2006 - %3, July

No End in Sight for Iraq

| Mon Jul. 24, 2006 3:18 PM EDT

As we know, the United States is nowhere near being able to build the sort of police force in Iraq that's capable of keeping some modicum of order and allowing the U.S. to draw down its troops to some extent. (By "some extent," I'm assuming that the Bush administration wants to keep a small-ish force in Iraq forever, partly as a bulwark against Iran, but also wants to bring enough troops home to get Iraq off the front pages.) Up until now, that hasn't been a rousing success: the police force has been accused of being infiltrated by death squads and engaging in torture, assassination, and all manner of gruesome activities that aren't part of the standard recipe for peace and stability.

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Anyway, Michael Gordon's piece in the Times today reports further on some of the difficulties that the United States has had in creating a police force—namely, that many Iraqis don't really want to join for fear of being targeted by insurgents. It's a good piece, but I can't let this paragraph go without comment:

The Bush administration in March announced a new strategy for victory in Iraq: "clear, hold and build." Contested towns would be swept of insurgents and held by new Iraqi security forces, while the United States worked to solidify the gains by helping to fix the
infrastructure and build civic institutions.
Right, but isn't it worth noting that the month before announcing this "new strategy," the president announced that he wouldn't seek any more funds for reconstruction in Iraq, despite the fact that much of the previous money had gone toward security costs and corrupt contractors rather than actual reconstruction. So doesn't that make the "new strategy" a bit hard to carry out? Doesn't that mean that there really isn't any sort of strategy in place?

It sure seems that way: Army Gen. George W. Casey recently hinted that, due to the increasingly horrific violence in Iraq, there probably won't be any troop reductions this year, and the U.S. is currently bringing troops in from Kuwait to al-Anbar province, especially as countries such as Italy and South Korea are taking thousands of troops out of the country.

(Note: The photo above, by Kael Alford, shows smoke from burning oil trenches drifts over the Euphrates River near Fallujah in 2003. It's part of a photo essay, "Unembedded," that ran at Mother Jones late last year.)

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A Roundup of News Stories on the Middle East War

| Mon Jul. 24, 2006 3:12 PM EDT

Rice in Lebanon

U.S. Strategy: A Necon Method Behind the Apparent Madness

Hope for a ceasefire and possible international border force is tied to U.S. neoconservative policy aimed at forcing change in Syria and Iran. ( LINK)

Rice lands in Beirut amidst fierce fighting in the south (LINK)

Rice: "What we're seeing here ... are the birth pangs of a new Middle East and whatever we do, we have to be certain that we are pushing forward to the new Middle East, not going back to the old one." (LINK)

The Wider Region

Al-Sadr's Shiite militia reportedly prepares to join the fight in Lebanon

The Washington Times, in a report based on an interview in Baghdad, says Sadr's vicious militia is forming a 1500 member unit to fight in Lebanon. If true, this will be taken in Washington as evidence of ties among Shiites across the Middle East--a key element in the neoconservative dream scenario in widening the war for regime change in both Syria and Iran. (LINK)

Israeli Plans

Israel set plans for invasion more than a year ago.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports, "Israel's military response by air, land and sea to what it considered a provocation last week by Hezbollah militants is unfolding according to a plan finalized more than a year ago." (LINK)

The Humanitarian Crisis

Fleeing refugees inundate Syria.

Lebanon's border crossings with Syria to the north and east have been inundated with people, with up to a million Lebanese seeking refuge, according to state-run Syria TV. (LINK)

Hezbollah

Hezbollah adopting Viet Cong-Style Tactics.

Jane's Defense Weekly says Hezbollah is proving a tough opponent for Israel because of its Viet Cong-style network of tunnels in southern Lebanon. (LINK)

--from the Mother Jones Washington Bureau

500 Tons of Squid Caught By Mistake in a Week. That's a Problem.

| Mon Jul. 24, 2006 2:39 PM EDT

AP has word of a deal reached between the government and Bering Sea fishermen to reduce the quantity of squid they catch "incidentally" in pursuit of pollock, a bland white fish that goes in sandwiches and fish sticks. In early July, fishermen caught more than 500 tons of squid in a week. (This number is four times what might be expected; it's unclear why there are so many squid in the area this year.) The deal requires that fishermen avoid a 500-square-mile area where most of the squid were found and imposes fines on violators.

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Fish and other marine life caught "incidentally" in the pursuit of another species (such as the seal in this photo) are known as "bycatch." As we reported in our recent special issue on the fate of the oceans, it's a massive problem. According to the U.N., one in four animals caught in fishing gear dies as bycatch, meaning that each year millions of animals are killed, which obviously affects the sustainability of fisheries.

On the bright side, in this particular case squid bycatch plummeted from almost 550 tons in the first week of July to only about four tons last week, according to AP.

By the way, the the U.S. Senate has approved a package to renew the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the fundamental rules for ocean fish catching (which includes provisions relating to bycatch). The House, however, is dallying, and is considering a bill sponsored by Richard Pombo (aka Ocean-Enemy Number One). Pombo's bill, to quote today's San Francisco Chronicle, is "riddled with loopholes," and "mocks the problem" of ocean resources management.

Lawyers: Bush Signing Statements "Contrary to the Rule of Law."

| Mon Jul. 24, 2006 1:46 PM EDT

The American Bar Association yesterday put out a report denouncing President Bush's use of signing statements as "improperly depriv[ing] Congress of the opportunity to override the veto" and "contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers." More here.

On Bush's use of signing statements--to override hundreds of laws--see the story that broke open the issue, by the Boston Globe's Charlie Savage. And on the Bush administration's tireless efforts to expand executive power, see Elizabeth Drew's damning account in the New York Review of Books.

How the Supreme Court Struck Back At the Bush Administration

| Mon Jul. 24, 2006 12:20 PM EDT

New at Mother Jones: In an essay that appears in the August 10, 2006 issue of the New York Review of Books (www.nybooks.com), and posted here (via Tomdispatch) with the kind permission of the editors of that magazine, David Cole examines how the Supreme Court, in its Hamdan decision, struck back at a Bush administration bent on expanding its powers at the expense of the other branches of government. He writes:

[T]he Supreme Court's decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, issued on the last day of its 2005-2006 term, [is] in equal parts stunning and crucial. Stunning because the Court, unlike Congress, the opposition party, or the American people, actually stood up to the President. Crucial because the Court's decision, while on the surface narrowly focused on whether the military tribunals President Bush created to try foreign suspects for war crimes were consistent with U.S. law, marked, at a deeper level, a dramatic refutation of the administration's entire approach to the "war on terror."

At bottom, the Hamdan case stands for the proposition that the rule of law -- including international law -- is not subservient to the will of the executive, even during wartime. As Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in the concluding lines of his opinion for the majority:

"In undertaking to try Hamdan and subject him to criminal punishment, the Executive is bound to comply with the Rule of Law that prevails in this jurisdiction."

The notion that government must abide by law is hardly radical. Its implications for the "war on terror" are radical, however, precisely because the Bush doctrine has so fundamentally challenged that very idea.

Read the rest here.

EU Agrees On Highly Restricted Stem Cell Funding

| Mon Jul. 24, 2006 12:19 PM EDT

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Reuters: European Union ministers have just agreed to allow limited EU funding for stem cell research, but not for research that involves destroying human embryos, including for the procurement of stem cells. EU countries have widely differing laws and attitudes towards stem cell research, with Germany, Austria, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland and Slovakia taking a highly restrictive approach. More here and here.

P.S. Meanwhile, famed scientist Stephen Hawking (who suffers from motor neurone disease) has attacked the "reactionary" forces in Europe and the U.S. opposing stem cell research. He said: "The fact that the cells may come from embryos is not an objection because the embryos are going to die anyway. It is morally equivalent to taking a heart transplant from a victim of a car accident." And, in a statement to the Independent newspaper: "Europe should not follow the reactionary lead of President Bush.... Stem cell research is the key to developing cures for degenerative conditions like Parkinson's and motor neurone disease from which I and many others suffer." (Full article here.)

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People wishing to save embryos may need to rethink rhythm method

| Sat Jul. 22, 2006 2:45 PM EDT

The August issue of Harper's features an excerpt from "The Rhythm Method and Embryonic Death," by Luc Bovens, published in the June issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics. In this paper, Professor Bovens argues that the rhythm method of birth control--the only method approved by the Catholic church--may be responsible for "massive embryonic death."

Couples who use the rhythm method try to avoid pregnancy by having sex during the time in which conception is the least likely to occur and during which there is lower ovum viability. As a consequence, they avoid pregnancy by avoiding conception, but they also because conceived ova have such a small chance of surviving. Says Bovens:

Nonetheless, one could argue that even if the mechanism has only limited effectiveness, it remains the case that millions of rhythm-method cycles per year globally depend for their success on massive embryonic death. Even a policy of practicing condom usage and having an abortion in case of failure would cause fewer embryonic deaths than the rhythm method.

Homeland security a problem in the U.K as well as the U.S.

| Fri Jul. 21, 2006 9:27 PM EDT

A Mirror reporter successfully planted a fake "bomb" on a train carrying a cargo of nuclear waste, it was reported today.

"The gate was open, there were no security guards...I walked up to the train and planted my bomb," the reporter said. The train, which goes from Kent to Cumbria, carries radioactive flasks of spent uranium fuel rods. The Mirror reporter said that the train was left unattended for about ten mintues, and that he was able to approach the wagons in daylight while the driver was on a break. He also said he had observed the train for a couple of months, and that there was continual opportunity to sabotage it.

A nuclear transport expert estimates that 8,000 would be instantly killed if a real bomb were planted on the train.

Wearing an orange vest and helmet, the Mirror reporter made his tenth in a series of trips to the depot, where his presence was never questioned. A photographer took several photographs. A spokeswoman for Direct Rail Services said that "The entire journey is protected by very stringent security."

Prom Date in Columbine

| Fri Jul. 21, 2006 8:07 PM EDT

Want some truly creepy reading to throw off your weekend? Check out, via Slate, this love letter written by Columbine school shooter Dylan Klebold to the girl he went to the prom with. Choice excerpts: "Fate put me in need of you, but this world blocked that...I will go away soon, but I just had to write this to you, the one I truly loved...Unfortunately, even if you did like me the slightest bit, you would hate me if you knew who I was...I have nothing to live for...however, if it was true that you loved me as I do you, I would find a way to survive."

The Death Penalty in Japan

| Fri Jul. 21, 2006 8:02 PM EDT
On the morning of 21 December 1995, [Kimura Shuji] went to visit her condemned son and was told that visiting hours were very busy and to come back at noon. When she returned, she was asked whether she wanted to take her son's body away for burial.
Welcome to death row in Japan. Prisoners are executed by hanging—a process known to produce "gruesome scenes of slow strangulation and even decapitation." And prisoners sitting on death row don't even know when they'll actually die. No one gives them a date. Prisoners aren't told "this day will be your last" until the actual morning of their execution, which can come at any time—days or months or decades after their appeals process is exhausted. Their families aren't notified until after they're dead. Everyone involved lives under the strain of uncertainty.

One prisoner, Oda Nobuo, exhausted his appeals process way back in 1970, and is still under sentence of death—meaning that he has had to wake up, in a solitary cell, every morning for nearly 40 years knowing that he could be executed that day without warning. One former prisoner describes how he was dragged out of his cell by guards one morning, before they whispered nervously that they had the wrong guy, put him back, and went to get some other guy for the hangman's noose. Oops. All of those stories come from a new Amnesty International report: "The Death Penalty in Japan."