Friday, February 27, 2009

The US military announces another death

Today the US military announced: "BAGHDAD -- A Multi-National Division–Baghdad Soldier died Feb. 26 from combat related injuries while conducting a patrol in Baghdad. The Soldier's name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin. The incident is currently under investigation." The announcement brings the number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war to 4252. And for those paying attention, since Saturday, there have been seven deaths of US service members in Iraq announced.

The British government, after years of denying it had any role in the U.S. policy of "extraordinary rendition," acknowledged yesterday that two prisoners its military forces turned over to U.S. custody in Iraq five years ago were subsequently sent to a U.S. prison in Afghanistan.
In a statement to Parliament, Defense Secretary John Hutton apologized for what he said was "inaccurate information . . . given to the House by my department" on previous occasions. The transfer, he said, was unknown to his predecessor and came to his attention only in December during an internal investigation in response to parliamentary questions.

The above is from Karen DeYoung and Anne E. Kornblut's "Officials: Obama to Leave Up to 50K Troops in Iraq Through 2011" (Washington Post), a strong article on yesterday's announcement:

Sec of Defense John Hutton: During the final stages of the review of records of detentions, we found information about one case relating to a security operation that was conducted in February 2004, a period which honorable members I'm sure will recall saw an increased level of insurgent activity as the transfer to Iraqi sovereignty drew closer. During this operation, two individuals were captured by UK forces in and around Baghdad. They were transferred to US detention in accordance with normal practice and then moved subsequently to a US detention facility in Afghanistan. This information was brought to my attention on the first of December, 2008. And I instructed officials to investigate this case thoroughly and quickly so I could bring a full account to Parliament. Following consultations with US authorities we confirmed that they transferred these two individuals from Iraq to Afghanistan in 2004 and they remain in custody there today. I regret that it is now clear that inaccurate information on this particular issue has been given to the House by my department. I want to stress however that this was based upon the information available to ministers and those who were briefing them at the time. My predecessors as secretaries of state for defense have confirmed to me that they had no knowledge of these events. I have written to the honorable members concerned, correcting the record, and am placing a copy of these letters also in the library of the house. And again, Madame Deputy Speaker, I want to apologize to the House for these errors. The individuals transferred to Afghanistan are members of Laskar-e-Taiba, a proscribed organization with links to al Qaeda. The US government has explained to us that they were moved to Afghanistan because of a lack of relevant linguists necessary to interrogate them effectively in Iraq. The US has categorized them as unlawful enemy combatants and continues to review their status on a regular basis. We have been assured that the detainees are held in a humane, safe and secure environment meeting international standards which are consistent with cultural and religious norms and the International Committee of the Red Cross has had regular access to the detainees. A due diligence search by the US officials of the list of all those individuals captured by UK forces and transferred to US detention facilities in Iraq has confirmed that this was the only case in which individuals were subsequently transferred outside of Iraq. This review has established that officials were aware of this transfer in early 2004. It has also shown that brief references to this case were included in lengthy papers that went to then-Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary in April 2006. It is clear that the context provided did not highlight the significance at that point to my right honorable friends. In retrospect, it is clear to me that the transfer to Afghanistan of these two individuals should have been questioned at the time. We have discussed the issues surrounding this case with the US government and they have reassured us about their treatment but confirmed that, as they continue to represent significant security concerns, it is neither possible or desirable to transfer them to either their country of detention or their country of origin.

DeYoung and Kornblut provide this legal perspective:

Last week, the administration, in a one-paragraph filing in U.S. District Court in Washington, said it would continue the Bush administration's policy of not granting to Bagram detainees the rights that Guantanamo prisoners won in federal courts to challenge their confinement.
Guantanamo detainees won habeas corpus rights in a landmark Supreme Court ruling in June, but its provisions were limited to those held in Cuba. At a hearing before U.S. District Judge John D. Bates held shortly before Obama's inauguration, four Bagram detainees argued that they should have the same rights as those held in Guantanamo. A Justice Department attorney argued that they did not have the right to challenge their confinement because they were "unlawful enemy combatants" being held in a war zone "half a world away."
Bates said it was "anomalous" for the government to say that those it "chooses to send to Guantanamo have habeas rights, but those who the government chooses to send to Bagram don't have habeas rights." His ruling is still pending, but shortly after Obama took office, Bates asked the government if it wanted to "refine" its position. In its reply Friday, the Justice Department said that it "adheres to its previously articulated position."

The reporters also note the two the British turned over were Pakistani. From yesterday's snapshot:

It was not, as Hutton infers, following Geneva. The January 9th snapshot notes Patrick Leahy's Senate Judiciary Committee releasing three documents (all PDF format) and we emphasized the March 18, 2004 document "Re: 'Protected Persons' in Occupied Iraq." This document was written prior to the transfer, in the year of the transfer. Then-Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith wrote the memo. Goldsmith memo clearly excludes the category the two Laskar-e-Taiba members would be in from the Geneva Conventions. The group's name can be translated to Army of the Righteous or Army of the Pure and they were founded in Afghanistan and are thought to be based and operating from Pakistan currently. On the last day of 2008, the New York Times ran an article by Richard A. Oppel Jr. about how US officials believe the ISI (Pakistan's version of the CIA) was providing protection and intelligence to Lashkar-e-Taiba. They are considered a terrorist organization by the UK, the European Union, Australia, the US, India and Russia, among others. In his statement today, Hutton avoided mentioning the nationality of the prisoners transferred. It is unlikely his omission was accidental. Depending on their nationality, they have less and less 'rights' under US interpretation. (For example, an Iraqi would have more rights than a Pakistani as the US elected to misinterpret Geneva in 2004.) Since he has repeated US government claims to the House of Commons and, in fact, vouched for them, Hutton should be asked to provide the nationality of the two prisoners transferred. No prisoner transferred to Afghanistan from Iraq was 'assured' of any of the rights Hutton claimed. And the reason for the transfer ("linguistics") was and is laughable. Hutton either played the fool or tried to play the House of Commons for the fool.

If the two prisoners were Pakistani, then Hutton's claims were foolish (deliberately or unintentionally) because the policy in place, as outlined in Jack Goldsmith's legal memo, was very clear that 'foreign nationals' captured in Iraq would not receive the rights that Hutton claims they did. 'Foreign nationals' -- non-Iraqis -- were entitled -- by Goldsmith's tortured legal 'reasoning' -- to very little.

Julie Sell (McClatchy Newspapers) notes

The men, thought to be Pakistani nationals, are members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani Islamist group with links to al-Qaida, and have been classified as "unlawful enemy combatants," Hutton said.
His disclosure contradicts past claims by British government officials that the government was never complicit in the practice of extraordinary rendition, in which detainees are sent to third countries, including some in which torture is common.

Earlier this week when there was actual news from England, John F. Burns' article was limited to online only. Today the New York Times just ignores this report (maybe there wasn't news for it and the smut Simon Romero's serving up -- smut is the only word for it and the Times gets more tabloidish every day). They do offer this by Elisabeth Bumiller but we covered the topic in yesterday's snapshot and we're covering it at Third Sunday. We'll link to Bumiller's article but save anything else until Sunday morning. (We'll be writing about the 'policy' Sunday, not about Bumiller, to be clear.)

Campbell Robertson offers "Iraq Hands Death Penalty to 28 Cultists for Attacks" in this morning's New York Times. It's a panorama of religious intolerance, filled with unverifiable assertions presented (by Robertson) as fact and a reminder of how the press can be among the worst at scapegoating those who are voiceless. Campbell runs with everything the Iraqi government can tick off. It must be nice to be so unconcerned about the effects you have on those in this world. General rule should be (and I believe it is), when you offer assertions and character assassinations from one side, you give the other side a chance to respond. That doesn't happen here. A religious sect is characterized as a 'cult' and they're actions are painted in the worst terms. Including the 2007 incident which most international outlets long ago clarified the difference between al-Maliki spin and what actually happened -- the 'cult' was not planning an overthrow, they were making a pilgrimage and were assaulted.

"One side fits all," soon to be the motto the paper will replace "All the news that's fit to print" with.

At the Los Angeles Times, Tony Perry offers "'Hide and Seek' by Charles Duelfer:
Why had the U.S. government been wrong about WMDs in Iraq? The author looked for answers
." From Perry's book review:

The book will probably not please either Bush backers or Bush bashers. Duelfer is of the "Hussein had to go, WMDs or not" school.
He keeps certain confidences and fuzzes certain names. His book was reviewed by the CIA before publication.
He writes things that may give some officials heartburn -- such as the allegation that then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell pressured him to omit from his report any information about Russian connivance with Hussein.

On another topic, we'll note this press release from Senator Patty Murray's office:

Murray, Snowe Seek to Ensure Level Playing Field for Girls' Sports

For Immediate Release:
Thursday, February 26, 2009

WASHINGTON D.C. – U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) today introduced the "High School Sports Information Collection Act," a bill that will require that high schools, like their college counterparts, disclose data on equity in sports, making it possible for student athletes and their parents to ensure fairness in their school's athletic programs.

"Statistics show that girls who play sports benefit both on and off the field, with strong physical health and a sense of dedication and team spirit" Senator Snowe said. "Continuing the tradition set by Title IX, this bill will allow us to assess current opportunities for sports participation, ensure that girls have an equal opportunity to excel in sports as males, and correct any deficiencies. With this new information, we can ensure that young women all over the country have the chance not only to improve their athletic ability, but also to develop the qualities of teamwork, discipline, and self-confidence that lead to a successful life off the playing field."

"In the last 30 years, Title IX has opened the doors to school gyms and playing fields for millions of girls across the country, giving them an opportunity to compete in sports and develop the self-confidence and team spirit that will benefit them their whole lives," Senator Murray said. "But while we've made tremendous progress in ensuring gender equity, students and parents can't see whether the law is being followed because they don't have key information about scholarships, opportunities, or athletics budgets. This bill would help us take those last couple steps and ensure that girls are getting the same chance to play sports as their male peers."

The "High School Sports Information Collection Act" directs the Commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics to collect information regarding participation in athletics broken down by gender; teams; race and ethnicity; and overall expenditures, including items like travel expenses, equipment and uniforms. These data are already reported, in most cases, to the state Departments of Education and should not pose any additional burden on the high schools. Further, to ensure public access to this vital information, this legislation would require high schools to post the data on the Department of Education's website and make this information available to students and the public upon request.

Public broadcasting notes. NOW on PBS begins airing tonight on many PBS stations (check local listings) and they explore "Retirement at Risk:"

In this struggling economy, boomers are rightfully worried about the funds they were counting on to carry them through the rest of their lives. Will they be able to afford their own retirement?
NOW turns to two experts for help and insight: Amy Domini, a pioneer in the field of socially responsible investing; and journalist Dan Gross, who covers the economy for Slate and Newsweek.
Read an excerpt from Daniel Gross' new book: "Dumb Money: How Our Greatest Financial Minds Bankrupted the Nation"

Washington Week also begins airing tonight on many PBS stations and I hesitate to say it but it has the makings of being a show worth watching this week. Dan Balz (Washington Post), Peter Baker (New York Times) and Martha Raddatz (ABC News) will be on. Baker has been covering Barack's plan for 'withdrawal' and Martha, of course, famously told Washington Week viewers last month what was going to take place. From the last Washington Week for January -- Ava and I noted it here:

Martha Raddatz: They laid out plans or started to lay out plans for the sixteen-month withdrawal, which President Obama says he wants, or the three-year withdrawal which is the Status Of Forces Agreement that the US has gone into with the Iraqis. And they talked about the risks with each of those. Ray Odierno, who is the general in charge of Iraqi forces, said, 'If you run out in sixteen months -- if you get out in sixteen months, there are risks. The security gains could go down the tube. If you wait three years, there are other risks because you can't get forces into Afghanistan as quickly.' So President Obama made no decisions. Again, he's going to meet with Joint Chiefs next week and probably will make a military decision. But also a key there is how many troops he leaves behind. That's something we're not talking about so much, he's not talking about so much. This residual force that could be 50, 60, 70,000 troops even if he withdraws --

Gwen Ifill: That's not exactly getting out of Iraq.

Martha Raddatz: Not exactly getting out completely.

Washington Week also notes that Jim Lehrer will have an exclusive interview with Barack Obama on this evening's NewsHour.

Moving over to broadcast TV (CBS) Sunday, on 60 Minutes:

The Man Who Knew
Harry Markopolos repeatedly told the Securities and Exchange Commission that Bernie Madoff's investment fund was a fraud. He was ignored, however, and investors lost billions of dollars. Steve Kroft reports.
Mexico's War
Drug-cartel fueled violence has turned into a war in Mexico, with thousands of deaths and the government battling well-armed gangs whose military-quality weapons come mostly from U.S. dealers. CNN's Anderson Cooper reports.
Bobby Jindal
He's been called the Republican Obama and some think he may run for the presidency some day. But his opposition speech after the president's address to Congress this week caused some to say he's too young and inexperienced. Morley Safer profiles the governor of Louisiana.
60 Minutes, Sunday, March 1, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

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