Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Senate Prepares for GI Bill Showdown

Senate Prepares for GI Bill Showdown

By Rick Maze

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A showdown Wednesday in the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee over improvements in GI Bill education benefits could hinge on whether the Veterans Affairs Department softens its opposition to changes that would have benefits differ by state and have schools - not veterans - receive monthly payments directly.

The committee, chaired by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, has 28 veterans' benefits bills on its agenda, but Senate aides said the measures certain to get most of the attention are two competing GI Bill proposals, S 22 and S 2938.

S 22 is the bipartisan 21st Century GI Bill of Rights, which has 57 Senate cosponsors and is endorsed by all major military and veterans' associations but is opposed by the Pentagon and VA.

S 2938, with the unwieldy name of The Enhancement of Recruitment, Retention and Readjustment Through Education Act, is a Republican alternative to S 22 that has 18 cosponsors, including one - Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. - who withdrew his support for S 22 to sign on with the other plan, which is endorsed by the Pentagon and VA.

At Wednesday's hearing, three major veterans' groups - the American Legion, AmVets and Paralyzed Veterans of America - are expected to endorse S 22, the benefits bill sponsored by Sen. James Webb, D-Va., over the Republican bill, sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Veterans' groups also are expected to directly contradict Defense Secretary Robert Gates' opposition to S 22 on the grounds that it would hurt the all-volunteer force by encouraging people to get out of the military.

In testimony provided before the hearing, veterans' groups said a better GI Bill would help the military with the serious recruiting problems that have led to an erosion of recruit quality, and would help the services attract high-quality people.

A key item of contention will be VA's concerns about administering S 22, which would make fundamental changes in how GI Bill payments are calculated and paid.

Because S 22 sets a maximum payment for every state - based on the highest costs for in-state tuition and fees at a four-year public college or university - the VA would have to survey every state to determine the benefits caps. S 2938 would continue the current practice of setting a single monthly benefit that applies to all full-time students.

Under both bills, basic GI Bill benefits, now $1,101 a month for those with at least three years of active service, would increase. S 2938 would raise the payment to $1,500 a month, while the average monthly payment under S 22 is expected to be about $1,700.

Another complication with S 22 is that it would have basic benefits paid directly to the school, while S 2938 continues the current practice of paying benefits to the service member or veteran, who is then responsible for paying the school.

Direct payments to schools was urged by Akaka, the veterans' committee chairman, as a way to reduce fraud and to avoid forcing veterans to pay full tuition to colleges at the start of a semester and then wait to be reimbursed later by VA.

Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, ranking Republican on the veterans' committee, is one of the chief cosponsors of S 2938, and is expected to stress problems with implementing S 22 during Wednesday's hearing.

VA officials have not said that they would be unable to implement the changes in S 22, just that doing so would take more time and administrative costs. Supporters of the Republican alternative had argued that since their benefits follow the current program, their increases could show up more quickly in veterans' pockets.

S 22 supporters have been in talks with VA, trying to overcome the administrative problems and reduce opposition. They need to get 60 votes in the Senate to overcome expected procedural roadblocks.

VA Secretary Dr. James Peake said in an April 30 letter that VA "does not now have a payment system or the appropriate number of training personnel to administer" S 22 and would need "significant additional general operation and information technology expenses" to accommodate the changes.

Peake's letter also raised the question of cost, estimating that S 22 has a $4.1 billion price tag for the first year and $74.2 billion over 10 years. He did not mention the possible cost of the Republican alternative.

While cost is a big factor, supports of both bills do not seem terribly concerned about that.

They envision attaching GI Bill improvements to a wartime supplemental funding bill that is expected to pass Congress in early June. They will argue that increasing GI bill benefits in wartime is a war-related expense, and could be applied to the national debt just like the estimated $12 billion monthly cost of U.S. military operations in Iraq.

Presidential politics are complicating work on improving the GI Bill. Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois are co-sponsors of Webb's bill, while Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona is a co-sponsor of Graham's bill.

US Executes First Inmate After Moratorium

US Executes First Inmate After Moratorium

By Tami Chappell

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Jackson, Georgia - Georgia executed a convicted murderer on Tuesday, the first person to be put to death in the United States since the Supreme Court ended a de facto moratorium on capital punishment last month.

William Earl Lynd died by lethal injection at a prison in Jackson, central Georgia, at 7:51 p.m. Lynd, 53, was convicted of shooting his girlfriend to death in December 1988.

"Under the order of the court, the execution of William Earl Lynd has been carried out," said Paul Czachowski, public affairs manager at the Georgia Department of Corrections.

"The condemned declined to make a statement or offer a prayer," he said, adding the execution began at 7:34 p.m.

In the hours before Lynd died, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a final request for a stay filed by his lawyers.

Lynd's execution is the first since the same court on April 16 rejected a challenge to the cocktail of three drugs used in most U.S. executions, which opponents had argued inflicted unnecessary pain.

A nationwide pause in executions had been in effect since shortly after the court said on September 25 it would hear an appeal by two death row inmates in Kentucky against the use of the lethal drugs.

Last year, 42 people were put to death in the United States, the lowest number since the 31 executions in 1994. But the 2007 number was artificially low because of the Supreme Court case.

Fewer than 20 protesters opposed to the death penalty demonstrated outside the prison in Jackson where Lynd was executed in an apparent indication that the subject arouses few passions.

Demonstrators said they also planned protests in five other cities in the state.

"It's sad that the state of Georgia has put someone to death and is leading the United States in the resumption of executions," said Laura Moye, chairwoman of Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. "It is said it is a resumption of justice but instead we are being brutalized."

Appeal Rejected

After shooting Ginger Moore three times in the head and face, Lynd buried her in a shallow grave. Soon afterward, as he drove to Ohio, he allegedly shot and killed another woman but was never convicted of that crime.

The Georgia Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a bid by Lynd's lawyers to stop the execution. They argued that experts who described the murder scene in court had exaggerated.

Several states have scheduled executions since the moratorium ended, including Virginia and Texas, which carries out more executions than any other state.

Lynd is the 1,100th person put to death since the Supreme Court lifted a temporary ban on capital punishment in 1976. Since then, Texas has had 405 executions, followed by Virginia with 98.

Lynd's last meal consisted of two pepper jack barbecue burgers with crispy onions, baked potatoes with sour cream, bacon and cheese, and a large strawberry milkshake, prison authorities said.

Lawyers for Guantanamo Inmates Accuse US of Eavesdropping

Lawyers for Guantanamo Inmates Accuse US of Eavesdropping

By William Glaberson

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One lawyer for Guantánamo detainees said he replaced his office telephone in Washington because of sounds that convinced him it had been bugged. Another lawyer who represents detainees said he sometimes had other lawyers call his corporate clients to foil any government eavesdroppers.

In interviews and a court filing Tuesday, lawyers for detainees at Guantánamo said they believed government agents had monitored their conversations. The assertions are the most specific to date by Guantánamo lawyers that officials may be violating legal principles that have generally kept government agents from eavesdropping on lawyers.

"I think they are listening to my telephone calls all the time," said John A. Chandler, a prominent lawyer in Atlanta and Army veteran who represents six Guantánamo detainees.

Several of the lawyers, including partners at large corporate law firms, said the concerns had changed the way they went about their work apart from Guantánamo cases. A lawyer in Chicago, H. Candace Gorman, said in an affidavit that she was no longer accepting new clients of any type because she could not assure them of confidentiality.

The new filing, by the Center for Constitutional Rights, came in a 2007 lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act in which Guantánamo lawyers are seeking records to determine whether they have been targets of surveillance.

The Justice Department declined to comment Tuesday. But in a legal response in March, its lawyers said they could neither confirm nor deny that detainees' lawyers had been targets of such surveillance "because doing so would compromise the United States Intelligence Communities sources and methods."

Justice Department officials have said in the past that they had not used their terrorist surveillance powers to single out lawyers but that telephone "calls involving such persons would not be categorically excluded."

Since 2001, lawyers representing terrorism suspects not being held at Guantánamo have said they suspected government eavesdropping. Justice Department officials have said they intercepted such lawyers' conversations rarely and inadvertently.

But some detainees' lawyers say they believe there may be a comprehensive effort to monitor their communications at Guantánamo and elsewhere.

In the Tuesday filing in United States District Court in Manhattan, Thomas B. Wilner, a partner at Shearman & Sterling, said government officials insisting on anonymity had told him twice that he "should be careful in my electronic communications."

In addition to being a leading Guantánamo lawyer, Mr. Wilner is an international trade law specialist. "You need to be very careful in what you say on the telephone," he said in an interview.

Ms. Gorman's court filing said that during a visit to the Guantánamo naval base in Cuba, her military escort "referred in conversation to personal information about my family that I had not disclosed to him," leaving her to wonder how that information had been obtained.

Several of the lawyers said a program of surveillance would be consistent with obstacles they had encountered in representing detainees. In 2004, officials proposed "real-time monitoring" of lawyers' interviews with Guantánamo detainees.

A federal judge barred that, saying that listening to lawyers' meetings failed to recognize "the exceptional place in the legal system of the United States" for attorney-client communications.

Guantánamo officials say they monitor attorney-client meetings for the safety of lawyers with video cameras but that meeting areas are not wired for sound.

But several lawyers said their clients had told them that shortly after detainees met with lawyers, interrogators had asked the detainees about topics that had been discussed.

The Guantánamo spokeswoman, Cmdr. Pauline A. Storum, said interrogators were trained not to inquire about attorney-client meetings.

Shayana Kadidal, the lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights handling the freedom of information case, said there were many practical consequences of surveillance concerns. For example, he said, lawyers challenging the Bush administration's detention policies must travel worldwide for meetings with witnesses to avoid potential telephone or e-mail monitoring.

Jonathan Hafetz of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University represents two brothers from Qatar, Jarallah al-Marri, who is held at Guantánamo, and Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, who is held at the navy brig in Charleston, S.C., the only person on the American mainland known to be held as an enemy combatant.

After 16 months during which Ali al-Marri was held incommunicado, Mr. Hafetz was permitted to discuss the case with him. In 2006, Mr. Hafetz said, a guard commander told Mr. Marri that he had to speak in English during a conversation with his lawyer.

Mr. Hafetz wrote government officials asking whether the English-only requirement indicated that his conversations with his client were being monitored.

Mr. Hafetz said the commander of the brig later said there was no military surveillance. Mr. Hafetz said he never received a response about whether other agencies had listened to their conversations.

Vallejo, California City Officials Vote to File for Bankruptcy

Vallejo, California City Officials Vote to File for Bankruptcy

By Michael B. Marois

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Vallejo, California's city council voted to go into bankruptcy, saying the city doesn't have enough money to pay its bills after talks with labor unions failed to win salary concessions from fire fighters and police.

The city council's unanimous decision makes the San Francisco suburb the largest city in California ever to file for bankruptcy and the first local government in the state to seek protection from creditors because it ran out of money amid the worst housing slump in the U.S. in 26 years.

The city of 117,000 is facing ballooning labor costs and declining housing-related tax revenue that have left it near insolvency. The city expects a $16 million deficit for the coming fiscal year that starts July 1. Under bankruptcy protection, city services would keep running. It would freeze all creditor claims while officials devise a plan for emerging from bankruptcy.

‘‘Nobody wants bankruptcy but there doesn't appear to be a whole lot of options left,'' said city councilwoman Joanne Schivley. ‘‘We are going to be out of money by June 30. It's all a numbers game now.''

Once the city files its petition, a federal bankruptcy judge must decide whether the city is actually insolvent. If so, the case can proceed. If the judge rules the city isn't legally broke, the case would be dismissed, said the city's hired bankruptcy attorney Marc Levinson of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.

Police and firefighting salaries, pension and overtime consume almost 80 percent of the city's $89 million general fund budget. Cities in California on average spend about 60 percent of their budgets on firefighter and police salaries, according to the League of California Cities.

‘Sad Day'

City and labor union officials have been meeting since January to revise the existing contracts. The unions have balked at pay cuts. By filing for bankruptcy, the city is asking a judge to step in and force salary concessions from the labor unions.

‘‘It's a sad day when the officials we elected to lead this city just throw up their hands,'' resident Kenneth Shoemaker told the board prior to the vote.

Standard & Poor's on Feb. 21 placed $59 million of city bonds under review for a possible downgrade. That debt is rated A and A-, the sixth- and seventh-highest investment grades, respectively. Another $150 million in debt is backed by water- system revenue, motor-vehicle license fees and special district property assessments.

Vallejo is the first California city to seek bankruptcy since Desert Hot Springs, a town of 20,000 people north of Palm Springs, did in 2001. That municipality was hit by a legal judgment of almost $6 million it couldn't afford.

Different Expectations

Orange County in Southern California filed the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history in December 1994 after former Treasurer Robert Citron's wrong-way bet on interest-rate derivatives lost $1.6 billion. The county of 3 million people is the third-most populous in California after Los Angeles and San Diego Counties.

‘‘It's a sad and difficult day in Vallejo,'' said Orange County Treasurer Chriss Street. ‘‘Now it's time to stop the blame game and time to start the management game. People need to start understanding that there's a pot of money and it can only go so far. The city is going to need learn to live with different expectations.''

Vallejo, on the San Francisco Bay, was home to the West Coast's first shipyard, which was shuttered in 1996. The area has been one of the hardest hit in Northern California by the housing market slump. Home prices in Solano County, where the town resides, dropped 19 percent in January from the year before, according to DataQuick Information Systems, a firm which tracks real-estate markets in the state.

Mortgage crisis 'threat to economy'

Mortgage crisis 'threat to economy'

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Ben Bernanke, chairman of the US central bank, has said that the rising cases of late mortgage payments and home foreclosures pose considerable dangers to the US economy.

In a speech on Monday, he urged congress to take additional steps to alleviate the problems.

"High rates of delinquency and foreclosure can have substantial spillover effects on the housing market, the financial markets and the broader economy," Bernanke said in a dinner speech at Columbia Business School in New York.

"Therefore, doing what we can to avoid preventable foreclosures is not just in the interest of lenders and borrowers. It's in everybody's interest."

Bernanke did not talk about the interest-rate policy or the state of the economy.

'More relief'

On April 30th the Federal Reserve cut a key interest rate by one-quarter percentage point to two per cent and strongly hinted that it may take a break in its rate-cutting campaign that started last September.

To provide more relief, Bernanke again called on congress to give the Federal Housing Administration, which insures mortgages, more flexibility to help distressed borrowers at risk of losing their homes.He urged legislators to move ahead on legislation revamping Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which finance mortgages. And he called on the two mortgage giants to quickly raise new capital.

Some 1.5 million US homes entered into the foreclosure process last year, up 53 per cent from 2006, Bernanke said.

The rate of new foreclosures looks likely to be even higher this year, he said.

"Conditions in mortgage markets remain quite difficult," Bernanke said.

The reasons behind surging late payments and foreclosures can vary and that needs to be taken into account when developing solutions, he said.

For instance, parts of New England, states in the Great Lakes, including Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin, show increased mortgage delinquencies and "notable increases" in unemployment rates, Bernanke said.

California, Florida and parts of Colorado, on the other hand, saw delinquencies rise during a period when unemployment generally decreased but the value of homes declined, he said.

The current housing crisis has affected some borrowers home prices, leaving them with mortgages that are bigger than the value of their homes.

When that's the primary problem, Bernanke said, the best solution may be reducing the amount that the borrower owes on the loan or some other permanent modification to the loan.

House takes up bills to help financially at-risk homeowners

House takes up bills to help financially at-risk homeowners

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The House of Representatives will take up legislation Wednesday that would broadly address the nation's housing crisis and could have the government assume control of up to $300 billion in refinanced home loans to be given to distressed homeowners.

The measures are the Democrats' effort to take the lead in addressing an economic crisis that's dominating American life and, increasingly, the presidential campaign.

The full House will vote on the FHA Housing and Homeowner Retention Act, which is being pushed by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. It seeks to expand Federal Housing Administration refinancing efforts to help at-risk borrowers who could lose their homes to foreclosure.

House lawmakers also will take up a bill to authorize the federal government to provide $15 billion to allow state and local governments award loans and grants to purchase and rehabilitate owner-vacated foreclosed homes. The idea is to prevent foreclosed homes from sitting on the market for long periods of time, inviting crime and dragging down prices of nearby homes.

They'll also take up a measure from the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee to give a $7,500 tax credit for first-time homebuyers to stimulate demand for home buying. The measure also would provide a one-time standard deduction on federal tax forms for state and local real estate taxes, up to $350 for single filers and $700 for joint filers. The tax measure also would increase by $10 billion the amount of tax-free bonds that can be made available by states to help first-time homebuyers with low incomes and for construction of low-income rental housing.

Implicit in the Democrats' legislation, which won bipartisan support coming out of the two committees, is the view that efforts to date by the Bush administration and the private sector have been inadequate.

The House bills seek to amend legislation already passed by the Senate. Frank has pledged to get legislation to President Bush by July 4. In a move to bring more Republicans on board, the Democrats' legislation includes changes called for by the White House, namely the modernization of the FHA and new rules for quasi-government mortgage bundlers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

But the loan-guarantee proposals are controversial. Bush hasn't formally threatened a veto, but his Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a scathing news release late Tuesday that implied one.

The House legislation won general support Monday from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and hasn't drawn criticism from Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, the administration's point man on the housing crisis.

But the HUD statement said its FHASecure program is successfully helping to refinance distressed mortgages while maintaining strict underwriting standards.

HUD said the House legislation is "financially risky, rewards irresponsible behavior and mandates a loosening of FHA underwriting standards, which would put taxpayers on the hook." It mischaracterized Frank's bill, complaining that "it mandates principal reductions" on loan values.

It does not.

The program in the House legislation would be voluntary — something that GOP members insisted on — and would apply only to mortgages where lenders or loan-service companies voluntarily agree to substantial write-downs of principal on mortgages. These lenders or loan service companies would have to agree to accept as payment in full for existing loans no more than 85 percent of properties' current appraised value. That's important, because it means that lenders agree to swallow a significant loss — something Bernanke has called on them to do.

In exchange for taking the hit, the FHA would guarantee the loans. The lenders could rest assured of receiving that value on the reworked loans, no matter what happens. The government, and therefore taxpayers, would be on the hook only if borrowers still default and only if the amounts recovered in foreclosure are less than the value of the reworked loans.

Frank would have preferred this program to be mandatory, and his legislation includes a provision that instructs the Federal Reserve to study the need for an auction or bulk refinancing mechanism that would get the government in the business of auctioning properties, not unlike the aftermath of the savings and loan crisis from 1989-'93.

"You can't always get what you want exactly," Frank told reporters Tuesday, confident that his bill represents a compromise that will pass.

Giving urgency to some sort of legislative action, Fannie Mae on Tuesday reported staggering first-quarter losses of $2.19 billion and warned that additional mortgage defaults could lead to even wider losses next year. Loans owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae that were 90 days or more past due nearly doubled in the first quarter, although they still are only about 1.15 percent of all single-family mortgages in Fannie's portfolio.

To learn more:

Foreclosure Prevention Act:

http://www.rules.house.gov/110/text/110_hr3221SA.pdf

Highlights of the Act:

http://www.house.gov/apps/list/press/financialsvcs_dem/press050608.shtml

Ways and Means bill going to floor:

http://waysandmeans.house.gov/media/pdf/110/housingtext.pdf

The highlights of the housing-related tax bill:

http://waysandmeans.house.gov/media/pdf/110/eresummary.pdf

U.S. Stocks Decline on Housing Concern

U.S. Stocks Decline on Housing Concern, Drop in Metal Prices

By Elizabeth Stanton

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U.S. stocks fell for the second day this week, led by commodity producers, as retreating metal prices and speculation the housing slump is deepening overshadowed an unexpected acceleration in worker productivity.

Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. and Barrick Gold Corp. slid as a strengthening dollar reduced the appeal of precious metals as a hedge against inflation. Fannie Mae led financial shares lower after Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City President Thomas Hoenig said ‘‘serious'' inflation pressures may compel the central bank to raise interest rates.

The Standard & Poor's 500 Index slipped 1.29 point, or 0.1 percent, to 1,416.97 at 9:39 a.m. in New York. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 28.74, or 0.2 percent, to 12,992.09. Nasdaq Composite Index increased 0.55, or less than 0.1 percent, to 2,483.86.

‘‘Economic worries are still at the forefront of people's minds,'' said John Forelli, who helps oversee $7 billion at Independence Investments LLC in Boston. ‘‘Will we avoid a recession or, if we are in a recession, how long will it last?''

Concern that the U.S. economy is slipping into a recession because of the collapse of subprime mortgages and surging oil prices has helped push the S&P 500 down 3.4 percent this year.

The National Association of Realtors will probably say today at 10 a.m. in Washington that fewer Americans signed contracts to buy previously owned homes in March as falling prices and tougher loan rules discouraged buyers, economists forecast. The index of pending home resales probably slipped 1 percent, according to the median forecast in a Bloomberg News survey of 30 economists.

EPA might not act to limit rocket fuel in drinking water

EPA might not act to limit rocket fuel in drinking water

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An EPA official said Tuesday there's a "distinct possibility" the agency won't take action to rid drinking water of a toxic rocket fuel ingredient that has contaminated public water supplies around the country.

Democratic senators called that unacceptable. They argued that states and local communities shouldn't have to bear the expense of cleansing their drinking water of perchlorate, which has been found in at least 395 sites in 35 states - or the risk of not doing so.

The toxin interferes with thyroid function and poses developmental health risks, particularly to fetuses.

Benjamin Grumbles, assistant administrator for water at the Environmental Protection Agency, told a Senate hearing that EPA is aware that perchlorate is widespread and poses health risks.

But he said that after years of study, EPA has yet to determine whether regulating perchlorate in drinking water would do much good.

"Is there a meaningful opportunity to reduce risk if we issue a new national regulation on perchlorate? We've been spending a lot of time on that, Madam Chairman," Grumbles told Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

"I understand your frustration in how long the process is taking but we believe it's important to do the work," Grumbles said, promising a decision by the end of the year.

"EPA is trying to shunt the scientists to the back, put the DOD contractors to the front," Boxer chided. "We want to see action by the scientists. We want to see a standard set."

Grumbles told Boxer it was possible that instead of a regulation, EPA would issue a public health advisory, which would simply provide information. After the hearing he told reporters that a decision to regulate perchlorate was also still on the table.

Most perchlorate contamination resulted from Defense Department activities. The Pentagon could face huge cleanup costs if EPA sets a national drinking water standard for the contaminant, and DOD has tussled with EPA over the issue, according to a report last week by congressional investigators.

Perchlorate is particularly widespread in California and the Southwest, where it's been found in groundwater and in the Colorado River, a drinking water source for 20 million people. It's also been found in lettuce and other foods. Grumbles is awaiting the results of a Food and Drug Administration study that could shed light on how much perchlorate ingestion comes from food versus water.

The dispute over the federal government's response has been long-standing. The EPA in 2005 issued a safety standard for the chemical of 24.5 parts per billion which was criticized as "not protective" by EPA's own Children's Health Protection Advisory Committee. The safety standard indicates what EPA considers a safe exposure level and guides Superfund cleanups, but the agency still didn't move forward with a drinking water standard.

In absence of that, states acted on their own. In 2007, California adopted a drinking water standard of 6 parts per billion. Massachusetts has set a drinking water standard of 2 parts per billion.

Boxer has introduced legislation that she plans to bring to a committee vote in June that would require EPA to set a drinking water standard. Committee Republicans said Congress should stand back and let the EPA finish its work.

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On the Net:

Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.gov

The EU strengthens “Fortress Europe” against migration due to climate change

The EU strengthens “Fortress Europe” against migration due to climate change

By Ajay Prakash and Antoine Lerougetel
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The European Union is responding to the present and projected catastrophic effects of climate change on the most vulnerable populations of the world, and their inevitable migration in order to survive, with an intensification of already draconian anti-immigration controls.

The EU, in alliance with the governments of transit countries, is attempting to imprison affected populations in ghettos of impoverishment and famine. It has erected militarised barriers on its borders and instituted police-state measures internally to bar residence to workers from impoverished countries, which have been subject to the ravages of the great powers and their corporate elites, as well as the national ruling classes.

EU foreign affairs chief and Spanish social democrat Javier Solana reported in March 2008 that “climate change and international security” raised concerns and the need to secure European interests in those regions. His remarks were prompted by a report from the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU), which warns of the impact of “climate change as a security risk.”

Solana affirms: “Climate change is best viewed as a threat multiplier which exacerbates existing trends, tensions and instability. The core challenge is that climate change threatens to overburden states and regions which are already fragile and conflict prone. It is important to recognise that the risks are not just of a humanitarian nature; they also include political and security risks that directly affect European interests.”

He continues: “Those parts of the populations that already suffer from poor health conditions, unemployment or social exclusion are rendered more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which could amplify or trigger migration within and between countries.... Such migration may increase conflicts in transit and destination areas. Europe must expect substantially increased migratory pressure.”

On April 8, EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel expressed similar anxiety at the “looming world food crisis, which is less visible than the oil crisis, but has the potential to cause a real economic and humanitarian tsunami in Africa.”

An article in the New York Times, on January 14, reported: “Last year roughly 31,000 Africans tried to reach the Canary Islands, a prime transit point to Europe, in more than 900 boats. About 6,000 died or disappeared, according to one estimate cited by the United Nations.”

As major reasons for this exodus, the article cited the overfishing of West Africa’s offshore waters by European companies, which have bought the rights to do so from African governments, and the resulting destruction of the livelihoods of African fishing communities.

Solana also made a veiled reference to the social devastation caused by neo-colonial wars of conquest carried out by the US and its partners in Iraq and Afghanistan: “One of the most significant potential conflicts over resources arises from intensified competition over access to, and control over, energy resources. That in itself is, and will continue to be, a cause of instability. However, because much of the world’s hydrocarbon reserves are in regions vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and because many oil and gas producing states already face significant social economic and demographic challenges, instability is likely to increase.”

The WBGU emphasises that in these regions, “Internal migration continues to predominate, although in recent years there has been increased international migration, including illegal immigration into southern Europe.”

Fortress Europe’s “iron wall”

The EU is raising an iron wall along its borders: No one can enter without a visa. Foreigners are put on surveillance lists and from 2009 will have to provide their biometric details throughout the EU, even if they are coming for a short stay.

A BBC report reveals that the “EU has 1,792 designated external border crossing points with controls, 665 air border crossing points, 871 sea borders and 246 land borders, 300 million crossings per year at these points, 160 million crossings by EU citizens, 60 million by non-EU citizens without a visa and 80 million by non-EU citizens with a visa. An estimated 8 million illegal immigrants reside in the EU, half of whom entered in legally but overstayed.”

The EU has set up its own increasingly militarised European Border Control Agency called FRONTEX, with a 45 million-euro budget for 2008. It has developed a surveillance system (Eurosur) to monitor immigrants’ movements via satellites and aerial drones as well as Rapid Border Intervention Teams (RABITs).

No-Racism.net comments: “FRONTEX represents a militarised security regime in which police, border control, migration authorities, army and secret services are forming a more and more integrated complex of repression, dividing the world along hierarchies between rich and poor, between [western] Europe and ‘the others,’ between those who have rights, those who have less rights and those who have no rights at all.”

FRONTEX also operates from African countries in order to prevent illegal departures, focusing mainly on the Canary Islands and Mediterranean and Black Sea routes. “Fortress Europe...is a reality,” commented Irene Khan, Amnesty International’s secretary general, during a press conference in Brussels after talks with EU officials on April 15. “Access to Europe is very difficult and the initial border of the European Union is being pushed further and further away,” she said, pointing to the rescue operations of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea, patrols in Senegal and increasing EU cooperation with transit countries.

France’s minister of immigration, Brice Hortefeux, has been visiting EU countries to drum up support for a “common immigration pact” with 20 African countries by the end of 2009. He stated: “We have already signed agreements with Senegal, Gabon, Benin, and the Congo and we have begun discussions with Mali, Tunisia and Morocco. Egypt and Chad have just informed us that they are interested.”

Giving the example of Benin, Hortefeux said that he was offering the government the miserable bribe of 150 “Competence and Talent” cards per year, enabling students to study in France, plus 3 million euros “to help develop the country’s health service.”

A similar agreement with Gabon on “co-development and the joint management of migration movements,” was already adopted by France’s National Assembly on April 10. It had been signed in Libreville on July 5, 2007.

Hortefeux also stated: “Obviously countries such as Libya and also Morocco will ask Europe to contribute to some of the cost of protecting their frontiers. I am conscious of the effort already made by the Moroccans, who thus deploy about 12,000 men to prevent massive movements of illegals to the Canaries.”

Internal repression of immigration within the EU

On April 25, the EU parliament and its member states initially agreed on the “EU Returns Directive,” which regulates the deportation of undocumented immigrants, including failed asylum seekers. A maximum detention period of 6 months has been established, and repatriation to the country of origin, with a five-year ban on re-entry to the EU for five years. Keeping immigrants in detention for up to 18 months, if there is a delay obtaining the necessary documentation from their countries, is being considered. The EU parliament is expected to vote on the “EU Detention Directive” on June 4.

From July 2008, more than 10 million undocumented migrants’ lives will be affected by this new immigration policy: They can be detained without charge. Their only crime is not having a visa or valid residence document.

At present, detention conditions vary in the EU: France has a 30-day limit, and Britain and some other countries have indefinite detention periods.

The International Herald Tribune reports: “There are now 224 detention camps scattered across the European Union; altogether they can house more than 30,000 people—asylum-seekers and illegal immigrants awaiting deportation—who are often held in administrative detention for as long as 18 months. In a number of EU countries, there is no upper limit on detention length.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has pinpointed Greece as a country where “reception conditions...continue to fall short of international and European standards.”

None of the major powers are capable or willing to make common efforts to resolve problems of climate change and the environment and their social consequences. This is an impossibility under capitalism. Neither can or will they give up the brutal competition for markets and raw materials. Thus, the flood of human beings seeking minimal economic security will continue, and the EU’s solution to the crisis is more repression and additional police powers.

Fighting intensifies across Afghanistan

Fighting intensifies across Afghanistan

By James Cogan
Go To Original

Fighting is escalating in Afghanistan as weather conditions improve for combat operations by both the US-NATO occupation force and the Afghan guerillas fighting to drive them from the country.

The 2,300 troops of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which only arrived in Afghanistan seven weeks ago to reinforce the NATO-commanded International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), were hurled last week into a major assault on insurgent strongholds near the town of Garmser in Helmand province. The guerillas in that area are primarily supporters of the Taliban Islamic fundamentalist movement, which was overthrown by the 2001 US invasion.

The operation, codenamed “Azada Wosa” or “Be Free” in Pashtun, has considerable tactical importance for the occupation forces. Garmser is believed to be one of the main assembly points for Taliban fighters moving from mountain bases along the Afghan-Pakistan border to link up with insurgent units across the rebellious ethnic Pashtun provinces of southern Afghanistan. It is also a key transit route for the smuggling of Afghan opium and heroin to Pakistan, one of the principal ways in which the insurgency finances itself. British troops, who are responsible for NATO operations in Helmand, have fought desperate battles to hold a base in the town, but have been unable to either control it or prevent Taliban movements.

The US marines, many of whom are veterans of fierce fighting in the Iraqi city of Ramadi during 2006, have spent the past week trying to dislodge Taliban fighters from positions along Garmser’s main road using air strikes, artillery and mortar barrages and machine gun fire. No American troops have been reported killed-in-action. There are no confirmed reports on Afghan casualties.

According to Taliban sources cited on May 2 by Asia Times Online, the insurgents have offered only minimal resistance to the US operation. Their strategy is to bottle up hundreds of the newly-arrived American troops attempting to secure Garmser, while they concentrate on attacking occupation forces further north.

Taliban guerillas have had six to eight weeks of suitable weather to prepare offensives of their own. The boldest thus far was the April 27 attack by three guerillas on a military parade in the Afghan capital Kabul presided over by US-backed president Hamid Karzai. A member of parliament was killed and 11 people injured. On Sunday, a government army officer and Kabul police captain were arrested on suspicion of assisting the assassination attempt.

A series of other attacks have taken place over the past 10 days that have pushed total US/NATO fatalities this year to 56—21 American, 9 British, 9 Canadian and 17 from other countries that have troops participating in the occupation.

Australian commando Jason Marks was killed and four others wounded by small arms fire in Uruzgan province on April 27 when Afghan fighters ambushed Australian troops as they assembled for an attack on an alleged Taliban position. Air strikes had to be called in to extricate the Australians. The same day, insurgents attacked a US/Afghan army base in the eastern province of Kunar, near the Pakistan border. They were driven off by artillery and air strikes.

On April 28, clashes between Taliban and US troops took place in Nimroz province and Ghazni province, with no reported American casualties. Another Australian soldier was wounded during a firefight in Uruzgan.

Two American troops were killed in separate incidents on April 29. Jonathan Yelner, a 24-year-old member of an Air Force maintenance unit, was killed by a roadside bomb planted outside the huge US air base at Bagram, in central Afghanistan. Army sergeant David McDowell, 30, was killed by guerilla small arms fire near Camp Bastion, the main NATO base in northern Helmand province.

Also on April 29, a suicide bomber detonated explosives among members of a government opium poppy eradication team in the province of Nangarhar. Eighteen people were killed and at least 31 wounded. On April 30, one Czech soldier was killed and four others wounded by a roadside bomb in Logar province. Czech forces only assumed command over ISAF’s “Provincial Reconstruction Team” in Logar on March 28.

A Fijian-born British soldier, Ratu Babakobau, was critically wounded on May 2 when his vehicle struck a mine in northern Helmand. He was declared dead on arrival at the Camp Bastion hospital. Three other British troops and one Afghan were wounded.

On May 5, a civilian helicopter contracted by the US military was hit by small arms fire in Kunar province and forced to make an emergency landing. There were no reported casualties. Yesterday, one Canadian soldier was killed and another wounded during a clash with insurgents in Kandahar province.

In virtually every engagement with Afghan guerillas, the US and ISAF forces rely on air support from helicopter gunships or fighter-bombers to avoid casualties. Attacks on alleged Taliban targets are also overwhelmingly carried out by aircraft. As many as 10 air attacks are carried out every day in Afghanistan. In many cases, civilians are killed or maimed by these indiscriminate bombings, fueling hatred for the occupation and creating fresh recruits for the insurgency.

The dependency on air power underscores the fragility of the US/NATO hold on Afghanistan. Some 64,000 foreign troops are attempting to occupy a country the same size as Iraq but which has a far more rugged terrain and a largely rural population. The US-funded and equipped Afghan National Army consists of less than 70,000 personnel and has no independent air support or logistical systems. By way of comparison, the failed Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s involved 108,000 troops at its peak, along with over 300,000 pro-Moscow Afghan government troops and police.

Like the Soviet forces, the far smaller US-led occupation only controls the main cities and selected strategic positions. The Taliban and other insurgent groups are able to operate largely unhindered across large parts of the countryside. The insurgents are also assisted by divisions within the NATO-commanded International Security Assistance Force, which has responsibility for security in all of the country except the eastern provinces, where some 14,000 US troops operate independently of NATO.

ISAF is made up of approximately 50,000 troops from 40 different countries, with many national contingents consisting of only a few hundred personnel. The inevitable command and logistical difficulties arising from its diverse composition are compounded by various national caveats placed on the use of troops. More than a third of the ISAF personnel, including the large contingents of German, French, Italian, Spanish and Turkish troops, are not permitted to deploy into southern Afghanistan, where the insurgency is most active. American, Canadian, British, Dutch and Australian troops are bearing the brunt of the fighting.

Demands by the US, British and Canadian governments that the major European powers both lift these limitations and send additional troops to Afghanistan have been largely ignored. In the wake of the NATO summit in Bucharest during April, France announced an extra 700 troops for the eastern provinces to free up US forces to fight in the south. Georgia, which is seeking NATO membership, has promised to send 500 troops. Small numbers of troops are being sent by Croatia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania. The Bush administration ordered an additional 3,500 US marines to Afghanistan in January. The total reinforcements, however, fall far short of the 7,000 to 8,000 extra troops that NATO commanders declared that they urgently needed at the beginning of the year.

The US attempt to subjugate the Afghan people and turn the country into a pliable client state in Central Asia has dragged on now for over six-and-a-half years. So far, it has cost the lives of more than 800 American and NATO troops and tens of thousands of Afghans. The estimated financial cost of the occupation was over $120 billion at the end of 2007. However, very little aid has been provided to end the appalling social conditions facing the majority of the population.

The war has no end in sight. The unstated position in Washington—one shared by both Republicans and Democrats—is that tens of thousands of American troops will be killing and dying in Afghanistan for the next decade or more. The New York Times reported over the weekend that the Bush administration is considering ordering an additional 7,000 US soldiers to Afghanistan in 2009 due to “growing resignation that NATO is unable or unwilling to contribute more troops”. Such a deployment would move American troop numbers in Afghanistan to over 40,000 and further escalate the death and destruction.

Bush administration moves to exploit Burma cyclone disaster

Bush administration moves to exploit Burma cyclone disaster

By Joe Kay
Go To Original

The Bush administration lost no time in seeking to exploit the devastating tragedy in Burma (Myanmar). It has seized upon the cyclone that struck the country over the weekend, killed at least 20,000 and likely many more, to aggressively push its foreign policy agenda in Asia.

On Tuesday, Bush held a special ceremony at the White House to sign a bill giving Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi a Congressional Gold Medal. He used the occasion to place deliberately provocative conditions on any disbursement of aid to the ravaged country, beyond an initial token sum.

“The United States has made an initial aid contribution, but we want to do a lot more,” Bush declared. “We’re prepared to move US Navy assets to help find those who’ve lost their lives, to help find the missing, to help stabilize the situation. But in order to do so, the military junta must allow our disaster assessment teams into the country.”

So far, the US embassy has authorized the release of a paltry $250,000—less than half the cost of a single Tomahawk cruse missile of the type used by the US Navy to kill a Somali rebel last week. Later Tuesday, the administration pledged an additional $3 million to be allocated by a USAID disaster response team.

The very fact that the US is making aid to Burma conditional upon the satisfaction of certain demands is itself an outrage. Bush did not say why it was necessary for the US to carry out its own assessment in order to release more aid, nor did he elaborate on what was meant by promises that the US military would help “stabilize the situation.” US Navy ships are standing by off the coast of Thailand to intervene.

These pledges are certainly not intended as selfless humanitarian gestures. The Bush administration has been seeking to undermine the Burmese military regime for years and seized on protests last year by Buddhist monks to slap economic sanctions on the country and its rulers. There is no doubt that the United States would be happy to exploit the current tragedy to get a military foothold in the country.

The World Socialist Web Site holds no brief for the Burmese military junta, a brutal regime that has exercised dictatorial control over a largely impoverished country. However, US and European machinations, including the promotion of Suu Kyi, have nothing to do with concern for the democratic rights or economic well-being of the population. As always, the humanitarian pretensions of the US government are carefully calibrated to coincide with the interests of the American ruling class.

In the case of Burma, the US is interested in countering the influence of China, which has closer ties with the military regime and sees the country as a critical point of access into the Indian Ocean. As far as the Bush administration is concerned, the population of the country is only a bargaining chip in the pursuit of geo-strategic objectives.

US energy giants, including the Chevron oil corporation, also have interests in Burma. While the Bush administration has placed economic sanctions on the country, these have not affected Chevron’s multibillion-dollar investments through its subsidiary Unocal. Human rights groups have accused Chevron of complicity in abuses in Burma intended to protect its pipeline routes.

The statements by the Bush administration must also be seen in the context of its treatment of populations around the world, including in the United States itself. On Monday, US First Lady Laura Bush was the first from the White House to respond to the cyclone, using the opportunity to chastise the government for failing to warn the population and adequately prepare for the consequences.

“Although they were aware of the threat,” she said, “Burma’s state-run media failed to issue a timely warning to citizens in the storm’s path. The response to the cyclone is just the most recent example of the junta’s failure to meet its people’s basic needs.”

The hypocrisy and cynicism of this statement are so glaring that one wonders if it is not intentionally provocative. This August 29 will mark the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the massive storm that struck Louisiana and Mississippi, killing at least 1,800 people. The hurricane destroyed and flooded New Orleans, a major American city.

The US and local governments had been aware for decades of the potential for a deadly flood in New Orleans, but there was no evacuation plan in place, and no plan to meet the needs of those trapped or displaced. Tens of thousands remained trapped for days in the Louisiana Superdome. Many thousands who lost their homes were placed in temporary FEMA trailers, and in 2007 it was revealed that these trailers contained extremely high levels of formaldehyde, a toxic chemical.

The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina was largely preventable, but due to gross governmental indifference and negligence, the levee systems of New Orleans were denied necessary investments and allowed to decay—only one of many examples of the American government’s “failure to meet its people’s basic needs.”

Under U.S. Law Torture is Always Illegal

Under U.S. Law Torture is Always Illegal

Why John Yoo and Other Top Administration Lawyers Should be Investigated for War Crimes

By MARJORIE COHN

Go To Original

What does torture have in common with genocide, slavery, and wars of aggression? They are all jus cogens. Jus cogens is Latin for "higher law" or "compelling law." This means that no country can ever pass a law that allows torture. There can be no immunity from criminal liability for violation of a jus cogens prohibition.

The United States has always prohibited the use of torture in our Constitution, laws executive statements and judicial decisions. We have ratified three treaties that all outlaw torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. When the United States ratifies a treaty, it becomes part of the Supreme Law of the Land under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.

The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, says, "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture."

Whether someone is a POW or not, he must always be treated humanely; there are no gaps in the Geneva Conventions. He must be protected against torture, mutilation, cruel treatment, and outrages upon personal dignity, particularly humiliating and degrading treatment under, Common Article 3.

In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court rejected the Bush administration's argument that Common Article 3 doesn't cover the prisoners at Guantánamo. Justice Kennedy wrote that violations of Common Article 3 are war crimes.

We have federal laws that criminalize torture.

The War Crimes Act punishes any grave breach of the Geneva Conventions, as well as any violation of Common Article 3. That includes torture, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, and inhuman, humiliating or degrading treatment.

The Torture Statute provides for life in prison, or even the death penalty if the victim dies, for anyone who commits, attempts, or conspires to commit torture outside the United States.

The U.S. Army Field Manual's provisions governing intelligence interrogations prohibit the "use of force, mental torture, threats, insults, or exposure to unpleasant and inhumane treatment of any kind." Brainwashing, mental torture, or any other form of mental coercion, including the use of drugs, are also prohibited. Military personnel who mistreat prisoners can be prosecuted by court-martial under provisions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. These include conspiracy, cruelty and maltreatment, murder, manslaughter, maiming, sodomy, and assault.

In Filartiga v. Peña-Irala, the Second Circuit declared the prohibition against torture is universal, obligatory, specific and definable. Since then, every U.S. circuit court has reaffirmed that torture violates universal and customary international law. In the Paquete Habana, the Supreme Court held that customary international law is part of U.S. law.

The Constitution gives Congress the power to make the laws and the President the duty to carry them out. Yet on February 7, 2002, President Bush, relying on memos by lawyers including John Yoo, announced that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to alleged Taliban and Al Qaeda members. Bush said, however,

"As a matter of policy, the United States Armed Forces shall continue to treat detainees humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva."

But torture is never allowed under our laws.

Lawyers in the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel wrote memos at the request of high-ranking government officials in order to insulate them from future prosecution for subjecting detainees to torture. In memos dated August 1, 2002 and March 18, 2003, former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo (Jay Bybee, now a federal judge, signed the 2002 memo), advised the Bush administration that the Department of Justice would not enforce the U.S. criminal laws against torture, assault, maiming and stalking, in the detention and interrogation of enemy combatants.

The federal maiming statute makes it a crime for someone "with the intent to torture, maim, or disfigure" to "cut, bite, or slit the nose, ear or lip, or cut out or disable the tongue, or put out or destroy an eye, or cut off or disable a limb or any member of another person." It further prohibits individuals from "throwing or pouring upon another person any scalding water, corrosive acid, or caustic substance" with like intent.

Yoo said in an interview in Esquire that "just because the statute says -- that doesn't mean you have to do it." In a debate with Notre Dame Professor Doug Cassell, Yoo said there is no treaty that prohibits the President from torturing someone by crushing the testicles of the person's child. In Yoo's view, it depends on the President's motive, notwithstanding the absolute prohibition against torture in all circumstances.

The Torture Convention defines torture as the intentional infliction of severe physical or mental pain or suffering. The U.S. attached an "understanding" to its ratification of the Torture Convention, which added the requirement that the torturer "specifically" intend to inflict the severe physical or mental pain or suffering. This is a distinction without a difference for three reasons.

First, under well-established principles of criminal law, a person specifically intends to cause a result when he either consciously desires that result or when he knows the result is practically certain to follow.

Second, unlike a "reservation" to a treaty provision, an "understanding" cannot change an international legal obligation.

Third, under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, an "understanding" that violates the object and purpose of a treaty is void. The claim that treatment of prisoners which would amount to torture under the Torture Convention does not constitute torture under the U.S. "understanding" violates the object and purpose of the Convention, which is to ensure that "no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." The U.S. "understanding" that adds the specific intent requirement is embodied in the U.S. Torture Statute.

Nevertheless, Yoo twisted the law and redefined torture much more narrowly than the definitions in the Convention Against Torture and the Torture Statute. Under Yoo's definition, the victim must experience intense pain or suffering equivalent to pain associated with serious physical injury so severe that death, organ failure or permanent damage resulting in loss of significant body functions will likely result.

Yoo wrote that self-defense or necessity could be used as a defense to war crimes prosecutions for torture, notwithstanding the Torture Convention's absolute prohibition against torture in all circumstances. There can be no justification for torture.

After the exposure of the atrocities at Abu Ghraib and the publication of the August 1, 2002 memo, the Department of Justice knew the memo could not be legally defended. That memo was withdrawn as of June 1, 2004. A new opinion, authored by Daniel Levin, Acting Assistant Attorney General Office of Legal Counsel, is dated December 30, 2004. It specifically rejects Yoo’s definition of torture, and admits that a defendant’s motives to protect national security will not shield him from a torture prosecution. The rescission of the August 2002 memo constitutes an admission by the Justice Department that the legal reasoning in that memo was wrong. But for 22 months, it was in effect, which sanctioned and led to the torture of prisoners in U.S. custody.

John Yoo admitted the coercive interrogation “policies were part of a common, unifying approach to the war on terrorism.” Yoo and other Department of Justice lawyers, including Jay Bybee, David Addington, William Haynes and Alberto Gonzalez, were part of a common plan to violate U.S. and international laws outlawing torture. It was reasonably foreseeable that the advice they gave would result in great physical or mental harm or death to many detainees. Indeed, more than 100 have died, many from torture.

ABC News reported last month that the National Security Council Principals Committee consisting of Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, George Tenet, and John Ashcroft met in the White House and micromanaged the torture of terrorism suspects by approving specific torture techniques such as waterboarding. Bush admitted, "Yes, I'm aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved."

These top U.S. officials are liable for war crimes under the U.S. War Crimes Act and torture under the Torture Statute. They ordered the torture that was carried out by the interrogators. Under the doctrine of command responsibility, used at Nuremberg and enshrined in the Army Field Manual, commanders, all the way up the chain of command to the commander in chief, can be liable for war crimes if they knew or should have known their subordinates would commit them, and they did nothing to stop or prevent it. The Bush officials ordered the torture after seeking legal cover from their lawyers.

But Yoo and the other Justice Department lawyers who wrote the enabling memos are also liable for the same offenses. They were an integral part of a criminal conspiracy to violate our criminal laws. Yoo admitted in an Esquire interview last month that he knew interrogators would take action based on what he advised.

The President can no more order the commission of torture than he can order the commission of genocide, or establish a system of slavery, or wage a war of aggression.

A Select Committee of Congress should launch an immediate and thorough investigation of the circumstances under which torture was authorized and rationalized. The high officials of our government and their lawyers who advised them should be investigated and prosecuted by a Special Prosecutor, independent of the Justice Department, for their crimes.

John Yoo, Jay Byee, and David Addington should be subjected to particular scrutiny because of the seriousness of their roles in misusing the rule of law and legal analysis to justify torture and other crimes in flagrant violation of domestic and international law.

This essay is adapted from Marjorie Cohn's testimony before the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
of the House Judiciary Committee
.

Marjorie Cohn is president of the National Lawyers Guild and author of Cowboy Republic.

Iran cites Israeli nuclear activity as example of world's hypocrisy

Iran cites Israeli nuclear activity as example of world's hypocrisy

Tehran says stringent IAEA inspections unfair as Israel not partner to non-proliferation treaty, claims western countries practice 'nuclear apartheid'

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Iran on Monday rejected pressure to submit to intrusive nuclear inspections, claiming it is unfair to subject Iran to such pressure while Israel is outside the global treaty to curb atomic weapons.

"The existing double standard shall not be tolerated anymore by non-nuclear weapon states," Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh told a meeting of the countries in the 190-nation Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

He said nuclear armed countries such as the United States, France and Britain were practicing "nuclear apartheid" by clandestinely providing nuclear supplies to favored countries while denying or restricting peaceful nuclear technology to countries like Iran.

"Access of developing countries to peaceful nuclear materials and technologies has been continuously denied to the extent that they have had no choice than to acquire their requirements for peaceful uses of nuclear energy, including for medical and industrial applications, from open markets. This usually means the material provided is more expensive, poorer quality and less safe," Soltanieh said.

"Israel, with huge nuclear weapons activities, has not concluded" such an agreement or submitted its facilities to the IAEA's safeguards, he added.

"The path of defiance is also the path of isolation, of continuing and additional sanctions and of further stunted economic opportunities for a proud and sophisticated people already suffering from economic turmoil and mismanagement by its regime's leaders," said Christopher A. Ford, US special representative for nuclear nonproliferation.

Ford said Iran joined North Korea and Syria in weakening the nonproliferation treaty. He said North Korea's nuclear weapons program poses a threat to regional and global security, and cited US allegations that Syria "until several months ago was secretly constructing a nuclear reactor that we believe was not intended for peaceful purposes."

Back to Square 1 on soldiers' safety?

Back to Square 1 on soldiers' safety?

New weapon penetrates pricey vehicle, kills 2 GIs

The deaths of two U.S. soldiers in western Baghdad last week have sparked concerns that Iraqi insurgents have developed a new weapon capable of striking what the U.S. military considers its most explosive-resistant vehicle.

The soldiers were riding in a Mine Resistant Ambush Protective vehicle, known as an MRAP, when an explosion sent a blast of super-heated metal through the MRAP's armor and into the vehicle, killing them both.

Their deaths brought to eight the number of American troops killed while riding in an MRAP, which was developed and deployed to Iraq last year after years of acrimony over light armor on the Army's workhorse vehicle, the Humvee.

The military has praised the vehicles for saving hundreds of lives, saying they could withstand the IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, which have been the biggest killers of Americans in Iraq. The Pentagon has set aside $5.4 billion to acquire 4,000 MRAPs at more than $1 million each, making the MRAP the Defense Department's third-largest acquisition program, behind missile defense and the Joint Strike Fighter.

But last Wednesday's attack has shown that the MRAPs are vulnerable to an especially potent form of IED known as an EFP, for explosively formed penetrator, which fires a superheated cone of metal through the vehicle's armor.

Military officials are still trying to determine whether last week's attack is a sign of "new vulnerabilities (in the vehicle) or new (weapons) capabilities" on the part of insurgents, said Navy Capt. John Kirby, a spokesman for Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Explosive experts in Iraq are investigating, said Col. Jerry O'Hare, a military spokesman.

Doubting the Evidence Against Iran

Doubting the Evidence Against Iran

By MARK KUKIS AND ABIGAIL HAUSLOHNER/BAGHDAD

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A
merican circles in Baghdad and Washington are probably not pleased with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's plan for a special panel to investigate allegations of Iranian interference in Iraq. Many U.S. officials are already convinced of the worst and, for years, U.S. officials have aired accusations against Iran, insisting that Tehran is stoking Iraq's violence by keeping up a flow of money, weapons and trained fighters into the country. The Iraqi government, however, remains unconvinced — with good reason.

"We want to find really good evidence and not evidence made on speculations," Ali al-Dabbagh, a spokesman for the Iraqi government, told reporters in Baghdad on Sunday. Last week an Iraqi government delegation went to Tehran to discuss the allegations of Iranian involvement in the Iraqi militias, the government said. Details of the evidence presented in Tehran remains hazy, but at the same time American officials in Baghdad and Washington have never offered a convincing case publicly to support their allegations. [In the meantime, Tehran announced that it would not hold a new round of talks — the third of their kind with American representatives — regarding security in Iraq unless the U.S. ceased its operations against Iraqi Shi'ites. American forces have been working with the Iraqi Army against Shi'ite militias in Baghdad's sprawling slum, Sadr City.]

Indeed, the U.S. allegations appear to be based on speculation, spurred by the appearance about a year ago of a new breed of roadside bomb in Iraq. Explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, proved effective at piercing American armor by firing a concave copper disc from a makeshift cannon, which transformed the slug midair into a molten jet of super-heated metal. Accusations that Iran was shipping the things into Iraq grew louder as U.S. casualties from the weapon rose. But no concrete evidence has emerged in public that Iran was behind the weapons. U.S. officials have revealed no captured shipments of such devices and offered no other proof.

Instead, the Americans argued their case publicly with deductive reasoning: the copper slugs used in EFPs had to be precisely tooled with a heavy press in order to work properly, they said; no such heavy presses were in operation in Iraq, according to the Americans, therefore the slugs had to have been machined in Iran and moved into Iraq. It is, however, not impossible that such heavy presses may well be operating in Iraq. Three major cities in southern Iraq (Basra, Karbala and Najaf) have gone without a significant U.S. military presence for more than a year. These cities, which U.S. officials believe form hubs for the flow of arms into Baghdad, may indeed have such presses.

The U.S. has also alleged that Tehran was passing rockets to militia elements in Iraq for use against American troops and, lately, the Iraqi government living under American protection in the Green Zone. Recovered materials from some of the rockets reveal Iranian markings, American officials have said, without however producing convincing physical evidence.

The third leg in the U.S. argument against Iran is the longstanding assertion that the Qods Force, a paramilitary wing of the Iranian army, trains Iraqi militants inside Iran and then supports their guerrilla activity back in Iraq. The U.S. military has offered its most convincing public argument on this point, revealing details in July 2007 of the interrogation of an alleged Hizballah operative captured in Basra. TIME also interviewed two Iraqi guerrilla fighters who said they trained in Iran.

Taken altogether, the U.S. evidence offered publicly about Iran's supposedly nefarious activities in Iraq is far from a slam-dunk case, a fact Dabbagh was at pains to make when speaking to reporters in Baghdad. "If it turns out there is hard evidence, the government will deal with it," Dabbagh said.

The Americans in Iraq, for now, seem content to wait for the Iraqi government to change its view on Iran, a country that al-Maliki and other Iraqi leaders largely see as a friend rather than a foe. "It looks like now that the government of Iraq wants to set up an official process to discuss Iranian interference with the Iranians, between official representatives of the Iraq government and the official Iranian government and when they do that, they'll gather whatever evidence they find and discuss that in dialogue with the Iranians," said Rear Admiral Patrick Driscoll, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad. "We've made the case. Now I think it's proper for the Iraqi government to make their case based on their interpretation of the facts, and have a dialogue with the government of Iran."