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)

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Gag on Free Speech

A Gag on Free Speech

December 15, 2006
New York Times Editorial


The Bush administration is trampling on the First Amendment and well-established criminal law by trying to use a subpoena to force the American Civil Liberties Union to hand over a classified document in its possession. The dispute is shrouded in secrecy, and very little has been made public about the document, but we do not need to know what’s in it to know what’s at stake: if the government prevails, it will have engaged in prior restraint — almost always a serious infringement on free speech — and it could start using subpoenas to block reporting on matters of vital public concern.

Justice Department lawyers have issued a grand jury subpoena to the A.C.L.U. demanding that it hand over “any and all copies” of the three-and-a-half-page government document, which was recently leaked to the group. The A.C.L.U. is asking a Federal District Court judge in Manhattan to quash the subpoena.

There are at least two serious problems with the government’s action. It goes far beyond what the law recognizes as the legitimate purpose of a subpoena. Subpoenas are supposed to assist an investigation, but the government does not need access to the A.C.L.U.’s document for an investigation since it already has its own copy. It is instead trying to confiscate every available copy of the document to keep its contents secret. The A.C.L.U. says it knows of no other case in which a grand jury subpoena has been used this way.

The subpoena is also a prior restraint because the government is trying to stop the A.C.L.U. in advance from speaking about the document’s contents. The Supreme Court has held that prior restraints are almost always unconstitutional. The danger is too great that the government will overreach and use them to ban protected speech or interfere with free expression by forcing the media, and other speakers, to wait for their words to be cleared in advance. The correct way to deal with speech is to evaluate its legality after it has occurred.

The Supreme Court affirmed these vital principles in the Pentagon Papers case, when it rejected the Nixon administration’s attempts to stop The Times and The Washington Post from publishing government documents that reflected badly on its prosecution of the Vietnam War. If the Nixon administration had been able to use the technique that the Bush administration is trying now, it could have blocked publication simply by ordering the newspapers to hand over every copy they had of the papers.

If the A.C.L.U.’s description of its secret document is correct, there is no legitimate national defense issue. The document does not contain anything like intelligence sources or troop movements, the group says. It is merely a general statement of policy whose release “might perhaps be mildly embarrassing to the government.” Given this administration’s abysmal record on these issues, this case could set a disturbing and dangerous precedent. If the subpoena is enforced, the administration will have gained a powerful new tool for rolling back free-speech rights — one that could be used to deprive Americans of information they need to make informed judgments about their elected leaders’ policies and actions.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Great Wealth Transfer

The Great Wealth Transfer

It's the biggest untold economic story of our time: more of the nation's bounty held in fewer and fewer hands. And Bush's tax cuts are only making the problem worse

PAUL KRUGMAN

Why doesn't Bush get credit for the strong economy?" That question has been asked over and over again in recent months by political pundits. After all, they point out, the gross domestic product is up; unemployment, at least according to official figures, is low by historical standards; and stocks have recovered much of the ground they lost in the early years of the decade, with the Dow surpassing 12,000 for the first time. Yet the public remains deeply unhappy with the state of the economy. In a recent poll, only a minority of Americans rated the economy as "excellent" or "good," while most consider it no better than "fair" or "poor."

Are people just ungrateful? Is the administration failing to get its message out? Are the news media, as conservatives darkly suggest, deliberately failing to report the good news?

None of the above. The reason most Americans think the economy is fair to poor is simple: For most Americans, it really is fair to poor. Wages have failed to keep up with rising prices. Even in 2005, a year in which the economy grew quite fast, the income of most non-elderly families lagged behind inflation. The number of Americans in poverty has risen even in the face of an official economic recovery, as has the number of Americans without health insurance. Most Americans are little, if any, better off than they were last year and definitely worse off than they were in 2000.

But how is this possible? The economic pie is getting bigger -- how can it be true that most Americans are getting smaller slices? The answer, of course, is that a few people are getting much, much bigger slices. Although wages have stagnated since Bush took office, corporate profits have doubled. The gap between the nation's CEOs and average workers is now ten times greater than it was a generation ago. And while Bush's tax cuts shaved only a few hundred dollars off the tax bills of most Americans, they saved the richest one percent more than $44,000 on average. In fact, once all of Bush's tax cuts take effect, it is estimated that those with incomes of more than $200,000 a year -- the richest five percent of the population -- will pocket almost half of the money. Those who make less than $75,000 a year -- eighty percent of America -- will receive barely a quarter of the cuts. In the Bush era, economic inequality is on the rise.

Rising inequality isn't new. The gap between rich and poor started growing before Ronald Reagan took office, and it continued to widen through the Clinton years. But what is happening under Bush is something entirely unprecedented: For the first time in our history, so much growth is being siphoned off to a small, wealthy minority that most Americans are failing to gain ground even during a time of economic growth -- and they know it.

A merica has never been an egalitarian society, but during the New Deal and the Second World War, government policies and organized labor combined to create a broad and solid middle class. The economic historians Claudia Goldin and Robert Margo call what happened between 1933 and 1945 the Great Compression: The rich got dramatically poorer while workers got considerably richer. Americans found themselves sharing broadly similar lifestyles in a way not seen since before the Civil War.

But in the 1970s, inequality began increasing again -- slowly at first, then more and more rapidly. You can see how much things have changed by comparing the state of affairs at America's largest employer, then and now. In 1969, General Motors was the country's largest corporation aside from AT&T, which enjoyed a government-guaranteed monopoly on phone service. GM paid its chief executive, James M. Roche, a salary of $795,000 -- the equivalent of $4.2 million today, adjusting for inflation. At the time, that was considered very high. But nobody denied that ordinary GM workers were paid pretty well. The average paycheck for production workers in the auto industry was almost $8,000 -- more than $45,000 today. GM workers, who also received excellent health and retirement benefits, were considered solidly in the middle class.

Today, Wal-Mart is America's largest corporation, with 1.3 million employees. H. Lee Scott, its chairman, is paid almost $23 million -- more than five times Roche's inflation-adjusted salary. Yet Scott's compensation excites relatively little comment, since it's not exceptional for the CEO of a large corporation these days. The wages paid to Wal-Mart's workers, on the other hand, do attract attention, because they are low even by current standards. On average, Wal-Mart's non-supervisory employees are paid $18,000 a year, far less than half what GM workers were paid thirty-five years ago, adjusted for inflation. And Wal-Mart is notorious both for how few of its workers receive health benefits and for the stinginess of those scarce benefits.

The broader picture is equally dismal. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the hourly wage of the average American non-supervisory worker is actually lower, adjusted for inflation, than it was in 1970. Meanwhile, CEO pay has soared -- from less than thirty times the average wage to almost 300 times the typical worker's pay.

The widening gulf between workers and executives is part of a stunning increase in inequality throughout the U.S. economy during the past thirty years. To get a sense of just how dramatic that shift has been, imagine a line of 1,000 people who represent the entire population of America. They are standing in ascending order of income, with the poorest person on the left and the richest person on the right. And their height is proportional to their income -- the richer they are, the taller they are.

Start with 1973. If you assume that a height of six feet represents the average income in that year, the person on the far left side of the line -- representing those Americans living in extreme poverty -- is only sixteen inches tall. By the time you get to the guy at the extreme right, he towers over the line at more than 113 feet.

Now take 2005. The average height has grown from six feet to eight feet, reflecting the modest growth in average incomes over the past generation. And the poorest people on the left side of the line have grown at about the same rate as those near the middle -- the gap between the middle class and the poor, in other words, hasn't changed. But people to the right must have been taking some kind of extreme steroids: The guy at the end of the line is now 560 feet tall, almost five times taller than his 1973 counterpart.

What's useful about this image is that it explodes several comforting myths we like to tell ourselves about what is happening to our society.

MYTH #1: INEQUALITY IS MAINLY A PROBLEM OF POVERTY.
According to this view, most Americans are sharing in the economy's growth, with only a small minority at the bottom left behind. That places the onus for change on middle-class Americans who -- so the story goes -- will have to sacrifice some of their prosperity if they want to see poverty alleviated.

But as our line illustrates, that's just plain wrong. It's not only the poor who have fallen behind -- the normal-size people in the middle of the line haven't grown much, either. The real divergence in fortunes is between the great majority of Americans and a very small, extremely wealthy minority at the far right of the line.

MYTH #2: INEQUALITY IS MAINLY A PROBLEM OF EDUCATION.
This view -- which I think of as the eighty-twenty fallacy -- is expressed by none other than Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve. Last year, Greenspan testified that wage gains were going primarily to skilled professionals with college educations -- "essentially," he said, "the top twenty percent." The other eighty percent -- those with less education -- are stuck in routine jobs being replaced by computers or lost to imports. Inequality, Greenspan concluded, is ultimately "an education problem."

It's a good story with a comforting conclusion: Education is the answer. But it's all wrong. A closer look at our line of Americans reveals why. The richest twenty percent are those standing between 800 and 1,000. But even those standing between 800 and 950 -- Americans who earn between $80,000 and $120,000 a year -- have done only slightly better than everyone to their left. Almost all of the gains over the past thirty years have gone to the fifty people at the very end of the line. Being highly educated won't make you into a winner in today's U.S. economy. At best, it makes you somewhat less of a loser.

MYTH #3: INEQUALITY DOESN'T REALLY MATTER.
In this view, America is the land of opportunity, where a poor young man or woman can vault into the upper class. In fact, while modest moves up and down the economic ladder are common, true Horatio Alger stories are very rare. America actually has less social mobility than other advanced countries: These days, Horatio Alger has moved to Canada or Finland. It's easier for a poor child to make it into the upper-middle class in just about every other advanced country -- including famously class-conscious Britain -- than it is in the United States.

Not only can few Americans hope to join the ranks of the rich, no matter how well educated or hardworking they may be -- their opportunities to do so are actually shrinking. As best we can tell, pretax incomes are now as unequally distributed as they were in the 1920s -- wiping out virtually all of the gains made by the middle class during the Great Compression.

There's a famous scene in the 1987 movie Wall Street in which Gordon Gekko, the corporate predator played by Michael Douglas, tells a meeting of stunned shareholders that greed is good, that the unbridled pursuit of individual wealth serves the interests of the company and the nation. In the movie, Gekko gets his comeuppance; in real life, the Gordon Gekkos took over both corporate America and, eventually, our political system.

Oliver Stone didn't conjure Gekko's "greed" line out of thin air. It was based on a real speech given by corporate raider Ivan Boesky -- and it reflected what many corporate executives, conservative intellectuals and right-wing politicians were saying at the time.

It's no coincidence that ringing endorsements of greed began to be heard at the same time that the actual incomes of America's rich began to soar. In part, the new pro-greed ideology was a way of rationalizing what was already happening. But it was also, to an important extent, a cause of the phenomenon. In the past thirty years, right-wing foundations have devoted enormous resources to promoting this agenda, building a far-reaching network of think tanks, media outlets and conservative scholars to legitimize higher levels of inequality. "On average, corporate America pays its most important leaders like bureaucrats," the Harvard Business Review lamented in 1990, calling for higher pay for top executives. "Is it any wonder then that so many CEOs act like bureaucrats?"

Although corporate executives have always had the power to pay themselves lavishly, their self-enrichment was limited by what Lucian Bebchuk, Jesse Fried and David Walker -- the leading experts on exploding executive paychecks -- call the "outrage constraint." What they mean is that a conspicuously self-dealing CEO would be forced to moderate his greed by unions, the press and politicians: The social climate itself condemned executive salaries that seem immodest.

Lately, however, we have experienced a death of outrage. Thanks to the right's well-funded and organized effort, corporate executives now feel no shame in lining their pockets with huge bonuses and gigantic stock options. Such self-dealing is justified, they say: Greed is what made America great, and greedy executives are exactly what corporate America needs.

At the same time, there has been a concerted attack on the institutions that have helped moderate inequality -- in particular, unions. During the Great Compression, the rate of unionization nearly tripled; by 1945, more than one in three American workers belonged to a union. A lot of what made General Motors the relatively egalitarian institution it was in the 1960s had to do with its powerful union, which was able to demand high wages for its members. Those wages, in turn, set a standard that elevated the income of workers who didn't belong to unions. But today, in the era of Wal-Mart, fewer than one in eleven workers in the private sector is organized -- effectively preventing hundreds of thousands of working Americans from joining the middle class.

Why isn't Wal-Mart unionized? The answer is simple and brutal: Business interests went on the offensive against unions. And we're not talking about gentle persuasion; we're talking about hardball tactics. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, at least one in every twenty workers who voted for a union was illegally fired; some estimates put the number as high as one in eight. And once Ronald Reagan took office, the anti-union campaign was aided and abetted by political support at the highest levels.

Unions weren't the only institution that fostered income equality during the generation that followed the Great Compression. The creation of a national minimum wage also set a benchmark for the entire economy, boosting the bargaining position of workers. But under Reagan, Congress failed to raise the minimum wage, allowing its value to be eroded by inflation. Between 1981 and 1989, the minimum wage remained the same in dollar terms -- but inflation shrank its purchasing power by twenty-five percent, reducing it to the lowest level since the 1950s.

After Reagan left office, there was a partial reversal of his anti-labor policies. The minimum wage was increased under the elder Bush and again under Clinton, restoring about half the ground it lost under Reagan. But then came Bush the Second -- and the balance of power shifted against workers and the middle class to a degree not seen since the Gilded Age.

During the 2000 election campaign, George W. Bush joked that his base consisted of the "haves and the have mores." But it wasn't much of a joke. Not only has the Bush administration favored the interests of the wealthiest few Americans over those of the middle class, it has consistently shown a preference for people who get their income from dividends and capital gains, rather than those who work for a living.

Under Bush, the economy has been growing at a reasonable pace for the past three years. But most Americans have failed to benefit from that growth. All indicators of the economic status of ordinary Americans -- poverty rates, family incomes, the number of people without health insurance -- show that most of us were worse off in 2005 than we were in 2000, and there's little reason to think that 2006 was much better.

So where did all the economic growth go? It went to a relative handful of people at the top. The earnings of the typical full-time worker, adjusted for inflation, have actually fallen since Bush took office. Pay for CEOs, meanwhile, has soared -- from 185 times that of average workers in 2003 to 279 times in 2005. And after-tax corporate profits have also skyrocketed, more than doubling since Bush took office. Those profits will eventually be reflected in dividends and capital gains, which accrue mainly to the very well-off: More than three-quarters of all stocks are owned by the richest ten percent of the population.

Bush wasn't directly responsible for the stagnation of wages and the surge in profits and executive compensation: The White House doesn't set wage rates or give CEOs stock options. But the government can tilt the balance of power between workers and bosses in many ways -- and at every juncture, this government has favored the bosses. There are four ways, in particular, that the Bush administration has helped make the poor poorer and the rich richer.

First, like Reagan, Bush has stood firmly against any increase in the minimum wage, even as inflation erodes the value of a dollar. The minimum wage was last raised in 1997; since then, inflation has cut the purchasing power of a minimum-wage worker's paycheck by twenty percent.

Second, again like Reagan, Bush has used the government's power to make it harder for workers to organize. The National Labor Relations Board, founded to protect the ability of workers to organize, has become for all practical purposes an agent of employers trying to prevent unionization. A spectacular example of this anti-union bias came just a few months ago. Under U.S. labor law, legal protections for union organizing do not extend to supervisors. But the Republican majority on the NLRB ruled that otherwise ordinary line workers who occasionally tell others what to do -- such as charge nurses, who primarily care for patients but also give instructions to other nurses on the same shift -- will now be considered supervisors. In a single administrative stroke, the Bush administration stripped as many as 8 million workers of their right to unionize.

Third, the administration effectively blocked what might have been a post-Enron backlash against self-dealing corporate insiders. Corporate scandals dominated the news in the first half of 2002 -- but then the subject was changed to the urgent need to invade Iraq, and the drive for reform was squelched. With Americans focused on the war, CEOs are once again rewarding themselves at impressive -- and unprecedented -- levels.

Finally, there's the government's most direct method of affecting incomes: taxes. In this arena, Bush has made sure that the rich pay lower taxes than they have in decades. According to the latest estimates, once the Bush tax cuts have taken full effect, more than a third of the cash will go to people making more than $500,000 a year -- a mere 0.8 percent of the population.

It's easy to get confused about the Bush tax cuts. For one thing, they are designed to confuse. The core of the Bush policy involves cutting taxes on high incomes, especially on the income wealthy Americans receive from capital gains and dividends. You might say that the Bush administration favors people who live off their wealth over people who have a job. But there are some middle-class "sweeteners" thrown in, so the administration can point to a few ordinary American families who have received significant tax cuts.

Furthermore, the administration has engaged in a systematic campaign of disinformation about whose taxes have been cut. Indeed, one of Bush's first actions after taking office was to tell the Treasury Department to stop producing estimates of how tax cuts are distributed by income class -- that is, information on who gained how much. Instead, official reports on taxes under Bush are textbook examples of how to mislead with statistics, presenting a welter of confusing numbers that convey the false impression that the tax cuts favor middle-class families, not the wealthy.

In reality, only a few middle-class families received a significant tax cut under Bush. But every wealthy American -- especially those who live off of stock earnings or their inheritance -- got a big tax cut. To picture who gained the most, imagine the son of a very wealthy man, who expects to inherit $50 million in stock and live off the dividends. Before the Bush tax cuts, our lucky heir-to-be would have paid about $27 million in estate taxes and contributed 39.6 percent of his dividend income in taxes. Once Bush's cuts go into effect, he could inherit the whole estate tax-free and pay a tax rate of only fifteen percent on his stock earnings. Truly, this is a very good time to be one of the have mores.

It's worth noting that Bush doesn't simply favor the upper class: It's the upper-upper class he cares about. That became clear last fall, when the House and Senate passed rival tax-cutting bills. (What were they doing cutting taxes yet again in the face of a huge budget deficit and an expensive war? Never mind.) The Senate bill was devoted to providing relief to middle-class wage earners: According to the Tax Policy Center, two-thirds of the Senate tax cut would have gone to people with incomes of between $100,000 and $500,000 a year. Those making more than $1 million a year would have received only eight percent of the cut.

The House bill, by contrast, focused on extending tax cuts on capital gains and dividends. More than forty percent of the House cuts would have flowed to the $1 million-plus group; only thirty percent to the 100K to 500K taxpayers.

The White House favored the House bill -- and the final, reconciled measure wound up awarding a quarter of the benefits to America's millionaires. That, in a nutshell, is the politics of income inequality under Bush.

Oh, one last thing: What about the claim that the Bush tax cuts did wonders for economic growth? In fact, job creation has been much slower under Bush than under Clinton, and overall growth since 2003 is largely the result of the huge housing boom, which has more to do with low interest rates than with taxes. But the biggest irony of all is that the real boom -- the one in the 1990s -- followed tax changes that were the reverse of Bush's policies. Clinton raised taxes on the rich, and the economy prospered.

A generation ago the distribution of income in the United States didn't look all that different from that of other advanced countries. We had more poverty, largely because of the unresolved legacy of slavery. But the gap between the economic elite and the middle class was no larger in America than it was in Europe.

Today, we're completely out of line with other advanced countries. The share of income received by the top 0.1 percent of Americans is twice the share received by the corresponding group in Britain, and three times the share in France. These days, to find societies as unequal as the United States you have to look beyond the advanced world, to Latin America. And if that comparison doesn't frighten you, it should.

The social and economic failure of Latin America is one of history's great tragedies. Our southern neighbors started out with natural and human resources at least as favorable for economic development as those in the United States. Yet over the course of the past two centuries, they fell steadily behind. Economic historians such as Kenneth Sokoloff of UCLA think they know why: Latin America got caught in an inequality trap. For historical reasons -- the kind of crops they grew, the elitist policies of colonial Spain -- Latin American societies started out with much more inequality than the societies of North America. But this inequality persisted, Sokoloff writes, because elites were able to "institutionalize an unequal distribution of political power" and to "use that greater influence to establish rules, laws and other government policies that advantaged members of the elite relative to non-members." Rather than making land available to small farmers, as the United States did with the Homestead Act, Latin American governments tended to give large blocks of public lands to people with the right connections. They also shortchanged basic education -- condemning millions to illiteracy. The result, Sokoloff notes, was "persistence over time of the high degree of inequality." This sharp inequality, in turn, doomed the economies of Latin America: Many talented people never got a chance to rise to their full potential, simply because they were born into the wrong class.

In addition, the statistical evidence shows, unequal societies tend to be corrupt societies. When there are huge disparities in wealth, the rich have both the motive and the means to corrupt the system on their behalf. In The New Industrial State, published in 1967, John Kenneth Galbraith dismissed any concern that corporate executives might exploit their position for personal gain, insisting that group decision-making would enforce "a high standard of personal honesty." But in recent years, the sheer amount of money paid to executives who are perceived as successful has overridden the restraints that Galbraith believed would control executive greed. Today, a top executive who pumps up his company's stock price by faking high profits can walk away with vast wealth even if the company later collapses, and the small chance he faces of going to jail isn't an effective deterrent. What's more, the group decision-making that Galbraith thought would prevent personal corruption doesn't work if everyone in the group can be bought off with a piece of the spoils -- which is more or less what happened at Enron. It is also what happens in Congress, when corporations share the spoils with our elected representatives in the form of generous campaign contributions and lucrative lobbying jobs.

As the past six years demonstrate, such political corruption only worsens as economic inequality rises. Indeed, the gap between rich and poor doesn't just mean that few Americans share in the benefits of economic growth -- it also undermines the sense of shared experience that binds us together as a nation. "Trust is based upon the belief that we are all in this together, part of a 'moral community,' " writes Eric Uslaner, a political scientist at the University of Maryland who has studied the effects of inequality on trust. "It is tough to convince people in a highly stratified society that the rich and the poor share common values, much less a common fate."

In the end, the effects of our growing economic inequality go far beyond dollars and cents. This, ultimately, is the most pressing question we face as a society today: Will the United States go down the path that Latin America followed -- one that leads to ever-growing disparity in political power as well as in income? The United States doesn't have Third World levels of economic inequality -- yet. But it is not hard to foresee, in the current state of our political and economic scene, the outline of a transformation into a permanently unequal society -- one that locks in and perpetuates the drastic economic polarization that is already dangerously far advanced.

Posted Nov 30, 2006 1:59 PM



http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/12699486/paul_krugman_on_the_great_wealth_transfer/print

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Saudis Say They Might Back Sunnis if U.S. Leaves Iraq

December 13, 2006

Saudis Say They Might Back Sunnis if U.S. Leaves Iraq

WASHINGTON, Dec. 12 — Saudi Arabia has told the Bush administration that it might provide financial backing to Iraqi Sunnis in any war against Iraq’s Shiites if the United States pulls its troops out of Iraq, according to American and Arab diplomats.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia conveyed that message to Vice President Dick Cheney two weeks ago during Mr. Cheney’s whirlwind visit to Riyadh, the officials said. During the visit, King Abdullah also expressed strong opposition to diplomatic talks between the United States and Iran, and pushed for Washington to encourage the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, senior Bush administration officials said.

The Saudi warning reflects fears among America’s Sunni Arab allies about Iran’s rising influence in Iraq, coupled with Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. King Abdullah II of Jordan has also expressed concern about rising Shiite influence, and about the prospect that the Shiite-dominated government would use Iraqi troops against the Sunni population.

A senior Bush administration official said Tuesday that part of the administration’s review of Iraq policy involved the question of how to harness a coalition of moderate Iraqi Sunnis with centrist Shiites to back the Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

The Saudis have argued strenuously against an American pullout from Iraq, citing fears that Iraq’s minority Sunni Arab population would be massacred. Those fears, United States officials said, have become more pronounced as a growing chorus in Washington has advocated a draw-down of American troops in Iraq, coupled with diplomatic outreach to Iran, which is largely Shiite.

“It’s a hypothetical situation, and we’d work hard to avoid such a structure,” one Arab diplomat in Washington said. But, he added, “If things become so bad in Iraq, like an ethnic cleansing, we will feel we are pulled into the war.”

The Bush administration is also working on a way to form a coalition of Sunni Arab nations and a moderate Shiite government in Iraq, along with the United States and Europe, to stand against “Iran, Syria and the terrorists,” another senior administration official said Tuesday.

Until now Saudi officials have promised their counterparts in the United States that they would refrain from aiding Iraq’s Sunni insurgency. But that pledge holds only as long as the United States remains in Iraq.

The Saudis have been wary of supporting Sunnis in Iraq because their insurgency there has been led by extremists of Al Qaeda, who are opposed to the kingdom’s monarchy. But if Iraq’s sectarian war worsened, the Saudis would line up with Sunni tribal leaders.

The Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal, who told his staff on Monday that he was resigning his post, recently fired Nawaf Obaid, a consultant who wrote an opinion piece in The Washington Post two weeks ago contending that “one of the first consequences” of an American pullout of Iraq would “be massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed Shiite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis.”

Mr. Obaid also suggested that Saudi Arabia could cut world oil prices in half by raising its production, a move that he said “would be devastating to Iran, which is facing economic difficulties even with today’s high oil prices.” The Saudi government disavowed Mr. Obaid’s column, and Prince Turki canceled his contract.

But Arab diplomats said Tuesday that Mr. Obaid’s column reflected the view of the Saudi government, which has made clear its opposition to an American pullout from Iraq.

In a speech in Philadelphia last week, Prince Turki reiterated the Saudi position against an American withdrawal from Iraq. “Just picking up and leaving is going to create a huge vacuum,” he told the World Affairs Council. “The U.S. must underline its support for the Maliki government because there is no other game in town.”

Prince Turki said Saudi Arabia did not want Iraq to fracture along ethnic or religious lines. On Monday a group of prominent Saudi clerics called on Sunni Muslims around the world to mobilize against Shiites in Iraq. The statement called the “murder, torture and displacement of Sunnis” an “outrage.”

The resignation of Prince Turki, a former Saudi intelligence chief and a son of the late King Faisal, was supposed to be formally announced Monday, officials said, but that had not happened by late Tuesday.

“They’re keeping us very puzzled,” a Saudi official said. Prince Turki’s resignation was first reported Monday in The Washington Post.

If Prince Turki does depart, he will leave after 15 months on the job, in contrast to the 22 years that his predecessor, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, spent as ambassador in Washington.

In Riyadh, there was a sense of disarray over Prince Turki’s resignation that was difficult to hide. A former adviser to the royal family said that Prince Turki had submitted his resignation several months ago but that it was refused. Rumors had circulated ever since that Prince Turki intended to resign, as talk of a possible government shake-up grew.

Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister and Prince Turki’s brother, has been in poor health for some time. He is described as eager to resign, with his wife’s health failing, too, just as the United States has been prodding Saudi Arabia to take a more active role in Iraq and with Iran.

The former adviser said Prince Turki’s resignation came amid a growing rivalry between the ambassador and Prince Bandar, who is now Saudi Arabia’s national security adviser. Prince Bandar, well known in Washington for his access to the White House, has vied to become the next foreign minister.

“This is a very high-level problem; this is about Turki, the king and Bandar,” said the former adviser to the royal family. “Let’s say the men don’t have a lot of professional admiration for each other.”

Hassan M. Fattah contributed reporting from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.



http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/13/world/middleeast/13saudi.html?ei=5094&en=9b8923e7095544b1&hp=&ex=1166072400&partner=homepage&pagewanted=print

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Former Aides To Congress Switch Sides for Upcoming Probes

Former Aides To Congress Switch Sides for Upcoming Probes

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Monday, December 11, 2006; D01

Deee-fense, Deee-fense Deee-fense.

You can almost hear the chant rising from corporate offices all over town. As soon as Democrats take over Congress next month, all sorts of businesses will no doubt face sharp-elbowed congressional hearings called O & I -- oversight and investigations. And they'll need a strong defense.

Luckily for corporate America, many of the people who formerly conducted those nasty and frequently televised inquiries have switched sides and are available for hire to the highest bidders. For the right fee, a company can retain a former chief counsel to almost any of the most marauding committees on Capitol Hill.

Think of it as a cottage industry, and a very large cottage at that.

So many inquisitions are about to be begun by the Democrats newly in charge that dozens of law and PR firms are bulking up with former insiders to cash in on all the trouble those hearings will create. Companies that were harassed in the past by smart young government lawyers have lately been buying the services of those same young lawyers, now in the private sector, for protection from their successors.

"A lot of companies are reaching out to law firms and lobbying shops because they're nervous about what's ahead," said Mark R. Paoletta, chief counsel for oversight and investigations at the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The business of cushioning the blow from congressional inquiries is expected to grow enormously because "Democrats are going to be very, very active," he said.

Certainly he hopes so. Paoletta, 44, is reversing allegiances in January. He has been hired by the law firm Dickstein Shapiro to specialize in guiding clients through congressional investigations -- the same kinds of investigations he's directed for the past nine years. Andrew L. Snowdon, an oversight and investigations counsel for the same committee, is also headed to Dickstein Shapiro.

Why the big turnabout? "I have four kids," Paoletta said. His oldest, he said, attends a private high school that costs $26,000 a year. Of his current post, he said, "I don't think there's a better job in the world." But corporations on the griddle need representation too, and they pay better.

So much better, in fact, that just about every company on K Street is vying for a piece of the soon-to-thrive "crisis management" business. The law firm Holland & Knight is flogging its newly formed Congressional Investigations Response Team. Promotional literature highlights the many former insiders now eager to assist their former nemeses: "Our ranks include two former Members of Congress, a former Minority Chief Counsel to the Senate Government Affairs Committee, a former Rules Committee Counsel, a former Chief of Staff for the House Republican Conference, and a former Chief of Staff to the Attorney General, among others."

Two former aides to the House's Government Reform Committee are also forming a partnership partly in hopes of attracting clients who want to know how to defeat the kinds of investigations they once managed. Barbara J. Comstock and Mark Corallo are setting out on their new venture because, Comstock said, "it helps to know the history of the committee, its subpoena power."

The Carmen Group, a lobbying firm, is building a government investigations division and has allied itself with one of the top names in congressional oversight: Franklin Silbey. He led the Senate Judiciary Committee's oversight subcommittee and was chief of investigations for the Senate Labor Committee. "The group will start as four people and we expect it will get larger," said David M. Carmen, president of the firm.

Public relations companies are also getting into the act. Dittus Communications and Public Strategies are hunting for clients who think they are about to be pounced upon. There ought to be a lot of clients around. "It doesn't take a decoder ring to figure out what the broad focus of the investigations will be," said Jeff Eller, Public Strategies' president. Among the many corporations that should expect a congressional onslaught, he said, are oil and drug companies, contractors to the Pentagon and the Homeland Security Department, hedge funds and any firm that produces anything that contributes to global warming, including electric utilities and auto manufacturers.

Not surprisingly -- but probably with good reason -- Eller recommends that companies that even suspect they're in jeopardy should take precautions. "If you have exposure today and you're likely going to get scrutiny by one or more committees, the best thing a company can do is prepare for that now," he said.

Advice varies widely among consultants about how best to approach an impending congressional investigation. Some say it's wise to hand over as much information as possible. Others say that would be the worst decision of all. Everyone agrees that oversight hearings are a very peculiar beast that require legal smarts, legislative insight and a keen attention to public perception.

"I've seen over and over again clients making the mistake of failing to appreciate the unique nature of this process," said Steven R. Ross, a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer Feld and a former general counsel for the House. "People try to treat it as a pure litigation battle or as a lobbying exercise. In fact, it is a blend of the two."

Humility is also a good idea. When testifying before Congress, said former representative Gerry Sikorski (D-Minn.), now with Holland & Knight, "you are not a big-time, hot-shot CEO of a multibillion-dollar corporation. You are an American citizen, under oath and with limited rights, providing information to the U.S. Congress under their roof, rules and procedures."

Some targets also take the proceedings too lightly, which is a serious error, experts agree. "I've become more and more conservative with these things over the years," said Stanley M. Brand, head of the Brand Law Group and a veteran of such encounters. "My advice is to batten down the hatches, assert your rights if you have them, and don't go in and disgorge documents. These investigations are stalking horses for the Justice Department."

Comstock disagrees somewhat, preferring wide disclosure over secrecy. "If you do have some bad news or bad information, get it out yourself, on your own terms and explain it," she said.

Eller thinks flexibility is a key. For example, he prefers that his clients under congressional scrutiny say that they are "working with" the committee; he advises against using the word "cooperate." The former allows the client to withhold some information when necessary and not run afoul of the truth.

Boring is also better when it comes to O & I. Indeed, in a proceeding that's so public, targets would rather go unnoticed. That was certainly the case when a lawmaker-turned-lobbyist physically restrained a chief executive from standing in front of a picture of a crumpled car when news photographers were nearby during a hearing about roadway accidents.

Sometimes a good defense is a vigorous offense.

Lobbyists' Holiday Cheer

Again, it's that time of year. Please e-mail examples of pro bono lobbying that you've done or that you know about for a special holiday column. Send examples early and often, and no later than this week, please. Thanks and cheers!

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/10/AR2006121000604_pf.html

Routine and Systematic Torture Is at the Heart of America's War on Terror

Routine and Systematic Torture Is at the Heart of America's War on Terror
By George Monbiot
The Guardian UK

Tuesday 12 December 2006

In the fight against cruelty, barbarism and extremism, America has embraced the very evils it claims to confront.

After thousands of years of practice, you might have imagined that every possible means of inflicting pain had already been devised. But you should never underestimate the human capacity for invention. United States interrogators, we now discover, have found a new way of destroying a human being.

Last week, defence lawyers acting for José Padilla, a US citizen detained as an "enemy combatant", released a video showing a mission fraught with deadly risk - taking him to the prison dentist. A group of masked guards in riot gear shackled his legs and hands, blindfolded him with black-out goggles and shut off his hearing with headphones, then marched him down the prison corridor.

Is Padilla really that dangerous? Far from it: his warders describe him as so docile and inactive that he could be mistaken for "a piece of furniture". The purpose of these measures appeared to be to sustain the regime under which he had lived for more than three years: total sensory deprivation. He had been kept in a blacked-out cell, unable to see or hear anything beyond it. Most importantly, he had had no human contact, except for being bounced off the walls from time to time by his interrogators. As a result, he appears to have lost his mind. I don't mean this metaphorically. I mean that his mind is no longer there.

The forensic psychiatrist who examined him says that he "does not appreciate the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him, is unable to render assistance to counsel, and has impairments in reasoning as the result of a mental illness, ie, post-traumatic stress disorder, complicated by the neuropsychiatric effects of prolonged isolation". José Padilla appears to have been lobotomised: not medically, but socially.

If this was an attempt to extract information, it was ineffective: the authorities held him without charge for three and half years. Then, threatened by a supreme court ruling, they suddenly dropped their claims that he was trying to detonate a dirty bomb. They have now charged him with some vague and lesser offences to do with support for terrorism. He is unlikely to be the only person subjected to this regime. Another "enemy combatant", Ali al-Marri, claims to have been subject to the same total isolation and sensory deprivation, in the same naval prison in South Carolina. God knows what is being done to people who have disappeared into the CIA's foreign oubliettes.

That the US tortures, routinely and systematically, while prosecuting its "war on terror" can no longer be seriously disputed. The Detainee Abuse and Accountability Project (DAA), a coalition of academics and human-rights groups, has documented the abuse or killing of 460 inmates of US military prisons in Afghanistan, Iraq and at Guantánamo Bay. This, it says, is necessarily a conservative figure: many cases will remain unrecorded. The prisoners were beaten, raped, forced to abuse themselves, forced to maintain "stress positions", and subjected to prolonged sleep deprivation and mock executions.

The New York Times reports that prisoners held by the US military at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan were made to stand for up to 13 days with their hands chained to the ceiling, naked, hooded and unable to sleep. The Washington Post alleges that prisoners at the same airbase were "commonly blindfolded and thrown into walls, bound in painful positions, subjected to loud noises and deprived of sleep" while kept, like Padilla and the arrivals at Guantánamo, "in black hoods or spray-painted goggles".

Alfred McCoy, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, argues that the photographs released from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq reflect standard CIA torture techniques: "stress positions, sensory deprivation, and sexual humiliation". The famous picture of the hooded man standing on a box, with wires attached to his fingers, shows two of these techniques being used at once. Unable to see, he has no idea how much time has passed or what might be coming next. He stands in a classic stress position - maintained for several hours, it causes excruciating pain. He appears to have been told that if he drops his arms he will be electrocuted. What went wrong at Abu Ghraib is that someone took photos. Everything else was done by the book.

Neither the military nor the civilian authorities have broken much sweat in investigating these crimes. A few very small fish have been imprisoned; a few others have been fined or reduced in rank; in most cases the authorities have either failed to investigate or failed to prosecute. The DAA points out that no officer has yet been held to account for torture practised by his subordinates. US torturers appear to enjoy impunity, until they are stupid enough to take pictures of each other.

But Padilla's treatment also reflects another glorious American tradition: solitary confinement. Some 25,000 US prisoners are currently held in isolation - a punishment only rarely used in other democracies. In some places, like the federal prison in Florence, Colorado, they are kept in sound-proofed cells and might scarcely see another human being for years on end. They may touch or be touched by no one. Some people have been kept in solitary confinement in the US for more than 20 years.

At Pelican Bay in California, where 1,200 people are held in the isolation wing, inmates are confined to tiny cells for 22 and a half hours a day, then released into an "exercise yard" for "recreation". The yard consists of a concrete well about 3.5 metres in length with walls 6 metres high and a metal grille across the sky. The recreation consists of pacing back and forth, alone.

The results are much as you would expect. As National Public Radio reveals, more than 10% of the isolation prisoners at Pelican Bay are now in the psychiatric ward, and there's a waiting list. Prisoners in solitary confinement, according to Dr Henry Weinstein, a psychiatrist who studies them, suffer from "memory loss to severe anxiety to hallucinations to delusions ... under the severest cases of sensory deprivation, people go crazy." People who went in bad and dangerous come out mad as well. The only two studies conducted so far - in Texas and Washington state - both show that the recidivism rates for prisoners held in solitary confinement are worse than for those who were allowed to mix with other prisoners. If we were to judge the US by its penal policies, we would perceive a strange beast: a Christian society that believes in neither forgiveness nor redemption.

From this delightful experiment, US interrogators appear to have extracted a useful lesson: if you want to erase a man's mind, deprive him of contact with the rest of the world. This has nothing to do with obtaining information: torture of all kinds - physical or mental - produces the result that people will say anything to make it end. It is about power, and the thrilling discovery that in the right conditions one man's power over another is unlimited. It is an indulgence which turns its perpetrators into everything they claim to be confronting.

President Bush maintains that he is fighting a war against threats to the "values of civilised nations": terror, cruelty, barbarism and extremism. He asked his nation's interrogators to discover where these evils are hidden. They should congratulate themselves. They appear to have succeeded.

http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/121206B.shtml

'Convert or die' game divides Christians

'Convert or die' game divides Christians
Some ask Wal-Mart to drop Left Behind

Ilene Lelchuk, Chronicle Staff Writer

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

In Left Behind, video game players must try to convert ot...

Liberal and progressive Christian groups say a new computer game in which players must either convert or kill non-Christians is the wrong gift to give this holiday season and that Wal-Mart, a major video game retailer, should yank it off its shelves.

The Campaign to Defend the Constitution and the Christian Alliance for Progress, two online political groups, plan to demand today that Wal-Mart dump Left Behind: Eternal Forces, a PC game inspired by a series of Christian novels that are hugely popular, especially with teens.

The series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins is based on their interpretation of the Bible's Book of Revelation and takes place after the Rapture, when Jesus has taken his people to heaven and left nonbelievers behind to face the Antichrist.

Left Behind Games' president, Jeffrey Frichner, says the game actually is pacifist because players lose "spirit points" every time they gun down nonbelievers rather than convert them. They can earn spirit points again by having their character pray.

"You are fighting a defensive battle in the game," Frichner, whose previous company produced Bible software, said of combatting the Antichrist. "You are a sort of a freedom fighter."

A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said the retailer has no plans to pull Left Behind: Eternal Forces from any of the 200 of Wal-Mart's 3,800 stores that offer the game, including just seven in California. The nearest are in Chico and Redding.

"We look at the community to see where it will sell," said Tara Raddohl. "We have customers who are buying it and really haven't received a lot of complaints about it from our customers at this time."

Clark Stevens, co-director of the Campaign to Defend the Constitution, said the game is not peaceful or diplomatic.

"It's an incredibly violent video game," said Stevens. "Sure, there is no blood. (The dead just fade off the screen.) But you are mowing down your enemy with a gun. It pushes a message of religious intolerance. You can either play for the 'good side' by trying to convert nonbelievers to your side or join the Antichrist."

The Rev. Tim Simpson, a Jacksonville, Fla., Presbyterian minister and president of the Christian Alliance for Progress, added: "So, under the Christmas tree this year for little Johnny is this allegedly Christian video game teaching Johnny to hate and kill?"

Both groups formed in 2005 to protest what their 130,000 or so members feel is the growing political influence and hypocrisy of the religious right.

In Left Behind, set in perfectly apocalyptic New York City, the Antichrist is personified by fictional Romanian Nicolae Carpathia, secretary-general of the United Nations and a People magazine "Sexiest Man Alive."

Players can choose to join the Antichrist's team, but of course they can never win on Carpathia's side. The enemy team includes fictional rock stars and folks with Muslim-sounding names, while the righteous include gospel singers, missionaries, healers and medics. Every character comes with a life story.

When asked about the Arab and Muslim-sounding names, Frichner said the game does not endorse prejudice. But "Muslims are not believers in Jesus Christ" -- and thus can't be on Christ's side in the game.

"That is so obvious," he said.

Left Behind is a real-time strategy and adventure game. Players don't role-play like in Grand Theft Auto -- it's more like the board game Risk than Clue.

Frichner said more than 10,000 retailers -- including Sam's Club, Target, Best Buy, Circuit City, GameStop, EB Games and various Christian stores -- offer the game. He said sales are terrific, though he wouldn't reveal figures.

Protesters are targeting Wal-Mart, where the game retails for $39.96, because it is one of the biggest video game sellers in the United States.

More than 60 million copies of books in the series have sold since the first volume came out in 1996.

Jeff Gerstmann, senior editor at Gamespot.com, an online publication, said the game sn't popular. The game itself, which Gamespot rated 3.4 out of a possible 10, has lots of glitches.

"And it's kind of crazy," Gerstmann said. "One of the evil characters is a rock musician. ... If you get too close to him your spirit is lowered."

But Plugged In, a publication of the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family, gave the game a "thumbs-up." The reviewer called it "the kind of game that Mom and Dad can actually play with Junior -- and use to raise some interesting questions along the way."

Frichner said that is precisely his company's ultimate goal in offering the game: to bring parents and kids together to talk about the Bible. He said most teens are playing video games, so it was natural to turn the books into one.

His business partner, Troy Lyndon, created Madden Football, one of the top-selling sports video games. Left Behind Games Inc. is based in Murrieta (Riverside County).

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/12/12/MNG8TMU1KQ1.DTL

Pinochet's Death Spares Bush Family

Pinochet's Death Spares Bush Family
By Robert Parry
Consortium News

Tuesday 12 December 2006

Gen. Augusto Pinochet's death on Dec. 10 means the Bush Family can breathe a little bit easier, knowing that criminal proceedings against Chile's notorious dictator can no longer implicate his longtime friend and protector, former President George H.W. Bush.

Although Chilean investigations against other defendants may continue, the cases against Pinochet end with his death of a heart attack at the age of 91. Pinochet's death from natural causes also marks a victory for world leaders, including George H.W. and George W. Bush, who shielded Pinochet from justice over the past three decades.

The Bush Family's role in the Pinochet cover-up began in 1976 when then-CIA Director George H.W. Bush diverted investigators away from Pinochet's guilt in a car bombing in Washington that killed political rival Orlando Letelier and an American, Ronni Moffitt.

The cover-up stretched into the presidency of George W. Bush when he sidetracked an FBI recommendation to indict Pinochet in the Letelier-Moffitt murders.

Over those intervening 30 years, Pinochet allegedly engaged in a variety of illicit operations, including terrorism, torture, murder, drug trafficking, money-laundering and illicit arms shipments - sometimes with the official collusion of the U.S. government.

In the 1980s, when George H.W. Bush was Vice President, Pinochet's regime helped funnel weapons to the Nicaraguan contra rebels and to Saddam Hussein's Iraq, an operation that also implicated then-CIA official Robert M. Gates, who will be the next U.S. Secretary of Defense.

When Pinochet faced perhaps his greatest risk of prosecution - in 1998 when he was detained in London pending extradition to Spain on charges of murdering Spanish citizens - former President George H.W. Bush protested Pinochet's arrest, calling it "a travesty of justice" and joining in a successful appeal to the British courts to let Pinochet go home to Chile.

Once Pinochet was returned to Chile, the wily ex-dictator employed a legal strategy of political obstruction and assertions of ill health to avert prosecution. Until his death, he retained influential friends in the Chilean power structure and in key foreign capitals, especially Washington.

Pinochet's History

Pinochet's years in the service of U.S. foreign policy date back to the early 1970s when Richard Nixon's administration wanted to destroy Chile's democratically elected socialist government of Salvador Allende.

The CIA launched a covert operation to "destabilize" Allende's government, with the CIA-sponsored chaos ending in a bloody coup on Sept. 11, 1973. Gen. Pinochet seized power and Allende was shot to death when Pinochet's forces stormed the Presidential Palace.

Thousands of political dissidents - including Americans and other foreigners - were rounded up and executed. Many also were tortured.

With Pinochet in control, the CIA turned its attention to helping him overcome the negative publicity that his violent coup had engendered around the world. One "secret" CIA memo, written in early 1974, described the success of "the Santiago Station's propaganda project." The memo said:

"Prior to the coup the project's media outlets maintained a steady barrage of anti-government criticism, exploiting every possible point of friction between the government and the democratic opposition, and emphasizing the problems and conflicts that were developing between the government and the armed forces. Since the coup, these media outlets have supported the new military government. They have tried to present the Junta in the most positive light." [See Peter Kornbluh's The Pinochet File]

Despite the CIA's P.R. blitz, however, Pinochet and his military subordinates insisted on dressing up and acting like a casting agent's idea of Fascist bullies. The dour Pinochet was known for his fondness for wearing a military cloak that made him resemble a well-dressed Nazi SS officer.

Pinochet and the other right-wing military dictators who dominated South America in the mid-1970s also had their own priorities, one of which was the elimination of political opponents who were living in exile in other countries.

Though many of these dissidents weren't associated with violent revolutionary movements, the anticommunist doctrine then in vogue among the region's right-wing military made few distinctions between armed militants and political activists.

By 1974, Chilean intelligence was collaborating with freelancing anti-Castro Cuban extremists and other South American security forces to eliminate any and all threats to right-wing military power.

The first prominent victim of these cross-border assassinations was former Chilean Gen. Carlos Prats, who was living in Argentina and was viewed as a potential rival to Pinochet because Prats had opposed Pinochet's coup that shattered Chile's long history as a constitutional democracy.

Learning that Prats was writing his memoirs, Pinochet's secret police chief Manuel Contreras dispatched Michael Townley, an assassin trained in explosives, to Argentina. Townley planted a bomb under Prats's car, detonating it on Sept. 30, killing Prats at the door and incinerating Prats's wife who was trapped inside the car.

On Oct. 6, 1975, a gunman approached Chilean Christian Democratic leader Bernardo Leighton who was walking with his wife on a street in Rome. The gunman shot both Leighton and his wife, severely wounding both of them.

Operation Condor

In November 1975, the loose-knit collaboration among the Southern Cone dictatorships took on a more formal structure during a covert intelligence meeting in Santiago. Delegates from the security forces of Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia committed themselves to a regional strategy against "subversives."

In recognition of Chile's leadership, the conference named the project after Chile's national bird, the giant vulture that traverses the Andes Mountains. The project was called "Operation Condor."

The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency confidentially informed Washington that the operation had three phases and that the "third and reportedly very secret phase of 'Operation Condor' involves the formation of special teams from member countries who are to carry out operations to include assassinations."

The Condor accord formally took effect on Jan. 30, 1976, the same day George H.W. Bush was sworn in as CIA director.

In Bush's first few months, right-wing violence across the Southern Cone of South America surged. On March 24, 1976, the Argentine military staged a coup, ousting the ineffectual President Isabel Peron and escalating a brutal internal security campaign against both violent and non-violent opponents on the Left.

The Argentine security forces became especially well-known for grisly methods of torture and the practice of "disappearing" political dissidents who would be snatched from the streets or from their homes, undergo torture and never be seen again.

Like Pinochet, the new Argentine dictators saw themselves on a mission to save Western Civilization from the clutches of leftist thought.

They took pride in the "scientific" nature of their repression. They were clinical practitioners of anticommunism - refining torture techniques, erasing the sanctuary of international borders and collaborating with right-wing terrorists and organized-crime elements to destroy leftist movements.

Later Argentine government investigations discovered that its military intelligence officers advanced Nazi-like methods of torture by testing the limits of how much pain a human being could endure before dying. Torture methods included experiments with electric shocks, drowning, asphyxiation and sexual perversions, such as forcing mice into a woman's vagina.

The totalitarian nature of the anticommunism gripping much of South America revealed itself in one particularly bizarre Argentine practice, which was used when pregnant women were captured as suspected subversives.

The women were kept alive long enough to bring the babies to full term. The women then were subjected to forced labor or Caesarian section. The newborns were given to military families to be raised in the ideology of anticommunism while the new mothers were executed.

Many were taken to an airport near Buenos Aires, stripped naked, shackled to other prisoners and put on a plane. As the plane flew over the Rio Plata or out over the Atlantic Ocean, the prisoners were shoved through a cargo door, sausage-like, into the water to drown. All told, the Argentine war against subversion would claim an estimated 30,000 lives.

The 1976 Argentine coup d'etat allowed the pace of cross-border executions under Operation Condor to quicken.

On May 21, gunmen killed two Uruguayan congressmen on a street in Buenos Aires. On June 4, former Bolivian President Juan Jose Torres was slain also in Buenos Aires. On June 11, armed men kidnapped and tortured 23 Chilean refugees and one Uruguayan who were under United Nations protection.

A Grudge

Despite protests from human rights groups, Pinochet and his fellow dictators felt immune from pressure because of their powerful friends in Washington. Pinochet's sense of impunity led him to contemplate silencing one of his most eloquent critics, Chile's former Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier, who lived in the U.S. capital.

Earlier in their government careers, when Letelier was briefly defense minister in Allende's government, Pinochet had been his subordinate. After the coup, Pinochet imprisoned Letelier at a desolate concentration camp on Dawson Island, but international pressure won Letelier release a year later.

Now, Pinochet was chafing under Letelier's rough criticism of the regime's human rights record. Letelier was doubly infuriating to Pinochet because Letelier was regarded as a man of intellect and charm, even impressing CIA officers who observed him as "a personable, socially pleasant man" and "a reasonable, mature democrat," according to biographical sketches.

By summer 1976, George H.W. Bush's CIA was hearing a lot about Operation Condor from South American sources who had attended a second organizational conference of Southern Cone intelligence services.

These CIA sources reported that the military regimes were preparing "to engage in 'executive action' outside the territory of member countries." In intelligence circles, "executive action" is a euphemism for assassination.

Meanwhile, Pinochet and intelligence chief Manuel Contreras were putting in motion their most audacious assassination plan yet: to eliminate Orlando Letelier in his safe haven in Washington, D.C.

In July 1976, two operatives from Chile's intelligence service DINA - Michael Townley and Armando Fernandez Larios - went to Paraguay where DINA had arranged for them to get false passports and visas for a trip to the United States.

Townley and Larios were using the false names Juan Williams and Alejandro Romeral and a cover story claiming they were investigating suspected leftists working for Chile's state copper company in New York. Townley and Larios said their project had been cleared with the CIA's Station Chief in Santiago.

A senior Paraguayan official, Conrado Pappalardo, urged U.S. Ambassador George Landau to cooperate, citing a direct appeal from Pinochet in support of the mission. Supposedly, the Paraguayan government claimed, the two Chileans were to meet with CIA Deputy Director Vernon Walters.

An alarmed Landau recognized that the visa request was highly unusual, since such operations are normally coordinated with the CIA station in the host country and are cleared with CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

Though granting the visas, Landau took the precaution of sending an urgent cable to Walters and photostatic copies of the fake passports to the CIA. Landau said he received an urgent cable back signed by CIA Director Bush, reporting that Walters, who was in the process of retiring, was out of town.

When Walters returned a few days later, he cabled Landau that he had "nothing to do with this" mission. Landau immediately canceled the visas.

The Assassination

It remains unclear what - if anything - Bush's CIA did after learning about the "Paraguayan caper." Normal protocol would have required senior CIA officials to ask their Chilean counterparts about the supposed trip to Langley.

However, even with the declassification of more records in recent years, that question has never been fully answered.

The CIA also demonstrated little curiosity over the Aug. 22, 1976, arrival of two other Chilean operatives using the names, Juan Williams and Alejandro Romeral, the phony names that were intended to hide the identity of the two operatives in the aborted assassination plot.

When these two different operatives arrived in Washington, they made a point of having the Chilean Embassy notify Walters's office at CIA.

"It is quite beyond belief that the CIA is so lax in its counterespionage functions that it would simply have ignored a clandestine operation by a foreign intelligence service in Washington, D.C., or elsewhere in the United States," wrote John Dinges and Saul Landau in their 1980 book, Assassination on Embassy Row. "It is equally implausible that Bush, Walters, Landau and other officials were unaware of the chain of international assassinations that had been attributed to DINA."

Apparently, DINA had dispatched the second pair of operatives, using the phony names, to show that the initial contacts for visas in Paraguay were not threatening. In other words, the Chilean government had the replacement team of Williams and Romeral go through the motions of a trip to Washington with the intent to visit Walters to dispel any American suspicions or to spread confusion among suspicious U.S. officials.

But it's still unclear whether Bush's CIA contacted Pinochet's government about its mysterious behavior and, if not, why not.

As for the Letelier plot, DINA was soon plotting another way to carry out the killing. In late August, DINA dispatched a preliminary team of one man and one woman to do surveillance on Letelier as he moved around Washington.

Then, Townley was sent under a different alias to carry out the murder. After arriving in New York on Sept. 9, 1976, Townley connected with Cuban National Movement leader Guillermo Novo in Union City, New Jersey, and then headed to Washington. Townley assembled a remote-controlled bomb that used pieces bought at Radio Shack and Sears.

On Sept. 18, joined by Cuban extremists Virgilio Paz and Dionisio Suarez, Townley went to Letelier home in Bethesda, Maryland, outside Washington. The assassination team attached the bomb underneath Letelier's Chevrolet Chevelle.

Three days later, on the morning of Sept. 21, Paz and Suarez followed Letelier as he drove to work with two associates, Ronni Moffitt and her husband Michael. As the Chevelle proceeded down Massachusetts Avenue, through an area known as Embassy Row, the assassins detonated the bomb.

The blast ripped off Letelier's legs and punctured a hole in Ronni Moffitt's jugular vein. She drowned in her own blood at the scene; Letelier died after being taken to George Washington University Hospital. Michael Moffitt survived.

At the time, the attack represented the worst act of international terrorism on U.S. soil. Adding to the potential for scandal, the terrorism had been carried out by a regime that was an ostensible ally of the United States, one that had gained power with the help of the Nixon administration and the CIA.

Threat to Bush

Bush's reputation was also at risk. As authors Dinges and Landau noted in Assassination on Embassy Row, "the CIA reaction was peculiar" after the cable from Ambassador Landau arrived disclosing a covert Chilean intelligence operation and asking Deputy Director Walters if he had a meeting scheduled with the DINA agents.

"Landau expected Walters to take quick action in the event that the Chilean mission did not have CIA clearance. Yet a week passed during which the assassination team could well have had time to carry out their original plan to go directly from Paraguay to Washington to kill Letelier. Walters and Bush conferred during that week about the matter."

"One thing is clear," Dinges and Landau wrote, "DINA chief Manuel Contreras would have called off the assassination mission if the CIA or State Department had expressed their displeasure to the Chilean government. An intelligence officer familiar with the case said that any warning would have been sufficient to cause the assassination to be scuttled. Whatever Walters and Bush did - if anything - the DINA mission proceeded."

Within hours of the bombing, Letelier's associates accused the Pinochet regime, citing its hatred of Letelier and its record for brutality. The Chilean government, however, heatedly denied any responsibility.

That night, at a dinner at the Jordanian Embassy, Senator James Abourezk, a South Dakota Democrat, spotted Bush and approached the CIA director. Abourezk said he was a friend of Letelier's and beseeched Bush to get the CIA "to find the bastards who killed him." Abourezk said Bush responded: "I'll see what I can do. We are not without assets in Chile."

A problem, however, was that one of the CIA's best-placed assets - DINA chief Contreras - was part of the assassination. Wiley Gilstrap, the CIA's Santiago Station Chief, did approach Contreras with questions about the Letelier bombing and wired back to Langley Contreras's assurance that the Chilean government wasn't involved.

Following the strategy of public misdirection already used in hundreds of "disappearances," Contreras pointed the finger at the Chilean Left. Contreras suggested that leftists had killed Letelier to turn him into a martyr.

CIA headquarters, of course, had plenty of evidence that Contreras was lying. The Pinochet government had flashed its intention to mount a suspicious operation inside the United States by involving the U.S. Embassy in Paraguay and the deputy director of the CIA. Bush's CIA even had in its files a photograph of the leader of the terrorist squad, Michael Townley.

Yet, rather than fulfilling his promise to Abourezk to "see what I can do," Bush ignored leads that would have taken him into a confrontation with Pinochet. The CIA either didn't put the pieces together or avoided the obvious conclusions the evidence presented.

The Cover-Up

Indeed, the CIA didn't seem to want any information that might implicate the Pinochet regime. On Oct. 6, a CIA informant in Chile went to the CIA Station in Santiago and relayed an account of Pinochet denouncing Letelier.

The informant said the dictator had called Letelier's criticism of the government "unacceptable." The source "believes that the Chilean Government is directly involved in Letelier's death and feels that investigation into the incident will so indicate," the CIA field report said. [See Kornbluh, The Pinochet File.]

But Bush's CIA chose to accept Contreras's denials and even began leaking information that pointed away from the real killers.

Newsweek's Periscope reported in the magazine's Oct. 11, 1976, issue that "the Chilean secret police were not involved.... The [Central Intelligence] agency reached its decision because the bomb was too crude to be the work of experts and because the murder, coming while Chile's rulers were wooing U.S. support, could only damage the Santiago regime."

Similar stories ran in other newspapers, including the New York Times.

Despite the lack of help from Washington, the FBI's legal attaché in Buenos Aires, Robert Scherrer, began putting the puzzle together only a week after the Letelier bombing.

Relying on a source in the Argentine military, Scherrer reported to his superiors that the assassination was likely the work of Operation Condor, the assassination project organized by the Chilean government.

Another break in the case came two weeks after the Letelier assassination on Oct. 6, 1976, when anti-Castro terrorists planted a bomb on a Cubana Airlines DC-8 before it took off from Barbados. Nine minutes after takeoff, the bomb exploded, plunging the plane into the Caribbean and killing all 73 people on board including the Cuban national fencing team.

Two Cuban exiles, Hernan Ricardo and Freddy Lugo, who had left the plane in Barbados, confessed that they had planted the bomb. They named two prominent anti-Castro extremists, Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada, as the architects of the attack.

A search of Posada's apartment in Venezuela turned up Cubana Airlines timetables and other incriminating documents. Although Posada was a CIA-trained Bay of Pigs veteran and stayed in close touch with some former CIA colleagues, senior CIA officials again pleaded ignorance.

For the second time in barely two weeks, Bush's CIA had done nothing to interfere with terrorist attacks involving anticommunist operatives with close ties to the CIA. [For more on Posada, see Consortiumnews.com's "Bush's Hypocrisy: Cuban Terrorists."]

But the Cubana Airlines bombing put federal investigators on the right track toward solving the Letelier assassination. They began to learn more about the network of right-wing terrorists associated with Operation Condor and its international Murder Inc. However, CIA Director Bush continued to assert the innocence of Pinochet's regime.

On Nov. 1, 1976, the Washington Post cited CIA officials in reporting that "operatives of the present Chilean military Junta did not take part in Letelier's killing." The Post added that "CIA Director Bush expressed this view in a conversation late last week with Secretary of State Kissinger."

Regarding the Letelier murder, George H.W. Bush was never pressed to provide a full explanation of his actions.

When I submitted questions to Bush in 1988 - while he was Vice President and I was a Newsweek correspondent preparing a story on his year as CIA director - Bush's chief of staff Craig Fuller responded, saying "the Vice President generally does not comment on issues related to the time he was at the Central Intelligence Agency and he will have no comment on the specific issues raised in your letter."

My editors at Newsweek subsequently decided not to publish any story about Bush's year at the CIA though he was then running for President and citing his CIA experience as an important element of his resumé.

The Carter Interregnum

After Jimmy Carter became President in 1977, federal investigators cracked the Letelier case, successfully bringing charges against Townley and several other conspirators.

Prosecutor Eugene Propper told me that Bush's CIA did provide some information about the background of suspects, but didn't volunteer the crucial information about the Paraguayan gambit or supply the photo of the chief assassin, Townley. "Nothing the agency gave us helped us break this case," Propper said.

Though U.S. prosecutors grasped the criminal nature of the Pinochet government, the wheels of justice turned slowly. Before the prosecutors could climb the chain of command in Chile, the Republicans had returned to power in 1981, with George H.W. Bush serving as Vice President and acting as a top foreign policy adviser to President Ronald Reagan.

Despite the mounting evidence of Pinochet's guilt in a terrorist act on U.S. soil, the dictator emerged from his pariah status of the Carter years to regain his position as a favored ally under Bush and Reagan.

When help was needed on sensitive projects, the Reagan administration often turned to Pinochet. For instance, in 1982, after Reagan decided to tilt Iraq's way during the Iran-Iraq War, one of Pinochet's favored arms dealers, Carlos Cardoen, manufactured and shipped controversial weapons to Saddam Hussein's army.

Regarding these Iraqi arms shipments, former National Security Council aide Howard Teicher swore out an affidavit in 1995 detailing Reagan's decision and describing the secret roles of CIA Director William Casey and his deputy, Robert Gates, in shepherding the military equipment to Iraq.

Teicher said the secret arming of Iraq was approved by Reagan in June 1982 as part of a National Security Decision Directive. Under it, Casey and Gates "authorized, approved and assisted" delivery of cluster bombs and other materiel to Iraq, Teicher said.

Teicher's affidavit corroborated earlier public statements by former Israeli intelligence officer Ari Ben-Menashe and Iranian-born businessman Richard Babayan, who claimed first-hand knowledge of Gates's central role in the secret Iraq operations.

In his 1992 book Profits of War, Ben-Menashe wrote that Israeli Mossad director Nachum Admoni approached Gates in 1985 seeking help in shutting down unconventional weapons, especially chemicals, moving through the Chilean arms pipeline to Iraq.

Ben-Menashe wrote that Gates attended a meeting in Chile in 1986 with Cardoen present at which Gates tried to calm down the Israelis by assuring them that U.S. policy was simply to ensure a channel of conventional weapons for Iraq.

Though Gates denied Ben-Menashe's and Babayan's allegations in 1991 - when Gates underwent confirmation hearings to be CIA director - he has never been asked to publicly respond to Teicher's affidavit which was filed in a Miami court case in 1995.

Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee were aware of the discrepancies between the Teicher and Gates accounts when Gates appeared at a Dec. 5, 2006, confirmation hearing to be Secretary of Defense, but no one asked Gates to respond to Teicher's sworn statement.

A source at the United Nations also has told me that some of the documents captured in Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 shed light on the Cardoen arms pipeline, but those records have never been made public.

Key Leads

Other potential avenues for understanding Pinochet's covert role in supporting anticommunist strategies in the Reagan-Bush era opened recently, as former DINA chief Contreras turned on his old boss.

In a court document filed in early July 2006, Contreras implicated Pinochet and one of his sons in a scheme to manufacture and smuggle cocaine to Europe and the United States, explaining one source of Pinochet's $28 million fortune.

Contreras alleged that the cocaine was processed with Pinochet's approval at an Army chemical plant south of Santiago during the 1980s and that Pinochet's son Marco Antonio arranged the shipments of the processed cocaine. [NYT, July 11, 2006]

At the time of this alleged cocaine smuggling, Pinochet was a close ally of the Reagan administration, providing help on a variety of sensitive intelligence projects, including shipping military equipment to Nicaraguan contra rebels who also were implicated in the exploding cocaine trade to the United States. [For details on the contra-cocaine scandal, see Robert Parry's Lost History.]

Contreras said Eugenio Berrios, a chemist for Chile's secret police, oversaw the drug manufacturing. Berrios also was accused of producing poisons for Pinochet to use in murdering political enemies. Berrios disappeared in 1992. [For details on the Berrios mystery, see Consortiumnews.com's "Pinochet's Mad Scientist."]

As this drip-drip-drip of evidence accumulated implicating Pinochet and his American allies in serious crimes and international intrigue, it fell to the second generation of George Bush presidents to put a finger in the dike.

Near the end of the Clinton presidency in 2000, an FBI team reviewed new evidence that had become available in the Letelier case and recommended the indictment of Pinochet.

But the final decision was left to the incoming Bush administration - and George W. Bush, like his father, chose to protect Pinochet. In doing so, the younger George Bush also protected his father's reputation and the legacy of the Bush Family.

Freed from Washington's legal pressure, Pinochet was able to fend off intermittent attempts in Chile to bring him to justice during the last half dozen years of his life.

"Every day it is clearer that Pinochet ordered my brother's death," human rights lawyer Fabiola Letelier told the New York Times on the 30th anniversary of the Letelier-Moffitt assassinations. "But for a proper and complete investigation to take place we need access to the appropriate records and evidence." [NYT, Sept. 21, 2006]

Ultimately, Pinochet escaped a formal judgment of guilt for his many crimes, dying on the afternoon of Dec. 10, 2006, at the Military Hospital of Santiago from complications resulting from a heart attack.

As Pinochet took his last breath, the Bush Family, too, had reason for a sigh of relief.

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/121206D.shtml