Friday, April 30, 2010

This oil spill 'the bad one' _ recipe for disaster

WASHINGTON (AP) - What makes an oil spill really bad? Most of the ingredients for it are now blending in the Gulf of Mexico.

Experts tick off the essentials: A relentless flow of oil from under the sea; a type of crude that mixes easily with water; a resultant gooey mixture that is hard to burn and even harder to clean; water that's home to vulnerable spawning grounds for new life; and a coastline with difficult-to-scrub marshlands.

Gulf Coast experts have always talked about "the potential for a bad one," said Wes Tunnell, coastal ecology and oil spill expert at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

"And this is the bad one. This is just a biggie that finally happened."

It hasn't quite become a total disaster yet. But it's hard to imagine it not being devastating, said Ed Overton, who heads a federal chemical hazard assessment team for oil spills. The Louisiana State University professor has been testing samples of the spilled crude.

He compared what's brewing to another all-too-familiar Gulf Coast threat: "This has got all the characteristics of a Category 5 hurricane."

If conditions don't change quickly, devastation of the highest magnitude is headed for somewhere along the coast, said Overton, who works with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

More than 200,000 gallons of oil a day are spewing from the blown-out well at the site of BP's Deepwater Horizon rig, which exploded April 20 and sank two days later. Crews are using at least six remotely operated vehicles to try to shut off an underwater valve, but so far they've been unsuccessful. Meanwhile, high winds and waves are pushing oily water over the booms meant to contain it. Besides BP, a slew of federal and state agencies are scrambling to minimize the onslaught of damage.

Experts in oil spills have drills every few years to practice their response for spills of "national significance." One of those practice runs took place just last month in Maine. The Gulf of Mexico leak is a "combination of all the bad things happening" and makes it far worse than any disaster imagined in the drills, said Nancy Kinner, director of the Coastal Response Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.

"This is relentless," Kinner said.

Most Americans think of Exxon Valdez when it comes to spills. But the potential and likelihood here "is well beyond that," said University of Rhode Island ocean engineering professor Malcolm Spaulding. Because the Deepwater Horizon well has not been capped and may flow for months more, it should be compared to a bigger more dangerous one from a well explosion in 1979, said Tunnell. That was Ixtoc 1, off the coast of Mexico. It was the worst peacetime oil spill on record.

The current spill "is kind of a worst case scenario," Tunnell said.

What makes this spill relentless and most similar to Ixtoc 1 is that it's an active well that keeps flowing. The Exxon Valdez was a tanker with a limited supply of oil. The rig 40 miles from the Gulf Coast may leak for months before a relief well can be drilled to stop the flow, Kinner said.

And LSU's Overton said: "I'm not very optimistic that they'll be drilling a relief well in three months."

The type of oil involved is also a major problem. While most of the oil drilled off Louisiana is a lighter crude, this isn't. It's a heavier blend because it comes from deep under the ocean surface, Overton said.

"If I had to pick a bad oil, I'd put this right up there. The only thing that's not bad about this is that it doesn't have a lot of sulfur in it and the high sulfur really smells bad."

The first analysis of oil spill samples showed it contains asphalt-like substances that make a major sticky mess, he said. This is because the oil is older than most oil in the region and is very dense.

This oil also emulsifies well, Overton said. Emulsification is when oil and water mix thoroughly together, like a shampoo, which is mostly water, said Penn State engineering professor Anil Kulkarni.

It "makes a thick gooey chocolate mousse type of mix," Kulkarni said.

And once it becomes that kind of mix, it no longer evaporates as quickly as regular oil, doesn't rinse off as easily, can't be eaten by oil-munching microbes as easily, and doesn't burn as well, experts said.

That type of mixture essentially removes all the best oil clean-up weapons, Overton and others said.

Under better circumstances, with calmer winds and water, the oil might have a chance of rising without immediately emulsifying, but that's not happening here, Kulkarni said. It's pretty much mixed by the time it gets to the surface.

The wind and waves are also pushing the oil directly toward some of the most sensitive coastal areas: the marshlands of Louisiana and surrounding states.

And there are three types of beaches: sandy, rocky and marshy. Sandy beaches, like those in Florida, are the easiest to clean, Overton said. By far the hardest are marshlands and that's where the oil is heading first.

Marshes are so delicate that just trying to clean them causes damage, Kinner said. Once the oily mess penetrates, grasses must be cut. But it also penetrates the soil and that is extremely difficult to get out, she said.

The normal bacteria that eats oil needs oxygen to work, and in the soils of the marsh, there's not enough oxygen for that process, she said.

It's also the time of year in the Gulf of Mexico when fish spawn, plankton bloom and the delicate ecosystem is at a vulnerable stage.

Hurricane season is fast approaching in June and experts are sure the oil will still be flowing by then. Though it might seem counterintuitive, a big storm could help by dispersing and diluting the worst of the oil, Overton said.

"A hurricane is Mother Nature's vacuum cleaner," Overton said. Normally it cleans things up. But that's not a solution with a continuing spill.


Militant turncoat leads Iraqis to al-Qaida chiefs

BAGHDAD (AP) - Leery of using a mobile phone, the militant tasked with directing some of Baghdad's deadliest recent bombings would get his orders from al-Qaida in Iraq's leadership by meeting a go-between near a grocery store named Mr. Milk.

So after Iraqi security forces nabbed the militant, Munaf Abdul-Rahim al-Rawi, it was to Mr. Milk's store that he led investigators. That was the first step culminating in what Iraqi and American officials called a devastating blow to the terror group: the killing of al-Qaida in Iraq's secretive two top leaders in a raid last week.

In an interview this week with The Associated Press, al-Rawi offered a rare insight into the shadowy terror group that continues to plague Iraq after years of deadly attacks aiming to push the country into civil war.

Al-Rawi's arrest itself was something of a coup for Iraqi security forces. Known by his underlings as "the dictator," al-Rawi commanded al-Qaida operations in Baghdad, and an Iraqi security spokesman confirmed that al-Rawi played a role in a number of attacks, including the August 2009 bombings of several government ministries that killed more than 100 people.

On March 11, al-Rawi was passing through a Baghdad checkpoint, where a guard recognized him from his photo on a most-wanted list and arrested him, al-Rawi said.

But the capture was kept secret from the public, as he gave investigators information that eventually led to the April 18 strike that killed Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al-Masri.

Now al-Rawi will likely face trial for his own role. In the 45-minute interview, he shrugged off worries over his fate. "My hope is to enter paradise," al-Rawi said. "One of the investigators said a death sentence is waiting for me. I told him, 'It is normal.'"

Security spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi described al-Rawi as the militant who led investigators to al-Baghdadi and al-Masri. Speaking to reporters last week, U.S. Brig. Gen. Ralph Baker also said al-Rawi was a vital source who along with others "have all been instrumental in leading to the success of the capture and the killing of the senior leadership in al-Qaida."

Al-Masri, a weapons expert who was trained in al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan in the late 1990s, was the national leader of al-Qaida in Iraq. Al-Baghdadi was the self-described leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, an offshoot of al-Qaida, and was so elusive that at times U.S. officials questioned whether he was a real person.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki heralded their deaths in a news conference where he brandished pictures of the two militants' bloody bodies. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden called the killings a "potentially devastating blow" to al-Qaida in Iraq. But four days later, officials believe al-Qaida struck back in a series of bombings that killed 72 people in Iraq's bloodiest day of the year so far.

An AP reporter was allowed by Iraqi security officials to interview al-Rawi. The reporter was taken in a car with blacked-out windows to an undisclosed location in the Baghdad area that appeared to be a military facility. Wearing a blue track suit, the 35-year-old al-Rawi spoke in a spartan office, and an Iraqi security official was present for parts of the interview.

Al-Rawi warned that after the two leaders' deaths, al-Qaida in Iraq "will implement revenge operations to prove it's still strong."

Al-Rawi described how he would meet a go-between he identified only as "Jaafar," who would relay messages between him and al-Masri. He said he had little contact with al-Baghdadi.

Worried about government monitoring of mobile phones and the Internet, al-Rawi and Jaafar would meet in western Baghdad's primarily Sunni Mansour neighborhood, on the street outside the Mr. Milk grocery store. Iraqi security officials said the meeting place was picked at random, and no one in the neighborhood was implicated in the terror group.

After his arrest, al-Rawi said he detailed the meetings to investigators, who promptly put him at the center of a sting operation to catch Jaafar.

"They allowed me to meet him but they surrounded all the area nearby," al-Rawi said. "Then they arrested him."

Two Iraqi security officials with knowledge of the investigation said Jaafar pointed Iraqi and U.S. forces to the Tikrit-area safehouse where al-Masri and al-Baghdadi were meeting, triggering the raid. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the investigation.

Jaafar is being held in Iraqi custody, and investigators have also arrested a number of members of the cell that worked under al-Rawi, the security officials said.

During the raid, al-Masri's assistant and al-Baghdadi's son were also killed and 16 other people were arrested. A U.S. soldier was killed in a helicopter crash during the operation. Iraqi officials say documents from the safehouse have helped them learn a great deal about the terror group and its workings.

Al-Rawi described his career in the Sunni insurgency that erupted after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, eventually leading him into al-Qaida in Iraq.

He said he fought against U.S. troops in the brutal April 2004 battle for the western city of Fallujah. There, he said, he met al-Masri, al-Baghdadi and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born militant who would ally himself with Osama bin Laden and create al-Qaida in Iraq. Al-Zarqawi was killed in a 2006 U.S. airstrike, succeeded by al-Masri.

Al-Rawi said he was arrested in June 2004 in Baghdad and spent the next three years at U.S. military detention centers until 2007. U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Bob Owen on Friday confirmed al-Rawi was jailed for that period.

After his release, "I resumed my jihad work," al-Rawi said.

In the interview, he boasted about masterminding at least several Baghdad suicide bombings against the American military as well as Jan. 25 attacks that hit three hotels where U.S. and other Western journalists live - an attack that he estimated cost $100,000.

In the August ministry bombings, al-Rawi said he bought the truck that detonated outside the Foreign Ministry, and the explosives he generally used were a handmade mix, including fertilizer, that "the detection devices couldn't discover." He said the terror group often financed itself by extorting money from Iraqi companies.

Al-Rawi said he decided to confess after his arrest because "security forces already know everything about me and my links." He said, "I felt that it is useless to deny or conceal information."


Telephone Remake

Interesting prelude to the up coming summer of blood

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Radioactive material in scrapyard in India kills 1

NEW DELHI (AP) - A scrap dealer who dismantled a machine once used by the chemistry class of a major Indian university died of radioactive poisoning, police said Thursday, raising concerns about the country's ability to safely dispose of hazardous waste.

The dealer died Monday in New Delhi after being among workers who sawed open a gamma cell that Delhi University had auctioned off in February, a police statement said. Seven other workers are being treated for radiation exposure.

Police traced the cell to the school's chemistry laboratory, where it had been lying around unused for more than 25 years. Students had used it in the 1970s to study the radiation effects of various chemicals, said police officer Sharad Aggarwal.

Delhi University Vice Chancellor Deepak Pental apologized Thursday and accepted "moral responsibility" for the lax manner in which the radioactive equipment had been handled.

The university would compensate the victims, although "no amount can compensate for the damage," Pental said Thursday.

"Our university has a strong desire that this (incident) be investigated and recorded, Pental said. "Such accidents shouldn't happen even remotely."

The case has raised fears about the unregulated disposal of hazardous material in India, where dangerous chemicals and even radioactive waste are often sold to scrap dealers. A nuclear scientist said the incident showed how lax regulations and lack of enforcement of existing rules could lead to dangerous situations.

"In India we have better laws than most countries, but the laws are not enforced," R.G. Pillay, a nuclear expert at the Mumbai-based Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, was quoted as saying recently by the Hindustan Times newspaper.

The gamma cell was dismantled April 8, and the subsequent death and illnesses of the workers sent panic through the western New Delhi neighborhood where the scrap yard is located. The workers thought the cell was junk and had no idea they were cutting into a container with radioactive contents.

The gamma cell is a machine, which contains the radioactive substance Cobalt-60 and is used to study the effects of gamma rays on chemicals. Gamma rays are electromagnetic waves similar to X-rays.


Man stabs 28 children at kindergarten in China

TAIXING, China (AP) - The screams of the 4-year-olds inside the kindergarten could be heard out in the street. When people ran in to investigate, they found what one witness said was a scene "too horrible to imagine" - blood everywhere as a knife-wielding man slashed 28 children, two teachers and a security guard Thursday in the second such school attack in China in two days.

Experts called it a copycat rampage triggered by similar incidents Wednesday and last month. They said the wave of school attacks falls amid poor care for the mentally unstable and growing feelings of social injustice in the fast-changing country.

Thursday's attack at the Zhongxin Kindergarten left five students hospitalized in critical condition in the eastern city of Taixing, said Zhu Guiming, an official with the municipal propaganda department. Two teachers and the security guard were also hurt.

The official Xinhua News Agency identified the attacker as Xu Yuyuan, a 47-year-old unemployed man using an eight-inch (20-centimeter) knife. No motive was given.

A witness to the early morning attack said people outside heard screams coming from the three-story building and rushed inside.

"It was too horrible to imagine. I saw blood everywhere, and kids bleeding from their heads," a visibly shaken Hu Tao told The Associated Press hours later.

"Some of them could not open their eyes because of the blood," he said.

Hu, who owns a small restaurant across the street from the school, said
a delivery man used a fire extinguisher to knock Xu down.

Set in a sidestreet off the main avenue of the heavily industrialized city, the kindergarten has a whimsical European-style castle turret rising above its gate and a cartoon-like bunny by the entrance, which was sealed off by police tape.

Most of the recent school invasions have been blamed on people with personal grudges or suffering from mental illness, leading to calls for improved security.

Accounts in China's state-owned media have glossed over motives and largely shied away from why schools have so often been targets. Yet experts say outbursts against the defenseless are frequently due to social pressures.

An avowedly egalitarian society only a generation ago, China's headlong rush to prosperity has sharpened differences between haves and have-nots, and the public health system has atrophied even as pressures grew.

"We must create a more healthy and just society," said Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociology professor at Renmin University in Beijing.

While it's not known if Thursday's attacker knew about previous school stabbings, Zhou said such sensational, violent acts often draw copycats.

Normally, with these kind of violent events we hope the media won't blow them up too much, because that tends to make it spread," Zhou said.

On Wednesday, a man in the southern city of Leizhou broke into a primary school and wounded 15 students and a teacher in a knife attack.

That attack came the same day a man was executed for stabbing eight children to death outside their elementary school last month in the southeastern city of Nanping.

China likely has about 173 million adults with mental health disorders, and 158 million of them have never had professional help, according to a mental health survey in four provinces jointly done by Chinese and U.S. doctors that was published in the medical journal The Lancet in June.

The attack in March shocked China because eight children died and the assailant had no known history of mental illness. At his trial, Zheng Minsheng, 42, said he killed because he had been upset after being jilted by a woman and treated badly by her wealthy family. He was executed Wednesday, just a little over a month after his crime.

After a 2004 attack at a school in Beijing that left nine students dead, the central government ordered tighter school security nationwide. Regulations that took effect in 2006 require schools to register or inspect visitors and keep out people who have no reason to come inside.

The man in Wednesday's attack managed to slip into the school with a group of visiting teachers, Xinhua reported. Chen Kangbing had been a teacher himself. Xinhua said he suffered from mental illness and had been on sick leave since February 2006.

The attack left fourth and fifth graders with stab wounds on their heads, backs and arms, but none was in life-threatening condition.

The Ministry of Education did not immediately respond to a fax Thursday asking whether this week's attacks would lead to changes in school security.


Gulf spill: Worse than Exxon Valdez?

The oil leak triggered by a deadly rig blast off the coast of Louisiana has the potential to cause more environmental damage than the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, one of the largest ecological disasters ever recorded, some observers say.

"As it is now, it's already looking like this could be the worst oil spill since the Valdez," John Hocevar, oceans campaign director for Greenpeace USA, told on Thursday.

"It’s quite possible this will end up being worse than the Valdez in terms of environmental impact since it seems like BP will be unable to cap the spill for months. In terms of total quantity of oil released, it seems this will probably fall short of Exxon Valdez. But because of the habitat, the environmental impact will be worse."

"Probably the only thing comparable to this is the Kuwait fires [following the Gulf War in 1991]," Mike Miller, head of Canadian oil well fire-fighting company Safety Boss, told the BBC World Service.

"The Exxon Valdez is going to pale in comparison to this as it goes on."

The spill was triggered by an explosion last week off the Louisiana coast that sank an oil rig operated by BP. Eleven workers are missing and presumed dead.

So far the leak from a blown-out well 5,000 feet under the sea is not nearly as big as the Exxon Valdez disaster, which spilled about 11 million gallons of oil into Alaska's Prince William Sound 21 years ago. BP's well is spewing about 210,000 gallons of oil a day into the ocean, the Coast Guard estimates.

But if the leak is not capped, millions of gallons of oil could spill into the Gulf of Mexico. The environmental impact could be disastrous if the oil reaches the ecologically fragile U.S. coastline.

Potential for catastrophe
"If we lose the integrity of that wellhead, it could be a catastrophic spill,'' Adm. Thad Allen, commandant of the Coast Guard, which is directing efforts to contain the spreading spill, told The Miami Herald's editorial board Wednesday.

Greenpeace's Hocevar said he's particularly concerned about the impact to critically endangered bluefin tuna. "It's their spawning season and bluefin larvae in this part of their life-cycle would be near the surface of water," Hocevar said.

The oil could also harm sea turtles, which are approaching nesting season; fin whales; menhaden, a fish species harvested mostly for fish meal and fish oil; bottom-feeding oysters; and numerous species of birds, Hocevar said.

Experts said the spill could also destroy the livelihood of commercial fishermen and shrimp catchers and impact recreational fishermen. According to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the state’s fishing industry is worth $265 billion at dockside and has a total economic impact of $2.3 trillion.

Tourism also could take a blow if beaches are fouled.

Already, a federal class-action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of two commercial shrimpers from Louisiana seeking at least $5 million in compensatory damages plus an unspecified amount of punitive damages against Transocean, BP and other companies linked to the rig blast.

Louisiana opened a special shrimp season along parts of the coast to allow shrimpers to harvest the profitable white shrimp before the spill reaches the area.


Debbie Schlussel: Bowing to Muslims, Obama Abandons US Stand on Religious Freedom

Bowing to Muslims, Obama Abandons US Stand on Religious Freedom

By Debbie Schlussel

In the past, I’ve noted that Obama’s ass-kissing and pandering to the Islamic world was no different and no more egregious than that of Bush. Both of them are equally disgusting in their brown-nosing of Islam. But now, Obama’s taken it a step further.


I warned of a similar action by Obama before on this site–Obama’s softening of America’s lip service to free speech around the world, in order to please Muslims and protect Islam from criticism by others, something which disturbed even hardcore liberals. Now, he’s softening America’s lip service to freedom of religion around the world. In the past, America has always voiced a strong insistence upon religious freedom for all people in any nation. It was merely talk, as we’ve repeatedly tolerated, and even financed and propped up religious intolerance by Muslims–as in Iraq, where Christians are now persecuted and from which they are fleeing in droves (thanks, Bush).

But now Obama is voicing a softened stand on religion, as I warned he would, last year. And he’s using silly, liberal intellectual semantic tricks. Even a bipartisan commission to which Obama, himself, appointed members, rips him on this. And they get it–it’s being done to condone Muslim persecution of Christians around the world.

A bipartisan U.S. commission on religious freedom says President Obama is softening his stand on protecting the right to one’s faith at a time when religious persecution is on the rise, according to an annual report to be released today.

The 11th annual report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom says Obama’s recent call for nations to respect “freedom of worship” rather than “religious freedom” allows regimes to claim they are not oppressing certain religions if those faiths exist in a form acceptable to the regime.

(Read the report, though I have to note that the cover photo is particularly misleading, not to mention obnoxious, given the contents of the report and the statements in this article.)

Read More

Gizmodo: Air Force's Falcon Hypersonic Glider Disappears Mysteriously

Air Force's Falcon Hypersonic Glider Disappears Mysteriously

Air Force's Falcon Hypersonic Glider Disappears MysteriouslyThe Air Force's Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2—designed to attack global targets at Mach 20—has disappeared nine minutes into its first test flight, just after separating from its booster. Contact was lost, and it hasn't been found yet.

The Falcon was supposed to splash down in the Pacific Ocean after a 30-minute, 4,100-nautical-mile test flight. Not to be confused with the unmanned X-37B space shuttle—which launched on April 22—the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 blasted off last week from the Vandenberg Air Force Base on a Minotaur IV rocket.

Instead of completing its flight, however, the Air Force lost all contact with the aircraft. According to DARPA's Johanna Spangenberg Jones:

Preliminary review of data indicates the HTV-2 achieved controlled flight within the atmosphere at over Mach 20. Then contact with HTV-2 was lost. This was our first flight (all others were done in wind tunnels and simulations) so although of course we would like to have everything go perfectly, we still gathered data and can use findings for the next flight, scheduled currently for early 2011.

Just that: The telemetry data signal vanished, and the aircraft is nowhere to be found. Being a semi-secret project, nothing else has been disclosed. The only logical explanations are 1) a massive structural failure, 2) Nazi UFOs or 3) somebody lost it in a beer garden. I will pick number two for the time being.

The hypersonic glider is built by Lockheed Martin under a DARPA program. It's designed to launch conventional weapons against any target in the planet in just one hour. This capability makes it a perfect substitute for Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. Unlike ICBMs loaded with conventional heads, the plane can't be mistaken with a nuclear missile, so it won't make other nuclear powers to hit the red button. Maybe. [Physorg]

Send an email to Jesus Diaz, the author of this post, at

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Allawi's Iraqiya bloc seeks caretaker to safeguard election results

BAGHDAD -- The leader of the bloc that received the most votes in last month's elections called Wednesday for the creation of an internationally backed caretaker authority to prevent what he said were unlawful attempts by Iraq's government to overturn the results.

The move escalated a standoff between the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, which won the most seats in the March 7 parliamentary elections, and an alliance led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which came in a close second. Former prime minister Ayad Allawi, the leader of Iraqiya, also proposed extending the mandate of the outgoing parliament until a new one is in place, "for the purpose of monitoring the executive branch."

Adding to the political tension, Human Rights Watch released a report late Tuesday saying that members of a military unit under the command of Maliki, a Shiite, systemically tortured and sexually abused hundreds of Sunni Arab prisoners.

"The horror we found suggests torture was a norm in [al-Muthanna]," Joe Stork, the group's Middle East director, said in a statement, referring to a secret detention facility at a military airport in Baghdad. "The government needs to prosecute all of those responsible for this systemic brutality."

In recent days, U.S. officials have expressed concern about the post-election wrangling, which has prevented Iraq's electoral commission from certifying the results and has indefinitely delayed formation of a new government.

Standing in the way are a manual recount of votes cast in Baghdad and efforts by a commission run by Shiite politicians to disqualify winning candidates for alleged ties to Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath Party. At the same time, the U.S. military intends to withdraw about half of its forces by the end of August, leaving 50,000 troops.

Allawi said Wednesday that the Justice and Accountability Commission is carrying out "malicious disqualifications."

Sunnis, who won meager representation in the 2005 parliamentary elections, voted in droves this year, contributing to Iraqiya's narrow lead. Maliki's slate won two fewer seats but could conceivably come out on top. That would almost certainly spark widespread anger in Sunni communities, where many view Maliki as sectarian and increasingly authoritarian.

Maliki and other Shiite leaders have called the recent challenges to the election results lawful processes that must run their course. Allawi said Wednesday's statement would be Iraqiya's final appeal for fairness. He warned that the party would henceforth "revert to the Iraqi people to implement their will."

The Human Rights Watch report, which draws from interviews with 42 former prisoners at the al-Muthanna facility, has sparked anger in the northern province of Nineveh, one of the most volatile in Iraq.

Nineveh's governor, Atheel al-Nujaifi, said provincial officials met this week with hundreds of relatives of the inmates who spent time at al-Muthanna.

"We listened to their stories, and they made everyone cry," said Nujaifi, a Sunni Arab.

The report said guards beat, shocked and sexually assaulted the inmates in an effort to elicit confessions. Guards raped inmates, sodomized them with various objects, and forced some to perform sexual acts on guards and with fellow detainees, the report said.

Maliki's government said it is investigating the abuse claims, but it has played down the allegations, saying they are politically motivated.


Earth to O!

Battle for Kandahar

"The counteroffensive has begun. More accurately, it might be called a counter-counteroffensive. Close to a decade ago, we beat the Taliban and al Qaeda here. The Taliban regrew and waged an increasingly successful counteroffensive. And so our ninth year at war is the year of our counter-counteroffensive.

The most remarkable feature of our counter-counteroffensive likely will be the Battle for Kandahar, or BfK. Kandahar was the birthplace of the Taliban and Kandahar City is the provincial capital. The Taliban is succesfully wresting Kandahar back into their control. The BfK is likely our last effort to halt and reverse Taliban influence from spreading. The winner in the BfK will be set to eventually take most or all of the chips off the table, and so BfK is crucial to the outcome of the war.

Much of the BfK will take place not in Kandahar, or even Afghanistan, but in the mediasphere, and likey will affect U.S. elections this year. The implications are vast."
Michael Yon

Hamas says Egypt kills 4 tunnel smugglers with gas

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) - Egyptian forces pumped gas into a cross-border tunnel used to smuggle goods into the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, killing four Palestinians, Hamas officials said.

Egypt has been under pressure to seal off the hundreds of tunnels that are a key economic lifeline for the blockaded Palestinian territory but which are also used to bring in weapons for the Islamic militant group.

Israel and Egypt have kept Gaza's official border crossings closed since Hamas seized control of the coastal strip in 2007 from forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who now only governs in the West Bank.

A Hamas security official in charge of the tunnel area along the border said the Egyptians filled the passage with some type of crowd dispersal gas. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give his name.

The Hamas Interior Ministry later said in a statement the gas used to try to clear the tunnel was poisonous. Besides those killed, six people were injured, it said.

"The Interior Ministry confirms that the citizens' cause of death was the Egyptian security forces spraying poison gasses into one of the tunnels," the statement said without elaborating.

A doctor at a hospital in the Gaza border town of Rafah, Hamdan Abu Latifa, said the dead smugglers suffocated.

An Egyptian border security official refused to comment Wednesday.

Egyptian security forces have sprayed gas into tunnels before, according to Hamas officials and tunnel operators. But Wednesday's incident was the first time people have died as a result, they said.

A Hamas official demanded an explanation.

"This is a terrible crime committed by Egyptian security against simple Palestinian workers who were trying to earn their daily bread," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum to The Associated Press. "It was a killing in cold blood. Hamas and all the Palestinian people condemn it strongly."

"We demand that Egypt explain its position about what is happening and investigate the circumstances of this terrible crime and show the truth to the entire world and hold those responsible accountable," he said.

The United States and Israel have been pushing Egypt to do more to try to close the tunnels, which provide Hamas with a lifeline helping it to stay in power in Gaza. Weapons and other contraband regularly move through the tunnels.

But the 1.5 million residents of the impoverished Gaza Strip also rely on the tunnels to bring in food and commercial goods like refrigerators and clothing.

Israeli aircraft have targeted the tunnels in bombing runs in the past, particularly during its military offensive against Gaza more than a year ago to stop daily rocket attacks. Tunnel workers have also been killed when passageways accidentally collapsed.

Many of the tunnels, dug with electrical drills and running side by side under the border, are just high enough to enable workers to move on all fours. Their entrances are covered by tents and they are equipped with motorized pulleys to haul goods and generator-powered lighting.

Palestinian officials in Rafah say Egypt has stepped up a crackdown on smuggling in recent months, blowing up numerous tunnel entrances on its side of the border, setting up checkpoints in the area and confiscating contraband. Since December, Egypt has also been building an underground steel wall to block the tunnels.

Rafah officials have said about four miles (six kilometers) of that barrier - covering roughly half of the border area - is already complete.

The officials say the Egyptian measures have led to a sharp slowdown in tunnel traffic in recent months, pinching the local economy.


gassed like roaches, and this from their friends.
Did they draw a Mohammed.

WRAPUP 3-U.S. Coast Guard sets oil slick ablaze

HOUSTON, April 28 (Reuters) - The U.S. Coast Guard on Wednesday set a "controlled burn" to battle a giant oil slick from last week's deadly offshore drilling rig explosion, as the spill threatened wide-scale coastal damage for four U.S. Gulf Coast states.

The leaking well, 5,000 feet (1,525 metres) under the sea off Louisiana's coast, has created an oil sheen and emulsified crude slick slightly bigger than the U.S. state of West Virginia, the Coast Guard said.

Eleven workers are missing and presumed dead after the worst oil rig disaster in almost a decade. Swiss-based Transocean Ltd's (RIGN.S)(RIG.N) Deepwater Horizon rig sank on April 22, two days after it exploded and caught fire while finishing a well for BP Plc (BP.L) about 40 miles (64 km) southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River.

The burn began at 5 p.m. CDT (2200 GMT), an agency spokesman said. Workboats were to pool segments of the spill inside a fire-resistant "boom," essentially a floating corral, to be towed to a remote area for burning, the Coast Guard said.

The agency said it planned "small, controlled burns" of several hundred gallons each lasting about an hour and invisible from shore.

BP, which owns the well, is spending millions of dollars a day on what it has called the largest oil spill containment operation in history, involving dozens of ships and aircraft.

"We will not rest until we have done everything to bring this under control," said Andrew Gowers, head of group media for London-based BP, likening the spill's consistency to "iced tea" with the thickness of a human hair.


At midday Wednesday, the edge of the spill was 23 miles (37 km) off the Louisiana coast, near fragile estuaries and swamps teeming with birds and other wildlife. A shift in winds could push the spill inland to the Louisiana coast by this weekend, according to forecasters at AccuWeather.

Tarballs and emulsified oil streamers could reach the Mississippi Delta region late on Friday, said Charlie Henry, an expert with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Along with a large seafood industry, the area contains key wildlife habitats in the Pass-A-Loutre Wildlife Management Area and Breton National Wildlife Refuge on the Louisiana coast, which are teeming with nesting birds.

"It's premature to say this is catastrophic," said Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry, who is heading the federal cleanup effort. "I will say this is very serious."

The spill could be devastating for fishermen and oystermen that rely on estuaries and swamps along the Mississippi River for their livelihood. For a factbox of potential environmental impacts, follow the link [nN28185887].

"We're sitting here half praying and half with our fingers, toes and everything else crossed," said Byron Encalade, president of the Louisiana Oysterman Association in Pointe A La Hache, who lost five boats when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.

As the oil spill grows, so does the chance that it will affect efforts by the U.S. Congress and President Barack Obama to open more offshore areas to limited oil and gas drilling.

"This brings home the issue that drilling despite all the advancements in technology is still a risky business," said Athan Manuel of the Sierra Club, an environmental group.

Preparations were underway to deploy thousands of feet of floating booms in Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama in an attempt to contain the oil slick, the Coast Guard said.

The Louisiana accident is the worst oil rig disaster since 2001, when a rig operated by Petrobras off the Brazilian coast exploded and killed 11 workers.

The spill is not nearly as big as the Exxon Valdez disaster, which spilled about 11 million gallons (50 million litres) of oil into the Prince William Sound in Alaska in 1989. BP's well is spewing about 42,000 gallons (190,900 litres) of oil a day into the ocean, the Coast Guard estimates.


Inside Iraq: Four Issues more important than Maliki and Allawi

Inside Iraq

Four Issues more important than Maliki and Allawi

4- Barcelona, Reyal Madrid and Manchester United are more present in young Iraqis' conversations than the State of Law Coalition, the Iraqiya List Coalition and the Iraqi National Alliance. The fight about the best world player has been going on for more than six months. The fans of the Argentinean player Lionel Messi could not possibly care whether Maliki or Allawi becomes the prime minister but they definitely care if a fan of Reyal Madrid football club says that Portuguese player Cristiano Ronaldo is better than Messi.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Army surgeon general notes concern about drugs prescribed to wounded soldiers

The Army's top doctor has concerns about the wide range of drugs, including opiates, prescribed to wounded soldiers in the warrior transition unit at Fort Carson, Colo. But during a news conference on Monday he did not address reports that some soldiers there had become addicted to heroin, as published in The New York Times on April 24.

The Army set up 35 warrior transition units in 2007 in the wake of a controversy about the quality of care for wounded soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. At the time, Army officials and others voiced concern that the exodus of skilled personnel and the rising workload at the facility were putting patients at risk. Warrior transition units were designed to provide managed care for soldiers as they recovered from their injuries and awaited processing to determine whether they would stay in the Army or be discharged.

Lt. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker, the Army surgeon general, told reporters at the Pentagon on Monday that he had concerns about the panoply of prescription painkillers prescribed to wounded soldiers and the possibility of overmedication.

Col. Jimmie Keenan, commander of the Evans Army Hospital at Fort Carson, said 26 percent of the nearly 500 soldiers in the facility's warrior transition unit have prescriptions for narcotic painkillers. She noted those drugs are carefully monitored and managed by a pharmacist assigned to the unit -- the only one in the Army to have its own pharmacist.

The Times reported that some soldiers at the facility had become addicted to prescription drugs and turned to heroin to feed their habits.

Schoomaker and Brig. Gen. Gary H. Cheek, assistant surgeon general for warrior care and transition, did not answer reporters' questions about addiction to prescribed or illegal drugs. But Schoomaker acknowledged he had concerns about recreational use of prescription drugs.

He said he did not think the charges in the Times article were fictitious, but quickly added it was "wholly unrepresentative of the totality and the context of what we've done for warrior care."

Keenan said only 5 percent, or about 25, of the soldiers in the Fort Carson unit had been referred to an off-post alcohol and substance abuse program for treatment, and only 6 percent of those referrals involved drugs. She said the hospital monitors drug use with urinalysis and random room inspections.

Schoomaker said the substance abuse that worried him most was alcohol, especially when soldiers use it to cope with combat stress.

The assistant surgeon general said he planned to review the Fort Carson unit in a visit later this week and in the second week of May.

The Army is treating about 9,300 soldiers in warrior transition units nationwide, and Schoomaker said overall the service manages their care "extraordinarily well." But, he said, "We don't always get it right."

He also said the Army inspector general will release a report on warrior transition units soon.


Afghanistan: the battle for hearts and bullet points

Winston Churchill knew where the enemy was by looking at the pieces on his "sand-table" mock-up and watching as his staff moved them around to adjust to the latest intelligence.

General Stanley McChrystal, in charge of the war in Afghanistan, has to peer at a PowerPoint slide that is so complex it makes Spaghetti Junction look like a minor road network.

The latest computer-generated presentation of the security landscape in Afghanistan, delivered in a conference room at the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, was so tangled in arrows and lines that General McChrystal remarked, to guffaws from the assembled audience: "When we understand that slide, we'll have won the war."

PowerPoint briefings are de rigueur but are also the bane of the military commander's life. When VIPS are visiting he has to sit through a presentation he has already seen half a dozen times. But this one, for sheer complexity, has become so popular it has been circulating on the internet.

"PowerPoint makes us stupid," General James Mattis, of the US Marine Corps, said at a military conference this month in North Carolina. He spoke without the Microsoft-designed computerised charts and bullet points.

PowerPoint military briefing has become such an obsession that when a US Army platoon leader in Iraq was recently asked by Company Command, a military website, how he spent most of his time, he replied: "Making PowerPoint slides."

Brigadier-General Herbert McMaster, commander of the 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment in Iraq in 2005, told the same North Carolina conference that he had banned PowerPoint presentations when he led an operation to seize the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar.

"It's dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control," he said.

"Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable."


Afghanistan's rapid rise in cricket is simply stunning

Hamid Hassan's father did not want him to waste time on cricket when he was a boy, playing it with a tennis ball on the streets of his Afghanistan neighborhood. He once locked Hassan in a room to keep him from the game that seemed only to be child's play, an unworthy distraction from schoolwork.
In the coming days, all of Afghanistan is sure to be riveted as Hassan and his teammates compete in the ICC World Twenty20 tournament, cricket's World Cup. Among those who will watch the Afghan senior team play live on global television for the first time is Hassan's father.

"He called me this morning," Hassan, a 22-year-old bowler, said in a phone interview earlier this month from a training camp in the United Arab Emirates. "He said, 'How are you my son?' I said, 'I'm OK, Dad, just busy in cricket all the time.' He said, 'Good luck in the World Cup, and keep doing well.' "

Afghanistan, a country with just one primitive cricket ground, in Kabul, shocked the cricket world by qualifying for the Twenty20, being held in St. Lucia. With players who learned the game in refugee camps in Pakistan or on dusty streets back home, the team has risen in two years from 29th in the world to make the 12-team field at the Twenty20.

"Given the resources they've got, the conditions they are going through back home for the last 30 years, I would say it's a huge achievement for them," said Kabir Khan, a former top cricketer from Pakistan whose tenure as Afghanistan's coach spans the team's rapid ascent.

Hassan, a four-year national team veteran, compares the rise to the story line in one of his favorite movies, Rocky.

"He's a very small boxer, a poor boxer," Hassan says. "And then one champion, he challenges him. He just accepts the challenge, like our team."

Before Khan arrived, the team made progress through the lower cricket ranks but had coaches with few top-level credentials.

"He improved lots of things in the team — bowling, batting, fielding and how to play cricket," Hassan said of Khan, who also has coached in Pakistan and Scotland and for the United Arab Emirates team.

Afghanistan, competing in a group at the Twenty20 with traditional powers India and South Africa, opens play against India on Saturday, then plays South Africa on May 5. A win would reverberate throughout Afghanistan and the sports landscape.

"By beating India or South Africa in World Cup — just by winning a single match — it would be seen like Afghanistan beating England in a soccer game or Afghanistan beating an American team in baseball or basketball," Khan said.

In Afghanistan, Hassan said, it would be seen as something even more.

"Our people are very poor," he said. "They didn't see any happiness in their life. It would bring some joy and happiness."

Afghanistan does not enjoy a rich sports history, and that was further marred in recent decades by Taliban restrictions on athletic participation and the staging of public executions in Kabul's main sports stadium.

The country won its first Olympic medal just two years ago, a bronze in taekwondo at the Beijing Summer Games.

Success at the Twenty20 could be more than a climactic chapter in history. It could, Khan said, be pivotal to Afghanistan's future if it spurs the construction of cricket grounds across the country. Already, building is underway for a cricket stadium in Jalalabad.

"If those young generations are provided cricket grounds, with the way they love the game, it could help to make peace in Afghanistan in the future as well."


High Stakes in Obama's First Military Commission

In 2002, U.S. special forces captured Omar Khadr in a firefight with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Khadr was 15 at the time. Since then, he has been held at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay. This week, the U.S. finally begins Khadr's legal proceedings. But rather than appearing in a civilian court, he will be tried in a military commission, the first such commission under the Obama administration, which has struggled to decide between commissions or trials for other accused terrorists.

Born in Toronto, Khadr later moved with his family to Afghanistan, and is said to have grown up alongside the children of Osama bin Laden. His trial--and the approach the U.S. takes--will weigh one of the most complicated and troubled terrorism cases in a long war that has been full of complicated and troubled cases.

Tests Military Commissions vs. Civilian Trials Spencer Ackerman explains that Khadr's attorney's want his statements made while imprisoned at Gitmo to be considered coerced and thus unusable. "It's a big deal. If the judge agrees to suppress Khadr's statements, then every detainee before the commissions has a good chance of getting his statements suppressed. And that means the government will have a much tougher time obtaining convictions in the commissions. Since obtaining a conviction easier than in a federal court is a substantial (if un-conceded) aspect for the commissions' rationale, then Khadr's motion-to-suppress hearing is a critical test of the viability of the enterprise."
'Show Trial' Marcy Wheeler insists these are "Gitmo show trials" that prove, "A year and change later the same duplicity, bad faith, and specious claims based on vapor and evidence from torture permeates the Obama handling of Gitmo detainees as it did under Bush and Cheney." The Gitmo lawyers are "being trotted out to sell a return to military commissions with few established known standards, that have been scorned and blasted by a conservative Supreme Court and, just for kicks, the government is fighting tooth and nail ... for the admissibility of tortured confessions from a child."
Will Obama Transform Military Commissions? The Washington Independent's Spencer Ackerman writes, "What happens this week at Guantanamo will determine whether Obama's pledge that the new, revised military commissions can deliver internationally-recognized justice is meaningful." Obama condemned the commission system as a Senator. "At the end of the hearing, it will likely be possible to tell whether Obama's changes to the military commissions created and advocated by George W. Bush -- and most congressional Republicans -- are substantive or cosmetic."
Was He Tortured? The case will hinge around that question, says Human Rights Watch's Daphne Eviatar. She documents his treatment after his capture on the battlefield, when U.S. special forces shot him three times for, they say, throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier.
When Khadr regained consciousness a week later, U.S. forces brutally interrogated him in the tent hospital at Bagram, he says, shackling him into painful positions and denying him pain medication despite his serious wounds. Even before he'd healed, he was forced into stress positions with his wrists shackled to the ceiling, made to carry heavy buckets of water and clean floors on his hands and knees, and threatened with barking dogs while a bag was tied over his head, according to documents filed by his defense lawyers. Not allowed to use the bathroom during interrogations, Khadr was forced to urinate on himself, he says.

When he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay three months later, the abusive interrogations continued. Khadr says he was beaten, sleep-deprived, and threatened with torture and rape.

That treatment is likely to be the focus of hearings scheduled in Khadr's case this week. Khadr's lawyers claim that his statements in custody should not be used against him at trial because they were the products of torture.

Atlantic Wire

U.S. Begins Inquiry on Spy Network in Pakistan

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has opened an inquiry into whether a top Defense Department official violated Pentagon rules by setting up a network of private contractors to gather intelligence in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

A Pentagon spokesman said Tuesday that Mr. Gates was also demanding greater oversight over the millions of dollars the Defense Department spent annually to carry out “information operations,” to ensure that such missions did not “stray off course” into secret intelligence collection.
At the center of the Pentagon inquiry is Michael D. Furlong, a civilian official working for the Air Force who last year used a web of private contractors to clandestinely gather intelligence in Pakistan and Afghanistan. According to current and former government officials, some of that information was turned over to Special Operations troops to help fight militants.

Some American officials think that Mr. Furlong may have financed the secret network by improperly diverting money from an overt program to gather information about the tribal structures and political dynamics in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon’s inspector general is already conducting a criminal investigation into the matter. One focus of that investigation is whether Mr. Furlong engaged in contract fraud by channeling contracts to International Media Ventures, a media technology firm that American officials say Mr. Furlong used in the intelligence-gathering effort.

But even if no laws were broken, officials said, the inquiry announced on Tuesday will more clearly define the Pentagon’s boundaries in intelligence operations, and determine whether Mr. Furlong’s outsourcing of intelligence collection violated Pentagon rules.

The inquiry will be led by Mr. Gates’s senior aide in charge of intelligence oversight.

Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, said that a Pentagon team set up to do a quick study of Defense Department information operations — the area of warfare where information is used to achieve military ends — had found that the programs were well managed and had unearthed no evidence of operations similar to the one set up by Mr. Furlong.

“There do not seem to be any other alleged rogue information operations under way,” he said.

Since The New York Times last month revealed details about his contractor network, Mr. Furlong has given only one interview, telling a newspaper in San Antonio that all of his actions had been approved by senior military officials. He did not provide the names of these officials.

One of the contractors Mr. Furlong hired, officials said, was Duane Clarridge, a former C.I.A. officer whose history includes an indictment and subsequent presidential pardon for his role in the Iran-contra scandal.

Mr. Morrell said that despite the investigations into the Furlong case, Mr. Gates thought that information operations remained an essential tool for the military to carry out its strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Chavez denies elite Iranian forces in Venezuela

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez said on Monday a U.S. report was "absolutely false" that Iranian special forces had an increasing presence in his South American nation.

The report by the Pentagon to Congress earlier in April said the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' elite Qods force had a growing Latin American presence, "particularly in Venezuela."

That further fueled anxiety in Washington about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's increasing ties to the region, especially Brazil and Venezuela's fiery, socialist leader.

"Look at what they are saying," Chavez said during a ceremony carried on live television.

"If the U.S. applies sanctions to Iran, these forces that are here -- something that is absolutely false -- could then attack U.S. territory or U.S. interests with terrorist acts."

Chavez said the accusation was part of a tactic of intimidation against his government.

"Tell me this isn't an open threat by the government of the United States against Venezuela once again using infamy and lies," he said.

Chavez and Ahmadinejad, both vocally anti-American, have fostered ever-closer political and business ties between their OPEC member nations.

Venezuela supports Iran's nuclear program, despite the West's skepticism about Tehran's explanation that it is for peaceful purposes only.


U.N. moves some staff out of Afghanistan's Kandahar

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations moved some staff out of Afghanistan's southern Kandahar city and asked local staff to stay at home on Monday due to the deteriorating security situation there, a U.N. official said.

"In light of the security threat to U.N. compounds in Kandahar, several U.N. international staff were temporarily moved to Kabul while national staff were advised to stay home today," a U.N. official told Reuters.

The security situation in Kandahar has been growing worse in recent weeks, U.N. officials said. Two roadside bombs struck a convoy of Afghan police in Kandahar on Monday, killing two pedestrians and wounding another.

The Taliban has increased its attacks in Kandahar as the United States and NATO allies prepare for a major offensive there.

There are no plans for the United Nations to pull its staff out of Afghanistan, U.N. officials said.


Russia considers new powers for KGB successor

MOSCOW (AP) - Russia's parliament is considering a government-drafted bill that would increase the power of the security services and restore practices once associated with their Soviet predecessor, the KGB.

The legislation would allow Federal Security Service officers to summon individuals for informal talks and issue written warnings about "inadmissible" participation in anti-government activities such as protest rallies. It also appeared aimed at tightening controls on journalists.

It was unclear when the bill would come up for a vote, and in the meantime it could be amended or even scuttled. But in its current form the legislation continues a trend under Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer, who has allowed the security services to steadily regain power and influence at the expense of Russia's nascent democracy.

Since coming to power in 2000, Putin, now prime minister, has created an obedient parliament, abolished direct gubernatorial elections, presided over the reining in of non-state national television and cracked down on political dissent.

Like many of the past restrictions, the proposed new measures were described as part of an effort to combat extremism.

An explanatory note said some news organizations "propagate the cult of individualism, violence and mistrust in the government's capacity to protect its citizens, virtually drawing the youth to extremism."

Journalists who refuse to follow the demands of security officers or prevent them from fulfilling their duties could face charges under the legislation.

The bill, submitted Saturday, followed the twin subway bombings last month that killed 40 people. One of the bombers hit the Lubyanka subway station, beneath the headquarters of the security service.

The speaker of parliament's lower house, Boris Gryzlov, had sharply criticized two major Russian newspapers for their coverage, implying they had taken the side of the terrorists by noting that the attacks may have been motivated by the Kremlin's harsh policy in the North Caucasus.

Human rights advocates and opposition leaders said the new measures could be used to violate the rights of government critics and further curtail media independence.

"I am shocked by how brazen they are," said Lyudmila Alexeyeva, the 82-year-old head of the Moscow Helsinki Group. "It's not even like Soviet times, when they (KGB officers) were under Communist Party control."

An opposition leader who has faced intimidation and pranks by pro-Kremlin youth groups said the law would only legitimize FSB officers' abusive treatment of Kremlin critics and ordinary Russians.

"The FSB has had these rights without these laws," said Ilya Yashin, who leads the youth movement of the liberal party Yabloko. "The situation is sickening, the public has no way of controlling them."

A Communist Party lawmaker said he was concerned about vague wording that would leave the legislation open to interpretation.

"The law is written in such a way that makes it hard to guess how it would work in practice," said Viktor Ilyukhin, a former prosecutor. "I have no doubts that it would open the way for arbitrary interpretations."

The Communist Party is the last remaining faction that occasionally opposes Kremlin-backed bills in the State Duma, the lower house.


Lawmakers brawl in Ukraine over pro-Russia measure

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) - The speaker of Ukraine's parliament huddled under umbrellas as eggs rained down and smoke bombs filled the chamber with an acrid cloud. Then the lawmakers attacked each other, punching and brawling in the aisles.

The chaos erupted Tuesday as parliament approved a treaty allowing Russia to extend the lease on a naval base in a Ukrainian port on the Black Sea until 2042 - a move bitterly opposed by pro-Western lawmakers. Ukraine would get cheap natural gas from Russia in exchange.

Russia's influence in Ukraine has surged since the February election victory of pro-Kremlin President Viktor Yanukovych, infuriating Ukrainians who resent Moscow's influence and inflaming the violent passions that plague the politics of the former Soviet republic.

The controversy over the home port for the Russian Black Sea Fleet has been one of the most emotionally charged consequences of the breakup of the Soviet Union. After the Soviet collapse, Russia found one of its major fleets based in a foreign country's port - Sevastopol, on the Crimean peninsula that extends from mainland Ukraine into the Black Sea, about 200 miles from the nearest Russian territory.

Ukrainian nationalists who resented Moscow's long dominance of their land regarded the Russian fleet's presence as tantamount to military occupation. Former President Viktor Yushchenko, who tilted toward the West, had vowed that the fleet's lease of the port would not be renewed when it expired in 2017.

Yanukovych and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed last week that the lease would be extended for 25 years past that expiration. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin discussed the matter Monday in Kiev with Yanukovych.

As parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn opened Tuesday's legislative session, opposition members threw eggs at him, forcing him to preside behind two black umbrellas held by aides.

Opposition lawmakers draped a huge Ukrainian flag over their seats, a signal they would abstain from voting.

Lytvyn defiantly forged ahead amid the falling eggs, calling lawmakers to the stand to make their case on the Black Sea Fleet deal.

About seven minutes into the session, a smoke bomb went off underneath the draped flag and another was hurled from the back of the gallery. The chamber filled with an acrid cloud as smoke alarms went off - unprecedented scenes in the parliament.

The lawmakers' bickering deteriorated into members throwing punches and grappling during the nationally televised session. The opposition bloc Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense said one of its lawmakers was hospitalized with a concussion after fighting with Yanukovych's party.

Outside, riot police kept back crowds of opposition supporters trying to get closer to the parliament building, which was surrounded by Yanukovych supporters. Passions among the thousands of protesters became heated after the vote, but they quickly simmered down. No arrests were reported.

The base extension passed with 236 votes in the 450-member parliament.

Opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko vowed it wouldn't last.

"Today is a black page in the history of Ukraine's independence. Sevastopol is the first step. The next one will be the Crimea," she told reporters. "Parliament ratified this agreement on a treacherous path. We will change it as soon as we return to power."

In Moscow, the measure passed 410-0 in the Russian State Duma, although some lawmakers were concerned that Ukraine might someday repeal it.

"There's no certainty that the agreement will be fulfilled by the Ukrainian side," said Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the nationalist Liberal Democratic party. "In 10 years there may be another Yushchenko in power."

In return for the lease extension, Russia agreed to significant discounts on natural gas exports to Ukraine.

Russian officials have calculated the discounts to be worth $40 billion over 10 years to Ukraine's heavily industrialized economy, which has been battered by the global financial crisis.

The reduced gas prices are also likely to bolster Yanukovych's popularity.

Analysts here say the naval base deal will trigger a deeper split in Ukrainian society between the Russian-speaking east and south, and the staunchly nationalist western region.

With the Black Sea Fleet deal, Putin can check off another goal as he sets about reasserting Russia's political, economic and military authority over its former Soviet neighbors. Since Russia itself acquired a semblance of stability on the back of high energy prices after the chaotic 1990s, it can afford to use economic incentives to gain obedience from its neighbors.

Russian officials have watched in horror as nations once in its orbit have courted greater integration with the West - in particular, discussions in Ukraine and Georgia on possible NATO membership and increased trade and cooperation with the European Union.

Western-leaning Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili suffered a blow to his reputation over the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, which began when he ordered the shelling of a town in a separatist-held part of the country. Russian tanks emphatically repelled the Georgian offensive, and Moscow approved the declaration of independence of South Ossetia and another rebel province, Abkhazia - both governed by Russia-friendly separatists. The West still considers the provinces sovereign Georgian territory.

The recent uprising in Kyrgyzstan that has seen the deposed President Kurmanbek Bakiyev flee to Belarus was welcomed in Russia, which has agreed to provide aid to interim officials. Bakiyev has said from exile that his reneging on a promise to Russian officials to close a U.S. military base there was a factor in his overthrow. The Manas air base, crucial to U.S.- and NATO-led missions in nearby Afghanistan, is staying open - for now.

Also Tuesday, Yanukovych addressed the Council of Europe, where more signs of his pro-Russian streak emerged. He said the Stalinist famine of the 1930s that killed millions should not be considered genocide against Ukrainians because its victims were targeted indiscriminately. Moscow has long pressed that view, which Yanukovych's predecessor Yushchenko has rejected.


Baghdad Named Most Dangerous Paranormal Haunted Location In The World

Cr: Hayjax Files

From Haunted American Tours

1. Baghdad, Iraq

The World's Most Dangerous Countries are often the most haunted. And no place is more haunted by ghosts and strange presences then in Baghdad Iraq.

Many young soldiers have reported to me personally that they see ghosts on a daily basis. and many paranormal encounters are going there that defy explanation. From being haunted by the ghosts of lost comrades. to those killed in bombings. the ghosts of Baghdad are the most active in the world today. And certainly the most dangerous place to be exploring the paranormal goings on.

The risk of losing ones life and you becoming a real ghost while investigating actual ghosts and hauntings could never be higher then of course in Baghdad Iraq.


Debbie Schlussel: With Women, Obama Turning U.S. Navy Into “Village People’s” Navy


With Women, Obama Turning U.S. Navy Into “Village People’s” Navy

By Debbie Schlussel

Several months ago, I told you about Barack Obama’s boneheaded plan to put women in Navy submarines, where there are very close quarters, and thus, sanitary and sex issues. It’s not a good idea. And as I noted, when women were put on ships, it immediately resulted in many of them getting pregnant, with many of them having to be sent home during the first Gulf War on one ship alone.



But logic, facts, and consequences aren’t important to the Obama administration, especially not as important as pleasing special interests, like the feminist crowd. So, the Obama-niks okayed it, and women are now being phased into Navy subs.

And the Obama people are declaring victory, no problems, everything’s a success. Obama’s Navy Secretary Ray Mabus says he’s getting “little or no resistance inside the Navy” since announcing he’s letting women serve aboard.

PUH-LEEZE. Imagine you are an officer in the Navy, perhaps a commanding officer of many troops, maybe even a high-ranking Admiral.

Read the rest of this entry »

Labels: ,

Monday, April 26, 2010

U.S. ambassador says Iraq must act faster in establishing a new government

BAGHDAD -- U.S. Ambassador Christopher R. Hill expressed deep concern Monday about how slowly Iraqi officials have moved to seat a new government, saying they need to "get this show on the road."

U.S. officials see the formation of a new government and a smooth transfer of power as crucial precursors to the scheduled drawdown of all but 50,000 troops by the end of August.

Hill's unusually blunt comments reflect growing U.S. anxiety about a process that has been slowed by a host of factors. They include the close results from the March 7 parliamentary elections, a recently ordered manual recount of the approximately 2.4 million ballots cast in Baghdad, and ongoing efforts to disqualify candidates for alleged sympathies to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.

"Obviously, one would like to see them pick up the pace," Hill told journalists at the U.S. Embassy on Monday evening. "While we always knew this was going to be a tough period, we are approaching almost seven weeks" since the vote.

The leaders of the two blocs that garnered the most votes, Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Sunni-backed secular Shiite Ayad Allawi, contend that there were serious irregularities that affected the elections' outcome. Maliki, whose coalition trailed Allawi's by two seats, demanded the manual recount.

Allawi says rival Shiite politicians, acting with Maliki's blessing, abused the authority of a commission empowered to weed out Baath sympathizers in order to weaken his bloc.

"I would say this is a close election, which has caused great strain, great challenges to all of Iraq's nascent democratic institutions," Hill said. He added that the judicial system, which has had to weigh in on some of the disputes, "has not been immune."

Adding to the uncertainty, Iraqi officials announced Monday that at least one candidate in Allawi's bloc had been found unfit for office because of alleged ties to the Baath Party.

If an appeals panel signs off on that decision, and if other elected candidates in Allawi's Iraqiya slate are disqualified in the coming days, the bloc could lose its two-seat lead. That would further delay the process and could trigger anger among Sunnis.

The Obama administration ordered the military in early 2009 to draw down to 50,000 troops by the end of August 2010. The assumption was that elections would be held in December or January and that a new government would be in place well before the deadline.

Despite a three-month delay and the recent wrangling, U.S. commanders say they are still on track to meet the drawdown deadline. Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, has said he would determine two months after the vote whether the drawdown timeline remains sensible.

After the December 2005 parliamentary elections, it took nearly six months to form a government. At the time, Iraqi officials did not have to grapple with candidate disqualifications or manual recounts.

Some Iraqi and U.S. officials see dangerous parallels between the current impasse and the one that followed the 2005 vote, when feelings of Sunni disenfranchisement helped fuel the worst period of the insurgency.

"We are facing a dangerous slippery slope," said Atheel al-Nujaifi, a leading figure in the Iraqiya slate. "No one can predict its consequences."

In 2006, Sunni extremists began attacking Shiite militias by using powerful bombs. Similar attacks in recent weeks, including Friday's bombings targeting Shiite worshipers, have raised fears that Shiite militias could once again take up arms in areas where residents feel abandoned by the government.

Unlike in the period after the 2005 elections, the current political disputes have been largely peaceful. Iraqi and U.S. officials say an outbreak of political violence is less likely now because Iraq's security forces are stronger and less politicized than they were in 2006. But many say a lengthy period of government paralysis raises the probability of a new outbreak of violence.

"Right now the violence is not a strategic threat to the state," said Brett McGurk, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who served as a senior Iraq adviser to the Bush and Obama administrations. "If there is a sense that the drivers of violence are political parties, then you start to have the seeds of a breakdown."


Computers Seized at Home of Gizmodo Reporter Who Wrote About iPhone, Gawker Media Says

Gawker Media said on Monday that computers belonging to one of its editors, Jason Chen, were seized from his home on Friday as part of what appeared to be an investigation into the sale of a next-generation iPhone.

One of Gawker’s blogs, Gizmodo, published articles last week about the future phone after purchasing the device for $5,000 from a person who found it at a bar in California last month.

Gawker’s chief operating officer, Gaby Darbyshire, said it expected the immediate return of the computers and servers.

“Under both state and federal law, a search warrant may not be validly issued to confiscate the property of a journalist,” she wrote in a letter to San Mateo County, Calif., authorities on Saturday. “Jason is a journalist who works full time for our company,” she continued, adding that he works from home, his “de facto newsroom.”

“It is abundantly clear under the law that a search warrant to remove these items was invalid. The appropriate method of obtaining such materials would be the issuance of a subpoena,” Ms. Darbyshire continued.

The letter was shared on Monday afternoon by Nick Denton, the founder and president of Gawker Media. “Are bloggers journalists? I guess we’ll find out,” Mr. Denton said in an instant message.

It became apparent last weekend that the authorities in San Mateo County were considering whether to file criminal charges in connection with the sale of the phone, which was returned to Apple by Gizmodo last week.

According to people familiar with the investigation, who would not speak on the record because of the potential legal case, charges would most likely be filed against the person or people who sold the prototype iPhone, and possibly the buyer.

The documents published by Gizmodo indicate that the Web site was clearly girding for a legal fight. Ms. Darbyshire had sent an e-mail message on Friday to Mr. Chen before the police action, outlining the state law regarding warrants for information gathered by journalists.

“In the circumstances, we expect the immediate return of the materials that you confiscated from Mr. Chen,” she wrote.

In his account of the events, published on Gizmodo, Mr. Chen said that when he arrived home around 9:45 p.m. on Friday, the authorities told him they had been there for a “few hours already,” searching the home and cataloging computers and servers.

The warrant published by Gizmodo said the officers had probable cause that Mr. Chen’s home “was used as the means of committing a felony.”

A spokesperson for the San Mateo police said the department was “not allowed to comment.”


Is public talk about PTSD making it harder for vets?

Since men and women started returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, much attention has been paid to military mental health and the invisible wounds of war--particularly post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

With suicides among veterans outpacing battlefield combat losses, the military and the veterans' community have made a concerted effort to help those suffering from combat stress-related conditions seek the care they need, and the media has reported extensively on these efforts. But is there a downside to all this public attention?

In light of daunting unemployment figures among young Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, AMVETS has heard from many young veterans who have experienced some kind of passive discrimination in their own job hunts. Civilian employers have balked at the potential negatives that come with hiring a veteran, such as the perception of instability.

Over the last few years, veterans' advocates and media outlets have called attention to how PTSD is a normal reaction to the abnormal and profound realities of combat. This message was intended to help veterans recognize it is okay to seek counseling while readjusting to civilian life. Unfortunately, the public may have received the message differently, assuming that all of today's military men and women must suffer from some kind of mental illness. In spite of all the "support the troops" rhetoric, this attitude is unfortunately reminiscent of the repugnant Vietnam-era stereotype of the crazy veteran.

To those of us who live inside the military bubble, it is hard to understand why a veteran would not be an attractive candidate to a potential employer. We work well under pressure, we have proven leadership skills, we are often responsible for handling expensive equipment and sensitive information. Plus, we are punctual, selfless and professional. Why do we continue to fail to convey these overwhelmingly positive characteristics to potential civilian employers?

Last month, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that more than 30 percent of veterans ages 18-24 are unemployed--nearly twice the national average compared to their non-veteran counterparts. Though we could point to transitional program shortfalls as a contributor to this unconscionable figure, we must also ask whether we have actually succeeded in dispelling the negative stigma associated with military mental health, or whether all of the attention has only exacerbated the problem, further degrading the public's perception of today's veterans.

What's your view? Tell us about your experiences either as a returning veteran, family member, employer or observer of this phenomenon. Post your comments on the comment board below, and thanks for joining the conversation.


U.S. shifts Afghan mission

LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. — Air Force spy planes flying above Afghanistan have shifted their focus from solely tracking insurgents to monitoring developments in daily life for Afghan citizens, commanders say.
That's a reflection, they say, of top commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal's emphasis on improving the lives of Afghans and limiting civilian casualties.

"What he's looking at is, how well is this school being built?" said Col. Dan Johnson, the top commander for intelligence-gathering operations here. "What's the status of that? We're going into this next area, can we move our construction teams into this area? Is it safe? Those are the different things that he wanted to shift to and the thought process. That goes against the kind of traditional security that we provide our troops out there."

McChrystal has changed many elements of military policy since his arrival in Afghanistan last year. In January, his top intelligence aide, Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, issued a paper that criticized the military for gathering information almost exclusively on enemy activity. That focus, he wrote, failed to provide information that can help commanders understand Afghan culture and the everyday concerns of its people.

The shift in intelligence-gathering makes sense given McChrystal's strategy of protecting civilians, said Stephen Biddle, a defense expert at the Council on Foreign Relations who also has served as an adviser to McChrystal. Commanders need to know where the Taliban have set up shadow courts and governments to cow local populations, he said. Knowing that allows commanders to send troops to where they are needed most.

"The intelligence system has been designed to kill insurgents," Biddle said. "If you want to protect civilians, you need information about a whole collection of things we weren't collecting."

To gather more intelligence about Afghan life, the Air Force has shifted the bulk of its fleet of drones and manned spy planes in the Middle East to Afghanistan. Now, 85% of those aircraft are in Afghanistan compared with 30% last year, according to Johnson. The remainder are in Iraq.

The Air Force relies on piloted planes such as the high-flying U-2 spy plane and new, twin-prop MC-12 Liberty planes as well as drones such as the Reaper and Predator, to deliver photo and video feeds of activity on the ground. Some planes also have sensors that intercept phone and radio communication.

The top new challenge for intelligence officers: finding the right way to measure success in Afghanistan, said Col. Mark Cooter, commander of the 497th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group at Langley.

That may mean, for example, monitoring lines at a gas station to help determine whether there are local shortages, said Lt. Col. Brendan Harris, who commands an intelligence squadron.

Images that show people active at night — or holed up in their homes — can help commanders determine areas that are free of insurgent activity, Biddle said.

"It's getting down into the different tribes, the different communities that are out there," Johnson said. "It's understanding their culture, their needs."

Better cultural understanding won't be enough to cure drug trafficking and corruption, Afghanistan's biggest problems, said John Pike, director of The drug trade helps finance the Taliban and corruption kills Afghan support for the government. Spy planes won't do much to change that, he said.

"No amount of improving the quality of life of the Afghan people is going to diminish funding for the Taliban," Pike said. "As long as the Taliban is fully funded, they're always going to find more trigger-pullers."

Meantime, traditional spy-plane missions remain in demand in Afghanistan, Johnson said.

In the offensive to retake the town of Marjah from the Taliban in March, Johnson's airmen were asked to scout a road to be used by a U.S. convoy. Secret information about the operation, declassified at the request of USA TODAY, showed that airmen analyzing images from spy planes found three caches of weapons and a roadside bomb on the route.

Demand for spy planes will increase this summer, Johnson said, as the U.S.-led coalition aims to secure Kandahar, Afghanistan's second-largest city.


Obama’s First Military Commission Trial: A Child Soldier

This week, Omar Khadr, the 15-year-old Canadian arrested by US forces in Afghanistan eight years ago, will finally face a trial.

Or not.

Although the defense department’s Office of Military Commissions sent out notices weeks ago saying Khadr’s trial starts this week, the military’s more recent notices to observers suggest that this week we won’t actually see a trial — we’ll see a pre-trial evidentiary hearing instead.

That’s typical of the military commissions, a quasi-court system set up in Guantanamo Bay to try detainees in the war on terror – what the Obama administration calls "unlawful enemy belligerents." (President Bush called them "enemy combatants.")

Regular observers of the military commissions are used to the confusion, misinformation and delay. After all, the military doesn’t post the schedules or documents filed in military commission cases on its web site or any other publicly accessible place, the way the government does for regular federal court trials. But if it’s annoying to observers, for the detainees themselves, who have been imprisoned at the military installation for up to eight years without a trial, the confusing stop-and-start nature of the proceedings have much more serious consequences.

Omar Khadr, for example, has been imprisoned without trial for more than one third of his 23 years. His trial, when and if it goes forward, will be the first military commission trial to be held under the Obama administration.

Accused of throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan in July 2002, Khadr — a Canadian citizen whose family moved to Afghanistan in 1996 — claims he is innocent. And there appears to be strong evidence to support that. According to a report in the Toronto Star, classified documents in the case indicate that "Khadr was buried face down under rubble, blinded by shrapnel and crippled, at the time the Pentagon alleges that he threw a grenade that fatally wounded a U.S. soldier."

Khadr was captured after a gunfight between U.S. forces and al Qaeda fighters. By the time he landed in US custody, he’d been shot twice in the back and once in the shoulder, struck with shrapnel in his right eye and wounded in his left leg.

When Khadr regained consciousness a week later, U.S. forces brutally interrogated him in the tent hospital at Bagram, he says, shackling him into painful positions and denying him pain medication despite his serious wounds. Even before he’d healed, he was forced into stress positions with his wrists shackled to the ceiling, made to carry heavy buckets of water and clean floors on his hands and knees, and threatened with barking dogs while a bag was tied over his head, according to documents filed by his defense lawyers. Not allowed to use the bathroom during interrogations, Khadr was forced to urinate on himself, he says.

When he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay three months later, the abusive interrogations continued. Khadr says he was beaten, sleep-deprived, and threatened with torture and rape.

That treatment is likely to be the focus of hearings scheduled in Khadr’s case this week. Khadr’ s lawyers claim that his statements in custody should not be used against him at trial because they were the products of torture.

The Military Commissions Act of 2009 prohibits the use of coerced statements except under very narrow circumstances that don’t apply to Khadr’s case.

In another case also involving tortured confessions from an adolescent, a military commission judge ruled that the statements of Mohamed Jawad, an Afghan whose family says he was 12 when arrested, could not be used against him because they’d been coerced by interrogators who’d threatened to kill him and his family. The government eventually dropped the case.

Khadr’s lawyer are hoping their client will get similar treatment. But even if the case proceeds, it has many other problems.

For one thing, Khadr was only 15 when he was captured, and it’s not clear that military commissions have jurisdiction over juveniles. No military commission has tried a child soldier since Nuremberg. Military court-martials don’t try children, and a U.N. treaty on the rights of children in armed conflict ratified by the United States a month before Khadr was detained requires that child soldiers be treated as victims entitled to rehabilitation rather than as combatants to be punished. The Military Commissions Act, for its part, says nothing about jurisdiction over juveniles. And the commissions have no codified procedures or rules.

Equally fundamental is that the military commissions were created to try war crimes. But even if Khadr were guilty of the acts charged – murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, and aiding the enemy – those aren’t really war crimes. At least, they weren’t war crimes until Congress declared them to be in the Military Commissions Act of 2006 — four years after Khadr allegedly committed them. So to try Khadr for war crimes now is a violation of the Ex Post Facto clause of the U.S. Constitution, Khadr’s lawyers point out. (Khadr could, of course, be tried in a civilian court for the crimes of murder and conspiracy.)

Khadr’s case, then, underscores many of the fundamental problems with the military commission system – that it has no rules, little experience, almost no precedent and barely any law to guide it.

So why did the Obama administration decide to make the case of Omar Khadr its first trial in a military commission?

If the administration is hoping to showcase the strength of its military and the president’s tough stance on terrorism, this probably wasn’t the best way to do it.