Archive for January 3rd, 2007

WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Bush is likely to send anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 additional troops to Iraq as part of his yet-to-be-announced new Iraq strategy, sources with knowledge of his deliberations told CNN Wednesday.

Bush is expected to address the nation on the new strategy early next week, sources have said.

The president has not yet signed off on any changes, including a possible increase of U.S. troops, according to the sources. But he is “driving toward a conclusion” and a plan is “taking shape” and “getting more detailed” as the president puts “on the finer points,” they said.

National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe denied a report Tuesday that Bush was ready to sign off on increasing troop strength in Iraq by 20,000, saying, “The president has not made any decisions.”

Asked about the possible troop increase Wednesday, White House spokesman Tony Snow said Bush is “moving toward what he thinks is going to be the appropriate complex of policies to get that done.”

“When the president announces the way forward, he will provide answers to a lot of questions that I’m not going to,” Snow said.


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As political media buzzed about whether or not Senator Barack Obama’s admission eleven years ago that he used cocaine as a teenager would hurt his political prospects, Fox News ran a segmenton “Obama’s Cocaine Confession.”

Their conversation took an unusual turn, however, when Fox reporter Kirian Chetry said President Bush had also admitted to using cocaine.

“There’s something to be said for diffusing any negative attacks that could come your way,” Chetry said.

But she then turned to the question of whether Obama’s admission was similar to allegations of President Bush’s use of cocaine.

Obama “talks very candidly, as did our current president, who admitted to using cocaine, correct? Well he admitted that he had an alcoholic, he had a drinking problem. Who was it who said they witnessed him using cocaine? It was somebody who wrote a book…”

As her colleagues tried to talk her down from the line of discussion, Chetry responded, “Okay, okay, okay, fine, but there were questions about the current president and whether he used cocaine or not as a young guy, but there’s something about turning your life around…that people can accept.”

Her fellow broadcasters rapidly re-centered the discussion on whether or not the White House should have a president who admitted to using illegal narcotics.

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FBI Details Possible Detainee Abuse

WASHINGTON (AP) – FBI agents documented more than two dozen incidents of possible mistreatment at the Guantanamo Bay military base, including one detainee whose head was wrapped in duct tape for chanting the Quran and another who pulled out his hair after hours in a sweltering room.

Documents released Tuesday by the FBI offered new details about the harsh interrogations practice used by military officials and contractors when questioning so-called enemy combatants.

The reports describe a female guard who detainees said handled their genitals and wiped menstrual blood on their face. Another interrogator reportedly bragged to an FBI agent about dressing as a Catholic priest and “baptizing” a prisoner.

Some military officials and contractors told FBI agents that the interrogation techniques had been approved by the Defense Department, including directly by former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

The documents were released in response to a public records request by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is suing Rumsfeld and others on behalf of former military detainees who say they were abused. Many of the incidents in the FBI documents have already been reported and are summarized in the ACLU’s lawsuit.

Defense Department spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Joe Carpenter said the issues raised in the report are not new. A dozen reviews of detention operations have found no policies that condone abuse, he said.

President Bush signed legislation in October that authorized aggressive interrogation tactics but did not define them. ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer said the documents show that stricter congressional oversight is needed.

“If you just authorize in a vague way, there’s no end to the abusive methods the interrogators will come up with,” Jaffer said.

The records were gathered as part of an internal FBI survey in 2004 and are not part of a criminal investigation.

The agency asked 493 employees whether they witnessed aggressive treatment that was not consistent with the FBI’s policies. The bureau received 26 positive responses, including some from agents who were troubled by what they saw.

“I did observe treatment that was not only aggressive but personally very upsetting,” one agent wrote, describing seeing a man left in a 100-degree room with no ventilation overnight. “The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently literally been pulling his own hair out throughout the night.”

Another agent said he heard several “thunderclaps” then saw a detainee lying on the floor with a bloody nose. Interrogators told the agent the man was upset and had thrown himself to the floor.

In one report, an agent said he saw a detainee draped in an Israeli flag in a room with loud music and strobe lights. A note on the report said the Israeli flag “may be over the top but not abusive.” The words “may be” were then crossed out and replaced with “is.”

Carpenter, the Pentagon spokesman, said the Guantanamo detainees “include some of the world’s most vicious terrorist operatives.”

“The Department of Defense policy is clear,” Carpenter said. “We treat detainees humanely. The United States operates safe, humane and professional detention operations for enemy combatants who are providing valuable information in the war on terror.”

The FBI reports do not say whether any laws were broken. They said nothing employees observed rose to the level of abuse seen at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

FBI spokesman Richard J. Kolko said all the information in the reports were passed on to the Pentagon’s inspector general.

A federal judge is considering whether to allow the ACLU’s lawsuit against Rumsfeld to go forward. Government officials are normally shielded from personal lawsuits related to their jobs.


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CNN reports “President Bush is expected to announce his new Iraq strategy in an address to the nation early next week.” According to the BBC, “The speech will reveal a plan to send more US troops to Iraq.”

Last night on NBC News, Jim Miklaszewski reported that the new strategy will be announced next Tuesday, and that an administration official “admitted to us today that this surge option is more of a political decision than a military one.”

Just weeks ago, CentCom commander Gen. John Abizaid told Congress “I met with every divisional commander, General Casey, the core commander, General Dempsey, we all talked together. And I said, in your professional opinion, if we were to bring in more American Troops now, does it add considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq? And they all said no.”

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WILLIAMS: First, NBC News pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski has learned that President Bush is prepared to announce a strategy of surge and accelerate in Iraq, which would involve some 20,000 additional American troops being sent to Iraq. Jim is with us from the Pentagon with more on this tonight. Jim. Good evening.

MIKLASZEWSKI: Good evening, Brian. Administration officials told us today that President Bush has now all but decided to surge those additional troops into Baghdad to try to control over the violence there and only then could they accelerate the turnover of territory to Iraqi security forces. Fact is they’re not up to the task yet. The plan would also throw more U.S. money at Iraq for reconstruction and a jobs program. Interestingly enough, one administration official admitted to us today that this surge option is more of a political decision than a military one because the American people have run out of patience and President Bush is running out of time to achieve some kind of success in Iraq. While this plan will clearly draw some stiff opposition on Capitol Hill, the president is expected to announce it a week from today.

WILLIAMS: Jim Miklaszewski on duty for us today. Thanks for that.

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Iraq’s PM longs to leave office

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has made clear he dislikes being the country’s leader and would prefer to leave the job before his term ends.

In an extensive interview with a US newspaper, Mr Maliki said he would certainly not be seeking a second term.

A compromise choice, his tenure has been plagued by factional strife within both the country and government, and rumours the US has no faith in him.

“I wish I could be done with it even before the end of this term,” he said.

“I didn’t want to take this position,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “I only agreed because I thought it would serve the national interest, and I will not accept it again.”


Mr Maliki, a stalwart of the Shia movement which led the resistance to Saddam Hussein, was sworn in as prime minister for a four year term last May after Sunni and Kurd parties rejected the Shia alliance’s first nominee.

It followed four months of political deadlock.

He has since been undermined by sectarian tensions within his majority Shia alliance, as well as opposition from Sunni Arab politicians who say he has not done enough to dismantle Shia militias.

The manner in which Saddam Hussein was executed has also increased the pressure on Mr Maliki’s government.

Correspondents say mobile phone footage showing the former Iraqi leader being taunted as he went to the gallows will make it very hard for Baghdad to convince Sunni Arabs that his execution was not just an act of retaliation against their community by Shias.

Iraq’s National Security Adviser, Mouwaffaq al-Rubaie, said the shouting was “unprofessional, disgusting and shouldn’t have happened”.

“This was supposed to be a uniting event between Shia and Sunni,” Mr Rubaie told Sky TV, adding that Iraq’s government would punish those found to be involved.

As protests continued against Saddam Hussein’s execution, the Sunni Baath Party announced it had appointed his former deputy, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, as its new leader.

Amid the controversy, the US military spokesman in Iraq, Maj-Gen William Caldwell, said the execution would have been handed differently if the US had been involved.

He said US forces had handed “physical control” of Saddam Hussein to Iraqi officials shortly before the execution and all US personnel had left the prison.

Mr Maliki has had a tense relationship with the US.

Late last year, the New York Times published a memo from the White House national security adviser which contained a withering analysis of his leadership.
It described him as “a leader who wanted to be strong but was having difficulty figuring out how to do so” although President George W Bush has subsequently stated that Mr Maliki has his full backing.

Mr Maliki has made his own impatience with Washington clear, accusing the US of failing to provide adequate equipment and training to Iraqi forces.

He repeated his criticism in the Wall Street Journal, saying US-led forces and the Iraqi army had been too slow in responding to the insurgency.

“This gives the terrorists a chance to hit and run,” he said. “What is happening in Iraq is a war of gangs and a terrorist war. That is why it needs to be confronted with a strong force and with fast reaction.”

In the interview, conducted a week before Saddam Hussein was executed, Mr Maliki told the paper he had faith that peace would eventually be restored to Iraq.

“I have a strong hope. If I didn’t have hope, I wouldn’t be here today.”


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The Lesson George W. Didn’t Learn

The American President seems keen to repeat his country’s mistakes

Last November 17, as George W Bush visited Hanoi for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, the US president had some philosophical thoughts to deliver about the lessons he said the United States had learned from the Vietnam War, the longest conflict in US history.

“We’ll succeed unless we quit,” Bush told reporters. “We tend to want there to be instant success in the world, and the task in Iraq is going to take awhile.”

It is questionable what lessons the president took away from Vietnam, where nearly 58,000 American soldiers died and more than 300,000 were wounded in more than 14 years of hot and cold conflict before the Americans gave up. But if history is any yardstick, he probably ought to take careful consideration of ordering a surge in American troops in Iraq.

With US troop deaths in Iraq just having passed the 3,000 mark at the end of 2006, the president is reportedly about to order a “surge” in troop strength, by as many as 30,000, possibly shifting a military unit from Kuwait, redeploying or sending troops back to Iraq earlier than planned, or keeping US Marine units on duty longer than scheduled, or a combination of these, resulting in an instant boost to troop levels, particularly in an attempt to quell the growing violence in Baghdad.

One of the lessons the president might have learned when he visited Vietnam was about the number of “surges” Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson delivered from 1961 through 1968. The first American troops arrived in the country in strength in 1961, although advisers had been there since the early 1950s when the French left after their defeat at Dien Bien Phu.

By 1965, troop strength had “surged” to 125,000 from 75,000. At the end of the year, they had surged again, to 200,000. By January 1957, they had surged to 389,000. By July 1967, troop strength had surged to 475,000.

And, of course, by January 1968, they had surged to more than 500,000, when Gen. William Westmoreland, the military commander at the time, was reporting that the Vietnam insurgency had largely been quelled. Then the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong staged a surge of their own during the Lunar New Year. An estimated 165,000 civilians are believed to have died, creating millions more refugees. Hundreds of GIs and Marines died as the Viet Cong fought their way to the US Embassy in Saigon. The battle for the old imperial capital of Hue killed hundreds of US Marines and virtually destroyed perhaps the most beautiful city in the country.

Westmoreland asked for another 200,000 troops. At that point, Johnson, beleaguered in the White House as Bush has never been over Iraq, brought in Clark C. Clifford, a long-time Washington, DC insider, as Secretary of Defense to reexamine the US mission in Vietnam. After several weeks, Clifford concluded that “there is no concept or overall plan anywhere in Washington, DC for achieving victory in Vietnam.”

That may sound familiar to those reading the conclusions of the Iraq Study Group, headed by James A. Baker III, the 2006 version of the Washington Wise Man. The group’s report basically concluded that the war in Iraq cannot be won by the US. Recommendations include withdrawing US combat troops by March 2008, leaving only a limited number to help train and advise the Iraqis and involving Syria and Iran in negotiations as client states for the insurgents. The ISG’s belief that surges are out of the question has not been received warmly by the president.

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I know Santa Claus is Chinese because each Christmas morning after all the gifts are unwrapped and things settle down I systematically go through the presents to see where they are made. The results are almost always the same: roughly 70 percent are from China. After some research, it seems that my one-family survey is representative of the country as a whole.

Let’s start with toys. Some 80 percent of the toys sold in the United States—from Barbie dolls to video games—are made in China. Talking toys that speak English learned the language from Chinese workers. Electronic goods—from Apple’s iPod to Microsoft’s Xbox—are made in China. Clothing—from the latest cashmere sweaters to gym suits—is also likely to have a “Made in China” label.

The Christmas tree itself may come from China. While real Christmas trees are grown in every state in the United States and are marketed locally, many families now gather around artificial Christmas trees. Eight out of every 10 artificial Christmas trees sold in the United States are made in China. Last year Americans spent over $130 million on plastic Christmas trees from China.

This year Americans will spend over $1 billion on Christmas ornaments from China. And in perhaps the greatest irony of all, even nativity scenes are made in China. Last year Americans spent more than $39 million buying nativity scenes shipped in from the East. China’s success in attracting foreign investment capital and mobilizing this huge workforce has made it the workshop of the world.

That the U.S. Christmas is made in China is a metaphor for a far deeper set of economic issues affecting the United States. Today Christmas is celebrated in both the United States and China—but for different reasons and with far different economic consequences. For the Chinese, the manufacturing bonanza means record profits, rising incomes, and, in a society where people save some 40 percent of their income, a sharp jump in savings. In the United States, Christmas shopping expenditures, headed for another record high this year, contribute to rising credit card debt and a soaring trade deficit.

Underneath the American Christmas spirit and good cheer is a debt-laden society that appears to have lost its way, marred in the quicksand of consumerism. As a society, we seem to have forgotten how to save so we can invest in a better future. Instead of leaving our children a promising economic future, we are bequeathing them the largest debt burden of any generation in history.

At the personal level, credit card debt just keeps climbing, and at the government level, we have the largest deficit in history. At the international level, we have a trade deficit that moves to a new high month after month.

It’s not the fact that our Christmas is made in China, but rather the mindset that has led to it that is most disturbing. We want to consume no matter what. We want to spend now and let our children pay. It is this same mindset that introduces tax cuts while waging a costly war. Economic sacrifice is no longer part of our vocabulary. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt banned the sale of private cars in order to mobilize the manufacturing capacity and engineering skills of the U.S. automobile industry to build tanks and planes. In contrast, after 9/11, President Bush urged us to go shopping.

In the United States we are so intent on consuming that personal savings have virtually disappeared. We have an average of five credit cards for every man, woman, and child. Of the 145 million cardholders, only 55 million clear their accounts each month. The other 90 million cannot seem to catch up and are paying steep interest rates on their remaining balance. Millions of people are so deeply in debt that they may remain indebted for life.

The official national debt, the product of years of fiscal deficits, now totals $8.5 trillion—some $64,000 per taxpayer. (See data.) By the end of the Bush administration in 2008, this figure is projected to reach a staggering $9.4 trillion. We are digging a fiscal black hole and sinking deeper and deeper into it.

Each month the Treasury covers the fiscal deficit by auctioning off securities. The two leading international buyers of U.S. Treasury securities are Japan and China. In this role, China is now also becoming our banker. This developing country, where income levels are one sixth those of the United States, is financing the excesses of an affluent industrial society. What’s wrong with this picture?

In times past, when our fiscal deficits were covered largely by U.S. lenders, interest payments on the debt were reinvested in the United States. Now they are flowing abroad to Japan, China, and other foreign holders of U.S. debt.

While the U.S. fiscal deficit, driven partly by the war in Iraq, soars to stratospheric levels, the country is facing an unprecedented fiscal challenge as the baby boomer generation retires, pushing up the costs of social security, Medicaid, and Medicare. This, combined with the growing interest payments on our debt to China and other countries, will put a nearly impossible tax burden on the next generation—something for which they may never forgive us.

The U.S. trade deficit is growing by leaps and bounds, nearly doubling from $452 billion in 2000 to an estimated $850 billion in 2006. Rising oil imports and the trade deficit with China account for over half of it.

National policy failures such as not adequately supporting the use of renewable energy technologies have contributed to the growing U.S. trade deficit. For example, the United States should be a leading manufacturer and exporter of solar cells and wind turbines, but it has fallen behind both Europe and Japan. The solar cell, invented at Bell Labs in 1954, is an American technology. But the U.S. effort to develop solar energy was so weak and sporadic that both Germany and Japan forged ahead and developed robust solar cell manufacturing and export industries.

The situation is similar with wind. Although the modern wind industry was born in California at the beginning of the 1980s, the U.S. failure to sustain support for wind resource development allowed European countries to largely take over this industry.

Even though rising oil imports are widening our trade deficit, we consume oil with abandon, weakening the economy and undermining our political independence.

We have lost influence in world financial markets simply because of our mounting debt, much of it held by other countries. If China’s leaders ever become convinced that the dollar is headed continuously downward and they decide to dump their dollar holdings, the dollar could collapse.

Beholden to other countries for oil and to finance our debt, the United States is fast losing its leadership role in the world. The question we are facing is not simply whether our Christmas is made in China, but more fundamentally whether we can restore the discipline and values that made us a great nation—a nation the world admired, respected, and emulated. This is not something that Santa Claus can deliver, not even a Chinese Santa Claus. This is something only we can do.


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