Feb 272010
 

Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Key provisions of the nation’s primary counterterrorism law would be extended for a year under a bill passed by the House Thursday evening after Democrats retreated from adding new privacy protections.

The House voted 315 to 97 to extend the USA Patriot Act, sending the bill to President Barack Obama. Without the bill, the provisions would expire Sunday.

The Senate approved the extension Wednesday. The privacy protections were cast aside when Senate Democrats lacked the necessary 60-vote supermajority to pass them. Thrown away were restrictions and greater scrutiny on the government’s authority to spy on Americans and seize their records.

The Democratic retreat is a political victory for Republicans and a major disappointment for Democrats and their liberal allies who believe the Patriot Act fails to protect privacy and gives the government too much authority to spy on Americans and seize their property.

The three sections of the Patriot act that would stay in force:

-Authorize court-approved roving wiretaps that permit surveillance on multiple phones.

-Allow court-approved seizure of records and property in anti-terrorism operations.

-Permit surveillance against a so-called lone wolf, a non-U.S. citizen engaged in terrorism who may not be part of a recognized terrorist group.

Full Article

Feb 252010
 

Times Online

To have a dozen of your agents identified in police tapes after an extrajudicial killing is embarrassing. To have almost 30 operatives left with their covers blown — as appears to have happened after Dubai police released fresh details of the Hamas assassination last month — might be considered reckless.

On the official website of Mossad, Israel’s spy agency, is the biblical verse from Prophets, 11:14 — “where no counsel is, the people fall, but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety”.

Unfortunately, so many of its “counsellors” seem to have been caught on CCTV, wearing wigs and other disguises, that it was as if an early Purim carnival was being held in Dubai’s hotels and airports.

On top of the diplomatic fallout — Australia was the latest country to chastise Israel, the lead suspect in the murder of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh — is the growing question of how Mossad, the famously surgical scalpel of Israel’s covert defences, could have allowed so many of its people to blunder into full view of security cameras and have their faces flashed around the world in weekly instalments presented by Dubai’s police chief.

The scale of the revelations is leading some experts here to question the motives and/or competence of Dubai’s police chief, Lieutenant-General Dahi Khalfan Tamim, who has released the falsified travel documents of 26 suspects, 12 of them British.

“There is no doubt that more than a little of the information that he is disclosing or leaking to the media is part of a ploy in which bits of disinformation are planted,” said security commentator Yossi Melman in the daily newspaper Haaretz.

“He’s throwing out a lure in the hope that someone in Israel will swallow the bait and respond by incriminating himself or disclosing confidential information.”

Others have expressed concern that Mossad — whose director, Meir Dagan, has even been called upon to resign by some critics — should be concentrating more on gathering intelligence on Iran’s nuclear programme, recalling how it went on a spree of revenge killings after the Munich Olympics massacre in 1972 and missed the signs of a looming attack by Arab armies a year later.

Full Article

Feb 252010
 


ProjectCensored.org

Over one million Iraqis have met violent deaths as a result of the 2003 invasion, according to a study conducted by the prestigious British polling group, Opinion Research Business (ORB). These numbers suggest that the invasion and occupation of Iraq rivals the mass killings of the last century—the human toll exceeds the 800,000 to 900,000 believed killed in the Rwandan genocide in 1994, and is approaching the number (1.7 million) who died in Cambodia’s infamous “Killing Fields” during the Khmer Rouge era of the 1970s.

ORB’s research covered fifteen of Iraq’s eighteen provinces. Those not covered include two of Iraq’s more volatile regions—Kerbala and Anbar—and the northern province of Arbil, where local authorities refused them a permit to work. In face-to-face interviews with 2,414 adults, the poll found that more than one in five respondents had had at least one death in their household as a result of the conflict, as opposed to natural cause.

Authors Joshua Holland and Michael Schwartz point out that the dominant narrative on Iraq—that most of the violence against Iraqis is being perpetrated by Iraqis themselves and is not our responsibility—is ill conceived. Interviewers from the Lancet report of October 2006 (Censored 2006, #2) asked Iraqi respondents how their loved ones died. Of deaths for which families were certain of the perpetrator, 56 percent were attributable to US forces or their allies. Schwartz suggests that if a low pro rata share of half the unattributed deaths were caused by US forces, a total of approximately 80 percent of Iraqi deaths are directly US perpetrated.

Even with the lower confirmed figures, by the end of 2006, an average of 5,000 Iraqis had been killed every month by US forces since the beginning of the occupation. However, the rate of fatalities in 2006 was twice as high as the overall average, meaning that the American average in 2006 was well over 10,000 per month, or over 300 Iraqis every day. With the surge that began in 2007, the current figure is likely even higher.

Full Article

Feb 252010
 


Omaha World Herald
Sgt. Klayton Thomas looked every bit the poster boy Marine as he strode into a military hospital last September to get his back checked.

He taught karate and earned his abs in the gym. He had survived a 2007 deployment to Iraq, even thrived during his prolonged stay in the middle of the then-treacherous Sunni Triangle. He rarely drank. He didn’t smoke. Life seemed perfect on this mid-September Thursday, if only his back would stop aching. The 25-year-old Columbus, Neb., native thought he had wrenched it playing soccer. Three months and 10 days later, he died in hospice care.

This much is known: Thomas succumbed to an unstoppable lung cancer that crushed his vertebrae, blitzed his bones and invaded his brain, dumbfounding doctors who had spent their entire careers treating the disease.

His death leaves a medical mystery, one similar to those posed by hundreds of other American military personnel battling exotic cancers or struggling with rare respiratory problems.

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This mystery begins in the unlikeliest of places: Iraqi “burn pits” — large, primitive landfills where contractors set trash aflame, causing ever-present black smoke to drift over dozens of U.S. military bases.

Health experts, a high-powered defense lawyer, Congress and even the president have taken notice, asking questions like Klayton Thomas’ parents and doctors asked in the weeks after he fell ill.

Why would an otherwise healthy young nonsmoker contract a cancer that generally haunts older smokers? Why did this cancer spread like wildfire when experts say its normal path can take year.

Simply put: Why did Sgt. Klayton Thomas die?

Full Article

Feb 252010
 


Asia Times Online

An investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks in the United States, described by the Department of Justice as the largest investigation into a bioweapons attack in the country’s history, has come to a close…
…More than eight years later, there are many critics who do not agree with the FBI’s conclusions.

One is Norman Covert, public affairs officer and historian at Fort Detrick from 1977 to 1999, who wrote a column, “White Powder and 007” in 2008. Asked by Asia Times Online if this 2008 column needed updating in light of the FBI’s release, Covert said: “With the FBI’s latest decision, my words are still apropos.”

Here is an excerpt [6]:

The government mobilized its team of Double-oh (uh-oh!) secret agents seven years ago to identify a villainous mad scientist, who, without genuine motive or opportunity, single handedly:

  • Used a Bio-Containment Level Three lab suite at Fort Detrick’s US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), to develop a highly bred, weapons-grade strain of Bacillus anthracis (a scientific achievement not accomplished before, except perhaps in the biological warfare laboratories of the former Soviet Union);
  • Manipulated this super bacillus with a silica coating and a slight electrical charge so that, when opened in the containment cabinet, each particle repelled others in a brilliant display;
  • Ensured each particle was no more than five microns in size so that it would penetrate the fabric of a normal No 10 paper envelope, a product sold by the US Postal Service in the District of Columbia, Northern Virginia, West Virginia and Central Maryland;
    Managed to remove the material from the laboratory with it already placed in at least one envelope, also likely encased in an impermeable container, which would be obscured from the security guard;
  • Managed to avoid leaving any evidence on his clothing, his two automobiles and van, his house, garage, office and other personal items despite the extremely “dirty” potential of the dry agent;
  • Managed, in a fashion unknown to the Department of Homeland Security and the “Double-Ohs”, to have the envelopes placed in a mailbox in Princeton, NJ, with a note in a handwriting that cannot be identified with any known person;
  • Managed to obscure this cutting-edge science from a host of colleagues for the entire development period – a major feat in itself!
  • Simultaneously he managed to significantly improve an old anthrax vaccine to protect our troops during Operation Desert Storm; then was a key developer of the new recombinant DNA-based anthrax vaccine that was undergoing efficacy trials at USAMRIID.
  • By September of 2006, the FBI had 17 special agents assigned to a multi-agency task force that included 10 US Postal Service inspectors. The investigation covered six continents, logged interviews with more than 9,000 witnesses, conducted about 70 searches, and issued 6,000 grand jury subpoenas.

    Full Article

    Feb 242010
     


    Washington Independent

    Employees of the CIA-connected private security corporation Blackwater diverted hundreds of weapons, including more than 500 AK-47 assault rifles, from a U.S. weapons bunker in Afghanistan intended to equip Afghan policemen, according to an investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee. On at least one occasion, an individual claiming to work for the company evidently signed for a weapons shipment using the name of a “South Park” cartoon character. And Blackwater has yet to return hundreds of the guns to the military.

    A Blackwater subsidiary known as Paravant that until recently operated in Afghanistan acquired the weapons for its employees’ “personal use,” according to committee staffers, as did other non-Paravant employees of Blackwater. Yet contractors in Afghanistan are not permitted to operate weapons without explicit permission from U.S. Central Command, something Blackwater never obtained. A November 2008 email from a Paravant vice president named Brian McCracken, obtained by the committee, nevertheless reads: “We have not received formal permission from the Army to carry weapons yet but I will take my chances.”

    As a result of Blackwater’s disregard for U.S. military restrictions on contractor firearms, four employees of Paravant — which held a subcontract from defense giant Raytheon to train Afghan soldiers — under the influence of alcohol opened fire on a car carrying four Afghan civilians on May 5, 2009, wounding two. That incident, occurring less than two years after Blackwater guards killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad, prompted the committee’s investigation.

    Full Article

    Feb 242010
     


    Center for Constitutional Rights

    February 17, 2010, New York – Yesterday evening, the district court in Washington, D.C. ruled against two men who died in Guantanamo in June 2006 and their families in a case seeking to hold federal officials and the United States responsible for the men’s torture, arbitrary detention and ultimate deaths at Guantánamo.

    Following a two-year investigation, the military concluded that the men had committed suicide. Recent first-hand accounts by four soldiers stationed at the base at the time of the deaths, however, raise serious questions about the cause and circumstances of the deaths, including the possibility that the men died as the result of torture.

    In dismissing the case, the district court ruled that the deceased’s constitutional claims that it was a violation of due process and cruel treatment to detain them for four years without charge while subjecting them to inhumane and degrading conditions of confinement and violent acts of torture and abuse, could not be heard in federal court. The men were held on the basis of an “enemy combatant” finding by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal later found by the Supreme Court itself to be inadequate.

    The district court held that the claims were barred by a jurisdiction-stripping provision of the 2006 Military Commissions Act that bars any challenge by a Guantánamo detainee to their treatment, conditions, or any other aspect of their detention, while failing to address the plaintiffs’ arguments about the unconstitutionality of the provision itself. The court also dismissed the deceased’s claims under the Alien Tort Claims Act, following a holding by the D.C. Circuit Court in another detainee case that found that even torture or seriously criminal conduct can fall within the proper “scope of employment” of a government actor. Last, the court failed to consider the merits of plaintiffs’ claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act, including for emotional distress by the families, by holding that the U.S. military base at Guantánamo is still a “foreign country” for the purposes of the Act.

    Full Article

    Feb 242010
     


    prwatch.org

    In April, 2009, former vice president Dick Cheney called for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to release classified memos he said demonstrated how well “harsh interrogation methods” — torture — worked to prevent terrorist attacks and save lives. But investigators with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) just released a report saying that the CIA memo Cheney cited as justifying U.S. torture contains “plainly inaccurate information” that undermines its conclusions.

    The memo Cheney pointed to as justifying torture is called the “Effectiveness Memo.” It is the same memo that Steven G. Bradbury, the Justice Department’s former acting chief of the Office of Legal Counsel, relied upon to write additional memos in 2005 and 2007 that gave the CIA the legal go-ahead to continue torturing captive terrorism suspects. The”Effectiveness Memo” reviewed the results of the use of “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” (EITs), the government’s euphemism for torture, including waterboarding, sleep deprivation and forced nudity, against two notorious terrorism suspects: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubayda. The memo claims that the CIA’s torture of Zubaydah extracted significant information about Jose Padilla, who “planned to build and detonate a ‘dirty bomb’ in the Washington, D.C. area.” It further states that “Zubaydah’s reporting led to the arrest of Padilla on his arrival in Chicago in May 2003.” But this information is wrong. DOJ says “In fact, Padilla was arrested in May, 2002, not 2003 … The information ‘[leading] to the arrest of Padilla’ could not have been obtained through the authorized use of EITs,” since the use of such torture techniques was not authorized until August 1, 2002. Zubaydah was not waterboarded until later that same month. The Justice Department says Bradbury “relied upon this plainly inaccurate information.” Moreover, the information about Padilla was extracted from Zubaydah by using traditional, non-abusive interrogations.

    So Cheney relied on incorrect information when he frequently insisted in the media that U.S. torture is justified, even necessary. It remains to be seen whether he will acknowledge his mistake, backtrack on his claims, or apologize for misleading the few remaining Americans who still believed he was credible on the issue of national security. Whether or not he does any of those things, though, maybe this huge error will finally provide Cheney with the impetus he needs to quietly exit the political stage and let America move on from our dark era of sanctioning torture.

    Feb 242010
     


    Antiwar.com

    In a move that will further cement his long-term hold on power, Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued a decree earlier this month giving him unilateral control over appointing the entire Electoral Complaints Commission, eliminating all UN oversight over future elections.

    Karzai’s move was condemned by political opponents, who fear that he will use it to ensure that his supporters gain power in this summer’s parliamentary election. Karzai has clashed with the existing parliamentarians over cabinet postings.

    Karzai is no stranger to election fraud, having won reelection last year with over a million fraudulent votes cast on his behalf. The Electoral Complaints Commission attempted to order a second round of voting after the fraud was uncovered, but this was cancelled after Karzai refused to make any changes to the process.

    Full Article

    Feb 232010
     

    A recent Intercept posting illustrated how money was pouring into the Brown Campaign in the “Massachusetts Miracle”and why this money was being pumped into the likes of Brown (and 20 more anticipated campaigns with neocon hacks posing as disenfranchised conservatives). The Center for Media and Democracy also sees the connection between meaningful financial institution reform and the neocon poser funding machine:

    Even before a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision blew the lid off corporate campaign spending, it was clear that the big banks would be key players in the 2010 election cycle.

    Unemployment will remain high and so will resentment against the banks, a volatile combination that will encourage savvy Members of Congress to continue to fight for meaningful reform of the financial sector. While a major reform bill is winding its way though Congress right now, it only addresses aspects of the problem, leaving loose ends for reformers to pick up and pursue in 2011.

    Groups for and against the current financial reform bills have already conducted their polls, polished their messages and are starting to engage in ad-war skirmishes that foreshadow the deluge of big bank spending to come, as Wall Street fights to elect candidates who will protect their interests and privileges.

    Full Article