Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Is The “Israel Lobby” Losing Its Grip?

Is The "Israel Lobby" Losing Its Grip?

By Alan Hart

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In an perceptive piece for The American Conservative under the headline OBAMA’S ISRAEL TEST, Scott McConnell asked, "Is the lobby losing its grip?" It seems so, but I think it’s important to understand the choice that will exist for the Jews of the world, and Jewish Americans especially, if American politicians (many if not all) and the mainstream media do stop being frightened of offending the lobby.

But first things first. The lobby in question is not what McConnell and others including Mearsheimer and Walt state it to be. It’s not "the Israel lobby". It could only be called that if it represented the views of all Israeli Jews. It does not do so any more than AIPAC represents the views of all Jewish Americans. (According to recent polls, AIPAC probably speaks for not more than one-third of all Jewish Americans and possibly considerably less).

A more accurate (but not completely accurate) description of the particular phenomenon is "Likud lobby", terminology which conveys the correct impression that the lobby is rightwing and very hardline, even extreme, and opposed to peace on any terms the vast majority of Palestinians and most other Arabs and Muslims everywhere could accept.

Way back in February 1980, I had a private conversation with Shimon Peres. He was then the leader of Israel’s Labour Party, the main opposition to Menachem Begin’s Likud dominated ruling coalition, which was speeding up the colonisation of the occupied West Bank. In the course of this conversation, I used the term "Israel lobby". In a voice laced with despair and a hint of anger, Peres said: "It’s not an Israel lobby. It’s a Likud lobby. And that’s my problem." (At the time Peres and almost the whole world including President Carter was hoping that he would win Israel’s next election and deny Begin a second term in office as prime minister. He didn’t).

In due course, after Ariel Sharon broke with Likud to form the Kadima Party, the lobby became the Likud-Kadima lobby, but it remained Likud in its core essence. The only major difference between Likud and Kadima is that the latter understands, as Prime Minister Olmert recently admitted, that the Zionist state of Israel would be finished, destroyed by the demographic time-bomb of occupation, if it did not withdraw from some of the West Bank. (Sharon did not withdraw from Gaza for peace but as a first step to defusing the demographic time-bomb; and, if he could do it without provoking a Jewish civil war, he was intending at some point to withdraw from about half, more or less, of the West Bank. He was not at all concerned that the 40 to 60 percent of it he was intending to withdraw from would not and could not constitute a viable Palestinian mini-state).

All things considered, including Israel’s on-going colonisation of those parts of the occupied West Bank its leaders intend to keep for ever, I think (and have long thought) that the best way to serve the cause of understanding is to give the particular phenomenon its proper name. It is not the Israel lobby, or even the Likud or Likud-Kadima lobby. It is the Zionist lobby.

For those who are unaware of what Zionism actually is - I mean political Zionism as opposed to spiritual Zionism - and why it is the complete opposite of Judaism, I offer the following brief explanation.

Judaism is the religion of Jews, not the Jews because not all Jews are religious. And, like Christianity and Islam, Judaism has at its core a set of moral values and ethical principles. All the religious Jews of the world look to Jerusalem as the centre of their religion and spiritual capital, and in that sense they could be said to be, and many do regard themselves as being, spiritual Zionists.

Political Zionism is the nationalism of some Jews, actually a tiny minority of the world’s Jews at the time of Zionism’s first public and dishonest mission statement in 1897, which colonised land, Palestine, to create a state for some Jews; an enterprise which required the incoming, alien Zionist colonisers - most if not all of whom had no biological connection to the ancient Hebrews, the first Israelites - to ethnically cleanse the land of most of its indigenous Arab inhabitants, the majority population at the time of the colonisation. A Zionist today is one, not necessarily a Jew, who (to quote Balfour) supports the Zionist state of Israel "right or wrong", and who cannot or will not admit that a wrong was done to the Palestinians by Zionism, a wrong that must be righted on terms acceptable to the Palestinians for justice and peace.

The whole point of Zionism’s colonial enterprise was, as it still is, to take for keeping the maximum amount of Arab land with the minimum number of Arabs on it; an enterprise that was assisted by the obscenity of the Nazi holocaust, which gave Zionism a blackmail card to silence criticism of Israel throughout the mainly Gentile Judeo-Christian world and suppress informed and honest debate about who must do what and why for justice and peace.

In summary it can be said that Zionism makes a mockery of, and has contempt for, the moral values and ethical principles of Judaism. That being so, it’s all the more amazing that Zionist spin doctors succeeded in making the mainly Gentile Judeo-Christian world believe that Judaism and Zionism are one and the same thing. They are emphatically not. Zionism, as the title of my latest book asserts and its substance demonstrates, is the real enemy of the Jews, as well as being the biggest single threat to the peace of the region and arguably the world.

Knowledge of the difference between Judaism and Zionism is the key to understanding. It’s the explanation of why it is perfectly possible to be passionately anti-Zionist (opposed to Zionism’s colonial enterprise) without being in any way, shape or form anti-Semitic (anti-Jew). It’s also the explanation of why it it is wrong to blame all Jews for the crimes of the relative few. (As a matter of fact, almost all Arabs have always known the difference between Judaism and Zionism; and that’s why they call for the de-Zionization of Palestine, and not, repeat not, the destruction of the Jews now living in it).

McConnell noted that President Kennedy buckled under Zionst lobby pressure. He did indeed, and he was very angry about having to do so and become what he himself described as a "political whore". As I document in Volume Two of my book, Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews, presidential candidate Kennedy said the following to an old and trusted friend, newspaper columnist Charles Bartlett, after he, Kennedy, had been summoned to a fund raising meeting:

"As an American citizen I am outraged to have a Zionist group come to me and say - ’We know your campaign is in trouble. We’re willing to pay your bills if you let us have control of your Middle East policy." (In further remarks to Bartlett, a furious JFK emphasised "they wanted control!" My guess is that they didn’t put it that way, but that what they said left no room for JFK to doubt that control was what they wanted).

As I also document in my book, there is good evidence for believing that, if he had been allowed to live, a second term President Kennedy would have addressed the root cause of the conflict in and over Palestine, even at the cost of, Eisenhower-like, confronting the Zionist lobby. (I think - see McConnell’s obeservations below - that it’s not unreasonable to speculate that a second term President Obama, if he is allowed to live, could be the White House occupant who calls and holds Zionism to account).

McConnell wrote that several wars and many billions of dollars later (after JFK), the politics of Israel-Palestine are not exactly the same as 50 years ago but not that different either. "Israel is more powerful and more dependent on American largesse. Americans are far more deeply engaged in the Middle East and for the most part they are not happy about it."

And this about the man most likely to be America’s next President: "On the surface, the tie between Barack Obama and Israel’s establishment supporters is warm and comfortable… Nonetheless, there’s a sense among the Jewish establishment (I imagine McConnell probably means the Zionist establishment) that all is not as it seems - and if the view has not yet crystallized that Obama has a less Israelocentric perception of he Middle East than any other major party nominee since Eisenhower, there is foreboding that times are a changin’." (My emphasis added).

And this is how McConnell sees change manifesting itself:

"For the first time in a presidential race, the Israel-Palestine issue will consist of something other than two men squabbling over who will more rapidly overrule the State Department and absolutely positively move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. (I note that although he is sticking pretty much to Zionism’s script as all candidates must when running for office - all offices not just the highest - Obama has already indicated that he does not accept that Likud and Israel are synonymous).

"A welcome corollary will be realization that there are different ways for Americans to be "pro-Israel" and push back against the view that being pro-Israel means supporting the right of the Jewsh state to lord it over 5 million Palestinians in conditions increasingly seen as resembling South Africa apartheid. The alternative view won’t sweep the country, but it will migrate from its present home on university campuses and liberal Protestant churches into the wider body politic."

And finally will come recognition, McConnell wrote, that "the Israel lobby’s power to dominate the American debate is beginning to weaken."

The reason why I agree with McConnell can be simply stated. In the last few years, and for the first time ever, Zionism’s version of the history of the making and sustaining of conflict in and over Palestine has started to be exposed for the propaganda nonsense it is. And that is thanks in large part to the work and courage of Israel’s "new" or "revisionist" historians. (The terms "new" and "revisionist" in this context are euphemisms. The more accurate or proper adjective to describe Israel’s truth-telling professors of history - Avi Shlaim and Ilan Pappe are the giants in their field - is honest. Am I suggesting that before them Israel’s historians were dishonest by default if not design? Yes, I most certainly am). The task of telling the truth of history is also being assisted by a bottom-up media revolution made possible by the internet.

Zionism’s narrative, upon which the first and still existing draft of Judeo-Christian history is constructed, is rooted in denial of ethnic cleansing. (The most comprehensive and fully documented work on this subject is Ilan Pappe’s latest book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine).

There are people who’ll say that what’s done is done. Israel, no matter how it was created, exists. But that’s not the point. There is not a snowball’s chance in hell of a real peace process unless and until the Jews, and Israelis especially, are prepared to acknowledge the wrong done to the Arabs of Palestine by Zionism.

Zionism’s denial of ethnic cleansing is underpined by two great propaganda lies.

The first is that poor little Israel has lived in constant danger of annihilation - the "driving into the sea" of its Jews. The truth of history is that Israel’s existence has never, ever, been in danger from any combination of Arab force. Not in 1948/49. Not in 1967. And not even in 1973. Zionism’s assertion to the contrary was the cover which allowed Israel to get away where it mattered most, America and Western Europe, with presenting its aggression as self-defence and itself as the victim when, actually, it was and is the oppressor.

The second great lie of Zionism’s version of history was that Israel had "no partners" for peace. On this account the truth of history includes the fact, for example, that Arafat the pragmatist opened the door to a genuine and viable two-state solution as far back as 1979, more than a quarter of a century ago. And long before that, another example, Eygpt’s President Nasser, who never had any intention of fighting Israel to liberate Palestine, authorised, and himself took part in, secret, exploratory exchanges with Israel in the hope of making an accomodation with it. (Avi Shlaim’s magnificent book, THE IRON WALL, Israel and the Arab World, which is informed in part by Avi’s access to de-classified Israeli state papers, leaves no room to doubt that it was Israel’s leaders, not Arab leaders, who never missed an opportunity to close the door to peace).

Professors Mearsheimer and Walt (the distinguished authors of The Israel Lobby) have declared that the best way of dealing with the lobby is "to encourage a more open debate… in order to correct existing myths about the Middle East and to force groups in the lobby to defend their positions in the face of well informed opposition." (My emphasis added).

The problem for Zionism (as I’m sure Mearsheimer and Walt know) is that its positions are indefensible when they are challenged by those who are armed with the documented facts and truth of history. And that’s why the Zionist lobby is beginning to lose its grip.

My very dear friend Ilan Pappe told me that Zionism was more worried by my book than any other because of its title, which, he agreed, represents a great and profound truth in seven words. The more the citizens of the mainly Gentile Judeo-Christian or Western world become aware that Judaism and Zionism are opposites, the less Zionism’s propaganda maestros will be able to suppress informed and honest debate with the charge, almost always false and malicious, that criticism of Israel is a manifesation of anti-Semitism.

Ilan also offered me this observation:

"Zionism’s main defense is not money and military might but a wall of propaganda lies. If one or two of the main bricks in this wall can be dislodged, the whole thing might collapse faster than any of us would dare to imagine."

At the time of writing, as in the past, the mainstream media, almost all publishing houses and virtually all politicians are still too frightened of offending Zionism to come to grips with the truth of history as it relates to the making and sustaining of conflict in and over Palestine; but despite this complicity in Zionism’s suppression of the truth of history, one or two of the main bricks in Zionism’s wall of propaganda lies are in the process of being dislodged.

So what are the implications if the Zionist lobby really is beginning to lose its grip?

The short answer is that the next American president will be more free than any of his predecessors to use the leverage he has to require Israel to behave in accordance with international law, and to be serious about peace in accordance with the will of the organised international community as expressed in the spirit as well as the letter of UN resolutions. (If I was writing a speech for the next president, I’d having him saying something like the following to Israel. Until now there have been two sets of rules for the behaviour of nations - one for all the nations of the world excluding only Israel, and one exclusively for Israel. This double-standard is no longer acceptable to the peoples and governments of the world).

If the next American president (or possibly his successor) was prepared to require Israel to be serious about peace on terms which the vast majority of Palestinians and almost all other Arabs and Muslims everywhere could accept, I think that what would actually happen would be determined by how the Jews of the world, and Jewish Amercans especially, responded.

Because the Zionist lobby is beginning to lose its grip, and does not anyway represent the majority of Jewish Americans, it’s my guess that most of them would say, perhaps not out loud: "We are Americans first, and if our president deems it to be in our national interest that leverage be used to require Israel to be serious about peace, so be it."

But that would be mere acquiescence and it would not necessarily be enough. The hardest core Zionist leadership in Israel, political and military, is quite capable of telling the whole world, including the president of America, to go to hell. Why do I say that?

Many years ago, in private conversation, I asked General Moshe Dayan, Israel’s one-eyed warlord, why Israel had nuclear weapons. I said we both knew Israel didn’t need them vis-à-vis the Arabs. Dayan replied as follows. "Ben-Gurion was not stupid. I’m not stupid. We know how international politics work. We know that a day could come when even our best friends will want us to do something that we would not consider to be in Israel’s best interests." Dayan meant, and obviously did not want to be more explicit, that if ever a day came when an American president said to Israel, "You must do this," Israel could say, "Mr.President, don’t push us further than we are prepared to go because, if you do, we will be prepared to use all the weapons at our disposal." (I am sometimes asked if I think that Bush and Blair would have invaded Iraq if Saddam Hussein had had nuclear weapons. My answer is always "No")

My main point in summary is this. Even if the Zionist lobby really is losing its grip, and even if, as a consequence, an Amercan president feels himself free enough to use the leverage he has to require Israel to be serious about peace on terms almost all Palestinians, most other Arabs and Muslims everywhere could accept, a just and peaceful resolution of the conflict may still not be possible unless the Jews of the world, and Jewish Americans especially, end their silence on the matter of Zionism’s crimes and use all of the influence with the Jews of Israel.

Footnote: The day that Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews can be published in America, and reviewed by the mainstream media, is that day that I will say, without fear of contradiction, that the power of the Zionist lobby has been broken.

Why al-Maliki attacked Basra

Why al-Maliki attacked Basra

The three reasons the Iraqi prime minister launched his ill-fated assault on the Sadrists of southern Iraq.

By Juan Cole

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Why did Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki attack the Mahdi army in Basra last week?

Despite the cease-fire called Sunday by Shiite leader Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr, leader of the millions-strong Sadr Movement, last week's battles between the Mahdi army and the Iraqi army revealed the continued weakness and instability of al-Maliki's government. Al-Maliki went to Basra on Monday, March 24, to oversee the attack on city neighborhoods loyal to al-Sadr. By Friday, the Iraqi minister of defense, Abdul Qadir Jasim, had to admit in a news conference in Basra that the Mahdi army had caught Iraqi security forces off guard. Most Sadrist neighborhoods fought off the government troops with rocket-propelled grenades and mortar fire. At the same time, the Mahdi army asserted itself in several important cities in the Shiite south, as well as in parts of Baghdad, raising questions of how much of the country the government really controls. Only on Sunday, after the U.S. Air Force bombed some key Mahdi army positions, was the Iraqi army able to move into one of the Sadrist districts of Basra.

By the time the cease-fire was called, al-Maliki had been bloodied after days of ineffective fighting and welcomed a way back from the precipice. Both Iran, which brokered the agreement, and al-Sadr, whose forces acquitted themselves well against the government, were strengthened. As of press time Tuesday morning in Iraq, the truce was holding in Basra, and a curfew had been lifted in Baghdad, though sporadic fighting continued in the capital. Estimates of casualties for the week were 350.

The campaign was a predictable fiasco, another in a long line of strategic failures for the sickly and divided Iraqi government, which survives largely because it is propped up by the United States. So why did al-Maliki do it? With no obvious immediate crisis in Basra that called for such desperate measures, what could have motivated the decision to attack?

Three main motivations present themselves: control of petroleum smuggling, staying in power (including keeping U.S. troops around to ensure it), and the achievement of a Shiite super-province in the south. A southern super-province would spell a soft partition of the country, benefiting Shiites in the long term while cutting Sunnis out of substantial oil revenues, both licit and illicit. But all of the motivations have to do with something President Bush established as a benchmark in January 2007: upcoming provincial elections.

The Sadr Movement leaders themselves are convinced that the recent setting of a date for provincial elections, on Oct. 1, 2008, and al-Maliki's desire to improve the government's position in advance of the elections, precipitated the prime minister's attack. It is widely thought that the Sadrists might sweep to power in the provinces in free and fair elections, since the electorate is deeply dissatisfied with the performance of the major incumbent party in the southern provinces, the Islamic Supreme Council of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim.

Provincial elections could radically change the political landscape in Iraq. Both the Sunni Arabs and the Sadr Movement sat out the last round, in late January 2005. Thus, governments in the Sunni Arab areas are unrepresentative and in one case a Sunni-majority province, Diyala, is actually ruled by the Shiite Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), which Sunnis tend to see as a puppet of Iran.

Likewise in the Shiite south, the ISCI, led by Shiite cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, is largely in power, even though probably a majority of the population favors Sadr. To have a minority in power and the majority feeling disenfranchised is especially dangerous in a violent society such as Iraq. The disjuncture has contributed to endemic fighting in the capital of Qadisiya Province, Diwaniya, for instance, between Sadr's Mahdi army and the paramilitary of the Islamic Supreme Council, or Badr Corps. In many provinces, ISCI has infiltrated members of its Badr paramilitary into the police and security forces, thus giving them the presumption of legitimacy and allowing the branding of the Mahdi army as violent militiamen with no popular mandate, won at the polls.

That the week's fighting was intended to bolster pro-government forces in preparation for the October provincial elections is at least plausible. During the fighting, the Iraqi army was allied with the Badr Corps paramilitary of the ISCI, which was trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. ISCI, the leading Shiite political party in parliament, is now al-Maliki's main backer in the government, along with his own smaller Da'wa (Islamic Call) Party. And U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner told a news conference on Wednesday that the Iraqi army's military operation, which U.S. forces aided, was aimed at improving "security" in the city ahead of provincial elections.

And then there is the super-province. On the same day that Bergner spoke, a Sadrist leader told the Times of Baghdad, "The objective of the operations in Basra is to impose a provincial confederacy on the south, which the Sadr Movement opposes." The reference to a provincial confederacy, confusingly called "federalism" in Iraq, is to the plan of ISCI leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim to establish an eight-province regional government for the Shiite south. Were the Sadrists to win the southern provinces in October's provincial elections, they would halt any move toward such a confederacy, since they favor strong central government on the French model and view al-Hakim's plan for a Shiite super-province as the first stage in a soft partition of Iraq.

The issue of whether to create a Shiite super-province and risk a soft partition of Iraq is not the only source of conflict between the Sadrists and the Iraqi government. The Sadr Movement demands the setting of a timetable for the departure of U.S. troops, a demand supported by a majority of the members of parliament but which is not shared by most ministers in the Iraqi cabinet.

Indeed, the Sadr Movement, which helped bring al-Maliki to power in spring of 2006, broke with him precisely over his refusal to demand that the U.S. set a timetable for troop withdrawal from Iraq. The Sadrists also objected to al-Maliki's direct meetings with Bush, which they saw as a humiliating capitulation to colonialism. In summer of 2007, the Sadrists withdrew their ministers from al-Maliki's cabinet.

The Bush administration wants its current partners to stay in power in the Shiite areas, since ISCI and al-Maliki's Da'wa party support a continued U.S. military presence in Iraq. Washington would probably therefore have preferred that the provincial elections in the Shiite south be postponed. Yet the administration knows that there is little hope of mollifying the Sunni Arabs unless they have an opportunity to vote for their own provincial leadership. The very step that might help calm down the Sunni Arab provinces, however, may inflame tensions in the Shiite south, if the Sadrists toss ISCI out on its collective ear.

The upcoming provincial elections are a potential public relations nightmare for both the Iraqi government and its allies in the Bush administration. What if fighting breaks out in September between the Badr Corps and the Mahdi army? They are the paramilitaries of the two major parties that will be heatedly contesting the south. A campaign now might weaken the Mahdi army, suggesting to the electorate in the south that the Sadrists cannot protect them. Iraqi Shiites appear mainly to vote for parties that they hope can protect them and establish security.

Other issues, such as petroleum smuggling, are also bound up with the power struggle. The various political parties in Basra are using their paramilitaries to capture and smuggle Iraqi government gasoline and kerosene, worth billions, which allows them to build up big war chests for fighting the elections and doing charitable work in rundown neighborhoods. A decisive defeat of the Mahdi army in Basra now would possibly have deprived the Sadrists of the funding they need to win the October elections.

If the Sadr Movement rules most Shiite-majority provinces, including Baghdad, that will make it difficult for the U.S. military to remain in the country. It will stop any move toward a soft partition of the country of the sort endorsed by the U.S. Senate. It will ensure that the Sadr Movement can continue to siphon off billions in petroleum revenue through smuggling, strengthening it for the future.

The survival of the current Iraqi government, based on rivals to the Sadrists such as ISCI and the Da'wa Party of al-Maliki, hangs in the balance. Clearly, al-Maliki felt that the operation had to be launched, and may well have thought that it is better to do it now, so that it will not be fresh in the minds of the Iraqi or American electorate when they go to the polls in the fall. Now that al-Maliki's campaign has gone so badly, it raises the question of whether there will be a sympathy vote for al-Sadr in October. The Iraqis, a majority of whom say they want a short timetable for U.S. withdrawal, may well have an opportunity to elect provincial governments that, practically speaking, want the same thing, in October. If that happens, it is hard to see how the U.S. presence can last, since the U.S. needs bases in Shiite provinces like Baghdad so as to function.

Thirty-Six U.S. States to Face Water Shortages in the Next Five Years

Thirty-Six U.S. States to Face Water Shortages in the Next Five Years

by David Gutierrez

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At least 36 states are expected to face water shortages within the next five years, according to U.S. government estimates. Available freshwater supplies are dwindling across the country due to rising temperatures and droughts, while increasing sprawl, population and inefficient resource usage are leading to rising demand.

"Is it a crisis? If we don't do some decent water planning, it could be," said Jack Hoffbuhr, executive director of the American Water Works Association. Rising temperatures due to global warming have increased evaporation rates across the country and reduced the availability of important water sources. One of these is the Sierra Nevada snowpack, which supplies a significant portion of California's water. Across the West, similar trends are expected to reduce flows of the Colorado River, which supplies water for seven states.

Meanwhile, rising sea levels are expected to cause saltwater to infiltrate freshwater aquifers in coastal states, rendering that water unusable.

California uses about 23 trillion gallons of fresh water per year. The United States as a whole uses more than 148 trillion gallons for all purposes, including agriculture, manufacturing and other uses.

Other threatened regions include the Midwest, where the Great Lakes are shrinking, and upstate New York, where reservoir levels have fallen to record lows. Georgia's crisis has already arrived, and Florida's is expected to hit soon.

While Florida has no shortage of rainfall, widespread draining and paving of the region's natural wetlands has left the water unable to drain back into the soil. As a consequence, the state is forced to flush millions of gallons of water into the ocean per year to avert floods. The state's environmental chief, Michael Sole, has asked the Florida legislature to increase the use of reclaimed wastewater. Other states are encouraging measures such as desalinization, but it is widely accepted that conservation is the cheapest alternative.

Even with such measures, the forecast is not expected to improve. "Unfortunately, there's just not going to be any more cheap water," said Randy Brown, utilities director for Pompano Beach, Fla.

Wasting and Wanting at the Pentagon

Wasting and Wanting at the Pentagon

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If ever there was an indictment of the wanton ways that the Pentagon wastes money, a new report by government auditors is it. Dozens of the Pentagon’s most costly weapons programs are billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule.

President Bush and a far-too-compliant Congress have already wasted more than $600 billion on the disastrous Iraq war. Since Mr. Bush took office, the Pentagon’s weapons acquisition budget has doubled from $790 billion in 2000 to $1.6 trillion last year.

Now, in stark terms, we see that an unseemly percentage of that money has gone to wasteful cost overruns and delays. Even when weapons systems are finally delivered, investigators say, far too many fail to deliver the capabilities promised. One example: the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile recorded four failures in four flight tests in 2007.

Figures compiled by the Government Accountability Office showed that 95 major weapons systems — including ballistic missile defense, the Joint Strike Fighter and the Littoral Combat Ship — have exceeded their original budgets by a mind-numbing total of $295 billion in the past seven years. In 2000, new weapons were running 6 percent over initial cost estimates; by 2007, that figure had skyrocketed to 26 percent.

Not only did Mr. Bush and his former defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, allow contractors to run amok in Iraq, they let them run amok in the halls of the Pentagon. The G.A.O. cites the Pentagon’s heavy reliance on contractors as one reason for the gross mismanagement of acquisition programs. The Pentagon also let contractors submit unrealistically low cost estimates, rushed development of new systems — causing costly mistakes that had to be fixed — and made too many changes after projects were under way, according to the G.A.O. and other experts.

Soldiers on the battlefield pay a huge price for this incompetence when needed weapons don’t arrive on time or malfunction, or when vital purchases must be delayed because cost overruns devoured available funds. So, too, do financially imperiled domestic programs, which have been shortchanged again and again by this White House.

The current defense secretary, Robert Gates, and his team have made a start on fixing acquisition policies, mulling such ideas as establishing review boards to monitor changes in weapons system programs. The problem will far outlast this administration. We would like to hear what the presidential candidates will do. Ending the war in Iraq is a start, but it won’t be enough.

Whoever wins the election will have to keep asking for large budgets to repair the damage from this disastrous war and to ensure that the country is ready to face new dangers. That would require a lot more vigilance about cost overruns on big-ticket weapons systems. It would also require the courage to scale back or cancel expensive — and heavily lobbied — acquisition programs that don’t meet today’s threats or tomorrow’s.

ACLU: Military skirting law to spy

ACLU: Military skirting law to spy


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The military is using the FBI to skirt legal restrictions on domestic surveillance to obtain private records of Americans’ Internet service providers, financial institutions and telephone companies, the ACLU said Tuesday.

The American Civil Liberties Union based its conclusion on a review of more than 1,000 documents turned over by the Defense Department after it sued the agency last year for documents related to national security letters, or NSLs, investigative tools used to compel businesses to turn over customer information without a judge’s order or grand jury subpoena.

"Newly unredacted documents released today reveal that the Department of Defense is using the FBI to circumvent legal limits on its own NSL power," said the ACLU, whose lawsuit was filed in Manhattan federal court.

ACLU lawyer Melissa Goodman said the documents the civil rights group studied "make us incredibly concerned." She said it would be understandable if the military relied .. from the FBI on joint investigations, but not when the FBI was not involved in a probe.

The FBI referred requests for comment Tuesday to the Defense Department. A department spokesman, Air Force Lt. Col. Patrick Ryder, said in an e-mail that the department had made "focused, limited and judicious" use of the letters since Congress extended the capability to investigatory entities other than the FBI in 2001.

He said the department had acted legally in using a necessary investigatory tool and noted that "unusual financial activity of people affiliated with DoD can be an indication of potential espionage or terrorist-related activity."

Ryder said the information in the ACLU claims came in part from an internal review of DoD’s use of the letters.

"We have since developed training and provided it to the services for their use," he said.

He said that there was no law requiring it to track use of the letters but that the department had decided it was in its best interest to do so.

Goodman, a staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project, said the military is allowed to demand financial and credit records in certain instances but does not have the authority to get e-mail and phone records or lists of Web sites that people have visited. That is the kind of information that the FBI can get by using a national security letter, she said.

"That’s why we’re particularly concerned. The DoD may be accessing the kinds of records they are not allowed to get," she said.

Goodman also noted that legal limits are placed on the Defense Department "because the military doing domestic investigations tends to make us leery."

In other allegations, the ACLU said:

• The Navy’s use of the letters to demand domestic records has increased significantly since the Sept. 11 attacks.

• The military wrongly claimed its use of the letters was limited to investigating only Defense Department employees.

• The Defense Department has not kept track of how many national security letters the military issues or what information it obtained through the orders.

• The military provided misleading information to Congress and silenced letter recipients from speaking out about the records requests.

Goodman said Congress should provide stricter guidelines and meaningful oversight of how the military and FBI make national security letter requests.

"Any government agency’s ability to demand these kinds of personal, financial or Internet records in the United States is an intrusive surveillance power," she said.

Pentagon Is Expected to Close Intelligence Unit

Pentagon Is Expected to Close Intelligence Unit

By Mark Mazzetti

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Washington - The Pentagon is expected to shut a controversial intelligence office that has drawn fire from lawmakers and civil liberties groups who charge that it was part of an effort by the Defense Department to expand into domestic spying.

The move, government officials say, is part of a broad effort under Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to review, overhaul and, in some cases, dismantle an intelligence architecture built by his predecessor, Donald H. Rumsfeld.

The intelligence unit, called the Counterintelligence Field Activity office, was created by Mr. Rumsfeld after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as part of an effort to counter the operations of foreign intelligence services and terror groups inside the United States and abroad.

Yet the office, whose size and budget is classified, came under fierce criticism in 2005 after it was disclosed that it was managing a database that included information about antiwar protests planned at churches, schools and Quaker meeting halls.

The Pentagon's senior intelligence official, James R. Clapper, has recommended to Mr. Gates that the counterintelligence field office be dismantled and that some of its operations be placed under the authority of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the government officials said.

Pentagon officials said Mr. Gates had yet to approve the recommendation.

Mr. Gates, a former director of central intelligence, has promised to improve coordination of the Pentagon's intelligence collection with other spy agencies and help rebuild some of the relationships bruised under Mr. Rumsfeld's tenure. Mr. Rumsfeld and some of his aides had expressed deep suspicion toward the Central Intelligence Agency in particular, and some people accused Mr. Rumsfeld of trying to build an intelligence empire of his own.

Shortly after taking over the Pentagon last year, Mr. Gates ordered a broad review of its intelligence operations and of the Defense Department's relationships with other spy agencies.

It is unclear whether Mr. Clapper is also recommending tighter restrictions on Pentagon counterterrorism and counterespionage operations in the United States.

Some civil liberties groups said they worried that the change might be cosmetic and that the Pentagon might be closing the office to farm out its operations to other agencies that receive less scrutiny.

Lt. Col. Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, said the recommendation to close the office had nothing to do with its troubled history. The move is aimed, Colonel Ryder said, at "creating efficiencies and streamlining" Pentagon efforts to thwart operations by foreign intelligence services and terror networks.

Representative Silvestre Reyes, Democrat of Texas and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, called the decision long overdue.

Mr. Reyes said the office "was a Rumsfeld-era relic that triggered major concern about domestic intelligence gathering by the Pentagon against Americans."

The work of coordinating the Pentagon's various counterintelligence activities would remain important, Mr. Reyes said, but "vigorous oversight" would be needed under the new structure.

Some current and former Pentagon officials expressed concern that putting the mission of countering foreign intelligence services under the Defense Intelligence Agency could signal a decline in its priority. But Colonel Ryder, the Pentagon spokesman, said the recommendation to close the counterintelligence office was intended to strengthen counterintelligence operations.

Pentagon officials said that the database that housed information about the war protesters was built to track terrorist threats against domestic military bases and that reports about war protesters were put into it by mistake. Mr. Clapper ordered an end to the database, called Talon, last year.

The disclosure that the Pentagon was collecting information about citizens in the United States prompted memories of its activities decades ago, when the military used electronic surveillance to monitor civilians protesting the Vietnam War. The Pentagon is traditionally barred from conducting domestic intelligence operations.

The counterintelligence office was also brought into the scandal surrounding Representative Randy Cunningham, a California Republican, who resigned from Congress in 2005 after pleading guilty to taking bribes from military contractors. Some of the contracts that Mr. Cunningham channeled to Mitchell J. Wade, a longtime friend, were for programs of the counterintelligence office.

Newly declassified documents released on Tuesday shed more light on another activity coordinated by the Pentagon's counterintelligence office, issuing letters to banks and credit agencies to obtain financial records in terrorism and espionage investigations.

The Pentagon has issued hundreds of so-called national security letters, which are noncompulsory, as a tool to examine the income of employees suspected of collaborating with a foreign spy service or international terrorist network.

The documents, released as part of a Freedom of Information lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, include an internal review begun in 2007 that examined the Pentagon's use of the letters. The review found poor coordination and a lack of standardized training inside the Defense Department about using the letters, but uncovered no instances where the department broke any laws.

The Pentagon is authorized to issue the letters, sometimes in coordination with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to obtain financial records of civilian and military Defense Department employees and their families.

Colonel Ryder said that since the Sept. 11 attacks there had been six cases where the letters were used to obtain records about the family members of Defense Department employees.

Distressed Owners Are Frustrated by Aid Group

Distressed Owners Are Frustrated by Aid Group

By Lynnley Browning

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Every day more than 4,500 people call Hope Now, the White House-backed group formed to help struggling homeowners.

But few of them appear to be getting the relief they are hoping for. One reason is that the financial powers behind Hope Now - mortgage lenders, loan servicers and big investors - are reluctant to change loan terms substantially if doing so hurts them.

Almost six months after Hope Now was created, the group is largely resisting calls for broad relief for homeowners. In Washington, a furious debate is under way over whether to help homeowners on the brink of default, and several possible plans are starting to coalesce.

But Hope Now, which President Bush has held up as a crucial tool to fight foreclosures, is coming under fire from within and without, accused of putting the interests of lenders over those of borrowers.

Hope Now says it is succeeding. The group, which also includes nonprofit organizations that advise people on managing their debts, says it has helped more than a million people avoid foreclosure.

But Hope Now does not disclose details about how the loan modifications and payment plans it ostensibly helps to broker actually help homeowners. Many people merely get the chance to catch up on late payments.

Even Hope Now says it is unsure how effective it is. The group does not break out the number of loan workouts that occur as a result of its efforts and those that might have happened anyway. Some people who work with Hope Now say it has done little to keep the housing crisis from deepening.

"Hope Now is a failure," said Michael Shea, the executive director of the Acorn Housing Corporation, a large counseling agency that is part of the Hope Now alliance. "It's industry-dominated."

Hope Now is run out of the Housing Policy Council, which in turn is part of the Financial Services Roundtable, the influential financial services lobby.

William A. Longbrake, the vice chairman of Washington Mutual, the big savings and loan, is a senior policy adviser to the roundtable. He said he has "indirect, inferential evidence" that Hope Now is helping.

But the group itself employs just three people. Most of its work is done through committees staffed by senior bank and mortgage executives who are part of the Financial Services Roundtable. Hope Now's executive director, Faith Schwartz, is an executive at the subprime lender Option One Mortgage.

People who dial Hope Now's toll-free number, 1-888-995-HOPE, typically are routed to call centers in Phoenix and Spokane, Wash. Three out of four eventually are connected to credit counselors for a free, informal consultation.

But only a fraction of all callers - about 4 percent - ends up talking in person with a housing counselor, according to the Homeownership Preservation Foundation, a nonprofit group at the center of Hope Now that also has ties to the mortgage industry.

Ms. Schwartz defended the group's work. She said Hope Now is "leveraging existing infrastructure" to help homeowners.

Kenneth Goodman, a homeowner in Fontana, Calif,. said he did not have a good experience trying to get help through Hope Now.

Mr. Goodman, 53, said he had called Hope Now three times in recent months because he was struggling to pay the mortgage on his two-story tract home. The first time he was referred to a mortgage escrow company. The second time, "I got someone oblivious to everything," he said. The third time the counselor told Mr. Goodman that he had a choice: Sell his home for less than the value of his mortgage, or face immediate foreclosure.

"It was all unhelpful," Mr. Goodman said. He worries that he will lose his home.

There are Hope Now success stories, but the group declined to point to any.

During a tour of a Hope Now counseling agency last Friday, President Bush cited the case of Danny Cerchiaro, a movie producer. Through Hope Now and a counselor that he called "the magic lady," Mr. Bush said, Mr. Cerchiaro was able to refinance the adjustable-rate mortgage on his home in Iselin, N.J., at a more affordable rate.

But the Financial Services Roundtable and another big industry group behind Hope Now, the American Securitization Forum, oppose any government housing effort that would require them to take losses on bad mortgage loans.

"We support the broad objectives of the alliance," said George Miller, the executive director of the American Securitization Forum, which represents financial companies involved in bundling mortgages into securities for sale to investors. "But we represent the interests of investors, and we want to minimize losses on bad mortgages and maximize recovery."

Hope Now counselors are urged to follow the securitization group's guidelines on loan modifications, which advise lenders to modify loans case by case rather than across the board. Both the forum and the roundtable oppose calls to open up bankruptcy courts for struggling homeowners, a move that could lead to further losses for their members.

The Homeownership Preservation Foundation, for its part, says little about that part of the mortgage market where all the trouble began: subprime loans. According to a fact sheet from the foundation, which was established in 2003, with a $20 million grant from GMAC-RFC, a lender, foreclosures typically result from "medical issues or abrupt changes in income and expenses."

The sheet does not mention subprime mortgages. The foundation's seven-member board includes Sandor E. Samuels, the chief legal officer of Countrywide Financial, the mortgage giant that has come to symbolize many of the excesses of subprime lending.

Colleen Hernandez, the executive director of Homeownership Preservation Foundation, called her organization "a hybrid of corporate and nonprofit cultures." She said the foundation's 10 affiliated credit counselors working with Hope Now have special training in default counseling. But such counselors typically provide only generic financial planning advice. Housing counselors, by contrast, negotiate with lenders to reduce a borrower's mortgage.

The credit counselors "don't say, here's my recommendation, let's call the servicer and insist on that option," Ms. Hernandez said.

In some cases, she said, servicers and banks listen in on the calls between homeowners and the counselors with the knowledge of the homeowners.

Under a deal set to expire in June, the foundation bills the mortgage servicers $100 for each session, then transfers that money to the appropriate credit counseling agency.

Ms. Hernandez said the foundation also hoped to get paid for the calls that do not go beyond the initial call centers. "It has value to the servicers and banks," she said.

The American Securitization Forum, for its part, has said that "in some instances" its members will pay for the counseling fees.

Ms. Hernandez said that callers typically wait less than 30 seconds to be connected to a call-center operator. But on Monday evening, a reporter who called Hope Now was kept on hold for 50 minutes before hanging up. During that time, a recorded message urged the caller to "start an online counseling session" at

In recent weeks, Hope Now has had trouble explaining its mission on that Web site. In mid-March, a link on the site inadvertently directed people to a Florida company that sells foreclosed properties.

The Home Preservation Foundation is considering venturing into foreclosed property itself, a move that might strike hard-pressed homeowners as odd given its name and its role in Hope Now.

Attacks on US Forces Soared at End of March

Attacks on US Forces Soared at End of March

By Sudarsan Raghavan

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Government assault on Shiite militias drew Americans in.

Baghdad - Attacks against U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces soared across Baghdad in the last week of March to the highest levels since the deployment of additional U.S. troops here reached full strength last June, according to U.S. military data and analysis.

The sharp spike in attacks, in response to an ill-prepared Iraqi government offensive in the southern city of Basra last week, underscores the fragility of the U.S. military's hard-won security gains in Iraq and how easily those gains can be erased.

"Last week was clearly a bad week and shows the tenuous nature of security, which is something we've been stressing for some time now," Navy Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, the U.S. military's chief spokesman, wrote in an e-mail response to questions. "Security in Iraq is not irreversible, and any number of actors can affect the level of violence if and when they choose to."

Over the week that began March 25, when the offensive began in Basra, there were 728 attacks against U.S. coalition forces, Iraqi security forces and civilians across Iraq, according to U.S. military data obtained by The Washington Post. Of these, 430 - or almost 60 percent of the attacks - occurred in Baghdad, the major focus of last year's buildup of 30,000 additional U.S. troops. The forces have begun to withdraw, and the rest are to be gone by the end of July.

In comparison, the average weekly attack rate in Baghdad last June was 326 attacks, according to U.S. military statistics.

By Monday, a day after Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr ordered his Mahdi Army militiamen to lay down their arms, the attacks quickly subsided close to levels seen before the government offensive.

On March 23 and 24, the two days before the offensive began, there were, respectively, 42 and 38 attacks across Iraq. On each of those days, there were only 14 attacks in Baghdad. Over the next few days, attacks in the capital spiked to as many as six times that number.

The rapid containment of the fighting suggests that the "surge" of U.S. forces is but one factor in bringing down violence in Iraq and that in Shiite areas, a cease-fire imposed by Sadr on his militiamen last August may be more significant.

The reduction in violence across Iraq on Monday, which appeared to continue Tuesday, also highlights the power Sadr wields on Iraq's streets and the control he exerts over much of his militia, despite assertions by U.S. military commanders that the cleric's movement has been weakened by the buildup.

The figures and analysis offer more evidence of how swiftly U.S. forces were drawn into a power struggle unfolding between Sadr and rival Shiite groups that lead Iraq's government, mainly Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa party and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, led by Abdul Aziz-Hakim.

The data, said U.S. military officials who provided the information on condition of anonymity because it was not authorized for release, are a preliminary but thorough accounting that could be readjusted slightly.

The data include attacks against U.S. troops, Iraqi security forces and civilians. U.S. forces bore the brunt of those attacks last week, suggesting that they were taking the lead combat role in many areas or were perceived by Mahdi Army fighters to be taking the lead. The data square with on-the-ground reports that American soldiers were involved in battles and were being targeted with roadside bombs, rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons in many Shiite enclaves of Baghdad.

During one 24-hour period - beginning at 9 p.m. Friday - 77 attacks were mounted in Baghdad. They included 12 roadside bombs detonated and six found before they exploded. There were six mortar attacks, six rocket-propelled grenade attacks and six rocket attacks. There were also 21 attacks involving multiple weapons, most by Shiite fighters targeting patrols in the neighborhoods of New Baghdad and Karrada.

In interviews, some Mahdi Army commanders and fighters said they saw the Basra offensive as an opportunity to attack U.S. troops in Baghdad after nearly a year of standing down under Sadr's orders.

"It was a big happiness," said Khadim al-Saadi, a Mahdi Army leader in Sadr City, where many of the fiercest battles against U.S. troops occurred. "The main reason for the degradation of our lives is the presence of the occupiers on our land."

A senior U.S. military official, using an acronym for the Mahdi Army, said, "This one-week spike in violence and the subsequent decrease, it has everything to do with Sadr and his control over mainstream JAM." He said Iran also played a role in brokering the deal between Sadr and the Iraqi government that led to Sadr's statement ordering his men to lay down their arms.

In Sadr City on Tuesday, conditions remained tense. A curfew was still in effect there, though it had been lifted over most of the rest of Baghdad, and U.S. forces continued to patrol the vast Shiite district.

Mahdi Army commanders said fighters had withdrawn from the streets. But Saadi warned that if U.S. troops remained, the situation could quickly change. "For every action, there's a reaction," he said.

In Basra, life continued to return to the streets. Traffic moved freely. Government offices began to reopen, although schools and universities remained closed.

Still, police braced for more violence. "There is a condition of unstableness and suspense that a new attack might by implemented by the JAM militants," a police official said on condition of anonymity.

"I'm not optimistic about this calmness," said Usama Abdul Rahman, 35, a government employee. "It is the silence that precedes the storm."

EPA Seen Under Attack in Bush Years

EPA Seen Under Attack in Bush Years

By Simona Perry

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In remarks at the closing session of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) legislative conference on February 28, Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Maryland) noted, "One of the things that you come away with, you start to form an impression, having sat through the testimony of the folks at the front lines and unpersuasive testimony of people at the highest levels, it's like there's been an orchestrated attack on federal employees." He joked that it was almost as if there were "a handbook saying 'how do you undermine the reputation of good government?' I have no hard evidence that such a book exists, but I have circumstantial evidence."

This "orchestrated attack on federal employees" by the Bush administration has been carried out in at least three dimensions: the control and manipulation of language and information, the deterioration of the legal climate with regard to whistle blower provisions, and the appointment of weak leadership that refuses to push back against the White House. All of these dimensions are evident in the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) most recent decision to deny California a Clean Air Act waiver to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Control of Language

Throughout Congressional hearings regarding the controversial EPA decision to deny California the right to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, including recent testimony on the 2009 federal budget, a single question plagues the administrator of the EPA, Stephen L. Johnson: "Why didn't you listen to your staff?" Johnson's answer, delivered in a voice and tone devoid of emotion except for a slight impatience, is always the same: "The decision was mine and mine alone. And it was the right decision."

However, the documents received by Congressional investigators regarding that decision, as well as the February 29 final decision document published in the Federal Register, clearly show Johnson disregarded the advice of his career staff and, instead, based the decision on the advice of political appointees within EPA and the economic concerns of automobile manufacturers.

Among the internal documents released by the EPA as part of the Congressional inquiry is an email to Johnson from an unidentified career employee. The employee advises Johnson, "The eyes of the world are on you and the marvelous institution you and I have had the privilege of leading; clearly the stakes are huge, especially with respect to future climate work ... From what I have read and the people I have talked to, it is obvious to me that there is no legal or technical justification for denying this. The law is very specific about what you are allowed to consider, and even if you adopt the alternative interpretations that have been suggested by the automakers, you still wind up in the same place ... If you are asked to deny this waiver, I fear the credibility of the agency that we both love will be irreparably damaged."

The Federal Register document, considered the final decision on the matter, was released more than a month after the formal public announcement of the decision. Suspicion surrounds this post-announcement release. Insiders believe there may have been an earlier final decision document that had to be re-written because the staff who originally drafted it did not agree with the waiver denial or the grounds on which the decision to deny the waiver were based. Until such an earlier document is produced, this is purely speculation. But, what cannot be denied is the systematic disregard of scientific and legal advice offered by career staff within the EPA.

As Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California) said in a statement released on February 26: "These documents paint a picture of an Environmental Protection Agency in crisis. They show the dedicated professional staff of the EPA working hard to do what they are paid to do by the American people - protect our health and our environment. At the same time, we see more and more evidence of Administrator Johnson ignoring the science and the facts, and discarding the advice of his professional staff."

The Plum Book

The seeds of language control within the Bush administration were planted early and often and were carefully sown in agencies such as the EPA, whose mission is to protect and preserve the environment and public health.

There is a device at the disposal of any new administration that can greatly assist in reforming the organizational culture of the executive branch by ensuring language is used in accordance with political ideology. This device gives a new administration direct access to the approximately 1.7 million employees of the federal government and the power to oversee what federal employees say, how they say it, and who they say it to. That device is known as the Plum Book, a listing of federal positions that will be considered political appointees under the incoming White House.

Since 2000, the Bush administration has placed over 9,051 federal positions in the Plum Book. Most of these positions are part of an elite, handpicked partisan group that share the same political ideology as the new president and agree to enforce this ideology in their jobs within agency leadership.

However, these are not only the cabinet-level and senior executive service positions. They are also "Schedule C" positions requiring no Congressional approval, and subject to no conduct-based or performance-removal procedures. "Schedule C" positions are involved in making or approving substantive policies according to the agency's mission, but such employees work only for other political appointees who have a "confidential or policy determining relationship with the president or agency head." Because of this role as an intermediary between the White House and agency personnel on substantive policy decisions, these "Schedule C" political appointees may also exercise direct authority, or pressure, over how career federal employees undertake their professional responsibilities.

Decision-making within this "plum" culture centers on information control. Within federal agencies whose main mission involves the use and sharing of scientific expertise and knowledge in making decisions, the impact has been debilitating. From the closure of EPA's libraries without explanation and without notice to a complete gag order on scientists presenting their findings to public, academic or professional audiences, the Bush administration has been able to "not so much as wage war on expertise, as to contain that expertise," according to Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

What has resulted from this control and suppression of information and language is a privileging of politics and corporate interests above scientific knowledge and the expert advice of career agency employees. Career scientists and environmental specialists in the EPA, whose job it is to assess environmental risks, conserve and protect natural resources, and protect public health, find their research and advice either ignored or "spun" into politicized messages that either support or refute administration agendas.


In most cases, career employees within the federal government believe they have no recourse except to do as they are told, resign or be marginalized in their jobs. However, since 1932 labor unions have existed for federal employees to organize for a better work environment. Fewer than half of all federal employees are members of a union, and, of those, many think they cannot join a union. When entering the federal service, a new employee is asked as part of the public service pledge not to strike against the government, but there is no pledge not to organize.

The NTEU represents 150,000 federal employees nationwide, and the NTEU Chapter 280 represents approximately 1,600 career scientists working at the US EPA Headquarters in Washington, DC. The NTEU Chapter 280 has recently been joined by three other unions representing EPA employees across the nation, in ensuring greater accountability in agency decision-making. In addition to work-place issues that fall under the bailiwick of most trade unions, Chapter 280's unique role in fighting for mission-critical issues regarding the quality of decision-making within EPA has made it an important force in getting the truth out about what's happening in the daily work lives of career federal employees.

The NTEU Chapter 280 and the other EPA unions are particularly concerned scientific integrity and professionalism be made central to all public environmental and human health policy decisions. As the ability of individual career employees to speak out about malfeasance or misuse of scientific and technical information in the course of doing their jobs is eliminated, the unions and organizations such as PEER must serve as the safety valve for grievances. As Jeff Ruch describes, "We run a battered staff shelter. For the most part 'whistleblowers' are people who are in trouble for doing their job."

And in 2008, such safety nets for federal whistleblowers are increasingly important. A collective hush swept through the federal service in 2006 when the US Supreme Court ruled the First Amendment does not protect public employees from disciplinary action for job-related speech. In the ruling, the court restricted civil servants' ability to file lawsuits against agency retaliation over the disclosure of government misconduct. The ruling essentially made a federal employee's speech the property of the US federal government.

Weak Leadership

In an act of solidarity in February, the newly-formed coalition of EPA unions halted meetings with the administration due to a series of complaints that "EPA ignores the advice of its Labor Union Coalition and its own Principles of Scientific Integrity whenever political direction from other federal entities or private sector interests so direct." The letter goes on to cite examples of a clear disregard for scientific integrity and the advice of EPA career scientific, legal and technical employees under Johnson's watch. The examples include fluoride drinking water standards, organophosphate pesticide registration, control of mercury emissions from power plants, closure of EPA libraries and the recent request from California for a waiver to allow states to more stringently control greenhouse gases. Previous to Johnson, but under the Bush administration, the letter says "EPA over-rode recommendations from its own employees in connection with notification of risks to rescue workers and residents associated with terrorist attacks on New York in September 2001."

The EPA unions' complaint that the administration favors "political direction from other federal entities or private sector interests" over the advice of career employees and without scientific integrity refers in part to the control Bush's political appointees have been able to exert over federal scientists, legal advisers and environmental specialists hired to protect and serve the public good, not private corporations or the White House.

Among one of the most notable of these political appointees was William L. Wehrum. Shuttled in from private law practice, and with a resume that includes serving as an environmental adviser for a major US chemical manufacturer, Wehrum served from 2001 to 2006 as counsel to the assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Air and Radiation (OAR) and as acting assistant administrator for OAR during 2006. He was nominated to fill the assistant administrator position, but was denied confirmation by the Senate in June 2007, and resigned to take a lucrative position as a partner at Hunton and Williams law firm in Washington, DC. During his time at EPA, Wehrum attempted to eliminate a 30-year practice of providing expert staff recommendations to the administrator concerning the review of health-based national ambient air quality standards by consolidating greater decision-making power into the hands of political appointees.

In the internal EPA decision documents released as part of the Congressional investigation into the denial of a Clean Air Act waiver to California, Wehrum sent an email on March 15, 2006, to staff at the EPA Office of Transportation and Air Quality, the OAR and the Office of General Counsel. His advice: "I think we should assert the existence of preemption and propose to deny the waiver based on the absence of compelling and extraordinary conditions ... Having said that, I also think that this issue goes far beyond OAR..." This advice was contrary to the legal and scientific advice from Johnson's staff. The final decision document released by the EPA denies California a waiver based on "the absence of compelling and extraordinary conditions."

In a December 2007 article in Washingtonian Magazine, just six months after his resignation from the EPA, Wehrum was named one of eight "Big Gun" lawyers from Hunton and Williams. Above his name, it reads: "Green Like Me - or Not: Own a dry-cleaning company - or a house on a protected lake? If so, the Environmental Protection Agency can make you jump through hoops. These lawyers can help."

Inside Guantánamo with Detainee 061

Inside Guantánamo with Detainee 061

By Mariah Blake, Mother Jones

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IT WAS LATE September 2002, and construction crews were just finishing work on the main prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, when three German intelligence agents arrived on the island aboard a U.S. military plane.

The reason for their visit was sensitive. The Pentagon was still arguing that those held at Guantánamo were "the worst of the worst" and "the most dangerous, best-trained, vicious killers on the face of the Earth," but behind closed doors CIA officials were coming to the conclusion that a number of detainees had no links to terrorism, and were working on a list of prisoners to be set free.

One of the detainees being considered for release was Murat Kurnaz, a German-born Turkish citizen who had been pulled off a bus in Pakistan the year before and turned over to U.S. forces. Since then, American security agencies hadn't turned up any evidence that he belonged to a terrorist group or posed a threat to the United States. But before clearing his release, the CIA wanted the Germans to interrogate him and offer their stamp of approval.

After they arrived, the agents were led out to a trailer near the dusty sprawl of cell blocks known as Camp Delta. Inside, the air conditioner was on full blast, and Kurnaz, a stocky young man with blunt features and a thick red beard, was seated on one side of a long table, his hands and feet shackled to a ring in the floor. The men took turns questioning him--about the nightclubs he frequented in his wilder years, about his reasons for embracing Islam, about his journey to Pakistan and the heavy boots he bought before leaving--while a hidden camera rolled in the background.

All told, they spent 12 hours with him over two days, concluding by the end that he simply found himself "in the wrong place at the wrong time" and "had nothing to do with terrorism and al-Qaida," according to German intelligence reports.

They discussed their findings with CIA and Pentagon officials, then boarded a plane back to Germany. During a stopover in Washington, D.C., one of the agents visited the local branch of Germany's foreign intelligence service, the BND, and reported back to headquarters via a secure phone line, saying: "USA considers Murat Kurnaz's innocence to be proven. He should be released in approximately six to eight weeks." A few days later, a Pentagon release form for the detainee was printed and awaiting signature.

"At that point, the picture was clear," says Lothar Jachmann, a retired spy who headed the intelligence-gathering operation on Kurnaz for Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, and was briefed on the Guantánamo visit by one of the agents. "We had nothing on him, and we had gotten feedback that the Americans had nothing on him either. The plan was to let him go."

But Kurnaz was not set free. Instead, he spent another four years languishing at Guantánamo, where he was repeatedly designated an "enemy combatant," despite evidence showing he had no known links to terrorist groups.

Lawyers for Guantánamo detainees often argue that their clients are being held based on thin intelligence, but Kurnaz's case is the first where the record clearly shows that evidence of innocence was ignored to justify his continued detention. His story, pieced together from intelligence reports, newly declassified Pentagon documents, and secret testimony before the German Parliament -- much of it never before reported in the United States -- offers a rare window into the workings of the secretive system used to hold and try terrorism suspects.

MURAT KUNRNAZ, the son of Turkish immigrants, was born and raised in Bremen, a rainy north German port city, where he lived with his family in a simple brick row house. His father, Metin, worked the assembly line at a Mercedes Benz plant, while his mother, Rabiye, stayed home with him and his two younger brothers. On Fridays he and his father attended the neighborhood Kuba Mosque, a storefront sanctuary with a barbershop, bookstore, and cavernous teahouse where old men in crocheted skullcaps huddle around plastic tables.

Mosque-goers remember Kurnaz as a shy, quiet boy who didn't take much interest in religion. "He was a normal Muslim Turk, who prayed once in a while, but was not very observant," says Nurtekin Tepe, a local bus driver, who has known Kurnaz since he was a child. Instead, Kurnaz spent his time watching Bruce Lee movies, dreaming about motorbikes (he hoped to get one and drive it 110 miles per hour on the autobahn), and lifting weights, often with his neighbor, Selcuk Bilgin, who had many of the same interests, though he was six years older.

This began to change in the fall of 2000. Kurnaz, then 18, was working as a nightclub bouncer; Bilgin had a dead-end job at a supermarket. Some of their friends had started getting in trouble with the law. Feeling there must be something more to life, both men began to take a deeper interest in Islam. Before long, they had cut pork from their diets, grown their beards long, and started attending a new mosque, Abu Bakr, which was located in a dingy, fluorescent-lit office building near Bremen's main train station and preached a strict brand of Sunni Islam.

Around this time, Kurnaz also started searching for a Muslim bride, and in the summer of 2001 he married Fatima, a young woman who hails from a rural Turkish village. The union was arranged by relatives, and the couple met only once before the ceremony. The idea was to bring her to Germany as soon as her paperwork was sorted out. Meanwhile, Kurnaz and Bilgin made plans to travel to Pakistan. The reason for the trip has been a matter of much debate, but Kurnaz claims he was worried that he didn't know enough about Islam to be a good Muslim husband and wanted to study the Koran before Fatima's arrival.

The flight was scheduled to depart Frankfurt on October 3, 2001, less than a month after the 9/11 attacks, but even before Kurnaz and Bilgin boarded the plane their plans began to unravel. Bilgin was stopped at passport control because of an outstanding $1,300 fine levied after his dog ran away and attacked a bicyclist. Unable to pay, he called his older brother, Abdullah, in Bremen and asked him to wire the money. Instead, Abdullah phoned the Frankfurt police and urged them not to let Bilgin fly. "My brother is following a friend to Afghanistan to fight the Americans," he said, according to police reports. "He was stirred up in a Bremen mosque."

Questioned by police a few days later, Abdullah, who unlike his brother has a poor grasp on German, said his words had been taken out of context; he'd feared Kurnaz and Bilgin might get caught up in the conflict, but didn't know for a fact that they had plans of fighting. But by that time, the wheels were already in motion. Bilgin was arrested and Bremen police launched a criminal investigation into him, Kurnaz, and two other men who attended Abu Bakr. Germany's domestic intelligence agency also got in on the act, sending an undercover agent to the mosque to ferret out information.

Meanwhile, Kurnaz, who had gotten on the plane without Bilgin, was traveling through Pakistan, unaware of the commotion his departure had caused.

ON DECEMBER 1, 2001, Kurnaz boarded a bus to the airport in Peshawar, a smoggy city on the country's northwest border, where he says he planned to catch a plane back to Germany. Along the way, the vehicle was stopped at a routine checkpoint. One of the officers manning it knocked on the window and asked Kurnaz something in Urdu, then ordered him to step off the bus.

Kurnaz expected to show his passport and answer a few questions before being sent on his way. Instead, he was thrown in jail. A few days later, Pakistani police turned him over to U.S. forces, who transported him to Kandahar Air Base, a military installation in the southern reaches of Afghanistan. The Taliban had recently been driven from the region, and the base, built on the rubble of a bombed-out airport, was little more than a cluster of bullet-pocked hangars and decrepit runways. Despite the subzero temperatures, prisoners were kept in large outdoor pens, and a number of them later claimed they were subjected to harsh interrogation tactics. Kurnaz says he was routinely beaten, chained up for days in painful positions, and given electric shocks on the soles of his feet. He also says he was subjected to a crude form of waterboarding, which involved having his head plunged into a water-filled plastic bucket. (The Pentagon, contacted more than a dozen times by e-mail and telephone, would not comment on Kurnaz's treatment or any other aspect of his case.)

One morning about two months after his arrival in Afghanistan, the detainee was roused before dawn and issued an orange jumpsuit. Then guards shackled and blindfolded him and covered his ears with soundproof earphones before herding him onto a military transport plane.

When the plane touched down more than 20 hours later, Kurnaz was led into a tent where soldiers plucked hairs from his arms, swabbed the inside of his mouth, and gave him a green plastic bracelet with number that would come to define him: 061. Finally, he was led to a crude cell block with concrete floors, a corrugated metal roof, and chain-link walls, which looked out on a sandy desert landscape. Inside his cell, he found a blanket and a thin green mat, a pair of flip-flops, and two translucent buckets, one to be used as a toilet and the other as a sink. He had no idea where he was.

Kurnaz later learned that he landed at Camp X-Ray, a temporary holding pen used to house Guantánamo detainees during the four months when the main prison camp was being built. Even before construction was done, Pentagon officials began to suspect that Kurnaz didn't belong there. On February 24, 2002, just three weeks after his arrival, a senior military interrogator issued a memo saying, "This source may actually have no al-Qaida or Taliban association."

IN LATE SEPTEMBER 2002, the three German agents arrived at Guantánamo to interrogate detainee 061. During the trip, they were assigned a CIA liaison, identified only as Steve H., who briefed them on their mission and kept tabs on the interrogations.

Much of the questioning the first day focused on why Kurnaz would choose to travel to Pakistan when war was brewing in the region. The detainee explained that a group of Muslim missionaries had visited his mosque and told him about a school in Lahore where he could study the Koran. But when he arrived there, he found people were suspicious of him because of his light skin and the fact that he spoke no Arabic. Taking him for a foreign journalist, the school turned him away. So he wandered around, staying in mosques and guesthouses, until he was detained near Peshawar (something he also attributed to his light skin and the fact that he spoke German but carried a Turkish passport).

The German agents came away with mixed opinions, according to testimony they later gave before a closed session of German Parliament. (Many other details of their trip were also revealed through that hearing, transcripts of which were obtained by Mother Jones.) The leader of the delegation, who worked for the foreign intelligence service, the BND, saw Kurnaz as a harmless and somewhat naive young man who simply picked a bad time to travel. One of his colleagues, a domestic intelligence specialist, argued it was possible that Kurnaz was on the path to radicalization. But everyone agreed it was highly improbable that he had links to terrorist networks or was involved in any kind of terrorist plot, and none of the agents voiced any objections to letting him go.

Given this fact, Steve H. proposed releasing Kurnaz and using him as a spy, part of a joint operation to infiltrate the Islamist scene in Germany. The German agents apparently took this suggestion to heart, because on day two of their visit, they arrived at the interrogation trailer bearing a chocolate bar and a motorcycle magazine, and asked the detainee point-blank whether he would consider working as an informant. He agreed. (Kurnaz later claimed that he had no intention of actually spying -- that, in fact, he would "rather starve to death" -- but thought feigning interest might hasten his release.)

That evening, the agents were invited to dinner with the deputy commander of the prison camp. The leader of the delegation later testified that he discussed Kurnaz's case with him, and according to an investigation by the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, after the meal, the American official sent a coded message to the Pentagon. A few days later, on September 30th, the release form for Kurnaz was printed out. The cover memo, obtained by Mother Jones, notes that Pentagon investigators had found "no definite link/evidence of detainee having an association with al-Qaida or making any specific threat toward the U.S." and that "the Germans confirmed that this detainee has no connection to an al-Qaida cell in Germany."

AROUND THE SAME TIME, in October 2002, German police suspended their investigation into Kurnaz and his fellow suspects. No evidence of criminal wrongdoing ever surfaced. "We tapped telephones, we searched apartments, we questioned a large number of witnesses," Uwe Picard, the Bremen attorney general who led the probe, told me when we spoke in his office, an attic warren stacked waist-deep in files. "We didn't find anything of substance."

But police did turn up some troubling bits of hearsay. One of the students at a shipbuilding school Kurnaz attended told investigators that Kurnaz had "Taliban" written on the screen of his cell phone. Then there were the comments of Kurnaz's mother, who, when questioned by police days after her son's disappearance, fretted that he had "bought heavy boots and two pairs of binoculars" shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Seizing on these details, the German media dubbed Kurnaz the "Bremen Taliban." This was clearly unsettling to German officials, who just one year after the 9/11 attacks were still reeling from the revelation that three hijackers lived and studied in Germany without ever catching the attention of police or intelligence agencies. Many politicians had serious qualms about letting the German Turk back into the country.

The first sign of these doubts came in the form of a classified report on the Guantánamo visit, which was issued on October 8, 2002, and circulated through the top ranks of the German government. It argues that releasing Kurnaz and using him as a spy would be "problematic," in that he had "no access to the Mujahideen milieu." It also notes, "In light of Kurnaz's possibly imminent release, we should determine whether Germany wants the Turkish citizen back and, given the expected media attention, whether Germany wants to document that everything possible was done to prevent his return."

Three weeks later, Kurnaz's case was discussed at the presidential round, a standing Tuesday meeting held at the Germany Chancellery and attended by top officials from the foreign and interior ministries as well as the German security services. The group decided to block his return, and on October 30th the interior ministry issued a secret memo with a plan for keeping him out of the country, which involved revoking his residency permit on the grounds that he had been abroad for more than six months. Germany's domestic intelligence agency later notified the CIA in writing of the government's "express wish" that Kurnaz "not return to Germany."

FOR KURNAZ, the next two years were a blur of interrogations and hours spent locked in his cell. At one point, he claims guards roused him every few hours, part of a coordinated sleep-deprivation campaign dubbed Operation Sandman. He also says he was subjected to pepper-spray attacks, extreme heat and cold, and sexual humiliation at the hands of a scantily clad female guard, who he says rubbed herself against him.

On occasion, he says, punishments were doled out arbitrarily. Each morning a guard would appear at Kurnaz's cell door and ask him to shove his blanket through the slot. Even when he did so, he claims, he was sometimes accused of not cooperating and given a stint in solitary confinement.

Still, the detainee continued to plead his innocence, telling interrogators at one point that the idea of someone thinking he wanted to fight the Americans "made him feel sick," according to Pentagon intelligence reports. He also offered repeatedly to take a lie detector test. When asked what he would do if released, he said he would bring his wife to Germany and buy a motorcycle.

Then in June 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that U.S. courts had the authority under federal law to decide whether those held at Guantánamo were rightfully imprisoned. In a bid to keep detainees out of the U.S. justice system, the Bush administration created the Combatant Status Review Tribunals to determine whether detainees had been properly labeled enemy combatants.

Three months later, on September 30, 2004, Kurnaz was led out to one of the interrogation trailers on the fringes of Camp Delta, the main prison complex at Guantánamo. Inside, under the glare of florescent lights, sat three high-ranking military officers at a long table. The "tribunal president," or judge, was in a high-backed chair in the middle. At his side was Kurnaz's "personal representative," who was assigned with helping the detainee argue his case, though he hardly said a word during the proceedings. As for the charges, the only information Kurnaz was given was a summary of the unclassified evidence, which the prosecutor -- or "recorder" in Guantánamo parlance -- reeled off at the beginning of the hearing. Most of it was circumstantial, like the fact that Kurnaz had flown from Frankfurt to Karachi just three weeks after the 9/11 attacks, and that he allegedly received food and lodging from the Muslim missionary group Tablighi Jamaat. (An apolitical movement with more than 70 million members, it has no known terrorist links, but intelligence agencies worry that its strict brand of Sunni Islam may make it an ideal recruiting ground for jihadists.)

But Kurnaz was hit with one more serious allegation, namely that he was "a close associate with, and planned to travel to Pakistan with" Selcuk Bilgin, who the recorder said "later engaged in a suicide bombing." Clearly shaken by this charge, Kurnaz interrupted the session, blurting out, "Where are the explosives? What bombs?" according to transcripts of the hearing, which are not verbatim. The tribunal president responded that the details of Bilgin's fate were classified. Then he asked if the detainee wanted to make a statement. Kurnaz replied, "I am here because Selcuk Bilgin had bombed somebody? I wasn't aware that he had done that." Then he gave a meandering speech, mostly a reprise of things he had said during interrogations.

When he was done, the tribunal president asked him if he had anything else to submit, though it's unclear what more he could have offered; detainees are allowed only limited documentary evidence, and calls for witnesses are generally denied. (Even if prisoners could present more information, it would likely be trumped by the government's evidence, which, under the tribunal rules laid out by the Bush administration, is presumed to be "genuine and accurate.") Kurnaz said simply: "I want to know if I have to stay here, or if I can go home … If I go back home, I will prove that I am innocent."

Later that day, the tribunal determined by a "preponderance of evidence" that Kurnaz had not only been properly designated an enemy combatant, but that he was a member of Al Qaeda. According to the classified summary obtained by Mother Jones, the decision was based almost exclusively on a single memo, written by Brig. General David B. Lacquement shortly before the tribunal convened.

A version of that memo was recently declassified, albeit with large swaths redacted. Among the "suspicious activities" it said Kurnaz engaged in while at Guantánamo: He "covered his ears and prayed loudly during the U.S. national Anthem" and asked how tall a basketball rim was "possibly in an attempt to estimate the heights of the fences." U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green, who reviewed the unredacted version, later wrote that it was "rife with hearsay and lacking in detailed support for its conclusions."

In contrast to Lacquement's memo, at least three assessments in Kurnaz's Pentagon file point to his innocence. Among them is a recently declassified memo, dated May 19, 2003, from Brittain P. Mallow, then commanding general of the Criminal Investigation Task Force, a Pentagon intelligence unit that interrogates and collects information on detainees. It states the "CITF is not aware of evidence that Kurnaz was or is a member of al-Qaida" or that he harbored anyone who "has engaged in, aided or abetted, or conspired to commit acts of terrorism against the U.S." But the tribunal found these exhibits were "not persuasive in that they seemingly corroborated the detainee's testimony." In other words, the Pentagon's own evidence was ignored because it suggested the detainee was innocent.

What of the allegation that Kurnaz's would-be traveling companion, Selcuk Bilgin, carried out a suicide attack? As it turns out, Bilgin is alive and residing in Bremen with his wife and two small children. I tracked him down in early January with three phone calls and a visit to his parents' home, and we met a couple weeks later at his lawyer's office near the city center. A stocky man with large, dark eyes and a wiry beard, he arrived in a white Audi station wagon with car seats in the rear and was wearing olive cargo pants with a thick black jacket that cinched at the waist. Following his arrest in Frankfurt, he explained, he was held for a few days and then released. "After that, two people from the intelligence services came to talk to me," he told me. "Some journalists called. Then I just went on with my life."

Indeed, Bilgin was never charged with any crime, although he was initially suspected of influencing Kurnaz to go to Afghanistan and fight. (Kurnaz's parents also blamed him for their son's ordeal, and the two men no longer speak.)

As for the attack Bilgin was accused of carrying out, identified by the Pentagon as the "Elananutus" bombing, it never registered with the media in Germany or the United States (though there is a record of a November 2003 attack on an Istanbul synagogue, allegedly by a man with a similar sounding name -- Gokhan Elaltuntas). The Pentagon never bothered to run that allegation by German police; German intelligence agencies were apparently kept out of the loop, too.

"A suicide bomber?" Jachmann, who led the intelligence gathering on Bilgin and Kurnaz, asked incredulously when I explained the allegations. "As far as we knew, he was living right here in Bremen the whole time."

A WEEK AFTER HIS tribunal, Kurnaz received a visit from a balding thirty-something man with wire-rimmed glasses who handed him a piece of paper with a handwritten note on it. It read, "My dear son, it's me, your mother. I hope you're doing well. This man is Baher Azmy. You can trust him. He's your lawyer."

In the three years he had been at Guantánamo, this was the first word Kurnaz had heard from his family. Afraid that the letter would be taken from him, he crumpled it up and stuffed it under his shirt.

Azmy also delivered a second piece of news: He had filed suit against the Bush administration on Kurnaz's behalf.

Three months later, in January 2005, U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green delivered a ruling on Kurnaz's claim, and those of 62 other prisoners, challenging the legality of the Combatant Status Review Tribunals. Finding that the tribunals were illegal, she used Kurnaz's case to illustrate the "fundamental unfairness" of the system, particularly its reliance on "classified information not disclosed to the detainees." (Most of the passages of the ruling dealing with his case were themselves classified until recently, though they were briefly released through a Pentagon slipup and reported by the Washington Post in March 2005.) Green also argued that the tribunal's choice to ignore evidence of Kurnaz's innocence was among the strongest signs that the tribunals were stacked against detainees.

But in the end the ruling was just one salvo in an ongoing legal struggle over whether detainees can plead their cases in U.S. courts and had little impact on Kurnaz's situation. In early November 2005, when the Administrative Review Board (ARB), which conducts annual reviews of detainees' status, took up his case again, it voted unanimously to uphold his designation as an enemy combatant. According to internal Pentagon e-mails obtained by Mother Jones, the board failed to weigh evidence submitted by Kurnaz's lawyers, including a notarized affidavit from Bilgin, which showed that a central charge against the detainee -- his alleged association with a suicide bomber -- was verifiably false.

Around this time, the tides began to turn on the other side of the Atlantic. German media had gotten wind of their government's role in Kurnaz's continued detention, and scandal was brewing. Politicians who had pushed to keep him out of the country were suddenly scrambling to distance themselves from the decision.

Then, in late November, Angela Merkel took over as German chancellor. Though a friend of the Bush administration, she has made no bones about her opposition to the indefinite detentions at Guantánamo. During her first visits to the Oval Office, in January 2006, she pressed President George W. Bush on Kurnaz's case, the first in a string of negotiations over his fate. In June of that year, the Administrative Review Board reconvened and decided that, after nearly five years of imprisonment, detainee 061 was no longer an enemy combatant.

ON AUGUST 24, 2006, a C-17 cargo plane touched down at Ramstein Air Base, a U.S. military installation 44 miles southwest of Frankfurt. Shackled to the floor in its cargo hold was detainee 061, his face wrapped in a mask and his eyes covered by goggles with blacked-out lenses. Standing watch over him were 15 American soldiers.

On the tarmac, he was handed over to German police, who asked that his handcuffs be removed. Then they escorted him to a nearby Red Cross installation, where his family was waiting.

The reunion was bittersweet: His mother couldn't stop crying, and his father was so withered and gray that at first Kurnaz mistook him for an older uncle. During the car ride home, a journey of more than 250 miles, Kurnaz learned that his wife, Fatima -- the reason he says he traveled to Pakistan -- had filed for divorce. All those years with no word from him were more than she could handle. Later in the trip, his father pulled over at a rest stop and his mother poured him some coffee from a thermos in the trunk. Kurnaz was so busy marveling at the stars, which had been drowned out by the floodlights at Guantánamo, that he forgot to drink it.

Kurnaz's homecoming created a clamor in Germany. By early 2007, the widening scandal was threatening to topple Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who as head of the Chancellery under the previous administration was the highest official to formally approve the plan blocking Kurnaz's return. Around the same time, a special investigative committee of German Parliament began probing Berlin's role in Kurnaz's continued detention. The ongoing inquiry has hit some stumbling blocks: CIA transcripts related to the case vanished, and an electronic data system with vital intelligence information was mysteriously erased.

Meanwhile, as the U.S. Supreme Court weighs the legality of the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, Kurnaz's ordeal is emerging as a key exhibit. Attorney Seth Waxman, who delivered oral arguments on detainees' behalf last December, wrapped up his comments by recounting the salient details of Kurnaz's case -- a move intended to drive home his claim that the tribunals are an "inadequate substitute" for due process. A decision in the case is expected early this summer.

A reluctant political figure, Kurnaz has done his best to stay out of the fray, turning instead to his old interests. Germany's domestic intelligence agency, which kept tabs on him after his return, found only one item of note -- that he had bought a motorcycle. (He has since shaved off his beard in favor of a biker mustache, started lifting weights again, and bought a cherry-colored Mazda RX-8 with double spoilers, custom alloy wheels, and black-and-red racing seats.) He has also written a memoir, Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantánamo, which came out in Germany last year. An English version, with a foreword by rocker Patti Smith, is scheduled to be released in the United States in April, and a movie deal is already in the works. The television newsmagazine 60 Minutes has negotiated an interview exclusive timed to correspond with the book's release. (Kurnaz declined to be interviewed for this story because of that arrangement.)

A plainspoken account, Five Years of My Life focuses on the daily humiliations and surreal texture of life at Guantánamo, a place where iguanas roam the cell blocks and trials take place in the same rooms as interrogations. In the closing pages, Kurnaz explains why he chose to speak out. "It's important that our stories are told," he writes. "We need to counter the endless [official] reports written in Guantánamo itself. We have to speak up and say: I tried to hand back my blanket and got four weeks in solitary confinement." But Kurnaz doesn't dwell on his own suffering. Instead he turns the spotlight on the plight of other detainees, including the ones who are still being held. "While I sit here eating chocolate bars and peeling mandarin oranges, they are being beaten and starved," he writes. "I can eat, drink and sleep much the same as I did five years ago, but I never forget that people are being abused in Cuba."

Click here for a timeline of Kurnaz's case.