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Saturday
May102008

Soldiers Need Loans to Eat, Report Reveals

A highly sensitive internal report into the state of the British Army has revealed that many soldiers are living in poverty. Some are so poor that they are unable to eat and are forced to rely on emergency food voucher schemes set up by the Ministry of Defense (MoD).

Some of Britain's most senior military figures reacted angrily yesterday to the revelations in the report, criticizing the Government's treatment of its fighting forces.

The disturbing findings outlined in the briefing team report written for Sir Richard Dannatt, the Chief of the General Staff, include an admission that many junior officers are being forced to leave the Army because they simply cannot afford to stay on.

Pressure from an undermanned army is "having a serious impact on retention in infantry battalions", with nearly half of all soldiers unable to take all their annual leave as they try to cover the gaps.

The analysis, described by General Dannatt as "a comprehensive and accurate portrayal of the views and concerns of the Army at large", states: "More and more single-income soldiers in the UK are now close to the UK government definition of poverty." It reveals that "a number of soldiers were not eating properly because they had run out of money by the end of the month". Commanders are attempting to tackle the problem through "Hungry Soldier" schemes, under which destitute soldiers are given loans to enable them to eat.

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Saturday
May102008

FBI Still Not Equipped To Prevent Terrorist Attack

Nearly seven years after the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history the federal agency in charge of protecting the nation from terrorism and foreign intelligence threats still needs to make dramatic leaps to prevent future attacks.

A Senate Intelligence Committee has found widespread problems and weaknesses in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) intelligence program that include serious gaps in training and deployment of agents hired since the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and the Pentagon.

In a lengthy report made public this week, the committee outlines alarming weaknesses in the ailing bureau which has already received dismal performance ratings from crucial entities such as the bipartisan September 11 Commission and the investigative arm of Congress known as the Government Accountability Office.

This latest report says that the FBI has yet to fill crucial national security and intelligence positions key to battling terrorism and that nationwide units, considered to be the front lines of the intelligence effort, are poorly staffed. It also points out that the FBI still lacks an effective training program for intelligence analysts and that most analysts are supervised by agents with no intelligence-gathering experience.

Additionally, the bureau has hired only two senior intelligence officers even though Congress deemed the positions critical two years ago and authorized hiring 24. Included in the report is the FBI’s 2009 budget request— $7,108,091,000—with detailed information on its plans to hire more agents.

Saturday
May102008

New Blow to the Bush Administration’s Troubled Military Commission System

By WILLIAM GLABERSON / NY Times

In a new blow to the Bush administration’s troubled military commission system, a military judge has disqualified a Pentagon general who has been centrally involved in overseeing Guantánamo war crimes tribunals from any role in the first case headed for trial.

The judge said the general was too closely aligned with the prosecution, raising questions about whether he could carry out his role with the required neutrality and objectivity.

Military defense lawyers said that although the ruling was limited to one case, they expected the issue to be raised in other cases, potentially delaying prosecutions, including the death-penalty prosecution of six detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for the Sept. 11 attacks.

Critics of the military commission system said Friday that the judge’s decision would provide new grounds to attack the system that they say was set up to win convictions.

The judge, Capt. Keith J. Allred of the Navy, directed that Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann of the Air Force Reserve, a senior Pentagon official of the Office of Military Commissions, which runs the war crimes system, have no further role in the first prosecution, scheduled for trial this month.

General Hartmann, whose title is legal adviser, has been at the center of a bitter dispute involving the former chief Guantánamo military prosecutor, Col. Morris D. Davis of the Air Force.

Colonel Davis has said the general interfered in the work of the military prosecution office, pushed for closed-door proceedings and pressed to rely on evidence obtained through techniques that critics call torture.

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Saturday
May102008

Government in Secret

By Russ Feingold / LA Times

The Bush administration recently announced it will allow select members of Congress to read Justice Department legal opinions about the CIA's controversial detainee interrogation program that have been hidden from Congress until now. But as the administration allows a glimpse of this secret law -- and it is law -- we are left wondering what other laws it is still keeping under lock and key.

It's a given in our democracy that laws should be a matter of public record. But the law in this country includes not just statutes and regulations, which the public can readily access. It also includes binding legal interpretations made by courts and the executive branch. These interpretations are increasingly being withheld from the public and Congress.

Perhaps the most notorious example is the recently released 2003 Justice Department memorandum on torture written by John Yoo. The memorandum was, for a nine-month period in 2003, the law that the administration followed when it came to matters of torture. And that law was essentially a declaration that the administration could ignore the laws passed by Congress.

The content of the memo was deeply troubling, but just as troubling was the fact that this legal opinion was classified and its content kept secret for years. As we now know, the memo should never have been classified because it contains no information that could compromise national security if released. In a Senate hearing that I chaired April 30, the top official in charge of classification policy from 2002 to 2007 testified that classification of this memo showed "either profound ignorance of or deep contempt for" the standards for classification.

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Saturday
May102008

Families Demand Answers in Iraq Electrocutions

Three years and three months before Ryan Maseth stepped into a shower Jan. 2 in Baghdad, an Army safety specialist identified electrocution as a "killer of soldiers."

Still, when the 24-year-old Shaler Green Beret turned on the faucet, water flowed from a pump powered by an improperly grounded electrical system manufactured in China. Borne on water, an electrical current surged through the pipes, out of the shower head and into his body.

His heart stopped.

Maseth's electrocution, the latest of 14 among service personnel in Iraq since 2003, set into motion a series of events to determine how and why these deaths occurred.

In March, a congressional committee started an investigation into all Iraq electrocutions. A month later, Maseth's parents sued the defense contractor responsible for the Chinese electrical system, alleging it failed to meet U.S. safety standards. And now, families across the country say they want more detailed information about the earlier deaths of loved ones.

"I want answers, not revenge," said Bart Cedergren of South St. Paul, Minn., who suspects his son died of electrocution Sept. 11, 2005, near Iskandariyah, Iraq.

Back then, the Navy said Petty Officer 3rd Class David A. Cedergren, 25, died of natural causes after being found unconscious in a shower stall, he said. Although Cedergren asked for additional information, he said he received only documents with black marks covering specifics of the investigation that the Navy has closed.

"I know for sure that there were problems where he was, near the electric generating station, because there was a history of individuals getting shocked," Cedergren said. "I just want to know what happened. He was strong and healthy."

Hidden danger

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Saturday
May102008

Congress, the Bush Administration and Continuity of Government Planning--The Showdown

by Prof. Peter Dale Scott

In August 2007, Congressman Peter DeFazio, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, told the House that he and the rest of his Committee had been barred from reviewing parts of National Security Presidential Directive 51, the White House supersecret plans to implement so-called "Continuity of Government" in the event of a mass terror attack or natural disaster. (1)

Norm Ornstein, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, commented, "I cannot think of one good reason" for denial. Ornstein added, "I find it inexplicable and probably reflective of the usual, knee-jerk overextension of executive power that we see from this White House." (2)

The story, ignored by the mainstream press, involved more than the usual tussle between the legislative and executive branches of the U.S. Government. What was at stake was a contest between Congress's constitutional powers of oversight, and a set of policy plans that could be used to suspend or modify the constitution.

There is nothing wrong with disaster planning per se. Like all governments, the U.S. government must develop plans for the worst contingencies. But Congress has a right to be concerned about Continuity of Government (COG) plans refined by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld over the past quarter century, which journalists have described as involving suspension of the constitution. (3)

In the 1980s, a secret group of planners inside and outside the government were assigned, by an Executive Order, to develop a response to a nuclear attack in which the U.S. government had been decapitated, forcing an alternative to the constitutional rules of succession.

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Saturday
May102008

9/11 Contradictions: Mohamed Atta’s Mitsubishi and His Luggage

By David Ray Griffin

At the core of the official story about 9/11 is the claim that the four airliners that crashed that day had been taken over by a band of al-Qaeda hijackers led by Mohamed Atta. No proof was ever provided for this claim. But various kinds of evidence have been offered, the most important of which was reportedly found in Atta’s luggage after the attacks. The materials in this luggage were said to confirm the suspicion that the planes had been hijacked by Atta and fellow Muslims. As Joel Achenbach wrote in a Washington Post story on September 16, 2001: 

Atta is thought to have piloted American Airlines Flight 11, the first to slam into the World Trade Center. A letter written by Atta, left in his luggage at Boston's Logan Airport, said he planned to kill himself so he could go to heaven as a martyr. It also contained a Saudi passport, an international driver's license, instructional videos for flying Boeing airliners and an Islamic prayer schedule. (“’You Never Imagine’ A Hijacker Next Door.”)

This discovery was clearly very helpful in making the case against Atta and al-Qaeda.

      But why was Atta’s luggage there to be discovered? Achenbach said: “Officials believe that Atta and [Abdul] Alomari rented a car in Boston, drove to Portland, Maine, and took a room Monday night at the Comfort Inn . . . . They then flew on a short flight Tuesday morning from Portland to Boston, changing to Flight 11.”

But why did Atta’s luggage not make it on to Flight 11? A 9/11 staff statement suggested that it was a tight connection, saying: “The Portland detour almost prevented Atta and Omari from making Flight 11 out of Boston. In fact, the luggage they checked in Portland failed to make it onto the plane” (Staff Statement No. 16, June 16, 2004).

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Saturday
May102008

Clinton, Cheney on D.C. Madam's List?

Has another name been added to the long list of government-sponsored murders, with possible chief suspects belonging to the Bush-Clinton crime cabal? And, although police Captain Jeffrey P. Young revealed that at least two apparent suicide notes were discovered, suspicions are running high that foul play was involved in Palfrey’s hanging.

For starters, less than 10 percent of all female suicides are by hanging. According to journalist Mick Gregory, “of all female suicides, very few are by hanging. It’s been out of fashion for 100 years.”

What propelled this story into the national headlines was a client list of 10,000 to 15,000 names that included Washington’s political and business elite, including officials from the IMF and World Bank, corporate CEOs, White House and Pentagon employees and lobbyists.

Palfrey’s “little black book” of telephone numbers weighed 46 pounds and had already caused the resignation of Randall L. Tobias, deputy secretary of state to Condoleezza Rice. Others named in these phone logs were Bill Clinton’s former advisor Dick Morris, along with Harlan K. Ullman, the man who came up with “shock and awe.”

What most worried Washington’s political elite was Ms. Palfrey’s defiant attitude. As reported by Paul Duggan in The Washington Post, on April 16 “Palfrey announced that she would make public some of her records, exposing ex-clients from the more refined walks of life in the nation’s capital.”

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Saturday
May102008

State Department Asks Congress To Keep Quiet About Details of Deal

By Glenn Kessler / Washington Post

Washington's civil nuclear deal with India is in such desperate straits that the State Department has imposed unusually strict conditions on the answers it provided to questions posed by members of Congress: Keep them secret.

The State Department made the request, even though the answers are not classified, because officials fear that public disclosure would torpedo the deal, sources said. The agreement would give New Delhi access to U.S. nuclear technology for the first time since it conducted a nuclear test in 1974, but leftist parties in the coalition government remain skeptical and view it as a possible infringement on India's sovereignty.

Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the late chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, agreed to the request in February, and the current chairman, Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.), has abided by that commitment, though Berman is not considered a strong supporter of the deal. A group of prominent nonproliferation experts has decried the "virtual 'gag' order," but thus far, the answers have not leaked, in part because only a handful of congressional officials have been able to read them.

"The administration's unwillingness to make their answers more widely available suggests they have something to hide from either U.S. or Indian legislators," said Daryl Kimball, director of the Arms Control Association.

President Bush's agreement with India, considered a key part of the administration's foreign policy legacy, is designed to solidify Washington's relationship with a fast-emerging economic power. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed to the pact in July 2005, but it has faced many hurdles. If Congress gives the deal final approval, India will be able to engage in civil nuclear trade with the United States, even though it has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

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Saturday
May102008

McCain Pushed Land Swap that Benefits Backer

By Matthew Mosk / Washington Post

Sen. John McCain championed legislation that will let an Arizona rancher trade remote grassland and ponderosa pine forest here for acres of valuable federally owned property that is ready for development, a land swap that now stands to directly benefit one of his top presidential campaign fundraisers.

Initially reluctant to support the swap, the Arizona Republican became a key figure in pushing the deal through Congress after the rancher and his partners hired lobbyists that included McCain's 1992 Senate campaign manager, two of his former Senate staff members (one of whom has returned as his chief of staff), and an Arizona insider who was a major McCain donor and is now bundling campaign checks.

When McCain's legislation passed in November 2005, the ranch owner gave the job of building as many as 12,000 homes to SunCor Development, a firm in Tempe, Ariz., run by Steven A. Betts, a longtime McCain supporter who has raised more than $100,000 for the presumptive Republican nominee. Betts said he and McCain never discussed the deal.

The Audubon Society described the exchange as the largest in Arizona history. The swap involved more than 55,000 acres of land in all, including rare expanses of desert woodland and pronghorn antelope habitat. The deal had support from many local officials and the Arizona Republic newspaper for its expansion of the Prescott National Forest. But it brought an outcry from some Arizona environmentalists when it was proposed in 2002, partly because it went through Congress rather than a process that allowed more citizen input.

Although the bill called for the two parcels to be of equal value, a federal forestry official told a congressional committee that he was concerned that "the public would not receive fair value" for its land.

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