. It was only identified on Wednesday because it was marked simply with an inventory number, and officials had to check the many records in their vast archives, said Ewen Buchanan, a spokesman for the U.N. inspection agency.

A team of hazardous materials experts from the FBI and the New York City police went to the office on Manhattan's east side, about a block north of U.N. headquarters, on Thursday with two steel containers to remove the materials and take them to a military facility outside New York for disposal, officials said.

While the disposal team was in UNMOVIC's sixth-floor office, its small staff was evacuated along with other tenants from that floor, Buchanan said.

When the material was discovered in a shipping container last week, Buchanan said U.N. experts followed their established procedure in dealing with unknown material - putting the material in double zip-locked plastic bags, and securing it in a safe in a room that is double-locked.

U.N. deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe said there was no danger to the public and staff continued to work in offices of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, or UNMOVIC, which are in the process of being shut down. The U.N. called in U.S. authorities to remove the material, she said.

Tests conducted by U.N. personnel found no toxic vapors in the area where the material has been stored, police said. The materials have been in UNMOVIC apparently since 1996 when they were inadvertently shipped to United Nations administrative offices, instead of a chemical laboratory, police said.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said the chemical agents should have been transported to an appropriately equipped lab for analysis.

"I'm sure that there are going to be a lot of red-faced people over at the U.N. trying to figure out how they got there,'' Snow said.

Phosgene can be used as a chemical weapon - and was used extensively in World War I - as a choking agent. Both phosgene gas and liquid can damage skin, eyes, nose, throat and lungs.

Okabe said the chemical state of the phosgene was unknown but "could be potentially hazardous.''

Buchanan said the phosgene was in liquid form, suspended in oil, in a soda-can-sized container that was sealed in a plastic bag.

Records indicated the material was from a 1996 excavation of the bombed-out research and development building at Iraq's main chemical weapons facility at Muthana, near Samarra. The entire facility was extensively bombed during the 1991 Gulf War, Buchanan said.

UNMOVIC has 1,400 linear feet of paper files and it took until Wednesday to find the inventory matching the number on the package of phosgene.

Also found at the UNMOVIC office was a second sealed package containing tiny samples of chemical agents in sealed glass tubes shaped like pens that calibrate analytical equipment which inspectors use to identify chemical agents, Buchanan said. Each of these reference standards contained less than a gram of chemical material, he added.

Okabe said the United Nations has launched an investigation to determine how and why the material was in UNMOVIC files. The Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon were informed, Okabe added.

The State Department said it had learned of the discovery late Wednesday and had immediately contacted the FBI to deal with the disposal.

Deputy spokesman Tom Casey also said a joint U.S.-U.N. investigation would be made into why the samples had been stored in the office but stressed that the chemicals had been there for at least a decade and did not pose any health risk.

"One of the things we want to do is make sure that the U.N., working with the FBI, does conduct a full investigation of this, so we're absolutely certain how they in fact got there, how long they were there, and the kind of exact nature of how this came about,'' he told reporters.

"There is no threat that these items currently or in the past have posed to public health and safety in the area,'' Casey said.

U.N. inspectors pulled out of Iraq just before the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion and were barred by the U.S. from returning. The U.S. and Britain said they were taking over responsibility for Iraq's disarmament. In June 2003, the Security Council voted to shut down UNMOVIC and the U.N. nuclear inspection operation in Iraq.

Brian Mullady, a senior UNMOVIC official, told reporters that the staff did an immediate sweep of the rest of its archives to see if there was any more material but there was none.

Pentagon to Investigate Weapons Sold to Iraq Insurgents by U.S. Army

By Kristen Roberts

August 29, 2007

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon's independent watchdog has launched a probe into the military's inability to account for weapons in Iraq after reports that Kurdish militants were using U.S. arms to attack Turkey, the Defense Department said on Wednesday.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said the department's inspector general will go to Iraq next week with an 18-member assessment team to investigate the problem.

"Since January, the inspector general's office has been thoroughly investigating reports of unaccounted-for weapons as well as allegations of arms ending up in the wrong hands," Morrell said.

"Secretary Gates, who since May has twice received lengthy briefings on the progress of the probe, is deeply troubled by the reports and the allegations."

Turkey, an important ally for Washington in the Muslim world, has repeatedly said the U.S. government has not done enough to clamp down on Kurdish militants based in northern Iraq. In July, Turkey's ambassador said Kurdish leaders were diverting weapons meant for local Iraqi security forces to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants.

Morrell said he did not know if evidence existed to show U.S. weapons were being used by insurgents in Iraq.

"It is unclear, and that's why there's an investigation taking place."

CONTRACTING PROBES

Separately, the Army has launched two investigations into possible fraud involving thousands of contracts for services in Iraq and Kuwait after 20 civilian and military Army employees were indicted on charges that included bribery.

The scope of the fraud remains unknown, but Army Secretary Pete Geren called the problem significant.

More than 18,000 contracts valued at about $3 billion have been awarded by the Army to support the Iraq war since 2003. As of August 28, there were 76 ongoing criminal investigations involving possible contract fraud, the Army said.

A U.S. Army major, his wife and sister were indicted this month in a suspected scheme to accept $9.6 million in exchange for contracts for bottled water and other goods and services for troops in Kuwait and Iraq.

An Army captain also has been charged with accepting a $50,000 bribe to steer military contracts in Iraq, according to prosecutors.

"The reports suggest that we've got serious issues in this area, particularly coming out of the Kuwait contracting community," Geren told reporters. "I don't know how to describe the scale, but it's significant."

The first Army investigation will examine the overall contracting organization, which Army officials say lacks the resources needed to handle the sharp rise in contracts following the start of the Iraq war. A commission appointed to investigate the operation will deliver a report in 45 days.

The Army also charged a new task force with examining all 18,000 contracts awarded by its contracting office in Kuwait. Most of those covered support services at Army facilities in Kuwait, like laundry and dining services.

GAO: U.S. Failing in Iraq

By Karen De Young and Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, August 30, 2007; Page A01

Iraq has failed to meet all but three of 18 congressionally mandated benchmarks for political and military progress, according to a draft of a Government Accountability Office report. The document questions whether some aspects of a more positive assessment by the White House last month adequately reflected the range of views the GAO found within the administration.

The strikingly negative GAO draft, which will be delivered to Congress in final form on Tuesday, comes as the White House prepares to deliver its own new benchmark report in the second week of September, along with congressional testimony from Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker. They are expected to describe significant security improvements and offer at least some promise for political reconciliation in Iraq.

The draft provides a stark assessment of the tactical effects of the current U.S.-led counteroffensive to secure Baghdad. "While the Baghdad security plan was intended to reduce sectarian violence, U.S. agencies differ on whether such violence has been reduced," it states. While there have been fewer attacks against U.S. forces, it notes, the number of attacks against Iraqi civilians remains unchanged. It also finds that "the capabilities of Iraqi security forces have not improved."

"Overall," the report concludes, "key legislation has not been passed, violence remains high, and it is unclear whether the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion in reconstruction funds," as promised. While it makes no policy recommendations, the draft suggests that future administration assessments "would be more useful" if they backed up their judgments with more details and "provided data on broader measures of violence from all relevant U.S. agencies."

A GAO spokesman declined to comment on the report before it is released. The 69-page draft, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, is still undergoing review at the Defense Department, which may ask that parts of it be classified or request changes in its conclusions. The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, normally submits its draft reports to relevant agencies for comment but makes its own final judgments. The office has published more than 100 assessments of various aspects of the U.S. effort in Iraq since May 2003.

The person who provided the draft report to The Post said it was being conveyed from a government official who feared that its pessimistic conclusions would be watered down in the final version -- as some officials have said happened with security judgments in this month's National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. Congress requested the GAO report, along with an assessment of the Iraqi security forces by an independent commission headed by retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, to provide a basis for comparison with the administration's scorecard. The Jones report is also scheduled for delivery next week.

Asked to comment on the GAO draft, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said, "General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker are there on the ground every day in Iraq, and it's important to wait to hear what they have to say." He disputed any suggestion that the July White House assessment did not consider all internal views, noting that it resulted from "a lengthy and far-reaching process throughout the State and Defense departments and other agencies."

Johndroe emphasized that "while we've all seen progress in some areas, especially on the security front, it's not surprising the GAO would make this assessment, given the difficult congressionally mandated measurement they had to follow."

President Bush signed legislation in May that requires him to submit by Sept. 15 an assessment of whether the government of Iraq is "achieving progress" toward the benchmarks. The interim July report determined that satisfactory progress was being made toward eight of the 18 benchmarks, most of them on the security front. It found unsatisfactory progress toward eight others and presented a mixed picture on the remaining two.

The May legislation imposed a stricter standard on the GAO, requiring an up-or-down judgment on whether each benchmark has been met. On that basis, the GAO draft says that three of the benchmarks have been met while 13 have not. Despite its strict mandate, the GAO draft concludes that two benchmarks -- the formation of governmental regions and the allocation and expenditure of $10 billion for reconstruction -- have been "partially met." Little of the allocated money, it says, has been spent.

One of eight political benchmarks -- the protection of the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature -- has been achieved, according to the draft. On the others, including legislation on constitutional reform, new oil laws and de-Baathification, it assesses failure.

"Prospects for additional progress in enacting legislative benchmarks have been complicated by the withdrawal of 15 of 37 members of the Iraqi cabinet," it says. An internal administration assessment this month, the GAO says, concluded that "this boycott ends any claim by the Shi'ite-dominated coalition to be a government of national unity." An administration official involved in Iraq policy said that he did not know what specific interagency document the GAO was citing but noted that it is an accurate reflection of the views of many officials.

Overall, the draft report, titled "Securing, Stabilizing and Rebuilding Iraq," says that the Iraqi government has met only two security benchmarks. It contradicts the Bush administration's conclusion in July that sectarian violence was decreasing as a result of the U.S. military's stepped-up operations in Baghdad this year. "The average number of daily attacks against civilians remained about the same over the last six months; 25 in February versus 26 in July," the GAO draft states.

Iraqi security forces are also assessed more severely in the GAO study than in the administration's July report. Although the White House found satisfactory progress toward the goal of deploying three Iraqi army brigades in Baghdad, the GAO disagrees, citing "performance problems" in some units. "Some army units sent to Baghdad have mixed loyalties, and some have had ties to Shiia militias making it difficult to target Shiia extremist networks," it says.

The GAO draft also says that the number of Iraqi army units capable of operating independently declined from 10 in March to six last month. The July White House report mentioned a "slight" decline in capable Iraqi units, without providing any numbers. The GAO also says, as did the White House in July, that the Iraqi government has intervened in military activities for political reasons, "resulting in some operations being based on sectarian interests." But its discussion of Iraqi security forces is often veiled, as when it states that the determination that the security forces benchmark was not met "was based largely on classified information."

The description of the Iraqi military's shortcomings contrasts with comments from many senior U.S. commanders who say that they are pleased with its progress. "Although we still have a ways to go, Iraqi security forces are making significant, tangible improvements," Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, said earlier this month.

But Army Lt. Gen. James Dubik, who in June became the commander of the U.S. troops training and advising Iraqi army and police units, struck a more somber note yesterday in a news conference in Baghdad. "The problems that the military commanders and the minister of defense have here in generating the Iraqi army are very significant, and they shouldn't be taken lightly," he said.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

U.S. Denies Imminent Recession

CNBC

WASHINGTON - Problems in the U.S. subprime mortgage market are unlikely to push the U.S. economy into a recession over the next 12 months, the top economist for a leading U.S. business group said on Tuesday.

"It's clear over the last year-and-a-half the economy has downshifted and things are not doing quite as well. But having said (that), I don't think we're on the precipice of a recession," said Martin Regalia, vice president for economic policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Regalia said that, in his opinion, problems caused by bad loans made in the subprime market were not spreading to broader housing or overall debt markets.

"I think given the actions of the Fed -- what they've done so far and what they're likely to do in the future -- we're not going to see that broad-based contagion and therefore we're going to see the economy weather that storm," Regalia told reporters in a briefing.

Earlier this month, the Federal Reserve cut the discount rate at which it lends to qualifying banks by a half percentage point to 5.75 percent amid worry that problems in the subprime mortgage market were shrinking credit market liquidity.

Regalia said he expected the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates at its regular monthly meetings in September and October, but concerns about inflation would prevent the Fed from embarking on a longer-term easing campaign.

He said mortgage market problems will help trim U.S. economic growth to an annual rate of around 2 percent by the fourth quarter from about 4 percent in the second quarter.

"We're not going to get back to the 3-plus percentage growth rate, I don't think, until this housing issue is behind us, and that's likely to be the beginning of next year to the middle of next year," Regalia said.

Investors Bet $500M+ on S&P Index Falling 5-11% By Sept. 21; Some Betting for 52% Decline

By Jim Kingsland
August 27, 2007
CNBC

Not everyone on Wall Street is convinced that the worst is over.

In fact, some investors are betting tens of millions of dollars that the market is headed for a selloff -- a major selloff.


The reason: worries about a worsening credit crunch, along with speculation that the Federal Reserve may defy expectations and hold off on cutting interest rates at its Sept. 18 meeting.

So far, over $500 million in so-called put options have been purchased betting that the benchmark Standard and Poor's 500 index will tumble anywhere from 5% to 11% in September. Some investors are even buying put options calling for 52% decline. A "put" option increases in value as the underlying stock or index falls.

To put it in perspective, a 5% drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average would be the equivalent of 667 points. An 11% decline would equal 1,468 points. And a 52% drop? You don't even want to know.

The upshot is that some major investors are putting up big money that the market is facing a major decline.

"There is still fear and investors are buying crash protection," says Todd Salamone, senior vice president of research at Schaeffer's Investment Research.

Of course, there are always investors betting on big declines -- they're called bears. What's unusual is the amount of money being put up on such a doomsday scenario.

"The activity in those puts has been a lot more aggressive then we have seen in the past," said Bill Lefkowitz, options strategist at brokerage firm Finance Investments. "Part of it is the environment and volatility where the Dow Industrials can easily swing over a hundred points during the day, or session to session."

Salamone of Schaeffer's points out that the index options have been "put dominated over the last several months." And the bets may have as much to do with hedging portfolios -- basically an insurance policy you hope you don't need -- as much as outright speculation.

"We don't know who the end users of these options are and often they are specialists, pros looking at arbitrage plays, so the common man doesn't necessarily need to be concerned," adds Andrew Wilkinson, a senior market analyst at Interactive Brokers. "But it’s a legitimate build of people wanting protection against the next 10% down should it come."

Whatever the reason, Lefkowitz says worries about what the Fed will do about interest rates are spurring big investors to buy protection in case of a major market drop.

"If the Fed doesn't cut Fed funds, the options market is telling you that the overall stock market will come down hard," says Lefkowitz. "We could be quickly under the 1400 level of the S&P 500 if the Fed doesn't act."

Fed-fund futures and a variety of market pundits have been forecasting a 100% likelihood the Fed will lower the benchmark lending rate, now at 5.25%, meaning there's no room in the market from the Fed for a surprise.

Lefkowitz also says the activity isn't strictly driven by money managers looking to protect portfolios. The put options are tempting enough for speculators to jump in. He says even if the market doesn't fall to below S&P 1400, the put options could still easily rise in value by "20, 30, 40 percent if we saw another large down day."

Monday, August 27, 2007

DEA Robs Trucker of $24k; He sues for unlawful search and seizure

The Associated Press
August 24, 2007

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A trucker has sued the Drug Enforcement Administration, seeking to get back nearly $24,000 seized by DEA agents earlier this month at a weigh station on U.S. 54 in New Mexico north of El Paso, Texas.

Anastasio Prieto of El Paso gave a state police officer at the weigh station permission to search the truck to see if it contained "needles or cash in excess of $10,000," according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the federal lawsuit Thursday.

Prieto told the officer he didn't have any needles but did have $23,700.

Officers took the money and turned it over to the DEA. DEA agents photographed and fingerprinted Prieto over his objections, then released him without charging him with anything.

Border Patrol agents searched his truck with drug-sniffing dogs, but found no evidence of illegal substances, the ACLU said.

The lawsuit alleges the defendants violated Prieto's right to be free of unlawful search and seizure by taking his money without probable cause and by fingerprinting and photographing him.

"Mere possession of approximately $23,700 does not establish probable cause for a search or seizure," the lawsuit said.

It said Prieto pulled into the weigh station about 10:30 a.m. Aug. 8 and was let go about 4 p.m.

DEA agents told Prieto he would receive a notice of federal proceedings to permanently forfeit the money within 30 days and that to get it back, he'd have to prove it was his and did not come from illegal drug sales.

They told him the process probably would take a year, the ACLU said.

The ACLU's New Mexico executive director, Peter Simonson, said Prieto needs his money now to pay bills and maintain his truck. The lawsuit said Prieto does not like banks and customarily carries his savings as cash.

"The government took Mr. Prieto's money as surely as if he had been robbed on a street corner at night," Simonson said. "In fact, being robbed might have been better. At least then the police would have treated him as the victim of a crime instead of as a perpetrator."

The DEA did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

Peter Olson, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, which oversees state police, said he could not comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit names DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy, DEA task force officer Gary T. Apodaca, DEA agent Joseph Montoya and three state police officers identified only as John or Jane Doe.

Whistle Blowers of U.S. Corruption in Iraq: Tortured, Lives Ruined

By Deborah Hastings
Associated Press
August 24, 2007


One after another, the men and women who have stepped forward to report corruption in the massive effort to rebuild Iraq have been vilified, fired and demoted.

Or worse.

For daring to report illegal arms sales, Navy veteran Donald Vance says he was imprisoned by the American military in a security compound outside Baghdad and subjected to harsh interrogation methods.

There were times, huddled on the floor in solitary confinement with that head-banging music blaring dawn to dusk and interrogators yelling the same questions over and over, that Vance began to wish he had just kept his mouth shut.

He had thought he was doing a good and noble thing when he started telling the FBI about the guns and the land mines and the rocket-launchers - all of them being sold for cash, no receipts necessary, he said. He told a federal agent the buyers were Iraqi insurgents, American soldiers, State Department workers, and Iraqi embassy and ministry employees.

The seller, he claimed, was the Iraqi-owned company he worked for, Shield Group Security Co.

"It was a Wal-Mart for guns," he says. "It was all illegal and everyone knew it."

So Vance says he blew the whistle, supplying photos and documents and other intelligence to an FBI agent in his hometown of Chicago because he didn't know whom to trust in Iraq.

For his trouble, he says, he got 97 days in Camp Cropper, an American military prison outside Baghdad that once held Saddam Hussein, and he was classified a security detainee.

Also held was colleague Nathan Ertel, who helped Vance gather evidence documenting the sales, according to a federal lawsuit both have filed in Chicago, alleging they were illegally imprisoned and subjected to physical and mental interrogation tactics "reserved for terrorists and so-called enemy combatants."

Corruption has long plagued Iraq reconstruction. Hundreds of projects may never be finished, including repairs to the country's oil pipelines and electricity system. Congress gave more than $30 billion to rebuild Iraq, and at least $8.8 billion of it has disappeared, according to a government reconstruction audit.

Despite this staggering mess, there are no noble outcomes for those who have blown the whistle, according to a review of such cases by The Associated Press.

"If you do it, you will be destroyed," said William Weaver, professor of political science at the University of Texas-El Paso and senior advisor to the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition.

"Reconstruction is so rife with corruption. Sometimes people ask me, `Should I do this?' And my answer is no. If they're married, they'll lose their family. They will lose their jobs. They will lose everything," Weaver said.

They have been fired or demoted, shunned by colleagues, and denied government support in whistleblower lawsuits filed against contracting firms.

"The only way we can find out what is going on is for someone to come forward and let us know," said Beth Daley of the Project on Government Oversight, an independent, nonprofit group that investigates corruption. "But when they do, the weight of the government comes down on them. The message is, 'Don't blow the whistle or we'll make your life hell.'

"It's heartbreaking," Daley said. "There is an even greater need for whistleblowers now. But they are made into public martyrs. It's a disgrace. Their lives get ruined."

Bunnatine "Bunny" Greenhouse knows this only too well. As the highest-ranking civilian contracting officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, she testified before a congressional committee in 2005 that she found widespread fraud in multibillion-dollar rebuilding contracts awarded to former Halliburton subsidiary KBR.

Soon after, Greenhouse was demoted. She now sits in a tiny cubicle in a different department with very little to do and no decision-making authority, at the end of an otherwise exemplary 20-year career.

People she has known for years no longer speak to her.

"It's just amazing how we say we want to remove fraud from our government, then we gag people who are just trying to stand up and do the right thing," she says.

In her demotion, her supervisors said she was performing poorly. "They just wanted to get rid of me," she says softly. The Army Corps of Engineers denies her claims.

"You just don't have happy endings," said Weaver. "She was a wonderful example of a federal employee. They just completely creamed her. In the end, no one followed up, no one cared."

But Greenhouse regrets nothing. "I have the courage to say what needs to be said. I paid the price," she says.

Then there is Robert Isakson, who filed a whistleblower suit against contractor Custer Battles in 2004, alleging the company - with which he was briefly associated - bilked the U.S. government out of tens of millions of dollars by filing fake invoices and padding other bills for reconstruction work.

He and his co-plaintiff, William Baldwin, a former employee fired by the firm, doggedly pursued the suit for two years, gathering evidence on their own and flying overseas to obtain more information from witnesses. Eventually, a federal jury agreed with them and awarded a $10 million judgment against the now-defunct firm, which had denied all wrongdoing.

It was the first civil verdict for Iraq reconstruction fraud.

But in 2006, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III overturned the jury award. He said Isakson and Baldwin failed to prove that the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S.-backed occupier of Iraq for 14 months, was part of the U.S. government.

Not a single Iraq whistleblower suit has gone to trial since.

"It's a sad, heartbreaking comment on the system," said Isakson, a former FBI agent who owns an international contracting company based in Alabama. "I tried to help the government, and the government didn't seem to care."

One way to blow the whistle is to file a "qui tam" lawsuit (taken from the Latin phrase "he who sues for the king, as well as for himself") under the federal False Claims Act.

Signed by Abraham Lincoln in response to military contractors selling defective products to the Union Army, the act allows private citizens to sue on the government's behalf.

The government has the option to sign on, with all plaintiffs receiving a percentage of monetary damages, which are tripled in these suits.

It can be a straightforward and effective way to recoup federal funds lost to fraud. In the past, the Justice Department has joined several such cases and won. They included instances of Medicare and Medicaid overbilling, and padded invoices from domestic contractors.

But the government has not joined a single quit tam suit alleging Iraq reconstruction abuse, estimated in the tens of millions. At least a dozen have been filed since 2004.

"It taints these cases," said attorney Alan Grayson, who filed the Custer Battles suit and several others like it. "If the government won't sign on, then it can't be a very good case - that's the effect it has on judges."

The Justice Department declined comment.

Most of the lawsuits are brought by former employees of giant firms. Some plaintiffs have testified before members of Congress, providing examples of fraud they say they witnessed and the retaliation they experienced after speaking up.

Julie McBride testified last year that as a "morale, welfare and recreation coordinator" at Camp Fallujah, she saw KBR exaggerate costs by double- and triple-counting the number of soldiers who used recreational facilities.

She also said the company took supplies destined for a Super Bowl party for U.S. troops and instead used them to stage a celebration for themselves.

"After I voiced my concerns about what I believed to be accounting fraud, Halliburton placed me under guard and kept me in seclusion," she told the committee. "My property was searched, and I was specifically told that I was not allowed to speak to any member of the U.S. military. I remained under guard until I was flown out of the country."

Halliburton and KBR denied her testimony.

She also has filed a whistleblower suit. The Justice Department has said it would not join the action. But last month, a federal judge refused a motion by KBR to dismiss the lawsuit.

Donald Vance, the contractor and Navy veteran detained in Iraq after he blew the whistle on his company's weapons sales, says he has stopped talking to the federal government.

Navy Capt. John Fleming, a spokesman for U.S. detention operations in Iraq, confirmed the detentions but said he could provide no further details because of the lawsuit.

According to their suit, Vance and Ertel gathered photographs and documents, which Vance fed to Chicago FBI agent Travis Carlisle for six months beginning in October 2005. Carlisle, reached by phone at Chicago's FBI field office, declined comment. An agency spokesman also would not comment.

The Iraqi company has since disbanded, according the suit.

Vance said things went terribly wrong in April 2006, when he and Ertel were stripped of their security passes and confined to the company compound.

Panicking, Vance said, he called the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, where hostage experts got on the phone and told him "you're about to be kidnapped. Lock yourself in a room with all the weapons you can get your hands on.'"

The military sent a Special Forces team to rescue them, Vance said, and the two men showed the soldiers where the weapons caches were stored. At the embassy, the men were debriefed and allowed to sleep for a few hours. "I thought I was among friends," Vance said.

The men said they were cuffed and hooded and driven to Camp Cropper, where Vance was held for nearly three months and his colleague for a little more than a month. Eventually, their jailers said they were being held as security internees because their employer was suspected of selling weapons to terrorists and insurgents, the lawsuit said.

The prisoners said they repeatedly told interrogators to contact Carlisle in Chicago. "One set of interrogators told us that Travis Carlisle doesn't exist. Then some others would say, 'He says he doesn't know who you are,'" Vance said.

Released first was Ertel, who has returned to work in Iraq for a different company. Vance said he has never learned why he was held longer. His own interrogations, he said, seemed focused on why he reported his information to someone outside Iraq.

And then one day, without explanation, he was released.

"They drove me to Baghdad International Airport and dumped me," he said.

When he got home, he decided to never call the FBI again. He called a lawyer, instead.

"There's an unspoken rule in Baghdad," he said. "Don't snitch on people and don't burn bridges."

For doing both, Vance said, he paid with 97 days of his life.

Friday, August 24, 2007

White House: No Dissent in the Presence of Bush

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 22, 2007; A02

Not that they're worried or anything. But the White House evidently leaves little to chance when it comes to protests within eyesight of the president. As in, it doesn't want any.

A White House manual that came to light recently gives presidential advance staffers extensive instructions in the art of "deterring potential protestors" from President Bush's public appearances around the country.

Among other things, any event must be open only to those with tickets tightly controlled by organizers. Those entering must be screened in case they are hiding secret signs. Any anti-Bush demonstrators who manage to get in anyway should be shouted down by "rally squads" stationed in strategic locations. And if that does not work, they should be thrown out.

But that does not mean the White House is against dissent -- just so long as the president does not see it. In fact, the manual outlines a specific system for those who disagree with the president to voice their views. It directs the White House advance staff to ask local police "to designate a protest area where demonstrators can be placed, preferably not in the view of the event site or motorcade route."

The "Presidential Advance Manual," dated October 2002 with the stamp "Sensitive -- Do Not Copy," was released under subpoena to the American Civil Liberties Union as part of a lawsuit filed on behalf of two people arrested for refusing to cover their anti-Bush T-shirts at a Fourth of July speech at the West Virginia State Capitol in 2004. The techniques described have become familiar over the 6 1/2 years of Bush's presidency, but the manual makes it clear how organized the anti-protest policy really is.

The lawsuit was filed by Jeffery and Nicole Rank, who attended the Charleston event wearing shirts with the word "Bush" crossed out on the front; the back of his shirt said "Regime Change Starts at Home," while hers said "Love America, Hate Bush." Members of the White House event staff told them to cover their shirts or leave, according to the lawsuit. They refused and were arrested, handcuffed and briefly jailed before local authorities dropped the charges and apologized. The federal government settled the First Amendment case last week for $80,000, but with no admission of wrongdoing.

The manual demonstrates "that the White House has a policy of excluding and/or attempting to squelch dissenting viewpoints from presidential events," said ACLU lawyer Jonathan Miller. "Individuals should have the right to express their opinion to the president, even if it's not a favorable one."

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said that he could not discuss the manual because it is an issue in two other lawsuits.

The manual offers advance staffers and volunteers who help set up presidential events guidelines for assembling crowds. Those invited into a VIP section on or near the stage, for instance, must be " extremely supportive of the Administration," it says. While the Secret Service screens audiences only for possible threats, the manual says, volunteers should examine people before they reach security checkpoints and look out for signs. Make sure to look for "folded cloth signs," it advises.

To counter any demonstrators who do get in, advance teams are told to create "rally squads" of volunteers with large hand-held signs, placards or banners with "favorable messages." Squads should be placed in strategic locations and "at least one squad should be 'roaming' throughout the perimeter of the event to look for potential problems," the manual says.

"These squads should be instructed always to look for demonstrators," it says. "The rally squad's task is to use their signs and banners as shields between the demonstrators and the main press platform. If the demonstrators are yelling, rally squads can begin and lead supportive chants to drown out the protestors (USA!, USA!, USA!). As a last resort, security should remove the demonstrators from the event site."

Advance teams are advised not to worry if protesters are not visible to the president or cameras: "If it is determined that the media will not see or hear them and that they pose no potential disruption to the event, they can be ignored. On the other hand, if the group is carrying signs, trying to shout down the President, or has the potential to cause some greater disruption to the event, action needs to be taken immediately to minimize the demonstrator's effect."

The manual adds in bold type: "Remember -- avoid physical contact with demonstrators! Most often, the demonstrators want a physical confrontation. Do not fall into their trap!" And it suggests that advance staff should "decide if the solution would cause more negative publicity than if the demonstrators were simply left alone."

The staff at the West Virginia event may have missed that line.

Undercover Police Start Riots At "Three Amigos'" Montebello Summit Protests

Thursday, August 23, 2007
CBC News

Quebec provincial police admitted Thursday that three of their officers disguised themselves as demonstrators during the protest at the North American leaders summit in Montebello, Que.

However, the police force denied allegations its undercover officers were there on Monday to provoke the crowd and instigate violence.

"At no time did the police of the Sûreté du Québec act as instigators or commit criminal acts," the police force said in French in a news release. "It is not in the police force's policies, nor in its strategies, to act in that manner.

"At all times, they responded within their mandate to keep order and security."

Police said the three undercover officers were only at the protest to locate and identify non-peaceful protesters in order to prevent any incidents.

Police came under fire Tuesday, when a video surfaced on YouTube that appeared to show three plainclothes police officers at the protest with bandanas across their faces. One of the men was carrying a rock.

In the video, protest organizers in suits order the men to put the rock down, call them police instigators and try unsuccessfully to unmask them.

Police-issued boots identified fake protesters

Protest organizers on Wednesday played the video for the media at a news conference in Ottawa. One of the organizers, union leader Dave Coles, explained that one reason protesters knew the men's true identities was because they were wearing the same boots as other police officers.

Coles said on Wednesday that the only thing he didn't know was whether the men were Quebec police, RCMP or hired security officers.

"[Our union] believes that the security force at Montebello were ordered to infiltrate our peaceful assembly and provoke incidents," said Coles, president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union.

Police said the three were told to monitor protesters who were not peacefully demonstrating to prevent any violent incidents, but they were called out as undercover agents when they refused to throw objects.

Concern Canada losing control of its energy

The protest at Montebello occurred outside the Fairmont Le Château Montebello hotel, near Ottawa, where Prime Minister Stephen Harper was meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush and Mexican President Felipe Calderon. The summit about border security, free trade and other issues began Monday and finished Tuesday.

Protesters said they gathered to voice their concern about Canada losing control of its energy and water resources and borders. Others decried what they called a high level of secrecy at the summit.

The Quebec provincial police will not comment any further on the affair, a spokeswoman in Montreal said.

Quebec Justice Minister Jacques Dupuis was made aware of the news, but a spokesman from his office said he will not comment on the matter either.

Police: Two Middle-Eastern Men Found with Bombs; Feds Deny

Sunday, August 5, 2007
CNN


GOOSE CREEK, South Carolina (CNN) -- Two men faced state explosives charges Sunday after police outside Charleston, South Carolina, found what a law enforcement source said was a bomb and bomb-making material in their car during a weekend traffic stop.

"They're going to be formally charged tomorrow with state charges by the Berkeley County Sheriff's Office, and those charges will involve explosives," Berkeley County Chief Deputy Butch Henerey told CNN.

But federal officials disputed that account, telling CNN that there was no bomb.

And FBI spokesman Richard Kolko told CNN, "We have not found a clear link to terrorism."

The incident began about 5:30 p.m. Saturday, when the men's vehicle was pulled over along U.S. Highway 176 in Goose Creek, about 20 miles north of Charleston, for speeding, police said.

The law enforcement source, who insisted on anonymity, said the materials included at least one bomb and a number of bomb-making elements, including chemicals capable of being used in the production of bombs, fuses and igniters -- small gunpowder charges used to ignite some explosives.

The Charleston County bomb squad responded, and traffic was halted along the road for 10 hours until the materials were detonated, reporter Venton Blandin of CNN affiliate WCIV said. He described the sound of the detonation as "fairly small."

Police identified the men as Yousef Megahed, 21, and Ahmed Mohamed, 24, neither of whom is a U.S. citizen. They were being held at the Berkeley County Detention Center in Moncks Corner, South Carolina.

But federal officials cast doubt on the South Carolina authorities' account Sunday night.

Federal law enforcement sources familiar with the case said no bomb was found -- but the men arrested did not have ready explanations for materials found in the vehicle. That raised questions, which prompted local officials to contact the FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force, the sources said.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the FBI, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and the Berkeley County Sheriff were investigating.

An officer at the detention center said explosives and possible immigration charges will likely be filed Monday. A news conference is scheduled for Monday at 11:30 a.m.

FBI Hunts "Middle-Eastern" Men Seen Casing WA Ferries

By Scott Gutierrez
P-I Reporter

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The FBI is asking the public for help in identifying two men who were seen behaving unusually aboard several Washington state ferries.

About four weeks ago, the FBI fielded several reports from passengers and ferry workers about the men, who seemed "overly interested in the workings and layouts of the ferries," Special Agent Robbie Burroughs said Monday.

The FBI also publicized photos of the men, which were taken by a ferry employee, Burroughs said.

The Seattle P-I is not publishing the photos because neither man is considered a suspect nor has either been charged with a crime.

The FBI has no information suggesting that a terrorist attack on the ferry system is imminent, Burroughs said.

For weeks, the FBI has been trying to identify the men through "normal law enforcement channels," she said.

"We get tips periodically, but we don't get photos normally like these," Burroughs said. "We're hoping to use them to resolve this quickly."

Despite the photos, the FBI was unable Monday to provide the men's height, weight or estimated age.

Investigators also did not disclose which ferry runs they were spotted on.

Burroughs acknowledged that the FBI rarely publicizes information from an investigation, unless investigators are seeking a suspect wanted for a crime.

The decision was made "out of an abundance of caution" and "while keeping an open mind and realizing that what some people consider suspicious or unusual behavior actually might turn out to be something completely innocuous," she said.

Anyone with information is asked to call 206-622-0460.

P-I reporter Scott Gutierrez can be reached at 206-903-5396 or scottgutierrez@seattlepi.com.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Austria Practices Thought-Crime Against Holocaust Deniers

Associated Press

Spanish police on Thursday arrested a right-wing writer and publisher wanted in his home country of Austria for repeatedly denying the existence of the Jewish Holocaust and the use of gas chambers, officials said.

Gerd Honsik was arrested in the southern city of Malaga, a police spokeswoman said. No more details on his arrest were immediately available.

Honsik had fled to Spain after being convicted in 1992 in Austria of neo-Nazi activities and sentenced to one year in prison for writings that defended Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.



Between 1986 and 1989 Honsik published writings in a book disputing among other things that the Nazis systematically killed Jews at Auschwitz and other extermination camps during World War II.

The Austrian judge who convicted him ruled that Honsik's writings were a misleading, propaganda-like presentation of Nazi activities and that they lacked objectivity.

The Vienna public prosecutor's office said Thursday it had issued a European warrant seeking Honsik's arrest, based on suspicions that he had committed other offenses since Austria enacted a landmark 1992 law making it a crime to deny the Holocaust or promote Nazi propaganda.

It was unclear whether or when authorities might lodge a formal request to have Honsik extradited to Austria.

Spain had already twice turned down an Austrian extradition request for Honsik. Spain's high court said that Holocaust denial and neo-Nazi propaganda were not illegal in the country.

But after the European arrest warrant was issued, Honsik could be extradited for racist and xenophobic behaviour, the Austrian ministry said.

Spain has 90 days from the point when the arrest warrant was issued to decide whether to extradite Honsik.

In December, Austria deported British historian David Irving, who was arrested in 2005 and sentenced to three years in prison for denying the Holocaust. But he was granted an appeal to serve the remainder of his sentence on probation.

Denying the Holocaust in Austria, which provided a significant number of top Nazi leaders including Hitler, is a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Israelis Casing SanFran Bay Area for Possible "Incident"

By Wayne Madsen
Editor, Wayne Madsen Report

Chatter picked up by WMR's sources in the nation's capital and in California point to unusual events that could be a prelude to a 9/11-like false flag "incident" during the Labor Day weekend, possibly one focused on the San Francisco Bay Area.

The FBI in Seattle, as well as the Washington Joint Analytical Center (WJAC), have asked for the public's help in identifying two men spotted aboard Washington state ferries exhibiting unusual behavior. A number of ferry passengers have reported the two men showing strange behavior.

Two photos have been circulated showing two young "Middle East" looking men on board a ferry. The reluctance of the FBI to provide more details is reminiscent of the 2000 and 2001 closely-held government reports that a number of teams of between two and five to six young male and female Israelis, all veteran or reserve Israeli Defense Force members, were spotted casing federal facilities, oil refineries, harbor areas, homes of federal law enforcement officials, office buildings -- including the World Trade Center, bridges, tunnels, and military bases and airfields prior to and subsequent to the 9/11 attacks.

The Israelis were described in a number of federal reports as "Middle East-looking" in appearance. The FBI never sought to prosecute the Israelis, many of whom were using the intelligence covers of office and home furniture movers, vendors of toys at shopping mall kiosks, and art students selling bogus Israeli artwork, and merely turned them over to U.S. immigration authorities for deportation back to Israel. The code phrase "Middle East looking" has since become politically-correct FBI-speak for Israelis. Nationals of Arab countries are described as Arabs in official law enforcement intelligence reports. However, Israeli influence over the Bush administration prevents Israelis in the United States operating illegally or pursuing other dubious activities from being described as Israelis.

As a senior law enforcement official in northern New Jersey told this editor that there should have been some "healthy skepticism" shown by federal, state, and local law enforcement officials about the activities of Israeli nationals in and around New York City prior to 9/11. The official, who was appointed by then-Governor Jim McGreevey, knew that his boss had been compromised in an Israeli intelligence "honey trap" involving Israeli agent Golan Cipel, who McGreevey appointed chief of homeland security for New Jersey after 9/11. Cipel, an Israeli national, had full access to sensitive information about every critical infrastructure facility in the state.

Many of the Israelis picked up prior to 9/11 were turned over to federal and local authorities because they, too, exhibited unusual behavior -- including sketching and photographing the interiors and exteriors of federal buildings, trying to enter various secured offices and other spaces, and splitting up from teams of five and six to teams of two to canvass certain urban areas without drawing too much attention.

The FBI and WJAC have asked anyone with information on the two suspicious ferry passengers in the Seattle area to report it to 206-622-0460.

Yesterday, WMR reported on Israeli press accounts that the Israeli branch chief of Interpol is under investigation for using his contacts within the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem to obtain U.S. visas for criminal Israeli suspects to enter the United States.

Our San Francisco sources also report that, in an unusual move, the Oakland Bay Bridge will be closed by Caltrans in both directions during the entire Labor Day weekend -- from August 31 to September 4. It is the first time the bridge has been closed since the 1989 San Francisco earthquake caused the collapse of the bridge's upper deck. Ostensibly, the bridge is closing to replace a section of the road on Yerba Buena Island but the closure will effectively deter people from traveling to San Francisco from the East Bay, a blow to city businesses that depend on visitors to the city during holiday weekends.

The closure of the bridge will result in expanded service on area ferries, including the Alameda-Oakland, Vallejo Baylink, and Golden Gate ferries, as well as BART train service, including service on the San Francisco-Oakland Trans-Bay Tube, the longest [underwater tunnel for rapid transit] in the world. The security alert issued about suspicious men on Washington state ferries should be viewed as a possible dry run and an "incident" on the expanded service San Francisco ferries cannot be ruled out. The Seattle area, including the Whidbey Island naval installation and Sea-Tac airport, have witnessed past incidents involving suspicious Israeli agents.

With the closure of the Bay Bridge, there will be an increase of traffic on the Golden Gate, Richmond-San Rafael, Dumbarton, and San Mateo-Hayward bridges.

WMR has a number of friends and readers in the San Francisco Bay area and, while not wanting to be alarmist, we urge them and their families and friends to exercise preparedness, alertness, and a high degree of skepticism about any encounters with "Middle East looking" young men and women. The intelligence indications and warnings (I&W) point to a possible maritime incident or incidents involving water-borne craft in San Francisco Bay area waters.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

One Tyranny to Another; U.S. Officials Rethink Democracy in Iraq

Michael Ware and Thomas Evans
CNN

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN)
-- Nightmarish political realities in Baghdad are prompting American officials to curb their vision for democracy in Iraq. Instead, the officials now say they are willing to settle for a government that functions and can bring security.

A workable democratic and sovereign government in Iraq was one of the Bush administration's stated goals of the war.

But for the first time, exasperated front-line U.S. generals talk openly of non-democratic governmental alternatives, and while the two top U.S. officials in Iraq still talk about preserving the country's nascent democratic institutions, they say their ambitions aren't as "lofty" as they once had been.

"Democratic institutions are not necessarily the way ahead in the long-term future," said Brig. Gen. John "Mick" Bednarek, part of Task Force Lightning in Diyala province, one of the war's major battlegrounds.

The comments reflect a practicality common among Western diplomats and officials trying to win hearts and minds in the Middle East and other non-Western countries where democracy isn't a tradition.

The failure of Iraq to emerge from widespread instability is a bitter pill for the United States, which optimistically toppled the Saddam Hussein regime more than four years ago. Millions of Iraqis went to the polls to cast ballots, something that generated great promise for the establishment of a democratic system.

But Iraqi institutions, from the infrastructure to the national government, are widely regarded as ineffective in the fifth year of the war.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, declined to be interviewed for this story, but they issued a joint statement to CNN that reiterated that the country's "fundamental democratic framework is in place" and that "the development of democratic institutions is being encouraged."

And, they said, they are helping Iraqi political leaders find ways "to share power and achieve legislative progress." But Crocker and Petraeus conceded they are "now engaged in pursuing less lofty and ambitious goals than was the case at the outset."

Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, commander of Task Force Lightning, also reflected a less lofty American goal for Iraq's future.

"I would describe it as leaving an effective government behind that can provide services to its people, and security. It needs to be an effective and functioning government that is really a partner with the United States and the rest of the world in this fight against the terrorists," said Mixon, who will not be perturbed if such goals are reached without democracy.

"Well, see that all over the Middle East," he said, stating that democracy is merely an option, that Iraqis are free to choose or reject. "But that is the $50,000 question. ... What will this government look like? Will it be a democracy? Will it not?" he asked. Soldiers, he said, are fighting for security, a goal Mixon described as "core to my mission."

But security is far from complete in Iraq, where the government seems dysfunctional and paralyzed.

Seventeen of the 37 Iraqi Cabinet ministers either boycott or don't attend Cabinet meetings. Parliament, now on a much-criticized month-long summer break, has yet to pass key legislation in the areas of energy resource sharing and the future roles of former members of Hussein's Baath Party. U.S. officials, including President Bush, have said there is frustration with efforts by the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to promote political reconciliation.

The government is unable to supply regular electricity and at times running water in the capital. The health care system is run by one Iranian-backed militia and the national police are dominated by another. Death squads terrorize Sunni neighborhoods.

Sectarian cleansing is pushing people into segregated enclaves, protected by Shiite or U.S.-backed Sunni militias, and spurring the flight of thousands to neighboring countries.

Thousands of innocents are dying violently every month in cities and villages across the country.

Iraqi government officials concede things aren't working, but they say that's because the United States doesn't allow Iraq to really control its own destiny.

While the Iraqi government commands its own troops, it cannot send them into battle without U.S. agreement. Iraqi Special Forces answer only to U.S. officers.

"We don't have full sovereignty," said Hadi al-Amri, the chairman of parliament's Defense and Security Committee. "We don't have sovereignty over our troops, we don't have sovereignty over our provinces. We admit it."

And because of the very real prospect of Iranian infiltration, the government doesn't fund or control its own intelligence service. It's paid for and run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

Abdul Qarim al-Enzi, director of the parliamentary ethics committee, asks whether it is "reasonable for a country given sovereignty by the international community to have a chief of intelligence appointed by another country."

One senior U.S. official in Baghdad told CNN that "any country with 160,000 foreigners fighting for it sacrifices some sovereignty."

The U.S. government has long cautioned that a fully functioning democracy would be slow to emerge in Iraq. But with key U.S. senators calling for al-Maliki's removal, some senior U.S. military commanders even suggest privately the entire Iraqi government must be removed by "constitutional or non-constitutional" means and replaced with a stable, secure, but not necessarily democratic entity.

Israel Blocks Refugees of Genocide

Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, August 20, 2007; Page A10

CAIRO, Aug. 19 -- Israel closed the door Sunday on a surge of asylum-seekers from Sudan's Darfur region and from other African countries, the largest influx of non-Jewish refugees in the modern history of the Jewish state.

Authorities announced that they had expelled 48 of more than 2,000 African refugees who have entered illegally from Egypt in recent weeks. Officials said they would allow 500 Darfurians among them to remain, but would deport everyone else back to Egypt and accept no more illegal migrants from Darfur or other places.



The announcement, raising new concerns over the refugees' safety, heightened a debate in Israel over what responsibilities a nation created by survivors of genocide in Europe bore toward people fleeing mass killing in Africa.

It was unclear Sunday whether Egypt would in turn deport the refugees to their countries of origin. Israel had received assurances from Egypt that it would not send Sudanese refugees to their troubled home country, an Israeli official said by telephone, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Egyptian police told the Associated Press, however, that Egypt would send the Sudanese back to Sudan. An Egyptian Foreign Ministry official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said Israel had sought no assurances about the future of the refugees. "Israel just said, 'Please take them,' " the Egyptian official said.

Refugees from Darfur are escaping what President Bush and others have called genocide by government-allied Arab militias against ethnic African villagers. In addition, Sudan and Israel officially are enemies, and Sudan's government has said any refugees sent back from Israel would be considered as having dealt with an enemy state and treated accordingly.

"If deported to Sudan, they will be tried for treason," said Madhal Aguer, a private aid worker in Cairo for refugees from a separate conflict in southern Sudan; a long-running civil war between the north and south killed up to 1 million people before a peace deal in 2005.

Since the 1990s, more than 2 million Sudanese have fled across their country's northern border into Egypt. Although Egypt has generally allowed them to stay, they have faced discrimination and sometimes deadly abuse, and say they find few jobs and little help from refugee agencies.

In 2005, Egyptian police used clubs and water cannons to break up a sit-in by Sudanese refugees near the U.N. refugee agency. At least 20 were trampled to death or otherwise killed in the resulting melee, according to health officials and rights workers.

This spring, thousands of the refugees started moving north to sneak into Israel, in the belief it would allow them safety, freedom and jobs, the refugees said. Israel, which normally gets 700 to 800 asylum-seekers a year, received 2,300 in the first six months of the year, said Anat Ben-Dor, a lawyer at a Tel Aviv University legal clinic who represents some of the African refugees.

Nearly all of the new asylum-seekers are from Africa, including about 1,600 from Sudan, according to Israeli figures. Israel has confined some of the arrivals in prisons or in tent cities and trailer camps in the desert, and others in remote kibbutzim.

The Africans have generally crossed into Israel over Egypt's Sinai border. Most sell all their goods to pay the $300 to $400 fee demanded by local Bedouin guides. The danger is high; since July, Egyptian authorities have fatally shot at least one refugee, a 28-year-old Darfurian woman, at the border, and shot and wounded several others.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

U.S. Sent Innocent Canadian Man to be Tortured in Syria

[Michael Bronner and Wayne Nelson]
Jan. 21, 2004

(CBS) Is it possible the United States sent an innocent man out of the country to be tortured?

That's the disturbing question at the heart of a case that may reveal a secret side of the war on terrorism -- one that the government does not want to talk about.

It involves an accusation that the justice department sent a man from the U.S. to Syria to be interrogated and tortured.

The man making the claim is a Syrian-born Canadian citizen who was taken into custody, under suspicion of being connected with al Qaeda, while changing planes in New York.

Now, Maher Arar tells Correspondent Vicki Mabrey about what became his year in hell, which began when federal agents stopped him for questioning at JFK International Airport.

“I cooperated with them 100 percent. And they always kept telling me, ‘We'll let you go on the next plane,’" says Arar. “They did not.”

It would be more than a year before Arar would see his family again. In September 2002, he’d taken his wife and two children on a beach vacation in Tunisia. But he flew home alone early for his job as a software engineer.

What he didn’t know is that he’d been placed on the U.S. immigration watch list. So when the agents began questioning him, he tells 60 Minutes II that he wasn’t concerned – at least not at first.

“The interrogation lasted about seven or eight hours, and then they came, and shackled me and chained me,” recalls Arar. “I said, ‘What's happening here?’ And they would not tell me. They said, ‘You are gonna know tomorrow.’”

He spent the night in a holding cell. The next day, he was shackled, driven to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn and locked in solitary confinement. Agents told him they had evidence that he’d been seen in the company of terrorist suspects in Canada.

“What they accused me of being is very serious. Being a member of al Qaeda,” says Arar, who denies any involvement with the organization.

Arar wasn’t allowed to make a phone call, so when his wife, Monia, didn’t hear from him, she called the Canadian embassy.

“Nobody knew at that time where he was. He vanished,” says Monia, who didn’t hear from him for six days. Then, American officials acknowledged they were holding Arar in Brooklyn. A Canadian consular official visited and assured Arar he’d be deported home to Canada.

But the justice department had a different plan. After two weeks in U.S.custody, Arar was taken from his cell by federal agents in the middle of the night.

“They read me the document. They say, ‘The INS director decided to deport you to Syria,’” recalls Arar. “And of course, the first thing I did was I started crying, because everyone knows that Syria practices torture.”

Arar says he knows because he was born in Syria. He emigrated to Canada with his parents as a teenager. But, returning to Syria as an accused terrorist, he had good reason to be afraid.

Torture in Syrian prisons is well-documented. The state department’s own report cites an array of gruesome tortures routinely used in Syrian jails. And in a speech last fall, President Bush condemned Syria, alongside Iraq, for what he called the country’s “legacy of torture and oppression.”

Nevertheless, deportation agents flew Arar on a specially chartered jet to Jordan, and the Jordanians drove him to Syria.

“When I arrived there, I saw the photos of the Syrian president, and that’s why I realized I was indeed in Syria,” says Arar. “I wished I had a knife in my hand to kill myself.”

The next morning, Arar says a Syrian intelligence officer arrived carrying a black electrical cable, two inches thick and about two feet long.

“He said, ‘Do you know what this is?’ I said, I was crying, you know, ‘Yes, I know what it is. It's a cable.’ And he said, ‘Open your right hand.’ I opened my right hand … and he beat me very strongly,” says Arar. “He said, ‘Open your left hand.’ And I opened my left hand. And he beat me on my palm, on my left palm. And then he stopped, and he asked me questions. And I said to him, ‘I have nothing to hide.’”

Arar says the physical torture took place during the first two weeks, but he says he also went through psychological and mental torture: “They would take me back to a room, they call it the waiting room. And I hear people screaming. And they, I mean, people, they're being tortured. And I felt my heart was going to go out of my chest.”

But Imad Moustapha, Syria’s highest-ranking diplomat in Washington, says Arar was treated well. He also told Mabrey that Syrian intelligence had never heard of Arar before the U.S. government asked Syria to take him.

Did the U.S. give them any evidence to back up the claim that Arar was a suspected al Qaeda terrorist?

“No. But we did our investigations. We traced links. We traced relations. We tried to find anything. We couldn’t,” says Moustapha, who adds that they shared their reports with the U.S. “We always share information with anybody alleged to be in close contact with al Qaeda with the United States.”

The Syrians allowed Canadian officials six short visits with Arar. But Arar says he was warned not to tell them about the torture or how he was being held – in an underground cell 3 feet wide, 6 feet long and 7 feet high. It was his home for a full 10 months.

“It's a grave. It’s the same size of a grave. It’s a dark place. It’s underground,” says Arar.

He says the Syrians were pressing him to confess he’d been to an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan: “They just wanted to find something that the Americans did not find -- and that’s when they asked me about Afghanistan. They said, ‘You’ve been to Afghanistan,’ so they would hit me three, four times. And, if I hesitate, they would hit me again.”

Arar says he signed a confession because he was “ready to do anything to stop the torture.” But he claims that he had never been to Afghanistan, or trained at a terrorist camp. “Just one hit of this cable, it's like you just forget everything in your life. Everything,” he says.

Back in Canada, Monia was fighting for her husband’s life. She marched in front of parliament, and protested in front of the U.S. embassy.

Eventually, she got the ear of then-Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien. On the floor of parliament, Chretian voiced mounting frustration with the U.S. The job eventually went to Gar Pardy, then one of Canada’s top diplomats, to get answers from the Americans.

“The American authorities acknowledged this was a Canadian citizen that they were dealing with. He was traveling on a Canadian passport. There was no ambiguity about any of these issues,” says Pardy, who believes he should have been sent to Canada, or dealt with under American law in the United States. But not sent to Syria.

But while Canadian diplomats were demanding answers from the U.S., it turns out that it was the Royal Canadian mounted police who had been passing U.S. intelligence the information about Arar’s alleged terrorist associations.

However, U.S. government officials we spoke to say they told Canadian intelligence that they were sending Arar to Syria – and the Canadians signed off on the decision.

Pardy says if that's true, it would have been wrong all around: "I would dispute that the people who were making any statements in this context were speaking for the Canadian government. A policeman talking to a policeman in this context is not necessarily speaking for the Canadian government.

And the Canadian government wanted Arar back. It took a year and a week from the time Arar was detained in New York for Arar to be released. He arrived home in Canada dazed and exhausted.

Why did Syrian officials let him go? “Why shouldn't we leave him to go? We thought that would be a gesture of good will towards Canada, which is a friendly nation. For Syria, second, we could not substantiate any of the allegations against him,” says Moustapha.

He added that the Syrian government now considers Arar completely innocent. But does he feel any remorse about taking a year out of Arar’s life?
“If this was the case, it's not our problem,” says Arar. “We did not create this problem.”

60 Minutes II has learned that the decision to deport Arar was made at the highest levels of the U.S. justice department, with a special removal order signed by John Ashcroft’s former deputy, Larry Thompson.

Ashcroft made his only public statement about the case in November. He said the U.S. deported Arar to protect Americans –- and had every right to do so.

“I consider that really an utter fabrication and a lie,” says Michael Rather, Arar’s attorney and head of the Center For Constitutional Rights. He plans to file a lawsuit against Ashcroft and several other American officials.

“They knew, when they were sending him to Syria, that Syria would use certain kinds of information-gathering techniques, including torture, on him. They knew it,” says Ratner. “That's why he was sent there. That's why he wasn't sent to Canada.”

Before deporting Arar to Syria, American officials involved in the case told 60 Minutes II they had obtained assurances from the Syrian government that Arar would not be tortured –- that he would “be treated humanely”

“The fact that you went looking for assurances, which is reflected here, tells you that even in the minds of people who made this decision,” says Pardy. “I mean, there were some second thoughts.“

No one at the justice department would talk to 60 Minutes II on camera about Arar, but they sent us this statement saying:

“The facts underlying Arar’s case…[are]classified and cannot be released publicly.”

“We have information indicating that Mr. Arar is a member of al Qaeda and, therefore, remains a threat to U.S. national security.”

Despite the American accusations, Arar has never been charged with a crime and, today, he’s free in canada. He’s afraid, though, that he might never be able to clear his name.

Arar’s case is unusual because he was sent directly from U.S. soil to Syria. But intelligence sources tell 60 Minutes II that since 9/11, the U.S. has quietly transported hundreds of terror suspects captured in different parts of the world to Middle Eastern countries for tough interrogations.

Pat Tillman Murdered: Pentagon Cover-up Continues

July 26, 2007
Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO Army medical examiners were suspicious about the close proximity of the three bullet holes in Pat Tillman's forehead and tried without success to get authorities to investigate whether the former NFL player's death amounted to a crime, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

"The medical evidence did not match up with the, with the scenario as described," a doctor who examined Tillman's body after he was killed on the battlefield in Afghanistan in 2004 told investigators.

The doctors - whose names were blacked out - said that the bullet holes were so close together that it appeared the Army Ranger was cut down by an M-16 fired from a mere 10 yards or so away.

Ultimately, the Pentagon did conduct a criminal investigation, and asked Tillman's comrades whether he was disliked by his men and whether they had any reason to believe he was deliberately killed. The Pentagon eventually ruled that Tillman's death at the hands of his comrades was a friendly-fire accident.

The medical examiners' suspicions were outlined in 2,300 pages of testimony released to the AP this week by the Defense Department in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Among other information contained in the documents:

-- In his last words moments before he was killed, Tillman snapped at a panicky comrade under fire to shut up and stop "sniveling."

-- Army attorneys sent each other congratulatory e-mails for keeping criminal investigators at bay as the Army conducted an internal friendly-fire investigation that resulted in administrative, or non-criminal, punishments.

-- The three-star general who kept the truth about Tillman's death from his family and the public told investigators some 70 times that he had a bad memory and couldn't recall details of his actions.

-- No evidence at all of enemy fire was found at the scene - no one was hit by enemy fire, nor was any government equipment struck.

The Pentagon and the Bush administration have been criticized in recent months for lying about the circumstances of Tillman's death. The military initially told the public and the Tillman family that he had been killed by enemy fire. Only weeks later did the Pentagon acknowledge he was gunned down by fellow Rangers.

With questions lingering about how high in the Bush administration the deception reached, Congress is preparing for yet another hearing next week.

The Pentagon is separately preparing a new round of punishments, including a stinging demotion of retired Lt. Gen. Philip R. Kensinger Jr., 60, according to military officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the punishments under consideration have not been made public.

In more than four hours of questioning by the Pentagon inspector general's office in December 2006, Kensinger repeatedly contradicted other officers' testimony, and sometimes his own. He said on some 70 occasions that he did not recall something.

At one point, he said: "You've got me really scared about my brain right now. I'm really having a problem."

Tillman's mother, Mary Tillman, who has long suggested that her son was deliberately killed by his comrades, said she is still looking for answers and looks forward to the congressional hearings next week.

"Nothing is going to bring Pat back. It's about justice for Pat and justice for other soldiers. The nation has been deceived," she said.

The documents show that a doctor who autopsied Tillman's body was suspicious of the three gunshot wounds to the forehead. The doctor said he took the unusual step of calling the Army's Human Resources Command and was rebuffed. He then asked an official at the Army's Criminal Investigation Division if the CID would consider opening a criminal case.

"He said he talked to his higher headquarters and they had said no," the doctor testified.

Also according to the documents, investigators pressed officers and soldiers on a question Mrs. Tillman has been asking all along.

"Have you, at any time since this incident occurred back on April 22, 2004, have you ever received any information even rumor that Cpl. Tillman was killed by anybody within his own unit intentionally?" an investigator asked then-Capt. Richard Scott.

Scott, and others who were asked, said they were certain the shooting was accidental.

Investigators also asked soldiers and commanders whether Tillman was disliked, whether anyone was jealous of his celebrity, or if he was considered arrogant. They said Tillman was respected, admired and well-liked.