The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bush's disapproval rating worst of any president in 70 years

Bush's disapproval rating worst of any president in 70 years

By Susan Page

WASHINGTON — President Bush has set a record he'd presumably prefer to avoid: the highest disapproval rating of any president in the 70-year history of the Gallup Poll.

In a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday, 28% of Americans approve of the job Bush is doing; 69% disapprove. The approval rating matches the low point of his presidency, and the disapproval sets a new high for any president since Franklin Roosevelt.

The previous record of 67% was reached by Harry Truman in January 1952, when the United States was enmeshed in the Korean War.

Bush's rating has worsened amid "collapsing optimism about the economy," says Charles Franklin, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who studies presidential approval. Record gas prices and a wave of home foreclosures have fueled voter angst.

Bush also holds the record for the other extreme: the highest approval rating of any president in Gallup's history. In September 2001, in the days after the 9/11 attacks, Bush's approval spiked to 90%. In another record, the percentage of Americans who say the invasion of Iraq was a mistake reached a new high, 63%, in the latest poll.

Assessments of Bush's presidency are harsh. By 69%-27%, those polled say Bush's tenure in general has been a failure, not a success.

Low approval ratings make it more difficult for presidents to maneuver, limiting their ability to get legislation passed or boost candidates in congressional elections.

"The president understands war and the slowdown in the economy weigh down public opinion, but the situation in Iraq is improving, and the economy is about to get a big boost from the stimulus package," White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said.

Bush has had dismal ratings through most of his second term. His approval rating hasn't reached as high as 50% since May 2005. He has been steadily below 40% since September 2006.

Views of Bush divide sharply along party lines. Among Republicans, 66% approve and 32% disapprove. Disapproval is nearly universal — 91% — among Democrats. Of independents, 23% approve, 72% disapprove of the job he's doing.
Page 7A

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Losing Our Will

Losing Our Will

I wonder what the answers would be if each American asked himself or herself the question: “How is the war in Iraq helping me?”

While the U.S. government continues to pour precious human treasure
and vast financial resources into this ugly war without end, it is all
but ignoring deeply entrenched problems that are weakening the country
here at home.

On the same day that President Bush was announcing an indefinite
suspension of troop withdrawals from Iraq, the New York Times columnist
David Leonhardt was telling us a sad story about how the middle class
has fared during the Bush years.

The economic boom so highly touted by the president and his
supporters “was, for most Americans,” said Mr. Leonhardt, “nothing of
the sort.” Despite the sustained expansion of the past few years, the
middle class — for the first time on record — failed to grow with the

And now, of course, we’re sinking into a nasty recession.

The U.S., once the greatest can-do country on the planet, now can’t
seem to do anything right. The great middle class has maxed out its
credit cards and drained dangerous amounts of equity from family homes.
No one can seem to figure out how to generate the growth in good-paying
jobs that is the only legitimate way of putting strapped families back
on their feet.

The nation’s infrastructure is aging and in many places decrepit.
Rebuilding it would be an important source of job creation, but nothing
on the scale that is needed is in sight. To get a sense of how
important an issue this is, consider New Orleans.

The historian Douglas Brinkley, who lives in New Orleans, has
written: “What people didn’t yet fully comprehend was that the overall
disaster, the sinking of New Orleans, was a man-made debacle, resulting
from poorly designed levees and floodwalls.”

We could have saved the victims of the Hurricane Katrina
catastrophe, but we didn’t. And now, more than 2 ½ years after the
tragedy, we are still unable to lift the stricken city off its knees.

Other nations can provide health care for everyone. The United
States cannot. In an era in which a college degree is becoming a
prerequisite for a middle-class quality of life, we are having big
trouble getting our kids through high school. And despite being the
wealthiest of all nations, nearly 10 percent of Americans are resorting
to food stamps to maintain an adequate diet, and 4 in every 10 American
children are growing up in families that are poor or near-poor.

The U.S. seems almost paralyzed, mesmerized by Iraq and unable to
generate the energy or the will to handle the myriad problems festering
at home. The war will eventually cost a staggering $3 trillion or more,
according to the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. When he
was asked on “Democracy Now!” about who is profiting from the war, he
said the two big gainers were the oil companies and the defense

This is the pathetic state of affairs in the U.S. as we approach the
end of the first decade of the 21st century. Whatever happened to the
dynamic country that flexed its muscles after World War II and gave us
the G.I. Bill, the Marshall Plan, the United Nations (in a quest for
peace, not war), the interstate highway system, the civil rights
movement, the women’s movement, the finest higher education system the
world has known, and a standard of living that was the envy of all?

America’s commanding general in Iraq, David Petraeus, and our
ambassador to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, went up to Capitol Hill this week
but were unable to give any real answers as to when the U.S. might be
able to disengage, or when a corner might be turned, or when a faint,
flickering hopeful light might be glimpsed at the end of the long,
horrific Iraqi tunnel.

A country that used to act like Babe Ruth now swings like a
minor-leaguer. The all-American can-do philosophy has been smothered by
the hapless can’t-do performances of the people who have been in charge
for the past several years. It’s both tragic and embarrassing.

The war in Iraq stands like a boulder in the road, blocking progress
on so many other important issues that are crucial to our viability as
a society. We’ve seen this before. Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society,
which included the war on poverty, was crippled by the war in Vietnam.

On the evening of April 4, 1967, one year to the day before he was
assassinated, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. went into Riverside
Church in Manhattan and said of the war in Vietnam: “This madness must

Forty-one years later, we can still hear the echo of Dr. King’s call. The only sane response is: “Amen.”

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Glenn Greenwald - The U.S. establishment media in a nutshell

The U.S. establishment media in a nutshell
Glen Greenwald

In the past two weeks, the following events transpired. A Department of Justice memo, authored by John Yoo, was released which authorized torture and presidential lawbreaking. It was revealed that the Bush administration declared the Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights to be inapplicable to "domestic military operations" within the U.S. The U.S. Attorney General appears to have fabricated a key event leading to the 9/11 attacks and made patently false statements about surveillance laws and related lawsuits. Barack Obama went bowling in Pennsylvania and had a low score.

Here are the number of times, according to NEXIS, that various topics have been mentioned in the media over the past thirty days:

"Yoo and torture" - 102

"Mukasey and 9/11" -- 73

"Yoo and Fourth Amendment" -- 16

"Obama and bowling" -- 1,043

"Obama and Wright" -- More than 3,000 (too many to be counted)

"Obama and patriotism" - 1,607

"Clinton and Lewinsky" -- 1,079

And as Eric Boehlert documents, even Iraq -- that little five-year U.S. occupation with no end in sight -- has been virtually written out of the media narrative in favor of mindless, stupid, vapid chatter of the type referenced above. "The Clintons are Rich!!!!" will undoubtedly soon be at the top of this heap within a matter of a day or two.

"Media critic" Howie Kurtz in the Washington Post today devoted pages of his column to Obama's bowling and eating habits and how that shows he's not a regular guy but an Arrogant Elitist, compiling an endless string of similar chatter about this from Karl Rove, Maureen Dowd, Walter Shapiro and Ann Althouse. Bloomberg's Margaret Carlson devoted her whole column this week to arguing that, along with Wright, Obama's bowling was his biggest mistake, a "real doozy."

Obama's bowling has provided almost a full week of programming on MSNBC. Gail Collins, in The New York Times, today observed that Obama went bowling "with disastrous consequences." And, as always, they take their personality-based fixations from the Right, who have been promoting the Obama is an Arrogant, Exotic, Elitist Freak narrative for some time. In a typically cliched and slimy article, Time's Joe Klein this week explored what the headline called Obama's "Patriotism Problem," where we learn that "this is a chronic disease among Democrats, who tend to talk more about what's wrong with America than what's right." He trotted it all out -- the bowling, the lapel pin, Obama's angry, America-hating wife, "his Islamic-sounding name."

Needless to say, these serious and accomplished political journalists are only focusing on these stupid and trivial matters because this is what the Regular Folk care about. They speak for the Regular People, and what the Regular People care about is not Iraq or the looming recession or health care or lobbyist control of our government or anything that would strain the brain of these reporters. What those nice little Regular Folk care about is whether Obama is Regular Folk just like them, whether he can bowl and wants to gorge himself with junk food.

Our nation's coddled, insulated journalist class reaches these conclusions about what Regular Folk think using the most self-referential, self-absorbed thought process imaginable. The proof that the Regular People are interested in these things is that . . . the journalists themselves chatter about it endlessly. In Great American Hypocrites, I described the process as follows in the context of examining the three-week-long media obsession with John Edwards' haircut (to the exclusion of a whole array of revelations about what the government was doing or planning to do) and how they justified that coverage:

Most certainly, the press will pretend to be above it all ("this is not something that we, the sophisticated political journalists, care about, of course"). But they yammer about Drudge-promoted gossip endlessly, and then insist that their own chattering is proof that it is an important story that people care about. And because they conclude that "people" (i.e., them) are concerned with the story, they keep chirping about it, which in turn fuels their belief that the story is important. It is an endless loop of self-referential narcissism -- whatever they endlessly sputter is what "the people" care about, and therefore they must keep harping on it, because their chatter is proof of its importance.

They don't need Drudge to rule their world any longer because they are Matt Drudge now.

Every day, it becomes more difficult to blame George Bush, Dick Cheney and comrades for their seven years (and counting) of crimes, corruption and destruction of our political values. Think about it this way: if you were a high government official and watched as -- all in a couple of weeks time -- it is revealed, right out in the open, that you suspended the Fourth Amendment, authorized torture, proclaimed yourself empowered to break the law, and sent the nation's top law enforcement officer to lie blatantly about how and why the 9/11 attacks happened so that you could acquire still more unchecked spying power and get rid of lawsuits that would expose what you did, and the political press in this country basically ignored all of that and blathered on about Obama's bowling score and how he eats chocolate, wouldn't you also conclude that you could do anything you want, without limits, and know there will be no consequences? What would be the incentive to stop doing all of that?

UPDATE: One other point to note about all of this is that these fixations are as skewed as they are vapid. Barack Obama is an exotic elitist freak because he went to Harvard Law School and made $1 million from his book. Hillary Clinton can't possibly have any connection to the Regular Folk because her husband, who grew up dirt poor, became quite wealthy after being President. John Kerry was completely removed from the concerns of the Regular People because his second wife was rich.

By contrast, George W. Bush was a down-home, salt-of-the-earth Man of the People despite being the grandson of a U.S. Senator, the son of a President (who greatly magnified his riches in his post-presidency), and the by-product of an extremely wealthy, coddled life. Ronald Reagan was pure Americana despite spending most of his adult life as a very wealthy Hollywood actor (and converting his post-presidency into far greater riches still). And John McCain is as Regular a Guy as it gets, even though he dumped his first wife (the mother of his three children) after she was disfigured and disabled by a near-fatal car accident so that he could marry his much younger, much prettier, and extremely wealthy heiress-mistress, whose family riches then launched his political career and sustained a life of luxury for almost three decades (that's how McCain's rustic "Sedona cabin" -- i.e., his sprawling compound -- came to be).

It would be bad enough if our political press were obsessed with such trivialities. The fact that they do so in such a Republican-leader-worshiping manner makes it only that much worse, particularly given that it's this dynamic, more than anything else, that determines the outcome of our elections.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Olbermann on End of Bill of Rights

Monday, March 17, 2008

Paul Krugman - The B Word

The B Word

O.K., here it comes: The unthinkable is about to become the inevitable.

Last week, Robert Rubin, the former Treasury secretary, and John Lipsky, a top official at the International Monetary Fund, both suggested that public funds might be needed to rescue the U.S. financial system. Mr. Lipsky insisted that he wasn’t talking about a bailout. But he was.

It’s true that Henry Paulson, the current Treasury secretary, still says that any proposal to use taxpayers’ money to help resolve the crisis is a “non-starter.” But that’s about as credible as all of his previous pronouncements on the financial situation.

So here’s the question we really should be asking: When the feds do bail out the financial system, what will they do to ensure that they aren’t also bailing out the people who got us into this mess?

Let’s talk about why a bailout is inevitable.

Between 2002 and 2007, false beliefs in the private sector — the belief that home prices only go up, that financial innovation had made risk go away, that a triple-A rating really meant that an investment was safe — led to an epidemic of bad lending. Meanwhile, false beliefs in the political arena — the belief of Alan Greenspan and his friends in the Bush administration that the market is always right and regulation always a bad thing — led Washington to ignore the warning signs.

By the way, Mr. Greenspan is still at it: accepting no blame, he continues to insist that “market flexibility and open competition” are the “most reliable safeguards against cumulative economic failure.”

The result of all that bad lending was an unholy financial mess that will cause trillions of dollars in losses. A large chunk of these losses will fall on financial institutions: commercial banks, investment banks, hedge funds and so on.

Many people say that the government should let the chips fall where they may — that those who made bad loans should simply be left to suffer the consequences. But it’s not going to happen. When push comes to shove, financial officials — rightly — aren’t willing to run the risk that losses on bad loans will cripple the financial system and take the real economy down with it.

Consider what happened last Friday, when the Federal Reserve rushed to the aid of Bear Stearns.

Nobody expects an investment bank to be a charitable institution, but Bear has a particularly nasty reputation. As Gretchen Morgenson of The New York Times reminds us, Bear “has often operated in the gray areas of Wall Street and with an aggressive, brass-knuckles approach.”

Bear was a major promoter of the most questionable subprime lenders. It lured customers into two of its own hedge funds that were among the first to go bust in the current crisis. And it’s a bad financial citizen: the last time the Fed tried to contain a financial crisis, after the collapse of Long-Term Capital Management in 1998, Bear refused to participate in the rescue operation.

Bear, in other words, deserved to be allowed to fail — both on the merits and to teach Wall Street not to expect someone else to clean up its messes.

But the Fed rode to Bear’s rescue anyway, fearing that the collapse of a major investment bank would cause panic in the markets and wreak havoc with the wider economy. Fed officials knew that they were doing a bad thing, but believed that the alternative would be even worse.

As Bear goes, so will go the rest of the financial system. And if history is any guide, the coming taxpayer-financed bailout will end up costing a lot of money.

The U.S. savings and loan crisis of the 1980s ended up costing taxpayers 3.2 percent of G.D.P., the equivalent of $450 billion today. Some estimates put the fiscal cost of Japan’s post-bubble cleanup at more than 20 percent of G.D.P. — the equivalent of $3 trillion for the United States.

If these numbers shock you, they should. But the big bailout is coming. The only question is how well it will be managed.

As I said, the important thing is to bail out the system, not the people who got us into this mess. That means cleaning out the shareholders in failed institutions, making bondholders take a haircut, and canceling the stock options of executives who got rich playing heads I win, tails you lose.

According to late reports on Sunday, JPMorgan Chase will buy Bear for a pittance. That’s an O.K. resolution for this case — but not a model for the much bigger bailout to come. Looking ahead, we probably need something similar to the Resolution Trust Corporation, which took over bankrupt savings and loan institutions and sold off their assets to reimburse taxpayers. And we need it quickly: things are falling apart as you read this.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Republicans See Storm Clouds Gathering

Republicans See Storm Clouds Gathering
Week of Bad News Highlights Difficult Challenges for GOP in Fall Elections

By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 16, 2008; A05

While all eyes were on the presidential campaign and the demise of New York Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer (D) last week, Republicans on Capitol Hill were suffering a run of bad news that could hold dire implications for the campaign season.

It started with the loss last weekend of the seat held for two decades by former House speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). It got worse when Republicans lost potentially strong challengers to Democratic senators in South Dakota and New Jersey, and failed to field anyone to oppose the reelection bid of Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.).

The latest blow came with the revelation that the former treasurer of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) had allegedly diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars -- and possibly as much as $1 million -- from the organization's depleted coffers to his own bank accounts.

If Republicans needed any more evidence of how difficult this fall may be, the past week had it all, analysts said. The Illinois race demonstrated new levels of disaffection, the party's efforts to go on offense elsewhere were thwarted by recruiting failures, and the NRCC scandal will divert campaign resources and could frighten off badly needed contributors, they said.

"It's no mystery," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.). "You have a very unhappy electorate, which is no surprise, with oil at $108 a barrel, stocks down a few thousand points, a war in Iraq with no end in sight and a president who is still very, very unpopular. He's just killed the Republican brand."

Stuart Rothenberg, a nonpartisan analyst of congressional politics, said: "The math is against them. The environment is against them. The money is against them. This is one of those cycles that if you're a Republican strategist, you just want to go into the bomb shelter."

The loss of Hastert's seat in a special election in the far suburbs of Chicago was particularly painful, Republicans conceded. GOP campaign aides contended that the victory of Democratic physicist Bill Foster, a political neophyte, was more a reflection of the unpopularity of his Republican opponent, Jim Oberweis, than a tectonic political shift in a district that once exemplified the GOP's stranglehold on the nation's outer-ring suburbs.

But that's not how Foster sees it. Voters "had a pretty clean choice between a candidate who had aligned himself with George Bush's policies and one who felt we needed a change of course," he said.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain (Ariz.) helped Oberweis raise money, and the NRCC pumped more than $1.2 million into the district -- using more than 20 percent of its cash on hand -- to no avail.

"Even if it was mostly about Jim Oberweis, it's a terrible sign," Rothenberg said. "It adds to Democratic energy and further depresses the Republicans. And you can't dismiss the idea that there is an atmospheric advantage for the Democrats."

Two days after the Illinois election, South Dakota's former lieutenant governor, Steve Kirby, announced he will not challenge Sen. Tim Johnson, one of the few Democratic senators seeking reelection in a swing state.

On the same day, Arkansas Republican Party Chairman Dennis Milligan said his party has no candidate to challenge Pryor, another swing-state Democrat, and in Minnesota, wealthy trial lawyer Michael Ciresi dropped out of the Democratic primary. That cleared the way for comedian Al Franken, the remaining Democratic candidate, to spend the next eight months focusing on Sen. Norm Coleman (R).

After suffering a minor stroke, wealthy Republican developer Anne Evans Estabrook this month dropped her challenge to 84-year-old Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg in New Jersey. On Wednesday, New Jersey state Sen. Christopher "Kip" Bateman (R) announced that he will not run, either.

On Thursday, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report updated its congressional race outlooks to list nine Republican House seats -- and one Democratic seat -- as tossups. Foster's reelection prospects shifted from a tossup to his advantage.

Cook now lists the Senate seats of Republicans Ted Stevens (Alaska) and John E. Sununu (N.H.) as tossups, along with the seats being vacated by Republicans Wayne Allard (Colo.) and Pete V. Domenici (N.M.). Former Virginia governor Mark R. Warner, a Democrat, is listed as likely to claim the seat of retiring Republican Sen. John W. Warner.

In the House, Republicans have largely failed to recruit credible candidates for the swing-district seat of retiring Rep. Jerry Weller (R-Ill.) or to challenge several Democratic freshmen who took GOP seats in 2006. They include Zack Space of Ohio, Joe Courtney of Connecticut, Chris Carney and Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania, John Hall of New York, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Heath Shuler of North Carolina.

"We've had a difficult time with candidate recruitment this entire cycle," said Neil Newhouse, a GOP pollster who works closely with congressional Republicans.

The disappearance of hundreds of thousands of dollars from the NRCC, the House GOP's campaign arm, may not have a direct political impact, but it will not help, Republicans conceded. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ended January with $35.5 million in cash. The NRCC had $5.7 million before an annual fundraising dinner Wednesday raised $8.6 million.

Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), chairman of the NRCC, said the committee has turned a corner and, after almost a year in the red, has a positive cash balance and has rooted out internal corruption.

"We're pretty confident we'll be where we need to be," Cole predicted of the NRCC's financial standing later this year. "Is this a challenge? Sure, you'd rather not have to do it. But you do."

But some of that NRCC cash, instead of bolstering Republican candidates, will go to lawyers and accountants as officials try to unravel the damage they said has been done by former treasurer Christopher J. Ward. They already have spent $370,000.

Cole said his most important financial constituency -- GOP lawmakers, whose cash transfers and other fundraising efforts provide the largest chunk of money -- are supportive of his efforts.

But other Republicans worried that news of what could become one of the largest political frauds in recent history may dampen fundraising as donors question the committee's controls on their money.

"It's not helpful; it doesn't attract donors," Davis said.

Still, Republicans are not without hope. Thursday night, Rep. Robert E. "Bud" Cramer (D-Ala.) announced his retirement from a district that Bush carried with 60 percent of the vote in 2004, giving Republicans their clearest shot yet at a Democratic seat.

The GOP has pummeled swing-district Democrats for refusing to back President Bush's update of counterterrorism surveillance laws and for last week's budget agreements that will allow most, if not all, of Bush's tax cuts to expire in 2011. Davis said the issues are not getting political traction now, but they could before November.

More cause for hope resides in the presidential campaign, which could provide a new storyline for Republicans down the ticket, said Newhouse, the pollster. Some national polls showed McCain pulling even in matchups with Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) by week's end, and Newhouse said McCain's appeal to independents and some Democrats could change the political dynamics in some swing districts.

"What you're seeing," he said, "is the impact the Democratic primary is having on voters at the national level. The longer this goes on, the better for our chances in November."

Staff writer Paul Kane contributed to this report.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Today's Must Read

Today's Must Read

It is the closest thing I've seen to a complete explanation of the surveillance program the Bush Administration has assembled.

Siobhan Gorman of The Wall Street Journal reports
this morning that the National Security Agency has assembled what some
intelligence officials admit is a driftnet for domestic and foreign

Here's the way the whole thing works, according to Gorman: into the
NSA's massive database goes data collected by the Justice Department,
Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Treasury. This
information includes data about email (recipient and sender address,
subject, time sent), internet searches (sites visited and searches
conducted), phone calls (incoming and outgoing numbers, length of call,
location), financial information (wire transfers, credit-card use,
information about bank accounts), and information from the DHS about
airline passengers.

Then the NSA's software analyzes this data for indications of
terrorist activity. When it hits upon a suspicious pattern, the NSA
"feeds its findings into the effort the administration calls the
Terrorist Surveillance Program and shares some of that information with
other U.S. security agencies.”

Here's a more in-depth explanation:

Two former officials familiar with the data-sifting efforts
said they work by starting with some sort of lead, like a phone number
or Internet address. In partnership with the FBI, the systems then can
track all domestic and foreign transactions of people associated with
that item -- and then the people who associated with them, and so on,
casting a gradually wider net. An intelligence official described more
of a rapid-response effect: If a person suspected of terrorist
connections is believed to be in a U.S. city -- for instance, Detroit,
a community with a high concentration of Muslim Americans -- the
government's spy systems may be directed to collect and analyze all
electronic communications into and out of the city.

The haul can include records of phone calls, email headers and
destinations, data on financial transactions and records of Internet
browsing. The system also would collect information about other people,
including those in the U.S., who communicated with people in Detroit.

The data sifting is supposedly legal because it's limited to
so-called "transactional" details. In other words, the NSA cannot read
the content of an email, but can use other data about the email (i.e.
subject line, sender/recipient, data and time). If a suspicious pattern
emerges, then the NSA, via the Terrorist Surveillance Program, may seek
to wiretap.

Gorman describes the NSA's effort (elements of which have been reported before)
as basically a resurrection of the Pentagon's Total Information
Awareness program, which of course was de-funded by Congress once the
details became public. This time around, of course, the details have
remained secret. Although the budget for the NSA's driftnet is
classified, Gorman cites one official as estimating it at $1 billion.
One wonders what the reaction will be this time around:

Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and member of the Senate
Intelligence Committee who led the charge to kill TIA, says "the
administration is trying to bring as much of the philosophy of
operation Total Information Awareness as it can into the programs
they're using today." The issue has been overshadowed by the fight over
telecoms' immunity, he said. "There's not been as much discussion in
the Congress as there ought to be."

We'll have more on this in a bit.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Top Iraq contractor skirts US taxes offshore

Top Iraq contractor skirts US taxes offshore

Shell companies in Cayman Islands allow KBR to avoid Medicare, Social Security deductions

CAYMAN ISLANDS - Kellogg Brown & Root, the nation's top Iraq war contractor and until last year a subsidiary of Halliburton
Corp., has avoided paying hundreds of millions of dollars in federal
Medicare and Social Security taxes by hiring workers through shell
companies based in this tropical tax haven.

More than 21,000 people working for KBR in Iraq - including about
10,500 Americans - are listed as employees of two companies that exist
in a computer file on the fourth floor of a building on a palm-studded
boulevard here in the Caribbean. Neither company has an office or phone
number in the Cayman Islands.

The Defense Department has known since at least 2004 that KBR was
avoiding taxes by declaring its American workers as employees of Cayman
Islands shell companies, and officials said the move allowed KBR to
perform the work more cheaply, saving Defense dollars.

But the use of the loophole results in a significantly greater loss
of revenue to the government as a whole, particularly to the Social
Security and Medicare trust funds. And the creation of shell companies
in places such as the Cayman Islands to avoid taxes has long been
attacked by members of Congress.

A Globe survey found that the practice is unusual enough that only
one other ma jor contractor in Iraq said it does something similar.

"Failing to contribute to Social Security and Medicare thousands of
times over isn't shielding the taxpayers they claim to protect, it's
costing our citizens in the name of short-term corporate greed," said
Senator John F. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat on the Senate Finance
Committee who has introduced legislation to close loopholes for
companies registering overseas.

With an estimated $16 billion in contracts, KBR is by far the
largest contractor in Iraq, with eight times the work of its nearest

The no-bid contract it received in 2002 to rebuild Iraq's oil
infrastructure and a multibillion-dollar contract to provide support
services to troops have long drawn scrutiny because Vice President Dick
Cheney was Halliburton's chief executive from 1995 until he joined the
Republican ticket with President Bush in 2000.

The largest of the Cayman Islands shell companies - called Service
Employers International Inc., which is now listed as having more than
20,000 workers in Iraq, according to KBR - was created two years before
Cheney became Halliburton's chief executive. But a second Cayman
Islands company called Overseas Administrative Services, which now is
listed as the employer of 1,020 mostly managerial workers in Iraq, was
established two months after Cheney's appointment.

Cheney's office at the White House referred questions to his personal lawyer, who did not return phone calls.

Heather Browne, a spokeswoman for KBR, acknowledged via e-mail that
the two Cayman Islands companies were set up "in order to allow us to
reduce certain tax obligations of the company and its employees."

Social Security and Medicare taxes amount to 15.3 percent of each
employees' salary, split evenly between the worker and the employer.
While KBR's use of the shell companies saves workers their half of the
taxes, it deprives them of future retirement benefits.

In addition, the practice enables KBR to avoid paying unemployment
taxes in Texas, where the company is registered, amounting to between
$20 and $559 per American employee per year, depending on the company's
rate of turnover.

As a result, workers hired through the Cayman Island companies
cannot receive unemployment assistance should they lose their jobs.

In interviews with more than a dozen KBR workers registered through
the Cayman Islands companies, most said they did not realize that they
had been employed by a foreign firm until they arrived in Iraq and were
told by their foremen, or until they returned home and applied for
unemployment benefits.

"They never explained it to us," said Arthur Faust, 57, who got a
job loading convoys in Iraq in 2004 after putting his resume on and going to orientation with KBR officials in Houston.

But there is one circumstance in which KBR does claim the workers as
its own: when it comes to receiving the legal immunity extended to
employers working in Iraq.

In one previously unreported case, a group of Service Employers
International workers accused KBR of knowingly exposing them to
cancer-causing chemicals at an Iraqi water treatment plant. Under the
Defense Base Act of 1941, a federal workers compensation law, employers
working with the military have immunity in most cases from such
employee lawsuits.

So when KBR lawyers argued that the workers were KBR employees, lawyers for the men objected; the case remains in arbitration.

"When it benefits them, KBR takes the position that these men really
are employees," said Michael Doyle, the lawyer for nine American men
who were allegedly exposed to the dangerous chemicals. "You don't get
to take both positions."

Founded by two brothers in Texas in 1919, the construction firm of
Brown & Root quickly became associated with some of the largest
public-works projects of the early 20th century, from oil platforms to
warships to dams that provided electricity to rural areas.

Its political clout, particularly with fellow Texan Lyndon Johnson,
was legendary, and it became a major overseas contractor, building
roads and ports during the Vietnam war.

Halliburton, a Houston-based oil conglomerate, acquired Brown &
Root in 1962. And after the Vietnam cease-fire agreement in 1973, it
all but stopped doing overseas military work for two decades.

But in 1991, during the Gulf War, Halliburton decided to try to
revive its military business. The next year, Brown & Root won a
$3.9 million contract from the Defense Department under Secretary Dick
Cheney to develop contingency plans to support, feed, house, and
maintain the US military in 13 hot spots around the world.

That small contract soon grew into a massive logistical-support
contract under which the company did everything from building military
camps to cooking meals and providing transportation for troops. Under
the contract, the military agreed to reimburse Brown & Root for all
expenses, and to pay a profit of between 1 and 9 percent, depending on

In Somalia, starting in December 1992, Brown & Root employees
helped US soldiers and UN workers dig wells and collect garbage, among
many other tasks. The company quickly became the largest civilian
employer in the country, with about 2,500 people on its payroll. Its
headquarters in Texas had a "war room," where executives would get
daily updates about events in Mogadishu.

Later the company would play similar roles supporting US troops in Haiti, Rwanda, Bosnia, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan.

As its military work increased, Brown & Root sent more American
workers overseas. Americans working and living abroad receive
significant breaks on their income tax, but still must pay Social
Security and Medicare taxes if they work for an American company. The
reasoning is that such workers are likely to return to the United
States and collect benefits, so they and their employers ought to help
pay for them.

But the taxes drive up costs. A former Halliburton executive who was
in a senior position at the company in the early 1990s said
construction companies that avoid taxes by setting up foreign
subsidiaries have obvious advantages in bidding for military contracts.

Payroll taxes can be a significant cost, he said, speaking on the
condition of anonymity. "If you are bidding against [rival construction
firms] Fluor and Bechtel, it might give you a competitive advantage."

Service Employers International was set up in 1993, as Brown &
Root was ramping up its roster of overseas workers. Two years later,
the company set up Overseas Administrative Services, which serves more
senior workers and provides a pension plan.

The parent company became Kellogg Brown & Root in 1998, when it joined with the oil-pipe manufacturer, M. W. Kellogg.

Around that time, KBR lost its exclusive contract to provide
logistical support to the US military. But in 2001 it outbid DynCorp to
win it back, by agreeing to a maximum profit of 3 percent of costs.

Then, in 2002, the firm received a secret contract to draw up plans
to restore Iraq's oil production after the US-led invasion of Iraq. The
Defense Department has said the firm was chosen mainly for its assets
and expertise, not its ability to control costs.

Nonetheless, KBR's top competitors in Iraq do not appear to have
gone to the same lengths to avoid taxes. Other top Iraq war contractors
- including Bechtel, Parsons, Washington Group International, L-3
Communications, Perini, and Fluor - told the Globe that they pay Social Security and Medicare taxes for their American workers.

"It has been Fluor Corporation's policy to compensate our employees
who are US citizens the same as if they worked in the geographic United
States," said Keith Stephens, Fluor's director of global media
relations. "With the exception of hardship and danger pay additives for
work performed in Iraq, they receive the same benefits as their
US-based colleagues, and Fluor pays or remits all required US taxes and
payroll burdens, including FICA payments and unemployment insurance."

Only one other top contractor, the construction and logistics firm
IAP Worldwide Services Inc., said it employs a "limited number" of
Americans through an offshore subsidiary.

Officials at DynCorp, the company that KBR outbid for the logistics contract, did not return numerous calls.

KBR is now widely believed to be the largest private employer of
foreigners in Iraq, and it hires twice as many workers through its
Cayman Island subsidiaries as it does by direct hires. Service
Employers International alone employs more than 20,000 truck drivers,
electricians, accountants, and engineers, roughly half of whom are
American, according to Browne, the KBR spokeswoman.

KBR declined to release salary information. But workers interviewed
by the Globe who served in a range of jobs said they earned between
$48,000 and $85,000 per year. If KBR's American workers averaged even
as much as $63,000 per year, they and KBR would have owed more than
$100 million per year in Social Security and Medicare taxes, split
evenly between them. Over the course of the five-year war, their tax
bill would have been more than $500 million.

In 2004, auditors with the Pentagon's Defense Contract Audit Agency
questioned KBR about the two Cayman Island companies but ultimately
made no complaint. The auditors told the Globe in an email exchange
facilitated by Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Brian Maka that
any tax savings resulting from the offshore subsidiaries "are passed
on" to the US military.

Browne, the KBR spokeswoman, said the loss to Social Security could
eventually be offset by the fact that the workers will receive less
money when they retire, since benefits are generally based on how much
workers and their companies have paid into the system.

Medicare, however, does not reduce benefits for workers who don't
contribute, and Browne acknowledged that KBR has not calculated the
impact of its tax practices on the government as a whole.

She said KBR does not save money from the practice, since its
contracts allow for its labor expenses to be reimbursed by the US
military. But the practice gives KBR a competitive advantage over other
contractors who pay their share of employment taxes.

And critics of tax loopholes note that the use of offshore shell
companies to avoid payroll taxes places a greater burden on other

"The argument that by not paying taxes they are saving the
government money is just absurd," said Robert McIntyre, director of
Citizens for Tax Justice, a Washington advocacy group.

To the people listed as its workers, Service Employers International
Inc. - known to them as SEII - remains something of a mystery.

"Does anybody know what or where in the Grand Cayman Islands SEII is
located?" a recently returned worker wrote in a complaint about the
company on,
an employment website. He speculated that the office in the Cayman
Islands must be "the size of a jail cell . . . with only a desk and

In fact, the address on file at the Registry of Companies in the
Cayman Islands leads to a nondescript building in the Grand Cayman
business district that houses Trident Trust, one of the Caymans'
largest offshore registered agents. Trident Trust collects $1,000 a
year to forward mail and serve as KBR's representative on the island.

The real managers of Service Employers International work out of
KBR's office in Dubai. KBR and Halliburton, which also moved to Dubai,
severed ties last year.

Both KBR and the US military appear to regard Service Employers
International and KBR interchangeably, except for tax purposes.
According to the Defense Contract Auditing Agency, KBR bills the
Service Employers workers as "direct labor costs," and charges almost
the same amount for them as for direct hires.

The contract that workers sign in Houston before traveling to Iraq
commits workers to abide by KBR's code of ethics and dispute-resolution
mechanisms but states that the agreement is with Service Employers

Some workers said they were told that Service Employers
International was just KBR's payroll company. Others mistook the name
as a reference to the well-known, large union, Service Employees

Henry Bunting, a Houston man who served as a procurement officer for
a KBR project in Iraq in 2003, said he first found out that he was
working for a foreign subsidiary when he looked closely at his paycheck.

"Their whole mindset was deceit," Bunting said. He said that he
wrote to KBR several times asking for a W-2 form so he could file his
taxes, but that KBR never responded.

David Boiles, a truck driver in Iraq from 2004 to 2006, said that he
realized he was working for Service Employers International when he
arrived in Iraq and his foreman told him he was not a KBR employee,
despite the fact that his military-issued identification card said

"At first, I didn't believe him," Boiles said.

Danny Langford, a Texas pipe-fitter who was sent to work in a water
treatment plant in southern Iraq in July 2003, said he, too, initially
believed that he was an employee of KBR.

But when he allegedly got ill from chemicals at the plant and was
terminated that fall, he said, his application for unemployment
compensation was rejected because he worked for a foreign company.

"Now, I don't know who I was working for," he said in a telephone interview.

For decades Congress has sought to crack down on corporations that
use offshore subsidiaries to lower their taxes, but most of the debates
have focused on schemes that reduce corporate income taxes, not payroll
taxes. Last year a Senate subcommittee estimated that US corporations
avoid paying $30 and $60 billion annually in income taxes by using
offshore tax havens.

Senators Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat; Barack Obama, an Illinois
Democrat; and Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican, are trying to pass
the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act, which would give the US Treasury
Department the authority to take special measures against foreign
jurisdictions that impede US tax enforcement.

American companies that evade payroll taxes face fines or other
criminal penalties. The use of foreign subsidiaries to avoid payroll
taxes, while allowed by the Defense Department, may still be subject to
challenge by the Internal Revenue Service, according to Eric Toder, a
former director of the office of research for the IRS.

Toder said the IRS could try to take action against a firm if the
sole purpose of setting up an offshore subsidiary was to reduce tax
liability. The practice could become a more costly problem in the
future, Toder said, as an increasing number of American companies
register subsidiaries overseas and bring American employees to work

"It obviously looks unseemly where you have a situation where, if
you did it in a straightforward way, they would pay payroll taxes,"
Toder said. "If this becomes the norm, and other companies do that as
well, it could further erode the tax base."

Peter Singer, a specialist in the outsourcing of military functions
at the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution, said the practice will
probably attract more scrutiny in the future, as the military expands
its outsourcing and as workplaces become increasingly global.

"It is fascinating and troubling at the same time," Singer said. "If
you are an executive in a company, you are thinking: 'Wow. Cash savings
and a potential loophole from certain domestic laws, lawsuits, and
taxes. It's win-win.' But if you are a US taxpayer, it is not a
positive synergy."

Globe correspondents Stephanie Vallejo and Matt Negrin contributed to this report.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Payday Lenders Boom Where Conservative Christians Exercise Political Power

Payday Lenders Boom Where Conservative Christians Exercise Political Power

Robert Parham

The predatory practice of payday lenders flourishes in the Bible Belt, the very place where one would think that the piety and morality of church goers would oppose such ventures that charge the poor exorbitant interest rates exceeding those of "the old mafia loan sharking syndicates." That is not the case, according to a new study that maps the correlation of payday lenders and conservative Christians.

Written by Christopher Peterson, a law school professor at the University of Florida, and Steven Graves, an associate professor of geography at California State University, Northridge, "Usury Law and the Christian Right" will be published in the spring in the Catholic University Law Review. However, the study is now available to download.

"Our study systematically surveys over 20,000 payday lender locations, cast against a backdrop of Christian political power, local and regional electoral districts, and a variety of demographic considerations," wrote Peterson and Graves.

"We conclude with a high degree of statistical certainty that states with powerful conservative Christian populations tend to host relatively greater numbers of payday loan locations per capita as well as a greater commercial density of payday lenders," they said.

Calling their findings "a tragic and sad irony," Peterson and Graves said: "Those states that have most ardently held to their pious Christian traditions have tended to become more infested with the progeny of money changers once expelled by Christ from the Hebrew temple. Legislators in those states who have effectively used Biblical principles to shape their legislative agenda on social and cultural issues have failed to consistently apply Biblical principles to economic legislation."

Payday lending is a practice that requires minimal credit check on borrowers and a post-dated check for the amount of the cash loan plus the interest charged due in one to two weeks. More often than not, borrowers are unable to repay their loan when it comes due and slide into deeper debt.

For example, a $325 loan, due in two weeks, would carry a finance charge of $52. However, the average payday borrower ends up paying an estimated $793 on a $325 loan, according to the study.

"The political power of Conservative Christians within a state is a better predictor of payday lending severity than either race or poverty," Peterson and Graves wrote. "Of the thirty ZIP codes most saturated with payday lending in the United States, all but three are located in one of fifteen most conservative Christian states."

Three Bible Belt states came under special scrutiny. One was Alabama, which the study ranked first in the nation for the "political power of conservative Christian Americans." Even though Alabamians voted for so-called conservative biblical values, Alabama Christians "stood essentially idle while the state developed one of the very worst usurious lending problems in the country."

Second only to Alabama in the political power of conservative Christians, Mississippi has the "highest density of payday lending of any state." One congressional district has more payday lenders than banks. "Hinds County alone has more payday lenders than all of Minnesota," found the study.

The authors praised North Carolina, a state with "solid Christian credentials," for re-imposing "traditional Biblical values in their consumer financial services markets." They wrote, "After nearly seven years of aggressive enforcement efforts...North Carolina...appears to once again be largely free of payday lending operations."

The study contains an appendix with detailed information about the usury law in every other state.

The widespread practice of charging astronomical interest rates on loans made to the poor runs counter to the biblical injunction against usury, which is condemned along with the shedding blood, extorting and forgetting God (Ezekiel 22:12).

In a clear passage to the freed Hebrew slaves, God said through Moses: "If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them. If you take your neighbor's cloak in pawn, you shall restore it before the sun goes down; for it may be your neighbor's only clothing to use as cover; in what else shall that person sleep" (Exodus 22:25-27)?

Not only does the Bible reject the excessive interest of the payday lenders, but the Bible speaks repeatedly about protecting the poor, the orphan, the widow and the stranger in the land.

Given the clarity of the biblical witness and the crippling reality of payday lenders, some Baptists are addressing the issue.

Religious Herald editor Jim White encouraged Virginia Baptists last fall to urge state legislators to place a cap on the interest rate payday lenders can charge. White called payday lending a "great injustice" and called a cap on interest charged "the least we can do."

White returned to payday lending in a January editorial, beseeching readers to contact their representatives supporting specific pieces of legislation that would cap payday lending. He wrote that these bills "will not eliminate the suffering of the poor. But, it will end one way the oppressed are being further impoverished."

The Baptist General Association of Virginia spoke out against payday lending in a November 2007 resolution, denouncing "the payday lending industry and its practice of further impoverishing the poor."

BGAV's Christian Life Committee members have contacted their own legislators, supporting reforms in payday lending. The committee is now preparing a report to present to Virginia Baptists that will identify the negative impacts on families of predatory lending and offer steps for advocacy.

The committee is also interfacing with the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, which has a campaign to combat payday lenders, including a pledge for action designed to lobby state legislators.

BGAV is clearly the moral exception among Baptist state conventions. Most appear so morally malnourished that payday lenders flourish and impoverish the poor.

What was it that the Hebrew prophet Micah said that the Lord required? That's right—"to do justice"—the very thing too many seek to avoid.

Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Valentine’s Day Torture Trifecta

The Valentine’s Day Torture Trifecta
BY Scott Horton
PUBLISHED February 16, 2008

On Valentine’s Day the Bush Administration was out on a mission, straight from the Orwellian Ministry of Love. That ministry of course served in Nineteen Eighty-Four as the center for torture. And as the shortest month reached its middle point, three apologists appeared on behalf of the administration to explain to the American public that they needed to relax and start getting comfortable with torture. It’s the new American Way, after all.

Act One: We Do It Better Than the Inquisition
The first appearance was by Steven G. Bradbury, who now heads the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department. As ABC News, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times collectively uncovered, Bradbury owes his rise to a position of power due to one single issue: waterboarding. His predecessor, Dan Levin, was reviewing the universally reviled torture memoranda written by John Yoo, and decided to go to a near-by military base and undergo waterboarding himself to understand better what it was about. He was astonished at what he discovered and concluded that it could not possibly be given a free check. He set out to write a new memorandum putting tight collars on waterboarding. But when David Addington and Alberto Gonzales got word of what he was up to, they acted swiftly. Dan Levin was forced out of his job, and the search began for a new figure who could be counted upon absolutely to protect the torture regime. Steve Bradbury was that man.

If we had to pick just one brief snippet that sums up the corruption that the Bush Administration has worked inside of the Justice Department—its literal transformation from an institution that upholds the Rule of Law to one that spitefully tramples upon it—then it might well be this. Take a few minutes to listen to Bradbury’s evasions, dissembling and his attempts to justify waterboarding with historical comparisons.

And here’s the core of Bradbury’s legal reasoning. In his view, a coercive technique is not torture if it is:

subject to strict safeguards, limitations and conditions, [it] does not involve severe physical pain or severe physical suffering — and severe physical suffering, we said on our December 2004 Opinion, has to take account of both the intensity of the discomfort or distress involved, and the duration, and something can be quite distressing or comfortable, even frightening, [but] if it doesn’t involve severe physical pain, and it doesn’t last very long, it may not constitute severe physical suffering. That would be the analysis.

So the key is brevity. Do it in a few seconds, no lasting effects, and it’s fine. And that’s the beauty of waterboarding, in Bradbury’s mind. A former OLC attorney advisor, Georgetown Prof. Martin Lederman says this is “flatly, 100% wrong, and indefensible.” I’d say that is a charitable characterization. My own view is that this opinion constitutes evidence of Bradbury’s participation in a criminal conspiracy to introduce a regime of torture as defined in American and international law. The law may provide defenses for the interrogators who act in misplaced reliance on the Justice Department’s opinions, but it provides no shield for those who in bad faith formulate the policies that foment torture. Bradbury has no business serving in the Justice Department or in any other public office. He should now be the target of a criminal investigation, together with the other policy-level figures who drove the introduction and propagation of this torture regime. Indeed, beyond their essential criminality, no group of people have done more in the last seven years to undermine the security of every American citizen than these shadowy, ethically-challenged figures who seem propelled by the credo that they stand above the law because they can twist it to say whatever they want.

As for Bradbury’s future career, I suggest he take up acting. He is a natural to play the Grand Inquisitor in Schiller’s Don Carlos or Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov–he has the reasoning down pat, he actually looks sincere and clean-cut as he explains that “torture is good for you.” Our use of waterboarding is humane compared to the Spanish Inquisition, he says. And then he demonstrates the key distinction: the Japanese or Spanish would fill the stomach with water and then stand on the body. For the American version, we fill the lungs with water and don’t do any standing. You can exhale now. Isn’t that a great relief? It’s a kinder, gentler form of waterboarding. A waterboarding of which all Americans can be proud. A waterboarding that reflects America’s core values of respect for human dignity.

It would be good for Bradbury to play this back so he can listen to the absurdity of his statements. Maybe he’ll get the opportunity to hear himself on tape in legal proceedings in the future.

Now we should be clear, Bradbury says that waterboarding today would be illegal. That’s because it’s not a part of the program that President Bush currently authorizes. But waterboarding in the past was perfectly legal, because Bush authorized it and his department approved it. And waterboarding in the future? Well, it may or may not be legal. He’s not saying. He’d have to think about it. How’s that for legal sophistry? Actually, based on Bradbury’s performance to date, there’s no reason to doubt how Bradbury would handle a request from the White House to authorize waterboarding. He will authorize it. Of course he’s not sure now how he will rationalize it, but he will come up with something. He’s that kind of lawyer.

But we shouldn’t give Bradbury a pass on the substance. His arguments can’t be squared with the statute and his description of the “American style” of waterboarding is at odds with the very graphic descriptions provided by U.S. service personnel who have been through the SERE program waterboarding which Bradbury acknowledges is the basis for the technique. It is drowning, not simulated drowning, and it is designed to bring the victim to the point of death, and then bring him back. So Bradbury’s denials of these points are simply lies, and lies to Congress, under oath.

Given the hand he plays, it is now a matter of some urgency that the Senate Judiciary Committee disapprove Bradbury as head of OLC. Indeed, his presence there stains the office and the institution. But it’s also vital that the opinions he authored on national security matters be carefully scrutinized by the Judiciary Committees so that remedial measures can be taken to overturn views that violate the criminal law and international obligations—and his Valentine’s Day appearance suggests that they will be very numerous.

Act Two: Be Very Afraid and Embrace Torture
It’s hard to imagine how the Bradbury appearance could be upstaged. But it was very quickly, by his boss’s boss, the Decider himself. George W. Bush has come under heavy criticism by the Government of Gordon Brown. Whereas the Blair Government had used private diplomacy in its efforts to push the Bush Administration to change its policies on torture and conditions of detention, Gordon Brown has authorized open criticism. Indeed, the U.S. treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo and the plans for Military Commissions have come under direct attack. Bush decided to defend himself in an extended Valentine’s Day interview with the BBC. Pride of place in his comments went to waterboarding, which Bush enthusiastically embraced. Here’s the summary provided by The Guardian:

But his most controversial remarks were over waterboarding. He told the BBC’s Matt Frei: “To the critics, I ask them this: when we, within the law, interrogate and get information that protects ourselves and possibly others in other nations to prevent attacks, which attack would they have hoped that we wouldn’t have prevented?

“And so, the United States will act within the law. We’ll make sure professionals have the tools necessary to do their job within the law.” He claimed the families of victims of the July 7 terror attacks in London would understand his position. “I suspect the families of those victims understand the nature of killers. What people gotta understand is that we’ll make decisions based upon law. We’re a nation of law. . .”

In the BBC interview, Bush was asked whether, given waterboarding and other alleged human rights abuses, he could claim the US still occupied the moral high ground. He replied: “Absolutely.” He added: “We believe in human rights and human dignity. We believe in the human condition. We believe in freedom. And we’re willing to take the lead. We’re willing to ask nations to do hard things. We’re willing to accept responsibilities. And—yeah, no question in my mind, it’s a nation that’s a force for good. “And history will judge the decisions made during this period of time as necessary decisions.”

So Bush’s position is clear: torture is a legitimate tool in the hands of a power fighting from the moral highground. Without wading into the moral dimensions of this problem, we should start by noting that this is the man who has spent five years stating in a mantra-like fashion, “We do not torture.” That statement was untrue, and he knew it was untrue when he first uttered it. Therefore, we can conclude that Bush also believes that a power can lie to its own people and the world about the weightiest subjects—like reasons for war, and the use of torture—and maintain the moral highground. In purely relative terms, he’s right—the Bush Administration maintains a moral high ground vis-à-vis al Qaeda. But it has slouched closer to the morals of its terrorist adversary than any global observer ever would have thought possible.

But the next point to consider is, again without considering the underlying ethical considerations, whether the global community agrees with his statement. After all, the objective of holding the “moral high ground” is to have the support of world opinion behind us. The Founding Fathers recognized that as a vital weapon and they did much to hold it. And in America’s successful campaigns abroad, it has followed the same course. But Bush has fatefully parted from it. Public opinion polling shows that even in America’s key allies—nations like Britain, Germany, Spain, Italy, France, Turkey and Japan—the force of public opinion is not with the Bush Administration. Indeed, he is reviled, and public opinion impedes the ability of those governments to cooperate with the United States. What does this mean practically? The cost of conflicts abroad is dramatically escalated because they are borne by the United States and not shared. And the security of the United States is directly undermined due to the corrosion of these vital alliances, that generations of Americans fought and sacrificed to create.

But then we come to Bush’s core message. He argues that because British citizens were killed in attacks on July 7, the Government should be freed from the constraints of law and given license to torture. Bush’s vision of the world is influenced more by Rambo and Chuck Norris movies than travel or understanding of international relations theory. In his pathetic bubble world, he is convinced, torture is the answer to our problems. But the British response to July 7 was a model for Americans to observe and follow, for in fact, the British, eschewing torture and brutal methods and appealing for public support and alertness, did a far better job than their U.S. counterparts. Darius Rejali makes the key point here:

research has shown that public cooperation is the key to solving crimes –and the public must be confident in the police to come forward with good information. No parent would hand over his child knowing he would be tortured. Cracking a terror cell is not unlike infiltrating organized crime. The trick is to cultivate informers in communities where terrorists operate. Technology is no substitute for this. Nor is torture. Torturing for information destroys bonds of loyalty that keep information flowing, causing remaining sources of information to dry up.

On their own, police are relatively helpless against criminals and terrorists. Since the 1970s, researchers have shown again and again that unless the public specifically identifies suspects to the police, the chances that a crime will be solved falls to about 10 percent. Contrary to popular evening police television shows, only a small percentage of crimes are solved with fingerprinting, forensics and DNA sampling. In England, this constitutes as little as 5% of all detections.

Police captured the 21 July bombers using accurate public information. Tanya Wright, Ibrahim’s neighbor, helped the police locate Ibrahim and a second suspect, Yasin Hassan Omar, on July 22. Police then traced Omar to Birmingham where he was arrested six days later. Police arrested a third bomb suspect, Ramsi Muhammad, in the same flat as Omar. Three commuters had followed Muhammad through London until they lost him. Police identified Hussein Osman, the fourth bomber, by releasing video surveillance. They tapped his brother in law’s phone and Italian authorities arrested him. Police captured their suspects without torture or an American-style Patriot Act.

But Bush’s mind is never very subtle. He believes in himself and he believes the accretion of power in his hands will benefit everyone. Such thinking is of course the classic pattern of tyrannical megalomania. And Edmund Burke was clear about the essential role of fear-mongering in the tyrant’s desire to accumulate power. Appeals to fear are designed not to create alert citizens, mindful of their duties to one another, but quaking bowls of jelly, happy to cede all rights and powers to the man Plato called the “protector,” who soon enough will whip the chariot of State over the bodies of a once-proud citizenry. Or as a friend of mine puts it, “Prof. Shklar at Harvard once remarked, that those who put cruelty first in their lives are especially vulnerable to the vice of misanthropy.” And that we see to full effect today.

Act Three: The Jester
Any well composed classical opera buffa brings us the crude, blundering sort of comic relief. The figure who wants to be one of the big guys, serious, but is a simple figure of derision. The Hofnarr, they call him, the jester. And our Valentine’s Day jester was Senator Lieberman. Here’s what the senator from Connecticut had to say in a phone conference with reporters:

The difference, he said, is that waterboarding is mostly psychological and there is no permanent physical damage. “It is not like putting burning coals on people’s bodies. The person is in no real danger. The impact is psychological,” Lieberman said. Lieberman said that his position on waterboarding differs from that of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who he has endorsed as a presidential candidate. As a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam, McCain was tortured. McCain, he said, believes waterboarding is torture.

But Lieberman’s statement demonstrates that he doesn’t understand what waterboarding is all about. Here is a summary by Darius Rejali of the four most prevalent forms of waterboarding.

(a) pumping: filling a stomach with water causes the organs to distend, a sensation compared often with having your organs set on fire from the inside. This was the Tormenta de Toca favored by the Inquisition and featured on your website photo. The French in Algeria called in the tube or tuyau after the hose they forced into the mouth to fill the organs.

(b) choking—as in sticking a head in a barrel. It is a form of near asphyxiation but it also produces the same burning sensation through all the water a prisoner involuntarily ingests. This is the example illustrated in the Battle of Algiers movie, a technique called the sauccisson or the submarine in Latin America. Prisoners describe their chests swelling to the size of barrels at which point a guard would stomp on the stomach forcing the water to move in the opposite direction.

(c) choking—as in attaching a person to a board and dipping the board into water. This was my understanding of what waterboarding was from the initial reports. The use of a board was stylistically most closely associated with the work of a Nazi political interrogator by the name of Ludwig Ramdor who worked at Ravensbruck camp. Ramdor was tried before the British Military Court Martial at Hamburg (May 1946 to March 1947) on charges for subjecting women to this torture, subjecting another woman to drugs for interrogation, and subjecting a third to starvation and high pressure showers. He was found guilty and executed by the Allies in 1947.

(d) choking—as in forcing someone to lie down, tying them down, then putting a cloth over the mouth, and then choking the prisoner by soaking the cloth. This also forces ingestion of water. It was invented by the Dutch in the East Indies in the 16th century, as a form of torture for English traders. More recently it was common in the American south, especially in police stations, in the 1920s, as documented in the famous Wickersham Report of the American Bar Association (The Report on Lawlessness in Law Enforcement, 1931), compiling instances of police torture throughout the United States.

The forms of waterboarding used by the CIA today come extreme close to the last two techniques described above. They involve actual drowning—not the “sensation of drowning”—and the statement that there is “no real danger” reflects consummate stupidity. Indeed, the victim will drown absent intervention to revive him, and “accidental” killings involving this technique are fairly commonplace.

Back in 2005-06, when I was working with Senator McCain’s staff on an effort to enact the Detainee Treatment Act, designed to overturn the use of torture techniques, one of his senior staffers told me “Much as Senator McCain likes and respects Lieberman, we absolutely cannot trust Lieberman on this issue. He’s a real snake in the grass.” Truer words were never uttered.

But there’s another aspect of Lieberman’s statement which needs some attention. He presents his rationale as an outtake from the Fox Network’s “24,” he talks about ticking bombs and the urgent needs to wrestle information from a participant in a plot in the course of performance. But of course, not a one of the instances in which waterboarding was actually applied related to anything like such a scenario.
Carneades of Cyrene, bust, first century CE

Indeed, a Judiciary Committee staffer who carefully tracked Bradbury’s testimony earlier in the day drew this conclusion from it: “This is an official acknowledgment that we do not use these tactics only in (fanciful) ‘ticking bomb’ scenarios — we use them to find about ‘potential’ ‘planning’ of attacks and enemy ‘whereabouts’ — that’s just general intelligence gathering.” That’s precisely correct and it demonstrates the fraudulent way the “ticking bomb” argument is being used. Students of moral philosophy of course will recognize the technique. It was put forward by Sophists in the post-Platonic period. They suggested that they could contrive a set of facts sufficient to topple any moral law that a moral philosopher could postulate. The “plank of Carneades” is a prime example of their approach comstructed by the Sophists from a teaching of the second century BCE skeptic Carneades. It suggested that in extremis, a person could violate most natural and moral laws to save himself. Carneades did not actually believe this, he presented it as an example of a powerful and malicious form of argumentation with strong appeal to the weak-minded against which society must ever be on guard. And the “ticking bomb” scenario is merely an updated version of this line of reasoning. The way to approach such arguments entails a series of questions:

(1) Has the factual scenario that is posited ever occurred? Is it likely to occur?

(2) What is the consequence to society of taking the exception as a basis for overturning the general rule? How is the exception granted and applied?

(3) What is the objective of those advancing the exception?

However, this approach suggests we treat Lieberman’s comments as something serious and worthy of analysis. In fact the man is not a serious figure and his argument—that “waterboarding is better than placing burning coals on the flesh”—is simply ludicrous, and that’s the best way to treat it.

In the end, Lieberman’s comments add nothing to the debate. But they tell us much about Lieberman.

Stalin's Defense of Torture

Josef Stalin, 10 January 1939:

To the Secretaries of oblast and regional party committees,
To the CCs of national Communist parties,
To the people's commissars of internal affairs,
and to the heads of NKVD directorates

It has become known to the VKP CC that the secretaries of oblast and regional party committees, in checking up on employees of NKVD directorates, have laid blame on them for the use of physical pressure against those who have been arrested, treating it as something criminal. The VKP CC affirms that the use of physical pressure in the work of the NKVD has been permitted since 1937 in accordance with a resolution of the VKP CC. This directive indicated that physical pressure was to be used in exceptional cases and only against blatant enemies of the people who, when interrogated by humane methods, defiantly refuse to turn over the names of co-conspirators, and who refuse for months on end to provide any evidence, and who try to thwart the unmasking of co-conspirators who are still at large, and who thereby continue even from prison to wage a struggle against the Soviet regime.

Experience has shown that such an arrangement has produced good results and has greatly expedited the unmasking of enemies of the people. True, subsequently in practice the method of physical pressure was abused by Zakovsky, Litvin, Uspensky, and other scoundrels, converting it from an exception into a rule and beginning to apply it against honest people who had been arrested accidentally. For these abuses, they [the scoundrels] have been given due punishment. But this in no way detracts from the value of the method itself when it is properly used. It is known that all bourgeois secret services use physical pressure against representatives of the socialist proletariat and rely on especially savage methods of it. We might therefore ask why a socialist secret service should be any more more humane in relation to inveterate agent of the bourgeoisie and sworn enemies of the working class and collectivized farmers. The VKP CC believes that the use of physical pressure must absolutely be continued from here on in exceptional cases and against blatant and invidious enemies of the people, and that this is a perfectly appropriate and desirable method. The VKP CC demands that the secretaries of oblast and regional party committees and the CCs of national party committees bear in mind this explanation when they check up on the employees of NKVD directorates.

Secretary of the VKP CC
J. Stalin

Bankers, like gangs, just get carried away

Bankers, like gangs, just get carried away

By John Kay

Published: February 12 2008 18:15 | Last updated: February 12 2008 18:15

“So long as the music is playing, you’ve got to keep dancing. We’re still dancing.” Chuck Prince, former chairman and chief executive of Citigroup, was interviewed by this paper only a month before the music stopped. A few weeks later he was out of a job. With these comments, he got to the heart of the banking crisis.

Economists search for rational economic explanations of apparently irrational behaviour. They emphasise skewed incentives and asymmetric information. There is something in these descriptions. But there were financial panics long before there were Wall Street bonuses. There were financial panics long before the invention of limited liability.

Mr Prince’s metaphor is sociological and anthropological not economic. Groups routinely demonstrate behaviour that few if any members would choose to adopt as individuals. Look at teenage gangs, soccer hooligans, religious zealots – or clubbers. Sometimes the group provides a cloak of legitimacy for misbehaviour. The trading floor has a similar effect. You get carried away, explained Jérôme Kerviel, Société Générale’s former trader. The process by which hysterical groups damage themselves and others in assertion of preposterous beliefs is a recurrent theme in human history. We see it in anti-Semitic pogroms or McCarthyite persecution. Before the mysteries of structured credit there were the mysteries of witchcraft; before investment banks used initial public offerings to turn dotcom concepts into billions of dollars alchemists claimed to turn base metals into gold.

Shared values and beliefs create a group identity. No matter that the beliefs may be absurd or the values contemptible: that Salem was not besieged by witches, the US was not threatened by communist infiltration, that greed is not good and that suicide bombers will not be greeted in paradise by 71 virgins. The very improbability of the belief, the unacceptability of the values, reinforces their social function; these factors distinguish the real members of the group from the less committed.

Gangs differentiate themselves by their characteristic beliefs and values. Your performance as a gang member is judged not by rational, objective criteria but by the approbation of your peers. As on the streets, also in the office towers. The people on the floor above fix your bonus and advance your career.

Some beliefs and value systems are more successful than others. The effortless superiority prized at Goldman Sachs seems to have served it well in the subprime crisis. The extreme aggression of Bankers Trust and Credit Suisse First Boston in the 1990s led ultimately to the destruction of these organisations as independent businesses. But always, the beliefs and values that matter are local, not global; subjective, not objective; and to question the prevailing culture is to exclude yourself from the group.

Were the people who presided over the promotion of dotcom stocks liars or fools who believed it themselves? Did the people who said structured credit products were a new and more sophisticated way of managing risk exposures really think this was true? Or had they simply latched on to an academic theory that fitted their self-interest? The analytic mind argues that one or other explanation must be true. But neither need be. Like the politicians who invaded Iraq, executives of major financial services businesses did not reflect on questions to which they did not wish to know the answer.

Sympathise with Mr Prince’s dilemma – although, given the size of his pay-off, do not sympathise for long. If he had decided to pull Citigroup back from its increasingly frenzied trading and lax lending, he would have been deposed – by shareholders desperate for profit, non-executive directors steeped in conventional thinking and, above all, by subordinates hungry for bonuses. The gang leader, despite his apparently unquestioned authority, is frequently the prisoner of the gang members. The man who occupied the chair at Citigroup, ostensibly the most powerful position in the global financial services industry, was in reality the pawn of his own employees. That is what Mr Prince meant when he said that so long as the music plays, you have to dance.

More columns at

Philip Giraldi: What FBI whistle-blower Sibel Edmonds found in translation

Philip Giraldi: What FBI whistle-blower Sibel Edmonds found in translation

FBI whistle-blower Sibel Edmonds has spilled her secrets, says PHILIP GIRALDI. Why is her story being covered up?

12:00 AM CST on Sunday, February 17, 2008

Most Americans have never heard of Sibel Edmonds, and if the U.S. government has its way, they never will.

The former FBI translator turned whistle-blower tells a chilling story of corruption at Washington's highest levels – sale of nuclear secrets, shielding of terrorist suspects, illegal arms transfers, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, espionage. She may be a first-rate fabulist, but Ms. Edmonds' account is full of dates, places and names. And if she is to be believed, a treasonous plot to embed moles in American military and nuclear installations and pass sensitive intelligence to Israeli, Pakistani and Turkish sources was facilitated by figures in the upper echelons of the State and Defense Departments. Her charges could be easily confirmed or dismissed if classified government documents were made available to investigators.

But Congress has refused to act, and the Justice Department has shrouded Ms. Edmonds' case in the state-secrets privilege, a rarely used measure so sweeping that it precludes even a closed hearing attended only by officials with top-secret security clearances. According to the Department of Justice, such an investigation "could reasonably be expected to cause serious damage to the foreign policy and national security of the United States."

After five years of thwarted legal challenges and fruitless attempts to launch a congressional investigation, Sibel Edmonds is telling her story, though her defiance could land her in jail. After reading its November piece about Louai al-Sakka, an al-Qaeda terrorist who trained 9/11 hijackers in Turkey, Ms. Edmonds approached the Sunday Times of London. On Jan. 6, the Times, a Rupert Murdoch-owned paper that does not normally encourage exposés damaging to the Bush administration, featured a long article. The news quickly spread around the world – but not in the United States.

Ms. Edmonds is an ethnic Azerbaijani, born in Iran. She lived there and in Turkey until 1988, when she immigrated to the United States. Nine days after 9/11, she took a job at the FBI as a Turkish and Farsi translator. She worked in the 400-person translations section of the Washington office, reviewing a backlog of material dating to 1997 and participating in operations directed against several Turkish front groups, most notably the American Turkish Council.

The ATC, founded in 1994 and modeled on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, was intended to promote Turkish interests in Congress and in other public forums.

The FBI was interested in the ATC because it suspected that the group might be tangentially tied to drug trafficking and because of reports that it had given congressmen illegal contributions or bribes. Moreover, as Ms. Edmonds alleged in the Times, the Turks have "often acted as a conduit for the Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan's spy agency, because they were less likely to attract attention."

(In 2005, a spokesperson for the ATC denied to Vanity Fair magazine that the organization has ever been involved in illegal payment or espionage activities.)

Over nearly six months, Ms. Edmonds listened with increasing unease to hundreds of intercepted phone calls between Turkish, Pakistani, Israeli and American officials. When she voiced concerns about the processing of this intelligence – among other irregularities, one of the other translators maintained a friendship with one of the FBI's "high value" targets – she was threatened.

After exhausting all appeals through her own chain of command, Ms. Edmonds approached the two Department of Justice agencies with oversight of the FBI and sent faxes to Sens. Chuck Grassley and Patrick Leahy on the Judiciary Committee. The next day, she was called in for a polygraph. According to a DOJ inspector general's report, the test found that "she was not deceptive in her answers."

But two weeks later, Ms. Edmonds was fired. Her home computer was seized. Her family in Turkey was visited by police and threatened with arrest if they did not submit to questioning about an unspecified "intelligence matter."

When Ms. Edmonds' attorney sued to obtain the documents related to her firing, Attorney General John Ashcroft imposed the state-secrets gag order. Since then, she has been subjected to another federal order, which not only silenced her but retroactively classified the statements she eventually made before the Senate Judiciary Committee and the 9/11 commission.

Passionate in her convictions, Ms. Edmonds has sometimes alienated her own supporters and ridden roughshod over critics who questioned her assumptions. But despite her shortcomings in making her case and the legitimate criticism that she may be overreaching in some of her conclusions, Ms. Edmonds comes across as credible. Her claims are specific and fact-based, and they can be documented in detail. There is presumably an existing FBI file that could demonstrate the accuracy of many of her charges.

Her allegations are not insignificant. Among them: Ms. Edmonds claims that a former top State Department official was a person of interest to the FBI and had his phone tapped by the bureau in 2001 and 2002. Because of his senior-level position, this man had access to classified information of the highest sensitivity from the CIA, NSA and Pentagon, in addition to his own State Department.

Ms. Edmonds alleges to have heard evidence linking him to bribery from an ATC contact, to his intervening with the FBI to halt the interrogation of four Turkish and Pakistani intelligence operatives, and helping seed U.S. nuclear facilities with Turkish and Israeli Ph.D. students who in turn sold nuclear secrets abroad, primarily to Pakistan. The accused, who emphatically denies Ms. Edmonds' charges, is now a senior executive at a Washington lobbying firm.

A low-level contractor might seem poorly positioned to expose major breaches of national security, but the FBI translators' pool, riddled with corruption and nepotism, was key to keeping these secrets from surfacing. Ms. Edmonds' claims that the section was infiltrated by translators who should never have received security clearances and who were deliberately failing to translate incriminating material are supported by the Justice Department inspector general investigation and by an FBI internal investigation, which concluded that she had been fired after making "valid complaints."

Ms. Edmonds' revelations have attracted corroboration in the form of anonymous letters apparently written by FBI employees. There have been frequent reports of FBI field agents being frustrated by the premature closure of cases dealing with foreign spying, particularly when those cases involve Israel, and the State Department has frequently intervened to shut down investigations based on "sensitive foreign diplomatic relations."

Curiously, the state-secrets gag order binding Ms. Edmonds, while put in place by DOJ in 2002, was not requested by the FBI but by the State Department and Pentagon – which employed individuals she identified as being involved in criminal activities. If her allegations are frivolous, that order would scarcely seem necessary. Under the Bush administration, the security gag order has been invoked to cover up incompetence or illegality, not to protect national security.

Both Mr. Grassley and Mr. Leahy – a Republican and a Democrat, who interviewed her at length in 2002 – attest to Ms. Edmonds' believability. The Department of Justice inspector general investigation into her claims about the translations unit and an internal FBI review confirmed most of her allegations. Former FBI senior counterintelligence officer John Cole has independently confirmed her report of the presence of Pakistani intelligence service penetrations within the FBI translators' pool.

Ms. Edmonds wasn't angling to become a media darling. She would have preferred to testify under oath before a congressional committee that could offer legal protection and subpoena documents and witnesses to support her case. She claims that a number of FBI agents would be willing to testify, though she has not named them.

Prior to 2006, Rep. Henry Waxman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee allegedly promised Ms. Edmonds that if the Democrats gained control of Congress, he would order hearings into her charges. But following the Democratic sweep, he has been less forthcoming. It is suspected that Mr. Waxman fears that the revelations might open a Pandora's box, damaging Republicans and Democrats alike.

Ms. Edmonds' critics maintain that she saw only a small part of the picture in a highly compartmentalized working environment, that she was privy to only a fragment of a large operation to penetrate and disrupt the groups that have been stealing U.S. weapons technology. She could not have known operational details of what the FBI was doing and why.

That criticism is serious and must be addressed. If Ms. Edmonds was indeed seeing only part of a counterintelligence sting operation to entrap a nuclear network like that of A.Q. Khan, the government could now reveal as much in general terms, since any operation that might have been running in 2002 has long since wound down.

Regarding her access to operational information, Ms. Edmonds' critics clearly do not understand the intimate relationship that develops between FBI and CIA officers and their translators. Operations run against a foreign target in languages other than English require an intensive collaboration between field officers and translators. The translators are invariably brought into the loop because it is up to them to guide the officers seeking to understand what the target, who frequently is double talking or attempting to conceal his meaning, is actually saying.

That said, it should be conceded that Ms. Edmonds might sometimes have seen only a piece of the story, and those claims based on her own interpretation should be regarded with caution.

Still, Sibel Edmonds makes a number of accusations about specific criminal behavior that appear to be extraordinary but are credible enough to warrant official investigation. Her allegations are documentable; an existing FBI file should determine whether they are accurate.

It's true that she probably knows only part of the story, but if that part is correct, Congress and the Justice Department should have no higher priority. Nothing deserves more attention than the possibility of ongoing national-security failures and the proliferation of nuclear weapons with the connivance of corrupt senior government officials.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a partner in Cannistraro Associates, an international security consultancy. This essay was adapted from a longer version that appears on the Web site of The American Conservative magazine (

Saturday, February 16, 2008

When Strains on Military Families Turn Deadly

When Strains on Military Families Turn Deadly

A few months after Sgt. William Edwards and his wife, Sgt. Erin Edwards, returned to a Texas Army base from separate missions in Iraq, he assaulted her mercilessly. He struck her, choked her, dragged her over a fence and slammed her into the sidewalk.

As far as Erin Edwards was concerned, that would be the last time he beat her.

Unlike many military wives, she knew how to work the system to protect herself. She was an insider, even more so than her husband, since she served as an aide to a brigadier general at Fort Hood.

With the general’s help, she quickly arranged for a future transfer to a base in New York. She pressed charges against her husband and secured an order of protection. She sent her two children to stay with her mother. And she received assurance from her husband’s commanders that he would be barred from leaving the base unless accompanied by an officer.

Yet on the morning of July 22, 2004, William Edwards easily slipped off base, skipping his anger-management class, and drove to his wife’s house in the Texas town of Killeen. He waited for her to step outside and then, after a struggle, shot her point-blank in the head before turning the gun on himself.

During an investigation, Army officers told the local police that they did not realize Erin Edwards had been afraid of her husband. And they acknowledged that despite his restrictions, William Edwards had not been escorted off base “on every occasion,” according to a police report.

That admission troubled the detective handling the case.

“I believe that had he been confined to base and had that confinement been monitored,” said Detective Sharon L. Brank of the local police, “she would not be dead at his hands.”

The killing of Erin Edwards directly echoed an earlier murder of a military wife that drew far more attention. Almost 10 years ago, at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, a different Army sergeant defied a similar restriction to base, driving out the front gate on his way to a murder almost foretold.

That 1998 homicide, one of several featured in a “60 Minutes” exposé on domestic violence in the military, galvanized a public outcry, Congressional demands for action and the Pentagon’s pledge to do everything possible to prevent such violence from claiming more lives.

Yet just as the Defense Department undertook substantial changes, guided by a Congressionally chartered task force on domestic violence that decried a system more adept at protecting offenders than victims, the wars in Afghanistan and then Iraq began.

Pentagon officials say that wartime has not derailed their efforts to make substantive improvements in the way that the military tackles domestic violence.

They say they have, for example, offered more parenting and couples classes, provided additional victims advocates and afforded victims greater confidentiality in reporting abuses.

But interviews with members of the task force, as well as an examination of cases of fatal domestic violence and child abuse, indicate that wartime pressures on military families and on the military itself have complicated the Pentagon’s efforts.

“I don’t think there is any question about that,” said Peter C. McDonald, a retired district court judge in Kentucky and a member of the Pentagon’s now disbanded domestic violence task force. “The war could only make things much worse than even before, and here we had a system that was not too good to begin with.”

Connie Sponsler-Garcia, another task force member, who now works on domestic violence projects with the Pentagon, agreed.

“Whereas something was a high priority before, now it’s: ‘Oh, dear, we have a war. Well get back to you in a few months,’ ” she said.

The fatalities examined by The New York Times show a military system that tries and sometimes fails to balance the demands of fighting a war with those of eradicating domestic violence.

According to interviews with law enforcement officials and court documents, the military has sent to war service members who had been charged with and even convicted of domestic violence crimes.

Deploying such convicted service members to a war zone violates military regulations and, in some cases, federal law.

Take the case of Sgt. Jared Terrasas. The first time that he was deployed to Iraq, his prosecution for domestic violence was delayed. Then, after pleading guilty, he was pulled out of a 16-week batterers intervention program run by the Marine Corps and sent to Iraq again.

Several months after Sergeant Terrasas returned home, his 7-month-old son died of a brain injury, and the marine was charged with his murder.

Deployment to war, with its long separations, can put serious stress on military families. And studies have shown that recurrent deployments heighten the likelihood of combat trauma, which, in turn, increases the risk of domestic violence.

“The more trauma out there, the more likely domestic violence is,” said Dr. Jacquelyn C. Campbell, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing who also was a member of the Pentagon task force.

The Times examined several cases in which mental health problems caused or exacerbated by war pushed already troubled families to a deadly breaking point.

In one instance, the Air Force repeatedly deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere Sgt. Jon Trevino, a medic with a history of psychological problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

Multiple deployments eroded Sergeant Trevino’s marriage and worsened his mental health problems until, in 2006, he killed his wife, Carol, and then himself.

The military declared his suicide “service related.”

A Call to Action

Within a six-week period in 2002, three Special Forces sergeants returned from Afghanistan and murdered their wives at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Two immediately turned their guns on themselves; the third hanged himself in a jail cell. A fourth soldier at the same Army base also killed his wife during those six weeks.

At the beginning of this wartime period, the cluster of murder-suicides set off alarms about the possible link between combat tours and domestic violence, a link supported by a study published that year in the journal Military Medicine. The killings also reinvigorated the concerns about military domestic violence that had led to the formation of the Defense Task Force on Domestic Violence two years earlier.

National attention to the subject was short-lived. But an examination by The Times found more than 150 cases of fatal domestic violence or child abuse in the United States involving service members and new veterans during the wartime period that began in October 2001 with the invasion of Afghanistan.

In more than a third of the cases, The Times determined that the offenders had deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq or to the regions in support of those missions. In another third, it determined that the offenders never deployed to war. And the deployment history of the final third could not be ascertained.

The military tracks only homicides that it prosecutes, and a majority of killings involving service members are handled by civilian authorities. To track these cases, The Times used records from the Army, Air Force and Navy — the Marines did not provide any information —and local news reports.

It is difficult to know how complete The Times’s findings are. What is clear, though, is that these homicides occurred at a time when the military was trying to improve its handling of domestic violence.

The Pentagon’s domestic violence task force, appointed in April 2000 and comprising 24 military and civilian experts, met regularly for three years to examine a system where, they found, soldiers rarely faced punishment or prosecution for battering their wives and where they often found shelter from civilian orders of protection.

When the moment arrived to explain their findings and recommendations to Congress, however, the timing could not have been poorer. Deborah D. Tucker and Lt. Gen. Garry L. Parks of the Marines, the leaders of the task force, presented their final report to the House Armed Services Committee on the very day that the Iraq war began, March 20, 2003. Ms. Tucker called it “one of the more surreal experiences of my life.”

“Periodically, members of the committee would call for a break and there would be some updated information provided on the status of our troops’ entry into Iraq and how far they’d gotten,” she said. “There was a map on an easel to the side.”

“I knew that while we were at war all other considerations would push back,” she added, “and I hoped that Operation Iraqi Freedom would be a quick matter on the order of Desert Storm.”

The task force was disbanded, and its request to reconvene after two years to evaluate progress was rejected. But the Defense Department embraced most of its 200 recommendations and gradually made many changes, from the increase in advocates to domestic violence training for commanding officers.

“The services have taken huge strides to implement the recommendations,” said David Lloyd, director of the Pentagon’s Family Advocacy Program, starting with sending out “a strong message across the department that domestic violence is not acceptable.”

Further, after the killings at Fort Bragg, Congress passed a law that made civilian orders of protection binding on military bases, and the Army gradually slowed the transition from war to home to help soldiers adjust.

Mr. Lloyd said he could not verify or comment on The Times’s findings on domestic killings. But, he said, domestic fatalities do not provide a complete picture of the incidence of domestic violence in the military.

“You have a pie, a nine-inch shell, and you have a slice of that pie, but there are other slices: verbal abuse and psychological control and assault that didn’t result in a homicide,” Mr. Lloyd said. “Even if the fatality slice has increased and it would look larger, the other numbers have gone down.”

According to the military, the number of general spouse and child abuse incidents reported to on-base family advocacy programs began declining in 1998, before the special effort to address the issue began, and continued to decline significantly through 2006. But whether those numbers reflect a genuine decline is a matter of debate, given that large numbers of service members have spent considerable time away on deployments and that the strengthening of sanctions for domestic violence has made some women more reluctant to report abuse.

The accuracy of the military’s domestic violence data has also been questioned, by advocates, the Government Accountability Office and military officials themselves.

Last fall, in a statement released during domestic violence awareness month, Mike Hoskins, a Pentagon official, said, “We shouldn’t necessarily take comfort in reduced rates of violence.” He said they probably reflected “good news” but urged caution in interpreting the numbers.

Dr. Campbell, the former task force member, said the task force had recommended periodic anonymous surveys to ascertain the full extent of domestic violence. She also said that she believed the “true incidence” of domestic violence had probably increased as a result of service members returning from Iraq with combat trauma, which can exacerbate family violence.

“It’s sort of like, on the one hand, they’re improving the system, and on the other hand, they’re stressing it,” she said.

Others agree, noting that wartime places a burden on the military as a whole, even on those who do not deploy to combat zones but absorb additional duties at home.

Christine Hansen, executive director of the Miles Foundation, which provides domestic violence assistance mostly to the wives of officers and senior enlisted men, said the organization’s caseload had tripled since the war in Iraq began.

And John P. Galligan, a retired Army colonel who served as a military judge at Fort Hood and now represents military clients in private practice, said he, too, had seen a “substantial” increase in military domestic violence cases in his area.

“Sometimes I just sit and scratch my head,” he said.

The separation of deployment, in and of itself, often causes marital strains.

“Even with a healthy marriage, there is a massive adjustment,” said Anita Gorecki, a lawyer and former Army captain who represents soldiers near Fort Bragg and is married to an officer currently in Iraq. “Add on to that combat stress and injuries and sometimes it can create the perfect storm.”

Some researchers draw a fairly firm connection between post-traumatic stress disorder and domestic violence. A 2006 study in The Journal of Marital and Family Therapy looked at veterans who sought marital counseling at a Veterans Affairs medical center in the Midwest between 1997 and 2003. Those given a diagnosis of PTSD were “significantly more likely to perpetrate violence toward their partners,” the study found, with more than 80 percent committing at least one act of violence in the previous year, and almost half at least one severe act.

Pamela Iles, a superior court judge who was permitted by the Marines to set up a privately financed domestic violence education program at Camp Pendleton in California, views much of the domestic abuse on the base as “collateral” from the war. She sees the domestic violence committed by marines, many of them young, as a reaction to jumping back and forth between the dangers of war and the trouble at home.

“One minute you are in Baghdad waiting for a bomb to go off and the next minute you are in Burger King,” Judge Iles said. “There is a lot of disorientation.”

A 9-Year-Old Witness

It was a little before dawn on Feb. 20, 2006, in a bedroom in Edwardsville, Ill. Carol Trevino and her 9-year-old son, sleeping deeply after watching “Wayne’s World,” were startled awake by a series of booms. “What was that?” Carol Trevino asked her son.

In seconds, Sgt. Jon Trevino, her estranged husband, barged through the door, according to a police report. Mrs. Trevino had just enough time to reach for her pepper spray before he shot her five times, the last time in the head. Then he shot himself.

Their son, wide-eyed, sat in bed watching his life explode, bullet by bullet.

Few details escaped the boy’s notice. His father used a silver gun and it “didn’t have a wheel on it, like the cowboys used,” he told the Edwardsville police. The boy could even name the precise time of his mother’s death: 4:32 a.m., as the glowing clock read.

Outside in Mr. Trevino’s car was the immediate motive for the murder-suicide: divorce papers, evidence of a marriage destabilized by multiple deployments to war zones and by Sergeant Trevino’s own increasing instability.

T. Robert Cook, his brother-in-law, said he believed Sergeant Trevino’s domestic violence was triggered by his combat trauma. “I’m 100 percent sure it was the war,” said Mr. Cook, who is raising the Trevinos’ son along with his wife, Cheryl Lee, who is Carol’s sister. “I don’t have any doubt their marital problems placed a burden on him, but I am quite sure that, but for the war, he would have taken a different approach. When you see people being shot every day, death is not a big thing.”

Sergeant Trevino, who had endured childhood sexual abuse and a difficult first marriage, suffered psychiatric problems long before he was dispatched to war zones to perform the highly stressful job of evacuating the wounded.

And the Air Force knew it.

Air Force mental health records show that Sergeant Trevino, who was 36, had been treated twice for mental health problems before the war: once in 1995 for serious depression as his first marriage crumbled, and then in 1999 for post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from the childhood abuse and marital problems with his new wife, Carol. He was counseled and treated with medication both times.

As a result of these problems, the Air Force insisted that he secure a medical waiver for a promotion that he sought to become an aeromedical evacuation technician. And military doctors certified that he could handle the job, despite research that shows that pre-existing post-traumatic stress disorder is exacerbated in a war zone.

Col. Steven Pflanz, a senior psychiatrist in the Air Force, who was not involved in the Trevino case, said the Air Force considered the stress disorder to be treatable and therefore was willing to deploy an airman with a history of it. But the decision is not taken lightly, he said.

“It’s not an exact science,” he said. “You try to make your best prediction. We spend a lot of time with our customers.”

In Sergeant Trevino’s case, the prediction was wrong. He had trouble shaking off the carnage that he experienced so viscerally while evacuating injured service members. After one deployment to Afghanistan and two to Iraq, his mental health and his marriage deteriorated. When he returned from his second tour in Iraq, Sergeant Trevino acknowledged in a health assessment that he had “serious problems” dealing with the people he loved and that he was feeling “down, helpless, panicky or anxious.”

The Air Force acted quickly. He was abruptly restricted from “special operational duty.” An Air Force doctor diagnosed “acute PTSD,” calling it a reaction to the war and marital problems. Sergeant Trevino began taking a cocktail of antidepressants and underwent therapy. According to doctors’ notes, he did not express thoughts of homicide or suicide. By the time Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005, he was considered well enough to be deployed domestically.

But his wife’s family, which had taken him under its wing, found the once affable, quick-witted sergeant to be profoundly altered. His temper flashed unpredictably, white-hot. He acted threatened and paranoid, his behavior so erratic that he frightened his son. One late night, he took his son on a rambling drive to nowhere, ranting to the boy about his mother.

At least one time, he struck his wife. A friend gave Carol Trevino the pepper spray that she reached for the night of her murder. But she never considered his abuse serious enough to report him to the authorities.

Four days before the murder-suicide, Sergeant Trevino bought a gun.

“This is just one of those things that unfortunately happens,” he wrote to his son in a suicide note. “I love you, and I know I let you down.”

Justice Delayed

The Pentagon task force had one overarching recommendation: that the military work hard to effect a “culture shift” to zero tolerance for domestic violence by holding offenders accountable and by punishing criminal behavior.

There was, members believed, a core credo that needed to be attacked frontally: “this notion that the good soldier either can’t be a wife beater or, if they are, that it’s a temporary aberration that shouldn’t interfere with them doing military service,” as Dr. Campbell put it.

The way the military handled several cases involving the deaths of babies and toddlers indicates that this kind of thinking has been difficult to demolish at a time of war.

In October 2003, four months after Jose Aguilar, 24, a Marine Corps sergeant, returned from the initial invasion of Iraq, his infant son, Damien, wound up in the intensive care unit of a local hospital with bleeding in his brain and eyes.

Sergeant Aguilar, a mechanic based at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, acknowledged to the local police that he had been rough with the 2-month-old baby, shaking Damien to stop him from squirming during a diaper change. He said that he had been abused himself as a child and that he did not mean to hurt the baby.

After the marine was charged with felony child abuse, he and his wife completed a parenting program.

The following summer, while the felony charge was pending, Sergeant Aguilar was deployed once more to Iraq, this time for nine months. His court case was delayed, which did not surprise local prosecutors.

Michael Maultsby, the assistant district attorney in Onslow County, N.C., who prosecuted Sergeant Aguilar, said that such frustrating delays in justice sometimes occur in his county, home to Camp Lejeune.

“It depends on the needs of the unit,” Mr. Maultsby said. “We can’t overrule them.”

In April 2006, a year after Sergeant Aguilar returned from Iraq but before his felony case was resolved, Damien, who by then was 2, died of a brain injury. His father claimed that the boy had been injured by a fall in the bathtub. The medical examiner disputed that explanation. The marine was arrested, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and felony child abuse, and was sentenced last fall to 28 to 35 years in prison.

Marine officials would not comment on individual cases. Elaine Woodhouse, a Marine Corps social services program specialist, said that “the family advocacy program does not recommend or advise deployment of a marine when domestic or felony child abuse charges are pending.” Still, that decision, she said, is left to the discretion of the commanders.

A conviction for domestic violence, unlike pending charges, almost always renders a service member ineligible to go to war, but that restriction has not always been considered binding, as is clear in the case of Sergeant Terrasas, who was stationed at Camp Pendleton.

One night in late December 2002, Sergeant Terrasas, drunk and angry over a telephone conversation about the looming war in Iraq, vented his anger by punching his wife, Lucia, in the face.

“He seemed to just lose it,” Mrs. Terrasas told the police in Oceanside, Calif., who arrested him on misdemeanor charges.

But Sergeant Terrasas was deployed to Iraq before his case was heard. It was not until his return seven months later that he pleaded guilty, was placed on probation and was ordered to complete a 16-week batterers intervention program run by the Marine Corps.

Sergeant Terrasas attended a few classes. But the Marine Corps, facing a runaway insurgency in Iraq, pulled him out of the batterers program and shipped him off to war for a second time in early 2004.

This deployment was illegal. A 1996 law bans offenders who are convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors from carrying firearms, with no special exception for military personnel. The ban is referred to as the Lautenberg amendment after its sponsor, Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey.

Army and Marine regulations, formulated in response to the weapons ban, explicitly prohibit deployments for missions that require firearms, and extend the policy to felony domestic violence offenders, too. The Marine Corps would not comment on Sergeant Terrasas’s deployment, citing confidentiality rules.

When Sergeant Terrasas returned from war, he completed his batterers program, said his lawyer, Philip De Massa. But his anger, tested by two tours in Iraq, still surfaced. In September 2005, when the police responded to a domestic argument, he broke down crying and told one officer that he suffered from “postwar traumatic syndrome.” There is no record that he sought or received mental health help.

Nearly two weeks later, the Terrasases’ 7-month-old son, Alexander, died from a powerful blow to the head. Mr. Terrasas was charged with murder. Last August, after a deal with prosecutors, he was sentenced to seven years in prison for felony child endangerment.

He never admitted to abusing his child.

Broken Promises

Sgt. Erin Edwards, emboldened by a year in Iraq, returned to Texas with the courage to end her troubled marriage.

“Being apart for such a long period of time enabled her to realize she could survive without him,” said Sgt. Jami Howell, 28, who was her best friend.

When Erin Edwards told her husband that she wanted a divorce after four years of marriage, he responded as she had long feared.

On June 19, 2004, he followed her to their baby sitter’s house to hand her a written proposal for a custody arrangement. When she did not immediately respond, he beat her so badly that she wound up in the emergency room.

Even before the assault, William Edwards’s troubles had so badly affected his performance at work that his commanding officer, Capt. Brian Novoselich, took the time to meet with him weekly to check on his welfare. After the assault, it was the captain who confined him to the base.

But William Edwards repeatedly left unescorted and often stayed with his brother, who lived across the street from Erin Edwards in Killeen. On several occasions, she alerted the police and his superiors that he was lurking.

On July 21, 2004, Erin Edwards went to court to make the temporary protection order permanent. At the hearing, William Edwards told the judge that he had enrolled in alcohol and domestic violence classes after the June assault, according to a transcript.

“I had hit rock bottom when I touched my wife, man,” he said in court. “That was the worst day ever in my life. I had always told my wife that I would never touch her, ever, physically.”

William Edwards also acknowledged that when the police showed up that day, he begged his wife not to press charges, saying: “Don’t do this to my career. Don’t do this.”

Erin Edwards spoke of the effect on their children, who witnessed the assault. “Since the incident happened, all my son talks about is how his father hurt his mother, and that ‘Daddy is going to kill Mommy,’” she said.

She also stated, and her husband learned for the first time, that she was transferring and moving with the children. William Edwards was “visibly upset” by this, according to Army documents turned over to the police.

The following morning, after reporting to an exercise session with other soldiers, William Edwards left the base alone one final time. After the murder-suicide, local police officers securing the scene noted that both bodies were dressed in military camouflage clothing with nameplates that said Edwards. Both were 24.

At Erin Edwards’s funeral, her boss, Brig. Gen. Charles Benjamin Allen, who was killed in a helicopter crash in late 2004, eulogized the soldier with a cracking voice. More than three years later, her relatives note that not even he, with his high rank, was able to ensure that the military was doing more than taking a troubled soldier “at his word,” as Mary Lou Taylor, Erin’s aunt, said.

“He couldn’t or failed to help her be safe,” Ms. Taylor said.

William Edwards’s former commanding officer, Major Novoselich, said in a recent interview that he was “shocked by the end result.” Now a professor at West Point, he said he had assumed that William Edwards’s immediate supervisors were monitoring him.

Near Fort Hood, Detective Brank of the Killeen police said soldiers continued to defy restrictions to the base.

“I am surprised,” she said. “Fort Hood is not enforcing these orders.”

The Army examined Erin Edwards’s death as part of a fatality review program recommended by the Pentagon task force “to ensure no victim dies in vain.”

A one-paragraph summary of the review seemed to discount the findings of the civilian police investigation. The summary noted that Erin Edwards had refused the assistance of the base’s family advocacy program, while William Edwards had enrolled in it. It added that William Edwards had “appeared to comply” with his restrictions. Until the day he “eluded his military escort” and killed his wife.

Alain Delaquérière and Margot Williams contributed research.