Thursday, October 14

The Disappeared

Famed Journalist and staff writer for the New Yorker, Seymour "Sy" Hersh, the man who broke the original My Lai is releasing a book on the background military action of the Iraq war that led to the human rights abuses of Abu Ghraib.

According to Hersh's upcoming book "Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib." which documents the influence of a secret "special access" group of coverts soldiers, who peform missing to illegal enter foreign soil to detain and capture terroist subjects as authorized by Secretary Rumsfield, were critical in formetting the "anything goes" attitude that pervaded at Abu Ghraib.

"I've been doing an alternate history of the war, from inside, because people, right after 9/11, because people inside — and there are a lot of good people inside — are scared, as scared as anybody watching this tonight I think should be, because [Bush], if he's re-elected, has only one thing to do, he's going to bomb the hell out of that place. He's been bombing the hell of that place — and here's what really irritates me again, about the press — since he set up this Potemkin Village government with Allawi on June 28 — the bombing, the daily bombing rates inside Iraq, have gone up exponentially. There's no public accounting of how many missions are flown, how much ordnance is dropped, we have no accounting and no demand to know. The only sense you get is we're basically in a full-scale air war against invisible people that we can't find, that we have no intelligence about, so we bomb what we can see.

My government has a secret unit that since December of 2001 has been disappearing people just like the Brazilians and the Argentineans did. Rumsfeld decided after 9/11 that he could not wait. The president signed a secret document…There's a team of people, they fly in unmarked planes, they fly in Gulfstreams, they have their own choppers, they don't carry American passports, and they just grab people. And maybe in the beginning I can understand there was some rationale. Right after 9/11 we were frightened, we didn't know what to do …"

The original idea behind the sexually humiliating photos taken at Abu Ghraib, Hersh said he had heard, was to use them as blackmail so that the newly released prisoners — many of whom were ordinary Iraqi thieves or even civilian bystanders rounded up in dragnets — would act as informants. "We operate on guilt, [Muslims] operate on shame," Hersh explained. "The idea of photographing an Arab man naked and having him simulate homosexual activity, and having an American GI woman in the photographs, is the end of society in their eyes."

Hersh recent spoke at UC Berkeley - you can read a report on his comments from the UC Berkeley News, as well as watch a webcast of the event.


Final Debate FactCheck

Well, the final Presidential debate is over and the pundits have already hit the heavy spin cycle. So let's ignore them. I'm not listening to them. I'm going to to get my Facts checked (but even they still have some issues to answer for).

Already has posted it's non-partisan analysis and the result in their view appears to be a draw.

They state that:

o Bush was wrong on his tax cuts going to "low and middle-income Americans".

o They claim Kerry was wrong on Pell Grants being cut (although on this point I find Factcheck's argument spurious. Kerry admitted that more people are being covered by the program. More people are individually receiving more money than they were before (it's normal for programs such as this to rise with inflation), but it is still far less than the $5100 Bush had promised when he campaign in 2000)

o Kerry was wrong on after-school cuts, only because Congress didn't actually pass the nearly 40% cut to the 21st Century Learning Centers that had been proposed.

o Bush was dead wrong when he claimed he never said he "wasn't concerned with Osama bin Ladin". He did, end of subject.

o Bush was wrong about the flu vaccinations. The U.S. didn't block the importation of contaminated vaccines, nor did it choose to use a company from England. An American company, Chiron was contracted with generating the supply, but outsourced the work to a British factory. It was the British Health Agency that suspended the license of the factory, not the U.S FDA which was apparently taken completely by surprise.

o Kerry was wrong about Bush not meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus - however factcheck fails to mention that the meeting that did occur was not at Bush's urging. According to Jesse Jackson and members of the Caucus, they hired some buses to go to the White House and effectively staged a sit in until the President came out and talked to them about Haiti. They were met first by Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice who claimed that the President wasn't available, and when they refused to leave - the President eventually came out and talked to them for five minutes. Since the subject being discussed was inclusiveness and Bush was unable to address the fact that he hasn't met with the NAACP or other Civil Rights Leaders, I wouldn't neccesarily think that this kind of behavior is the best example that the President could have used to counter Kerry's point. He had one meeting with the caucus only because they wouldn't leave?

o If you're keeping score out there that's 4 errors apeice - unless you admit that two of those Kerry errors not actually errors, since factually Kerry was correct about a lack of "inclusion" and the Pell Grants - in which case the score is 4 to 2. Advantage Kerry - in my book.

Factcheck goes on to list a further set of rehashed errors: and the count again comes to 3 for each side. Surprise, surprise.

    o Kerry twice claimed 1.6 million jobs have been lost under Bush, which is 1 million too high.

    o Bush said that in Iraq "We'll have 125,000 troops trained by the end of this year," which is wrong. Actually, the security forces being trained are a "mixed bag" of soldiers, border guards and even three-week "shake and bake" police officers, according to House testimony by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

    o Kerry again claimed "The jobs the president is creating pay $9,000 less than the jobs that we're losing," a fanciful figure based on industry averages that don't actually compare wages of jobs lost to those of newer jobs.

    o Bush claimed fear of lawsuits drives doctors to "the defensive practice of medicine that costs the federal government some $28 billion a year and costs our society between $60 billion and $100 billion a year," which is contrary to nearly all academic studies of the matter.

    o Kerry repeated that "I have a plan to cover all Americans" for health care. Actually, his plan wouldn't cover all Americans. It would increase the percentage who have coverage from 84% currently to an estimated 92% to 95%. But several million would still be left uninsured.

    o Bush again said Kerry "voted to increase taxes 98 times." But that total includes up to 16 votes on a single tax bill, and 43 votes on budget measures that set targets but don't actually legislate tax increases

    They even admit that both Kerry and Bush have corrected previous errors (1 each of course. Kerry: Now says Iraq has cost $120 Billion so far. Bush: No longer says he supported Homeland Security, only that he "signed the bill".)

I applaud Factcheck.orgs attempt to remain even handed and non-partisan - even if they have to fudge things a to bit do it - it's refreshing to have a source that isn't deliberately biased. But the truth is that number of factual errors coming for both candidates was far from even. They may attempt to appear non-partisan, but all they are really doing is giving cover to the candidate who lies the most by only counting as many lies and mis-statements as they can catch on his opponent so that the "numbers match up" and appear to be "fair".

What FactCheck didn't cover:

Bush has claimed repeatedly that Kerry, in the first debate, called for a "Global Test" that would leave foreign governments in control of our national security. That is a complete falsehood. It's a lie - not a mistake - LIE. Bush was standing just ten feet away when Kerry specifically stated that he would give no country "veto power (over the U.S. right to use pre-emptive force)" and clearly explained that he meant "Global Test" in the sense of being able to justify your action to your own countrymen and the world after the fact (Not before, After!).

Bush claimed that the government spends $7,700 per family to cover senators and congressmen. "If every family in America signed up, as the senator suggested, it would cost us $5 trillion over 10 years," However, Kerry isn't proposing that every family in America sign up for this coverage, and there's pretty much no conceivable scenario where that could occur. This is one option among several that he is proposing and people would be free to take it or leave it. Additionally, as more people join such a system beyond the 534 members of the House and Senate and their families - the individual costs would dramatically decrease due to economies of scale. Most people understand that buying in bulk tends to save money on the per unit cost, right? Apparently not this President.

Bush has proposed to begin partial privatization of Social Security, but has not explained where the additional $2 Trillion this will cost will come from.

Bush attempts to take the moral "high road" on abortion, but completely fails to even acknowledge the value of, let alone protect, the life and health of pregnant women with his "partial-birth abortion" ban - a law that was struck down by the Supreme Court for exactly that lapse.

I fully understand that in a high pressure situation like a Presidential debate, people are going to make minor factual mistakes particular as they try to quote exact figures and dates from memory. That's going to happen. What I think is missing from a lot of this discussion is the issue of the quality of that distortion, and whether it's appears to be a simple mistake or a pattern of deliberate misdirection.

I think you can argue that Kerry got the size of the surplus wrong - but is he wrong about the fact that the surplus is now gone? Does the specific size of the surplus change that fact? No.

Kerry says we've lost more jobs than other sources - but have we or have we not lost jobs? Yes, I think we have.

Kerry was wrong about the meeting with the Black Congressional Caucus, but was he wrong that this President has been more divisive and failed to unite the American People? Does one meeting with one group under duress really indicate that someone is "open and inclusive"? Others may disagree, but I don't think so.

Kerry may have been wrong about the Afterschool program cuts, but this was just one item in a litany of program cuts that he mentioned, including Bush's heavily touted "No Child Left Behind" initiative, the COPS program, job training programs, additional supplies and man-power for port security, and tax incentives that would help American companies hire more American workers. Does one flub on the Afterschool issue invalidate his point? I think not.

In contrast on the issue of mis-direction, I think the Bush Administration and campaign is working at an extreme truth defecit.

They were grossly wrong about WMD's in Iraq.

Wrong about Saddam attempting to begin a Nuclear Program.

Wrong about any connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda in support of 9/11.

They were grossly wrong about the number of jobs their tax plan would generate (They claimed 5.6 Million).

They lost Osama Bin Ladin.

They claim that they've "captured or killed 3/4ths of the Al Qaeda" leadership - when the best estimate is that there are 18,000 people within the total membership of Al Qaeda, and Condoleeza Rice recently admitted on CNN that the "leadership is in the TENS...less than one hundred". So we captured or killed what - 20 out of 25 people? 30 out of 40? 10 out of 12? All for the low, low, rock bottom price of just $120 Billion - so far. And just how much will the other 17,980 cost to capture or kill? (Speaking of captured members of Al Qaeda - according reports from Human Rights Watch, we've lost 11 of the Al Qaeda subjects that we had captured. These missing detainees include Khalid Shaikh Muhammed, the alleged principal architect of the September 11 attacks; Abu Zubayda, reputedly a close aide of Osama bin Laden; Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who but for his failure to get a U.S. visa might have been one of the 9/11 hijackers. So it seems we might not even have the "75% of al Qaeda's leadership" in U.S. custody any longer. The CIA had "no comment" on just where they are, or even if they are still alive).

They were grossly wrong about how well our Schools are succeeding. (Just yesterday the L.A. Times reported at 1,200 schools in California were failing to meet new standards imposed by the Administration and could face sanctions).

They cherry-picked quotes by Kerry to give the impression that he's a "flip-flopper" when this is patently false. "I voted for the authorization to use force, but not to rush into War with Iraq". "I voted for the $87 Billion (when it was paid for via a roll-back of the top end of the tax cut), before I voted against it (when it wasn't paid for)". "Global Test". "He introduced some 300 bills and he's passed five. He has no record of leadership". All wrong.

Bush claims that John Kerry is the most liberal member of the Senate, but even his professed source for this stat claim this was merely a statistical error - due to his absence while he campaigned and that his lifetime record places him in 10th place as most "liberal" (As if that was something to be afraid of).

Bush claims repeatedly that his discount prescription drug card has (or eventually will) help seniors gain access to neccecary medicine, but some news sources have reported that companies like Pfiser have simply raised their prices so that the "discount" is now the same as the normal price. Some "savings".

If you correct these mis-statements by Bush - the underlying point simply doesn't survive. He isn't keeping us safe, he isn't producing real jobs, he isn't lowering the cost of health care. If you point out that what Colin Powell claimed to the UN as "Facts, not Assertions" concerning Iraq and WMD's, and look in hindsight to realize this was unsubstantiated by the intelligence at the time, disputed heavily by his own State Department intelligence service, and finally according to the recently released Duelfer report completely incorrect -- the underlying point for invading and occupying a soverign Arab nation disappears. It evaporates. Gone. Pffft!!! It's not a difference in degree - like give or take $1000 worth of Pell grant - it's a total breakdown of the issue, a total breakdown of U.S. Policy and leadership.

This is not just a casual mistake - the Bush campaign depends on people accepting these gross distortions as fact, and further - they depend on their abject disbelief when these claims are disproven as "liberal bias" or "democratic propoganda". As one Republican friend said to me recently in his continued support of the Iraq War despite the lack of WMD's - "we can't afford to take a chance".

He's absolutely right, but for the wrong reasons.

We can't afford to take the chance that this President and administration is going to get it grossly wrong again. We can't afford to take the chance that yet again - he and his cohorts are going to "cherry-pick" the information - turn red into green - up into down - left into wrong - and lead us even further over a morally bankrupt, socially unethical, fiscal and diplomatic cliff of hypocrisy.

The Democrats - even Kerry are certainly far from immune to political manipulation and factual distortion. Make no mistake about that.

But in this case, we couldn't possibly do much worse.

Besides even if that's possible - "We can't afford to take the chance".


Tuesday, October 12

Oil, Food, Sactions and Cheney

Tuesday 12th October 2004 : Under Cheney, Halliburton Helped Saddam Hussein Siphon Billions from UN Oil-for-Food Program

by Jason Leopold

When the Iraqi Survey Group released its long awaited report last week that said Iraq eliminated its weapons programs in the 1990s, President George W. Bush quickly changed his stance on reasons he authorized an invasion of Iraq. While he campaigned for a second term in office, Bush justified the war by saying that that Saddam Hussein was manipulating the United Nation’s oil-for-food program, siphoning off billions of dollars from the venture that he intended to use to fund a weapons program.

The report on Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction, prepared by Charles Duelfer, a former U.N. weapons inspector and head of the Iraqi Survey Group, said Saddam Hussein used revenue from the oil-for-food program and "created a web of front companies and used shadowy deals with foreign governments, corporations, and officials to amass $11 billion in illicit revenue in the decade before the US-led invasion last year," reports The New York Times.

"Through secret government-to-government trade agreements, Saddam Hussein’s government earned more than $7.5 billion," the report says. "At the same time, by demanding kickbacks from foreign companies that received oil or that supplied consumer goods, Iraq received at least $2 billion more to spend on weapons or on Saddam’s extravagant palaces."

The oil-for-food program was supervised by the U.N. and ran from 1996 until the war started in Iraq last year. It was designed to alleviate the effects sanctions had on Iraqi citizens by allowing limited quantities of oil to be sold to buy food and medicine.

But the one company that helped Saddam exploit the oil-for-food program in the mid-1990s that wasn’t identified in Duelfer’s report was Halliburton, and the person at the helm of Halliburton at the time of the scheme was Vice President Dick Cheney. Halliburton and its subsidiaries were one of several American and foreign oil supply companies that helped Iraq increase its crude exports from $4 billion in 1997 to nearly $18 billion in 2000 by skirting U.S. laws and selling Iraq spare parts so it could repair its oil fields and pump more oil. Since the oil-for-food program began, Iraq has sold $40 billion worth of oil. U.S. and European officials have long argued that the increase in Iraq’s oil production also expanded Saddam’s ability to use some of that money for weapons, luxury goods and palaces. Security Council diplomats estimate that Iraq was skimming off as much as 10 percent of the proceeds from the oil-for-food program thanks to companies like Halliburton and former executives such as Cheney.

U.N. documents show that Halliburton’s affiliates have had controversial dealings with the Iraqi regime during Cheney’s tenure at the company and played a part in helping Saddam Hussein illegally pocket billions of dollars under the U.N.’s oil-for-food program. The Clinton administration blocked one deal Halliburton was trying to push through sale because it was "not authorized under the oil-for-food deal," according to U.N. documents. That deal, between Halliburton subsidiary Ingersoll Dresser Pump Co. and Iraq, included agreements by the firm to sell nearly $1 million in spare parts, compressors and firefighting equipment to refurbish an offshore oil terminal, Khor al Amaya. Still, Halliburton used one of foreign subsidiaries to sell Iraq the equipment it needed so the country could pump more oil, according to a report in the Washington Post in June 2001.

The Halliburton subsidiaries, Dresser-Rand and Ingersoll Dresser Pump Co., sold water and sewage treatment pumps, spare parts for oil facilities and pipeline equipment to Baghdad through French affiliates from the first half of 1997 to the summer of 2000, U.N. records show. Ingersoll Dresser Pump also signed contracts -- later blocked by the United States -- according to the Post, to help repair an Iraqi oil terminal that U.S.-led military forces destroyed in the Gulf War years earlier.

Cheney’s hard-line stance against Iraq on the campaign trail is hypocritical considering that during his tenure as chief executive of Halliburton, Cheney pushed the U.N. Security Council, after he became CEO to end an 11-year embargo on sales of civilian goods, including oil related equipment, to Iraq. Cheney has said sanctions against countries like Iraq unfairly punish U.S. companies.

During the 2000 presidential campaign, Cheney adamantly denied that under his leadership, Halliburton did business with Iraq. While he acknowledged that his company did business with Libya and Iran through foreign subsidiaries, Cheney said, "Iraq’s different." He claimed that he imposed a "firm policy" prohibiting any unit of Halliburton against trading with Iraq.

"I had a firm policy that we wouldn’t do anything in Iraq, even arrangements that were supposedly legal," Cheney said on the ABC-TV news program "This Week" on July 30, 2000. "We’ve not done any business in Iraq since U.N. sanctions were imposed on Iraq in 1990, and I had a standing policy that I wouldn’t do that."

But Cheney’s denials don’t hold up. Halliburton played a major role in helping Iraq repair its oil fields during the mid-1990s that allowed Saddam to siphon off funds from the oil-for-food program to fund a weapons program, which Cheney and President Bush insist was the case.

As secretary of defense in the first Bush administration, Cheney helped to lead a multinational coalition against Iraq in the Persian Gulf War and to devise a comprehensive economic embargo to isolate Saddam Hussein’s government. After Cheney was named chief executive of Halliburton in 1995, he promised to maintain a hard line against Baghdad.

But that changed when it appeared that Halliburton was headed for a financial crisis in the mid-1990s. Cheney said sanctions against countries like Iraq were hurting corporations such as Halliburton.

"We seem to be sanction-happy as a government," Cheney said at an energy conference in April 1996, reported in the oil industry publication Petroleum Finance Week.

"The problem is that the good Lord didn’t see fit to always put oil and gas resources where there are democratic governments," he observed during his conference presentation.

Sanctions make U.S. businesses "the bystander who gets hit when a train wreck occurs," Cheney told Petroleum Finance Week. "While virtually every other country sees the need for sanctions against Iraq and Saddam Hussein’s regime there, Cheney sees general agreement that the measures have not been very effective despite their having most of the international community’s support. An individual country’s embargo, such as that of the United States against Iran, has virtually no effect since the target country simply signs a contract with a non- U.S. business," the publication reported.

by : Jason Leopold Tuesday 12th October 2004

Operation Truth

Here's another great new site I just found - Operation Truth

It's a site dedicated to letting the stories of our soldiers in Iraq be known and seen. There are links to various blogs and other resources. Whether you lean the right or the left wing, it's worth checking out!