Saturday, June 24, 2006

Axis of evil is in Miami.

Dick Cheney says that he finds it disturbing that the media has taken it upon them selves to "disclose vital national security programs, thereby making it more difficult for us to prevent future attacks against the American people. That offends me." Well, you know what, Dick, you offend me, so we're even.

Here we go again, the same old tired argument that letting the American people on the administration's dark dealings is somehow helping the terrorists. One would think real terrorists would have figured out by now that their phone calls are probably being listened in on and their financial transactions are being tracked. The notion that al-Qaeda is stupid enough to send a Western Union money-gram to one of their cells or transfer a large amount of money to another country and use their real names is ludicrous.

Cheney & Co. know what the NSA and the CIA are up to, and al-Qaeda knows what they're up to, the only people who don't know what's going on is the American people. Now, we don't need to know all the operational details of every secret counterterrorism program, but when the government is sifting through every phone call record, every Google search and every bank transaction, that's something we should know.

What are they doing with all this information? They've gone through trillions of bits of information, they've issued tens of thousands of subpoenas, or what they call national security letters, for information on Americans. Are there tens of thousands of terrorists here in the US that the CIA or the FBI absolutely needs to be building dossiers on? If that's the case, we really should be worried about another attack.

But, in reality, no one really knows what's going on because the administration won't tell the courts or Congress what they're doing. This is a problem. Maybe, letting a little sunshine in on what Cheney & Co. are up to, a little oversight, might make sure that their methods are really as effective as they say they are. I mean, this is the same bunch that brought us Iraq and Katrina, can we really trust that all this electronic snooping they're doing is actually making a difference?

But hey, they caught those dangerous terrorist in Miami, they're really cooking with gas now, right? It looks like Cheney's worries about the media letting the cat out of the bag about Swift isn't hindering the war on terror after all. Of course, these bozos down in Miami weren’t so swift themselves, it appears. The government probably didn't need to bring the entire weight of US law enforcement down on these guys, I think probably Metro-Dade department police could have handled it.

As a matter of fact, six of the seven defendants have criminal records and one of them was in jail on a probation violation. Pretty scary stuff, there's no telling what that big al-Qaeda cell down in Liberty City could have got up to if they'd been able to actually get in touch with someone from al-Qaeda.

This was such a huge bust that AG Alberto 'waterboard' Gonzales had to give a press conference to let everyone know what a dangerous threat these guys were. Although, their plans for bombing the Sears Tower in Chicago were "aspirational rather than operational," he says they planned to launch attacks that would "be just as good or greater than 9/11."

How they were going to manage to carry this plot off without weapons and no support from al-Qaeda or money he doesn't say. The WaPo reports that "They were not well funded: Neighbors said the men drove old cars and some of them made money by selling shampoo and hair tonic on the street. Hell, they couldn't even afford their own video camera to case "the U.S. courthouse and other federal buildings in Miami. . .the camera was provided by the government informant, the indictment said."

The leader of the group, Narseal Batiste, is described by the Inquirer as a "Moses-like figure," who "carried a cane through his neighborhood, wearing a cape or sometimes of bathrobe," so you know he meant business. The thing I don't get is why a "homegrown" terrorist cell would need uniforms. How far would these idiots have gotten anyway? I mean, six black guys walking down the street in downtown Chicago wearing uniforms being led by one wearing a bathrobe might have stood out.

I hope the DOJ isn't spending all their time investigating ice cream truck drivers and whackos with delusions of...well, just delusions. I mean, the guys who pulled off 9/11 were a little more sophisticated in their methods and managed not to walk right up to a FBI informant and ask him for boots. Out of all the hundreds of prosecutions of "terrorists" the DOJ has mounted in the US since 9/11, they've gotten precious few convictions. Either there are no terrorist’s cells out there or the government is wasting their time and our money on crap like this while the real terrorists are plotting and planning right under Gonzales' nose. I hope it's the former, but judging by the record of this administration so far, I'm guessing it's the latter.

Friday, June 23, 2006

What will W. & Co. do for their second act?

When is enough, enough? When is it finally going to down on us that our government is out of control? (Or "government at its best" as Tony Snow sees it.) As we find more about what this administration has been up to the past five years, the picture is getting darker and darker. Today, in yet another revelation in the NYT about W.'s 'war on terror' and the lengths he'll go to fight it, we learn that the Treasury Department and the CIA have been sifting through the financial comings and goings of possibly millions of people around the world including inside the US.

The Times writes that Treasury has used "broad administrative subpoenas for millions of records from the cooperative, known as Swift." Not surprisingly, "Treasury officials did not seek individual warrants or subpoenas to examine specific transactions." The Bush administration never has in the past, after all, so why would they in this case?

The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, or Swift, sends electronic messages for direct financial transactions that are worth about $6 trillion dollars a day to 7,800 institutions worldwide, according to the Times. You add the information the government has access to in this program to the possible trillions of phone log records and internet searches and email messages they have been snooping into since 9/11 and one begins to understand the staggering amount of power this government has in their hands.

With this access to information on everything thing we do: where we shop, where we travel, who we talk to (who they talk to), how we surf on the net, all our financial transactions, our medical records, our entire lives, they are building a complete dossier on every American; not only for this administration, but for every other one that follows fully at at their disposal.

It's so far beyond anything that's ever happened before in history that it is truly revolutionary. And along with all this power there are no checks or balances. At this point, Congress and the courts are mere facades propped up to provide a patina of democratic legitimacy.

Anyone who thinks Congress or the courts is going to save them is dreaming. There are no roadblocks, no laws, that this administration doesn't just roll right over as it engulfs and devours our liberties and freedom. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

When you consider that this government has given itself the right to kidnap, render, torture and lock up foreigners from all over the world in total secrecy without any legal authority, one begins to wonder what they'll do for a second act.

Sooner or later, they'll turn on us, the American people, as has happened before during WWII when 120,000 Japanese-Americans were rounded up and sent to camp for three years. Is it so far fetched to think that a government who has this power won't eventually use it? This administration in particular has a penchant to utilize the military for pretty much all its problems, from spreading democracy around the world to border security to even thinking about using it to quarantine the bird flu!

Some day our battle hardened troops are going to come back from Iraq and they'll have the perfect training and experience to put down any "domestic insurgency" that might arise in the fevered imaginings of the Cheney/Rumsfeld cabal. There are twenty year-old plans under the code name REX-84 Bravo that have been recently been updated by the Army to provide "civilian labor camps" built on unused military bases to house insurrections, or "massive civil unrest," here at home. (We're watching you Cindy Sheehan)

Former Maryland Senator Tim Ferguson, wrote recently that these camps, 800 of them, in fact:

[Are] “fully operational and ready to receive prisoners. They are all staffed and even surrounded by full-time guards, but they are all empty. These camps are to be operated by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) should Martial Law need to be implemented in the United States and all it would take is a presidential signature on a proclamation and the attorney general's signature on a warrant to which a list of names is attached…The camps all have railroad facilities as well as roads leading to and from the detention facilities. Many also have an airport nearby. The majority of the camps can house a population of 20,000 prisoners. Currently, the largest of these facilities is just outside of Fairbanks, Alaska. The Alaskan facility is a massive mental health facility and can hold approximately 2 million people.

They already have their templates at Gitmo and Baghram; now all they need now are the inmates. The question isn't whether this administration or another down the road might resort to locking up its domestic "enemies" this, but when.

This is the end my friend. There is no place to hide.

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse after finding out from Ron Suskind that the government has been helped to spy on the credit card records of all Americans by First Data and Western Union; now comes the news in the NYT that:

"Under a secret Bush administration program initiated weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, counterterrorism officials have gained access to financial records from a vast international database and examined banking transactions involving thousands of Americans and others in the United States, according to government and industry officials."

But have no fear, "The program is limited, government officials say, to tracing transactions of people suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda by reviewing records from the nerve center of the global banking industry."

Just like the NSA domestic phone spying program and the internet data mining were "limited,"

The Times writes that, "Treasury officials did not seek individual court-approved warrants or subpoenas to examine specific transactions, instead relying on broad administrative subpoenas for millions of records from the cooperative, known as Swift." Naturally, why go through the filter of the law? But you can trust W. & Co.

One official in the article is quoted as saying that "The capability here is awesome or, depending on where you're sitting, troubling. . . the potential for abuse is enormous."

Frank Church warned back in 1974 that if the government was able to unleash its vast powers against the American people,

"No American would have any privacy left-- such is the capacity to monitor everything, telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn't matter. There would be no place to hide . . . There would be no way to fight back because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know." [truthout]

I think that's the point we're at about now. What is left that they haven't gotten their tenticales into? Who knows? The Congress certainly doesn't, nor does it care to apparently, except for Arlen Specter, who is still playing political ping pong with Dick Cheney. Meanwhile, the battle has already been lost.

All you need to wait for now, is them to get around to getting to you.

Rick Santorum: has an intelligence free zone between his ears.

The WaPo reports that yesterday Rick Santorum trimuphantly announced that:

"Iraq was not a WMD-free zone. We have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, chemical weapons." Wow, it sure took long enough, but I guess that's that, W. was right all along. So why didn't the White House make the news knownthemselves?

Probably, because Santorum is full of it, as usual.

The WaPo writes that intelligence offciers told "reporters that the study differed little from a 2004 report of a team of American weapons inspectors led by Charles A. Duelfer that concluded that Hussein was not in possession of significant stocks of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons at the time of the U.S.-led invasion. The intelligence officials also said that the munitions referred to in the report were produced before the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and that they had degraded and could not be used as designed." (Next thing you know Santorum will find the slingshot David used and claim that's WMD!)

Goerge W. Bush himself said in 2004 that, "The chief weapons inspector, Charles Duelfer, has now issued a comprehensive report that confirms the earlier conclusion of David Kay that Iraq did not have the weapons that our intelligence believed were there."

So is Santorum sayign W. is wrong -- again?

What a boob this guy is! And he's obviously pretty desperate at this point, now that he's got the prosepct of getting a real job come November staring him in the face. (Hopefully, not a minimum wage job, since he just voted down a bill that would have raised the wage by $2.00).

Ricky please, give us all a break and go protect animals from homosexuals or whatever you want, but just go!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The IDF is never wrong!

The Philly Inquirer reports that since the killing of Huda Ghaliya's father, along with 7 other Palestinains and the woundking of dozens on the beach at Beit Lahiya in Gaza on June the 9th, "new evidence is raising questions about the Israeli version of what took place. Based on video clips from one of its ships, Israel concluded that the explosion came at least 10 minutes after the military had stopped shelling," but it turns out that Israel's timetable is a little off.

The IDF claims that video tape from one of their gunboats off the coast shows no commotion or ambulances on the beach 10 minutes after they stopped shelling the area. If they had done a more thourough investigation they might have looked into cell phone records and hospital admission records.

Knight/Ridder has discovered that:

"According to phone records and ambulance logs, the first emergency call for help at the beach came at 4:40 p.m., while the shelling was going on and about 20 minutes before Israel contends the blast hit the Palestinians."

Israel claims that the first picture of ambulances arriving on the scene was at 5:15. That's strange because the scene of the attack was 10 minutes away from Kamal Odwan Hospital where the victims were admitted at 5:05 p.m..

Also, if Isreali shells played no part in this incident how come one Palestinian on the beach says doctors pulled an inch-long piece of metal from his 19-year-old son's stomach? The IDF was lobbing 155mm rounds at the beach that day and the Inquirer writes that;

"A military analyst who looked at photographs of the object for Knight Ridder identified it as part of the fuse of an artillery round."

Human Rights Watch has called for an independent investigation because it says, "An investigation that refuses to look at contradictory evidence can hardly be credible." The BBC reports that "The head of the Israeli military panel is reported to have told Mr Garlasco [from HRW] that the Palestinians had "no problem lying" about the incident, so he discounted their evidence."

Of course, we know Israeli government would never lie, right?

So far, this week Israel has killed 11 more Palestinian civilans including many children. Just today the BBC reports that an errant Israeli shell (the first one ever!) killed two civilians in their home, one of whom was 7 months pregnant.

Israle claims they were shooting at militants, but they're not having a great deal of success, as this is the second time they've botched their attempt. On the 13th of June they tried to take out two Palestinian militants, who moments before the attack made a run for it, and wound up killing 8 and wounding 17 others.

This is the problem with fighting a war with F-14's and tanks in a highly populated area like Gaza. Maybe, they ought to take a break and try to get their aim straight.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Now more than ever, let's get out of Iraq.

Today on every front page of every major newspaper in the US are the pictures of Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker and Pfc. Kristian Menaca, whose bodies were found in Yasafiya, Iraq, near where they were kidnapped by al-Qaeda militants last Friday. The positive spin W. got out of his little sight seeing tour to the Green Zone in Baghdad and the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi didn't last long, did it?

Once again, the disconnect between the happy talk coming out of the White House and the pentagon and the horrible reality of the situation over there, which continually goes from one horrific atrocity to another even more horrific atrocity, has been brought into stark relief by this depressing incident.

The circumstances of the two soldiers deaths has yet to have been officially announced, but according to the Iraqi chief of operations at the Defense Ministry, Maj. General Abdul Azziz Mohammed Jassim, they were "killed in a very brutal torture" The US military spokesman, Maj. General William B. Caldwell, said the bodies were being sent back to the US for DNA testing because, he said, "we couldn't identify them."

A group calling itself the Mujahedeen Shura, which claims al-Qaeda as a member, said they had cut the throats of the soldiers, but there is some doubt as to the authenticity of the claim according to the NYT. As in most cases like this in Iraq, there's no telling who's really who. The US claims that al-Qaeda in Iraq has got a new leader, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, but some experts say he may not even really exist.

So who knows what's actually going on; but whoever did this, they showed a whole lot of military expertise and coordination in luring away the other soldiers in the Tucker's and Menaca's unit to leave them isolated enough to capture them and kill a third soldier, Specialist David J. Babineau in the process. Even after the military found the bodies Maj. General Caldwell told the press that it took US forces hours to get through a series of bloody traps and IEDs before they could retrieve the bodies. Doesn't sound like a group of "deadenders" demoralized by the killing of their leader to me.

One can not imagine what the families and friends of Pfc. Tucker and Pfc. Menaca must be feeling right now and my heart goes out to them. I also feel terribly sorry for the all the families of the more than 2,500 soldiers who have died so far in Iraq and the approximately 19,000 who have come home, some with their bodies broken and their minds damaged. There can be no words to adequately describe the suffering all these families are going through now and the pain which will always be with them for as long as they live. This entire mess is so tragic and was so unavoidable.

Although these barbaric and despicable murders are particularly hard to take, we must keep in mind that for the past three years, tens of thousands of Iraqi families have been suffering from similar horrible acts committed against their loved ones by these same deranged lunatics and butchers. Since January of this year alone, over 6000 Iraqis have died after being kidnapped, tortured and executed. This number does not include all those blown to pieces by the numerous car bombings in and around Baghdad, which occur on a daily basis.

We have to put an end to this cycle of violence. Today the Senate is debating a resolution proposed by John Kerry which calls for pulling US troops out of Iraq in a year, and I say it's not a moment too soon. Democrats need to stop being so skittish, grow a backbone and support Kerry's resolution. What are they so afraid of; Karl Rove repeating "cut and run” until his face turns blue? Pretty terrifying! Our fighting people over in Iraq are putting their lives on the line so a bunch of religious nuts can settle old scores from the 5th century. This is essentially the policy the GOP is supporting, isn't there anyone bright enough within the Democratic Party to articulate this fact to the American people?

It's excruciatingly apparent that Bush & CO. have pretty conclusively demonstrated that have absolutely no ability to extricate us out of the mess that they have so cavalierly got us into. 'Stay the course,' isn't a strategy, it's a slogan. John Kerry has a plan but apparently what his fellow Democrats want is a better slogan.

Let's stop crying crocodile tears for the poor Iraqi politicians and get down to brass tacks. The only people in Iraq who want an open-ended commitment by us to 'stay the course' are the ones who have thrown in with the invaders. Didn't you see the terrified look on Al-Maliki's face when he was sitting next to W., the man most Iraqis blame for the predicament they're in today. But, fear not, he and his Shiite co-religionists have huge militias armed with our weapons and know-how to protect them, I'm sure they'll be alright.

Here in the US, the only ones who want to keep sending our young people into the Iraqi meat-grinder over and over again are the Republicans in Congress who want to retain their cozy perks and prerogatives at tax payer expense. Does anyone seriously believe that Bill Frist or Dennis Hasstert gives a damn about fighting for democracy in Iraq? Hell, they won't even fight for it here. As each new revelation has come out about the president's full-bore assault on our cherished freedoms, the GOP has defended him more and more.

So, who are they trying to fool? This is all about getting re-elected and it's all a show. Meanwhile, the families of Kristian Menaca and Thomas Tucker have a life-time of grieving ahead of them.

Cheney's Shadow government. What the one percent doctrine really means!

Yesterday Ron Suskind was on Terry Gross' Fresh Air to discuss his new book The One Percent Doctrine and he really blew my mind. Suskind reiterated what he wrote in the book that Cheney is pretty much behind all the disasters we've had visited upon us in Iraq and the "war on terror" from the beginning. You can already hear the howls from the right wingers, but is it really that big of a shock that Bush is out of the loop pretty much all of the time?

Suskind said in an interview with Matt Lauer that," The evidence is that Cheney is the global thinker. Bush is an action-based man, but he operates within a framework that Cheney largely designed. Not that this is a big surprise but it sure explains a lot of things.

Shortly after 9/11, Suskind writes that, "'Absorbing the possibility that al-Qaeda was trying to acquire a nuclear weapon, Cheney remarked that America had to deal with a new type of threat -- what he called a 'low-probability, high-impact event' -- and the U.S. had to do it 'in a way we haven't yet defined.

And then Cheney defined it: 'If there's a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It's not about our analysis . . . It's about our response.' Suskind writes, 'So, now spoken, it stood: a standard of action that would frame events and responses from the Administration for years to come." [WaPo]

So facts, normal analytical practices, checks and balances, and everything else was out the door. On Frontline last night, Michael Kirk lays out how this doctrine of darkness played out in practice. Cheney basically had a shadow (pardon the pun) presidency operating along side W.'s. He deeply distrusted the CIA and he and Rummy, his more affable conspirator, created a duel national security apparatus that made up the phony evidence for the Iraq invasion.

While most of the media is focusing on the revelation that al-Qaeda called off a poison gas attack on the New York Subway, I think this news that Cheney has his own shadow government going on is a bit more worthy of attention.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The One Percent Doctrine: There is no place to hide!

I just heard Terry Gross interview Ron Suskind about his new book The One Percent Doctrine on Fresh Air and I was blown away. He says that Cheney decided (not the Decider in chief) that if there was a one percent chance that an attack could actually happen, the US would direct all its attention that preventing it. The realization that the borders of the US couldn't be secured from other attackers getting into the country and the likelyhood of additonal attacks led Cheney to believe that the only way to defend the country was to react to every little piece of information that might or might not be credible as an imminent threat. This meant that from them on the way the government had operated pre-9/11 would be out the window.

Intelligence analysis, evidence of actual threats and facts, would all be beside the point. This certainly explains a lot of things, like Iraq, rounding up inncoent Muslim immigrants, Gitmo, NSA domestic spying and everything else that's been going on. It would have been nice if this complete erasing of our way of life and democratic institutions that we had lived by for over 200 years had been passed by Congress or the courts or us before they just went ahead and did it.

Other little tidbits of what the Cheney cabal has been up to can be seen at Time which includes the news that a company named First Data offered to help the FBI track pretty much every credit card transaction in the world ---and, oh yeah, by the way, they also own Western Union so there's no way to do anything without the government knowing what you're up to.

Rummy is no dummy, he's just busy.

The WaPo has gotten ahold of a transcript of an interview then-Inspector General Joseph E. Schmitz did with Rummy in his office on April Fool's day 2005 regarding the Air Force tanker leasing deal. That deal is probably the biggest DOD procurement ripoff to come down the pike in a while but Rummy apparently knows nothing about it.

"Rumsfeld cited poor memory, loose office procedures, and a general distraction with "the wars" in Iraq and Afghanistan to explain why he was unsure how his department came to nearly squander $30 billion leasing several hundred new tanker aircraft that its own experts had decided were not needed."

It's only $30 billion, that's chump change to Rummy and besides, he's busy mismanaging his two disasterous wars, give him a break!

Since the administration basically just shows up and puts the bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in front of Congress for their rubber stamp approval, there's no need to spend a lot of time watching where the money is going, which is apparently how they do business over there. The comptroller general of the United States, David M. Walker, said in a report about the procurment proceedures at the DOD that the department is "simply not positioned to deliver high-quality products in a timely and cost-effective fashion." DOD has "a long-standing track record of over-promising and un-delivering with virtual impunity."

This should come as no surprise to anyone; just look at all the boondoggles that the pentagon regularly wastes our money on like: the MV-22 Osprey , the Isomer Hand Grenade, and the biggest waste of money of all time: The Star Wars missile defense system.

We can't figure ou how to get enough armored plates to the Marines in Anbar, in fact, 80% of those who have died so far would be alive today if Rummy had been paying attention, but Rummy says, "My time basically in the department was focused on those things and certainly not on acquisitions or -- or what have you. Basically I spend an overwhelming portion of my time with the combatant commanders and functioning as the link between the president ... and the combatant commanders conducting the wars."

And he's doing a hell of job, isn't he?

John McCain wasn't so impressed when he had Rummy in front of him at an Armed Services Committee hearing back in 2005:

"Does it bother you when there are many members of the Defense Policy and Science Board were lobbying DOD and Air Force officials to approve the lease of 100 Boeing 767s? Some of them are mentioned in the Boeing e-mails: Richard Perle, Bill Schneider, General Fogleman, Admiral Jeremiah and Admiral Clemins.

MCCAIN: Doesn't all of this bother you, Mr. Secretary, that this incestuous relationship that went on between Boeing and the United States Air Force, and the secretary of the Air Force in particular, and Mr. Samber, that none of these people have been called to account for this kind of behavior?"

RUMSFELD: Senator McCain, I, personally, and we, the department, take seriously any and every allegation of wrongdoing.

MCCAIN: These are facts, Mr. Secretary. These are facts on paper of e-mails that were sent within the Department of Defense and by Boeing.

RUMSFELD: We -- as you are well aware, there's a Department of Defense inspector general's investigation of the entire aspect of this. And we are proceeding in an orderly and systematic way to try to come to the truth as to what took place. I assure you that if there has been wrongdoing, as there appears to have been, we will take appropriate action."

I'm so sure!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Rummy saw it before it happened.

Remember a while back when Rummy was asked about a memo he wrote before the war that highlighted a bunch of things that might go wrong? Some thought that maybe he had been against the war but he put that notion to bed by telling Bob Woodward that "there's no question in anyone's mind but I agreed with the president's approach."

He told a an audience at John's Hopkins in December that:

"I sat down and I wrote out a whole host of things that could go wrong. And I discussed them at great length inside the Pentagon and I discussed them at great length with the president.
And many of them didn't go wrong. They didn't happen for a variety of reasons. But we talked about the possibility of major refugees and internally displaced persons; it just didn't happen."

It didn't? Goodness golly garcious, Rummy, it looks like you spoke too soon:

Agence France Presse reports:

"The global refugee population has begun to rise for the first time in four years, largely due to instability in Iraq, a US group said in a survey, which saw refugee protection deteriorating by all measures. The number of refugees and asylum seekers increased to 12 million in 2005 from 11.5 million a year earlier, according to "World Refugee Survey 2006" of the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), a non-profit group tracking the problem worldwide.

'The deteriorating situation in Iraq has led to the refugee outflow some predicted at the onset of the war, which has only now materialized,' the USCRI said. Over 40 percent of Iraqi professionals have fled the insurgency-wracked nation since the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, it said. Syria now hosts 351,000 Iraqi refugees and has the largest population of Iraqi Shiite Muslims outside Iraq, while Jordan hosts 450,000 Iraqi refugees, many of whom are Christian minorities, according to the report.

USCRI anticipates even 'a more significant outflow' of Iraqi refugees in the near future, based on Baghdad's issuance of two million passports over the last 10 months."

Back to the blackboard Rummy!

Today in Iraq:

As the US death toll in Iraq went over 2,500 and the much ballyhooed security crackdown in Baghdad seemed to be failing to do much of anything it was advertised to do, all the euphoria about the killing of Abu Musab Zarqawi appears to be fading pretty quickly (though it did get W.'s approval rating up to 38%, mission accomplished!). Already al-Qaeda in Iraq has a new leader, according to the pentagon, and mortar attacks, suicide bombings and Shiite death squads are keeping the morgues busy. It's as if Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki's much vaunted "Iron Fist" is made out of oatmeal or something.

There are still large swaths of Iraq's capital city that are completely out of the control of the new "government of national unity" which W. was talking-up so positively last week. Many neighborhoods are barricaded to try and protect the residents from; the Shiite death squads, the Sunni insurgents or just the run of the mill criminal gangs that run rampant in Baghdad. And then, of course, there are the random groups of armed men rolling around that no one seems to know who they are.

As the security "crackdown" took effect mass abductions continued --- in one case 10 bakers were yanked out of their bakeries and put in to waiting vehicles in broad daylight never to be seen again ---and the bodies keep popping up all over the place. Yesterday, the bodies of four women and a teenager were among 17 bodies found with their hands tied and bullets in their heads. So, I'm not really getting the sense that much has changed since W. got back from his big adventure to Baghdad to look al-Maliki in the eye.

One positive step al-Maliki has taken is to talk about giving amnesty for those fighting the government in an effort at reconciliation. Now, W. said last week that he didn't like the idea of giving terrorists amnesty and suggested that he didn't think that if someone had committed a crime the Iraqi government would be "that lenient, frankly," but one man's terrorist is another man's resistance fighter it appears.

Last week the WaPo reported that Adnan Ali al-Kadhimi, a top advisor to al-Maliki, when asked about clemency for insurgents who had killed American troops answered that, "That's an area where we can see a greenline. There's some sort of preliminary understanding between us and the MNF-I [The U.S.-led Multi-National Force Iraq] that there is a patriotic feeling among the Iraqi youth, and the belief that those attacks are legitimate acts of resistance and defending their homeland. Those people will be pardoned defiantly I believe."

Shortly after saying this al-Kadhimi was fired, the WaPo reported on Friday. "Maliki's office issued a statement earlier Thursday saying, 'Mr. Adnan Kadhimi doesn't represent the Iraqi government in this issue, and Mr. Kadhimi is not an advisor or spokesman for the prime minister." But another aide condition of anonymity (so he wouldn't be fired too) said alMaliki was clear "saying those whose hands weren't stained with Iraqi blood" may be eligible for any amnesty.

Sounds like amnesty for insurgents to me, but I guess the Iraqis are now acting like that's not what it means under pressure from the US, although I hear that Iraq now has a completely sovereign government that could do whatever they want to do.

Meanwhile, as this news settles in, we've got two GIs from the 101st Airborne missing who were presumably kidnapped by Iraqi insurgents in the town of Youssifiyah last Friday. The WaPo reports that over 8000 US troops have been searching the area south of Baghdad lovingly called the "Triangle of Death" for their missing comrades but to no avail so far. Their capture comes at a real bad time for them as allegations of marines killing civilians in cold blood in Haditha and elsewhere have been swirling around this month.

Note to marine corporal Joshua Belile: you may think your little ditty about killing Hadji girl's family was "supposed to be funny," but I doubt Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston, Tex., and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore. and their families are laughing right now you dimwit!
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