Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Torture, Contractors, Sectarianism, Syriana, CRS Report

I've let Middle East topics on this blog go disturbingly dormant, but will try to pick it up again, even while mixing the Katrina stuff in as we go. I have lots of stuff backed up, but let's just throw in the most recent stuff tonight.

1) Some truly horrific things must be going on inIraq, mostly unreported:


"Trophy Video" of Civilian Shootings By ContractorsEmerges
by Hunter
Sun Nov 27, 2005 at 03:27:47 PM PDT

Oh, that's just great. Just great. From the SundayTelegraph (UK):

A "trophy" video appearing to show security guards inBaghdad randomly shooting Iraqi civilians has sparkedtwo investigations after it was posted on theinternet, the Sunday Telegraph can reveal.

The video has sparked concern that private securitycompanies, which are not subject to any form ofregulation either in Britain or in Iraq, could beresponsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocentIraqis.

According to the Telegraph reporter, the video is evenset to music: "Mystery Train", by Elvis Presley.
And so the circle -- or spiral -- continues. For thosewith short memories, it was the alleged misconduct ofarmed contractors in Iraq that led to the killing andpublic display of four of them, hanging from abridge... which led to two separate massiveretaliatory assaults against Fallujah... which led toa widespread backlash in Iraq... which led to, amongother things, a widened insurgency... whichcontributed to a situation in Iraq in which armedcontractors are necessary for protection of privateclients... which led to the alleged misconduct ofseveral of them...

Which leads to what, I wonder?

Oh, I remember. Now comes the part where reportingcivilian deaths is anti-American, because the Iraqisthemselves really can't figure out that this crap isgoing on until they see it in British and Americannewspapers. Because they don't know when their ownrelatives have been killed until some paragon ofAmerican soldierness posts trophy pictures of them inexchange for Internet porn, or some dumbass "securitycontractor" sets it to music and puts it on theirwebsite.

God help us. And I mean that literally.

Update [2005-11-27 17:54:48 by Hunter]: And see here,from the LA Times:

WASHINGTON — One hot, dusty day in June, Col. TedWesthusing was found dead in a trailer at a militarybase near the Baghdad airport, a single gunshot woundto the head.

The Army would conclude that he committed suicide withhis service pistol. At the time, he was thehighest-ranking officer to die in Iraq.

The Army closed its case. But the questionssurrounding Westhusing's death continue.

Westhusing, 44, was no ordinary officer. He was one ofthe Army's leading scholars of military ethics, a fullprofessor at West Point who volunteered to serve inIraq to be able to better teach his students. He had adoctorate in philosophy; his dissertation was anextended meditation on the meaning of honor.

It should be read in full...[below]


THE CONFLICT IN IRAQA Journey That Ended in AnguishCol. Ted Westhusing, a military ethicist whovolunteered to go to Iraq, was upset by what he saw.His apparent suicide raises questions.

By T. Christian Miller, Times Staff Writer

"War is the hardest place to make moral judgments."

Col. Ted Westhusing, Journal of Military Ethics

WASHINGTON — One hot, dusty day in June, Col. TedWesthusing was found dead in a trailer at a militarybase near the Baghdad airport, a single gunshot woundto the head.

The Army would conclude that he committed suicide withhis service pistol. At the time, he was thehighest-ranking officer to die in Iraq.

The Army closed its case. But the questionssurrounding Westhusing's death continue.

Westhusing, 44, was no ordinary officer. He was one ofthe Army's leading scholars of military ethics, a fullprofessor at West Point who volunteered to serve inIraq to be able to better teach his students. He had adoctorate in philosophy; his dissertation was anextended meditation on the meaning of honor.

So it was only natural that Westhusing acted when helearned of possible corruption by U.S. contractors inIraq. A few weeks before he died, Westhusing receivedan anonymous complaint that a private security companyhe oversaw had cheated the U.S. government andcommitted human rights violations.

Westhusingconfronted the contractor and reported the concerns tosuperiors, who launched an investigation.

In e-mails to his family, Westhusing seemed especiallyupset by one conclusion he had reached:

thattraditional military values such as duty, honor andcountry had been replaced by profit motives in Iraq,where the U.S. had come to rely heavily on contractorsfor jobs once done by the military.

His death stunned all who knew him. Colleagues andcommanders wondered whether they had missed signs ofdepression. He had been losing weight and not sleepingwell. But only a day before his death, Westhusing wonpraise from a senior officer for his progress intraining Iraqi police.

His friends and family struggle with the idea thatWesthusing could have killed himself. He was a lovingfather and husband and a devout Catholic. He was anextraordinary intellect and had mastered ancient Greekand Italian. He had less than a month before hisreturn home. It seemed impossible that anything couldcrush the spirit of a man with such a powerful senseof right and wrong.

On the Internet and in conversations with one another,Westhusing's family and friends have questioned themilitary investigation.

A note found in his trailer seemed to offer clues.Written in what the Army determined was hishandwriting, the colonel appeared to be strugglingwith a final question.

How is honor possible in a war like the one in Iraq?

Even at Jenks High School in suburban Tulsa, one ofthe biggest in Oklahoma, Westhusing stood out. He wasstarting point guard for the Trojans, a team that madea strong run for the state basketball championship hissenior year. He was a National Merit Scholarshipfinalist. He was an officer in a fellowship ofChristian athletes.

Joe Holladay, who coached Westhusing before going onto become assistant coach of the University of NorthCarolina Tarheels, recalled Westhusing showing up atthe gym at 7 a.m. to get in 100 extra practice shots.

"There was never a question of how hard he played orhow much effort he put into something," Holladay said."Whatever he did, he did well. He was the cream of thecrop."

When Westhusing entered West Point in 1979, thetradition-bound institution was just emerging from acheating scandal that had shamed the Army. Restoringhonor to the nation's preeminent incubator for Armyleadership was the focus of the day.

Cadets are taught to value duty, honor and country,and are drilled in West Point's strict moral code: Acadet will not lie, cheat or steal — or tolerate thosewho do.

Westhusing embraced it. He was selected as honorcaptain for the entire academy his senior year. Col.Tim Trainor, a classmate and currently a West Pointprofessor, said Westhusing was strict but sympatheticto cadets' problems. He remembered him as"introspective."

Westhusing graduated third in his class in 1983 andbecame an infantry platoon leader. He received specialforces training, served in Italy, South Korea andHonduras, and eventually became division
operationsofficer for the 82nd Airborne, based at Ft. Bragg,N.C.

He loved commanding soldiers. But he remained drawn tointellectual pursuits.

In 2000, Westhusing enrolled in Emory University'sdoctoral philosophy program. The idea was to return toWest Point to teach future leaders.

He immediately stood out on the leafy Atlanta campus.Married with children, he was surrounded by young,single students. He was a deeply faithful Christian ina graduate program of professional skeptics.
Plunged into academia, Westhusing held fast to hismilitary ties. Students and professors recalled himjogging up steep hills in combat boots and camouflage,his rucksack full, to stay in shape. He wrote a paperchallenging an essay that questioned the morality ofpatriotism.

"He was as straight an arrow as you would possiblyfind," said Aaron Fichtelberg, a fellow student andnow a professor at the University of Delaware. "Heseemed unshakable."

In his 352-page dissertation, Westhusing discussed theethics of war, focusing on examples of military honorfrom Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to the Israeliarmy. It is a dense, searching and sometimes personaleffort to define what, exactly, constitutes virtuousconduct in the context of the modern U.S. military.

"Born to be a warrior, I desire these answers not justfor philosophical reasons, but for self-knowledge," hewrote in the opening pages.

As planned, Westhusing returned to teach philosophyand English at West Point as a full professor with aguaranteed lifetime assignment. He settled into lifeon campus with his wife, Michelle, and their threeyoung children.

But amid the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he toldfriends that he felt experience in Iraq would help himin teaching cadets. In the fall of 2004, hevolunteered for duty.

"He wanted to serve, he wanted to use his skills,maybe he wanted some glory," recalled Nick Fotion, hisadvisor at Emory. "He wanted to go."

In January, Westhusing began work on what the Pentagonconsidered the most important mission in Iraq:training Iraqi forces to take over security dutiesfrom U.S. troops.

Westhusing's task was to oversee a private securitycompany, Virginia-based USIS, which had contractsworth $79 million to train a corps of Iraqi police toconduct special operations.

In March, Gen. David Petraeus, commanding officer ofthe Iraqi training mission, praised Westhusing'sperformance, saying he had exceeded "loftyexpectations."

"Thanks much, sir, but we can do much better andwill," Westhusing wrote back, according to a copy ofthe Army investigation of his death that was obtainedby The Times.

In April, his mood seemed to have darkened. He worriedover delays in training one of the police battalions.
Then, in May, Westhusing received an anonymousfour-page letter that contained detailed allegationsof
wrongdoing by USIS.

The writer accused USIS of deliberately shorting thegovernment on the number of trainers to increase itsprofit margin. More seriously, the writer detailed twoincidents in which USIS contractors allegedly hadwitnessed or participated in the killing of Iraqis.

A USIS contractor accompanied Iraqi police traineesduring the assault on Fallouja last November and laterboasted about the number of insurgents he had killed,the letter says. Private security contractors are notallowed to conduct offensive operations.

In a second incident, the letter says, a USIS employeesaw Iraqi police trainees kill two innocent Iraqicivilians, then covered it up. A USIS manager "did notwant it reported because he thought it would put hiscontract at risk."

Westhusing reported the allegations to his superiorsbut told one of them, Gen. Joseph Fil, that hebelieved USIS was complying with the terms of itscontract.

U.S. officials investigated and found "no contractualviolations," an Army spokesman said. Bill Winter, aUSIS spokesman, said the investigation "found theseallegations to be unfounded."

However, several U.S. officials said inquiries on USISwere ongoing. One U.S. military official, who, likeothers, requested anonymity because of the sensitivityof the case, said the inquiries had turned upproblems, but nothing to support the more seriouscharges of human rights violations.

"As is typical, there may be a wisp of truth in eachof the allegations," the official said.

The letter shook Westhusing, who felt personallyimplicated by accusations that he was too friendlywith USIS management, according to an e-mail in thereport.

"This is a mess … dunno what I will do with this," hewrote home to his family May 18.

The colonel began to complain to colleagues about "hisdislike of the contractors," who, he said, "were paidtoo much money by the government," according to onecaptain.

"The meetings [with contractors] were never easy andalways contentious. The contracts were in dispute andalways under discussion," an Army Corps of Engineersofficial told investigators.

By June, some of Westhusing's colleagues had begun toworry about his health. They later told investigatorsthat he had lost weight and begun fidgeting, sometimesstaring off into space. He seemed withdrawn, theysaid.

His family was also becoming worried. He describedfeeling alone and abandoned. He sent home brief,cryptic e-mails, including one that said, "[I] didn'tthink I'd make it last night." He talked of resigninghis command.
Westhusing brushed aside entreaties for details,writing that he would say more when he returned home.The family responded with an outpouring of e-mailsexpressing love and support.

His wife recalled a phone conversation that chilledher two weeks before his death.

"I heard something in his voice," she toldinvestigators, according to a transcript of theinterview. "In Ted's voice, there was fear. He did notlike the nighttime and being alone."

Westhusing's father, Keith, said the family did notwant to comment for this article.

On June 4, Westhusing left his office in theU.S.-controlled Green Zone of Baghdad to view ademonstration of Iraqi police preparedness at CampDublin, the USIS headquarters at the airport. He gavea briefing that impressed Petraeus and a visitingscholar. He stayed overnight at the USIS camp.

That night in his office, a USIS secretary would latertell investigators, she watched Westhusing take outhis 9-millimeter pistol and "play" with it, repeatedlyunholstering the weapon.

At a meeting the next morning to discuss constructiondelays, he seemed agitated. He stewed over demands fortighter vetting of police candidates, worried that itwould slow the mission. He seemed upset over fundingshortfalls.

Uncharacteristically, he lashed out at the contractorsin attendance, according to the Army Corps official.In three months, the official had never seenWesthusing upset.

"He was sick of money-grubbing contractors," theofficial recounted. Westhusing said that "he had notcome over to Iraq for this."

The meeting broke up shortly before lunch. About 1p.m., a USIS manager went looking for Westhusingbecause he was scheduled for a ride back to the GreenZone. After getting no answer, the manager returnedabout 15 minutes later. Another USIS employee peekedthrough a window. He saw Westhusing lying on the floorin a pool of blood.

The manager rushed into the trailer and tried torevive Westhusing. The manager told investigators thathe picked up the pistol at Westhusing's feet andtossed it onto the bed.

"I knew people would show up," that manager said laterin attempting to explain why he had handled theweapon. "With 30 years from military and lawenforcement training, I did not want the weapon to getbumped and go off."

After a three-month inquiry, investigators declaredWesthusing's death a suicide. A test showed gunpowderresidue on his hands. A shell casing in the room boremarkings indicating it had been fired from his servicerevolver.

Then there was the note.

Investigators found it lying on Westhusing's bed. Thehandwriting matched his.

The first part of the four-page letter lashes out atPetraeus and Fil. Both men later told investigatorsthat they had not criticized Westhusing or heardnegative comments from him. An Army review undertakenafter Westhusing's death was complimentary of thecommand climate under the two men, a U.S. militaryofficial said.

Most of the letter is a wrenching account of astruggle for honor in a strange land.

"I cannot support a msn [mission] that leads tocorruption, human rights abuse and liars. I amsullied," it says.

"I came to serve honorably and feeldishonored.

"Death before being dishonored any more."

A psychologist reviewed Westhusing's e-mails andinterviewed colleagues. She concluded that theanonymous letter had been the "most difficult andprobably most painful stressor."

She said that Westhusing had placed too much pressureon himself to succeed and that he was unusually rigidin his thinking. Westhusing struggled with the ideathat monetary values could outweigh moral ones in war.This, she said, was a flaw.

"Despite his intelligence, his ability to grasp theidea that profit is an important goal for peopleworking in the private sector was surprisinglylimited," wrote Lt. Col. Lisa Breitenbach. "He couldnot shift his mind-set from the military notion ofcompleting a mission irrespective of cost, nor couldhe change his belief that doing the right thingbecause it was the right thing to do should be thesole motivator for businesses."

One military officer said he felt Westhusing hadtrouble reconciling his ideals with Iraq's reality.Iraq "isn't a black-and-white place," the officersaid. "There's a lot of gray."

Fil and Petraeus, Westhusing's commanding officers,declined to comment on the investigation, but theypraised him. He was "an extremely bright, highlycompetent, completely professional and exceedinglyhard-working officer. His death was truly tragic andwas a tremendous blow," Petraeus said.

Westhusing's family and friends are troubled that hedied at Camp Dublin, where he was without a bodyguard,surrounded by the same contractors he suspected ofwrongdoing. They wonder why the manager who discoveredWesthusing's body and picked up his weapon was nottested for gunpowder residue.

Mostly, they wonder how Col. Ted Westhusing — father,husband, son and expert on doing right — could havefound himself in a place so dark that he saw no light.

"He's the last person who would commit suicide," saidFichtelberg, his graduate school colleague. "Hecouldn't have done it. He's just too damn stubborn."

Westhusing's body was flown back to Dover Air ForceBase in Delaware. Waiting to receive it were hisfamily and a close friend from West Point, alieutenant colonel.

In the military report, the unidentified colonel toldinvestigators that he had turned to Michelle,Westhusing's wife, and asked what happened.

She answered:


2) If you believe the Darth Cheney administration was sincere about the intelligence connected to Iraq in 2002-2003, or that they don't "do torture," you're simply haven't been paying attention. If you don't believe me, consult the encyclopaedic book "The Torture Papers":


Cheney 'may be guilty of war crime'

· Vice-president accused of backing torture · Claims on BBC by former insider add to Bush's woes
Julian Borger in WashingtonWednesday November 30, 2005The Guardian

Vice-president Dick Cheney's burden on the Bush administration grew heavier yesterday after a former senior US state department official said he could be guilty of a war crime over the abuse of prisoners.Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to secretary of state Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005, singled out Mr Cheney in a wide-ranging political assault on the BBC's Today programme.

Mr Wilkerson said that in an internal administration debate over whether to abide by the Geneva conventions in the treatment of detainees, Mr Cheney led the argument "that essentially wanted to do away with all restrictions".

Asked whether the vice-president was guilty of a war crime, Mr Wilkerson replied: "Well, that's an interesting question - it was certainly a domestic crime to advocate terror and I would suspect that it is ... an international crime as well." In the context of other remarks it appeared he was using the word "terror" to apply to the systematic abuse of prisoners.The Washington Post last month called Mr Cheney the "vice-president for torture" for his demand that the CIA be exempted from a ban on "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment of detainees.

Mr Wilkerson, a former army colonel, also said he had seen increasing evidence that the White House had manipulated pre-war intelligence on Iraq to make its case for the invasion. He said: "You begin to wonder was this intelligence spun? Was it politicised? Was it cherry-picked? Did, in fact, the American people get fooled? I am beginning to have my concerns."

Mr Cheney has been under fire for his role in assembling evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Mr Wilkerson told the Associated Press that the vice-president must have sincerely believed Iraq could be a spawning ground for terrorism because "otherwise I have to declare him a moron, an idiot or a nefarious bastard".

Such charges have kept the Bush administration on the defensive for several months. Mr Bush yesterday repeated his earlier assertion that the US "does not torture and that's important for people around the world to realise". He is also due to make the first of a series of speeches today, outlining his plan to defeat the insurgency and pave the way for US withdrawal. The White House will also publish a declassified version of its war plan.

But it has now emerged that two justice department memos listing permissible interrogation methods have been kept secret by the White House, even from the Senate intelligence committee. The New Yorker recently quoted a source who had seen a memo as calling it "breathtaking".

"The document dismissed virtually all national and international laws regulating the treatment of prisoners, including war crimes and assault statutes, and it was radical in its view that in wartime the president can fight enemies by whatever means he sees fit," the magazine reported.

One technique allegedly used by the CIA in questioning suspects is "waterboarding" (strapping a detainee to a board and submerging it until the prisoner believes he or she is drowning). The White House is accused of defining "torture" so narrowly as to exclude such methods. But James Ross, a legal expert at Human Rights Watch said such a narrow definition was at odds with international norms.

"Waterboarding is clearly a form of torture. It has been used since the Inquisition. It was a well-known torture technique in Latin America," Mr Ross said.

Human Rights Watch this year called for a special counsel to investigate any US officials - no matter their rank or position - who took part in, "ordered, or had command responsibility for war crimes or torture, or other prohibited ill-treatment against detainees in US custody".

The report focused on the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, for his alleged command responsibility for abuses at Abu Ghraib, but Mr Wilkerson argued Mr Cheney was ultimately responsible.

The US is a signatory to the 1984 UN Convention Against Torture, which bans inflicting "severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental". Such practices are also a crime under US federal law.

3) A copy of Conclusions and Recommendations of 2nd International Symposium on Higher Education in Iraq, which took place at University of Westminster, London, 15-17 Sept 2005 can be found at:


4) The sectarian conflict's getting dirtier:

Shiite Urges U.S. to Give Iraqis Leeway In Rebel FightAmericans Have Blocked Tougher Tactics, Cleric Says
By Ellen KnickmeyerWashington Post Foreign ServiceSunday, November 27, 2005; A01

BAGHDAD -- The leader of Iraq's most powerful political party has called on the United States to let Iraqi fighters take a more aggressive role against insurgents, saying his country will only be able to defeat the insurgency when the United States lets Iraqis get tough.

"The more freedom given to Iraqis, the more chance for further progress there would be, particularly in fighting terror," said Abdul Aziz Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Shiite Muslim religious party that leads the transitional government and whose armed wing is the most feared of Iraq's many factional forces.

Instead, Hakim asserted in a rare interview late last week, the United States is tying Iraq's hands in the fight against insurgents. One of Iraq's "biggest problems is the mistaken or wrong policies practiced by the Americans," he said.

In more than an hour of conversation at his Baghdad home and office, Hakim denied accusations that the Shiite-led government's security forces -- with alleged involvement by his party's armed wing -- have operated torture centers and death squads targeting Sunni Arabs. He also renewed his call to merge half of Iraq's 18 provinces into a federal region in the oil-rich, heavily Shiite south, and he played down Iran's interests in Iraq, saying that the Shiite theocracy to the east wants only what the United States claims to want: a stable Iraq.

During much of the interview, Hakim was critical of U.S. policies toward Iraq, though he acknowledged that U.S. forces must remain in the country as a "guest" of the Iraqi government while it builds its security forces. The Americans are guilty of "major interference, and preventing the forces of the Interior or Defense ministries from carrying out tasks they are capable of doing, and also in the way they are dealing with the terrorists," Hakim charged.

Hakim gave few details of what getting tough would entail, other than making clear it would require more weapons, with more firepower, than the United States is currently supplying. He also urged the United States to take a tougher stand against countries harboring insurgents and their supporters, and called for faster trials of insurgent suspects.

His repeated assertion that the United States was being too weak against Iraq's insurgency, allowing attacks to mushroom, appeared to suggest that any future Iraqi government that included him would share his view. With Iraqis scheduled to vote Dec. 15 for the country's first full-term government since the U.S. invasion in 2003, some analysts predict that Hakim will come from behind the scenes into direct political contention.

Until now, Hakim has opted not to hold office; the highest-ranking member of the Supreme Council in the current government is Adel Abdel-Mehdi, one of Iraq's two vice presidents. But as head of the Supreme Council, which was founded by exiles in Iran as an armed Shiite opposition group to Saddam Hussein, Hakim commands the largest bloc of seats in Iraq's transitional parliament.

In addition, Hakim oversees the party's armed wing, formerly known as the Badr Brigade. Its fighters are widely feared for what even many Iraqi Shiites say are habits of torture and other ruthless tactics learned from Iranian intelligence and security forces. Now officially converted into a private security detail and political group, the renamed Badr Organization is widely alleged to control many command-level and the rank-and-file officers in the Interior Ministry -- police, commandos, intelligence agencies and other branches.
The United States, at times openly distrustful of the Supreme Council's Iranian links and of its armed wing, took the allegations of Badr involvement in a secret Interior Ministry prison that was discovered last week seriously enough to publicly warn the government against allowing factional militias to control Iraq's security forces or ministries.

In the interview, Hakim, the son of an ayatollah, wore the black turban signifying descent from the prophet Muhammad and the long, close robes of a scholar of Islam. He spoke in a spare, formal marble-floored audience room in his Baghdad home, which until the U.S.-led invasion had been the Baghdad residence of Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.

Sitting straight and intently in a high-backed chair, Hakim repeatedly invoked the assassination of his brother, Ayatollah Mohammed Bakir Hakim, who was killed by a car bomb in Najaf in August 2003. He evinced distrust of the Iraqi government's principal ally, the United States, even more often.
In Iraq, "there are plans to confront terrorists, approved by security agencies, but the Americans reject that," Hakim said. "Because of that mistaken policy, we have lost a lot. One of the victims was my brother Mohammad Bakir, because of American policies."

"For instance, the ministries of Interior and Defense want to carry out some operations to clean out some areas" in Baghdad and around the country, including volatile Anbar province, in the west, he said.
"There were plans that should have been implemented months ago, but American officials and forces rejected them," he said. "This has led to the expansion of terrorism.

"We have a capacity to move more quickly than currently," he said.

The issue points to a key difference between U.S. officials and some of Iraq's conservative Shiite leaders about what it will take to end the insurgency. Even the top U.S. generals say the ultimate solution is a political one, bringing minority Sunnis into a democracy that without them stands to be dominated permanently by the Shiite majority. But the leaders of many Shiite religious parties, reflecting their years in exile and their bitterness over the killing of relatives and supporters during Hussein's dictatorship, say the endgame is a military one.

Hakim charged that the United States, evidently fearful of alienating Sunnis, was blocking the arrests of Sunni political leaders who had ties to insurgents. "The mixing of security and political issues" was just another U.S. mistake, he said. "Terrorists should know there would be no dealing with them."

Indeed, some former members of Hussein's Baath Party who initially took up arms against U.S. forces and the new Iraqi government have said they have abandoned the insurgency and sought a political role largely because of the effectiveness of what they alleged to be Shiite death squads rounding up and executing Sunni men since the Shiite-led government took office last spring.

Hakim said "the problem is not with the Sunnis, it is with the terrorists. There are Sunnis who have strong ties with us, who speak frankly and in pain, asking for help in getting rid of the terrorists."

Yet suspicion of the Badr forces runs strong among Iraqis, especially since the discovery by the U.S. military this month of a secret prison in central Baghdad containing what Interior Minister Bayan Jabar, a Shiite, acknowledged were at least five to seven detainees who had been subjected to torture.

Hakim said charges of torture have long been drummed up by Hussein loyalists, and he asserted that the U.S. military is often present in Interior Ministry facilities. American troops, he said, had been in the building where the prison was discovered "four times a week."

"These are all baseless allegations," he said. "We say, bring us one single piece of evidence to prove these allegations."

Hakim also made clear he wanted leaders elected in December to move forward toward creation of a massive federal region in the Shiite south, an idea he first broached in August before thousands of supporters in a ceremony in the Shiite holy city of Najaf marking the second anniversary of his brother's assassination.
Some Americans and Iraqis have charged such a state would put much of Iraq, and its oil, under a Shiite-controlled theocracy heavily influenced by Iran. But Hakim noted that the Kurdish-populated north already has such a region, and he contended that Baghdad, with its mixed population, and the heavily Sunni west should form separate regions as well.

The draft constitution voted in this year "approved that Iraq should become regions," he said. "While we want to form a region in the south, we strive to maintain the unity of Iraq."

Hakim said the United States could find "many areas" of agreement with Iran on Iraq, if it wanted to. For example, he said, "from the Iranian point of view, it is in the Iranian interest that Iraq be stable. That is also supposed to be the American intent."

Hakim made clear his own role would remain at the national level, rather than limited to any new Shiite region. Asked twice if he would seek political office directly, he said both times that he seeks only to be a servant of all Iraqis and showed one of his few, small smiles of the night.

Asked how different Iraq would look five years from now, Hakim said the answer depended on the actions of the United States. "For sure, the policies of America will have great influence on whether security and
reconstruction are present," he said.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company

5) Here's an analysis of the new film "Syriana" and its political messages by Mark LeVine:


Mark A. LeVine
Syriana and Iraq

Mr. LeVine is professor of modern Middle Eastern history, culture, and Islamic studies at the University of California, Irvine, and author of the forthcoming books: Why They Don't Hate Us: Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil; and Overthrowing Geography: Jaffa, Tel Aviv and the Struggle for Palestine, 1880-1948. He is also a contributor, with Viggo Mortensen and Pilar Perez, to Twilight of Empire: Responses to Occupation. Click here to access his homepage.

Critics have been hailing "Syriana," George Clooney's latest film to take on the policies of the Bush Administration, as a cinematic tour de force that has "compelling real-world relevance" and is "unsettlingly close to the truth." But what is the truth "Syriana" supposedly approaches? Put briefly, the plot describes the ramification of a bungled CIA-authorized assassination of a Middle Eastern leader who decided to sign a major oil deal with China instead of an American oil company with close ties to the US Government.

Given the increasing numbers of Americans who believe that the Bush administration deliberately misled the country to justify the Iraqi invasion, many film-goers will no doubt walk accept the film's argument that Big Oil shapes American policies to its interests, even when they violate our core ideals. But is the movie really a case of art imitating life, or does "Syriana" veer towards the kind of hyperbole and exaggeration that marred Oliver Stone's "JFK?"

The evidence would seem to speak for itself. It includes:

- Newly discovered documents, reported in the Washington Post, that reveal that as early as February 2001 senior executives of at least four of the country's biggest oil companies, ExxonMobil, Conoco, Shell and BP America, met with Vice President Cheney's Energy Task Force.

- Documents from these meetings obtained by the conservative watchdog Judicial Watch--including a map of Iraq and an accompanying list of "Iraq oil foreign suitors"--reveal Iraq, with perhaps the world's second largest oil deposits, to have been a major topic of discussion. Indeed, the map erased all features of the country save the location of its main oil deposits. The list of suitors revealed that dozens of foreign companies were either in discussions over or in direct negotiations for rights to some of the best remaining oilfields on

- The meetings occurred at a moment when scientists and industry leaders began worrying that the "age of peak oil production" is approaching faster than previously assumed. Once it arrives, it will no longer be possible to extract enough oil from the earth to replace what we consume, thereby setting off a potentially explosive competition for the world's remaining supplies.

- In such a scenario, insuring American access to, and where possible leverage or even control over, the world's major oil deposits would be a natural concern for an Administration umbilically tied to Big Oil, particularly in the context of escalating competition with an aggressive, energy-hungry China.

- A 2002 report by Deutsche Bank explained the major US companies would lose if Saddam made a deal with the UN, whereas the Europeans, Russians and Chinese would come out ahead. But in a post-Saddam Iraq, the report argued, the US oil majors--specifically, according to the report, ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco--could manage the country's resources. No wonder the executives of those companies denied meeting with Cheney's staff only weeks after George W. Bush's inauguration.

- At the very moment the first Energy Task Force meetings with industry officials were held, in February 2001, the National Security Council issued a directive for staff to cooperate with the Energy Task Force in the "melding" of new "operational policies towards rogue states" with "actions regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields." No place on earth was more amenable to such melding than Iraq.

- Two and a half yeas after the US-led invasion of Iraq, the Bush Administration continues to resist calls for a major troop withdrawal, despite the fact that most intelligence reports, and Iraq politicians, confirm our presence to be the main motivation for the insurgency.

With American losses and expenditures mounting daily, the threat of WMD disproved, the promise of peace
and democracy seeming increasingly pollyanish, the Bush Administration is running out of good reasons for the US to maintain a long-term presence in Iraq. Two that come to mind, however, are oil and military bases--subjects, needless to say, that remain largely unbroachable in polite discourse in Washington or Baghdad.
But it's hard to think of anything else that would constitute the "core interests" both the Bush Administration and leading democrats (most recently Senator Joseph Biden) argue will be threatened by an American withdrawal from Iraq any time soon.

It took roughly fifty years for the CIA to admit that it organized the overthrow of Iranian President Mossadeqh when he dared to nationalize his country's oil industry. Our government also helped organize coups that put the Baath Party in power in Iraq twice, in 1963 and 1968. There's no doubt who was behind the toppling of Saddam. The question that remains, however, is: What was the real reason we invaded Iraq? On that score, "Syriana" hits closer to home than most politicians on either side of the aisle would care to admit.

Posted on Saturday, November 26, 2005 at 3:29 PM

6) The Congressional Research Service's Middle East affairs specialist, Dr Kenneth Katzman, has written two reports for CRS in recent months summarising governance and democratic reforms being attempted in Iraq. They are both available online: 'Iraq: Elections, Government and Constitution', last updated 2 August, 2005, at: http://fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/52733.pdf ;

and 'Iraq: U.S. Regime Change Efforts and Post-Saddam Governance', last updated 5 July, 2005, at: http://fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/50172.pdf

7) Darth Cheney's story:


The Long March of Dick Cheney
By Sidney Blumenthal

Mr. Blumenthal is a columnist for Salon.com and the Guardian. He is the author of The Clinton Wars. He served as Assistant to the President, 1997-2001.

The hallmark of the Dick Cheney administration is its illegitimacy. Its essential method is bypassing established lines of authority; its goal is the concentration of unaccountable presidential power. When it matters, the regular operations of the CIA, Defense Department and State Department have been sidelined.
Richard Nixon is the model, but with modifications. In the Nixon administration, the president was the prime mover, present at the creation of his own options, attentive to detail, and conscious of their consequences. In the Cheney administration, the president is volatile but passive, firm but malleable, presiding but absent. Once his complicity has been arranged, a closely held "cabal" -- as Lawrence Wilkerson, once chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, calls it -- wields control....

8) Here's another Iraq-interested blog:


9) Campus discussion:

Following is an article from JTA — The Global News Service of the Jewish People. For in-depth coverage of the latest developments affecting Jews all over the world, click: www.jta.org

Effort for review of anti-Semitism
on campus meeting new resistance By: Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON, Nov. 22 (JTA) — The effort by some Jewish groups to establish a government review procedure to address claims of anti-Israel bias and anti-Semitism on university campuses appears to be under threat just as it’s making serious headway.

Buried in a massive budget bill passed recently by the Senate are two paragraphs with language stating that the U.S. Department of Education must not “mandate, direct, or control an institution of higher education’s specific instructional content, curriculum, or program of instruction.”

The inclusion suggests resistance among conservatives in Congress and elsewhere to reforms that Jewish groups say are needed to alleviate what they claim is a hostile environment toward Jewish students on some campuses.

The resistance came to the fore last Friday when three Jewish groups testified on the matter before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, encountering tough questions from the more conservative commissioners.
The Senate language, inserted in the Deficit Reduction Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 2005 and passed by the Senate on Nov. 3, would gut plans to make universities that receive federal funds accountable to the Education Department to the degree that some Jewish groups have sought.

“There should be something in there that requires a balance of viewpoints,” said Susan Tuchman, director of the Center of Law and Justice at the Zionist Organization of America, a group that has been lobbying hard for federal review of universities’ Middle Eastern studies. “It’s not enough to ensure that appropriate changes are made.”

The American Jewish Congress, also a leader in the effort, has been fighting hard to remove exactly the same language from another bill making headway in both houses, said Sarah Stern, the AJCongress’ director of governmental affairs.

Stern said the inclusion of the language in the deficit-reduction bill came “completely under the radar.” Three other Jewish groups involved in pressing for the legislation said they only learned of the language in recent days, some because of JTA’s questions.

At least one of the groups was still reviewing the legislation and wasn’t ready to condemn it outright.

The American Jewish Committee said other provisions in the bill might meet the standards it has been seeking by giving the secretary of education some limited powers of review.

“It has always been our contention that those reforms would not allow the secretary to interfere with academic freedom or autonomy of institutions,” said Richard Foltin, the AJCommittee’s legislative director.

A U.S. House of Representatives version of the deficit-reduction bill that scraped through last Friday does not include the language, and Jewish groups were hoping it might disappear in the version that emerges in the House-Senate conference before Christmas break.

It’s not clear which senator inserted the language during the lengthy process of composing a bill that deals mostly with budget cutting to offset the costs of war and hurricane recovery, but it would have had to pass Republican muster. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), the chairman of the Senate’s Budget Committee, initiated the bill, and it passed 52-47, largely along party lines.

As Foltin noted, the bill does provide some redress. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings would be able to suspend federal funding for a university for 60 days if she deems a complaint serious enough, but after that she would be required to resume the funding whether or not the complaint has been resolved. She also would be authorized to take such complaints into account when renewing grants to universities.

Additionally, the bill suggests linking funding for universities to their success in creating a cadre of Middle East experts in government.

However, the language that keeps the education secretary from touching “specific instructional content, curriculum, or program of instruction” means that she wouldn’t be able to require a university’s Middle East studies department to balance a reliance on Arabists such as Edward Said with other historians with a more pro-Western tilt, such as Bernard Lewis.

Groups like AJCongress, ZOA and the Institute for Jewish and Community Research allege that anti-Western bias pervades American universities’s Mideast studies departments. Other groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and the AJCommittee, agree that there is a problem but say progress is being made.
“Institutional anti-Semitism, discrimination and quotas against Jewish students are largely a thing of the past,” the ADL said in written testimony to the Commission on Civil Rights.

Should the language survive the House-Senate conference, another bill promoting much tougher measures could fall by the wayside, Jewish lobbyists said. Legislators could argue that a solution is already on the books, so they don’t need to pursue the matter further.

Jewish groups favor another bill that would establish an advisory committee to review complaints of bias, a measure that academic organizations say smacks of McCarthyism. That has passed a House committee but has yet to be considered by the full House, meaning the diluted version passed by the Senate on Nov. 3 is much further advanced.

Witnesses at the Civil Rights Commission hoped they would get a sympathetic ear for the proposed advisory committee. The commission has no enforcement powers, but its recommendations would have moral force in Washington.

Citing a litany of complaints from Jewish students across the country, Stern of the AJCongress, Tuchman of ZOA and Gary Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research, painted a picture of a pervasively hostile environment.

“Anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism are systemic ideologies in higher education,” Tobin said.
Instead of the sympathy they expected, the witnesses got a sometimes-testy exchange on the role of government in policing campuses.

Significantly, the toughest questions came from commissioners most closely associated with the Bush administration, which recently revamped the commission to more closely reflect its own conservative values.

“I am extremely nervous about administrative oversight on university campuses,” said Abigail Thernstrom, the commission’s vice chairwoman. “You do not want administrators waking into classrooms and deciding what a professor is teaching is acceptable or unacceptable.”

Stern said such worries were unfounded. By mitigating bias, a federal advisory panel that would review complaints would encourage debate, not inhibit it, she said.

“Any intellectually honest person with integrity would say, ‘Wait a minute, there is another side here,’ ” she said.

Tobin said the threat of withdrawing federal funding would be a last resort meant to spur universities into using tools already at their disposal — for instance, increasing the involvement of trustees in hiring and firing decisions.

“This truly is a nuclear option,” he said of the proposed legislation.

The witnesses got a more sympathetic hearing from the two Democrats on the eight-person commission.
“Simply because something happens in the arena of a university does not qualify it as untouchable,” said Michael Yaki, a San Francisco lawyer.

He also chided conservatives on the commission who suggested that only physical harassment was out of bounds, noting that the legal definition of sexual harassment includes its verbal forms.

The conservative commissioners were equally skeptical of a federal role in policing anti-Semitism on campus.

Thernstrom, who is Jewish, said posters that had appeared on campuses that depicted Israelis as baby-killers were appalling, but might be part of the necessary give-and-take of university life.

“I don’t want universities to be comfortable places for students,” she said.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?