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, September 28, 2007

Ny Times Editiorial - A Step Away From the Imperial Presidency

A Step Away From the Imperial Presidency

The Democratic Congress has yet to muster the votes or courage to repeal a series of noxious measures — rubber-stamped by the previous Republican majority — that pushed presidential power to dangerous extremes in the name of fighting terrorism. In a disappointing showdown earlier this month, Senate Republicans blocked an effort to reverse one of the most ignominious aspects of last year’s Military Commissions Act — the suspension of the right of habeas corpus to block foreign detainees from challenging their imprisonment in federal courts.

Fortunately, the prospects are better for undoing a lesser-known example of presidential overreaching. The defense budget bill heading for Senate passage contains a bipartisan measure to repeal wording that made it easier for a president to override local control of the National Guard and declare martial law. That language was slipped into last year’s defense bill.

The revision is sponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and Christopher Bond, Republican of Missouri, and is backed unanimously by the nation’s governors. It repeals a major weakening of two protective doctrines of liberty. One of them, called posse comitatus, was enacted after the Civil War to bar military forces, including a federalized National Guard, from engaging in domestic law enforcement.

The other, the Insurrection Act of 1807, long contained a limited exception to posse comitatus for putting down lawlessness, insurrection and rebellion, where a state is violating federal law or depriving people of constitutional rights. Under last year’s revision, the exception was unnecessarily broadened to allow the president to use military troops as a domestic police force in response to a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, terrorist attack or to any “other condition.”

In June, Congress reversed its acquiescence to another sneaky rider designed to bypass Senate confirmation of the administration’s choices for U.S. attorney jobs. If this defense bill is enacted, that will make at least two instances where Congress has lived up to its duty to rescind excessive power grants to the Bush White House.

For democracy’s sake, there will need to be many more.

Paul Krugman - Hired Gun Fetish

Hired Gun Fetish

Sometimes it seems that the only way to make sense of the Bush administration is to imagine that it’s a vast experiment concocted by mad political scientists who want to see what happens if a nation systematically ignores everything we’ve learned over the past few centuries about how to make a modern government work.

Thus, the administration has abandoned the principle of a professional, nonpolitical civil service, stuffing agencies from FEMA to the Justice Department with unqualified cronies. Tax farming — giving individuals the right to collect taxes, in return for a share of the take — went out with the French Revolution; now the tax farmers are back.

And so are mercenaries, whom Machiavelli described as “useless and dangerous” more than four centuries ago.

As far as I can tell, America has never fought a war in which mercenaries made up a large part of the armed force. But in Iraq, they are so central to the effort that, as Peter W. Singer of the Brookings Institution points out in a new report, “the private military industry has suffered more losses in Iraq than the rest of the coalition of allied nations combined.”

And, yes, the so-called private security contractors are mercenaries. They’re heavily armed. They carry out military missions, but they’re private employees who don’t answer to military discipline. On the other hand, they don’t seem to be accountable to Iraqi or U.S. law, either. And they behave accordingly.

We may never know what really happened in a crowded Baghdad square two weeks ago. Employees of Blackwater USA claim that they were attacked by gunmen. Iraqi police and witnesses say that the contractors began firing randomly at a car that didn’t get out of their way.

What we do know is that more than 20 civilians were killed, including the couple and child in the car. And the Iraqi version of events is entirely consistent with many other documented incidents involving security contractors.

For example, Mr. Singer reminds us that in 2005 “armed contractors from the Zapata firm were detained by U.S. forces, who claimed they saw the private soldiers indiscriminately firing not only at Iraqi civilians, but also U.S. Marines.” The contractors were not charged. In 2006, employees of Aegis, another security firm, posted a “trophy video” on the Internet that showed them shooting civilians, and employees of Triple Canopy, yet another contractor, were fired after alleging that a supervisor engaged in “joy-ride shooting” of Iraqi civilians.

Yet even among the contractors, Blackwater has the worst reputation. On Christmas Eve 2006, a drunken Blackwater employee reportedly shot and killed a guard of the Iraqi vice president. (The employee was flown out of the country, and has not been charged.) In May 2007, Blackwater employees reportedly shot an employee of Iraq’s Interior Ministry, leading to an armed standoff between the firm and Iraqi police.

Iraqis aren’t the only victims of this behavior. Of the nearly 4,000 American service members who have died in Iraq, scores if not hundreds would surely still be alive if it weren’t for the hatred such incidents engender.

Which raises the question, why are Blackwater and other mercenary outfits still playing such a big role in Iraq?

Don’t tell me that they are irreplaceable. The Iraq war has now gone on for four and a half years — longer than American participation in World War II. There has been plenty of time for the Bush administration to find a way to do without mercenaries, if it wanted to.

And the danger out-of-control military contractors pose to American forces has been obvious at least since March 2004, when four armed Blackwater employees blundered into Fallujah in the middle of a delicate military operation, getting themselves killed and precipitating a crisis that probably ended any chance of an acceptable outcome in Iraq.

Yet Blackwater is still there. In fact, last year the State Department gave Blackwater the lead role in diplomatic security in Iraq.

Mr. Singer argues that reliance on private military contractors has let the administration avoid making hard political choices, such as admitting that it didn’t send enough troops in the first place. Contractors, he writes, “offered the potential backstop of additional forces, but with no one having to lose any political capital.” That’s undoubtedly part of the story.

But it’s also worth noting that the Bush administration has tried to privatize every aspect of the U.S. government it can, using taxpayers’ money to give lucrative contracts to its friends — people like Erik Prince, the owner of Blackwater, who has strong Republican connections. You might think that national security would take precedence over the fetish for privatization — but remember, President Bush tried to keep airport security in private hands, even after 9/11.

So the privatization of war — no matter how badly it works — is just part of the pattern.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Blackwater: Are you scared yet?

Blackwater: Are you scared yet?
by Naomi Wolf
Thu Sep 27, 2007 at 02:05:53 PM PDT

(Cross-posted at Firedoglake.)

The New York Times reported today that Blackwater, the infamous organization that has been accused of killing civilians in Iraq, "has been involved in a far higher rate of shootings while guarding American diplomats in Iraq than other security firms." A mercenary firm in Iraq with an itchy trigger finger is bad enough. But it now appears that Blackwater’s activities may be massively expanded -- and not in Iraq.

In little noticed news, Blackwater, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Arinc were recently awarded a collective $15 billion -- yes, billion -- from the Pentagon to conduct global counter-narcotics operations. This means that Blackwater can be deployed to engage with citizens on a whole new level of intimacy anywhere around the world -- including here at home. What is scarier than scary is that Blackwater’s overall plans are to do more and more of its armed and dangerous ‘security’ operations on U.S. soil.

In my recently released book, The End of America, I describe the 10 steps that would-be tyrants use to close down a democracy and produce a "fascist shift." The third of the ten steps is to ‘Develop a Paramilitary Force.’ Without a paramilitary force that is not answerable to the people’s representatives, democracy cannot be closed down; however, with such a force available to would-be despots, democracy can be drastically and quickly weakened.

Every effective despot -- from Mussolini to Hitler, Stalin, the members of the Chinese Politburo, General Augusto Pinochet and the many Latin American dictators who learned from these models of controlling citizens -- has used this essential means to pressure civilians and intimidate dissent. Mussolini was the innovator in the use of thugs to intimidate what was a democracy, if a fragile one, before he actually marched on Rome; he developed the strategic deployment of blackshirts to beat up communists and opposition leaders, trash newspapers and turn on civilians, forcing ordinary Italians, for instance, to ingest emetics. Hitler studied Mussolini; he deployed thugs -- in the form of brownshirts -- in similar ways before he came formally to power.

In light of these historical warning, we must ask, what is Blackwater? According to reporter Jeremy Scahill, the firm has 2,300 private soldiers deployed in nine countries, and maintains a database of an additional 21,000 to call upon at any time. Blackwater has over "$500 million in government contracts -- and that does not include its secret ‘black’ budget..." [It also did not include, at the time Scahill’s wrote this description, the massive anti-narcotics contract described above.] One congressman pointed out that in terms of its manpower, Blackwater can overthrow "many of the world’s governments." Recruiters for the company seek out former military from countries that have horrific human rights abuses and use secret police and paramilitary forces to terrify their own populations: Chileans, Peruvians, Nigerians, and Salvadorans.

Blackwater is coming home to Main Street, and one of our key constitutional protections is at stake. The future for growth is directed at increased deployment in the US in cases of natural disaster -- or in the event of a ‘public emergency.’ This is a very dangerous situation, of course, now that laws have been passed that let the President decide on his say-so alone what a ‘public emergency’ might be.

The Department of Homeland Security hired these same Blackwater contractors to patrol the streets of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina -- for a contract valued at about $73 million. Does Blackwater’s reputation for careless violence against civilians in Iraq, protected by legal indemnification, matter to us? Scahill reports at least one private contractor’s accounts of other contractors’ abrupt shooting in the direction of American civilians in the wake of Katrina: "After that, all I heard was moaning and screaming, and the shooting stopped."

How protected is Blackwater from prosecution for its crimes? The company’s lawyers have argued that Blackwater can’t be held accountable by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, because they aren’t part of the US military; but they can’t be sued in civil court, either -- because they are part of the US military.

Does this affect the strength of our democracy? Look at how history shows thug groups have been directed at intimidating voters. Americans need to be reminded that both Italy before Mussolini and Germany before Hitler were working, if fragile, parliamentary democracies. Thugs were used in both countries to intimidate voters exercising their rights. Mussolini’s fascists stood menacingly near voting booths to make sure citizens ‘voted responsibly’; William Shirer wrote that the Austrians voted 99% in favor of their country’s annexation by Germany -- not surprising, he observed, since intimidating groups of brownshirts looked through a wide slit in the voting booth where the election committee did its work. The oddly specific scene of groups of identically dressed young men -- later identified as Republican staffers -- crowding and shouting at the vote counters in Florida in 2000 has strong historical precedents.

The Founders knew from their own experience of standing armies, responsive only to a tyrant, how dangerous such a situation was; King George’s men -- armed with blanket warrants -- invaded the colonists’ homes, trashed their possessions, and even raped Colonial women. It was that bitter experience that led them to insist on the second amendment -- ‘a well regulated militia’ that was responsive to the people and could not be deployed against the people of the United States by would-be despots. The founders knew that American tyranny was not only possible, it was likely, in the event of weakened checks and balances; and they knew a mercenary army was the advance guard of despots.

Blackwater is available to anyone who can write the checks. If there is a need to ‘restore public order’ in the next Presidential election -- a power that the President now can define as he sees fit -- Blackwater can be deployed. If the President declares an emergency, Blackwater can be deployed. And history shows us how very quickly citizen dissent and democratic processes close down when physically intimidating men -- who are armed and not answerable to the people -- are abroad in the land.

Those who read history should understand what we are more and more likely to see -- now that a paramilitary force answerable to Bush and corporations like Halliburton but not to the people's representatives is in place. Mussolini and Hitler began to deploy their paramilitary to patrol key public spaces early -- when Italy and Germany were still parliamentary democracies and neither leader had yet seized power. These leaders deployed their paramilitary groups in the halls of Parliament and the Reichstag when these were still functioning representative democracies, thus intimidating the people's political leaders. Then the paramilitary groups were deployed to violently contain opposition protests --- again, in what were still open, if fragile, democratic societies at the time.

(According to `the blueprint' described in my book, unless people wake up in time, we in America are likely to see a call for a `security requirement' for Blackwater to be deployed to `protect' Congress and to be deployed around voting areas `to maintain public order', and, unless we intervene, we will see them start to do crowd control when there are antiwar marches or other demonstrations. Then, again according to historical models, protesters will increasingly start to get hurt for `resisting arrest' or for `provocations.')

Because, to my sorrow, I know `the blueprint', I was sad but not at all surprised when a horrified friend who works in downtown New York City told me that armed private contractors -- who look like members of the NYPD but who are not answerable to any government entity -- have been placed around the U.S. stock exchange. I went down to check it out. Indeed, Wall Street and the entire periphery of the Stock Exchange was like a militarized zone in the hands of what was not evident to onlookers as being in fact a private army: there were barricades; three immense trucks parked to deter and investigate pedestrians; armed dog handlers with their big dogs on tightly held leashes -- all of this looks like government security but it isn't. The company, which according to the guards was hired by the stock exchange itself, is neutrally called `T & M.' (This appears to be this company.)

I went up to a guard and, chatting sweetly, established from him that, indeed, none of these men were NYPD or even US government agents.

"That's really big gun," I remarked admiringly of his massive firearm, encased in leather. "What kind is it?"

"It's a Glock," said the contractor, with shy pride.

"Heavens!," I said. "What kind of guidelines does the company give you for shooting?"

"Use our discretion," he said. I thanked him, my heart racing.

In Iraq, men with guns not answerable to the people's law or government can shoot at will at Iraqi civilians. That is not freedom. As Blackwater or other renamed versions of paramilitary contractors, sometimes with intimate ties to this administration and to Halliburton, start to patrol the streets of our nation, without our debate or consent, we can easily wake up to find that we have a National Guard that is supposed to be answerable to governors, and a Congress that is supposed to oversee the military -- but it's too late anyway; the guns in our streets are already in the hands of people who are answerable to those writing the checks -- and no longer answerable to the now-vulnerable American people.

Blackwater’s actions in Iraq should be a wake-up call to us here at home -- to restore the constitution and the rule of law before we are too intimidated to do so.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Iraqi TV reflects sectarian strife

Iraqi TV reflects sectarian strife

Most channels linked to partisan power blocs
BAGHDAD -- With more than 30 satellite and terrestrial channels operating in Iraq, a far cry from the two that existed under Saddam Hussein's rigid rule, the television industry should by now be wallowing in its new-found freedom.

Instead, it has turned inward, becoming a mishmash of sectarianized channels linked directly or loosely with partisan power blocs and reflecting the country's highly-fractured political reality.

While nine or 10 core satellite channels and as many regional stations have survived the turmoil of the past four years, others have started up or closed down at irregular intervals mainly for commercial reasons.

An unfortunate few have been shut down by the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Tellingly, the two most-watched channels, as rated by research group Ipsos-Stat, have been booted out of the country -- Saudi newscaster Al-Arabiya for a while and Dubai-based Al-Sharqiya permanently.

Both offended Maliki's government. Al-Arabiya was accused of attempting to stoke sectarian tensions in the country with its gory coverage of the ongoing Iraqi carnage -- charges which channel execs denied -- while Al-Sharqiya served up unrelenting political parody bound to offend.

The end for the channel came after one Al-Sharqiya presenter appeared on air shortly after the execution of Saddam Hussein on December 30 wearing black as a sign of mourning.

The shutting of its offices in Baghdad had little effect however, and despite what many perceive as a pro-Sunni bias it remains highly popular in Iraq with its mix of skeins and satirical laffers that poke fun at life in the troubled country.

But while Al-Sharqiya is at least discreet about the line it toes, other channels are more blatant about their political proclivities.

State-run Al-Iraqiya shamelessly features interview after dour interview with Maliki and is viewed as a sectarian, Shiite channel.

Countering this is Baghdadia TV, a moderate Sunni channel and Baghdad TV, run by the Iraqi Islamist Party with a clear pro-Sunni agenda.

Al-Furat (The Euphrates) based in Najaf is believed to be backed by the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), as is Al-Fayha, which broadcasts out of Basra.

The list goes on -- Al-Rafidain supports and is supported by the Association of Muslim Scholars; Afaq TV backs the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party; Beladi bends towards Maliki's Shiite coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance; while Ashur backs the Assyrian Democratic Party.

Ironically, the one factor that does bind them together loosely is that all are faced with high costs -- both human and monetary -- due to the relentless sectarian violence ravaging the country.

All have lost reporters, presenters and anchors to death squads, car bombs and snipers.

Extra budgets are required to provide protection for staff, who are regularly prevented from turning up for work, while filming outside of studios is risky.

Al-Sharqiya's flamboyant owner Saad Bazzaz -- once a Saddam man before defecting -- earlier this year projected a vision of unity that many had hoped would be the norm when the airways opened up after the U.S. invasion of March 2003.

"We do not belong to that group of channels that represent a particular sect or political party," Bazzaz told Variety. "In Al-Sharqiya, there are no Shias or Sunnis. There are only Iraqis. We have had employees killed by groups from all sides."

Generals opposing Iraq war break with military tradition

Generals opposing Iraq war break with military tradition

By Mark Sauer

September 23, 2007

Retired Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton: "The ethos is: Give your advice to those in a position to make changes, not the media. But this administration is immune to good advice."

Retired Maj. Gen. John Batiste: "I had a moral obligation and a duty to do so. I have been speaking out for the past 17 months and there is no turning back."
The generals acted independently, coming in their own ways to the agonizing decision to defy military tradition and publicly criticize the Bush administration over its conduct of the war in Iraq.

What might be called The Revolt of the Generals has rarely happened in the nation's history.

In op-ed pieces, interviews and TV ads, more than 20 retired U.S. generals have broken ranks with the culture of salute and keep it in the family. Instead, they are criticizing the commander in chief and other top civilian leaders who led the nation into what the generals believe is a misbegotten and tragic war.

The active-duty generals followed procedure, sending reports up the chain of command. The retired generals beseeched old friends in powerful positions to use their influence to bring about a change.

When their warnings were ignored, some came to believe it was their patriotic duty to speak out, even if it meant terminating their careers.

It was a decision none of the men approached cavalierly. Most were political conservatives who had voted for George W. Bush and initially favored his appointment of Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary.

But they felt betrayed by Bush and his advisers.

“The ethos is: Give your advice to those in a position to make changes, not the media,” said Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, now retired. “But this administration is immune to good advice.”

Eaton has two sons serving in Afghanistan and Iraq; his father, an Air Force pilot, was shot down and killed over Laos in 1969. He said his frustration began festering in 2003, when he was assigned to build the Iraqi army from scratch. His internal requests for more equipment and properly trained instructors went unheeded, he said.

While on active duty, Eaton did not criticize his civilian bosses – almost to a man, the generals agree active-duty officers have no business doing that. But he was candid in media interviews. Building an Iraqi army, he warned, would take years, and the effort might never succeed.

In 2004, he was replaced by Gen. David Petraeus – now the military commander in Iraq – and reassigned stateside. Sensing his once-promising Army career had foundered, Eaton retired Jan. 1, 2006.

Two months later, on the third anniversary of the U.S. invasion, Eaton criticized the administration in an opinion piece in The New York Times.

“I didn't think my op-ed would be a big deal,” he said. “It certainly turned out to be otherwise.”

Eaton said he wrote the piece because he believed that three pillars of our democratic system had failed:

The Bush administration ignored alarms raised by him and other commanders on the ground; the Republican-controlled Congress had failed to exercise oversight; and the media had abdicated its watchdog role.

“As we look back, it appears that without realizing it, we were reacting to a constitutional crisis,” Eaton said in a recent interview.

Some of Eaton's colleagues, both active and retired, endorsed his decision to speak out. Others thought he had stepped out of bounds. He became persona non grata with ethics instructors at the U.S. Military Academy, his alma mater.

Eaton said he has no regrets.

Maj. Gen. John Batiste, former commander of the First Infantry Division in Iraq, chronicled his painful journey from stalwart soldier to outspoken critic in a post on the political Web site Think Progress this month.

Once heralded by many military observers as headed for appointment to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Batiste began his journey of introspection after he retired with two stars in 2005.

The self-described arch-conservative and lifelong Republican made the “gut-wrenching” decision to end his 31-year military career in order to “speak out on behalf of soldiers and their families.”

“I had a moral obligation and a duty to do so,” Batiste wrote. “I have been speaking out for the past 17 months and there is no turning back.”

Code of silence

It is rare in U.S. history for even retired generals to step outside the chain of command and criticize the nation's civilian leaders.

That was true even at the time of the unpopular Vietnam War.

Andrew Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, said several generals who served in Vietnam now regret they didn't go public when it might have done the nation some good.

“That has encouraged generals today to voice their unhappiness,” Bacevich said.

LAURA EMBRY / Union-Tribune
Retired Navy Vice Adm. David Richardson said he was surprised that so many retired generals have spoken out against the Iraq war. "They may sound off as they please, but I don't approve of that," said Richardson, 93, who lives in North Park.
The once-sacred line between private and public opinion began to blur during the 1991 Gulf War, Bacevich said, when retired generals appeared for the first time as TV network analysts.

“But that war was brief, it seemed to go very well and the generals' comments were almost uniformly positive,” he said. “This war is very long, it has not gone well and that's a main reason we're hearing the voices we're hearing.”

For retired Brig. Gen. John Johns, the decision to finally stand up against the administration was a deeply personal one.

“My wife lost her first husband in Vietnam,” said Johns, who taught leadership and ethics at West Point.

“To learn later that President Lyndon Johnson and (then-Secretary of Defense) Robert McNamara knew as early as 1965 that we could not win there, that hurts her deeply to this day.”

Six months before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Johns, who retired in 1978, agonized over whether to go public with a paper calling the impending war “one of the great blunders of history.”

He sent it to retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni and to Pete McCloskey, the moderate-Republican former congressman from California who had opposed the Vietnam War.

“At that time, they did not want to go public,” Johns said.

Zinni has since become one of the most war's most vociferous critics, and McClosky now calls for bringing the troops home.

“And I was not convinced that the invasion would not be stopped internally,” Johns said. “Zinni was close to (then-Secretary of State) Colin Powell; I believed sane heads would prevail.”

But Powell's notoriously inaccurate speech to the United Nations in February 2003 “sealed the deal,” Johns said, and he knew the war was unstoppable. “I was very disappointed he did that. Powell was used.”

Many sleepless nights, long talks with his wife and solitary walks followed, said the veteran combat officer.

But Johns didn't reach his tipping point until 2005, when a longtime friend, retired Lt. Gen. Robert Gard, invited him to discuss the war at tiny Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia.

“Four out of five of us retired military panelists there said it was a moral duty for us to speak out in a democracy against policies which you think are unwise,” Johns said. “The time was right.”

The lifelong Republican-leaning conservative joined a pair of liberal organizations opposed to the war and supported the Democrats' call to get the United States out of Iraq.

“I appreciate those who hold to the old school of not speaking out,” said Johns, 79. “I hope they will appreciate my deeply held feelings that led to my decision to do so.”

Reaction mixed

One of those who falls into that old-school camp is Navy Vice Adm. David Richardson.

A one-time adviser to Pentagon chiefs, Richardson, who retired in 1972, said that while retired generals are “entirely within their rights under the First Amendment,” he was quite surprised to see so many speaking out against the Iraq war.

“They may sound off as they please, but I don't approve of that,” said Richardson, 93, who served in World War II, Korea, and commanded an aircraft-carrier task force during the Vietnam War. He now lives in North Park and remains active in military circles.

“When we are at war, voices that may give aid and comfort to the enemy can cost American blood,” Richardson said. “I would not want what I said to in any way affect our troops' morale and effectiveness.”

Gard, who retired from the military in 1981, displayed a stoicism typical of old soldiers when asked about his decision to publicly criticize the conduct of an ongoing war.

“I did some serious soul-searching,” Gard said simply.

A West Point graduate with a doctorate in politics and government from Harvard, Gard saw combat in Korea and Vietnam.

Gard's introspection ultimately led him to conclude that patriotism means more than following orders and keeping complaints inside the military.

“When you feel the country – to its extreme detriment – is going in the wrong direction, and that your views might have some impact, you have a duty to speak out,” he said.

It may not have been that way during the Vietnam era, Gard added. “But times have changed.”

U.S. Aims To Lure Insurgents With 'Bait'

U.S. Aims To Lure Insurgents With 'Bait' Snipers Describe Classified Program

By Josh White and Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, September 24, 2007; A01

A Pentagon group has encouraged some U.S. military snipers in Iraq to target suspected insurgents by scattering pieces of "bait," such as detonation cords, plastic explosives and ammunition, and then killing Iraqis who pick up the items, according to military court documents.

The classified program was described in investigative documents related to recently filed murder charges against three snipers who are accused of planting evidence on Iraqis they killed.

"Baiting is putting an object out there that we know they will use, with the intention of destroying the enemy," Capt. Matthew P. Didier, the leader of an elite sniper scout platoon attached to the 1st Battalion of the 501st Infantry Regiment, said in a sworn statement. "Basically, we would put an item out there and watch it. If someone found the item, picked it up and attempted to leave with the item, we would engage the individual as I saw this as a sign they would use the item against U.S. Forces."

In documents obtained by The Washington Post from family members of the accused soldiers, Didier said members of the U.S. military's Asymmetric Warfare Group visited his unit in January and later passed along ammunition boxes filled with the "drop items" to be used "to disrupt the AIF [Anti-Iraq Forces] attempts at harming Coalition Forces and give us the upper hand in a fight."

Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, said such a baiting program should be examined "quite meticulously" because it raises troubling possibilities, such as what happens when civilians pick up the items.

"In a country that is awash in armaments and magazines and implements of war, if every time somebody picked up something that was potentially useful as a weapon, you might as well ask every Iraqi to walk around with a target on his back," Fidell said.

Soldiers said that about a dozen platoon members were aware of the program, and that numerous others knew about the "drop items" but did not know their purpose. Two soldiers who had not been officially informed about the program came forward with allegations of wrongdoing after they learned they were going to be punished for falling asleep on a sniper mission, according to the documents.

Army officials declined to discuss the classified program, details of which appear in unclassified investigative documents and in transcripts of court testimony. Criminal investigators wrote that they found materials related to the program in a white cardboard box and an ammunition can at the sniper unit's base.

"We don't discuss specific methods targeting enemy combatants," said Paul Boyce, an Army spokesman. "The accused are charged with murder and wrongfully placing weapons on the remains of Iraqi nationals. There are no classified programs that authorize the murder of local nationals and the use of 'drop weapons' to make killings appear legally justified."

It is unclear whether the program reached elsewhere in Iraq and how many people were killed through the baiting tactics.

Members of the sniper platoon have said they felt pressure from commanders to kill more insurgents because U.S. units in the area had taken heavy losses. The sniper unit -- dubbed "the painted demons" because of the use of tiger-stripe face paint -- often went on missions into hostile areas to intercept insurgents going to and from hidden weapons caches.

"It's our job out here to lay people down who are doing bad things," Spec. Joshua L. Michaud testified in Iraq in July, discussing the unit's numerous casualties. "I don't want to call it revenge, but we needed to find a way so that we could get the bad guys the right way and still maintain the right military things to do."

Within months of the program's introduction, three snipers in Didier's platoon were charged with murder for allegedly using those items and others to make shootings seem legitimate. Though it does not appear that the three alleged shootings were specifically part of the classified program, defense attorneys argue that the program may have opened the door to the soldiers' actions because it blurred the legal lines of killing in a complex war zone.

James D. Culp, a civilian attorney for one of the snipers, Sgt. Evan Vela, said the soldiers became "battle-fatigued pawns in a newfangled concept of 'baiting' warfare that, like an onion, perhaps looked good on the surface, but started stinking to high hell the minute the layers were pulled back and scrutinized."

Spec. Jorge Sandoval and Staff Sgt. Michael Hensley are accused by the military of placing a spool of wire into the pocket of an Iraqi man Sandoval had shot on April 27 on Hensley's order. The man had been cutting grass with a rusty sickle when he was shot, according to court documents.

The military alleges that the killing of the man carrying the sickle was inappropriate. Hensley and Sandoval have been charged with murder and with planting evidence.

As Sandoval and Hensley approached the corpse, according to testimony and court documents, they allegedly placed a spool of wire, often used by insurgents to detonate roadside bombs, into the man's pocket in an attempt to make the case for the kill ironclad.

One soldier who came forward with the allegations, Pfc. David C. Petta, told the same court that he believed the classified items were for dropping on people the unit had killed, "to enforce if we killed somebody that we knew was a bad guy but we didn't have the evidence to show for it." Petta had not been officially briefed about the program.

Two weeks after that killing, Sandoval and his sniper team stopped for the night in a concealed "hide" in the village of Jurf as Sakhr along the Euphrates River. While other snipers slept, Hensley watched as an Iraqi man, Genei Nesir Khudair, slowly approached the hide. He radioed to Didier, then a first lieutenant, for permission to go for a "close kill."

"I told him that as the ground forces commander, I would authorize that if it was necessary," Didier testified. "And about five minutes later, he told me that he had indeed killed the individual."

The U.S. military alleges that Vela, on Hensley's order, shot the Iraqi man twice in the head with a 9mm pistol after he had been taken into custody. It was Vela's first kill, and he was visibly shaken. "He looked weird," Sgt. Robert Redfern testified. "Just messed up from it. How would you feel if you had to shoot someone?"

At the time the two shots rang out, Sandoval was on guard duty about 20 meters away, out of sight of Vela, inside a broken-down pump house along the Euphrates River, soldiers testified.

Vela and Hensley told investigators that the man had an AK-47 with him and that he posed a threat, but other soldiers have alleged that the AK-47 was planted next to Khudair after he was shot.

Hensley's attorney could not be reached to comment. Sandoval's attorney, Capt. Craig Drummond, thinks his client is innocent in both deaths.

"Literally, they have charged this guy with two murders when on both occasions he was just doing his job," Drummond said.

Drummond said Sandoval did not have anything to do with placing an AK-47 in the pump-house killing. Sandoval made a statement to investigators discussing his involvement in planting the command wire on the first victim.

"That was done by one of the soldiers at the scene basically out of stupidity. The guys were trying to ensure that there were no questions at all about this kill," Drummond said. "It was done to overly justify a kill that didn't need justification."

Hensley is also charged with killing an Iraqi man whom he approached after the sniper team noticed the man placing wires on a road. Hensley shot him outside his home, maintaining that the man appeared to be moving for a weapon.

Two and a half months after the shooting near the pump house, authorities seized Sandoval while he was vacationing at his mother's house in Laredo, Tex. The charges have baffled family members, who describe Sandoval as a caring and honest young man who is being punished for following orders.

"This has been a shock to all of us," said his eldest sister, Norma Vasquez. "He's been in shock, too, he doesn't know what . . . is going on."

Sandoval, a former high school ROTC member, is scheduled to face a court-martial in Baghdad on Wednesday.

Vela's father, Curtis Carnahan, said he thinks the military is rushing the cases and is holding the proceedings in a war zone to shield facts from the U.S. public.

"It's an injustice that is being done to them," Carnahan said. "I feel like you can't prosecute our soldiers for acts of war and threaten them with years and years of confinement when this program, if it comes to the light of day, was clearly coming from higher levels. . . . All those people who said 'go use this stuff' just disappeared, like they never sanctioned it."

Partlow reported from Baghdad. Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Care And Feeding Instructions

Care And Feeding Instructions
by Hunter (dailykos)
Sun Sep 23, 2007 at 05:15:38 PM PDT

Congratulations on your purchase of your new 110th Congress! These care and feeding instructions will help ensure many years of future enjoyment of your Congress: please read them carefully.


As packaged, your new Congress contains:

* 1 Capitol (white)
* 435 live Representatives (also mostly white)
* 100 live Senators (mostly blazingly, translucently white)
* Congress Chow, in the form of hundreds of billions of dollars in cash
* A variety of checks and balances. You may set these aside: they don't actually do anything.


1. Soon after installing your new Congress, a green, cash-rich buildup may occur. This buildup is a normal part of the ecological balance in your Congress; the murky green colors will fade slightly as the ratio of legislators to beneficial lobbyists finds a natural balance.

2. Do not expose your Congress to direct sunlight, as this may cause excessive "loss" of Senators and Representatives. In order to best ensure the health of your Congress, keep it in a dimly lit place, preferably near a variety of restaurants.

3. If your Congress begins looking drab, place an American flag behind the tank. This will stimulate your Congressmen into a variety of unusual displays. When the effect fades, add more flags.

4. Do not taunt your Congress. Their feelings are easily hurt, and may result in uncontrollable, deafening wailing. If this happens, add additional flags.

5. A certain amount of sexual perversion is normal. If your household includes children, place your Congress in a location where children will not have direct access to it. Positioning your Congress away from telephone and other communications equipment will help prevent a buildup of prostitutes.

6. As normal behavior, your Senators and Representatives will travel in schools. You may notice portions of your Congress from time to time erupt in panic over an unseen enemy, usually hippies or communists. This is normal, and will usually resolve itself through a series of sternly worded but ineffectual bills.

7. Your Congress is a carefully organized hierarchical society. Watch them work together to build highways, bridges, and overfunded vanity projects. Do not, however, expect them to show interest in you or acknowledge your presence in any way. If that's what you wanted, you should have bought a dog.

8. Under optimal conditions, your Congress may develop one or two Presidential Candidates. The bright colors and dramatic displays of these creatures can provide hours of entertainment. While Presidential Candidates may add excitement to your Congress, note that they are territorial and prone to fighting: keep Candidates separate as much as possible. Also, be aware that Presidential Candidates require ten times the amount of nutrition of other legislators, so feed regularly.

9. Clean your Congress every two years to remove buildup and prevent disease. Wipe your Congress with a disinfecting solution made up of cursory debate, weakly contested primaries, and embarrassingly shallow campaign coverage. It won't make the slightest bit of difference, but what the hell -- it will give you something to do.

All sales final. No refunds. May exchange for identically dysfunctional Congress only.

U.S. Repeatedly Rebuffed Iraq on Blackwater Complaints

U.S. Repeatedly Rebuffed Iraq on Blackwater Complaints

By Sudarsan Raghavan and Steve Fainaru
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, September 23, 2007; A18

BAGHDAD, Sept. 22 -- Senior Iraqi officials repeatedly complained to U.S. officials about Blackwater USA's alleged involvement in the deaths of numerous Iraqis, but the Americans took little action to regulate the private security firm until 11 Iraqis were shot dead last Sunday, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials.

Before that episode, U.S. officials were made aware in high-level meetings and formal memorandums of Blackwater's alleged transgressions. They included six violent incidents this year allegedly involving the North Carolina firm that left a total of 10 Iraqis dead, the officials said.

"There were no concrete results," Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamal, the deputy interior minister who oversees the private security industry on behalf of the Iraqi government, said in an interview Saturday.

The lack of a U.S. response underscores the powerlessness of Iraqi officials to control the tens of thousands of security contractors who operate under U.S.-drafted Iraqi regulations that shield them from Iraqi laws. It also raises questions about how seriously the United States will seek to regulate Blackwater, now the subject of at least three investigations by Iraqi and U.S. authorities. Blackwater, which operates under State Department authority, protects nearly all senior U.S. politicians and civilian officials here.

U.S. Embassy officials did not respond to several requests to describe what action, if any, was taken in response to the six incidents involving Blackwater. Mirembe Nantongo, a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman, said the embassy always looks into anything "outside of normal operation procedures."

In the United States, Blackwater is facing a possible federal investigation over allegations that it illegally smuggled weapons into Iraq that later might have been sold on the black market. The accusation first appeared in the Raleigh News & Observer. The company on Saturday denied the allegations, calling them "baseless."

"The company has no knowledge of any employee improperly exporting weapons," Anne Tyrell, a Blackwater spokeswoman, said in a statement.

In its probe, Iraq's Interior Ministry concluded that Blackwater fired without provocation into cars about noon last Sunday in Nisoor Square in the Mansour neighborhood of western Baghdad, killing 11 and injuring 12. Blackwater has said that extremists ambushed guards protecting a State Department convoy and that they had to defend themselves.

Kamal indicated that Iraqi investigators had a videotape apparently showing Blackwater guards firing at civilians, but he declined to provide further details. On Friday, Brig. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, the chief Interior Ministry spokesman, said the ministry would refer its findings to a court for possible criminal prosecution.

"It confirms there was no justification. Blackwater started shooting," Kamal said about the probe's conclusions. "This is a crime, which under Iraqi law, and even under American law, should be punished."

U.S. investigators have not publicly released any findings. U.S. Embassy officials have declined to comment on the probe and cautioned not to draw premature conclusions.

Matthew Degn, who served as a senior adviser to the Interior Ministry's intelligence directorate until his tour in Iraq ended last month, said Kamal and other ministry officials became increasingly frustrated by their inability to persuade U.S. officials to regulate Blackwater as allegations against the company mounted.

Degn said Kamal sent a flurry of memos to company and U.S. officials in an effort to bring Blackwater into compliance. The Iraqis were concerned that the firm had refused to obtain a license to operate legally in Iraq, a process that required companies to provide sensitive personnel data and submit to weapons inspections. Blackwater also refused to answer any questions about the reported incidents.

Degn said the Iraqis were consistently rebuffed in their requests.

"Kamal went to State several times; he's the one who's been paying the price for this," Degn said. "We had numerous discussions over his frustrations with Blackwater, but every time he contacted the [U.S.] government, it went nowhere."

Degn said he became a close friend of Kamal's and shared the deputy minister's frustrations, even as he recognized the complexity of reconciling Blackwater's relationship with the Iraqis while trying to protect the State Department. Degn said Blackwater's reluctance to cooperate was understandable, given that the Iraqi Interior Ministry had been infiltrated by sectarian militia members.

Kamal said addressing Blackwater's alleged actions was also a matter of preserving Iraq's dignity and honor. Seated in his spacious office, he recalled an incident two months ago when Blackwater guards threw a water bottle at a traffic policeman. The officer was so furious that he submitted his resignation, but his superiors turned it down, Kamal said.

"This is a flagrant violation of the law," Kamal said. "This guy is an officer with a rank of a brigadier general. He was standing in the street doing his job, regulating traffic. He represents the state and the law, and yet this happened."

The topic of Blackwater's impunity was discussed during high-level meetings involving American and Iraqi officials, including Kamal, national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie and senior officials from the U.S. military and the U.S. Embassy, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

Tensions escalated over a series of incidents beginning last Dec. 24, when a Blackwater employee allegedly shot and killed a bodyguard for Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi inside Baghdad's Green Zone. It remains unclear how the Blackwater employee was able to leave Iraq after the incident, which triggered a Justice Department investigation. No charges have been filed.

On May 24, a Blackwater team shot and killed an Iraqi driver outside the Interior Ministry gate. The incident triggered an armed standoff between Interior Ministry commandos and the Blackwater guards, who later told U.S. Embassy officials that the driver had veered too close to their convoy. Blackwater refused to give the guards' names or details of the incident to the Iraqis. The State Department said it planned to conduct an investigation, but no results have been announced.

It is unclear whether Blackwater could be criminally prosecuted in Iraq. A U.S. regulation called Order 17 enacted after the invasion by Iraq's U.S. administrators provides immunity from prosecution for private security contractors.

Kamal, a lawyer by training, suggested that Iraq's government could file lawsuits against Blackwater in U.S. courts to seek compensation for the victims.

"If Order 17 provides them with immunity from being questioned or the right to be tried under Iraqi law, it does not prevent the Iraqi government from filing suit in an American court," he said.

Fainaru reported from El Cerrito, Calif.

Grisham slams war, tells book's Iowa ties

Grisham slams war, tells book's Iowa ties

September 21, 2007

Best-selling author John Grisham, taking his first major public step in presidential politics by planning to host an event Sunday near his home in Charlottesville, Va., for New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, said the current administration is built around "bad people with evil intent" and contends President Bush played politics as thousands died in Iraq.

Grisham talked about this weekend's event during an interview Thursday to discuss his new book, "Playing for Pizza," a fictional account of a Davenport and University of Iowa football player trying to revive a fractured career in Italy.

"The war is an immoral abomination that we'll pay for for decades to come," Grisham said near the end of a 40-minute telephone interview with The Des Moines Register.

"We're paying for it now at the rate of 100 kids a month while Bush plays politics with it."

U.S. Department of Defense and Iraq Coalition Casualty Count statistics indicate the monthly average for American fatalities in Iraq is about 70.

Coalition fatalities average just more than 75 per month, according to the Iraq Coalition group.

A White House spokesperson contacted Thursday afternoon referred questions about Grisham's comments to the Republican National Committee.

"It's easy to level criticisms and attack those who offer solutions," said Chris Taylor, Midwest press secretary for the Republican National Committee. "It is much more difficult to make decisions and to lead."

Grisham, the author of 19 previous books, including popular courtroom fiction works "The Runaway Jury," "The Client," "The Pelican Brief" and "The Firm," said he has traditionally supported Democratic candidates financially and in other ways - but not in such a high-profile way.

"This is definitely the most visible thing I've done," he said.

Grisham, 52, said he made a few 1992 campaign stops in Mississippi for President Bill Clinton.

However, the former trial lawyer and legislator joked about his potential influence in politics.

"In 2004, I campaigned a little bit for John Kerry in South Carolina, which ... he lost," he said. "I guess that's why he didn't call me back."

Grisham said he and his wife met the Clintons 15 years ago at the White House but do not consider themselves close friends.

"I like Hillary. I think she's going to win," Grisham said. "I'm hopeful the Democrats can reclaim the White House. I think it's going to be very hard for the Republicans after this administration to hang on.

"I think she has the best chance to get the nomination."

Grisham said his differences with the current administration trace back to the beginning of its White House run.

"I've always thought that they were bad people with evil intent - and all that, it's playing out now," he said. "You can't hardly look at any aspect of the government in the seven years so far that's been run properly."

Taylor of the Republican National Committee defended the White House and administration.

"President Bush's aggressive prosecution of the war on terror has kept America safe," Taylor said. "His fiscal policies have grown our economy and he has upheld America's position as leader of the free world."

Grisham said he came up with the football-abroad idea for "Playing for Pizza," scheduled for release Monday, while in Italy working on his book "The Broker."

The quarterback, Rick Dockery, plays football at fictional Davenport South High School and at the University of Iowa before his NFL career bottoms out during a painful playoff loss as a backup quarterback for the Cleveland Browns.

Grisham said Iowa references in the book - including mentions of Des Moines and Council Bluffs - were mostly random.

"I don't really throw darts at the map, but you look at the map, and Iowa is always there in the center," he said.

The day before "Playing for Pizza" is released nationwide, Grisham will moderate discussion at the Clinton event.

Part of Grisham's motivation for getting involved in the political event, he said, is rooted in personal concerns about the current White House.

"I can't stand those people - and their incompetence is astounding," he said.

"I always thought you could at least depend on the Republican Party to maintain some semblance of fiscal responsibility.

"But they run up record deficits - taking care of billionaires that they want to take care of. Don't get me started on politics. I could go for a long time."

Frank Rich - Pardon Poor Larry Craig

Pardon Poor Larry Craig

"I DID nothing wrong," said Larry Craig at the start of his long national nightmare as America's favorite running, or perhaps sitting, gag. That's the truth. Justice lovers of all sexual persuasions must rally to save the Idaho senator before he is forced to prematurely evacuate his seat.

Time's running out. The final reckoning may arrive this week. On Wednesday, a Minnesota court will hear Mr. Craig's argument to throw out the guilty plea he submitted by mail after being caught in a June sex sting in the Minneapolis airport. If he succeeds, there's a chance he might rescind his decision to resign from the Senate on Sept. 30. Either way, he should hold tight.

Not only did the senator do nothing wrong, but in scandal he has proved the national treasure that he never was in his salad days as a pork-seeking party hack. In the past month he has served as an invaluable human Geiger counter for hypocrisy on the left and right alike. He has been an unexpected boon not just to the nation's double-entendre comedy industry but to the imploding Republican Party. Gays, not all of them closeted, may be among the last minority groups with some representation in the increasingly monochromatic G.O.P. If it is to muster even a rainbow-lite coalition for 2008, it could use Larry Craig in the trenches.

On the legal front, Mr. Craig is not without his semi-spirited defenders, an eclectic group including Arlen Specter, the A.C.L.U., The Washington Post's editorial page and scattered Democrats. While there's widespread agreement that Mr. Craig was an idiot not to consult a lawyer before entering a guilty plea (for disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor carrying a $575 fine), idiocy is no more a federal offense than hypocrisy, especially in Washington.

What Mr. Craig did in that men's room isn't an offense either. He didn't have sex in a public place. He didn't expose himself. His toe tapping, hand signals and "wide stance" were at most a form of flirtation. As George Will has rightly argued, if deviancy can be defined down to "signaling an interest in sex," then deviancy is what "goes on in 10,000 bars every Saturday night in our country." It's free speech even if the toes and fingers do the talking.

The Minnesota sting operation may well be unconstitutional, as the A.C.L.U. says. Yet gay civil rights organizations, eager to see a family-values phony like Mr. Craig brought down, have been often muted or silent on this point. They stood idly by while Republicans gathered their lynching party, thereby short-circuiting public debate about the legitimacy of the brand of police entrapment that took place in Minnesota. Surely that airport could have hired a uniformed guard to police a public restroom rather than train a cop to enact a punitive "Cage aux Folles" pantomime.

A rare gay activist to stand up forthrightly for Mr. Craig is Franklin Kameny, whom the Smithsonian Institution recently honored with an exhibition documenting his lonely Washington protests for gay civil rights in the pre-Stonewall 1960s. When I spoke to him last week, the 82-year-old Mr. Kameny said that many Americans don't seem to know how much the law has changed in recent years. Though he's no admirer of Mr. Craig, whom he describes as "a self-deluding hypocritical homophobic bigot," he publicly made the case for the senator's innocence in a letter to the conservative Web site

"Fair is fair," Mr. Kameny wrote. Mr. Craig, guilty of no public sex act, "was the victim of a false arrest and a malfeasant prosecution." Even had he invited the police officer to a hotel room, there still would have been no crime. The last American laws criminalizing gay sex between consenting adults were thrown out by the Supreme Court in 2003.

The hypocrisy in some quarters of the left about the Craig case is arguably outstripped by that on the right, heaven knows. It has been priceless to watch conservative politicians and bloggers defend their condemnation of Mr. Craig in contrast to the wide stance of tolerance they've taken toward David Vitter, the inimitable senator from the Big Easy.

On the same day Mr. Vitter was deploring at the Petraeus-Crocker hearings two weeks ago, a (female) prostitute was holding a California press conference with Larry Flynt about her alleged participation in the unspecified sins to which the senator has publicly confessed. "He was a very clean man," she helpfully explained to The Times-Picayune of New Orleans. "He came in, took a shower, did his business and would leave."

Mr. Vitter, a shrill defender of marriage, still has the support of the G.O.P. hierarchy. Many believe that the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, and his posse tried to Imus Mr. Craig and send him packing in a single week because Idaho has a Republican governor (nicknamed "Butch," no less) who would appoint a Republican successor. (The governor of Louisiana is a Democrat.) Others argue simply that Republican leaders are homophobes who practice a double standard for heterosexual offenders. But the reality is more complicated.

As we learned in the revelations surrounding the years-long cover up of the Mark Foley scandal, there may be more gay men in the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill than there are among the Democrats. Even Rick Santorum, the now-departed senator who likened homosexuality to "man on dog" sex, had a gay director of communications. Homophilia and homophobia have been twin fixtures in the modern G.O.P. at least since the McCarthy-era heyday of Roy Cohn.

As Rich Tafel, the former executive director of the gay Log Cabin Republicans, points out, this internal contradiction could not hold once Karl Rove and President Bush decided to demagogue the issue of same-sex marriage by pushing it into center stage of a national political campaign. That meanspirited and cynical election-year exploitation of homophobia accelerated the outing of Republicans by activists on the left.

"It made gay Republicans targets," Mr. Tafel told me last week. (Stories about Mr. Craig percolated on the Internet long before the airport incident.) In response, Mr. Tafel said, fearful gay Republicans on the Hill have retreated deeper into the closet. The Bush-Rove strategy "created the Larry Craigs," he said. "It created that man crawling around toilets."

Mr. Craig has denied being gay. Perhaps someone might believe him had he not, in 1982, gratuitously proclaimed his innocence in a pre-Foley page scandal, even though no one had accused him of anything. But whatever Mr. Craig's orientation, many closeted Republicans remain in place on Capitol Hill, easy targets for political opponents who want to expose G.O.P. hypocrisy.

Were Mr. Craig now to keep his seat, maybe his trial by fire would drive him to end his perennial gay baiting and become a latent proselytizer for a return to a more open, live-and-let-live Republicanism in the retro style of Barry Goldwater. Granted, Mr. Craig has shown no leadership of any kind in his career to date. But if Trent Lott can have a second chance after seeming to embrace the Dixiecrat racialism of Strom Thurmond, why not the toe-tapper from Idaho?

The G.O.P. needs at least one minority group in its ranks if it's going to be a viable political party in the 21st century. As the former vice-presidential nominee Jack Kemp asked rhetorically last week, "What are we going to do — meet in a country club in the suburbs one day?" His comment was prompted by the news that the major Republican candidates had claimed "scheduling conflicts" to avoid a debate at a historically black college in Baltimore. This was so obvious a slight that even Newt Gingrich labeled the candidates' excuses "baloney," and the usually controversy-averse Jay Leno was moved to call for the Republicans to "change their minds" after the debate's moderator, Tavis Smiley, aired the issue on "The Tonight Show."

The brushoff of that debate followed a similar rejection by the same candidates (except John McCain) of a debate sponsored by Univision, the country's most-watched Spanish-language network. It's only the latest insult to Hispanic voters, the fastest-growing American minority. Without Hispanics, the G.O.P. is doomed in swing states from Florida to Nevada. If you have any doubts, just look at the panic at the staunchly Republican Wall Street Journal editorial page. It has now even started attacking its own cohort — what it calls "Fox News populists and obsessive bloggers" — for driving away once-Republican Hispanic votes with over-the-top invective about illegal immigrants.

It would be unfair to say that the G.O.P. is devoid of sensitivity to all minorities. True, Peter King, the Long Island congressman, said last week that America has "too many mosques," but he was balanced by Mitt Romney, who sent out a press release wishing "the Jewish people" a hearty "L'Shanah Tovah" for the New Year. And let no one fault the Republican presidential field for not looking like America: Alan Keyes is back!

But the last minority with at least a modicum of influence in the party's power structure seems to be closeted gay men. As an alternative to cruising men's rooms, the least they could do is use their clout to stay the manifestly unjust execution of Larry Craig.

Report: Cheney may have mulled pushing Israel to hit Iran

Report: Cheney may have mulled pushing Israel to hit Iran
By Haaretz Service

Newsweek Magazine reported Sunday that Vice President Richard Cheney may have considered a plan for Israeli missile strikes against an Iranian nuclear site in an effort to draw a military response from Iran, which could in turn spark a U.S. offensive against targets in the Islamic Republic.

Citing two unnamed sources the magazine called knowledgeable, the magazine quoted David Wurmser, until last month Cheney's Middle East advisor, as having told a small group of people that "Cheney had been mulling the idea of pushing for limited Israeli missile strikes against the Iranian nuclear site at Natanz - and perhaps other sites - in order to provoke Tehran into lashing out."

According to the report, "The Iranian reaction would then give Washington a pretext to launch strikes against military and nuclear targets in Iran."
Newsweek said that it had corroborated Wurmser's remarks, which it said were first published by Washington foreign-policy blogger Steven Clemons.

It quoted a spokeswoman at Cheney's office as saying in response that the vice president "supports the president's policy on Iran."

It also quoted Wurmser's wife, Meyrav, as saying the allegations were untrue.

Labor MK Danny Yatom, a former head of the Mossad, told Newsweek that in order to attack Iranian nuclear sites, planes would have to operate over Iran for days or weeks.

Despite the risks of local and regional escalation, Yatom said, "The military option is not the worst option. The worst option is a nuclear Iran."