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)

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Frank Rich - Whatever Happened to the America of 9/12?

Whatever Happened to the America of 9/12?


“THE most famous picture nobody’s ever seen” is how the Associated Press photographer Richard Drew has referred to his photo of an unidentified World Trade Center victim hurtling to his death on 9/11. It appeared in some newspapers, including this one, on 9/12 but was soon shelved. “In the most photographed and videotaped day in the history of the world,” Tom Junod later wrote in Esquire, “the images of people jumping were the only images that became, by consensus, taboo.”

Five years later, Mr. Drew’s “falling man” remains a horrific artifact of the day that was supposed to change everything and did not. But there’s another taboo 9/11 photo, about life rather than death, that is equally shocking in its way, so much so that Thomas Hoepker of Magnum Photos kept it under wraps for four years. Mr. Hoepker’s picture can now be found in David Friend’s compelling new 9/11 book, “Watching the World Change,” or on the book’s Web site, It shows five young friends on the waterfront in Brooklyn, taking what seems to be a lunch or bike-riding break, enjoying the radiant late-summer sun and chatting away as cascades of smoke engulf Lower Manhattan in the background.

Mr. Hoepker found his subjects troubling. “They were totally relaxed like any normal afternoon,” he told Mr. Friend. “It’s possible they lost people and cared, but they were not stirred by it.” The photographer withheld the picture from publication because “we didn’t need to see that, then.” He feared “it would stir the wrong emotions.” But “over time, with perspective,” he discovered, “it grew in importance.”

Seen from the perspective of 9/11’s fifth anniversary, Mr. Hoepker’s photo is prescient as well as important — a snapshot of history soon to come. What he caught was this: Traumatic as the attack on America was, 9/11 would recede quickly for many. This is a country that likes to move on, and fast. The young people in Mr. Hoepker’s photo aren’t necessarily callous. They’re just American. In the five years since the attacks, the ability of Americans to dust themselves off and keep going explains both what’s gone right and what’s gone wrong on our path to the divided and dispirited state the nation finds itself in today.

What’s gone right: the terrorists failed to break America’s back. The “new” normal lasted about 10 minutes, except at airport check-ins. The economy, for all its dips and inequities and runaway debt, was not destroyed. The culture, for better and worse, survived intact. It took only four days for television networks to restore commercials to grim news programming. Some two weeks after that Rudy Giuliani ritualistically welcomed laughter back to American living rooms by giving his on-camera imprimatur to “Saturday Night Live.” Before 9/11, Americans feasted on reality programs, nonstop coverage of child abductions and sex scandals. Five years later, they still do. The day that changed everything didn’t make Americans change the channel, unless it was from “Fear Factor” to “American Idol” or from Pamela Anderson to Paris Hilton.

For those directly affected by the terrorists’ attacks, this resilience can be hard to accept. In New York, far more than elsewhere, a political correctness about 9/11 is still strictly enforced. We bridle when the mayor of New Orleans calls ground zero “a hole in the ground” (even though, sadly, he spoke the truth). We complain that Hollywood movies about 9/11 are “too soon,” even as “United 93” and “World Trade Center” came and went with no controversy at multiplexes in middle America. The Freedom Tower and (now kaput) International Freedom Center generated so much political rancor that in New York freedom has become just another word for a lofty architectural project soon to be scrapped.

The price of all New York’s 9/11 P.C. is obvious: the 16 acres of ground zero are about the only ones that have missed out on the city’s roaring post-attack comeback. But the rest of the country is less invested. For tourists — and maybe for natives, too — the hole in the ground is a more pungent memorial than any grandiose official edifice. You can still see the naked wound where it has not healed and remember (sort of) what the savage attack was about.

But even as we celebrate this resilience, it too comes at a price. The companion American trait to resilience is forgetfulness. What we’ve forgotten too quickly is the outpouring of affection and unity that swelled against all odds in the wake of Al Qaeda’s act of mass murder. If you were in New York then, you saw it in the streets, and not just at ground zero, where countless thousands of good Samaritans joined the official responders and caregivers to help, at the cost of their own health. You saw it as New Yorkers of every kind gathered around the spontaneous shrines to the fallen and the missing at police and fire stations, at churches and in parks, to lend solace or a hand. This good feeling quickly spread to Capitol Hill, to red states where New York had once been Sodom incarnate and to the world, the third world included, where America was a nearly uniform object of sympathy and grief.

At the National Cathedral prayer service on Sept. 14, 2001, President Bush found just the apt phrase to describe this phenomenon: “Today we feel what Franklin Roosevelt called ‘the warm courage of national unity.’ This is the unity of every faith and every background. It has joined together political parties in both houses of Congress.” What’s more, he added, “this unity against terror is now extending across the world.”

The destruction of that unity, both in this nation and in the world, is as much a cause for mourning on the fifth anniversary as the attack itself. As we can’t forget the dead of 9/11, we can’t forget how the only good thing that came out of that horror, that unity, was smothered in its cradle.

When F.D.R. used the phrase “the warm courage of national unity,” it was at his first inaugural, in 1933, as the country reeled from the Great Depression. It is deeply moving to read that speech today. In its most famous line, Roosevelt asserted his “firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Another passage is worth recalling, too: “We now realize as we have never realized before our interdependence on each other; that we cannot merely take but we must give as well; that if we are to go forward, we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline, because without such discipline no progress is made, no leadership becomes effective.”

What followed under Roosevelt’s leadership is one of history’s most salutary stories. Americans responded to his twin entreaties — to renounce fear and to sacrifice for the common good — with a force that turned back economic calamity and ultimately an axis of brutal enemies abroad. What followed Mr. Bush’s speech at the National Cathedral, we know all too well, is another story.

On the very next day after that convocation, Mr. Bush was asked at a press conference “how much of a sacrifice” ordinary Americans would “be expected to make in their daily lives, in their daily routines.” His answer: “Our hope, of course, is that they make no sacrifice whatsoever.” He, too, wanted to move on — to “see life return to normal in America,” as he put it — but toward partisan goals stealthily tailored to his political allies rather than the nearly 90 percent of the country that, according to polls, was rallying around him.

This selfish agenda was there from the very start. As we now know from many firsthand accounts, a cadre from Mr. Bush’s war cabinet was already busily hyping nonexistent links between Iraq and the Qaeda attacks. The presidential press secretary, Ari Fleischer, condemned Bill Maher’s irreverent comic response to 9/11 by reminding “all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do.” Fear itself — the fear that “paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance,” as F.D.R. had it — was already being wielded as a weapon against Americans by their own government.

Less than a month after 9/11, the president was making good on his promise of “no sacrifice whatsoever.” Speaking in Washington about how it was “the time to be wise” and “the time to act,” he declared, “We need for there to be more tax cuts.” Before long the G.O.P. would be selling 9/11 photos of the president on Air Force One to campaign donors and the White House would be featuring flag-draped remains of the 9/11 dead in political ads.

And so here we are five years later. Fearmongering remains unceasing. So do tax cuts. So does the war against a country that did not attack us on 9/11. We have moved on, but no one can argue that we have moved ahead.

Balance can get in the way of the truth

Balance can get in the way of the truth
Rex Smith

First published: Saturday, September 9, 2006
Let's agree, first of all, that the world is round. It's not necessary, I'm quite sure, for a journalist concerned about being fair to include here a statement from somebody insisting those photos from space are a hoax and that folks risk falling off the surface of our pancake-shaped planet.

We probably can agree, too, that cigarettes cause cancer. There are a few people, even some with Ph.D.s, who still dispute that, I'm told. But scientists long ago settled this issue, and the American courts followed their lead. I probably don't need to include a quotation here from somebody who believes cancer can be stopped by ingesting apricot pits.

Let's be a bit more bold: The human immunodeficiency virus, HIV, causes AIDS. That's disputed by some immunologists, but the scientific consensus is so strong that you can write an article about the worst pandemic in history -- 25 million dead, the biggest impact yet to come -- without including those doubters. Hitler's "Final Solution" led to a holocaust that took millions of lives: True, the crackpot holocaust deniers be damned. The galaxies were spewed across the universe with a Big Bang: True, even if you believe a Supreme Being put those forces into play. The Earth is warming at a dangerous and unprecedented rate due to the intrusion of human factors: True.

Uh-oh. How did global warming get into this list? In the interest of fairness, must I now quote someone who believes talk of climate change is a scheme to create a world government under the United Nations? Or, perhaps, one of the scientists who claim we are not, in fact, living amid the greatest shift of temperature since 8,200 years ago, before civilization began?

Standard journalistic practice, we learn as cub reporters, is to give voice in our stories to contrasting views. A candidate can brag about his record on the stump, but a reporter covering those remarks is obligated to check with that candidate's opponent, who may have another view. That's fairness.

That applies to broader reporting practice, too. This week our reporters covering the manhunt for Ralph "Bucky" Phillips, suspected of killing one state trooper and injuring two others, found some residents of western New York who considered the guy a folk hero. We reported that, but we might have been viewed as maligning a whole region if we hadn't also quoted people who consider him a creep.

But when it comes to science, standard reportorial practice can become an impediment to journalism's fundamental goal of imparting truth. What we sometimes call "he said-she said" reporting, in which one side's statements are balanced by the other side's contrasting views, may do more to confuse readers than enlighten them.

"In some quarters of the media, there's an effort to find balance -- the other side," noted atmospheric scientist Richard Somerville told our editorial board this week. "In this case, there is no other side."

There will be letters to the editor disputing this, I'm sure, taking me to task for buying into one side of a political argument. But this isn't about politics; it's science, and journalists ought to understand that the issue of climate change has become as much a matter of settled science as tobacco's effect on your lungs. Scientists and statisticians are familiar with the term "outliers." An outlier is a piece of data that is an abnormal distance from a random sample of the whole data -- something that doesn't fit with what is otherwise observably true. Those few scientists who still dispute the existence and impact of climate change aren't brave contrarians, but outliers from the accepted knowledge base of their professional colleagues.

Just as we can find people who say AIDS isn't a disease and woman wasn't created until the sixth day of the world's existence, it's not hard to get comments from people with graduate degrees who dispute the whole notion of climate change. But there's a point where such purported balance contributes to a willful ignorance of what's true.

Yes, it's hard not to write, "On the other hand ..." when somebody pops up with something to say. But sometimes truth arrives before we recognize it, and we journalists do you no favor if we let our habits replace a rigorous determination to let readers know what's really going on.

Rex Smith is editor of the Times Union.

Army official: Rumsfeld forbade talk of postwar

Army official: Rumsfeld forbade talk of postwar

By Stephanie Heinatz

Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)

FORT EUSTIS, Va. - Long before the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld forbade military strategists to develop plans for securing a postwar Iraq, the retiring commander of the Army Transportation Corps said Thursday.

In fact, said Brig. Gen. Mark Scheid, Rumsfeld said "he would fire the next person" who talked about the need for a postwar plan.

Rumsfeld did replace Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff in 2003, after Shinseki told Congress that hundreds of thousands of troops would be needed to secure postwar Iraq.

Scheid, who is also the commander of Fort Eustis in Newport News, made his comments in an interview with The Daily Press. He retires in about three weeks.

Scheid's comments are further confirmation of the version of events reported in "Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq," the book by New York Times reporter Michael R. Gordon and retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Bernard E. Trainor.

In 2001, Scheid was a colonel with the Central Command, the unit that oversees U.S. military operations in the Mideast.

On Sept. 10, 2001, he was selected to be the chief of logistics war plans.

On Sept. 11, he said, "life just went to hell."

That day, Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of Central Command, told his planners, including Scheid, to "get ready to go to war."

A day or two later, Rumsfeld was "telling us we were going to war in Afghanistan and to start building the war plan. We were going to go fast.

"Then, just as we were barely into Afghanistan, Rumsfeld came and told us to get ready for Iraq."

Scheid said he remembers everyone thinking, "My gosh, we're in the middle of Afghanistan, how can we possibly be doing two at one time? How can we pull this off? It's just going to be too much."

Planning was kept very hush-hush in those early days.

"There was only a handful of people, maybe five or six, that were involved with that plan because it had to be kept very, very quiet."

There was already an offensive plan in place for Iraq, Scheid said. And in the beginning, the planners were just expanding on it.

"Whether we were going to execute it, we had no idea," Scheid said.

Eventually other military agencies like the transportation and Army materiel commands had to get involved.

They couldn't just "keep planning this in the dark," Scheid said.

Planning continued to be a challenge.

"The secretary of defense continued to push on us that everything we write in our plan has to be the idea that we are going to go in, we're going to take out the regime, and then we're going to leave," Scheid said. "We won't stay."

Scheid said the planners continued to try "to write what was called Phase 4," or the piece of the plan that included post-invasion operations like security, stability and reconstruction.

Even if the troops didn't stay, "at least we have to plan for it," Scheid said.

"I remember the secretary of defense saying that he would fire the next person that said that," Scheid said. "We would not do planning for Phase 4 operations, which would require all those additional troops that people talk about today.

"He said we will not do that because the American public will not back us if they think we are going over there for a long war."

Even if the people who laid out the initial war plans had fleshed out post-invasion missions, the fighting and insurgent attacks going on today would have been hard to predict, Scheid said.

"We really thought that after the collapse of the regime we were going to do all these humanitarian type things," he said. "We thought this would go pretty fast and we'd be able to get out of there. We really didn't anticipate them to continue to fight the way they did or come back the way they are.

"Now we're going more toward a Civil War. We didn't see that coming."

While Scheid, a soldier since 1977, spoke candidly about the days leading up to the invasion of Iraq, he remains concerned about the U.S. public's view of the troops. He's bothered by the nationwide divide over the war and fearful that patriotism among citizens will continue to decline.

"We're really hurting right now," he said.

Los Angeles Times: ABC follows a path to shame

ABC follows a path to shame

Tim Rutten
Regarding Media

September 9, 2006

SURVEYING the smoking ruin that is ABC's reputation after the "The Path to 9/11" debacle, it's hard to know whether you're looking at the consequence of unadulterated folly or of a calculated strategy that turned out to be too clever by half.

At the end of the day, it probably doesn't make much difference because, either way, the lacerating controversy surrounding the network's docu-dramatic re-creation of events leading to Sept. 11 is an entirely self-inflicted wound. For most of the week, ABC rather haughtily attempted to characterize itself as the victim of philistines, or self-righteously as a champion of free speech or, more pathetically, as just plain misunderstood by people who just don't understand how television is done.

It is none of those things.

It's an opportunistic and self-interested organization that somehow thought it could approach the most wrenching American tragedy since Pearl Harbor with the values that prevail among network television executives — the sort of ad hoc ethics that would make a streetwalker blush — and that nobody would mind.

That part of this whole shabby sequence of events is the hardest to fathom. It's well understood, of course, that docudramas are seldom documentary and only sporadically dramatic. As a rule, they're basically devices to free unimaginative writers from the burden of having to make up characters' names. You simply appropriate the names of real people, then make them do whatever attention-getting thing fills the allotted time.

But did the people who run ABC Entertainment — the network division directly responsible for this mess — really believe that Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright and Sandy Berger would watch themselves on television doing and saying thing they never did or said and not object? When these fictional incidents were portrayed as contributing to the deaths of nearly 3,000 innocent people, did they think that the former Clinton administration officials and others so caricatured simply would shrug and say, "Well, that's dramatic license for you?" Did they really expect anyone to accept the preposterous notion that — as some at the network argued this week — the film's facts were wrong, but its "essence" was true? These people really need to get out more.

What's easier to understand is what ABC thought it was up to with its marketing of "The Path to 9/11" and why it thought a successful marketing campaign might lead our politically polarized nation to feverishly overlook the network's irresponsibility toward history. After all, why should the many thousands of Americans still grieving for loved ones lost five years ago care about an accurate account of the governmental decisions that may have contributed to those deaths when they could get a good dose of "essence"?

Over the past weeks, the network flooded the country with advance copies of its film. Some sources put the number of DVDs in circulation at 900. An ABC spokeswoman, who demanded to be "off the record" said Friday that she couldn't confirm 900 copies, but that the number "certainly was more than 500." She promised to e-mail back an accurate count; she never did. Many of those copies were directed at right-wing talk show hosts and, some, to Republican bloggers, who long have argued that — however complacent the Bush administration may initially been concerning radical Islamic terrorism — Clinton and his people overlooked far more signs of Al Qaeda's lethality for a far longer period of time. These commentators were delighted to see that ABC's docu-dramatic version of events supported their view. So, for weeks they've been talking the film up on their radio programs and analyzing its merits on their blogs. ABC, in other words, appeared to have replicated the marketing triumph Mel Gibson scored by screening "The Passion of the Christ" to selected evangelical Christian audiences inclined to be sympathetic.

If ABC had had Gibson's manic discipline — about marketing, at least — it might have succeeded. However, with that many copies in circulation, interested Democrats and former Clinton administration officials soon saw the movie and began picking its ludicrous inaccuracies apart in protests to ABC and — more important — directly to Robert Iger, the chief executive of Disney, the network's parent company. By Friday, even the film's star, Harvey Keitel, was telling an interviewer: "You cannot cross the line from a conflation of events to a distortion of the event. Where we have distorted something, we made a mistake and it should be corrected."

So ABC began re-editing a film that already had been scrutinized by hundreds of people with long memories and access to publication. Democrats remained skeptical that any version of the film could be made credible; GOP partisans were angry and some said they felt used. Most were disgusted with what they deemed Disney/ABC's cowardice in the face of Democratic criticism. As conservative columnist Mark Steyn put it on one talk show: ABC "supposedly spent years working on it to get it absolutely right, to get the absolute truth, and then they're frantically staying up late the night before it broadcasts snipping out 10 minutes here and there, because Bill Clinton and Sandy Berger and various other Clinton apparatchiks object to this or that line here and there. I mean, that makes them look pathetic, it makes ABC, I think, look ridiculous, in fact, because there's hundreds of these tapes out there. People are going to know exactly what lines were cut and what weren't cut."

One of the most unfortunate consequences of all this was that most of the news media completely overlook a stunning affront to 1st Amendment freedoms that occurred when the Democratic leadership of the U.S. Senate sent Iger a letter Thursday appearing to threaten the network's licenses unless "The Path to 9/11" was altered or killed:

"The Communications Act of 1934 provides your network with a free broadcast license predicated on the fundamental understanding of your principle obligation to act as a trustee of the public airwaves in serving the public interest … ," the lawmakers wrote. "We urge you, after full consideration of the facts, to uphold your responsibilities as a respected member of American society and as a beneficiary of the free use of the public airwaves to cancel this factually inaccurate and deeply misguided program."

We've all become accustomed to a Congress that behaves as if it's divided between Bloods and Crips rather than Republicans and Democrats — but this was a thuggish new low. If we were inclined to dramatic license, the guys with thick necks in "On the Waterfront" would come to mind, though it's doubtful even Harvey Keitel could plausibly play Harry Reid as threatening.,1,6447098,print.column

Whistle-blower slams Iraq contractor

Whistle-blower slams Iraq contractor

By DEBORAH HASTINGS, AP National WriterFri Sep 8, 5:05 PM ET

Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root charged millions to the government for recreational services never provided to U.S. troops in Iraq, including giant tubs of chicken wings and tacos, a widescreen TV, and cheese sticks meant for a military Super Bowl party, according to a federal whistle-blower suit unsealed Friday.

Instead, the suit alleges, KBR used the military's supplies for its own football party.

Filed last year in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., by former KBR employee Julie McBride, the lawsuit claims the giant defense contractor billed the government for thousands of meals it never served, inflated the number of soldiers using its fitness and Internet centers, and regularly siphoned off great quantities of supplies destined for American soldiers.

McBride was hired by KBR in 2004 as a "morale, welfare and recreation" coordinator at Camp Fallujah, a Marine installation about 35 miles west of Baghdad. She was fired the next year after making several complaints about KBR's accounting practices, the suit says, and was kept under guard until she was escorted to an airplane and flown out of the country.

Halliburton denied McBride's allegations.

"The claims included in this lawsuit clearly demonstrate a complete misinterpretation of facts as well as a lack of understanding of KBR's contractual agreements with its customer," said company spokeswoman Melissa Norcross in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

The Super Bowl incident occurred in January 2005, the suit said. "McBride witnessed a large amount of food that was ordered specifically for a Super Bowl party for the military" taken instead to the company's lodgings. "About 10 large metal tubs full of tacos, chicken wings, (and) cheese sticks were taken from the military party site to a KBR camp for a KBR Super Bowl Party for KBR employees," according to the complaint. A widescreen TV was also removed.

McBride worked 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, at Camp Fallujah's recreation center, where the government was billed according to the number of soldiers using the contractor's facilities, which included a weight room, video games, Internet cafe, a library and phone bank, the suit says. She alleges that KBR deliberately overstated the number of military personnel using its services by counting the same person several times. For example, a person who used a computer was counted as one. If that person went on the weight room, another count was added to the list of patrons.

"It wasn't double-dipping, but triple dipping or even quadruple billing," the suit claims.

Attorney Alan Grayson, who represents McBride, said "millions of dollars have been submitted by Halliburton for recreational services" not provided.

The "qui tam" suit, filed under the federal False Claims Act, allows citizens to sue on behalf of the government against contractors who make false claims for payment. The plaintiffs are eligible to receive a percentage of awarded damages, which are tripled in this type of suit.

Such suits are usually sealed for 60 days while the Justice Department investigates the claims and decides whether the U.S. Attorney's office will sign on as a co-plaintiff.

The Justice Department declined comment Friday on why it chose not to participate in McBride's suit.

McBride is not the first Halliburton employee to allege fraudulent billing practices. The company has steadfastly denied wrongdoing.

Rory Mayberry, who worked for KBR in 2004, testified from Iraq via videotape to a group of Democratic members of Congress investigating contractor fraud.

As food manager at another military camp in Iraq, Mayberry said he witnessed KBR employees serving spoiled food to American troops, including food from trucks that had been bombed and shot at. Workers were told to pick out the shrapnel, and then serve the food, Mayberry testified.

He also claimed KBR charged the government for meals it never served.

In July 2004, former KBR planner Marie DeYoung testified before the House Committee on Government Reform. She said she witnessed "significant waste and overpricing" while working for the contractor in Kuwait, including paying a subcontractor $100 per 15 pounds of laundry, costs which were passed on to the government.

Halliburton, which holds more than 50 percent of rebuilding contracts in Iraq, was headed by Dick Cheney before he took office as vice president. He has denied any government favoritism toward his former company.;_ylt=Av_8fmfo52JzCTGB.Y36VZV2wPIE;_ylu=X3oDMTA3MXN1bHE0BHNlYwN0bWE-

U.S. count of Baghdad deaths excludes car bombs, mortar attacks

U.S. count of Baghdad deaths excludes car bombs, mortar attacks

McClatchy Newspapers

BAGHDAD, Iraq - U.S. officials, seeking a way to measure the results of a program aimed at decreasing violence in Baghdad, aren't counting scores of dead killed in car bombings and mortar attacks as victims of the country's sectarian violence.

In a distinction previously undisclosed, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Johnson said Friday that the United States is including in its tabulations of sectarian violence only deaths of individuals killed in drive-by shootings or by torture and execution.

That has allowed U.S. officials to boast that the number of deaths from sectarian violence in Baghdad declined by more than 52 percent in August over July.

But it eliminates from tabulation huge numbers of people whose deaths are certainly part of the ongoing conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Not included, for example, are scores of people who died in a highly coordinated bombing that leveled an entire apartment building in eastern Baghdad, a stronghold of rebel Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Johnson declined to provide an actual number for the U.S. tally of August deaths or for July, when the Baghdad city morgue counted a record 1,855 violent deaths.

Violent deaths for August, a morgue official told McClatchy Newspapers on Friday, totaled 1,526, a 17.7 percent decline from July and about the same as died violently in June.

The dispute is an important one. With Baghdad violence reaching record levels in July, U.S. commanders warned that the country was tipping toward civil war. They then ordered 8,000 U.S. troops and 3,000 Iraqis to conduct house-by-house searches of Baghdad's neighborhoods in an effort to root out insurgent gunmen and militia death squads in Operation Together Forward.

The program, which began in earnest Aug. 7, included bringing in thousands of American troops from other parts of Iraq in what was seen by many as a last-ditch effort to head off a civil war that many Iraqis say has already begun.

Within weeks of the kickoff of the Baghdad security plan, the U.S. military's top spokesman, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, boasted that the murder rate in Baghdad had fallen by 46 percent and attributed most of the fall to the new security sweeps.

On Thursday, Caldwell revised the figures, posting a statement on the website of the Multi-National Force-Iraq that the murder rate had dropped even more - by 52 percent from July.

That claim was immediately contradicted by the morgue figures, which trickled out in accounts by various news organizations citing unnamed officials.

Johnson said he couldn't comment on morgue figures and declined to release the raw numbers on which Caldwell's claim was based. He said the numbers were classified and that releasing them might help "our enemy" adjust their tactics.

"We attempt to strike the right balance, being as open and transparent as possible without providing information that places our troops or Iraqi civilians at undo risk by the enemy adjusting their tactics for greater impact," he said, in explaining the decision not to release the figures.

Johnson said the numbers more accurately reflect the impact of Operation Together Forward's mission: targeting operations of shadowy sectarian death squads, who often use drive-by shootings, torture and executions as tactics for terror, rather than suicide bombings or rocket or mortar attacks.

He said the figures quoted by Caldwell reflect a "cautious optimism" that the situation is improving in Iraq.

But whether the violence is truly improving is far from clear. The morgue numbers made public this week reflect only deaths in Baghdad and figures compiled by the Ministry of Health for August violent deaths throughout Iraq won't be released until later this month.

Car bombs daily claim tens of victims, and tit-for-tat exchanges of mortar fire are nightly occurrences. Every morning bodies are discovered, many with their hands and feet bound.

The distinction in the way those people die is lost on victims' relatives, some of whom suggest the true numbers are higher.

"If you want the truth, even when we hear or see the scenes of explosions, assassinations, or number of dead on TV, we don't really care anymore, our feelings are dead," said Dhiya Ahmed, whose 17-year-old nephew was killed on Aug. 11. The young man was walking with a friend near his house when gunmen approached and shot them both dead.

"The numbers are not quite true," said Ahmed. "I bet the actual number is much more."

The family's tragedy has been intense. Last year the victim's father was killed in a similar fashion.

Even while touting the successes, Caldwell on Thursday warned on the coalition Web site about possible increases in violence from insurgent and terrorist attacks that he said would be used to divert attention from the Baghdad security initiative.

"It should not be a surprise if we witness brief up ticks in violence in the near future," he wrote.

Government leaders seem to be bracing for more bodies. A meeting was held recently between officials in the Health Ministry to talk about importing refrigerators for the morgue. The idea was to set them up in an empty building nearby.

But the discussion quickly broke down over what kind of freezers they would use: ones with sliding doors or a single large freezing room. More talks are scheduled.

In Baghdad on Friday, three civilians were killed and three others wounded when a bomb targeting the convoy of the Karrada neighborhood police commander exploded. Three police officers also were wounded.

Police also discovered 14 bodies in a western portion of the city.

Drew Brown in Washington contributed to this report.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Sept. 11 that never was

The Sept. 11 that never was

ABC's docudrama "The Path to 9/11" is a false version of history. It popularizes right-wing myths by exaggerating Clinton's failures and Bush's successes, depicting events that never happened.

By Joe Conason

Sep. 08, 2006 | It would be uplifting to believe, as the producers of ABC's "The Path to 9/11" have claimed, that the network spent $40 million on its anniversary docudrama to educate the American people and improve the nation's defenses. And it would be reassuring to believe, as the producers have insisted in recent days, that "our ambitions and our goals and our standards were all about accuracy." But it is impossible to believe, after viewing their somewhat cheesy, sometimes incomprehensible and severely distorted version of the events leading up to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that they acted in good faith on either of those motivations.

Whether "The Path to 9/11" succeeds in cinematic terms will be judged by professional critics, who may or may not find the performances convincing, the script compelling, the visuals effective and the direction competent. Certainly the movie benefits from the presence of actors such as Harvey Keitel, who plays legendary FBI agent John O'Neill, and from location shooting in Morocco, New York and Washington, but these filmmakers are not about to displace Bernardo Bertolucci, Richard Attenborough or even Oliver Stone.

Part of the problem faced by the makers of "The Path to 9/11" was the sheer scope and complexity of the story they attempt to tell, which begins with the first bombing of the World Trade Center by Islamic terrorists in February 1993 and concludes with the catastrophic second assault on the twin towers and the Pentagon. The main narrative thread traces the often frustrating campaign by O'Neill, a truly heroic cop's cop, and his ally, former White House counterterrorism director Richard Clarke, to stop al-Qaida's myriad plots against the United States.

That story deserves to be told well -- and has been recounted already with considerably more care in Clarke's own book and in "The Man Who Knew," a PBS "Frontline" documentary about O'Neill that first aired in October 2002. The ABC dramatization, of course, is intended to reach millions of viewers who don't read books, let alone government reports, and don't watch documentaries. The danger is that this false version -- which popularizes favorite right-wing myths -- will be seen by millions and accepted by them as truthful. (On Thursday, Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., called on ABC to make clear that "The Path to 9/11" is not an official account of the facts surrounding 9/11, noting, "We have yet to establish the impartiality and accuracy of the people behind this film and the claims it advances, and the American people need to know that.")

Suspicions of bad faith about the production of "The Path to 9/11" have less to do with the alleged personal bias of Cyrus Nowrasteh, the conservative writer responsible for the script, and more to do with what he chose to invent on-screen -- and what he and the producers chose to omit. In essence, Nowrasteh created scenes that never happened, which depict Clinton administration officials allowing Osama bin Laden to escape capture or death for diplomatic, political and legal reasons. And he left out important material about how Bill Clinton and George W. Bush confronted the terrorist challenge.

Nowrasteh's most egregious fictionalizing occurs in Act 4, which depicts a supposed strike on bin Laden's Afghan redoubt that is called off at the last second by Sandy Berger, Clinton's national security advisor, who says, "I don't have that authority." Under cover of night, a CIA agent known only as "Kirk" leads a Special Forces team into the remote mountain compound where the al-Qaida chief is hiding. "The package is ready!" cries Kirk over the satellite phone, but Berger aborts the operation because he doesn't want to take responsibility.

That incident simply never occurred. As Clarke himself would have told Nowrasteh, no CIA officer ever tracked bin Laden to his hideout. Neither did Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Northern Alliance leader who is shown guiding the aborted operation. The handsome, charismatic Massoud, later assassinated by al-Qaida agents, asks Kirk angrily, "Are there any men left in Washington, or are they all cowards?" That sort of rhetoric is frequently uttered by actors portraying characters such as Massoud and O'Neill, who are no longer around to dispute the script.

Had Nowrasteh consulted the 9/11 Commission report, not only would he have found no evidence to support his exciting imaginary assault on the bin Laden compound, but he would also have learned that the underlying assumptions were completely wrong. The report states explicitly, as Clarke and other senior officials have affirmed, that Clinton and Berger ordered the CIA and the military to use any force necessary to get bin Laden.

According to Clarke, his former assistant Roger Cressey and others with direct knowledge of the circumstances, Clinton "approved every request made of him by the CIA and the US military involving [the use of force] against bin Laden and Al Qaeda." Planned operations to take out bin Laden either by ground assault or missile strike didn't happen because senior intelligence and military officials told the president that they could not be conducted successfully.

Especially shameful, by the way, is former 9/11 Commission chairman Tom Kean's endorsement of that particular tall tale, as a consultant to the ABC production team. A nice enough man, although never the sharpest mind on the commission (or anywhere else), the former New Jersey governor may be promoting the party line on 9/11 now because his son Tom Kean Jr. is the Republican Senate nominee in his home state (and recently benefited from a fundraising appearance by former President Bush). But Kean's strange willingness to ignore his own findings does not change the facts.

The movie shows former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright -- who is played as a fussy, irritable Margaret Dumont-style matron -- thwarting a missile strike against bin Laden's desert camp by warning his Pakistani friends in advance. That never happened, either.

And in its most blatant appeal to right-wing pathology, the movie repeatedly suggests that Clinton was either distracted or prodded by the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the ensuing impeachment, taking action or deferring action for political reasons. Clarke has repeatedly denied that considerations of that kind influenced policy on any occasion. (For more on the conservative mythology of 9/11 see my answer to Andrew Sullivan on the subject in 2002.)

Clarke has said that the Clinton administration didn't fully comprehend the threat from al-Qaida until the U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa in 1998. (Neither did Clinton's critics.) And it is also true that Clinton didn't mount a full-scale assault on the al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan, as Clarke advised, but that decision, regrettable as it now seems, was influenced by broad geopolitical considerations. And Bush declined that option as well, until after the 9/11 attacks.

If the producers of "The Path to 9/11" unfairly indict the Clinton administration with fabricated scenes and notions, they go out of their way to exonerate the Bush White House by ignoring certain damning facts -- and creating substitutes that make the president look better. The movie shows a smarmy, condescending Condoleezza Rice demoting Clarke in January 2001 when she takes over as national security advisor. Clarke tries to warn her that "something spectacular" is going to happen on American soil, and she assures him that "we're on it," which they assuredly were not.

Indeed, the script downplays the neglect of terrorism as a primary threat by the incoming Bush team -- and never mentions the counterterrorism task force, chaired by Vice President Dick Cheney, that never met for nine months before 9/11. The famous Aug. 6 presidential daily briefing, which warned the vacationing Bush that al-Qaida intended to strike here, is given due attention. But the movie then shows Rice telling her associates that "as a result of the Aug. 6 PDB, the president wants to take real action" against al-Qaida. But the 9/11 Commission report's section on the PDB clearly states that the August warning was not followed up on by Rice:

"We found no indication of any further discussion before September 11 among the President and his top advisers of the possibility of a threat of an Al Qaeda attack in the United States." No action was contemplated before 9/11 and the movie's attempt to claim otherwise is another distortion.

As I wrote this column, the Los Angeles Times reported that ABC had made "minor" alterations to some of the movie's most glaring errors. But for a production that rather tastelessly and gratuitously promotes ABC News in its script, no last-minute edits can restore news values that the producers never respected.

The ultimate irony is that this project -- based on the work of a commission whose bipartisan members swore to pursue and reveal the truth about a national disaster -- is likely to perpetuate old partisan canards instead of dispelling them.

2 GIs Among Bombers' Victims in Kabul

2 GIs Among Bombers' Victims in Kabul

Sep 8, 8:17 AM (ET)


KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - A suicide car bomber struck a convoy of U.S. military vehicles in downtown Kabul on Friday, killing at least 16 people, including two American soldiers, and wounding 29 others, officials and witnesses said.

The blast, near the U.S. Embassy, came as NATO chiefs appealed for member nations to send reinforcements to combat resurgent Taliban militants fanning the deadliest violence in five years. A top British general said the fighting in volatile southern Afghanistan was now more ferocious than in Iraq.

The bomb, one of the worst in Kabul in recent years, blew pieces of an American Humvee and U.S. uniforms into trees, which were set ablaze by the explosion. The blast shattered windows throughout downtown, and a cloud of brown smoke climbed hundreds of feet into the sky.

The bombing came three days ahead of the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and as Afghans remembered Ahmad Shah Massood, the fabled Northern Alliance commander who fought Soviet forces and the Taliban and was assassinated by suspected al-Qaida operatives posing as journalists on Sept. 9, 2001.

(AP) Afghan securtiy officials surround the wreckage of a vwhicle to investigate as U.S. Humvee is seen...

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The Kabul blast went off about 50 yards from the landmark Massood Square, which leads to the main gate of the heavily fortified U.S. Embassy compound. It dug a 6-foot-wide crater and left body parts, Muslim prayer caps, floppy khaki-colored military hats and shoes scattered on the ground.

President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack, saying, "Today's heinous act of terrorism is against the values of Islam and humanity."

A witness, Najibullah Faizi, said he saw a blue Toyota Corolla driven by a young, heavyset man speed past another car on the inside lane before ramming one of two U.S. Humvees in a convoy.

"I fell to the ground after the blast. American soldiers started shooting at another car nearby. There was smoke and flames everywhere," Faizi, 25, told reporters.

Sixteen people were killed and 29 were wounded, said Ali Shah Paktiawal, criminal director of the Kabul police. Two American soldiers in the vehicle were among those killed and two were among the wounded, said U.S. military spokeswoman Lt. Tamara Lawrence. The attacker also died.

(AP) U.S. soldiers stand near the wreckage of a vehicle after a bomb blast near the U.S embassy in...

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Among the victims was an elderly woman who had been sitting with her granddaughter in a small yard outside a Soviet-era apartment building.

"My mother just went to the park for some fresh air with my daughter when the explosion happened," said the woman's son, Farid Wahidi, 40. "Shrapnel hit her in the chest and killed her."

An Associated Press reporter at the scene saw the bodies of two coalition soldiers lying yards from the Humvee. U.S. troops stood guard around the bodies, one of which was slumped in the gutter, the other covered by a plastic sheet.

Dozens of U.S. and British soldiers cordoned off the scene as investigators sifted through the wreckage of the charred military vehicle.

Soldiers retrieved body parts, apparently from the suicide bomber, and placed them into plastic bags for further investigation.

Afghanistan is facing its deadliest spate of violence since U.S.-led forces toppled the hard-line Taliban regime for hosting Osama bin Laden. Hundreds on both sides have been killed each month this year.

A roadside bomb hit an Italian military convoy in western Farah province Friday, wounding four troops, one seriously, NATO and the Italian Defense Ministry said.

Some 20,000 NATO soldiers and a similar number of U.S. forces are in Afghanistan trying to crush an emboldened Taliban insurgency. The heaviest fighting takes place across vast desert plains in southern Helmand and Kandahar provinces, also center of the country's massive opium trade.

"The fighting is extraordinarily intense. The intensity and ferocity of the fighting is far greater than in Iraq on a daily basis," Brig. Ed Butler, the commander of British Forces in Afghanistan, told British ITV news.

He echoed NATO commander Gen. James L. Jones' call Thursday for more troops. Jones, who said the next few weeks would be decisive in the fight against militants, was expected to press officials from the 26 NATO member states for more soldiers and air support at talks in Poland this weekend.

Butler said more soldiers would allow operations to be carried out faster. "It will continue to be tough and we will continue to take more casualties, but morale is extraordinarily high," he said.

Also Friday, a would-be suicide attacker killed only himself when his bomb-packed car exploded prematurely in Kandahar, said police official Rehmat Ali.

The car was parked on the main road to the Kandahar Airfield, where NATO vehicles, Afghan security forces and government officials regularly pass. None were in the area at the time of the blast.

Afghan security forces, meanwhile, found four bombs near a northern Kabul high school, defusing two and safely detonating the others, said police official Mohammed Arif.

About 70 Taliban fighters fired rockets at a district government headquarters in the central province of Wardak early Friday before police repelled them, said provincial police chief Mahboobullah Amiri.

Eight Taliban were killed and four wounded according to witnesses, Amiri said, but police had retrieved no bodies. One policeman was lightly wounded, and eight militants were arrested.

NATO forces launched airstrikes and artillery and mortar barrages on Taliban positions in Kandahar's Panjwayi district overnight, inflicting an unspecified number of Taliban casualties, said Maj. Scott Lundy, a NATO spokesman. No NATO or Afghan forces were hurt.

Lundy said NATO would press on with Operation Medusa, which began Saturday in Panjwayi, until it had "removed" all the Taliban militants. NATO says it has killed more than 270 insurgents since the offensive began and that hundreds more are massed in the district, west of Kandahar.

Associated Press writers Amir Shah and Matthew Pennington in Kabul and Noor Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.

Senate: No prewar Saddam-al-Qaida ties

Senate: No prewar Saddam-al-Qaida ties

By JIM ABRAMS, Associated Press Writer 17 minutes ago

There's no evidence Saddam Hussein had ties with al-Qaida, according to a Senate report on prewar intelligence that Democrats say undercuts President Bush's justification for invading Iraq.

Bush administration officials have insisted on a link between the Iraqi regime and terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Intelligence agencies, however, concluded there was none.

Republicans countered that there was little new in the report and Democrats were trying to score election-year points with it.

The declassified document released Friday by the intelligence committee also explores the role that inaccurate information supplied by the anti-Saddam exile group the Iraqi National Congress had in the march to war.

It concludes that postwar findings do not support a 2002 intelligence community report that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program, possessed biological weapons or ever developed mobile facilities for producing biological warfare agents.

The 400-page report comes at a time when Bush is emphasizing the need to prevail in Iraq to win the war on terrorism while Democrats are seeking to make that policy an issue in the midterm elections.

It discloses for the first time an October 2005 CIA assessment that prior to the war Saddam's government "did not have a relationship, harbor, or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi and his associates."

Bush and other administration officials have said that the presence of Zarqawi in Iraq before the war was evidence of a connection between Saddam's government and al-Qaida. Zarqawi was killed by a U.S. airstrike in June this year.

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

"In 2002 and 2003, members of both parties got a good look at the intelligence we had and they came to the very same conclusions about what was going on," Snow said. That was "one of the reasons you had overwhelming majorities in the United States Senate and the House for taking action against Saddam Hussein," he said.

Sen. Carl Levin (news, bio, voting record), D-Mich., a member of the committee, said the long-awaited report was "a devastating indictment of the Bush-Cheney administration's unrelenting, misleading and deceptive attempts" to link Saddam to al-Qaida.

The administration, said Sen. John D. Rockefeller (news, bio, voting record), D-W.Va., top Democrat on the committee, "exploited the deep sense of insecurity among Americans in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, leading a large majority of Americans to believe — contrary to the intelligence assessments at the time — that Iraq had a role in the 9/11 attacks."

The chairman of the committee, Sen. Pat Roberts (news, bio, voting record), R-Kan., said it has long been known that prewar assessments of Iraq "were a tragic intelligence failure."

But he said the Democratic interpretations expressed in the report "are little more than a vehicle to advance election-year political charges." He said Democrats "continue to use the committee to try and rewrite history, insisting that they were deliberately duped into supporting the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime."

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

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

The committee is still considering three other issues as part of its Phase II analysis, including statements of policymakers in the run up to the war.


On the Net:

Senate Intelligence Committee:;_ylt=AmXGi5OMNs2Wi_dw52TGkgas0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTA3OTB1amhuBHNlYwNtdHM-

Paul Krugman - Whining Over Discontent

Whining Over Discontent


We are, finally, having a national discussion about inequality, and right-wing commentators are in full panic mode. Statistics, most of them irrelevant or misleading, are flying; straw men are under furious attack. It’s all very confusing — deliberately so. So let me offer a few clarifying comments.

First, why are we suddenly talking so much about inequality? Not because a few economists decided to make inequality an issue. It’s the public — not progressive pundits — that has been telling pollsters the economy is “only fair” or “poor,” even though the overall growth rate is O.K. by historical standards.

Political analysts tried all sorts of explanations for popular discontent with the “Bush boom” — it’s the price of gasoline; no, people are in a bad mood because of Iraq — before finally acknowledging that most Americans think it’s a bad economy because for them, it is. The lion’s share of the benefits from recent economic growth has gone to a small, wealthy minority, while most Americans were worse off in 2005 than they were in 2000.

Some conservatives whine that people didn’t complain as much about rising inequality when Bill Clinton was president. But most people were happy with the state of the economy in the late 1990’s, even though the rich were getting much richer, because the middle class and the poor were also making substantial progress. Now the rich are getting richer, but most working Americans are losing ground.

Second, notice the amount of time that inequality’s apologists spend attacking a claim nobody is making: that there has been a clear long-term decline in middle-class living standards. Yes, real median family income has risen since the late 1970’s (with the most convincing gains taking place during the Clinton years). But the rise was very small — small enough that other considerations, like increasing economic insecurity, make it unclear whether families are better or worse off. And that’s the point: the United States as a whole has grown a lot richer over the past generation, but the typical American family hasn’t.

Third, notice the desperate effort to find some number, any number, to support claims that increasing inequality is just a matter of a rising payoff to education and skill. Conservative commentators tell us about wage gains for one-eyed bearded men with 2.5 years of college, or whatever — and conveniently forget to adjust for inflation. In fact, the data refute any suggestion that education is a guarantee of income gains: once you adjust for inflation, you find that the income of a typical household headed by a college graduate was lower in 2005 than in 2000.

More broadly, right-wing commentators would like you to believe that the economy’s winners are a large group, like college graduates or people with agreeable personalities. But the winners’ circle is actually very small. Even households at the 95th percentile — that is, households richer than 19 out of 20 Americans — have seen their real income rise less than 1 percent a year since the late 1970’s. But the income of the richest 1 percent has roughly doubled, and the income of the top 0.01 percent — people with incomes of more than $5 million in 2004 — has risen by a factor of 5.

Finally, while we can have an interesting discussion about questions like the role of unions in wage inequality, or the role of lax regulation in exploding C.E.O. pay, there is no question that the policies of the current majority party — a party that has held a much-needed increase in the minimum wage hostage to large tax cuts for giant estates — have relentlessly favored the interests of a tiny, wealthy minority against everyone else.

According to new estimates by Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, the leading experts on long-term trends in inequality, the effective federal tax rate on the richest 0.01 percent has fallen from about 60 percent in 1980 to about 34 percent today. Meanwhile, the U.S. government — unlike any other government in the advanced world — does nothing as more and more working families find themselves unable to obtain health insurance.

The good news is that these concerns are finally breaking through into our political discourse. I’m sure that the usual suspects will come up with further efforts to confuse the issue. I say, bring ’em on: we’ve got the arguments, and the facts, to win this debate.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

What Really Makes our Nation Strong

What Really Makes our Nation Strong
by Garrison Keillor

Growing up in the '50s, we imagined our country defended by guided missiles poised in bunkers, jet fighters on the tarmac and pilots in the ready room prepared to scramble, a colonel with a black briefcase sitting in the hall outside the president's bedroom, but Sept. 11 gave us a clearer picture. We have a vast array of hardware, a multitude of colonels, a lot of bureaucratic confusion, and a nation vulnerable to attack.

The Federal Aviation Administration has now acknowledged that the third of the four planes seized by the 19 men with box cutters had already hit the Pentagon before the FAA finally called there to say there was a problem. The FAA lied to the 9/11 commission about this, then took two years to ascertain the facts - a 51-minute gap in defense - and released the finding on the Friday before Labor Day, an excellent burial site for bad news.

So America is not the secure fortress we grew up imagining. Perhaps it never was. What protects us is what has protected us for 230 years: our magnificent isolation. After the disasters of the 20th century, Europe put nationalism aside and adopted civilization, but we have oceans on either side, so if the president turns out to be a shallow, jingoistic fool with a small, rigid agenda and little knowledge of the world, we expect to survive it somehow. Life goes on.

It's hard for Americans to visualize the collapse of our country. It's as unthinkable as one's own demise. Europeans are different: They've seen disaster, even the British. They know it was a near thing back in 1940. My old Danish mother-in-law remembered the occupation clearly 40 years later and was teary-eyed when she talked about it. Francis Scott Key certainly could envision the demise of the United States in 1814 when he watched the bombardment of Fort McHenry. Abraham Lincoln was haunted by the thought. We are not, apparently, though five years ago we saw a shadow.

We really are one people at heart. We all believe that when thousands of people are trapped in the Superdome without food or water, it is the duty of government, the federal government if necessary, to come to their rescue and to restore them to the civil mean and not abandon them to fate. Right there is the basis of liberalism. Conservatives tried to introduce a new idea - it's your fault if you get caught in a storm - and this idea was rejected by nine out of 10 people once they saw the pictures. The issue is whether we care about people who don't get on television.

Last week, I sat and listened to a roomful of parents talk about their battles with public schools in behalf of their children who suffer from dyslexia, or apraxia, or ADD, or some other disability - sagas of ferocious parental love vs. stonewall bureaucracy in the quest for basic, needful things - and how some of them had uprooted their families and moved to Minnesota so their children could attend better schools. You couldn't tell if those parents were Republicans or Democrats. They simply were prepared to move mountains so their kids could have a chance. So are we all.

And that's the mission of politics: to give our kids as good a chance as we had. They say that liberals have run out of new ideas - it's like saying that Christians have run out of new ideas. Maybe the old doctrine of grace is good enough.

I don't get much hope from Democrats these days, a timid and skittish bunch, slow to learn, unable to sing the hymns and express the steady optimism that is at the heart of the heart of the country. I get no hope at all from Republicans, whose policies seem predicated on the Second Coming occurring in the very near future.

If Jesus does not descend through the clouds to take them directly to paradise, and do it now, they are going to have to answer to the rest of us.
Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.

Top military leaders insist new U.S. strategy is desperately needed in Iraq

Top military leaders insist new U.S. strategy is desperately needed in Iraq
McClatchy Newspapers

Debating issues of war and peace and America's role in the world aren't off limits in this fourth year of war in Iraq, and they aren't a sign of anything but the health and vibrancy of our democracy, however much President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld might wish otherwise in a tough election season.

In hopes of furthering that debate, this week I asked more than a dozen top Army and Marine Corps generals - active duty and retired, dissidents and administration loyalists - to address what we should do now in Iraq.

All of them agreed that America's strategy and tactics in Iraq have failed, and that President Bush's policy of "staying the course" in Iraq isn't likely to produce anything but more frustration, more and greater problems for the United States in a dangerous world, and more and bloodier surprises for the 135,000 American troops in Iraq.

"Lack of security and lack of governance have pushed Iraq into the rise of a civil war," said one retired senior general. "The message is clear: We have a failed strategy, and we need new leadership and a new strategy to secure (our) interests in the region." The U.S. has important issues in the Middle East - not least of them Iran, he said, "but we cannot do much while bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan."

"The problem thus far, as you know, has been lack of serious planning, poor selection of people in charge ... screwed-up assessments and assumptions, no building of international and regional cooperation, trust in non-credible exiles and too much spin and ad hoc-ery," said retired Marine Gen. Tony Zinni, who formerly headed the U.S. Central Command, with responsibility for 32 nations, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

Zinni, who was among those who counseled continued containment of Saddam Hussein's Iraq rather than war and regime-change, continued: "The current bankrupt course we are staying is focused only, or almost only, on security and is not complete even in that area."

"Until we back up and assess what we have gotten ourselves into, I fear we will see a repeat of the war in Vietnam," said retired Marine Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper, who recently called for firing Rumsfeld. "Our military will again fight a series of battles and engagements in Iraq without the overall purpose that a good campaign plan provides."

The need for change, all the officers agreed, is urgent if the U.S. to avoid a catastrophe whose ripple effects would cripple American influence in the Middle East and worldwide, leaving us a superpower in name only, and a beleaguered superpower at that.

Though it's far more difficult today because of lost opportunities, Zinni said, if the administration acted fast, a better outcome could be pulled out of the flames. To get Iraq right, he said, would take five to seven years, "and it means a much more comprehensive and well-planned set of programs to build political, economic, social and security institutions."

Even retired Army Col. Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to Gen. Colin Powell at the State Department in President Bush's first term and now an outspoken critic of the administration's policies in Iraq, said there's still a way to succeed.

"First, you have to think big," Wilkerson said. "Not stupid big, the way Cheney and Bush and Rumsfeld do, but smart big the way Teddy Roosevelt used to do."

Some retired officers such as Wilkerson and Zinni spoke on the record; others, including all still on active duty, would speak only on background for obvious reasons. But there was a broad consensus among them that a new U.S. strategy is desperately needed in Iraq, and on the outlines of one:

-Review America's military options.

None of the officers I interviewed recommended an immediate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, and a few suggested sending more U.S. troops to Iraq. "You have to be willing to let the GIs on the ground continue to do what they have been doing recently, fighting smart rather than dumb ... doing counter-insurgency and not fighting on the northern plains of Europe," Wilkerson said.

Most of the officers, however, agreed that the administration has relied too heavily on the military and shortchanged economic and political efforts in Iraq.

One senior general who's still on active duty and has broad experience in the Middle East argued that the United States should announce that it wants no permanent, long-term American bases in Iraq; that we aren't planning to stay forever. "By pouring concrete and building these huge bases, we are reinforcing what the insurgents are telling the people," he said.

Some, like retired Marine Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold, who resigned as the director of operations for the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, said the time has come to begin discussing withdrawing U.S. troops.

Newbold said that he takes what he called a "distinctly minority view" that the administration should set a general timeline for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq, declaring success in the most important goals - the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the institution of a Middle East-style democracy and the removal of any near-term threat that Iraq will threaten its neighbors. Any such timeline should be made conditional on the general security situation in Iraq, he said.

We'll inevitably publish a timeline for a U.S. withdrawal, anyway, Newbold said, but doing so now would weaken one of the prime motivating forces of the insurgency - the continued presence of American troops as an occupying force.

"Our national strategy must include policies that assist our cause, not those of the insurgents and terrorists by reinforcing their exaggerated views of American behavior and intentions," Newbold said.

A retired Army senior general said it's time for the national debate to focus on how we get out of Iraq and how we do so in such a way that we return to a more normal role and secure our vital interests in the region.

He said that an exit strategy is the venue we need to work - "not cut and run but focusing the national debate on what next and our role in the region for the long term ... an exit from what we are doing currently to get us to a more normal role securing our vital interests in the region."

-Bolster the effort to train and equip Iraqi military and security forces that can take over from U.S. troops.

Newbold said that the time for adding more U.S. forces on the ground has passed, if only for political reasons, and that the best military option now is to reinforce the efforts of Gen. George Casey, the U.S. commander in Iraq, to stand up a capable Iraqi army to take over security.

If we're serious about standing up a capable and effective Iraqi army to take responsibility for security, said a serving senior general, "then we need to get serious about it now" and make certain that only the best American Army and Marine officers and NCOs are assigned to the Military Transition Teams. Without that, he said, "we will be there forever."

A senior Army officer who's served multiple tours in Iraq and studied the situation more closely than most said the U.S. should undertake reforms of the security sectors in the Iraqi Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior, train and install stronger leaders at every level in the Iraqi Army and police, establish a reconciliation program that permits more participation by former Saddam regime officials and disarm the private militias that are responsible for much of the sectarian violence.

-Devote greater energy to rebuilding Iraq's economy and political system.

"You have to pour on the resources, not cut back," Wilkerson said. "A billion a month for reconstruction ... and these dollars do not go to American contractors. They go to Iraqi contractors who are overseen by Americans and British and others."

Newbold agreed that the United States must focus its primary effort in the economic and political realms in Iraq, and he said that so far the other agencies of the U.S. government haven't come close to the intensity and commitment of the military engagement. "To borrow a phrase: It's the economy, Stupid!" he said.

The State Department and other agencies need to stop staffing the U.S. Embassy and U.S. advisory teams to the Iraqi government ministries with inexperienced, short-term Generation X staffers, agreed a senior general. Stop making duty in Baghdad strictly a volunteer affair, he said: Assign your best and most experienced staffers to this vital work.

The senior officer who's served multiple tours in Iraq said one goal should be to establish an Iraqi rule of law (police, judges/courts, prisons) with a degree of due process appropriate to the security situation. He said the United States also should empower local governments, giving them the capability to provide basic services and address local grievances.

-Revive American diplomacy in the Middle East.

"Everything we are doing brings Iran and Syria closer together when we ought to be doing everything we can to split them apart," said the senior general. "We need a U.S. ambassador in Syria. (The Bush administration recalled the U.S. ambassador, who hasn't returned.) It would help in Iraq and have spin-off benefits in Lebanon. You can't exert influence if you are not there. We need to be talking to the Syrians. Hell, we need to be talking to the Iranians. This whole axis of evil thing is bull! All it did was drive our enemies closer together."

Wilkerson said the administration should "bring in the surrounding states, not just Iran, though it is the most important one, and get them to share the load money-wise and diplomatically. The Bedouins have got to stop putting their money on all sides, hoping that one will win. They must put their money exclusively on the government in Baghdad. They have to understand that the U.S. is not leaving until the situation is stable."

Wilkerson said the United States also has to start a "rational dialogue" with Iran that encompasses everything from the MEK guerrillas to al-Qaeda to nuclear weapons to Hezbollah, Iraq and the Persian Gulf.

He said the administration also should start negotiations to settle, once and for all, the Israel-Palestinian situation, including talks with Syria on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, with Lebanon and with the Palestinians themselves.

"The U.S. must be an honest broker in all of these talks - not Israel's lawyer," Wilkerson said. "The U.S. must be willing to bang heads, all of them if necessary."

Finally, Wilkerson argued that the United States must ask international institutions such as the United Nations to help. "You have to cajole and wheedle and coerce your allies to do likewise. If this means eating a little crow, you just ask for the pepper and the cayenne," he said.

Van Riper said the United States lacks a global strategy for fighting a global war against a global Islamist insurgency. He contrasted what we've witnessed from today's war president with the way America and its leaders prepared and planned the campaigns in World War II, and how President Franklin D. Roosevelt explained the strategy and the campaigns to educate the public and ensure support for the war.

"Our current leadership has failed us in these most basic of obligations," he said.

One general who's led troops in combat since 9/11 said the administration's civilian leaders must explain why we're still militarily engaged in Iraq. "Or as most Americans would ask: What does it mean to win in Iraq? Or ... how much U.S. blood and treasure should Americans be asked to sacrifice for Iraq and why?"

"Iraqis, as well as Muslims, know that someday - a year, two years, 10 years - the U.S. military will be gone from their country," he added. "Then what? Will civil war erupt? Will Iraq's regional neighbors stand on the sidelines, or is there too much at stake for them? Should the U.S. find a way to get them involved now in the process? Is that even feasible? What level of potential internal chaos can the U.S. allow? Perhaps unanswerable questions, but our national leaders need to have this conversation both privately and with the American public, because without it the U.S. will continue to react to events instead of establishing a pro-active foreign policy for the region. And support from the American people will continue to evaporate."

None of these officers, however, was optimistic that the administration will alter a course that they all fear will lead America to defeat and disaster.

"All of this will take concentration on the part of the leadership of this country, as well as extraordinary diplomatic skills, thus it won't likely happen," Wilkerson. "The Bushites are too terribly inept."

"Unfortunately, I do not believe that the current Pentagon military and civilian leadership is capable of designing an effective plan," Van Riper said.

If these distinguished military officers are correct that it's not too late to change course in Iraq, then we should all hope that they're wrong in fearing that the Bush administration is too ignorant, too inept, too proud or too political to do so.

As we mark the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it's time for both parties to check their politics at the door and begin a vigorous public debate on how to chart a course that's worthy of the sacrifices that our troops, our firefighters, our police and others have already made.



Joseph L. Galloway is former senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young." Readers may write to him at: P.O. Box 399, Bayside, Texas 78340; e-mail:

Full Text Of Letter From Bill Clinton Lawyer To ABC Obtained | TPMCafe

September 1, 2006

Dear Bob,

As you know, ABC intends to air a two part miniseries, “The Path to 9/11,” which purports to document the events leading up to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. ABC claims that the show is based on the 9/11 Commission Report and, as Steve McPherson, President of ABC Entertainment, has said: “When you take on the responsibility of telling the story behind such an important event, it is absolutely critical that you get it right.”

By ABC’s own standard, ABC has gotten it terribly wrong. The content of this drama is factually and incontrovertibly inaccurate and ABC has a duty to fully correct all errors or pull the drama entirely. It is unconscionable to mislead the American public about one of the most horrendous tragedies our country has ever known.

Despite several requests to view the miniseries, we have not been given the courtesy of seeing it. This is particularly troubling given the reputation of Cyrus Nowrasteh, the drama’s writer/producer. Mr. Nowrasteh has been criticized for inaccurately portraying historical events in the past. In response to previous criticism, he has even said, “I made a conscious effort not to contact any members of the Administration because I didn’t want them to stymie my efforts.” Indeed, while we have not been given the courtesy of a viewing, based upon reports from people who have seen the drama you plan to air, we understand that there are at least three significant factual errors:

-- The drama leads viewers to believe that National Security Advisor Sandy Berger told the CIA that he would not authorize them to take a shot at bin Laden. This is complete fiction and the event portrayed never happened. First of all, the 9/11 Commission Report makes clear that CIA Director George Tenet had been directed by President Clinton and Mr. Berger to get bin Laden (p. 199 & 508-509). Secondly, Roger Cressy, National Security Council senior director for counterterrorism from 1999-2001, has said, on more than one occasion, “Mr. Clinton approved every request made of him by the CIA and the U.S. military involving using force against bin Laden and al-Qaeda.”

In addition, ABC’s own counter-terrorism consultant, Richard Clarke, has said that contrary to the movie:

1) No US military or CIA personnel were on the ground in Afghanistan and saw bin Laden;

2) The head of the Northern Alliance, Masood, was nowhere near the alleged bin Laden camp and did not see bin Laden; and

3) CIA Director Tenet said that he could not recommend a strike on the camp because the information was single-sourced and there would be no way to know if bin Laden was in the target area by the time a cruise missile hit it.

As Clarke and others will corroborate, President Clinton did in fact approve of a standing plan to use Afghans who worked for the CIA to capture bin Laden. The CIA’s Afghan operatives were never able to carry out the operation and the CIA recommended against inserting Agency personnel to do it. The Department of Defense, when asked by President Clinton to examine the use of US troops to capture bin Laden, also recommended against that option.

-- The drama claims that former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright refused to sanction a missile strike against bin Laden without first alerting the Pakistanis and notified them over the objections of the military. Again, this is false.

-- Using newsreel footage of President Clinton, the drama insinuates that President Clinton was too pre-occupied with the impeachment and the Lewinsky matter to be engaged in pursuing bin Laden. This allegation is absurd and was directly refuted by ABC News consultant Richard Clarke in his book, Against All Enemies: “Clinton made clear that we were to give him our best national security advice without regard to his personal problems. ‘Do you recommend that we strike on the 20th? Fine. Do not give me political advice or personal advice about the timing. That’s my problem. Let me worry about that.’ If we thought this was the best time to hit the Afghan camps, he would order it and take the heat.”

While these are three examples that we are aware of that are utterly baseless, they are clearly indicative of other errors in the substance and bent of the film. Indeed, the overall tone in the advertisements we’ve seen for this drama suggest that President Clinton was inattentive to the threat of terrorism or insufficiently intent upon eliminating the threat from bin Laden. Note that the 9/11 Commission Report says:

-- We believe that both President Clinton and President Bush were genuinely concerned about the danger posed by al Qaeda.” (p. 349)

-- “By May 1998 … clearly, President Clinton’s concern about terrorism had steadily risen.” (p. 102)

-- “President Clinton was deeply concerned about bin Laden. He and his national security advisor, Samuel ‘Sandy’ Berger, ensured they had a special daily pipeline of reports feeding them the latest updates on bin Laden’s reported location.” (p. 175)

-- “President Clinton spoke of terrorism in numerous public statements. In his August 5, 1996, remarks at George Washington University, he called terrorism ‘the enemy of our generation.’” (p. 500)

We challenge anyone to read the 9/11 Commission Report and find any basis for the false allegations noted above or the tenor of the drama, which suggests that the Clinton Administration was inattentive to the threat of a terrorist strike.

Frankly, the bias of the ABC drama is not surprising given the background and political leanings of its writer/producer, Mr. Nowrasteh, which have been well-documented on numerous conservative blogs and talk shows in his promotion of this film. Mr. Nowrasteh’s bias can be seen in an interview he gave to David Horowitz’s conservative magazine Frontpage, during which he said:

"The 9/11 report details the Clinton’s administration’s response – or lack of response – to Al Qaeda and how this emboldened Bin Laden to keep attacking American interests. The worst example is the response to the October, 2000 attack of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen where 17 American sailors were killed. There simply was no response. Nothing."

But as Sandy Berger told the 9/11 Commission: “[T]o go to war, a president needs to be able to say that his senior intelligence and law enforcement officers have concluded who is responsible.” And as the 9/11 Commission report repeatedly acknowledges, the US did not have clear evidence of bin Laden’s connection to the attack on the USS Cole before the end of the Clinton Administration (p. 192, 193, 195 & executive summary).

While ABC is promoting “The Path to 9/11” as a dramatization of historical fact, in truth it is a fictitious rewriting of history that will be misinterpreted by millions of Americans. Given your stated obligation to “get it right,” we urge you to do so by not airing this drama until the egregious factual errors are corrected, an endeavor we could easily assist you with given the opportunity to view the film.


Bruce R. Lindsey

Chief Executive Officer

William J. Clinton Foundation

Douglas J. Band

Counselor to President Clinton

Office of William Jefferson Clinton

Cc: Ms. Madeleine K. Albright

Mr. Samuel R. Berger

Mr. Richard A. Clarke

Mr. Stephen McPherson

Mr. George J. Mitchell

Mr. John D. Podesta

Mr. David Westin

National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States

My Letter to Scholastic Publishing, re: "The Path To 911"

To Scholastic Publishing:

I wish to add my voice to chorus of educators and concerned citizens who are outraged by your participation in the upcoming ABC miniseries, "The Path to 911." This series, written by a notorious right-wing partisan, Cyrus Nowrasteh is, according to reports, rife with historical inaccuracies designed to deflect blame for 911 from the Bush administration and onto the Clinton administration.

Although ABC and Scholastic are promoting this film as a neutral documentary based entirely on the 911 Report, there are apparently key scenes which the writer has now admitted were completely fictionalized.

As the New York Times has noted in relation to a key scene in which Clinton's National Security Advisor Sandy Berger is shown slamming down a phone in response to a request to "get Bin Laden":

Mr. Berger's character is also seen abruptly hanging up during a conversation with a C.I.A. officer at a critical moment of a military operation. In an interview yesterday with KRLA-AM in Los Angeles, Cyrus Nowrasteh, the mini-series' screenwriter and one of its producers, said that moment had been improvised.

"Sandy Berger did not slam down the phone," Mr. Nowrasteh said. "That is not in the report. That was not scripted. But you know when you're making a movie, a lot of things happen on set that are unscripted. Accidents occur, spontaneous reactions of actors performing a role take place. It's the job of the filmmaker to say, 'You know, maybe we can use that.' "

There is a time and a place for poetic license, but not when the most significant facts about the most significant historical event of our time is concerned. This is doubly true when an epic broadcast event like this is tied in so intimately with an "educational" program to be distributed by a company like Scholastic to schools across the nation. This is not education, it is right-wing propaganda designed to distort the historical record and brainwash the next generation of Americans into believing a patently untrue account of the major historical event of their lifetime.

Recently it has come to light that the principles of the Clinton administration who are depicted in this film have been denied advance copies of the film, which at the same time was provided to a wide array of right-wing radio hosts, bloggers, and pundits. One of these partisans, Hugh Hewitt, has even posted on his website a response from ABC about the backlash, which assures him and other right-wing partisans that any changes to the film will not alter the ideological message it was designed to deliver:

There will be a handful of tweaks made to a few scenes.

* They are minor, and nuance in most cases - a line lift here, a tweak to the edit there.
* There are 900 screeners out there. When this airs this weekend, there will be a number of people who will spend their free evenings looking for these changes and will be hard pressed to identify them. They are that minor.
* The average viewer would not be able to tell the difference between the two versions.
* The message of the Clinton Admin failures remains fully intact.

The changes are done only to appease the Clinton team - to be able to say they made changes. But the blame on the Clinton team is in the DNA of the project and could not be eradicated without pulling the entire show. A $40 million investment on the part of ABC is enough to stem even Bill Clinton's influence.

The news has just appeared on the internet the Bill Clinton and other principals from his administration are demanding that ABC pull the series. A Clinton spokesman has now written to ABC. From the NY Post:

"The content of this drama is factually and incontrovertibly inaccurate and ABC has the duty to fully correct all errors or pull the drama entirely," the four-page letter said.

The letter, written by Bruce Lindsey, head of the Clinton Foundation, and Douglas Bond, a top lawyer in Clinton's office, accuses the ABC drama of "bias" and a "fictitious rewriting of history that will be misinterpreted by millions of Americans."

Clinton, whose aides first learned from a TV trailer about a week ago that the miniseries would slam his administration, was "surprised" and "incredulous" when told about the film's slant, sources said.

Albright and former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger also dashed off letters to Iger, accusing the network of lying in the miniseries and demanding changes.

As an educator myself (I hold a Ph.D and teach literature and run an honors program at a midwestern university) I am shocked and appalled that Scholastic would participate in such a blatant propaganda stunt. As the truth behind this fiasco spreads like wildfire across the Internet, thousands of us will be fanning out to contact and put pressure on local school boards to look more closely at the "educational" material Scholastic is supplying to our schools. I for one will be contacting school boards in the four states area (SW Missouri, SE Kansas, NW Arkansas, SE Oklahoma) from which our students are drawn.

I urge Scholastic to reconsider its participation in this campaign to use our schools to spread right-wing propaganda and whitewash American history. Scholastic has built up a reputation for serving our schools honorably and profitably over many decades and it would be a shame to place that reputation in jeopardy with parents, educators, and other concerned citizens across this nation.