Sunday, December 28, 2008

Now, Is The Crucial Time You can make a difference!

Now, Is The Crucial Time. You can make a difference!

A New Year's Message From IAC Founder Ramsey Clark

Dear friends,

We are at a crucial historic juncture.

We cannot sit back and expect that change will just happen now. In order to make real change, people must be mobilized and organized. Otherwise, all of the hopes for a new direction can be quickly diverted.

The International Action Center (IAC) is unique. Its role is recognized worldwide and here in the U.S. This is because the IAC provides—for activists and political movements—a bold, independent voice that is so needed today.

Flouting the mandate of the people of the U.S. who want the troops withdrawn and this horrific war ended, the U.S. government has just imposed a new "Status of Forces" Agreement on Iraq which would keep tens of thousands of U.S. troops and mercenaries there for the next three years (at the cost of $12 billion a month)!

While the entire Bush program has been repudiated, the atrocities and illegal imprisonment continue at Guantanamo. U.S. missiles rain down on villages in Pakistan, killing civilians, and they, together with NATO weapons, increasingly hit children, women and men in Afghanistan--where tens of thousands of U.S. troops could likely be sent. Bellicosity continues towards Iran and other nations in the Middle East. NATO is expanding which raises the danger of new confrontations with Russia in Georgia, the Ukraine, the Balkans, Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

The military budget continues to grow at a gargantuan rate, far surpassing that of any in U.S. history, diverting massive funds and depriving millions here of needed health care, housing, and education, while infrastructures deteriorate, and thousands hard-hit by hurricane disasters have been abandoned by the government.

The spiraling economic meltdown means millions of people are losing their jobs and homes while states implement massive and harsh cutbacks in vital social programs. Yet trillions of dollars in "bailouts" are handed over to the banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions of wealth.

But there is reason for hope--there is opposition to the wars abroad, to the violations of civil liberties and basic rights abroad and at home, including the terrible witch hunt on immigrants, and to the sweeping economic attacks on poor and working people as the policy-driven greater concentration of wealth and growth of poverty intensifies. And millions of people feel hope because of the historic election of an African-American man.

It is critical that organizing grows on every front. In order to make real change, it takes mobilizing and strong, independent and decisive actions.

The International Action Center (IAC) is well-situated and long-experienced to be a major organizing force in this period. The IAC has been a consistent, determined and independent voice and major mobilizing center against U.S. wars, sanctions and military interventions for 17 years, since the first Gulf War. This principled organization of activists has courageously held protests, meetings and forums across the country, opposing U.S. aggression against Iraq, Iran, Cuba, Haiti, Venezuela, Palestine, Somalia, Pakistan, Lebanon, Sudan, Bolivia, Panama and Korea.

IAC organizers have produced many books--translated into several languages—for the public, scholars, and anti-war protesters here and worldwide, while providing a center and resources for a new generation of activists. The People's Video Network has produced many politically-educational videos, while building an alternative media network.

The IAC has taken on struggles against racism, bigotry, injustice and more--from standing with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita survivors in their still unmet quest for justice, to supporting immigrants' rights, opposing the death penalty and challenging military recruitment.

And now, in this crucial time of economic crisis and hardship, the IAC, which is fiercely committed to a Peoples' Agenda, has helped launch and organize campaigns against home foreclosures and evictions, utility shut-offs, mass transit rate increases, and for healthcare.

The IAC looks forward to a new year of struggle against war and political, social and economic injustice!

Our New Year's Resolution for 2009 must be to organize together tirelessly to end the occupation of Iraq, to stop a new war against Iran or any nation, and to stop incessant provocations against Islam, Venezuela, Russia, Bolivia, Cuba and others. We must work to promote international friendship and respect for humankind and to oppose the policies of domination, globalization and war.

We invite you to join in the new year of activism with the IAC and to support its vital work.

You can make a difference!

Visit http://www.iacenter.org/

Herding Humans For Profit

Herding Humans For Profit

By: Peter Chamberlin

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Basically, the Pentagon and the CIA are working in tandem to force targeted nations like India and Pakistan to accept the decision which has been made to "outsource" the terror war to them and other patsy nations like them. Agency contract hits like the Mumbai attack and bombings in FATA are blamed on "al Qaida" by the government-controlled media in the West and in the media controlled by the "patsy" foreign governments. Biased, hate-based reporting serves to drive patriotic fervor to a frenzied state. The duplicitous leaders in those countries then carry-out America's will, to set them upon a path to war, in effect, driving their own people into a "kill trap" where unwanted war is forced upon them. This pattern prevails all over the earth, wherever the US has imperial designs. We are all being herded into a global war trap, some call it world war III.

American mini-dictator generals and crime bosses knew that their global war plans would require massive numbers of committed killers, a goal that a volunteer force could not fulfill. A conscripted army of unwilling, underpaid, over-committed soldiers, who might follow orders to commit genocide, would be unsatisfactory for the task, especially when the focus of the killing turns to their own homelands. No, the committed killers who have volunteered to be underpaid and overworked in order to gain the right to kill were too few in number, so they had to be supplemented. This is the reason that the US has created massive armies and navies of high-paying "civilian" contract killers (mercenaries).

But even the combination of federal troops and private armies is not great enough to fulfill the mission of global conquest. This is where the plan incorporates co-opted foreign armies, like those of India and Pakistan. Where NATO has failed to serve as a second American force, to command at will, these co-opted foreign armies under indirect US control are meant to fill the gap.

The CIA is using all the tricks of its dark and bloody trade to harness these foreign forces.

It continues to carry-out the trademark of its craft, the creation and arming of local warlords, criminal gangs and militias, to commit the acts of terrorism that will justify the government crackdown and drive the local population to support it. In the conflict building between India and Pakistan, American patsies on both sides are driving the two nations to serve America's violent interests in the region, that of containing both China and India, eliminating the "Islamic bombs" held by Pakistan, seizing pipeline routes and setting the stage for the next phase of the war plan, countering Russia and Iran.

American foreign aid and military assistance are twin traps for erasing national sovereignty and entrenching US interests within the aid-receiving governments. Targeted governments, like India and Pakistan are made so dependent upon the inflow of US dollars that they see the cut-off of that aid as an existential threat to their existence, equal to or surpassing the threat of war. What these leaders (who have all grown wealthy from skimming these dollars) either fail to realize or to consider at the cost of losing that wealth, is that the aid itself represents the greatest threat that their nations have ever faced. Their leaders, just like our leaders, whom they emulate, represent only themselves, as they continue to hoard the lifeblood of our nations.

American leaders and all the foreign leaders who work with them represent the greatest evil that this world has ever known. They are carrying-out and cooperating with the bloodiest, most devious plan ever devised by human minds, to grab all the wealth from all nations, regardless of the cost in human and animal life. Hitler and Stalin were mere "pikers," compared to our neocon/Zionist overlords. No previous tyrant or would-be dictator ever came as close to snuffing-out human freedom and individualism as these "Neo-American" dreamers have positioned themselves to do.

Collective human nature has never been so ready to surrender all rights for the privilege of working, eating or obtaining health care as it now stands prepared to do. Desperation remains the key to the warlords' success. The more desperation spreads, and the more desperate that people become to obtain the most basic of human needs, the more easily they will volunteer to become killers and to forsake all those insignificant things like human rights and morality that all of us resisters consider sacred.

What's at stake, besides the massive loss of life, is the massive reversal of all the gains and inroads made by human rights advocates throughout history and the complete elimination of the concepts of freedom and inalienable rights professed by America's founding fathers, for the sake of preserving the profit margins of today's robber barons.

Economic Death and Millionaire Taxes

Economic Death and Millionaire Taxes

Bush Winks at Israel’s Slaughter in Gaza,While Obama and Clinton Are Silent

Bush Winks at Israel’s Slaughter in Gaza,While Obama and Clinton Are Silent

By Matthew Rothschild

The Progressive

Israel recklessly bombed Gaza on Saturday, killing at least 205 Palestinians and wounding at least 350 more, according to Palestinian health officials.

This wholly disproportionate response to Hamas’s immoral but largely ineffective rocket attacks on Israel is guaranteed to further enflame the Middle East.

Not lost on anyone there will be the Bush Administration’s winking at Israel’s attacks.

White Houses spokesman Gordon Johndroe laid all the blame on Hamas.

"Hamas's continued rocket attacks into Israel must cease if the violence is to stop," Johndroe said.

Then even as he gave a perfunctory nod toward safeguarding civilians, he showed no displeasure with Israel going after Hamas: "The United States urges Israel to avoid civilian casualties as it targets Hamas in Gaza," Johndroe said.

Meanwhile, President-elect Barack Obama and Secretary of State-to-be Hillary Clinton were shamefully silent in the first hours after the attack.

Bush’s reaction, and the non-reaction by Obama and Clinton, underscores the point that Hanan Ashrawi made on Saturday. “Israel has gotten used to not being held accountable and to being a country that is above the law,” said the Palestinian legislator and human rights activist. She called the bombings a “massacre.”

With Washington condoning Israel’s assault, the violence may only get worse.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, “The operation will be deeper and expanded as much as necessary. . . . It won’t be short, and it won’t be easy.”

A Hamas spokesperson vowed revenge and said Hamas “will continue the resistance until the last drop of blood."

This cycle of violence will get bloodier and bloodier unless and until Washington finally prevails on Israel to make a just settlement with the Palestinians.

Bush did not have the inclination to do so. Neither, it appears, does Obama.

Israel Strikes Demolish Hamas Compounds, Kill 200+

Israeli jets target Gaza tunnels

Israel has bombed supply tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip in a second day of intense air raids aimed at forcing Hamas militants to halt rocket fire.

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Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni says the operation has been a success so far and the aim is to "change realities on the ground" in Gaza.

Israel has threatened to launch a ground assault and is now calling up 6,500 army reservists.

Palestinians say at least 280 people have died in the air raids.

A major tunnel bringing fuel into Gaza from Egypt was among three destroyed, Palestinians say. But Israel says its jets bombed more than 40 tunnels.

Israel accuses Palestinian militants of using the tunnels to smuggle weapons into Gaza.

As jets pounded the southern Gaza Strip hundreds of Palestinians stormed over a fence on the Gaza-Egypt border, but Egyptian security forces fired shots to prevent them entering.

An Egyptian security official was shot dead and another wounded in the turmoil which followed.

At the UN, the Security Council called for an end to all violence in Gaza, including rocket attacks from Gaza.

Israel says militants have fired 110 rockets into Israel since Saturday.

A doctor at the Shifa hospital in Gaza City described a desperate scene, with essential medical supplies, fuel and water all running out.

Dr Khamis El Essi told the BBC that many people had been admitted with multiple injuries, such as head and back wounds. Some patients had had limbs amputated.

He said some of the injured were carers and relatives who had been sheltering in a nearby mosque when it was hit in an Israeli raid.

The air strikes were launched on Saturday against Hamas targets in the densely-populated coastal territory, less than a week after the expiry of a six-month-long ceasefire deal with the militant group.

Israel hit targets in all Gaza's main towns, including Gaza City in the north and Khan Younis and Rafah in the south.

More than 210 targets were hit in the first 24 hours of what Israel says could be a lengthy military operation. .

"We took Hamas by surprise, we targeted Hamas headquarters, so this is the beginning of a successful operation, I hope, but the idea is to change realities on the ground," Foreign Minister Livni told the BBC on Sunday.

"We are trying to give an answer to our own citizens who want to live in peace."

The high numbers of casualties made Saturday the single deadliest day in the Gaza Strip since Israel's occupation of the territory in 1967, analysts said, although no independent confirmation is available of the numbers killed.

Border confusion

Most of those killed were policemen in the Hamas militant movement, which controls Gaza, but officials said women and children also died.

The head of Gaza's police was among those killed.

Up to 700 others were wounded as missiles struck security compounds and militant bases, the officials added.

The Egyptian foreign minister has accused Hamas of not allowing injured Palestinians to leave Gaza to seek treatment, even though much-needed medical supplies are waiting at the nearby El-Arish airport.

In Israel, one person was killed on Saturday in the town of Netivot, some 20km (12 miles) east of Gaza, while there were reports of several Qassam rocket strikes early on Sunday.

Rockets landed in Ashdod, Israel's largest southern city - some 38km (23 miles) from Gaza - the deepest they have ever struck inside Israel, Israeli media said. No injuries were reported.

A Palestinian youth was killed by Israeli fire in the north of the West Bank during protests against the raids, medics said.

In Gaza, Palestinian officials said two people died when a mosque was hit on Saturday night.

A BBC journalist in Gaza City said a Hamas-run security and prison compound was hit by at least three missiles on Sunday morning. Hamas said all of its security compounds in the strip were destroyed on Saturday.

'Time for fighting'

At the UN, the Security Council ended emergency talks with a call for an end to hostilities, speaking of "serious concern" at the escalation of the situation in Gaza.

US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad suggested Hamas held the key to restoring calm.

"We believe the way forward from here is for rocket attacks against Israel to stop, for all violence to end," he said.

He was implicitly backed up from Cairo by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas - whose Fatah faction is a bitter rival of Hamas.

"We could have avoided what happened," Mr Abbas said, saying the Islamist group should have renewed the ceasefire before it lapsed.

The air raids came days after the truce expired and as Israel prepares for a general election in February.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak has explained the operation in stark terms, saying "the time has come to fight".

In response the exiled leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, called for a new intifada, or uprising, against Israel, while the movement's Gaza leader, Ismail Haniya, called the attack an "ugly massacre".

International reaction to the bombing has been dominated by calls for restraint.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Middle East envoy Tony Blair and the French EU presidency all called for a ceasefire.

The Israel-Hamas truce was regularly under strain and was allowed to lapse when it expired this month.

From 1967 Israel's military occupied the Gaza Strip and Jewish settlers built communities within the territory. Israel withdrew in 2005 but has maintained control of Gaza's borders.

With jobs scarce, military recruiters are filling their quotas

Military recruiters having no trouble filling quotas

With jobs scarce, military recruiters are filling their quotas.

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In a crumbling economy, jobs disappear and opportunities fade. But one employer always has openings: the U.S. military.

Just four years after South Florida recruiters struggled to meet even half their quotas, the Army is exceeding enlistment goals by appealing to a wide range of candidates who see limited job options in the civilian world.

Working for low pay on the evening shift at a West Palm Beach International House of Pancakes influenced Cheyenne DaSilva's decision to enlist, even before the 17-year-old completes her senior year at Forest Hill Community High School.

Dasilva received an $8,000 signing bonus when she enlisted for three-and-a-half years. She chose the military police as her specialty.

The Noose Tightens Rumsfeld, Ashcroft and other top Bush officials could soon face legal jeopardy.

The Noose Tightens

Rumsfeld, Ashcroft and other top Bush officials could soon face legal jeopardy.

By Jonathan Tepperman

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The United States, like many countries, has a bad habit of committing wartime excesses and an even worse record of accounting for them afterward. But a remarkable string of recent events suggests that may finally be changing—and that top Bush administration officials could soon face legal jeopardy for prisoner abuse committed under their watch in the war on terror.

In early December, in a highly unusual move, a federal court in New York agreed to rehear a lawsuit against former Attorney General John Ashcroft brought by a Canadian citizen, Maher Arar. (Arar was a victim of the administration's extraordinary rendition program: he was seized by U.S. officials in 2002 while in transit through Kennedy Airport and deported to Syria, where he was tortured.) Then, on Dec. 15, the Supreme Court revived a lawsuit against Donald Rumsfeld by four Guantánamo detainees alleging abuse there—a reminder that the court, unlike the White House, will extend Constitutional protections to foreigners at Gitmo. Finally, in the same week the Senate Armed Service Committee, led by Carl Levin and John McCain, released a blistering report specifically blaming key administration figures for prisoner mistreatment and interrogation techniques that broke the law. The bipartisan report reads like a brief for the prosecution—calling, for example, Rumsfeld's behavior a "direct cause" of abuse. Analysts say it gives a green light to prosecutors, and supplies them with political cover and factual ammunition. Administration officials, with a few exceptions, deny wrongdoing. Vice President Dick Cheney says there was nothing improper with U.S. interrogation techniques—"we don't do torture," he repeated in an ABC interview on Dec. 15. The government blamed the worst abuses, such as those at Abu Ghraib, on a few bad apples.

High-level charges, if they come, would be a first in U.S. history. "Traditionally we've caught some poor bastard down low and not gone up the chain," says Burt Neuborne, a constitutional expert and Supreme Court lawyer at NYU. Prosecutions may well be forestalled if Bush issues a blanket pardon in his final days, as Neuborne and many other experts now expect. (Some see Cheney's recent defiant-sounding admission of his own role in approving waterboarding as an attempt to force Bush's hand.)

Constitutionally, Bush could pardon everyone involved in formulating and executing the administration's interrogation techniques without providing specifics or naming names. And the pardon could apply to himself. Such a step, however, would seem like an admission of guilt and thus be politically awkward. Even if Bush takes it, civil suits for monetary damages could still proceed; such cases, though hard to win, are proliferating. Yet most legal scholars argue that a civil suit would not the best approach here. Neuborne calls it an "excessively lawyer-centric" strategy and says judges are extremely reluctant to award damages in such cases. Conservative legal experts like David Rifkin (who served in the Reagan and first Bush administrations) argue that no accounting is necessary, since the worst interrogation techniques, like waterboarding, have already been abandoned and Obama is expected to make further changes.

A growing group of advocates are now instead calling for a South African-style truth and reconciliation commission. Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, says that although "we know what went on," "knowledge and a change in practices are not sufficient: there must be acknowledgment and repudiation as well." He favors the creation of a nonpartisan commission of inquiry with a professional staff and subpoena power, calling it "the only way to definitively repudiate this ugly chapter in U.S. history."

But for those interested in tougher sanctions, one other possibility looms. Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights and author of "The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld," points out that over 20 countries now have universal jurisdiction laws that would allow them to indict U.S. officials for torture if America doesn't do it itself. A few such cases were attempted in recent years but were dropped, reportedly under U.S. pressure. Now the Obama administration may be less likely to stand in their way. This doesn't mean it will extradite Cheney and Co. to stand trial abroad. But at the very least, the threat of such suits could soon force Bush aides to think twice before buying plane tickets. "The world is getting smaller for these guys," says Ratner, "and they'll have to check with their lawyers very carefully before they travel." Jail time it isn't—but it may be some justice nonetheless.

Two Dangerous Bush-Cheney Myths

Two Dangerous Bush-Cheney Myths

By Robert Parry

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As George W. Bush and Dick Cheney make their case for some positive legacy from the past eight years, two arguments are playing key roles: the notion that torturing terror suspects saved American lives and the belief that Bush’s Iraq troop “surge” transformed a disaster into something close to “victory.”

Not only will these twin arguments be important in defining the public’s future impression of where Bush should rank on the presidential list, but they could constrain how far President Barack Obama can go in reversing these policies. In other words, the perception of the past can affect the future.

Though most current thinking holds that George W. Bush might want to trademark the slogan “Worst President Ever,” America's powerful right-wing media (and its many allies in the mainstream press) will surely seek to rehabilitate Bush’s reputation as much as possible.

Even elevating Bush to the status of a presidential mediocrity might open the door for a revival of the Bush Dynasty with brother Jeb already eyeing one of Florida’s U.S. Senate seats and possibly harboring grander ambitions.

And even if another Bush in the White House is not realistic, a kinder-gentler judgment on George W. Bush at least could help the Republican Party rebound in 2010 and 2012. So evaluating the Bush-Cheney torture policies and how successful the “surge” are not just academic exercises.

Two recent articles by people with first-hand knowledge also shed important new light on these issues: one by a lead U.S. interrogator in Iraq and the other by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The interrogator – using the pseudonym “Matthew Alexander” for an article in the Washington Post’s Outlook section on Nov. 30 – wrote that the practice of humiliating and abusing prisoners had proved counterproductive, not only violating U.S. principles and failing to extract reliable intelligence but fueling the Iraqi insurgency and getting large numbers of U.S. soldiers killed.

Indeed, “Alexander,” a U.S. Air Force special operations officer, argued that it was his team’s abandonment of those harsh tactics that contributed to the tracking down and killing of the murderous al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in June 2006, an important turning point in reducing levels of violence in Iraq.

“Alexander” said he arrived in Iraq in March 2006, amid the bloody civil war that Sunni extremist Zarqawi had helped provoke a month earlier with the bombing of the golden-domed Askariya mosque in Samarra, a shrine revered by Iraq's majority Shiites.

“Amid the chaos, four other Air Force criminal investigators and I joined an elite team of interrogators attempting to locate Zarqawi,” he wrote. “What I soon discovered about our methods astonished me. The Army was still conducting interrogations according to the Guantanamo Bay model. … These interrogations were based on fear and control; they often resulted in torture and abuse.

“I refused to participate in such practices, and a month later, I extended that prohibition to the team of interrogators I was assigned to lead. I taught the members of my unit a new methodology -- one based on building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information.”

Breakthroughs

By getting to know the captives and negotiating with them, his team achieved breakthroughs that enabled the U.S. military to close in on Zarqawi while also gaining a deeper understanding of what drove the Iraqi insurgency, “Alexander” wrote.

“Over the course of this renaissance in interrogation tactics, our attitudes changed. We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shiite militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq.

“Most surprisingly, they turned out to despise al-Qaeda in Iraq as much as they despised us, but Zarqawi and his thugs were willing to provide them with arms and money,” the interrogator wrote, noting that this understanding played a key role in the U.S. military turning many Sunnis against the hyper-violent extremism of Zarqawi’s organization.

“Alexander” added that the new interrogation methods “convinced one of Zarqawi's associates to give up the al-Qaeda in Iraq leader's location. On June 8, 2006, U.S. warplanes dropped two 500-pound bombs on a house where Zarqawi was meeting with other insurgent leaders.”

Despite the success in killing Zarqawi, “Alexander” said the old, harsh interrogation methods continued. “I came home from Iraq feeling as if my mission was far from accomplished,” he wrote. “Soon after my return, the public learned that another part of our government, the CIA, had repeatedly used waterboarding to try to get information out of detainees.”

“Alexander” found that the engrained support for using “rough stuff” against hardened jihadists was difficult to overcome despite the successes from more subtle approaches.

“We turned several hard cases, including some foreign fighters, by using our new techniques,” he wrote. “A few of them never abandoned the jihadist cause but still gave up critical information. One actually told me, ‘I thought you would torture me, and when you didn't, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That's why I decided to cooperate.’"

From hundreds of these interrogations, “Alexander” said he learned that the images from Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib were actually getting American soldiers killed by drawing angry young Arabs into the Iraq War.

“Torture and abuse cost American lives,” the interrogator wrote. “I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq.

“It's no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001.

"How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me -- unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans.”

Nevertheless, in a series of candid “exit interviews,” Vice President Cheney – and to a lesser degree President Bush – have defended their actions that included sanctioning brutal methods of interrogation, such as the simulated drowning of “waterboarding.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Cheney Defends Waterboarding Order.”]

The ‘Surge’

To this day, the belief that subjecting “bad guys” to physical and psychological abuse makes them crack -- and thus saves American lives -- remains a central myth that the departing Bush administration won’t abandon. A parallel myth is the notion of the “successful surge.”

It holds that Bush’s brave decision to go against the prevailing political winds in early 2007 and escalate U.S. military involvement in Iraq – with a 30,000-troop “surge” – saved the day. News stories and opinion articles across the U.S. news media, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, have transformed this argument into “conventional wisdom.”

However, as we have pointed out in other stories, the reality is far more complex, with several other key reasons contributing to the drop in Iraqi violence, many predating or unrelated to the “surge,” including:

--The decision by Sunni tribes to turn against al-Qaeda and accept U.S. financial support, the so-called “Anbar Awakening” that began in 2006. Zarqawi’s extremism contributed to this shift, which in turn was a factor in his isolation and death in June 2006.

--Vicious ethnic cleansing had separated Sunnis and Shiites to such a degree that there were fewer targets to kill. Several million Iraqis fled as refugees either into neighboring countries or within their own.

--Concrete walls built between Sunni and Shiite areas made “death-squad” raids more difficult but also “cantonized” much of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, making everyday life for Iraqis even more exhausting as they sought food or traveled to work.

--An expanded U.S. policy of rounding up so-called “military age males” locked up tens of thousands in prison.

--Awesome U.S. firepower, concentrated on Iraqi insurgents and civilian bystanders for more than five years, had slaughtered countless thousands of Iraqis and intimidated many others to look simply to their own survival.

--With the total Iraqi death toll estimated in the hundreds of thousands and many more Iraqis horribly maimed, the society was deeply traumatized. As tyrants have learned throughout history, at some point violent repression does work.

However, in Washington political circles, it was all about the “successful surge.”

There also was little concern about the 1,000 additional U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq since President Bush started the “surge” in 2007. The Americans killed during the “surge” represent roughly one-quarter of the total war dead whose numbers have now passed the 4,200 mark.

Rumsfeld’s Doubts

Surprisingly to some Iraq War critics, one of the chief obstacles to Bush’s “surge” was the widely despised Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, who – in fall 2006 – pushed for a strategy that would have slashed the U.S. military presence in Iraq dramatically by mid-2007.

On Nov. 6, 2006, Rumsfeld sent a memo to the White House, in which he listed his preferred – or “above the line” – options as "an accelerated drawdown of U.S. bases … to five by July 2007" and withdrawal of U.S. forces "from vulnerable positions — cities, patrolling, etc. … so the Iraqis know they have to pull up their socks, step up and take responsibility for their country."

Two days later, Rumsfeld was forced to submit his resignation and Bush announced Robert Gates as the new Defense Secretary. Not aware of Rumsfeld’s memo, Washington pundits and many leading Democrats misinterpreted the personnel shift as a reaction to the Democratic congressional election victory on Nov. 7, 2006.

The consensus view was that the “realist” Gates would oversee a rapid U.S. military drawdown in Iraq. However, the opposite occurred. Gates became Bush’s front man for the “surge.” [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Robert Gates: As Bad as Rumsfeld?”]

The subsequent conventional wisdom about the “successful surge” catapulted Gates from the ranks of the departing Bush administration into those of the arriving Obama administration, where he will remain Defense Secretary.

On Nov. 23, 2008, less than three weeks after Obama’s Nov. 4 election victory as it was becoming clear that Obama would retain Gates, Rumsfeld shed more light on his own Iraq War strategy in an op-ed for the New York Times.

While bowing to the prevailing conventional wisdom about the “successful surge,” Rumsfeld defended his pre-surge thinking, explaining that a number of factors had set up the “tipping point” that enabled the “surge” to be successful.

Though using more positive language about those preconditions (than we did), Rumsfeld made essentially the same points, adding that previous increases in U.S. troop levels – to numbers comparable to the “surge” levels – had achieved minimal effect in containing the violence.

“As one who is occasionally — and incorrectly — portrayed as an opponent of the surge in Iraq, I believe that while the surge has been effective in Iraq, we must also recognize the conditions that made it successful,” Rumsfeld wrote.
“By early 2007, several years of struggle had created the new conditions for a tipping point:

“--Al Qaeda in Iraq’s campaign of terrorism and intimidation had turned its Sunni base of support against it. The result was the so-called Anbar Awakening in the late summer of 2006, followed by similar awakening movements across Iraq.

“--From 2003 through 2006, United States military forces, under the leadership of Gen. John Abizaid and Gen. George Casey, inflicted huge losses on the Baathist and Qaeda leadership. Many thousands of insurgents, including the Qaeda chief in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, were captured or killed and proved difficult to replace.

“--The Iraqi Security Forces had achieved cohesion, improved operational effectiveness and critical mass. By December 2006, some 320,000 Iraqis had been trained, equipped and deployed, producing the forces necessary to help hold difficult neighborhoods against the enemy. By 2007, the surge, for most Iraqis, could have an Iraqi face.

“--And the political scene in Iraq had shifted. Moktada al-Sadr, the firebrand cleric, declared a cease-fire in February 2007. The government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, seated in May 2006, moved against militias and Iranian-backed militias and has imperfectly, but notably, rejected narrow sectarian policies.

“The best indication that timing is everything may be that there had been earlier surges without the same effect as the 2007 surge. In 2005, troop levels in Iraq were increased to numbers nearly equal to the 2007 surge — twice. But the effects were not as durable because large segments of the Sunni population were still providing sanctuary to insurgents, and Iraq’s security forces were not sufficiently capable or large enough.”

In other words, even Rumsfeld would agree that the simplistic conventional wisdom of Washington – that Bush’s “surge” turned everything around and that everyone, including Barack Obama, must accept that “fact” – doesn’t square with the more complex reality.

Still, as Americans should have learned over the past three decades of image-managing – from Ronald Reagan to Karl Rove – perceptions can be a powerful thing. Perception may not be the same as reality but it can become a very dangerous substitute both in defining the present and charting the future.

Coalition sues over mining ruling Revisions allow waste into streams

Coalition sues over mining ruling

Revisions allow waste into streams

By James Bruggers

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A coalition of environmental groups including Kentucky Waterways Alliance has sued the Interior Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, seeking to overturn a new rule that will make it easier for mining companies to dump waste rock into streams.

The revisions, made final Dec. 12, will let mining companies disregard a 100-foot stream buffer zone if they are able to convince regulators that no other option was available and that they had taken steps to minimize harm to the environment.

Attorneys with Earthjustice, Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, Appalachian Citizens Law Center, Sierra Club and Waterkeeper Alliance filed the legal challenge yesterday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. The suit was filed on behalf of the Kentucky environmental group as well as the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Save Our Cumberland Mountains, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Coal River Mountain Watch and Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

If not overturned, the environmental groups from Kentucky, West Virginia or Tennessee said the rule change would lead to more mountaintop removal coal mining. That’s the mining practice of using explosives on the tops and sides of mountains to get at underlying coal seams.

"The notion that coal mining companies can dump their wastes in streams without degrading them is a fantasy that the Bush administration is now trying to write into law," said Judith Petersen, executive director of Kentucky Waterways Alliance.

Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that the federal agencies violated environmental protection standards, failed to consider the cumulative effects of stream loss from mining, and failed to analyze a full range of alternatives, among other allegations.

At issue is a new Office of Surface Mining rule that revised a 25-year-old rule that generally prohibited mining within 100 feet of streams, but has been a source of controversy and confusion since it was challenged in a federal lawsuit in West Virginia in the late 1990s. Despite the rule, companies generally have been allowed to fill the upper reaches of stream beds in mountain hollows.
OSM officials have said the change was intended to "minimize disputes and misunderstandings" and to "clarify what buffer zone requirements apply."

On Dec. 2, EPA spokeswoman Ernesta Jones explained in a written statement why her agency concurred with OSM. She said the new rule was "intended to reduce the environmental impacts of surface coal mining and to provide mining operators clear standards for mining near bodies of water."

She also said that the EPA "worked closely with OSM to enhance environmental provisions in the final rule, including requirements that no mining activities may occur in or near streams that would violate federal or state water quality standards."

Mining officials in Kentucky have said that the new rule codifies existing practices and that the original buffer rule was never intended to protect "dry ditches."

Kentucky political leaders have, in recent weeks, been divided on the change.

Gov. Steve Beshear along with Attorney General Jack Conway and U.S. Reps. Ben Chandler and John Yarmuth wrote letters to the EPA opposing the rule change. But 20 Kentucky legislators, including House Speaker Jody Richards and House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, followed up with their own letter supporting the change.

Japan Should Scrap U.S. Debt; Dollar May Plummet, Mikuni Says

Japan Should Scrap U.S. Debt; Dollar May Plummet, Mikuni Says

By Stanley White and Shigeki Nozawa

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Japan should write-off its holdings of Treasuries because the U.S. government will struggle to finance increasing debt levels needed to dig the economy out of recession, said Akio Mikuni, president of credit ratings agency Mikuni & Co.

The dollar may lose as much as 40 percent of its value to 50 yen or 60 yen from the current spot rate of 90.40 today in Tokyo unless Japan takes “drastic measures” to help bail out the U.S. economy, Mikuni said. Treasury yields, which are near record lows, may fall further without debt relief, making it difficult for the U.S. to borrow elsewhere, Mikuni said.

“It’s difficult for the U.S. to borrow its way out of this problem,” Mikuni, 69, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television broadcast today. “Japan can help by extending debt cancellations.”

The U.S. budget deficit may swell to at least $1 trillion this fiscal year as policy makers flood the country with $8.5 trillion through 23 different programs to combat the worst recession since the Great Depression. Japan is the world’s second-biggest foreign holder of Treasuries after China.

The U.S. government needs to spend on infrastructure to maintain job creation as it will take a long time for banks to recover from $1 trillion in credit-market losses worldwide, Mikuni said. The U.S. also needs to launch public works projects as the Federal Reserve’s interest rate cut to a range of zero to 0.25 percent on Dec. 16. won’t stimulate consumer spending because households are paying down debt, he said.

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama wants to create 3 million jobs over the next two years, more than the 2.5 million jobs originally planned, an aide said on Dec. 20. Obama takes office on Jan. 20.

Marshall Plan

Japan should also invest in U.S. roads and bridges to support personal spending and secure demand for its goods as a global recession crimps trade, Mikuni said.

Japan’s exports fell 26.7 percent in November from a year earlier, the Finance Ministry said on Dec. 22. That was the biggest decline on record as shipments of cars and electronics collapsed.

Combining debt waivers with infrastructure spending would be similar to the Marshall Plan that helped Europe rebuild after the destruction of World War II, Mikuni said.

“U.S. households simply won’t have the same access to credit that they’ve enjoyed in the past,” he said. “Their demand for all products, including imports, will suffer unless something is done.”

The plan was named after George Marshall, the U.S. secretary of state at the time, and provided more than $13 billion in grants and loans to European countries to support their import of U.S. goods and the rebuilding of their industries

Currency Reserves

The Japanese government could use a new Marshall Plan as a chance to shrink its $976.9 billion in foreign-exchange reserves, the world’s second-largest after China’s, and help reduce global economic imbalances, Mikuni said.

The amount of foreign assets held by the Japanese government and the private sector total around $7 trillion, Mikuni said.

Japan will also have to accept that a stronger yen is good for the country in order to reduce excessive trade surpluses and deficits, he said. The yen has appreciated 23 percent versus the dollar this year, the most since 1987, as the credit crisis prompted investors to flee riskier assets and repay loans in the Japanese currency.

“Japan’s economic model has been dependent on external demand since the Meiji Period” that began in 1868, Mikuni said. “The model where the U.S. relies on overseas borrowing to fuel its property market is over. A strong yen will spur Japanese domestic spending and reduce import prices, thereby increasing purchasing power.”

US Warns Russia Against Selling Missiles to Iran

US Warns Russia Against Selling Missiles to Iran

US warns Russia against Iran missile sales, says it threatens troops in Iraq, Afghanistan

By LOLITA C. BALDOR

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U.S. officials said Monday that they want answers from Russia on whether it is selling advanced surface-to-air missiles to Iran, a move the U.S. insists could threaten American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. A senior military intelligence official said that while Moscow has sent out conflicting responses to reports on the sale of long-range S-300 missiles, the U.S. believes it is taking place. However, it appears that no equipment has yet been delivered to Iran, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Russia's state arms export agency said Monday it is supplying Iran with defensive weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, but did not say whether they include sophisticated long-range S-300 missiles.

State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the U.S. is seeking clarification from Russia.

"We have repeatedly made clear at senior levels of the Russian government that we would strongly oppose the sale of the S-300," Wood said. "As the U.S. government has said before, this is not the time for business as usual with the Iranian government."

Iran currently has an antiquated missile defense system, dating back to the 1960s and 1970s, so the Russian sale would provide Tehran a much longer range, more mobile and lethal capability. With a range of roughly 75 miles, the Russian system would allow Iran to reach coalition forces operating in Iraq and Afghanistan, if the missiles were moved near the borders.

Both the U.S. and Israel have strongly opposed the sale, saying that supplying such an advanced anti-aircraft system to Iran would shift the military balance of power in the Middle East. It also would make any strike at Iran's first nuclear power plant — which Russia is helping to build — more difficult.

There have been indications that Russia intends to supply only defensive weapons to Iran, thus keeping in line with U.N. Security Council resolutions that impose sanctions on Iran for refusing to halt its uranium enrichment and prohibit supplying Iran with materials that could contribute to its nuclear program.

Officials acknowledge that the sale of the S-300 system is not prohibited by the resolution.

Israel and the United States fear that Iran could use the S-300 missiles to protect its uranium enrichment plant at Natanz or the country's first atomic power plant now under construction at Bushehr by Russian contractors.

The U.S. and other nations believe Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons, but Iran insists its uranium enrichment program is intended solely for civilian energy needs.

While the possibility that the U.S. might launch an attack against Iran's nuclear facilities faded about a year ago, Israel has never ruled out a strike of its own, and is considered the nation most likely to take action.

Iran's president has said that Israel should be "wiped off the map."

The sale of S-300 missiles, said the military intelligence official, presents a decision point for Israel, since once the anti-aircraft system is in place it could deter any strike.

Russia to raise nuclear missile output fourfold

Russia to raise nuclear missile output fourfold

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Russia has thrown down a new gauntlet to Barack Obama with an announcement that it will sharply increase production of strategic nuclear missiles.

In the latest of a series of combative moves by the Kremlin, a senior government official in Moscow said the Russian military would commission 70 strategic missiles over the next three years, as part of a massive rearmament programme which will also include short-range missiles, 300 tanks, 14 warships and 50 planes.

Military experts said the planned new arsenal was presumed to consist of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) rather than submarine-launched missiles. If this is the case, the plans represent a fourfold increase in the rate of ICBM deployment. The arsenal will include a new-generation, multiple-warhead ICBM called the RS-24. It was first test-fired in 2007, with first deputy prime minister Sergei Ivanov boasting it was "capable of overcoming any existing or future missile defence systems".

The new missiles will be part of a £95bn defence procurement package for 2009-2011, a 28% increase in arms spending, according to Vladislav Putilin of the cabinet's military-industrial commission. There will be further increases in spending in the following two years.

The new military procurements follow the war in Georgia in August. Russian forces easily routed Georgian troops, but the conflict exposed weaknesses in the Russian army, including outdated equipment and poorly co-ordinated command structures. The defence ministry said it would carry out drastic reforms, turning the army into a more modern force.

Vladimir Putin on Monday urged cabinet officials to quickly allocate funds for new weapons and closely control the quality and pace of their production. Military experts said the construction of 70 long-range nuclear missiles in the next three years represented a Russian attempt to strengthen its bargaining position with Washington, in talks aimed at agreeing new nuclear weapons cuts when the current treaty in force, Start I, expires next December.

Moscow's strategy appears to be to challenge Obama's new administration as soon as it takes office on 20 January. On the day Obama was elected the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, announced plans to station short-range Iskander missiles in Russia's Kaliningrad exclave as a counter to American installation of its missile defence system in eastern Europe.

Ruben Sergeev, an expert on disarmament issues, said Moscow was afraid of falling behind in a new arms race.

"Russia is decommissioning its old liquid-fuel missiles from the Soviet era at a rate of several dozen every year," he said. "The Kremlin knows that if it doesn't increase production of ICBMs rapidly now then it will have no chance of getting a new arms reduction treaty out of the US, which has much greater quantities of missiles." Negotiations on a successor to Start I have been bogged down in detail, and hamstrung by the Bush administration's lame duck status.

The chief US negotiator, John Rood, said last week that the latest sticking point was Russian insistence that the new treaty cover long-range delivery systems, such as bombers and missiles, intended for conventional arms as well as nuclear warheads. The US wants the treaty to focus solely on nuclear warheads.

Moscow has also signalled that it would supply Tehran with new surface-to-air missiles in defiance of US opposition. Washington has asked for more information on the sales, fearing the weapons being sold include long-range S-300 missiles, which have a 120km (75 mile) range. They could threaten US planes in Iraq, and could also protect Iranian nuclear sites from aerial attack.

The US has set aside its own plans for military action against Iran for now, but US officials hoped that fear of an Israeli strike would make Iran more amenable to suspending its enrichment of uranium.

Arms treaties

Start I Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, July 1991, limited US and Soviet Union to long-range nuclear arsenals of 6,000 warheads on 1,600 delivery systems. Expires 5 December 2009.

INF Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty 1987 banned missiles such as the US Cruise with range of 3,500 miles.

Start II Signed 1993, supposed to ban multiple warheads on long-range missiles. Russian Duma delayed ratifying and it never came into force.

Start III Negotiated in 1997 to reduce nuclear stockpiles to 2,000-2,500 warheads, but fell apart over the US missile defence system. Talks resumed in 2007.

Sort Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, or 2002 Moscow Treaty, cuts US and Russian arsenals to 1,700-2,200 operationally deployed warheads each. No verification procedures.

US police could get 'pain beam' weapons

US police could get 'pain beam' weapons

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The research arm of the US Department of Justice is working on two portable non-lethal weapons that inflict pain from a distance using beams of laser light or microwaves, with the intention of putting them into the hands of police to subdue suspects.

The two devices under development by the civilian National Institute of Justice both build on knowledge gained from the Pentagon's controversial Active Denial System (ADS) - first demonstrated in public last year, which uses a 2-metre beam of short microwaves to heat up the outer layer of a person's skin and cause pain.

'Reduced injuries'

Like the ADS, the new portable devices will also heat the skin, but will have beams only a few centimetres across. They are designed to elicit what the Pentagon calls a "repel response" - a strong urge to escape from the beam.

A spokesperson for the National Institute for Justice likens the effect of the new devices to that of "blunt trauma" weapons such as rubber bullets, "But unlike blunt trauma devices, the injury should not be present. This research is looking to reduce the injuries to suspects," they say.

Existing blunt trauma weapons can break ribs or even kill, making alternatives welcome. Yet ADS has recorded problems too - out of several thousand tests on human subjects there were two cases of second-degree burns.

Dazzle and burn

The NIJ's laser weapon has been dubbed Personnel Halting and Stimulation Response - PHaSR - and resembles a bulky rifle. It was created in 2005 by a US air force agency to temporarily dazzle enemies (see image, right), but the addition of a second, infrared laser makes it able to heat skin too.

The NIJ is testing the PHaSR in various scenarios, which may include prison situations as well as law enforcement.

The NIJ's portable microwave-based weapon is less developed. Currently a tabletop prototype with a range of less than a metre, a backpack-sized prototype with a range of 15 metres will be ready next year, a spokesperson says.

The truly portable mini-ADS could prove the more useful, as microwaves penetrate clothing better than the infra-red beam, which is most effective on exposed skin. Although the spokesman says: "In LEC [Law Enforcement and Corrections] use there is always a little bit of skin to target."

Torture concerns

The effect of microwave beams on humans has been investigated for years, but there is little publicly available research on the effects of PHaSR-type lasers on humans. The attraction of using a laser is that it can be less bulky than a microwave device.

Human rights groups say that equipping police with such weapons would add to the problems posed by existing "non-lethals" such as Tasers. Security expert Steve Wright at Leeds Metropolitan University describes the new weapons as "torture at the touch of a button".

"We have grave concerns about the deployment and use of any such devices, which have the potential to be used for torture or other ill treatment," says Amnesty International's arms control researcher Helen Hughes, adding that all research into their effects should be made public.

Feds consider searches of terrorism blogs

Feds consider searches of terrorism blogs

By Thomas Frank

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The Homeland Security Department may soon start scouring the Internet to find blogs and message boards that terrorists use to plan attacks in the USA.

The effort comes as researchers are seeing terrorists increasingly use the Internet to plan bombings, recruit members and spread propaganda. "Blogging and message boards have played a substantial role in allowing communication among those who would do the United States harm," the department said in a recent notice.

Homeland Security officials are looking for companies to search the Internet for postings "in near to real-time which precede" an attack, particularly a bombing. Bombings are "of great concern" because terrorists can easily get materials and make an improvised-explosive device (IED), the department said.

"There is a lot of IED information generated by terrorists everywhere — websites, forums, people telling you where to buy fertilizer and how to plant IEDs," said Hsinchun Chen, director of the University of Arizona's Artificial Intelligence Lab. Chen's "Dark Web" research project has found 500,000,000 terrorist pages and postings, including tens of thousands that discuss IEDs.

Chen and others aren't sure how helpful blogs and message boards will be in uncovering planned attacks.

"I just can't envision a scenario where somebody posts to a message board, 'I'm getting ready to launch an IED at this location,' and the government will find that," said terrorism analyst Matt Devost. A lot of postings about attacks are "fantasy, almost role-playing," Devost said.

Internet searches are used routinely by government agencies, such as the Defense Department, in gathering intelligence, said Chip Ellis of the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism.

The searches use methods similar to a Google query and can be helpful in uncovering the latest IED technology, Ellis said.

Steven Aftergood, an intelligence expert at the Federation of American Scientists, praised Homeland Security for "trying to develop innovative approaches" and said its effort would not jeopardize privacy because the department would be scanning public websites.

The department, which declined comment, has made no decision about using Internet searches and is reviewing statements that companies submitted last month describing their ability to do the searches.

Obama wants Bush war team to stay

Obama wants Bush war team to stay

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Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has asked most Bush administration political appointees except those targeted for dismissal to stay on in the Pentagon until replaced by the Obama administration in the coming months.

"I have received authorization from the president-elect's transition team to extend a number of Department of Defense political appointees an invitation to voluntarily remain in their current positions until replaced," Mr. Gates said in an Dec. 19 e-mail to political appointees.

The chance to stay is "available to all willing political appointees with the exception of those who are contacted individually and told otherwise," he stated.

Notification of those who must depart was to be done before the close of business Monday. The identity of the dismissed officials could not be learned.

The policy affects some 250 political appointees in the department. Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman have already announced they plan to depart by Jan. 20.

Two senior officials expected to stay are John Young, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, and James R. Clapper, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence.

About 40 positions in the Pentagon require Senate confirmation, including the undersecretaries and assistant secretaries and some deputies. The rest do not require a formal presidential nomination and Senate approval and can be made by the defense secretary.

Senate confirmation in some cases can take months and require hearings. In other cases, nominees can be approved within a few weeks of nomination.

Geoff Morrell, Pentagon press secretary, confirmed that Mr. Gates wants to retain most political appointees. He said the policy of keeping so many holdover officials is unusual for a transition from a Republican to Democratic administration

The decision to keep the appointees is part of an effort by Mr. Gates to avoid a "leadership vacuum" at a time when the United States in engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr. Morrell said.

Other federal agencies are not keeping political appointees, including the state, justice and homeland security departments that are planning personnel changes without Bush administration appointees in place.

It is his top priority to ensure a smooth transition, Mr. Morrell said of Mr. Gates.

Mr. Morrell, a deputy assistant secretary who is also staying on, said most of the service secretaries and undersecretaries will be staying, until their replacement is nominated and confirmed by the Senate.

In the past, a change of administration normally involved mass resignations of political appointees between November and January, leaving subordinates in key policy positions as "acting" officials.

Not all the political appointees will be permitted to stay, but Mr. Morrell declined to identify those asked to leave.

"To the extent you are willing and in a position to continue to serve, I am deeply appreciative," Mr. Gates stated in the email. "However, I encourage you to continue to prudently plan for the transition from DOD employment, as the pace of personnel decisions by the incoming administration is likely to accelerate."

Mr. Gates said he could not provide "more clarity and guidance" on how long those that wish to become holdovers will be allowed to stay on in their positions.

The secretary said he appreciated the appointees' willingness to continue "in the interest of providing continuity for this department and for its critical mission to the nation in a time of war."

Mr. Gates promised to thank each appointee personally in January. "But I still want to take advantage of this note to thank you collectively for all you have done for our country. I wish you and yours happy holidays," he said.

The note was signed "Bob Gates" and sent by Mr. Gates' chief of staff, Robert Rangel.

Congress to crack down on bailout recipients

Congress to crack down on bailout recipients

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Lawmakers are turning up the heat on banks that have received money from the Treasury Department's $700 billion rescue fund after the Associated Press reported that they wouldn't say how they are using the money.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said Tuesday that they will propose legislation next month to force companies that receive money from the fund to report how they have spent it.

The legislation would also prohibit them from spending the taxpayer dollars on lobbying or political contributions. It would also apply to some recipients of the Federal Reserve's emergency lending programs.

The legislation was introduced earlier this year, but the Senate did not take it up. The sponsors have long said they plan to pursue it when the 111th Congress convenes Jan. 6.

"At present, we don't know whether these companies are using these funds to fly on private jets, attend lavish conferences or lobby Congress," Feinstein said in a statement.

Snowe said the bill would ensure that taxpayer money would be used only for the intended purposes: to shore up the nation's financial institutions and step up lending to consumers and businesses to help revive the economy.

The AP contacted 21 banks that received at least $1 billion in government money and asked four questions: How much has been spent? What was it spent on? How much is being held in savings? What's the plan for the rest?

None of the banks provided specific answers and most refused to explain why they are keeping the information secret.

Nearly every bank AP questioned - including Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp., two of the largest recipients of bailout money - responded with generic public relations statements explaining that the money was being used to strengthen balance sheets and continue making loans to ease the credit crisis.

"It is outrageous that those institutions cannot - or will not - provide information on how they are spending billions of taxpayer dollars," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement Monday.

Dismantling the Imperial Presidency

Dismantling the Imperial Presidency

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President-elect Obama's first appointments to the Justice, State and Defense Departments mark no radical change. Rather, they return to a centrist consensus familiar from the Clinton years. But pragmatic incrementalism and studied bipartisanship will do little to undo the centerpiece of the Bush/Cheney era's legacy. At its heart, that regime was intent on forcing the Constitution into a new mold of executive dominance.

Obama enters the White House in a slipstream of forces that will hinder attempts to abandon this constitutional vision. He may be a careful constitutional scholar, but we can't rely on Obama alone to reorient the constitutional order. It will be up to progressives to insist on fundamental repudiation of the Bush/Cheney era.

At first blush, Obama's victory is cause for optimism. As a senator he roundly rejected the signature Bush/Cheney national security policies: torture, "extraordinary rendition," Guantánamo and--until July--warrantless surveillance. Obama appointees like Eric Holder as attorney general speak unequivocally against these violations of constitutional and human rights (to be sure, in Holder's case it was after early equivocation).

The most significant Bush/Cheney innovation was planted at the taproot of our Constitution. It was the insistence that the president can exercise what Cheney in 1987 called "monarchical notions of prerogative." That he can, in other words, override validly enacted statutes and treaties simply by invoking national security. This monarchical claim underwrote not only the expansion of torture, extraordinary rendition and warrantless surveillance but also the stonewalling of Congressional and judicial inquiries in the name of "executive privilege" and "state secrets."

The Bush/Cheney White House leveraged pervasive post-9/11 fears to reverse what Cheney called "the erosion of presidential power" since Watergate. Relying on pliant Justice Department lawyers for legal cover, it put into practice a vision of executive power unconstrained by Congress or the courts. It achieved what James Madison once called the "accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive and judiciary, in the same hands," which he condemned as "the very definition of tyranny."

Radical change is needed to re-establish legitimate bounds to executive power. We must again place beyond the pale Nixon's famous aphorism that "when the president does it, that means it's not illegal." But radical change--as early appointments and policy signals from the Obama transition team suggest--comes easier as campaign slogan than governing practice. And there are many reasons to fear a go-slow approach from Obama when it comes to restoring the constitutional equilibrium.

No matter how decent, any new president is tempted by the tools and trappings of executive authority. However tainted the Oval Office is now, Obama's perspective will change dramatically on entering the White House. He is already reading more daily security briefs than Bush and beginning each day with a barrage of fearful intelligence, hinting at dangers that largely never materialize. Submersion in that flow of intelligence will wrenchingly change his sense of the world's risks.

So Obama will be tempted to maintain Bush's innovations in executive power. While the terror threat remains substantial, as the Mumbai attack shows, the Bush administration has left counterterrorism policy in tatters. We have no rational strategy for terrorist interdiction and prevention. Obama's nominations of Robert Gates as defense secretary and Gen. James Jones as national security adviser suggest he is acutely aware of these deficits and of the Democrats' perceived vulnerability on national security. Nor are terrorists the only threat that might lead Obama to reach for emergency powers: credit crunches and fiscal meltdowns can also prompt unilateral executive action, with consequences as sweeping as any national security initiative.

Internal pressure for changing the White House position on executive power will thus wane as the new administration settles in. And pressure from the other two branches is unlikely to swell. The Obama White House will at first face a friendly Congress eager to show results on the economy and healthcare. Unlike the recently oppositional Congress, legislators in the majority have little incentive to make constitutional waves (expect some stalwarts, such as Senator Russ Feingold, to buck this trend). Matters are not helped by the turn from the feckless to the competent. Legislators and the public care most about the constitutional restraints on executive power when the occupant of the White House raises concerns about abuses of power. A more capable leader's entrance saps immediate pressure for reform, even when openings for such limits can be glimpsed.

Nor will the judiciary, listing rightward with President Bush's 324 appointments, provide much constraint. In his appointments to the Supreme Court and the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals (which hears many key constitutional cases), Bush seems to have selected executive-power mavens, including Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Samuel Alito and Judge Janice Rogers Brown. Their opinions already evince strong deference to executive claims of secrecy and expediency. Paradoxically, then, one of Bush's key legacies will be a judiciary that instinctually hews to an executive controlled by a Democratic president.

I am thus not optimistic that the Obama administration will of its own volition restore the constitutional balance, even if it gives up some of Bush/Cheney's most extravagant and offensive policies. With formidable forces arrayed against them, advocates for the Constitution's original equilibrium of powers must choose their battles carefully.

Three areas are particularly important in the administration's early days: torture, the law that the executive follows and accountability. In each case, measures can be taken that would correct a policy the Obama administration clearly disagrees with and simultaneously help dismantle the Bush/Cheney constitutional revolution. (The other pressing issue to face the incoming administration--detention policy--is so complex and difficult, largely thanks to the outgoing administration's compounded mistakes, that it needs to be looked at separately.)

Begin with torture. President Bush's repeated disavowals of government-sanctioned torture have created cognitive dissonance: White House protestations that "we don't torture" are no longer believed. An Obama administration dedicated to restoring America's tarnished international reputation must do more than talk. The best way to begin is for Congress to enact and President Obama to sign already introduced legislation that would limit the intelligence community to the specific interrogation tactics listed in the recently revised Army Field Manual. This law would make it clear that the CIA in particular cannot use what it euphemistically calls "enhanced interrogation techniques." In signing the law, Obama should eschew the weaseling signing provisos favored by Bush and instead forthrightly recognize that there is no presidential override when it comes to torture. This bill is a golden opportunity to restore international credibility and repudiate the monarchical presidency. So it is unfortunate that Democratic Senators Dianne Feinstein and Ron Wyden have already begun backsliding on it.

Also on the torture front, the Obama administration should candidly acknowledge past wrongs, thereby abandoning the Bush/Cheney demand for absolute secrecy. In legal cases filed by torture victims such as Maher Arar, Khaled el-Masri and Shafiq Rasul, the Bush administration has parried demands for acknowledgment or restitution with a sweeping constitutional theory of "state secrets." Rejecting this theory would be a significant step in dismantling the Bush/Cheney view of executive unilateralism. It would be the smallest measure of justice to abandon this theory as ill founded and also to offer profound apologies and restitution to victims. It would be a public acknowledgment that our fears are never an excuse for anyone's suffering.

Torture is only one aspect of a larger distortion of the Constitution. Changing the executive's operating definitions of the law will be critical to rolling back the Bush/Cheney vision. Now this vision is largely memorialized in Justice Department opinions, many still secret. Some of them directly address presidential prerogatives to override laws. Others deal with specific constitutional rights, such as Fourth Amendment privacy rights and the freedom from indefinite detention without trial.

While there is not much general public pressure to change these positions, many constitutional scholars and advocacy groups have protested these opinions. Consistent pressure is required to ensure that the Obama Justice Department cleans house. All department opinions on executive power should be revealed, and troubling ones should be red-flagged so officials will know they can no longer rely on them. The Justice Department should then develop opinions that systematically repudiate the most offensive positions, in particular the idea of monarchical prerogatives to override the law.

Traditionally, opinions have been prepared by the Office of Legal Counsel in secret and then closely held within the administration. Given executive-branch lawyers' habitual pro-presidential tilt, this process should be refashioned. Not only should opinions be made public after publication; the OLC should invite comment and criticism from the public and scholars during drafting, much as other federal regulations are subject to pre-publication "notice and comment."

Finally, there is the thorny matter of accountability. Absent accountability, the lesson of the Bush/Cheney era would be that those who violate the law can, if brazen enough, get away with it. Yet the Obama transition team has signaled no appetite for criminal proceedings. And in any case, indictments might be pre-empted by a blanket pardon before January 20.

Many others have made a compelling case for prosecutions. But what if they don't happen? Paradoxically, blanket presidential pardons may be the least bad alternative. If prosecutions proceed, they may not be edifying. Admissible evidence will be sparse, given secrecy rules. Officials will protest at being sandbagged after having relied on (flawed) OLC opinions. And there is the danger of a repeat of the Iran/Contra trials, where Oliver North used the dock as a soapbox. Given these risks, a blanket pardon perversely might send the clearest signal that the malaise of the Bush/Cheney era was endemic.

Yet this is no reason to renounce accountability. Several commentators have urged a commission to establish full documentation of what was done and its legal justifications. An investigative commission could be less amenable to manipulation than trials. If it could carry out its work in a bipartisan spirit, while insisting on the investigative tools needed to cut through secrecy, such as subpoena power, it could establish a definitive historical record of Bush/Cheney's extraordinary power grab. Bringing to public scrutiny the imperial presidency's infractions will, I suspect, be as good a way as any of thoroughly discrediting that constitutional vision.

No one should assume that the end of the Bush presidency marks the end of the imperial presidency. The Obama administration faces a geostrategic environment of growing uncertainty, with treasury, reputation and military depleted by eight feckless years. It would be foolhardy simply to assume that the worst will be swept away. Yet the opportunities exist for progressives to insist that Obama stay true to his message of hope and his promise of restoring America's tarnished Constitution.