‘Children used’ in Iraq bombing

And you thought suicide bombings couldn’t become any more abhorrent:

A US military official has said children have been used in a bomb attack in Iraq, raising fears that insurgents are using a new tactic.

Gen Michael Barbero said a vehicle stopped at a checkpoint was waved through because two children were seen in the back, but was then detonated.  Militants were changing tactics in response to tighter security, he said.

Gen Barbero said there had been also two adults in the car. They parked it near a market, abandoned it with the children inside and apparently detonated it.

The two children died, along with three civilians in the vicinity, officials said.

[BBC News]

White House official: No probe launched into Plame leak


Rep. Waxman – House Oversight Committee

In testimony given today before the house oversight committee, James Knodell, Director of the Office of Security at the White House, revealed that the the administration had never launched an internal probe to determine the source for the outing of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame in 2003. In addition to revealing a deep reluctance on the part of the administration in determining the party responsible for the leak, Knodell’s testimony directly contradicted a prior statement from President Bush promising a full internal probe.

Ms. Plame Wilson, who in testimony earlier today confirmed her status at the time of the scandal as a covert CIA official and struck down assertions that she designed her husband’s 2002 mission to Niger, told the committee, “My name and identity were carelessly and recklessly abused by senior officials in the White House and State Department. I could no longer perform the work for which I had been highly trained.”

Asked about an obligation of federal officials to report on any knowledge of a leak to a security officer, Knodell confirmed the requirement and admitted that not a single member of the administration had come to speak to him.

Committee chair Henry Waxman, who in his opening statement described the the panel’s duty to “determine what went wrong and insist on accountability,” was taken aback by the implications of Knodell’s testimony, describing it as “a breach within a breach.”

[RawStory]

Ex-Milan CIA chief goes into hiding over kidnapping of Muslim cleric

Robert Lady, the former CIA chief in Milan, has gone into hiding, the German newspaper Der Spiegel reports Tuesday. But “to this day, he continues to pay his $4,000 mortgage.”

The subject of an extradition order from Italian authorities for the role he played in the kidnapping of radical Muslim cleric Abu Omar in Milan… Lady was in Florida last, but reportedly moved on already. The only place the former agent can feel truly safe is the United States, now that an Italian court has issued an arrest warrant for him — just as it has done for 25 of his colleagues, who are said to have been involved in the Feb. 17, 2003 abduction of radical Muslim cleric Abu Omar along Via Guerzoni in downtown Milan.”

“The suspects are expected to be tried, in absentia, in June at Milan’s Palace of Justice in what will amount to the world’s first-ever trial against CIA agents accused of kidnapping,” Der Spiegel adds. “Until very recently, it seemed certain that the case would move ahead. But last week the Italian government asked the country’s highest justices at the constitutional court to determine whether the trial could proceed. This has fueled hope for Seldon and, indeed, the entire US administration, that a legal drama might still be prevented.”

“According to recent findings brought to light by American journalist Matthew Cole, writing in the March issue of GQ, it’s not just the agents involved in the abduction who need to be protected,” the paper adds. “Those truly responsible are to be found in the higher echelons of the US administration, according to Cole, who claims that current US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice personally approved the operation when she served as President George W. Bush’s National Security Advisor. She apparently OKed Abu Omar’s abduction and then, according to Cole’s report, “fretted” during her meeting with the CIA over how she would inform Bush about the operation.”

[RawStory]

Prisoners to be put in cargo containers

Specially converted sea containers imported from China are to be turned into temporary jails to ease the British prisons overcrowding crisis, The Observer has learned.

The plan is to have the modules installed in five prisons by June at a cost of £3.5m each. Prisons earmarked for the new units include Stoke Heath Young Offenders Institution in Shropshire and Wayland Prison in Norfolk.

The government has also placed an order for two large-scale units comprising five containers bolted together and capable of holding 300 prisoners apiece. These larger modules will require planning permission, which means they are unlikely to be introduced until the end of the year. It is understood Rochester Prison in Kent has been identified as one possible site for the new units.

[TheGuardian]

Britain bans ‘dumb’ cluster bombs

The government has banned its armed forces from using “dumb” cluster bombs to cut the number of civilians killed and maimed by them, the Ministry of Defence said on Tuesday.

In future, British troops will only be allowed to use “smart” cluster bombs with features such as self-destruct mechanisms if they fail to explode on initial impact.

Charities such as Oxfam and Amnesty International have long argued for a ban on cluster bombs — devices containing hundreds of small bomblets which disperse over a large area — because they can leave a deadly legacy for years after the end of conflicts.

“It is our duty to make sure our forces have the equipment they need to do the job we ask of them,” Defence Secretary Des Browne told parliament in a written statement.

[RawStory]

“Obama more liberal than Kucinich, analysis reveals”

WASHINGTON _ The most liberal member of Congress running for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination isn’t Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio.

It’s Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.

And the Republican candidate who’s grown less conservative over his years in Congress? Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Those are among the interesting findings in a recent analysis of votes by all the members of Congress who are running for president.

They cut to the heart of debates going on among activists in both major parties: Can a liberal Democrat win a general election? Which Republican is ideologically pure enough to win support from conservatives?

The study, released this month by the National Journal, a respected inside-the-Beltway research report, will help voters cut through the spin and hype of TV sound bites in coming months and judge these candidates for themselves.

Read more of the findings at the link below:

[RawStory/McClatchy]

Talking About Israel

Another great piece from Nicholas Kristof:

There is no serious political debate among either Democrats or Republicans about our policy toward Israelis and Palestinians. And that silence harms America, Middle East peace prospects and Israel itself.

Within Israel, you hear vitriolic debates in politics and the news media about the use of force and the occupation of Palestinian territories. Yet no major American candidate is willing today to be half as critical of hard-line Israeli government policies as, say, Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper.

Three years ago, Israel’s minister of justice spoke publicly of photos of an elderly Palestinian woman beside the ruins of her home, after it had been destroyed by the Israeli army. He said that they reminded him of his own grandmother, who had been dispossessed by the Nazis. Can you imagine an American cabinet secretary ever saying such a thing?

…You can argue that Arabs pursue a double standard, focusing on repression by Israelis while ignoring greater human rights violations by fellow Arabs. But the suffering in Palestinian territories, while not remotely at the scale of brutality in Sudan or Iraq, is still tragically real…

…Hard-line Israeli policies have profoundly harmed that country’s long-term security by adding vulnerable settlements, radicalizing young Palestinians, empowering Hamas and Hezbollah, isolating Israel in the world and nurturing another generation of terrorists in Lebanon. The Israeli right’s aggressive approach has only hurt Israeli security, just as President Bush’s invasion of Iraq ended up harming U.S. interests…

[NYTimes]
(Times Select subscription required)

Bush’s Shadow Army

The Bush Administration is increasingly dependent on private security forces to do its dirty work, Jeremy Scahill reveals in his new book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. 

The often overlooked subplot of the wars of the post-9/11 period is their unprecedented scale of outsourcing and privatization. From the moment the US troop buildup began in advance of the invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon made private contractors an integral part of the operations. Even as the government gave the public appearance of attempting diplomacy, Halliburton was prepping for a massive operation. When US tanks rolled into Baghdad in March 2003, they brought with them the largest army of private contractors ever deployed in modern war. By the end of Rumsfeld’s tenure in late 2006, there were an estimated 100,000 private contractors on the ground in Iraq — an almost one-to-one ratio with active-duty American soldiers.

To the great satisfaction of the war industry, before Rumsfeld resigned he took the extraordinary step of classifying private contractors as an official part of the US war machine. In the Pentagon’s 2006 Quadrennial Review, Rumsfeld outlined what he called a “road map for change” at the DoD, which he said had begun to be implemented in 2001. It defined the “Department’s Total Force” as “its active and reserve military components, its civil servants, and its contractors — constitut[ing] its warfighting capability and capacity. Members of the Total Force serve in thousands of locations around the world, performing a vast array of duties to accomplish critical missions.” This formal designation represented a major triumph for war contractors — conferring on them a legitimacy they had never before enjoyed.

Contractors have provided the Bush Administration with political cover, allowing the government to deploy private forces in a war zone free of public scrutiny, with the deaths, injuries and crimes of those forces shrouded in secrecy. The Administration and the GOP-controlled Congress in turn have shielded the contractors from accountability, oversight and legal constraints. Despite the presence of more than 100,000 private contractors on the ground in Iraq, only one has been indicted for crimes or violations. “We have over 200,000 troops in Iraq and half of them aren’t being counted, and the danger is that there’s zero accountability,” says Democrat Dennis Kucinich, one of the leading Congressional critics of war contracting.

[AlterNet]

Rocker David Byrne Making Sense at SXSW Fest

Former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne wants record labels to focus more on marketing than on manufacturing and distribution in the face of increasing digital album sales.

Byrne gave a presentation entitled “Record Companies: Who Needs Them?” at the South by Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas, Thursday. He offered a slide show that predicated digital sales would outstrip CD sales by 2012.

That year will be the “tipping point,” much like the mid-to-late ’80s when CDs overtook cassette sales. Once download sales became the norm, Byrne said, it will allow manufacturing and distribution costs to approach zero. “That is a fact,” he said.

He said at that point, record labels will be faced with a sort of choice — to ramp up marketing services to use music as a loss leader for tours and merchandise revenue, or aim only for international stars of the ilk of Britney Spears.

[NYTimes]

Blair made secret deal with Saudis

BRITISH Prime Minister Tony Blair struck a secret deal with the king of Saudi Arabia, assuring him there would be no criminal charges against anyone implicated in bribery in Britain’s biggest arms deal.

In July 2005, Mr Blair assured the then crown prince, Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, who is now the Saudi King, that Britain would abandon an inquiry by the Serious Fraud Office into alleged massive corruption. It concerned a £60 million ($146 million) “slush fund” allegedly set up by BAE Systems, Britain’s biggest military contractor, to support the lifestyle of some members of the Saudi royal family.
Mr Blair told crown prince Abdullah during a visit to Riyadh, the Saudi capital, that the evidence would instead be offered to the Saudi authorities.

Sources with knowledge of the discussions say that even as the major fraud inquiry was expanding with the arrest of five British business executives, Mr Blair was telling crown prince Abdullah that the inquiry “was going nowhere.”

Disclosure of the secret deal undermines a parliamentary statement made by British Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith last December that prosecutors, rather than Downing Street, had made the final decision to drop the inquiry. The news comes as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development prepares to send inspectors to London to find out why the inquiry was dropped. The OECD rebuked the Government for its decision to drop the case.

[TheAustralian]

Iraq experts say draft oil industry law fraught with problems

AMMAN (AFP) – Some Iraqi oil experts and politicians are aghast over their government’s approval of a bill that many fear will deliver the country’s oil wealth to international firms on a platter.

In February, capping months of bitter wrangling, the Baghdad government approved a draft law that aims to distribute revenue from crude oil exports equitably across Iraq’s 18 provinces and open the sector to foreign investors.

The multi-party government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki sees the legislation as a key plank in moves to reunite a country torn apart by sectarian violence, and hopes that parliament will ratify the bill in May.

But former Iraqi oil industry officials, experts and lawmakers gathered in Jordan to debate the bill have warned that the timing is wrong, and expressed strong concerns that
Iraq would lose control of its own “black gold.”

shocking, right?

[AFP/Yahoo!]

The Ides of March 2003

Our ninja Frank Rich does it again:

TOMORROW night is the fourth anniversary of President Bush’s prime-time address declaring the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In the broad sweep of history, four years is a nanosecond, but in America, where memories are congenitally short, it’s an eternity. That’s why a revisionist history of the White House’s rush to war, much of it written by its initial cheerleaders, has already taken hold. In this exonerating fictionalization of the story, nearly every politician and pundit in Washington was duped by the same “bad intelligence” before the war, and few imagined that the administration would so botch the invasion’s aftermath or that the occupation would go on so long. “If only I had known then what I know now …” has been the persistent refrain of the war supporters who subsequently disowned the fiasco. But the embarrassing reality is that much of the damning truth about the administration’s case for war and its hubristic expectations for a cakewalk were publicly available before the war, hiding in plain sight, to be seen by anyone who wanted to look.

[NYTimes]
(Times Select subscription required)

McCain Stumbles.

First on HIV prevention:

Q: “So no contraception, no counseling on contraception. Just abstinence. Do you think contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV?”

Mr. McCain: (Long pause) “You’ve stumped me.”

Q: “I mean, I think you’d probably agree it probably does help stop it?”

Mr. McCain: (Laughs) “Are we on the Straight Talk express? I’m not informed enough on it. Let me find out. You know, I’m sure I’ve taken a position on it on the past. I have to find out what my position was. Brian, would you find out what my position is on contraception – I’m sure I’m opposed to government spending on it, I’m sure I support the president’s policies on it.”

Then, the racism slips:

Republican presidential contender John McCain on Friday used the term “tar baby,” considered by some a racial epithet, and later said he regretted it.

Answering questions at a town hall meeting, the Arizona senator was discussing federal involvement in custody cases when he said, “For me to stand here and … say I’m going to declare divorces invalid because of someone who feels they weren’t treated fairly in court, we are getting into a tar baby of enormous proportions and I don’t know how you get out of that.”

After the event, McCain told reporters: “I don’t think I should have used that word and I was wrong to do so.”

Thousands march to protest Iraq war

Thousands of anti-war demonstrators, some carrying yellow and black signs reading “U.S. out of Iraq now!” marched on the Pentagon on Saturday, one of several protests worldwide to mark four years of war.

The march, on a cold, cloudy and windy St. Patrick’s Day, comes just before the fourth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war on Tuesday and 40 years after a similar protest at the Pentagon over the Vietnam War.

On a stage in the Pentagon parking lot, speaker after speaker demanded the end of the war in Iraq and some called for President George W. Bush’s impeachment. A flag-draped coffin was displayed near the stage bearing a picture of a young soldier killed in Iraq.

[Reuters/Yahoo!]

Richardson to sign bill, legalize medical marijuana

SANTA FE, N.M. – Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson, poised to sign a bill making New Mexico the 12th state to legalize medical marijuana, said Thursday he realizes his action could become an issue in the presidential race.

“So what if it’s risky? It’s the right thing to do,” said Richardson, one of the candidates in the crowded 2008 field. “What we’re talking about is 160 people in deep pain. It only affects them.”

The legislation would create a program under which some patients — with a doctor’s recommendation — could use marijuana provided by the state health department. Lawmakers approved the bill Wednesday. The governor is expected to sign it in the next few weeks.

Richardson has supported the proposal since he first ran in 2002. But he pushed especially hard for it this year, leaning on some Democrats to change their votes after the bill initially failed.

“Give him credit. It’s not something you do because you’re going to garner great political support for it. It is a bit controversial,” said Thomas Mann, a political analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington. By the same token, Mann says, it is not likely to hurt him in the Democratic contests.

[Yahoo!/AP]