In this morning's Washington Post, Robert Novak reports that select members of Congress were informed last week of a covert operation now underway to target leaders of the PKK, a Kurdish separatist movement in southeastern Turkey. According to Novak:

The development of an autonomous Kurdish entity inside Iraq, resulting from the decline and fall of Saddam Hussein, has alarmed the Turkish government. That led to Ankara's refusal to allow U.S. combat troops to enter Iraq through Turkey, an eleventh-hour complication for the 2003 invasion. As the Kurds' political power grew inside Iraq, the Turkish government became steadily more uneasy about the centuries-old project of a Kurdistan spreading across international boundaries—and chewing up big pieces of Turkey...
Turkey has a well-trained, well-equipped army of 250,000 near the border, facing some 4,000 PKK fighters hiding in the mountains of northern Iraq. But significant cross-border operations surely would bring to the PKK's side the military forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government, the best U.S. ally in Iraq. What is Washington to do in the dilemma of two friends battling each other on an unwanted new front in Iraq?

This is a good question. None of the options are particularly attractive. As Iraq sage (and Kurdish sympathizer) Peter Galbraith writes in the latest New York Review of Books, one option for withdrawing the majority of U.S. troops from Iraq, but leaving enough of a presence to contain the aftermath (and Iran), would be to base a smaller, semi-permanent force in Iraqi Kurdistan. But if Turkey were to invade northern Iraq, this would put the U.S. in an almost impossible position: balancing the continued peace and stability of Iraq's Kurdish areas (the country's only success story) against the deeply-held concerns of Turkey, one of America's best allies in the region... this despite the overwhelming hostility of its citizens to U.S. foreign policy.

That there is war brewing in southeastern Turkey comes as no surprise. Even when I visited the region in early 2005, a time of relative calm, most Kurds I met there held the view that the Turkish government's long war against the PKK rebels was not over. The mere existence of "Iraqi Kurdistan" (don't call it Iraq) had given much-needed encouragement to the PKK, whose powers had been waning since the 1999 capture of their fugitive leader, Abdullah Ocalan. Moreover, sympathetic leaders across the border had allowed the PKK to shelter and reequip in the mountains of northern Iraq, while staging periodic raids across the border into Turkey.

For their part, the Turks had maintained a significant military presence in the southeast, complete with mountain-top observation posts, mine fields, and numerous check points on the roads leading in and out of Kurdish cities. Even then, their operations were not limited to Turkey. During a visit to the Iraqi border city of Zakho, I was shown a house from which Turkish intelligence agents were said to be tracking the movements of PKK leaders.

Since then, things have worsened. PKK strikes into Turkey have become more frequent and spectacular, and the Turks have responded in kind with cross-border artillery barrages directed at guerilla staging areas. A rumor circulated earlier this summer that the Turkish military had poured into Iraqi Kurdistan in hot pursuit of Kurdish rebels. It was just a rumor, but one that didn't seem too far off.

The sabre-rattling in Turkey is growing louder, and it's unclear what the U.S. can do to calm things down. Bush apparently believes that deploying Special Forces troops to hunt down PKK leaders will help resolve the issue. This seems doubtful. But it could succeed in exhausting the patience and goodwill of Iraq's Kurds. What then?

Cheney Big Brother?

Last week, increasingly beleaguered attorney general Alberto Gonzales exasperated Senators with another round of dubious testimony concerning everything from warrantless domestic surveillance to authorizing torture to US attorneys firings. But on one point, Gonzales' prevaricating may have been to protect his career benefactor Bush not from direct responsibility, but from something else. Gonzales refused to tell Senators who had ordered him to go to then ailing attorney general John Ashcroft's hospital bedside to try to coerce him to sign off on a domestic spying program that then acting attorney general James Comey had refused to reauthorize.

There are growing signs that Cheney was behind the whole incredible series of events that culminated with Gonzales and former chief of staff Andy Card being sent to a nearly comatose Ashcroft's bedside on March 2004 with an envelope with the orders to reauthorize the NSA domestic spying program. Former deputy attorney general James Comey had previously testified about the extraordinary scene at Aschroft's hospital bed.

Yesterday, Newsweek revealed that it was Cheney who briefed the "Gang of Eight" Congressional leaders on the so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program the day of the controversial Gonzales Ashcroft hospital visit:

Late on the afternoon of March 10, 2004, eight congressional leaders filed into the White House Situation Room for an urgent briefing on one of the Bush administration's top secrets: a classified surveillance program that involved monitoring Americans' e-mails and phone calls without court warrants. Vice President Dick Cheney did most of the briefing. But as he explained the National Security Agency program, the lawmakers weren't fully grasping the dimensions of what he was saying.

Today, via TPM, a New York Times editorial says that it was Cheney who ordered Gonzales to Ashcroft's bedside.

Is "Fredo" Gonzales protecting Bush not from acknowledgement that he ordered the attempted end run around the acting attorney general on warrantless domestic spying, but rather from the revelation that he had turned over the keys on the issue to Cheney?

Musician, spoken word artist and writer Henry Rollins may hate the war, but he's got nothing but love for U.S troops fighting in Iraq.

The former Black Flag singer spoke with Mother Jones recently about his experiences doing several USO tours in Iraq, the legacy of punk rock, same-sex marriages, Wal-Mart and William Shatner. And we got it all on tape.

Yesterday, a federal jury in Alabama cleared Drummond, a Birmingham-based coal company, of all charges in a suit that alleged company executives had orchestrated the execution of three Colombian labor activists representing workers at Drummond's La Loma mine in that country's northern Cesar department. The lawsuit, brought by victims' families, invoked the rarely-used Alien Tort Claims Act (circa 1789; originally drafted to fight piracy), which, under certain conditions, allows foreign nationals to sue for damages in U.S. courts. The plaintiff's attorneys have said they will appeal.

The trial focused on the 2001 murders of three union leaders by Colombian paramilitaries. In March of that year, Valmore Locarno Rodriguez and Victor Hugo Orcasita Amaya—president and vice president of the Sintraminergetica union—were pulled from a bus shortly after leaving the mine. Locarno was immediately shot in the head, while Orcasita was beaten and kidnapped. His tortured body was found the next day. Later, in October, Locarno's replacement, Gustavo Soler, was also executed on his way home from work.

The suit alleged that executives with Drummond Ltd., the Colombian division of the privately-owned Drummond Co. Inc., paid Colombian paramilitaries to murder the union leaders, knowing full well that such executions are rarely investigated. Witnesses for the prosecution detailed how Drummond provided housing, food, and transportation for the paramilitaries, ostensibly for defense of the mine. In reality, claimed prosecutors, the relationship was much more sinister and involved Drummond's active engagement of the paramilitaries as contract killers. Defense attorneys—as well as a parade of senior executives from Drummond, who testified at the trial—responded that the charges were without foundation and claimed that Drummond maintains a strict policy against collaboration with paramilitaries.

While the victims' families file thier appeal, the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on human rights is planning to hold a hearing on Drummond's operations in Colombia. In addition, Colombian government investigators are continuing their inquiry into Drummond and the alleged shady dealings of several other U.S. multinationals, including Chiquita, Coca-Cola, Dole, and Del Monte.

Earlier this year, banana company Chiquita agreed to a $25 million fine after admitting that, since 1997, it had paid $1.7 million in protection money to the AUC, an umbrella organization for various Colombian paramilitaries. The payments continued even after the U.S. government designated the AUC as a terrorist organization.

More to follow in the days and weeks to come on the subject of Drummond, et. al, and their alleged dealings with Colombian paramilitaries...

Uh oh. Maybe I was wrong.

Update: I like Josh Marshall's take on this: "If they can't face Youtube how can they defeat the terrorists?"

The AP is reporting new details about the death of former NFL player Pat Tillman, who was killed under suspicious circumstances in Afghanistan in 2004:

Army medical examiners were suspicious about the close proximity of the three bullet holes in Pat Tillman's forehead and tried without success to get authorities to investigate whether the former NFL player's death amounted to a crime, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

"The medical evidence did not match up with the, with the scenario as described," a doctor who examined Tillman's body after he was killed on the battlefield in Afghanistan in 2004 told investigators.

The doctors - whose names were blacked out - said that the bullet holes were so close together that it appeared the Army Ranger was cut down by an M-16 fired from a mere 10 yards or so away.

Henry Waxman's Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing in late April, nearly three years to the day that Tillman was gunned down in Afghanistan, examining how the military spun the circumstances of Tillman's death (the Pentagon originally claimed Tillman was killed by enemy fire during an ambush). Waxman is not letting the issue drop. He has scheduled a hearing next week that will zero in on what senior Pentagon officials knew about Tillman's death and when they knew it. Among those called to testify is former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. No word yet on whether Rummy will accept the invite, but check back here for coverage of the hearing.

TAPPED has a great post today summing up all the crazy animal-related foreign policy news of the past week. The lead items? Iran accusing the U.S. of using trained squirrels as spies, and the belief, widely held by the inhabitants of Basra in southern Iraq, that the British military has released man-eating badgers into the city.

The U.S. and the British have denied all squirrel- and badger-related activity (one Foreign Office official called the squirrel story "nuts"), but suspicions remain. From one of TAPPED's commentators, on a British spokesman's statement that "We can categorically state that we have not released man-eating badgers into the area.":

That's sort of a lawyerly non-denial denial, isn't it? Maybe the badgers eat women and children, but not men.

Good point. Reminiscent of the famed (and possibly fake) killer dolphins set loose by Katrina.

— Nick Baumann

Today's question comes (again) courtesy of, and it's a tough one:

How many years after the historic Nixon-Kennedy debates in 1960 was the next debate between the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees?

No googling, just guessing. If you have a trivia question to suggest, email it to

Update: As two commenters correctly guessed, it was 16 years later, in 1976.

— Nick Baumann

An item from today's Hill, reproduced without comment but with plenty of giggles:

Which member of Congress was scaring the bejesus out of colleagues late Tuesday night by putting in fake reporter requests to speak to lawmakers about Deborah Jeane Palfrey, aka the D.C. Madam?
Reporters long have filled out cards in the Speaker's Gallery to request face-time with members. An aide brings the card to the particular member on the House floor and he or she decides whether to come out and chat with the requesting scribe.
The rambunctious lawmaker filled out cards posing as a Washington Post reporter, only to watch the color drain from the faces of unsuspecting co-workers when confronted with the cards from a "journalist" writing about Hill types caught up in a scandal related to an alleged prostitution ring.

Anyone who reads newspapers with any frequency recognizes the trend: reporters love to talk about what powerful women are wearing. You'll never hear about the cut of Robert Byrd's suit or where Harry Reid got his shoes, but, boy, does Nancy Pelosi look good in that Armani suit. And that Condi Rice has been looking fine, too — especially in boots. Smart people know that talking about Hillary Clinton's cleavage is a meaningless (not to mention sexist) distraction from the issues, so we'll take care to try to point out some of the more egregious examples we come across.

From today's Washington Post:

[California Rep. Loretta] Sanchez, ... resplendent in a black outfit with silver sparkles.

"Resplendent"? Really? Tongue-in-cheek or not: give me a break.

— Nick Baumann