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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Iraqi coalition on brink of collapse as country descends towards civil war

Iraqi coalition on brink of collapse as country descends towards civil war
· Key ally tells PM to choose between him and Bush
· Iranian leaders to meet Talabani at Tehran talks

Jonathan Steele in Irbil, Robert Tait in Tehran and Julian Borger in Washington
Saturday November 25, 2006


Iraq's precarious government was teetering yesterday as a powerful Shia militia leader threatened to withdraw support after sectarian killings reached a new peak and the country lurched closer to all-out civil war.
The prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, was forced to choose between his US protectors and an essential pillar of his coalition, when Moqtada al-Sadr declared his intention to walk out, potentially bringing down the government, if Mr Maliki went ahead with a meeting with President George Bush in Jordan next week.

Mr Maliki, a moderate Shia, faced the dilemma as the cycle of killings reached new levels of savagery. Yesterday, there were reports that at least 60 Sunnis had died in revenge killings and suicide attacks, including one episode in which Shia militiamen seized six Sunnis as they were leaving a mosque, doused them with petrol and set them alight, while soldiers reportedly stood by. In another attack, gunmen burned mosques and killed more than 30 Sunnis in Baghdad's Hurriya district before US forces intervened.

The violence added new urgency to a regional summit in Tehran this weekend on Iraq's fate. Iraq's neighbours, particularly Syria and Iran, have been accused of pulling strings in the Iraqi chaos, and Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is today due to play host to his Iraqi counterpart, Jalal Talabani.

The Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad, was invited but reports from Damascus suggested he would not attend. Syria restored diplomatic relations with Iraq this week after a 24-year gap.

In a reflection of the importance Iran attaches to the summit, Mr Talabani is also expected to meet the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the ultimate say on foreign policy.

Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, predicted that Mr Talabani's visit would produce "important agreements". He described the violence and the US-British occupying forces as "two sides of the same coin" adding: "The two issues should be taken into consideration jointly and a comprehensive solution found."

Observers in Tehran said the government there hoped to use its summit as an overture to Washington. "The Iranian leadership are trying to use Mr Talabani, who has a special role inside Iraq and has never criticised Iran, as a mediator between Tehran and Washington," said Saeed Leylaz, a political analyst. "Mr Ahmadinejad is hopeful that he can attract America's attention through Iraq."

One unknown quantity at the summit will be how much sway the Ahmadinejad government has over Mr Sadr, who visited Tehran last January and met senior Iranian officials, including the country's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani.

The broader question, growing more urgent each day, is whether anyone can now control the cycle of violence. Thursday was the most deadly day for Iraqi civilians, and morgue statistics showed that the past month has been the bloodiest since the 2003 invasion, according to the UN, with 3,709 civilians killed.

Since taking office, Mr Maliki has been under constant US pressure to disarm the Mahdi army and other Shia militias, while remaining beholden to them to stay in power. The Sadr party demanded yesterday that Mr Maliki "specify the nature of its relations with the occupation forces", demanded a timetable for a US withdrawal, and issued its ultimatum over the scheduled Bush-Maliki meeting in Jordan next Wednesday and Thursday.

"There is no reason to meet the criminal who is behind the terrorism," said Faleh Hassan Shansal, a Sadrist MP.

The White House appeared determined that the meeting should go ahead, after President Bush attends a Nato summit in Latvia on Tuesday. "The United States is committed to helping the Iraqis and President Bush and prime minister Maliki will meet next week to discuss the security situation in Iraq," said Scott Stanzel, a deputy White House spokesman.

Mr Sadr's people have six cabinet seats and 30 members in the 275-member parliament. Their vote in the intra-Shia haggling helped to select Mr Maliki as prime minister over other Shia rivals.

Mr Sadr used Friday prayers in the main mosque in Kufa, his headquarters in the Shia heartland south of Baghdad, to focus on Sunni leaders. He urged them to help end the slide into sectarian civil war.

Appealing directly to Harith al-Dari, the leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars, a radical Sunni organisation which has always denounced the US occupation, Mr Sadr told the congregation: "He has to release a fatwa prohibiting the killing of Shias so as to preserve Muslim blood and must prohibit membership of al-Qaida or any other organisation that has made Shias their enemies."

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2006

Saturday, November 04, 2006


The Following was taken off the Yahoo News Boards

by: meantoannoyuh2k (162/M/Wherever) 11/04/06 11:56 am
Msg: 224 of 227
12 recommendations

...someone help me off the floor...

OK. KKKonz...You have converted me. I have become a believer in God...

Know Why?


The Bush Era is so stocked with twisted irony and bizarre takes that no human writer could do it justice.

My GOD this is awful. Perle can go to the deepest ring of Hell along with all the other egomaniacal KKKonz who did this to the world.


The Writer was reacting to the following story:

By BARRY SCHWEID, AP Diplomatic Writer
Fri Nov 3, 6:38 PM ET

A leading conservative proponent of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq now says dysfunction within the Bush administration has turned U.S. policy there into a disaster.

Richard Perle, who chaired a committee of Pentagon policy advisers early in the Bush administration, said had he seen at the start of the war in 2003 where it would go, he probably would not have advocated an invasion to depose Saddam Hussein. Perle was an assistant secretary of defense under President Reagan.

"I probably would have said, 'Let's consider other strategies for dealing with the thing that concerns us most, which is Saddam supplying weapons of mass destruction to terrorists,'" he told Vanity Fair magazine in its upcoming January issue.

Asked about the article, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said, "We appreciate the Monday-morning quarterbacking, but the president has a plan to succeed in Iraq and we are going forward with it."

Other prominent conservatives criticized the administration's conduct of the war in the article, including Kenneth Adelman, who also served on the Defense Policy Board that informally advised Bush. Adelman said he was "crushed" by the performance of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

The critiques come as growing numbers of Republicans have criticized Bush's policies on Iraq. The war, unpopular with many Americans, has become a top-tier issue in next week's congressional elections.

Perle said "you have to hold the president responsible" because he didn't recognize "disloyalty" by some in the administration. He said the White House's National Security Council, then run by now-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, did not serve Bush properly.

A year before the war, Adelman predicted demolishing Saddam's military power and liberating Iraq would be a "cakewalk." But he told the magazine he was mistaken in his high opinion of Bush's national security .

"They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the postwar era," he said. "Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional."

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Memo To Don Young

To: Don Young
From: An AlaskaVoter
Subject: Democracy and Your Conditions of Employment.

Don, it has come to my attention that you refuse to campaign for your office.

According to the conditions of your employment, you are supposed to stand for election every two years.

Let me remind you that “stand for election” doesn’t mean standing thousands of miles away from Alaska in your residence in Virginia or standing in your Bermuda shorts in the Marianas.

Standing for election means coming home and mixing it up with your opponents. But you have refused to debate your campaign opponents this campaign season.

Your main opponent, Diane Benson, flew to Sitka for the Alaska Day parade because she knew you would be there, but you cancelled when you learned that she did so. Then, a few days later, she traveled to Fairbanks to a meeting you were scheduled to attend and, again, you learned that she would be there and you cancelled on those nice folks who wanted to talk to you.

I thought it was very accommodating of Diane Benson to help you meet your employment condition of “standing for election,” but then I learn, through the newspaper, that you are not actually campaigning when you travel to Alaska three weeks before an election.

The problem as I understand it is, if you had debated with Diane, the Congressional Accounting Office or someone might misconstrue this as campaigning and you might have to reimburse the federal government for your plane ticket to Alaska. With only $2 million in the bank, your campaign can ill-afford that. I understand.

I also understand that you want to be scrupulous as to appearance; a clear bright line between campaigning and doing “the people’s work”. The lavish reception in your honor during the GOP Convention in Philadelphia, courtesy of Jack Abramoff and Preston Gates & Ellis, was clearly on one side of the line and the fact-finding trip you took to the Northern Marianas Islands, an Abramoff client, was on the other side of the clear bright line.

But you know what? This memo isn’t about splitting legal hairs. It’s about your job. It’s on the line.

It’s on a clear, bright line called election day.

You see, this month (October) is on track to being the deadliest month for our soldiers this year and the fourth deadliest since the start of the war. Nearly three thousand of our soldiers and guardsmen have died, supposedly for democracy. You yourself have said they are over there fighting for democracy. My question, therefore, is simple:

Don, don’t you owe it to those who are dying over there to participate in the process called democracy here at home?

There are other issues on the voters’ minds that relate to your job: our economy is turning sideways, our social contracts are broken, and Congress has become something akin to the K Street bordello. You, Congressman, need to stand up and face these issues in front of us voters.

In response to an Anchorage Daily News reporter’s question, your campaign manager said: "A campaign event? We do not have any campaign events."

Don, your campaign manager has just earned my designation as the Maytag Repairman of the 21st Century: all dressed up with nothing to do.

In truth, I have lived with you so long, I have become strangely attached to that the ‘eau de bull’ that suffuses your tenure. But, Don, fewer and fewer Alaskans are so sentimental.

Recent polls show that you are an incumbent in trouble.

With nearly total name recognition, you barely eked out a majority in the Craciun poll (52%) and you fall short of that goal in the more recent Hays Research Group poll (43%). In the Hays poll, that pesky Diane Benson trails by only nine points. In both polls, there is a relatively large block of undecided voters. And it’s not just polls, Don; it’s the voters. The 102,000 votes cast in the Republican primary included 21,000 voters who deliberately did not vote for you. You received only 81,000 of those primary votes.

Don, maybe the Independents and Non-Partisans who voted in the Republican Primary were trying to tell you something. And maybe, just maybe, you will get the message on November 7.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Kim Jong-il Is Crazy, Isn’t He?

By Michael Breen
The most common assumption overseas about the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, is that he is either crazy or evil.

But is he?

It is certainly tempting to imagine him pacing his bunker like a lunatic. What impression better fits the leader of a country, which roars at the world?

It is also tempting to imagine him as demonic. His brother drowned when they were playing together. No one knows exactly what happened. When he was seven, his mother died. These events must have unhinged him. Could there be a connection between this emotional history, the weirdness of the personality cult, and the appalling treatment of the citizenry?

Kim himself is not unfamiliar with this question.

When told by an overseas visitor he’d become a media star in South Korea after the June 2000 summit with Kim Dae-jung, he replied, “After I appeared on TV screens, I’m sure, they came to know that I am not like a man with horns on the head.”

Later in the same year, in another historic meeting, with then-US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, he referred to himself as the last of the “communist devils.”

Does this self-deprecating humor belie the nutcase theory?

Not necessarily.

In his first dinner with the South Korean actress Choi Eun-hee, who had been kidnapped on his orders from Hong Kong, he came out with a good one.

“Madame Choi, how do I look?” he asked, eyeing himself mockingly from one side and then the other. “Don’t you think that I look like a midget’s turd?”

Even she laughed.

But are we?

According to American scholar Jerrold M. Post, who has conducted political psychology profiles for the CIA, there’s nothing funny about the Dear Leader. He has written that Kim has the “core characteristics of the most dangerous personality disorder, malignant narcissism.”

Post cites Kim’s insensitivity to the people’s suffering, lavish lifestyle, humiliation of subordinates, security paranoia, and willingness to use aggression to eliminate enemies. The pampered upbringing, Post says, created a warped figure with an extreme degree of self-absorption, a grandiose view of himself, and an inability to empathize with others and understand the United States, South Korea and Japan.

I’m not convinced that such analysis from across a gulf of culture makes much sense. But when misunderstanding the United States counts against you on the mental health test, you may assume the testers are themselves likely to be fruitcakes.

The danger with the crazy and evil lines of reasoning is that they lead to an assumption of danger – if Kim is a wacko, he could press the button. They also contribute to the dehumanizing of a leader and his people, which makes it more difficult to negotiate with them but much easier to bomb them to smithereens.

Is that where we are headed with North Korea?

If not just to avoid this, can we not recognize that Kim Jong-il has played a very weak hand with a measure of brilliance and even courage, and ask, Why?

The answer to that question lies in the North Korean perception of its precarious situation vis-a-vis the world and the significance of nuclear weapons in its defense against perceived threat.

What fear, we should be asking, is so great that Kim Jong-il would take on the world to address it?

The answer has been apparent for a long time. It is that, with the global acceptance of South Korea as the real Korea, North Korea is finished. Its reinvention will be dangerous. Freedom may bring internal revolt. The collapse of communism leaves it exposed to attack from South Korea and the United States. This external fear is either genuine or being manipulated to keep the status quo.

By good fortune, no country actually wants to destroy North Korea. So, the problem is containable if the allies adopt a unified policy of realistic engagement.

Treating the North Korean leader as a nutjob simply provides justification for not bothering.

10-19-2006 16:08

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Iraq orders US to release Shiite activist

This is why the U.S. is between a rock and a hard place--get it: "IRAQ and a hard place!!!" HAHAHAHAHAHAH...whew! Forgive inappropriate...but the bizarre policies that are Bush inspire inappropriateness.

This story neatly profiles the political, sectarian and military challenges that American Commanders on the ground face. God bless our soldiers, they have an impossible task erected by an incompetent civilian leadership headed by our Supreme Poo-Bah, His Excellency and Protector of the Faith and Oil Reservoirs of Our Beloved Multinational Corporations Commander-in-Jefe Jorge Arbusto!

Here, then is the happy-sad and bittersweet story of a family locked in a loveless relationship by an arranged marriage forced upon them by stupid white guys...


Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has ordered the release of a leading member of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's political organisation who was detained by US troops.

Relatives and supporters of Sheikh Mazen al-Saedi confirmed he had been released, while a Sadr spokesman said Iraqi interior ministry vehicles brought him to the Shiite movement's offices in the Kadhimiya district of Baghdad.

Sadr's organisation, which includes several thousand armed fighters, complained Tuesday that Saedi, one of the party's precinct captains in Baghdad, had been arrested by US troops along with five of his supporters.

The US military has thus far refused to confirm or deny the arrest but state television quoted Iraq's national security adviser, Muwaffaq al-Rubaie, as saying the prime minister had ordered his release.

"He was released," confirmed Sadr spokesman Hamdallah al-Rikabi, accusing US forces of trying to provoke the movement into armed confrontation.

"Everybody knows that the Sadr Movement is a patriotic movement seeking to fight terrorism. The occupation forces always choose to detain our members, and only our members, because they want a confrontation.

"We are not too weak to face the occupier, but our leadership wants us to remain quiet," he added, demanding that the Iraqi government issue a statement to explain Saedi's brief detention.

American commanders privately accuse Sadr's Mahdi Army of being one of the main forces behind Iraq's recent descent into sectarian bloodletting, and a rise in the number of fatal attacks on US troops.

Maliki, however, warns it will be difficult to disarm a militia with such popular support and has said that he vetoed a US plan to invade Sadr's stronghold in the impoverished east Baghdad suburb of Sadr City.

Before news of the release emerged, several hundred Sadr supporters gathered in the Shuala district of eastern Baghdad to protest Saedi's alleged detention and demand both his release and "the end of the occupation".

Activists chanted: "No, no to America! No, no to Israel!"

There were no weapons on display at the protest, unlike at some previous rallies in Baghdad, where assault rifles and rocket launchers have been openly paraded by masked Mahdi Army fighters.

"The occupiers have begun arresting the sons of this injured country. The occupiers have never been defenders of freedom," said protest leader Sheikh Hadi al-Mohammedawi, who had not heard the report of the release.

"They arrest the people of this area, which is a shelter for poor and displaced, and leave the regions of terror," he alleged, implicitly comparing Shiite east Baghdad to other areas roamed by Sunni insurgents.

Nevertheless, a threatened strike which was to have been organised in Baghdad's hospitals and schools did not materialise, and the protest leader read out a letter from Sadr himself calling it off.

time to say sorry for Iraq's agony

General Sir Richard Dannatt, the army's biggest gun, has blown apart Blair's promises and exposed the disaster our leaders try to hide

Mary Riddell
Sunday October 15, 2006
The Observer

History will forgive the war on Iraq. Or so Tony Blair told the US Congress in July 2003, as the first cold shadows fell on the invasion. The Prime Minister also warned of 'many further struggles ahead'. He cannot have imagined that these would include being gunned down by the head of the British army. By calling for a pull-out from Iraq, General Sir Richard Dannatt has reversed the view of the French wartime leader, Georges Clemenceau, that 'war is too serious a matter to entrust to military men'. In Dannatt's view, it is too vital to be left to the sofa warriors of Downing Street. His men have had enough, and he has said so.
The military can barely hide their glee. The previous head, Sir Michael Jackson, was seen by soldiers as Blair's puppet. Now they have a leader who puts the army first. Dannatt may not share this jubilation. Naivety, or every general's tendency to rank himself just below God in the cosmic line management structure, led him into an unintended row.

As he must know, Iraq is rarely kind to generals. In April 1915, General Sir Charles Townshend had a nervous breakdown on the road from Basra, shortly before his troops were decimated. His successor, General Sir Stanley Maude, died of cholera. Almost a century after the last, doomed British invasion, another general decides that the game is almost up.

Blair, briefed throughout the night as the mutiny unfolded, has smoothed over the cracks, but Dannatt has been warned to stay out of trouble. Ever since Caesar defied the Senate and crossed the Rubicon, politicians have been wary of over-mighty soldiers. Another outburst, and this one would have to go.

Many war-brokers bend their constitutional roles. Blair has behaved as an unanointed commander-in-chief: Dannatt has adapted the role of General MacArthur, fired by President Truman for trying to declare war on China. Unlike MacArthur, Dannatt has become an all-purpose hero, feted not just by soldiers but by troops-out campaigners.

Be wary. The general is talking about preserving the army, not the fragile lives of Iraqi citizens. British soldiers in the south have been better able - and may still be - to help stave off social collapse than their counterparts in Baghdad. But when troops are failing to protect citizens' lives or hinder the slide towards civil war, they have to leave. That line may well have been crossed. The results of a disastrous invasion should be debated in Parliament. They should have dominated Labour party conference. How shameful that the gravest of all foreign policy issues has been left to a soldier speaking out of turn.

The promises of a better tomorrow are in ruins now. Our troops will be off shortly, possibly barring a small presence in the south. Professor Paul Rogers, of Bradford University, doubts that a British force will be in place in 12 months' time. There would be no schism. Blair would leave office first, allowing his successor to profess allegiance to George W Bush's strategy while hiving troops off to fight in Afghanistan, which is still winnable. (Quite how, when the obstacles are greater, the terrain harder, the insurgency more vicious and the track record of invaders even worse than in Iraq, neither Dannatt nor the government can explain.)

Any rift with US foreign policy would be airbrushed out, just like the Dannatt outburst. The PM wants British troops out of Iraq. The general says withdrawal must be 'soon'. What's one small word of difference between friends, ask the semanticists of Downing Street? If only the fissures in Iraq could be filled in so easily.

On Friday, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) issued its bleakest assessment. Conflict has displaced 1.5 million people inside Iraq; a tide of refugees swells the 1.6 million living outside the country. The Lancet's estimate of 655,000 deaths since the conflict began is not only in a different stratosphere from Bush's ballpark figure of 30,000 'more or less'. It is also evidence of the asymmetry in the death roll of the war on terror.

In contrast to the attrition in Iraq, no US citizen has died in an Islamist attack on US soil since 9/11. Neo-con certainties about gun-barrel democracy have perished, naturally, and the graveyards of political theory bristle with their memorials. But, like a headless chicken, the strategy stumbles on. Dig in for victory. No British exit is likely to change that course any time soon.

Even all-out anarchy would be unlikely to dislodge the US, which would impose martial law, according to Amyas Godfrey, a strategic expert and former aide-de-camp to a British general in Iraq. No Republican administration, and possibly no Democrat one, would dare risk the ripple effect of a collapsed state.

Meanwhile, the fate of Iraqis grows more hideous. A road-sweeper says he works with 'his soul in his hands'. Stand on the Syrian border and you will see, each day, 1,000 refugees fleeing Iraq. They drive Mercedes and Chevrolets, these doctors or engineers driven out by kidnap, rape and brutality from streets where muggers kill for a mobile phone.

A middle class is on the move, to Syria, Jordan and to Europe. Such itinerants are not poor, but they soon will be. Their host countries will grow weary of a diaspora sinking into destitution. The UNHCR believes this exodus is the biggest displacement in the Arab world since the flight from Palestine in 1948. Meanwhile, those without the means to leave stay home and die.

This is what British troops and up to one in 40 Iraqis died for. It is the closing chapter and the legacy of the invasion the Prime Minister commended to history. It is the scandal from which ministers avert their eyes, muttering how pleased they are that Saddam is gone. Obviously it would be wrong to deny all hope. The Iraqi government and institutions may live on, long after Dannatt's troops have gone, but the chances of peace are diminishingly slender.

The general has spoken far beyond his remit and snatched power a soldier should never have. But he has, at least, punctured the public weariness that lets politicians gloss over disaster. At this bleak crossroads, British invaders can plough straight on to nemesis, or turn and walk away. Both routes are marked 'Betrayal'.

Maybe the best that can be done is to help the refugees and to resolve never again to fight a war like this. If so, it is time to admit it. It is time to say sorry for the folly and the carnage, not to pretend, as a nation is eviscerated, that all can be redeemed and excused. The Prime Minister may forgive an army general. History will not be so merciful to Mr Blair.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Real Reason We Are In Iraq

"We can't tolerate a new terrorist state in the heart of the Middle East, with large oil reserves that could be used to fund its radical ambitions, or used to inflict economic damage on the West," Bush said in a news conference last week in the Rose Garden.

Finally, President Bush has 'fessed up to the real reason we are in Iraq: oil.

It's a shame that it took 2,700 young american lives, 20,000 wounded and hundreds of thousand of civilian casualties to get to the basic proposition: we want to control Iraqi's oil.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Only Way to the Truth---Torture Hastert

Only Way to the Truth---Torture Hastert
Tom D'Antoni

Is there anything worse, in the minds of most Americans than being a sexual predator to underage kids? Why it's right up there with rape and murder. Finding out who in Congress knew about Foley, when did they know it, and why didn't they do anything about it is as important to the nation as finding out who was behind 9/11.

Are our children worth less?

There's only one way to get this information. Send Foley, Hastert, Boehner, and the rest of them to Guantanamo and torture the information out of them.

I mean, that's this administration's policy, isn't it? Why restrict it to Muslims? Why not just expand it to all involved in anti-social activities, especially one as serious as this.

That we'd have to build a double-wide waterboard for Hastert is beside the point.

Habeas Corpus? Pfaff! If President Bush can waive it for Muslims, he can waive it for those who prey on our children, right?

It's the policy of the administration that Bush has the power to choose whom to torture. It's only logical thing to do, and the only way to get the truth out of these Republican Congressional leaders.

Living by the sword makes for tough payback.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


From Scootmandubious' blog at

GOP's Revealing Response To Foley Scandal

Notice the political cartoon by Mike Shelton in the Orange County Register. I point it out, because it is one of the many variations of a GOP theme to take no responsibility for the Rep. Mike Foley scandal.

I have assembled the responses of various GOP spokespeople, politicians and talking heads, because the next time this pious party clothes itself in the myth of superior moral values we will be able to remind them of their hypocrisy.


Tony Snow (White House Press Secretary):
"Look, I hate to tell you, but it's not always pretty up there on Capitol Hill and there have been other scandals as you know that have been more than simply naughty e-mails."

Michael Savage (Right-Wing Talk Show Host):
"I think it's a very dangerous trend. Not only the obsession with child molestation, which is an obsession, by the way, with the American media right now because they don't have the guts to take on radical Islam so they make a big deal out of child molestation. It's like a new hysteria. It's the new witch hunt. Going after child molesters today is the equivalent of witch hunts in Pilgrim times. Everyone is suspected of being a witch or a child molester because -- well, many different reasons."


Rush Limbaugh (Right-Wing Talk Show Host):
"This constantly being on defense and waiting for the next shoe to drop, it is time for the Republicans to fight back and point out, and it should led by Hastert, point out how the Democrats continue to avoid the real issues of importance that we as a nation face.

"Nancy Pelosi knows the person who planted the story about Foley five weeks before the election. But, Rush, but, Rush, but, Rush, tell us what you know, how can you be sure she knows? Well, I can almost guarantee it. She might not know who specifically did it, but she knows where it comes from, all the liberal Democrats do. She knows the person because these e-mails were held by a liberal, they were planted by a liberal, and they were timed to the 2006 election cycle by a liberal, and liberals know liberals, and so Pelosi knows who Deep IM is. There's a Deep IM here, not Deep Throat, but there's a Deep IM."
Dennis Hastert (Speaker of the House):
(Continuing the unproven charge that Democrats leaked the sexually explicit messages) "We have a story to tell, and the Democrats have — in my view have — put this thing forward to try to block us from telling the story. They're trying to put us on defense."


Brit Hume (Fox News Anchor):
"It is very serious misbehavior on the part of Congressman Foley, whether it stems from arrogance or just weakness of the human flesh is another question. It’s probably worth noting that there’s a difference between the two parties on these issues. Inappropriate behavior towards subordinates didn’t cost Gerry Studds his Democratic seat in Massachussetts, nor Barney Frank his. Nor did inappropriate behavior toward a subordinate even cost Bill Clinton his standing within the Democratic Party, even though indirectly he was impeached for it. Mark Foley found out about this, was found out to have done this, and he’s out of office and in total disgrace in his party."


Matt Drudge (Right-Wing Blogger & Talk Show Host):
"And if anything, these kids are less innocent — these 16 and 17 year-old beasts…and I've seen what they're doing on YouTube and I've seen what they're doing all over the internet — oh yeah — you just have to tune into any part of their pop culture. You're not going to tell me these are innocent babies. Have you read the transcripts that ABC posted going into the weekend of these instant messages, back and forth? The kids are egging the Congressman on! The kids are trying to get this out of him. We haven't got the whole story on this."


There you have it. According to the GOP, Rep. Mark Foley, who was allowed to continue as co-chair of the Missing and Exploited Children's caucus despite his party knowing of his behavior months, if not years, before this revelation, is not the true problem. And his party has a myriad of ways of denying responsibility.

They invoke Clinton, who never had sex with a minor, as if his behavior was morally equivalent. They blame the Dems for the fact that the truth got out, as if it should have stayed hidden until after the election. They have suggested that child molestation is a non-issue. And they have had the audacity to blame the victims.

If the GOP holds onto the House and/or Senate now, either the American people are truly blind, deaf and dumb, or Diebold will have done a heckuva job.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Chavez drives a hard bargain, but Big Oil's options are limited

Chavez drives a hard bargain, but Big Oil's options are limited
- Robert Collier, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, September 24, 2006

(09-24) 04:00 PDT El Tigre, Venezuela -- On the hot, shrub-covered plains around this dusty, dingy town, an odd courtship is being carried out between the world's most prominent revolutionary and the world's biggest oil companies.
Just as there is no love between President Hugo Chavez and the Bush administration, there is little love lost between Chavez and the foreign oilmen who are pumping up the huge reservoirs of underground oil. But they need each other. The United States needs Venezuela to help quench its bottomless thirst for oil, and Chavez needs America to buy it from him in order to fund his dreams of spreading his leftist ideology around the hemisphere.
The stakes here are huge. The area around El Tigre, known as the Orinoco Oil Belt, possesses the world's biggest petroleum reserves -- 1.3 trillion barrels of so-called extra-heavy oil. Chevron, Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips and dozens of other foreign firms are here, using recently developed technologies to extract the tarlike, sulfurous crude and refine it.
"Everyone agrees that the Orinoco Belt has the biggest reserves in the world," said Alberto Quiros, a Chavez critic and former president of Royal Dutch Shell's Venezuela operations. "What Chavez will do with them is another question, but there's no doubt that Venezuela will take Saudi Arabia's place as No. 1."
Chavez already is forcing Chevron, which is based in San Ramon, and other oil companies to swallow some bitter pills.
In the past two years, he has raised foreign oil companies' corporate income tax to 50 percent from 30 percent and increased royalties payable to the government from as low as 1 percent to 33 percent. After he threatened to confiscate their operations elsewhere in Venezuela, 26 foreign oil companies, including Chevron, agreed earlier this year to convert their operations into joint ventures with the state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela (known as Pdvsa), with the government holding the majority share. Two European firms -- Total of France and ENI of Italy -- refused, and Chavez promptly expelled them.
Now, the government is demanding similar concessions at the four Orinoco Belt operations, in which Chevron, Exxon Mobil and others have invested about $17 billion. The government is demanding that Pdvsa's ownership share of the projects be increased from an average of 40 percent to at least 51 percent and that Pdvsa take over operational control of the oilfields.
Negotiations over these demands are coming to a head, and the outcome may influence whether Venezuela's rising tensions with Washington subside or even escalate. Analysts say foreign companies may seek international arbitration to block Chavez's takeover attempt.
"It will be quite a fight," said Gersan Zurita, an oil-industry analyst with credit evaluator Fitch Ratings in New York, which advises investors who have purchased $3.9 billion in bonds for the Orinoco Belt projects. In June, Fitch Ratings downgraded the projects' credit scores, saying Chavez's demands could damage the projects' viability.
But for Chavez, it's a matter of national pride -- and political bragging points. Around the country, the government has put up posters and billboards showing Chavez extending his arms in a victory salute, accompanied by the slogan, "Full oil sovereignty: Joint ventures -- more benefits for the people!"
As top-secret negotiations begin, all sides in the conflict have tried to keep a low profile. Chevron, Exxon and ConocoPhillips declined Chronicle requests to interview their officials and to visit their installations in Venezuela.
Zurita said the companies fear being blacklisted by Chavez and losing out on future oil deals.
"It's a very delicate situation. It involves more than just these contracts. Any comment by any of these companies could be used by the government to demand more concessions," Zurita said. "The biggest incentive (for the companies) is to preserve access for the future. These are enormous reserves."
Luis Giusti, president of Pdvsa from 1994 to 1999, noted that many companies have little choice but to look to Venezuela because their reserves elsewhere are dwindling and their access to the Middle East is limited by the firm grip of those nations' government monopolies.
"The foreign companies will accept his conditions because they have so much capital sunk there, and they can't afford a confrontation with the government," said Giusti, who during his time at Pdvsa championed many of the privatization policies that Chavez is now reversing.
For its part, the government seems to have adopted a bunker mentality. Pdvsa's Caracas headquarters declined a Chronicle request to interview its officials or to visit its facilities. One official said that all visits were suspended "for security reasons" after a July 17 fire damaged the country's largest oil refinery, at Amuay in the northwest -- a sign that the government is nervous about the company's high rate of accidents, which it blames partially on sabotage by U.S.-inspired domestic opposition groups.
The only government official willing to talk about the subject was Fadi Kabboul, the oil attache at Venezuela's embassy in Washington.
"For the market, the Orinoco extra-heavy oil operations are very profitable, and they will continue being very profitable. There will be ever-greater interest and participation by foreign companies," Kabboul said.
The Orinoco conflict carries echoes of the knock-down, drag-out battle for control that erupted in December 2002, after Chavez ordered Pdvsa to directly fund and operate major social-welfare projects in poor communities. The company's executives, engineers, technicians and ship captains accused Chavez of "politicizing" Pdvsa, went on strike and shut down almost all operations for three months.
The strikers had hoped to topple Chavez by reviving a military-civilian coup effort that overthrew Chavez for two days in April 2002. But Chavez defeated the strike and fired 18,000 of the strikers -- about 90 percent of Pdvsa's white-collar workforce. The company is still struggling to recover, and most energy analysts believe that Pdvsa's production is only one-half of its pre-strike level. Nevertheless, Chavez's oil revenue has been buoyed by the increase of production by foreign companies, which has risen from 400,000 barrels per day to 620,000 per day, and the more-than-doubling of international oil prices.
In El Tigre, dozens of fired Pdvsa employees gather every day at 3 p.m. in a neighborhood park to exchange job tips and speculate hopefully about Chavez's downfall.
"This could be the issue that finally forces the Bush administration to take a stronger stand against Chavez," said Antonio Cardona, a former director of Pdvsa's crude pumping operations for the region. "Foreign companies have been afraid of Chavez, and they're staying just so they don't lose all they have invested, but he may have finally overplayed his hand now."
Cardona said he worked for Pdvsa for 20 years until he joined the strike. Three and a half years later, like his fellow strikers, Cardona is blacklisted throughout the oil industry by Pdvsa, which prohibits even private companies from hiring any ex-striker. Cardona must scrabble for work, doing small engineering jobs for private-sector construction projects.
At the same time, Chavez has begun shifting oil exports away from the United States, where Venezuelan crude is the fifth-largest foreign source of petroleum. During the first half of 2006, Venezuelan oil exports to the United States dropped by approximately 6 percent from the year before to about 1.3 million barrels per day, according to U.S. Energy Department figures.
At the same time, Chavez has struck oil deals with Beijing, including $5 billion of Chinese investments in Venezuelan energy projects by 2012. Venezuela's exports to China, while still relatively small at 150,000 barrels per day, are projected to reach 500,000 barrels by 2010.
Chevron may wind up playing an unwilling role in Chavez's most audacious plan -- construction of a 5,700-mile natural-gas pipeline through South America. The proposed $25 billion project, the central element of Chavez's plan to unify the continent's economies, would start in the eastern Venezuelan city of Puerto Ordaz, slice through Brazil's Amazon jungle and end in Argentina, with trunk lines to Peru, Bolivia and Chile.
Chevron is already a major player in helping Venezuela exploit its offshore natural gas deposits in the Caribbean and Atlantic, which at 151 trillion square feet are the eighth-largest proven reserves in the world. Recently, Venezuelan officials have suggested that despite prior understandings that Chevron would be allowed to convert the production from its Deltana field in the Atlantic into liquefied natural gas and export it to the United States, this supply will instead be sent south via the new pipeline -- whether Chevron likes it or not.
Some experts scoff at Chavez's pipeline idea. "It's a very large and very costly project," said Giusti. "It will never be built to transport reserves of gas that don't exist to markets that don't exist."
Other analysts call it far-thinking. A recent study by the Latin American Energy Organization, a regional alliance headquartered in Quito, Ecuador, concluded that Chavez's pipelines could save the area's governments $100 billion over the next 20 years by lowering imports of liquid natural gas from Asia and Africa.
One smaller project is already under construction -- a 140-mile gas pipeline linking Venezuela to Colombia, with an extension planned to Panama.
In El Tigre, a sprawling small city of 150,000 in Anzoategui state, there is little evidence of the nearby oil bonanza. Main streets are nondescript, and the highways leading out into the surrounding savanna are narrow and potholed.
But billboards are everywhere touting Chavez and the state's governor, Tarek William Saab.
"With Tarek and Chavez, Anzoategui is progressing!" blare the signs, showing a triumphant Chavez leading a slightly sheepish governor, both wearing revolutionary-red shirts and surrounded by cheering crowds.
But even many Chavez supporters complain that the president's grand ambitions have not benefited the people of Anzoategui.
"Because of oil we have everything, yet we have nothing," said El Tigre Mayor Ernesto Paraqueima, a member of Chavez's ruling coalition.
Speaking in his simple office in El Tigre's concrete-block municipal building as a broken sprinkler downstairs coated the windows with water, he bitterly criticized what he said was the waste of huge sums of money.
"The bureaucracy is enormous, and corruption is gigantic," Paraqueima said. "Anzoategui is a rich state, with rich land. You can look on either side of any highway in Anzoategui, and you won't see anything being cultivated anywhere. That's because of oil. We prefer to bring rice and potatoes from Colombia than growing it here. We produce almost nothing but oil.
"Every foreign oil company in the world is here, but where is the benefit?"
Chavez's oil money
In the past three years, as international oil prices have soared, Chavez has eliminated his political opposition's influence over government finances and drawn a tight curtain of secrecy around them.
In 2003, after the opposition led a chaotic strike by executives and technicians at the state-owned, yet formerly autonomous, oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, or Pdvsa, Chavez fired 18,000 of the white-collar strikers. In 2005, Chavez gained full control of the formerly independent Central Bank, and opposition parties' boycott of legislative elections gave his coalition all 167 seats in Congress that December.
Even Citgo, the U.S. refiner and gas retailer wholly owned by Pdvsa, earlier this year paid off all its debt and stopped the routine practice of reporting data to Moody's financial service -- thus ending all outside scrutiny of the company's books.
What's more, much of Venezuela's oil revenue now stays outside the government's budgetary channels. In recent years, Congress has set each year's government budget by setting Pdvsa's tax payments artificially low. This year, for example, Pdvsa's taxes are pegged to a price of $26 per barrel for Venezuela's blend of heavy crudes -- which currently sells for $58. The $32 per barrel difference remains largely off-budget, with no legislative supervision or disclosure of line-item details.
Documents released by the government earlier this month showed oil revenues of $49 billion for Pdvsa in the first six months of 2006, a 21 percent increase from the same period last year.
In Caracas, Pdvsa declined to make officials available to The Chronicle for an interview.
-- Robert Collier
E-mail Robert Collier at

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Our Pathetic Congress

Little has been accomplished, too much will be left hanging and what was done was often done badly.
By Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein
September 27, 2006

THE FINAL DAYS of any Congress are never pretty, as lawmakers scramble to finish a string of bills while getting out of town as early as possible to hit the campaign trail. After 37 years in Washington — 18 elections — we are pretty well inured to these shenanigans. But even those of us with strong stomachs are getting indigestion from the farcical end of the 109th Congress, slated for early Saturday.

This Congress hit the ground stumbling and has not lifted itself into an upright position. With few accomplishments and an overloaded agenda, it is set to finish its tenure with the fewest number of days in session in our lifetimes, falling well below 100 days this year.

This new modern record is even more staggering when one realizes that more than 25 of those days had no votes scheduled before 6:30 p.m., making them half- or quarter-days at best. The typical workweek in Congress (when there is a week spent in Washington) starts late Tuesday evening and finishes by noon Thursday. No wonder satirist Mark Russell closes many of his shows by telling his audiences what members of Congress tell their colleagues every Wednesday: "Have a nice weekend."

This part-time Congress has other parallels to the famous "Do-Nothing 80th Congress" that Harry Truman ran against successfully in 1948. The output of the 109th is pathetic measured against its predecessors and considering its priorities, which included a comprehensive immigration bill, tax reform and the research and development tax credit, lobbying and ethics reform, healthcare costs and insurance coverage, trade agreements, procedures for the detention and trial of suspected terrorists, and regulations for the oversight of domestic wiretaps, among many others. With just days to go before Congress adjourns and the fiscal year begins, not a single one of the 11 appropriations bills that make up the range of government programs has been enacted into law.

But the big problem with this Congress is not what it didn't do, it is what it did, and did badly. As of Tuesday, there were three must-pass pieces of legislation pending: defense and homeland security appropriations and the annual Department of Defense authorization. Each year, when the few must-pass bills move forward, there is a major temptation to throw on all kinds of extraneous provisions; when lawmakers can identify a train that is both leaving the station and sure to reach its destination, everyone has baggage they try to toss on board. Each year, responsible party leaders resist most of these measures, to preserve the integrity of the process and to keep shoddy bills with no vetting and no broad support from either being railroaded or inserted surreptitiously.

This year, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-Va.) has vowed to protect the defense authorization bill — but House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has other ideas. Hastert says he will kill the bill, doing damage to the Department of Defense and conceivably to troops in the field, unless Warner and his fellow senators cave and tack on an entire federal court security bill and another House anti-immigration bill.

The anti-immigration bill would allow indefinite detention of illegal immigrants protected under political asylum provisions, and it would deny court access to many. Hastert and his fellow House Republicans have refused to say exactly what they will include in the 300-page court security bill, but by most insider accounts, it will include not just commendable, bipartisan provisions to protect judges and law enforcement officials from threats but provisions to federalize the death penalty for murders of law enforcement officials, judicial employees or state and local employees, bypassing the law in states that have no death penalty.

It also reportedly would sharply restrict habeas corpus by, for the first time, singling out a special class of victims (judges and police officers); bypass hearings for juveniles charged with gang-related offenses and automatically have them tried as adults; and allow judges and prosecutors to carry concealed weapons, even where banned by state law.

Most of these measures have had no hearings — or cursory ones — much less debate or votes by the full House or Senate. Many are sharply opposed by states, which complain about the federal government trampling their laws and sovereignty.

IF THIS WERE ONE isolated instance of a Congress pushing through sloppy and ill-considered legislation to score political points before an election, we would wince but move on. But this breach of the normal legislative process is all too typical of today's Congress. Over the last five years, Congress has abandoned the web of rules and norms that have long governed how a bill is considered, how votes take place and how outcomes are decided. The infamous three-hour vote to pass the Medicare prescription drug bill two years ago — a vote supposed to last 15 minutes — stretched from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. It was held open until the leaders could squeeze out enough votes to make a majority and resulted in several members, including then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, being rebuked by the Ethics Committee. But the truth is, rigging the rules for partisan advantage has become routine.

To be sure, efforts to close off debate and play hardball when votes are tight is not new; Democrats played these games when they were in the majority in the 1980s and early 1990s. But abuses of the regular order that used to be occasional and average — a six on a scale from one to 10 — are now chronic and sometimes hit 11.

The framers wanted Congress to move slowly and deliberately. But today, it is common to spring on the House and Senate a 1,000-page bill that has not been through any vetting process. With little notice and no time for anyone to read the bill, much less absorb or analyze it, with no amendments allowed, the leadership demands a party-line, up-or-down vote. This is a formula for poor oversight and worse law.

This November, will the public demand more from Congress, the first branch of government and the linchpin of American democracy?


THOMAS MANN, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and NORMAN ORNSTEIN, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, are authors of "The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track."

Friday, September 29, 2006

Politics and Platitudes Mean Most Vulnerable Will Suffer


In the days after Katrina, twelve members of Congress sent a joint letter to the major oil companies asking for help. The rising price of oil, the refining crunch and the onset of winter threatened many of the most vulnerable in America with untenable choices.

CITGO was the only company to step up and offer help. The current CITGO home heating initiative is a result of those commitments.

The righteous anger over Hugo Chavez’s posturing at the United Nations is like ashes in the mouth to over 260 homes in Western Alaska who will now go without a gift of heating oil this year because politicians from Caracas to Anchorage chose to posture over an abstraction.

But first a word about Hugo Chavez calling George W. Bush “The Devil.”

Over the past five years, the White House political operation has assiduously cultivated a halo about the person of George W.Bush. The politics of the pulpit was laid bare in the Jack Abramoff hearings in which pastors were mobilized for a fee to serve the interests of Abramoff’s tribal casino clients. The evangelical political operation exposed in the Abramoff hearings went right to the White House.

The President of Venezuela, along with the rest of the world, is quite aware of the political uses of religion by the Bush administration and, using theatrics and literary allusion, President Chavez knocked the halo off George Bush’s head to curry favor among the non-aligned nations among whom President Bush is unpopular. Venezuela is vying with Guatemala for a seat on the U.N. Security Council. In other words, it was an old fashioned political stump-speech.

In response, the right-wing pundits of America have whipped themselves into a foamy lather while the rest of the political establishment, the media, opposition Democrats and think tanks either remain silent or, like Nancy Pelosi, join in the harangue of election-year chest beating.

Through the distorted lens of the last six weeks of a political election cycle, no one is seeing or thinking clearly.

Comes now the political lynch mob looking around for symbols to burn, such as the landmark CITGO sign in Boston that one city councilman wants to replace with an American Flag. CITGO is an American company that is now wholly-owned by Petroleo de Venezuela. CITGO was around long before Hugo Chavez and CITGO will be around long after he goes away. Since CITGO has no outlets in Alaska to attack, we are left with, well…the charitable home heating oil program of CITGO. We in Alaska are saying “…we’ll show Hugo Chavez, by golly…we will refuse a gift of home heating oil to our villages!”

Yeah, that will show Hugo Chavez!

Is CITGO’s goodwill little more than propaganda? It is hard to deny that.

Few acts of charity or kindness managed by a corporate relations office that also results in a tax benefit can be considered anything but propaganda, including a grant from, say, ConocoPhillips.

Interestingly, ConocoPhillips is doing plenty of business with Venezuela. The company is partnering with the democratically-elected government of Hugo Chavez in the development of oil fields and processing units. Also interestingly, the activities of the exploration and production segment of ConocoPhilips are being financed by low interest loans and profits from activities throughout the company including, presumably, Alaska.

While I wish ConocoPhillips well on their venture, I seriously doubt that ConocoPhillips will make a decision affecting their investment and strategic partnership with Petroleo de Venezuela based upon the politics and platitudes currently being played out in America.

So my question is, why should rural leaders let this all this silliness cloud their judgment?

The villages of Alaska and the most vulnerable Alaskans are being asked by their political leadership to make a noble sacrifice for patriotism and the President.

Once again, to paraphrase Mark Twain, when the wealthy and powerful call for sacrifice, it is the poor who do the giving.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Take care of our own
Alaska should not let Venezuela embarrass us again next year

Published: September 26, 2006

Smart people learn from their mistakes. Or, at least they're supposed to.

In this case, it was a mistake for the Legislature not to approve the governor's request for additional state funding to help keep low-income Alaskans warm this winter. Instead of us taking care of our own people, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez stepped in to help pay the fuel bill. In doing so, Mr. Chavez gained even more international publicity for his U.S.-trashing political rants.

It's probably too late to undo the embarrassment this year, unless the North Slope oil companies are willing to volunteer the financial aid. But let's hope Alaska doesn't make the same mistake next year. The state, with all its oil wealth, and Alaska's regional Native corporations, with their profits, should provide leadership on the issue -- and not allow Venezuela to rub our noses in oil.

Federal funding for the low-income energy assistance program has been flat for 20 years, and Gov. Frank Murkowski this past session asked lawmakers to put in state cash to supplement the funding.

Legislators said no, and rural Alaskans started to fear another winter of costly heating fuel.

Then up steps President Chavez and Houston-based Citgo Petroleum Corp., which is owned by Venezuela's national oil company. Expanding last year's program of helping low-income Americans stay warm, Citgo this month said it would donate $5 million to buy heating fuel for every household in 151 Alaska villages.

It's hard to blame villagers for accepting the gift. Heating fuel is $6 a gallon in the Koyukuk River village of Hughes and $7 a gallon in the Kobuk River village of Kobuk. The free 100 gallons of oil, courtesy of Citgo, means a $600 to $700 savings for those households.

But it's more than ironic, it's embarrassing that residents in a state with so much oil wealth should be looking to a foreign nation for help. Even worse that the foreign nation is led by a president who supports Iran's nuclear ambitions and is friends with many of America's enemies.

Alaska has enough problems convincing the nation that we're able to manage our own affairs, our resources and our wealth. Taking Venezuela's aid makes it worse. It should not happen again.

BOTTOM LINE: Hugo Chavez is using Alaska.



I attended the signing ceremony in New York for the Citgo heating oil donation program that you find so worrisome. It was a wonderful event. Hugo Chavez was there and showed himself to be humorous, self-effacing, and extremely well-read. He was also quite gracious to all of us in attendance, particularly the young Aleut and Inupiat dancers who performed at this historic event.

I will repeat to you what I told Fox News when asked what I thought about Hugo Chavez calling President Bush "The Devil": It is part of the Kabuki play of international politics. It was a literary and theatrical performance, not unlike the "Axis of Evil" or the "Holy Crusade Against the Enemies of the West" that Bush declared after 9-11. I also said that, in the Bible (Book of James), we are admonished that "...not by faith alone, but by your acts shall you be judged..." Chavez's words are less important than what he does. Bush's actions are more important than what he says. In my opinion, if both died today, Chavez (a devout Catholic) will enjoy the bounties of heaven; George Bush will burn in Hell...

Fox chose to broadcast only my last 17 words or so.

The Bush White House has worked assiduously to develop the Evangelical "mystique" of George Bush. Linking his White House to "God's Plan" helps to innoculate President Bush from critical analysis by his 'base' for his foreign misadventures. Is it so surprising, therefore, that a critic of those misadventures, like President Chavez, might try to knock the halo off President Bush's head?

To see an example of the evangelical political workings of the Bush Machine, go to:

Next, you inaccurately characterize President Chavez as "...attacking America". President Chavez takes pains to point out in every one of his theatrical outings that his issues are with George W. Bush and NOT America.

I can understand that duality. My own contempt for George Bush arises in large part out of my love for this country. I believe that a large number of Americans share this sentiment.

Then you punch-up your rhetoric by linking Chavez to Iran. While it is true that Chavez supports the development of peaceful nuclear power and opposes interference by the United States in Iran's internal affairs, there is no record that demonstrates Hugo Chavez supports the development of nuclear weapons by Iran. When you refer darkly to Iran's "nuclear ambitions", you contribute to a misunderstanding of Chavez's position. While the Republican "talking points" focus on Iran's alleged weapons program, the consensus of the intelligence community is that weapons delivery is far off, if it all. The "crisis" over Iran may be much ado about very little.

Then you say that Venezuela "embarassed Alaska"? Really? What you are really pointing out is that Alaska embarrasses itself. I could go on too long about the width and depth of Alaska's self-embarrassment, with regard to this issue and many others, but I will not. The genesis of the Citgo program was a letter sent by 12 congressmen to all the major oil companies after Katrina asking for such a charitable program. Citgo was the ONLY one that responded. I repeat: Citgo was the only oil company that responded to a request by members of the U.S. Congress to provide heating fuel assistance.

...So tell me, in light of this history, Larry, how is the government of Venezuela "rubbing our noses in it"?

Also, it isn't "Alaska" taking the "aid" from Venezuela. It is Tribes and Tribal non-profits acting independently of "Alaska". I personally hope they continue to do so. My hope is that the program continues and that some future sustainable business relationship can be developed with Citgo or any other company that wants to do business with Alaska Tribes.

Finally, you and your colleague Paul Jenkins seem concerned that Tribes and Village representatives would do business with the likes of Venezuela. Well, guess what? So are the likes of Conoco-Phillips. Take a look at their 10-K report filed with the SEC (synopsis attached). C-P enjoys subsidized financing from the Ex-Im Bank, tax breaks for overseas investments and probably uses some of its Alaskan profits to finance their happy partnership with Petroleo de Venezuela.

The irony and the hypocrisy of the self-righteousness of you and Mr. Jenkins is Denali-scale.

Friday, September 15, 2006


Princeton University has performed a public service.
See the video on the sidebar.

or click on the title (above)


Friday, September 08, 2006

Senate: Saddam saw al-Qaida as threat

By JIM ABRAMS, Associated Press WriterFri Sep 8, 7:48 PM ET

Saddam Hussein regarded al-Qaida as a threat rather than a possible ally, a Senate report says, contradicting assertions President Bush has used to build support for the war in Iraq.

Released Friday, the report discloses for the first time an October 2005 CIA assessment that before the war, Saddam's government "did not have a relationship, harbor or turn a blind eye toward" al-Qaida operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi or his associates.

Saddam told U.S. officials after his capture that he had not cooperated with Osama bin Laden even though he acknowledged that officials in his government had met with the al-Qaida leader, according to FBI summaries cited in the Senate report. "Saddam only expressed negative sentiments about bin Laden," Tariq Aziz, the Iraqi leader's top aide, told the FBI.

The report also faults intelligence gathering in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion.

As recently as an Aug. 21 news conference, Bush said people should "imagine a world in which you had Saddam Hussein" with the capacity to make weapons of mass destruction and "who had relations with Zarqawi."

Democrats contended that the administration continues to use faulty intelligence, including assertions of a link between Saddam's government and the recently killed al-Zarqawi, to justify the war in Iraq. They also said, in remarks attached to Friday's Senate Intelligence Committee document, that former CIA Director George Tenet had modified his position on the terrorist link at the request of administration policymakers.

Republicans said the document, which compares prewar intelligence with post-invasion findings on Iraq's weapons and on terrorist groups, broke little new ground. And they said Democrats were distorting it for political purposes.

A previous report in 2004 made clear the intelligence agencies' "massive failures," said Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., a member of the committee. "Yet to make a giant leap in logic to claim that the Bush administration intentionally misled the nation or manipulated intelligence is simply not warranted."

White House press secretary Tony Snow said the report was "nothing new."

A second part of the report concluded that false information from the Iraqi National Congress, an anti-Saddam group led by then-exile Ahmed Chalabi, was used to support key U.S. intelligence assessments on Iraq. It said U.S. intelligence agents put out numerous red flags about the reliability of INC sources but the intelligence community made a "serious error" and used one source who concocted a story that Iraq was building mobile biological weapons laboratories.

The report also said that in 2002 the National Security Council directed that funding for the INC should continue "despite warnings from both the CIA, which terminated its relationship with the INC in December 1996, and the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency), that the INC was penetrated by hostile intelligence services, including the Iranians."

According to the report, postwar findings indicate that Saddam "was distrustful of al-Qaida and viewed Islamic extremists as a threat to his regime." It said al-Zarqawi was in Baghdad from May until late November 2002. But "postwar information indicates that Saddam Hussein attempted, unsuccessfully, to locate and capture al-Zarqawi and that the regime did not have a relationship with, harbor, or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi."

In June 2004, Bush defended Vice President Dick Cheney's assertion that Saddam had "long-established ties" with al-Qaida. "Zarqawi is the best evidence of connection to al-Qaida affiliates and al-Qaida," the president said.

The report concludes that postwar findings do not support a 2002 intelligence report that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program, possessed biological weapons or had ever developed mobile facilities for producing biological warfare agents. "The report is a devastating indictment of the Bush-Cheney administration's unrelenting, misleading and deceptive attempts to convince the American people that Saddam Hussein was linked with al-Qaida," said Sen. Carl Levin (news, bio, voting record), D-Mich., a member of the committee.

Levin and Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the top Democrat on the panel, said Tenet told the committee last July that in 2002 he had complied with an administration request "to say something about not being inconsistent with what the president had said" about the Saddam-terrorist link.

They said that on Oct. 7, 2002, the same day Bush gave a speech speaking of such a link, the CIA had sent a declassified letter to the committee saying it would be an "extreme step" for Saddam to assist Islamist terrorists in attacking the United States.

They said Tenet acknowledged to the committee that subsequently issuing a statement that there was no inconsistency between the president's speech and the CIA viewpoint was "the wrong thing to do."

Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said the mistakes of prewar intelligence have long been known and "the additional views of the committee's Democrats are little more than a rehashing of the same unfounded allegations they've used for over three years."

The panel report is Phase II of an analysis of prewar intelligence on Iraq. The first phase, issued in July 2004, focused on the CIA's failings in its estimates of Iraq's weapons program.

The second phase had been delayed as Republicans and Democrats fought over what information should be declassified and how far the committee should delve into the question of whether policymakers may have manipulated intelligence to make the case for war.

Committee member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said he planned to ask for an investigation into the amount of information remaining classified. He said, "I am particularly concerned it appears that information may have been classified to shield individuals from accountability."
On the Net:
Senate Intelligence Committee:

Sunday, September 03, 2006

You Will Not Catch Me Dead in Iraq: Military Deserters

The Time of London has published an important story on the Iraq war today.
This is a story that is not being told in the American Press.

It is shocking and certain to be upsetting, especially to those who continue to believe that the War has any meaning or purpose.

There is a silent revolt going on in the military. No one is talking about it for obvious reasons. The military command doesn't want to demoralize their troops; the political establishment doesn't want to admit failure; the deserters themselves don't want to make waves.

There is a revolt going on among the rank-and-file soldiers. Listen up, America. You can no longer ignore what the kids you've sent off to war are saying.



Scores of American troops are deserting — even from the front line in Iraq.

But where have they gone? And why isn’t the US Army after them? Peter Laufer tracked down four of the deserters.

These are the US troops in Iraq to whom the American administration prefers not to draw attention. They are the deserters – those who have gone Awol from their units and not returned, risking imprisonment and opprobrium.

When First Lieutenant Ehren Watada of the US Army, who faced a court martial in August, refused to go to Iraq on moral grounds, the newspapers in his home state of Hawaii were full of letters accusing him of “treason”. He said he had concluded that the war is both morally wrong and a horrible breach of American law. His participation, he stated, would make him party to “war crimes”. Watada is just one conscientious objector to a war that has polarised America, arguably more so than even the Vietnam war.

It is impossible to put a precise figure on the number of American troops who have left the army as a result of the US involvement in Iraq. The Pentagon says that a total of 40,000 troops have deserted their posts (not simply those serving in Iraq) since the year 2000. This includes many who went Awol for family reasons. The Pentagon’s spokesmen say that the overall number of deserters has actually gone down since operations began in Afghanistan and Iraq, but there is no doubt that a steady trickle of deserters who object to the Iraq war have made it over the border and are now living in Canada. There they seek asylum, often with the help of Canadian anti-war groups. One Toronto lawyer, Jeffry House, has represented at least 20 deserters from Iraq in the Canadian courts; he is himself a conscientious objector, having refused to fight in the Vietnam war – along with 50,000 others, at the peak of the conflict. He estimates that 200 troops have already gone underground in Canada since the war in Iraq began. These conscientious objectors are a brave group – their decisions will result in long-term life changes. To be labelled a deserter is no small burden. If convicted of desertion, they run the risk of a prison sentence – with hard labour. To choose exile can mean lifelong separation from family and friends, as even the most trivial encounter with the police in America – say, over a traffic offence – could lead to jail.

Many of the deserters are not pacifists, against war per se, but they view the Iraq war as wrong. First Lt Watada, for instance, said he would face prison rather than serve in Iraq, though he was prepared to pack his bags for Afghanistan to fight in a war that he considered just. They don’t want to face the military courts, which is why they have decided to flee to Canada. A generation ago, Canada welcomed Vietnam-war draft dodgers and deserters. Today, the political climate is different and the score or so of US deserters who are now north of the border are applying for refugee status. So far, the Canadian government is saying no, so cases rejected for refugee status are going to appeal in the federal courts. But there is no guarantee that these exiles will ultimately find safe haven in Canada. If the federal courts rule against the soldiers and they then exhaust all further judicial possibilities, they may be deported back to the United States – and that may not be what the Americans want. Their presence in the US will in itself represent yet another public-relations headache for the Bush administration.

DARRELL ANDERSON First Armored Division, 2-3 Field Artillery, at Giessen, Germany. Age: 24.

Darrell Anderson joined the US Army just before the Iraq war started.“I needed health care, money to go to college, and I needed to take care of my daughter. The military was the only way I could do it,” he tells me. As we chat, basking in the sun on a peaceful Toronto street, he fiddles with his pocket watch, which has a Canadian flag on its face. He’s wearing a peace-symbol necklace. After fighting for seven months in Iraq, he came home bloodied from combat, with a Purple Heart that proved his sacrifice – and seriously opened his eyes. “When I joined, I wanted to fight,” he says. “I wanted to see combat. I wanted to be a hero. I wanted to save people. I wanted to protect my country.” But soon after he arrived in Iraq, he tells me, he realised that the Iraqis did not want him there, and he heard harsh tales that surprised and distressed him.“Soldiers were describing to me how they had beaten prisoners to death,” he says. “There were three guys and one said, ‘I kicked him from this side of the head while the other guy kicked him in the head and the other guy punched him, and he just died.’ People I knew. They were boasting about it, about how they had beaten people to death.” He says it again: “Boasting about how they had beaten people to death. They are trained killers now. Their friends had died in Iraq. So they weren’t the people they were before they went there.”

Anderson says that even the small talk was difficult to tolerate. “I hate Iraqis,” he quotes his peers as saying. “I hate these damn Muslims.” At first he was puzzled by such talk. “After a while I started to understand. I started to feel the hatred myself. My friends were dying. What am I here for? We went to fight for our country; now we’re just fighting to stay alive.” In addition to taking shrapnel from a roadside bomb – the injury that earned him the Purple Heart – Anderson says he often found himself in firefights. But it was work at a checkpoint that made him seriously question his role. He was guarding the “backside” of a street checkpoint in Baghdad, he says. If a car passed a certain point without stopping, the guards were supposed to open fire.“A car comes through and it stops in front of my position. Sparks are coming from the car from bad brakes. All the soldiers are yelling. It’s in my vicinity, so it’s my responsibility. I didn’t fire. A superior goes, ‘Why didn’t you fire? You were supposed to fire.’ I said, ‘It was a family!’ At this time it had stopped. You could see the children in the back seat. I said, ‘I did the right thing.’ He’s like, ‘No, you didn’t. It’s procedure to fire. If you don’t do it next time, you’re punished.’”

Anderson shakes his head at the memory. “I’m already not agreeing with this war. I’m not going to kill innocent people. I can’t kill kids. That’s not the way I was raised.” He says he started to look around at the ruined cityscape and the injured Iraqis, and slowly began to understand the Iraqi response. “If someone did this to my street, I would pick up a weapon and fight. I can’t kill these people. They’re not terrorists. They’re 14-year-old boys, they’re old men. We’re occupying the streets. We raid houses. We grab people. We send them off to Abu Ghraib, where they’re tortured. These are innocent people. We stop cars. We hinder everyday life. If I did this in the States, I’d be thrown in prison.”

Birds are singing sweetly as he speaks, a stark contrast to his descriptions of atrocities in Iraq. “I didn’t shoot anybody when I was in Baghdad. We went down to Najaf with howitzers. We shot rounds in Najaf and we killed hundreds of people. I did kill hundreds of people, but not directly, hand-to-hand.”

Anderson went home for Christmas, convinced he would be sent back to the war. He knew he would not be able to live with himself if he returned to Iraq, armed with his first-hand knowledge of what was occurring there day after day. He decided he could no longer participate, and his parents – already opposed to the war –supported his decision. Canada seemed like the best option. After Christmas 2004, he drove from Kentucky to Toronto. But he says he has had second thoughts about his exile. Not that he is worried much about deportation: he has recently married a Canadian woman and that will probably guarantee him permanent residency. But he plans to return to the US this autumn, and expects to be arrested when he presents himself to authorities at the border. “The war’s still going on,” he told me.“If I go back, maybe I can still make a difference. My fight is with the American government.” It’s not only anti-war work that’s motivating him to go home; he’s thinking about his future. “Dealing with all the nightmares and the post-traumatic stress, I need support from my family.”

Anderson expects to be convicted of desertion, and he says he will use his trial and prison time to continue to protest against the war. He imagines that just the sight of him in a dress uniform covered with the medals he was awarded fighting in Iraq will make a powerful statement. “I can’t work every day and act like everything is okay,” he says about his life in Toronto. “This war is beating me down. I haven’t had a dream that wasn’t a nightmare since I came to Canada. It eats away at me to try and act like everything’s okay when it’s not.” Not that he feels his time in Canada was a waste. “There was no way I could have gone to prison at the time: I would have killed myself. I was way too messed up in the head to even think of sitting in a prison cell. I owe a lot to Canada. It has saved my life. When I came back and was talking about the war, Americans called me a traitor. Canadians helped me when I was at my lowest point.”

JOSHUA KEY 43rd Company of Combat Engineers, at Fort Carson, Colorado. Age: 28

"We was going along the Euphrates river,” says Joshua Key, detailing a recurring nightmare that features a scene he stumbled into shortly after the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003. “It’s a road right in the city of Ramadi. We turned a sharp right and all I seen was decapitated bodies. The heads laying over here and the bodies over there and US troops in between them. I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, what in the hell happened here? What’s caused this? Why in the hell did this happen?’ We get out and somebody was screaming, ‘We f***ing lost it here!’ I’m thinking, ‘Oh yes, somebody definitely lost it here.’” Key says he was ordered to look for evidence of a firefight, for something to explain what had happened to the beheaded Iraqis. “I look around just for a few seconds and I don’t see anything.” Then he witnessed the sight that still triggers the nightmares. “I see two soldiers kicking the heads around like soccer balls. I just shut my mouth, walked back, got inside the tank, shut the door, and thought, ‘I can’t be no part of this. This is crazy. I came here to fight and be prepared for war, but this is outrageous.’”He’s convinced that there was no firefight.“A lot of my friends stayed on the ground, looking to see if there was any shells. There was never no shells.”

He still cannot get the scene out of his mind: “You just see heads everywhere. You wake up, you’ll just be sitting there, like you’re in a foxhole. I can still see Iraq just as clearly as it was the day I was there. You’ll just be on the side of a little river running through the city, trash piled up, filled with dead. I don’t sleep that much, you might say.” His wife, Brandi, nods in agreement, and says that he cries in his sleep.We’re sitting on the back porch of the Toronto house where Key and his wife and their four small children have been living in exile since Key deserted to Canada.

They’ve settled in a rent-free basement apartment, courtesy of a landlord sympathetic to their plight. Joshua smokes one cigarette after another and drinks coffee while we talk. There’s a scraggly beard on his still-boyish face; his eyes look weary. Key rejects the American government line that the Iraqis fighting the occupation are terrorists. “I’m thinking, ‘What the hell?’ I mean, that’s not a terrorist. That’s the man’s home. That’s his son, that’s the father, that’s the mother, that’s the sister. Houses are destroyed. Husbands are detained, and wives don’t even know where they’re at. I mean, them are pissed-off people, and they have a reason to be. I would never wish this upon myself or my family, so why would I wish it upon them?”

On security duty in the Iraqi streets, Key found himself talking to the locals. He was surprised by how many spoke English, and he was frustrated by the military regulations that forbade him to accept dinner invitations in their homes. “I’m not your perfect killing machine,” he admits. “That’s where I broke the rules. I broke the rules by having a conscience.” And the more time he spent in Iraq, the more his conscience developed. “I was trained to be a total killer. I was trained in booby traps, explosives, landmines.” He pauses. “Hell, if you want to get technical about it, I was made to be an American terrorist. I was trained in everything that a terrorist is trained to do.” In case I might have missed his point, he says it again. “I mean terrorist.” Deserting seemed the only viable alternative, Key says. He did it, he insists, because he was lied to “by my president”. Iraq – it was obvious to him – was no threat to the US.

Key feels that some of his unit were trigger-happy. He recalls another incident that haunts him. He was in an armoured personnel carrier when an Iraqi man in a truck cut them off, making a wrong turn. One of his squad started firing at the truck. “The first shot, the truck sort of started slowing down,” Key recounts. “And then he shot the next shot, and when he shot that next shot, it, you know, exploded.” Key watched the truck turn to debris. “It was very strange. He was just going along and because he tried to cut in front of us… No kind of combat reasons or anything of such…”

Key seems still in shock at the utter senselessness of it all. “Why did it happen and what was the cause for it? When I asked that question, I was told, basically, ‘You didn’t see anything, you know?’ Nobody asked no questions.” Assigned to raid houses, Key was soon appalled by the job. “I mean, yeah, they’re screaming and hollering out their lungs. It’s traumatic on both parts because you’ve got somebody yelling at you, which might be a woman. You’re yelling back at her, telling her to get on the ground or get out of the house. She don’t know what you’re saying and vice versa. It got to me. We’re the ones sending their husbands or their children off, and when you do that, it gets even more traumatic because then they’re distraught. Of course, you can’t comfort them because you don’t know what to say.”

While the residents are restrained, the search progresses. “Oh, you completely destroy the home – completely destroy it,” he says. “If there’s like cabinets or something that’s locked, you kick them in. The soldiers take what they want. Completely ransack it.” He estimates that he participated in about 100 raids. “I never found anything in a home. You might find one AK-47, but that’s for personal use. But I never once found the big caches of weapons they supposed were there. I never once found members of the Ba’ath party, terrorists, insurgents. We never found any of that.”

A soldier’s life was never Joshua Key’s dream. He was living in Guthrie, Oklahoma, just looking for a decent job. “We had two kids at the time and my third boy was on the way,” he says. “There’s no work there. There wasn’t going to be a future. Of course you can get a job working at McDonald’s, but that wasn’t going to pay the bills.” The local army-recruiting station beckoned. Shortly after he finished basic training, he was en route to the war zone. After eight months of fighting, he received two weeks’ leave back in the US. At the end of that, he was due for another Iraq tour.

He didn’t report for duty. Key and his wife packed up, took their children and ran, with the intention of getting as far from his base in familiar Colorado as possible. The family ran out of money in Philadelphia, and Key found work as a welder. They lived an underground lifestyle for over a year, frequently checking out of one hotel and into another, worried that if they stayed too long at one place they would attract attention. “I was paranoid,” Key says, and he contemplated deserting to Canada.

The research was easy. He went online and searched for “deserter needs help to go Awol”. Up popped details about others who had escaped across the border. He and Brandi decided to opt for a new life as Canadians. George W Bush should be the one to go to prison, says Key.
“On the day he goes to prison, I’ll go sit in prison with him. Let’s go. I’ll face it for that music. But that ain’t never going to happen,” he laughs.

RYAN JOHNSON 211th Armored Cavalry Regiment, Barstow, California. Age: 22

Twenty-two-year-old Ryan Johnson meets me at his Catholic hostel in Toronto wearing a black T-shirt, blue jeans and black running shoes. When Ryan went Awol in January 2005, he simply went home to Visalia, California. “It was very stressful,” he says. “I lived only four hours away from my home base. I figured they could come get me at any time. But they never came by. They never came looking for me. They sent some letters – that’s all they did.” The military doesn’t devote significant manpower to chasing Awol soldiers and deserters, other than issuing a federal arrest warrant. Those who get caught are usually arrested for something unrelated, their Awol status revealed when local police enter their names into the National Crime Information Center database – a routine post-arrest procedure throughout the United States.
Johnson moved to Canada because he was afraid that if he applied for a job, a background check would cause him to be arrested and give him a criminal record that would make it even more difficult for him to find work in the future. Voluntarily turning himself in to the US Army would not have improved his options, either.
“I had two choices: go to Iraq and have my life messed up, or go to jail and have my life messed up. So I came here to try this out.”
Back at his base in the southern California desert, Johnson had listened hard to the stories told by soldiers returning from the war.
“I didn’t want to be a part of that,” he says. I remind him that, unlike in the Vietnam era, there was no draft when he became eligible to join the army. He went down to the Visalia recruiting office and signed up. Did he really not know then that the army was in the business of killing people? “That’s true, yeah, they are,” he acknowledges. “But what I didn’t understand is how traumatising it was to actually kill somebody or watch one of your friends get killed. I’ve never seen anyone die.
“When I joined,” he says, “I joined because I was poor.” He says that jobs were hard to come by in Visalia and he lacked the funds for college. The sign in the strip mall outside the recruiting office beckoned, despite the fact that war was already burning up the Iraqi desert and sending GIs home dead.
“I talked to the recruiters,” says Johnson.
“I said, ‘What are the chances of me going to Iraq?’ They said, ‘Depends on what job you get.’ So I said, ‘What jobs could I get that wouldn’t have me go to Iraq?’ And they named jobs. I picked one of those and they said that I probably wouldn’t go to Iraq.”

Johnson was too unsophisticated to ask probing questions at the army recruiting office, and he didn’t question many of the answers he did receive. “I was 20 years old,” he says defensively. “I thought we were rebuilding in Iraq. I thought we were doing good things. But we’re blowing up mosques. We’re blowing up museums, people’s homes, all the culture. I mean, I didn’t even realise Iraq was Mesopotamia, you know? There’s all this culture and everything in Iraq. I like to think of myself as pretty well educated for someone that didn’t even graduate high school, but I’ve never really known anything about history or other cultures.

“The soldiers that are going to Iraq, most of them aren’t patriotic,” he says. “They aren’t going to Iraq because our flag has red, white and blue on it. They’re not going because they think that Iraq is posing a threat to us. Most of us are going because we’re ordered to and our buddies are going. That’s one of the reasons that I was going to go – because my buddies are over there.”
He is immediately wistful when asked how he feels about being safe in peaceful Toronto while those buddies are fighting and dying in the desert: “I check the casualties list every day. Every day I go on the internet and I check the casualties list to see if my friends are on there. And as of yet,” he pauses, “seven people from my unit have died, and I knew four of them.”
Johnson is unwilling to consider a return to America and time in prison. “It seems absolutely insane,” he says. “They’ll put someone in jail for five years for not wanting to kill somebody. I’m trying to avoid killing people. I know if I went to Iraq I would kill somebody. If I got put on patrol I would probably shoot somebody, because I would know that it’s them or me, you know? And they feel the same way. If I don’t kill these guys, they’re going to kill me.”

Johnson is hoping to feel at home in Canada. His introduction to the new country when he drove across the border was unexpectedly welcoming. He tried to give his ID to the border guard, but she was not interested in checking it. She just said: “‘Welcome to Canada.’ Yeah, that’s what she said. She said, ‘Welcome to Canada.’ And I said, ‘Thank you!’ and then we crossed the border and my wife, Jennifer, screamed.” However, Johnson is now appealing, as his initial request for refugee status in Canada has been rejected by the Canadian authorities.

IVAN BROBECK 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Age: 21

Aged 21, former Lance Corporal Ivan Brobeck has an inviting smile. We meet in a park near his new home in Toronto. “I knew I couldn’t take it any more,” he says of his decision to desert to Canada. “I just needed to get away, because my unit was scheduled to go back to Iraq for a second time and I couldn’t take any more.”

Brobeck had no problem staying in the military, but he decided that he was not accepting orders to return to Iraq, and desertion seemed his only alternative. He spent much of 2004 on duty in Iraq. He fought in Falluja, and lost friends to roadside bombs “You tend to be very angry over there, because you’re fighting for something you don’t believe in, and your friends are dying,” he tells me.

His war stories feel out of place in the peaceful, upmarket Toronto neighbourhood where we are talking. During battles, he says he operated “on autopilot”, fighting for survival.
“I started thinking about what was wrong while I was over there, but it didn’t really get to me until the end of my stay in Iraq – and definitely once I was back home.”

Back at Camp Lejeune, in North Carolina, Brobeck says he began to consider “the totally bad stuff that shouldn’t have happened” during his watch. “I have seen the beating of innocent prisoners,” he says. “I remember hearing something get thrown off the back of a seven-ton truck. The bed of a seven-ton is probably something like 7 or 8ft high. They threw a detainee off the back, his hands tied behind his back and a sandbag over his head, so he couldn’t brace for the impact. I remember he started convulsing after he hit the ground and we thought he was snoring. We took the bag off his head and his eyes were swollen shut and his nose was plugged with blood and he could barely even breathe.”

In addition to the abuse of prisoners, the regularity with which civilians were killed at checkpoints confounded the young marine. “My friends have been ones who’ve done that, and after the event it’s always, ‘Oh, so and so is a little down today – he killed a guy in front of his kids.’ Or, ‘He killed a couple of kids.’ These marines that had to do that were my friends, who I talked to every day. It’s hard knowing that your best friend had to kill innocent people.”
Brobeck started to develop sympathy for the enemy. “A lot of people that shoot back at us aren’t bad people. They’re people who had their wives killed or their sons killed and they’re just trying to get retribution, get revenge and kill the person who killed their son. They’re just innocent people who lost a whole lot and don’t have anything else to do.”

Brobeck was a marine for a year before being deployed to Iraq. “I always heard all these great things that the US military have done throughout history, like great battles that they’ve won. Out of all the forces I knew, the marines were the toughest, most hard core. I wanted to do that. I was willing to risk my life for an actual cause,” he muses, “if there was one.”
What would be a cause worth dying for? “A good cause” is his answer. “But this war doesn’t benefit anyone. It doesn’t benefit Americans, it doesn’t even benefit Iraq. This is not something that anyone should fight and die for. I was only 17 when I signed my contract, and my whole childhood, all I did was play video games and sports. I didn’t pay attention to the news. That stuff was boring to me. But I know first-hand now.”

Last July his unit shipped out without him. “The day I decided to actually leave was sort of a spur-of-the-moment thing. I had wanted to for so long, I just couldn’t bring myself to actually do it, because going Awol is definitely a huge decision, and it’s like throwing away a lot of your life. Plus, I didn’t know what I was going to do if I went Awol.”

The night before leaving, Brobeck confided his intentions to another marine. “He said, ‘You’ve been to Iraq; I haven’t. You have your reasons for going Awol and I’m not going to stop you.’” The departure from the North Carolina base was easy.
“I walked to a bus station and stayed at a hotel that night. The only way I could get home was by bus, and the station was closed. When the Greyhound station opened, I got my ticket and left for Virginia. I was nervous because reveille, the time we wake up, was at 5.30, and they would have definitely noticed I was missing. I thought they would have checked the Greyhound station, the only one near the base. They didn’t, which was good. I didn’t go home to my mom, because I was worried about police being there. I stayed with a friend.”

Twenty-eight days after he went Awol, Brobeck headed for Canada. He discovered the website maintained by the War Resisters Support Campaign, a group of Canadians organising aid for American deserters, and learnt that there would be help from them were he to flee north to Toronto.

He called his mother and together they drove across the Niagara Falls crossing point.
“She doesn’t like the fact that I’m away in Canada and can’t come back to see her,” he says, “but it’s better than me going back to Iraq for a second time.”

Exile in Canada feels good for Brobeck. “Life feels for me, even if I wasn’t Awol, freer up here than it would in America. Everyone is so polite in Canada, friendly.” In the year since he crossed the border, he has met and married his wife, Lisa. His application for refugee status has been denied, but he has hopes of winning his appeal.

“The only thing I left behind was my family and my friends,” he says. “So that’s the only thing I’m going to miss about America – the people.

“The US used to be something you could say you were proud of,” he adds. “You go to another country now and say that you’re an American, you probably won’t get a lot of happy faces or open arms, because of the man in charge. It’s amazing what one person can do. The leadership totally screwed up any respect we had.” His rejection of US policy in Iraq is making him question his sense of national identity. “In my heart I’m not American… if it means I have to conform to what they stand for,” he says about the Bush administration. “I’m not American because America has lost touch with what they were. The founding fathers would definitely be pissed off if they found out what America’s become.”

Mission Rejected, by Peter Laufer, is published in the US by Chelsea Green, and will be published in the UK in January 2007 by John Blake

It’s not just Americans: hundreds of our own troops have ‘retreated’ from Iraq. Philip Jacobson reports
Over 2,000 members of Britain’s armed forces have gone long-term Awol since the war in Iraq started, and most are still missing. Before the fighting began, about 375 absconders a year were at large for any length of time, and were dismissed; that figure rose to 720 last year. About 740 men are thought to be on the run still, but have not yet been disciplined.
While the MoD denies that this trend reflects growing opposition to the war, lawyers specialising in court martials report a continuing increase in requests for advice from personnel desperate to avoid being posted to Iraq. Although the overall number of Awol cases has been fairly stable for a few years (about 2,500 annually), there is growing concern in the military about the “Iraq factor”. Before, most absconders were Awol for a relatively short time, typically owing to family or financial problems, or bullying, and either went back to their units voluntarily or were arrested quickly. Most were disciplined by their commanding officers; punishments ranged from demotion to “jankers”, a spell in a military jail.

But it seems that a growing number are ready to risk a charge of desertion — a far more serious offence than going Awol, with penalties to match. According to Gilbert Blades, an expert on military law, the MoD is playing down the true extent of the problem. “It is absolutely clear to me,” he says, “that the crucial factor in driving up Awol levels has been what more and more service people consider to be an illegal conflict.” As Blades sees it, the tightening of the legal definition of desertion in new legislation going through parliament is intended to deter potential absconders. Under the new Armed Forces Bill, people refusing active-service duty in a foreign country could be jailed for life. “It seems obvious this is a direct response to the situation that has developed as the war has intensified,” he says.

Two cases this year have highlighted the issue of morally motivated “refuseniks” in the forces. Ben Griffin, an SAS soldier stationed in Baghdad, told his commanding officer that he was no longer willing to fight alongside “gung-ho and trigger-happy” US troops. Griffin fully expected his eight-year career to end in a court martial and imprisonment, but he was allowed to leave and was given a glowing testimonial to his “strength of character”. Flight Lieutenant Malcolm Kendall-Smith, an RAF doctor, received eight months in prison for rejecting orders to report for a third tour of duty in Basra on the grounds that the occupation was illegal. He was later freed, but spent the rest of his sentence under house arrest.

An MoD spokeswoman told The Sunday Times Magazine that claims that the level of desertions was rocketing were untrue. “There is a good deal of confusion about this, because people often don’t understand the distinction between deserting and going absent without leave. Only 21 cases of desertion have been recorded over the past five years, and just one person has been convicted of that offence since 1989.” She also said criticism of the new legislation was “misguided and sometimes malicious”. Under the present military legal system, she explained, each arm of the forces administers its own discipline. This no longer reflects an era in which combined operations are becoming common. “It makes sense in the circumstances to have a single law addressing matters of military discipline for all service personnel.” But Blades argues that the clause providing for life sentences in the event of refusal to serve in a foreign combat zone “was driven through solely by the defence establishment to provide a drastic legal remedy to the problem of conscientious objection”. It remains to be seen whether the courts, if pushed, will hand down such a stiff sentence.