Contact Me By Email

Atlanta, GA Weather from Weather Underground

Saturday, August 21, 2004

CNN > Kerry files FEC complaint against swift boat group Accuses 527 of illegally working with Bush campaign

CNN) -- The Kerry presidential campaign filed a complaint Friday with the Federal Election Commission, alleging that ads from an anti-Kerry veterans' group are inaccurate and "illegally coordinated" with Republicans and the Bush-Cheney campaign.
The complaint -- filed against Swift Boat Veterans for Truth -- states that "... there is overwhelming evidence that SBVT is coordinating its expenditures on advertising and other activities designed to influence the presidential election with the Bush-Cheney campaign."
A spokesman for the group, composed of Vietnam veterans who served on swift boats, said it had no response to the complaint. Members have previously denied coordinating with the Bush campaign.
A spokesman for the Bush campaign dismissed the complaint as "frivolous and false," but said it welcomed a broader look at the so-called 527 groups, tax-exempt organizations that engage in political activities.
Congress banned the use of unregulated "soft money" by political parties and certain political groups in 2002, but that law did not address activity by 527s, named for a section of the federal tax code.
"The Bush campaign filed FEC complaints [in early May] requesting an investigation of the coordination between the Kerry campaign and the Media Fund and ACT [America Coming Together]," campaign spokesman Taylor Griffin told CNN, naming two left-leaning 527s.
In its complaint, the RNC named the Kerry campaign, 28 groups and at least two large donors. The RNC charged that the groups violated campaign finance reform law by illegally raising what is known as "soft money." The complaint said the 527 groups were coordinating advertising efforts with the Kerry campaign and the Democratic Party. (Full story)
The Kerry campaign has denied any collusion with those groups.
Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona said Friday that President Bush "has been the recipient of 527 ads which are terrible, and in my view very, very inappropriate." McCain charged that all 527 ads are illegal. Previously he has asked both Kerry and Bush to condemn the critical ads.
Campaign officials with Kerry in Florida said the complaint notes a New York Times report of "a web of connections to the Bush family, high-profile Texas political figures, and President Bush's chief political aide, Karl Rove."
The complaint cites "journalistic research discrediting" the group's allegations and states that a member of the group's steering committee "admitted" on television that the group's intent was to defeat Kerry.
Kerry's complaint came as the veterans group released a new ad Friday that takes issue with comments Kerry made after he returned from Vietnam.
The ad is part of a $600,000 buy, funded primarily by Republican contributors from Texas, according to federal records.
"This Republican front group for Bush is out of credibility after being caught in lie after lie day after day," Kerry campaign spokesman David Wade said.
The group has no direct connection to the Bush campaign, and group members said they have acted independently of the president's re-election effort.
Selected comments
The latest ad selects quotes from Kerry's testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971. In the ad, Kerry says, "They had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads," "randomly shot at civilians," and "razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Kahn."
The ad does not include Kerry's preface, in which he said he is reporting what others said at a Vietnam veterans conference. Instead, a swift boat group member refers to the statements as "accusations" Kerry made against Vietnam veterans.
An official transcript shows Kerry was referring to a meeting in Detroit, Michigan, that was part of what was called the Winter Soldier investigation. He told the Senate committee that veterans had testified to war crimes and relived the "absolute horror of what this country, in a sense, made them do."
Kerry has said he regrets some of the comments but stands by his protests.
Swift Boat Veterans for Truth recently released another ad accusing Kerry of lying to get his Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, a charge Kerry and some veterans dispute.(Full story)
A new survey of more than 2,200 people suggests the ad about Kerry's service medals reached a wide audience. Of all people polled, 59 percent believed Kerry earned his medals, while 21 percent believed he did not.
Responses fell largely along party lines, with more than 75 percent of Democrats and 59 percent of independents stating Kerry earned his medals, and 61 percent of Republicans stating he did not.
The University of Pennsylvania's National Annenberg Election Survey was conducted between August 9 and Monday.



CNN > Wrongfully convicted man free after 40 years behind bars

LUFKIN, Texas (AP) -- A 76-year-old man who spent nearly every day of the last four decades in prison walked free after a judge found that deputies extracted his confession to a 1962 robbery by crushing his fingers between cell bars.
After walking out of the Angelina County jail Tuesday with his wife, Robert Carroll Coney said he was not bitter.
"I'm going to try to pick up the pieces," Coney said. "If I was angry, what could I do about it?"
Coney was convicted of robbing a Safeway supermarket in 1962 and sentenced to life in prison. Many times he escaped from facilities in other states -- including South Carolina, Louisiana and Mississippi -- only to be recaptured each time. He was returned to the Texas prison system last year.
Coney said his identity had been confused with a man he had carpooled with through Lufkin on the day of the robbery.
State District Judge David Wilson, who dismissed Coney's charges, investigated and found that the sheriff of Angelina County at the time and his deputies used physical force to extract confessions, often crushing prisoners' fingers between jail cell bars.
When Wilson questioned Coney, the prisoner held up two twisted and bent fingers.
"I remember the sheriff well," Coney said.
He said the jailers, in addition to mangling his hand, threatened his life and scared him into confessing. Wilson's findings stated Coney probably did not see a lawyer until he stood before a judge in the case with then-court-appointed lawyer Gilbert Spring. Spring said he didn't remember Coney's case and told Wilson that courts frequently called attorneys in the 1960s to stand with defendants for no money.
"It really contains everybody's worst fears about what went on during certain darker years in this country," said Huntsville attorney David P. O'Neill, who worked on Coney's case.
Coney said he may consider a civil suit at some point but initially wants to focus on his family.
Holding his wife's hand as he left the jail Tuesday for their Dallas home, Coney said little about the ordeal.
"We're going home," Coney said.



New York Times > August 21, 2004 STANDOFF IN NAJAF Clashes Slow as Cleric's Grip on Mosque Seems to Slip

By ALEX BERENSON and SABRINA TAVERNISE
NAJAF, Iraq, Aug. 20 - Moktada al-Sadr, the rebel Shiite cleric, still seemed to retain control of the shrine of Imam Ali here late on Friday, though there were signs his grip might be weakening as the number of fighters loyal to him in the mosque dwindled to a few hundred.
Earlier in the day, forces loyal to Mr. Sadr said he had promised to "turn over the keys" of the sacred mosque to aides to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, building optimism about an imminent end to the two-week standoff between Mr. Sadr's guerrillas, American forces and the interim Iraqi government.
Ayad Allawi, the interim Iraqi prime minister, who on Thursday issued a "final call" to Mr. Sadr to quit the mosque, quickly hailed the cleric's offer to cede control of the shrine and again called on him to disband his militia and form a political party. Yet, a few hours later, at about 10:30 p.m., Mr. Sadr broadcast a new statement from the shrine's loudspeakers calling on his followers to gather and fight American forces.
But skirmishes between American forces and Mr. Sadr's guerrillas slowed Friday after exploding Thursday night, and American troops said they would refrain from offensive operations for the immediate future. For their part, Mr. Sadr's fighters reportedly said they would stop carrying weapons inside the shrine, where hundreds of them have been holed up since the fighting began two weeks ago.
During the day, the fighters who make up Mr. Sadr's militia, called the Mahdi Army, slowly trickled out of the shrine, as American tanks and Humvees exchanged fire with enemy snipers less than half a mile from the entrance. "Many people have left," said a man who identified himself as Abu Mustafa, a Mahdi Army fighter. "The shrine is emptying."
The Iraqi Interior Ministry said Friday evening that Iraqi security forces controlled the shrine, a claim disputed both by witnesses and the Iraqi police.
In Washington, a senior administration official monitoring the situation in Najaf said Friday that Mr. Sadr's fighters had vacated the shrine. "We believe the Imam Ali mosque is now free of his fighters," the official said, "but the Iraqi police are not in there. We're getting a variety of reports from people on the ground."
Dr. Allawi said he was heartened by the day's developments. "There has been an improvement in the security situation in Iraq and especially in holy Najaf," he said in a statement. "Let this be the start of a new era and a free Iraq without armed militias." Late on Friday night, CNN reported that an Iraqi government delegation was scheduled to travel to Najaf to negotiate with Mr. Sadr. The report could not be immediately confirmed.
There were promising developments as well in the case of Micah Garen, the American freelance journalist seized Wednesday. Mr. Garen appeared in a video on Al Jazeera, the Arab satellite network, saying he was being well treated and calling on the American military to stop the fighting in Najaf. On Thursday, a top aide to Mr. Sadr had urged Mr. Garen's captors to let him go.
All sides have treaded carefully over the treacherous political ground surrounding the shrine. They know they all have much to lose, should the current stalemate descend into all-out war.
Mr. Sadr's guerrillas are no match for American forces and face destruction in a pitched battle. But any attack on the inner ring of Najaf's Old City, which surrounds the shrine, would inflame Shiite Muslims worldwide. And severe damage to the shrine, whether caused by American troops or Mr. Sadr's guerrillas, could provoke rebellion among Iraq's Shiites, who are a majority of the population.
So both the government and Mr. Sadr have alternated hawkish statements and peace overtures, playing a tricky game of bluffs and counter-bluffs as each tries to ascertain the other's breaking point. Meanwhile, American commanders here continue to plan for an attack on the Old City, while acknowledging they were not sure they would ever be told to carry out the assault.
The tightrope that the two sides are walking was clearly visible in the cemetery on Thursday and Friday. Late on Thursday night, American soldiers in tanks and armored vehicles pushed to its southern edge, just a few hundred yards from the mosque, where they fired tanks and heavy machine guns at buildings in the Old City.
But on Friday morning, American commanders at the Marine base on the northern edge of Najaf pulled their front line more than a mile back, supposedly to respect the fact that Friday is the Muslim holy day. The commanders then planned a mission for Friday night even more aggressive than the one they had Thursday, before abruptly scuttling it after it had already begun. That left the informal cease-fire in place and soldiers in the cemetery wondering whether they should plan for a night of violence or peace.
The quiet in the mosque on Friday was broken by occasional gunfire outside. Small groups of barefoot men lounged on carpets spread in the shade on the shrine's polished white marble floor. They appeared to be fewer than 300, far less than the 1,000 said to be in the shrine at the start of the fighting.
Small rooms behind wooden doors also contained men, though their numbers were not known. One such room contained a makeshift hospital where injured Mahdi militiamen were treated. On Friday, doctors had five injured men including one civilian - a teenage boy who had been selling ice cream when he was struck in the chest by a sniper's bullet.
"The danger is less," said a doctor dressed in blue hospital scrubs who identified himself as Dr. Amil. Still, large explosions could be heard in the city just after 1:30 a.m. Saturday morning.
On Friday, one of Mr. Sadr's spokesmen scurried in and out of the shrine bearing messages from Mr. Sadr, who was in an undisclosed location that many said was thought to be outside the Old City. The aide, Sheik Ahmed al-Sheibani, announced that Mr. Sadr had agreed to turn over control of the shrine to Ayatollah Sistani. He said Mr. Sadr's group had contacted Ayatollah Sistani, who is in London recovering from heart surgery. Ayatollah Sistani agreed to accept the keys, The Associated Press reported from London on Friday, as long as Mr. Sadr's militiamen left altogether. "If the people inside the holy shrine leave it altogether, lock the doors and place the key in an envelope and take it to Sistani's office in Najaf, then he has told his people there to receive the key," a spokesman for Mr. Sistani said.
Mr. Sheibani, eager to portray the apparent plans for withdrawal to Mr. Sadr's advantage, cast the proposed handover as a victory of Shiites over the government. "The agreement of Sistani is a hit to the government," he said Friday. "We cannot hand over this holy shrine to the government because the government is under the authority of occupation.''
The government for its part also claimed victory when a spokesman for the Iraqi Interior Ministry, Sabah Kadhim, made a surprise announcement earlier Friday that the Iraqi police had taken the shrine without firing a shot. But as late as 7 p.m. on Friday night, Mr. Sadr's militia still controlled its main entrance.
Though the shrine itself was relatively quiet, streets immediately to the south and east crackled with gunfire in a zone where Mahdi snipers fought with Americans. Passers-by waved white fabric and held their hands in the air while walking close to walls to avoid sniper fire.
Many of the Mahdi militia members in the shrine on Friday said they were not from Najaf. Some had come from Baghdad, others from Shiite towns farther south. They said they were drawn to calls by Mr. Sadr to defend Islam against an invading power. Imad Hussein said he left his rug business and three young children at home in Baghdad to join Mr. Sadr's followers here. "I'm defending our country, our holy places," he said. "What is making America so crazy is that we are fighting for our religion."
In Friday Prayer in the neighboring town of Kufa, a small aid operation for Najaf was taking place. Men were loading plastic bags of drinking water into wheelbarrows, and large sacks of flour were stacked high against the mosque's walls.
Another of Mr. Sadr's aides, Sheik Jabbar al-Hafaji, delivered the prayer on Friday. Mr. Hafaji said Mr. Sadr had asked Shiite elders to take over the shrine. "Even if it's not under the Mahdi Army, that's best for the Shiite leadership," he said. Mr. Sadr, he said, was on his way to martyrdom as American troops advanced in Najaf.
A woman with a 7-month-old baby knelt on a prayer rug. She said her 20-year-old son, Ali, was killed in April during Mr. Sadr's first uprising against the Americans. "I'm happy," she said, her face expressionless. "This is for religion."
Steven R. Weisman contributed reporting from Washingtonfor this article.


BBC > Burundi survivors to be relocated

Survivors of a massacre in a Burundi refugee camp are to be relocated away from the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, the UN says.
Burundi's government and the UNHCR have agreed to open two new camps for the 20,000 Congolese Tutsi refugees, who fled fighting in DR Congo in June.
Last Friday, attackers crossed over the border from DR Congo and killed more than 160 in Gatumba camp.
Fearing more attacks, refugees are leaving camps in search of shelter.
Food burnt
According to the UN's World Food Programme, conditions in Gatumba camp are very difficult for the 1,000 survivors.
"After the attack, all the food was burnt. There was a lot of destruction and they're very frightened," Peter Smerdon of the WFP told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.
He said the WFP was providing food for the refugees and a 15-day ration had been given to more than 100 wounded refugees being cared for in hospitals in the capital, Bujumbura.

The new sites for the camps are in Muramvya and Rutana provinces, south-east of Bujumbura, the UNHCR says.
Mr Smerdon said he hoped all Congolese refugees in the three camps along the border would be moved to the new centres in the near future.
A Burundi Hutu rebel group claimed responsibility for last week's attack, but some sources say they were aided by Hutu militias operating inside DR Congo.
The head of UN peacekeeping operations, Jean-Marie Guehenno, has warned that the massacre has brought the central African region to the brink of war.
Speaking to the UN Security Council on Thursday, he asked all parties to show "maximum restraint", saying "there has to be justice, not revenge".
"This horrific massacre of Gatumba [refugee camp] must not lead to a cycle of revenge," Mr Guehenno said.
Negotiation
Meanwhile, a dissident general in eastern DR Congo has backed down from the threat he made earlier this week to overthrow the Congolese government in response to the massacre.
Speaking in the Congolese border town of Goma late on Thursday, Gen Laurent Nkunda said war could still be avoided through negotiation.
Gen Nkunda took over the town of Bukavu in June, saying he was saving the Tutsi population, but later withdrew, admitting there had been no genocide.
Violence between the majority Hutu tribe and the minority Tutsis has afflicted the Great Lakes region of central Africa for more than a decade.



BBC > Google shines on its second day

Shares of Google have surged higher again on their second day of trading, as interest in the most closely-watched US public offering in years continued.
The internet search giant was boosted by a pair of positive comments from analysts, helping the shares add another 8%, or $7.98, to $108.31.
One broker gave Google a target price of $115 and the other was even more bullish, targeting it at $120.
This is a far cry from Google's humiliating offer price set at $85.
On its first day of trading, its shares rose 18%, closing above $100 on Thursday as Google concluded its controversial campaign to become a public company, making millionaires of almost half its employees.
Google's flotation ranks as the third-biggest IPO of the year and has attracted substantially more interest than usual because of its popular brand name.
"While we do not believe that revenue can continue to double, we believe that Google is a major beneficiary of the continued growth of global internet advertising and broadband development," said one analyst, John Tinker of Think Equity Partners.



BBC > Zimbabwe moves to restrict NGOs

Zimbabwe's government has published a proposed law that would ban foreign human rights organisations and restrict many local charities.
The bill requires non-governmental organisations to apply for a licence, but says none will be granted if the group's aim is to promote human rights.
Local groups would also be banned from receiving funds from abroad to finance work in such fields.
President Robert Mugabe has repeatedly accused NGOs of meddling in politics.
'Safety nets'
A key clause of the bill states that "no foreign non-governmental organisation shall be registered if its sole or principal objects involve or include issues of governance".
Issues of governance are defined as "the promotion and protection of human rights and political governance issues".
But the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations said the proposed law would criminalise groups which helped the most vulnerable in society, including the unemployed and those living with HIV/Aids.
"Unfortunately the bill criminalises a sector that is providing social safety nets to a lot of communities throughout the country," it said, the AP news agency reported.
Human rights campaigners have said the bill, if it became law, would have devastating effects.
The bill is expected to be passed through parliament to become law when parliament reconvenes later this year.



4 Utah.com > U.S., South Koreans fail to agree on timeline for withdrawal of American forces amid Seoul's concerns about defense against North


LAST UPDATE: 8/20/2004 5:51:29 PM
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - Top U.S. and South Korean defense officials failed Friday to agree on a timeline for the planned reduction of American forces on the divided peninsula amid Seoul's concerns the departing troops will weaken its defenses against North Korea.

The redeployment of some 12,500 troops away from South Korea is part of Pentagon plans for a worldwide realignment of American forces that President Bush has said would help the United States better respond to today's threats. His Democratic challenger John Kerry has criticized the move, saying it would embolden North Korea even as the international community seeks to get the communist nation give up its nuclear ambitions.

At talks Friday in the South Korean capital, the sides agreed 3,600 U.S. troops who have already left here for Iraq would be part of the redeployment. U.S. officials have previously said all the reassigned troops would depart by the end of 2005, bringing the total remaining to about 24,500.

But that timeline is now under discussion, U.S. Assistant Defense Secretary Richard Lawless said after two days of talks with his South Korean counterpart Ahn Kwang-chan, deputy defense minister for policy.

U.S. officials have insisted that a reduction in troops here won't lessen their fighting capability because of the advanced weapons in their arsenal. The moves are part of a transformation of the U.S. military championed by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to make it a more mobile and flexible force suited to fight the war on terror.

"The very highest priority in the world outside the continental United States is the Republic of Korea and it is here where we will transform our forces first," Lawless told reporters.

But South Korea hopes the Americans keep forces in the area including rocket launchers aimed at countering North Korean artillery as well as Apache attack helicopters. Ahn said Seoul is seeking to "minimize redeployment of forces vital to maintaining war deterrence capabilities against North Korea."

American troops have been deployed here since the 1950-53 Korean war that ended in a truce - leaving the two Koreas technically still at war. South Korea's some 650,000-strong military is believed to be outnumbered by a North Korean force that numbers about 1.1 million.
Â



Thursday, August 19, 2004

Herald Tribune > S. Korea to Ask U.S. to Delay Troop Cuts

By SOO-JEONG LEE
Associated Press Writer

SEOUL, South Korea South Korea is asking the United States to delay plans to slash the number of U.S. troops based on the divided Korean Peninsula during talks that started Thursday on the future of their military cooperation, a government official said.

Washington has notified Seoul of its plans to withdraw 12,500 of about 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea by the end of 2005, forcing South Korea's military to shoulder more responsibility for defending against any military aggression from North Korea. Some 3,600 Americans have already been sent from South Korea to Iraq.

"We want the United States to delay the plan a little bit more, and we plan to make such request at today's talks," a Defense Ministry official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Local media have reported that Seoul wants the plan to be postponed by more than a year.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Lawless will lead the American delegation during the two-day talks in Seoul.

During talks last month in Washington, U.S. and South Korean officials agreed to move all 8,000 U.S. military personnel currently based in Seoul to another city south of the capital by the end of 2008.

U.S. troops have been stationed here since the 1950-53 Korean War in a bid to deter any possible attack from the North. The U.S. soldiers, and an additional 650,000 troops from South Korea, remain on a war footing with the North because the war ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, meaning the two Koreas are technically still at war.

The planned U.S. troop reduction is seen as part of Washington's effort to realign its forces so they can better respond to emergencies worldwide.

Earlier this week, President Bush announced a plan to withdraw up to 70,000 U.S. troops from Cold War bases in Europe and Asia. John Kerry blasted the plan to pullback on the Korean Peninsula, saying it would embolden nuclear-armed North Korea while the international community is seeking to persuade it to give up its nuclear program.

Bush administration officials argue that although the number of U.S. troops in South Korea will decrease, the allies' defense capabilities won't be weakened.





Japan Today > Iran warns of preemptive strike to prevent attack on nuclear sites

Thursday, August 19, 2004 at 07:52 JST
DOHA — Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani on Wednesday warned that Iran might launch a preemptive strike against U.S. forces in the region to prevent an attack on its nuclear facilities.
"We will not sit with arms folded to wait for what others will do to us. Some military commanders in Iran are convinced that preventive operations which the Americans talk about are not their monopoly," Shamkhani told Al-Jazeera TV when asked if Iran would respond to an American attack on its nuclear facilities.
"America is not the only one present in the region. We are also present, from Khost to Kandahar in Afghanistan; we are present in the Gulf and we can be present in Iraq," said Shamkhani, speaking in Farsi to the Arabic-language news channel through an interpreter.
"The U.S. military presence in Iraq will not become an element of strength for Washington at our expense. The opposite is true, because their forces would turn into a hostage" in Iranian hands in the event of an attack, he said.
Shamkhani, who was asked about the possibility of an American or Israeli strike against Iran's atomic power plant in Bushehr, added: "We will consider any strike against our nuclear installations as an attack on Iran as a whole, and we will retaliate with all our strength.
"Where Israel is concerned, we have no doubt that it is an evil entity, and it will not be able to launch any military operation without an American green light. You cannot separate the two."
A commander of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards was quoted in the Iranian press earlier Wednesday as saying that Tehran would strike the Israeli reactor at Dimona if Israel attacks the Islamic republic's own burgeoning nuclear facilities.
"If Israel fires one missile at Bushehr atomic power plant, it should permanently forget about Dimona nuclear center, where it produces and keeps its nuclear weapons, and Israel would be responsible for the terrifying consequence of this move," General Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr warned.
Iran's controversial bid to generate nuclear power at its plant being built at Bushehr is seen by arch-enemies Israel and the United States as a cover for nuclear weapons development.
The latest comments mark an escalation in an exchange of threats between Israel and Iran in recent weeks, leading to speculation that there may be a repeat of Israel's strike against Iraqi nuclear facilities at Osirak in 1981.
Iran insists that its nuclear intentions are peaceful, while pointing at its enemy's alleged nuclear arsenal, which Israel neither confirms nor denies possessing.
Shamkhani told Al-Jazeera it was not possible "from a practical standpoint" to destroy Iran's nuclear programs because they are the product of national skills "which cannot be eliminated by military means."
He also warned that Iran would consider itself no longer bound by its commitments to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in the event of an attack.
"The execution of such threats to attack Iran's nuclear installations would mean that our cooperation with the IAEA led to feeding information about our nuclear facilities to the attacking side, which in turn means that we would no longer be bound by any of our obligations" to the nuclear watchdog, he said.
Diplomats said in Vienna Tuesday that the IAEA would not say in a report next month whether Iran's nuclear activities are of a military nature, nor will it recommend bringing the case before the UN Security Council.
The IAEA board is due to deliver the report on Iran's nuclear activities during a meeting at the organization's headquarters in Vienna from Sept 13 after the last of a group of IAEA inspectors returned from Iran last week.
The Islamic republic has agreed to temporarily suspend uranium enrichment pending the completion of the IAEA probe, but is working on other parts of the fuel cycle and has recently resumed making centrifuges used for enrichment. (Wire reports)



CNN > Retiring GOP congressman breaks ranks on Iraq Bereuter calls war 'a mistake'


From Ted Barrett
CNN Washington Bureau
Wednesday, August 18, 2004 Posted: 9:28 PM EDT (0128 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Breaking ranks with his party and reversing his earlier stance, a senior retiring Republican lawmaker said Wednesday the military strike against Iraq was "a mistake," and he blasted a "massive failure" of intelligence before the war.
The unexpected four-page statement came from Rep. Doug Bereuter of Nebraska, who until earlier this month was the vice chairman of the House Intelligence Committee -- a panel that reviewed much of the evidence the administration cited before going to war.
"I've reached the conclusion, retrospectively, now that the inadequate intelligence and faulty conclusions are being revealed, that all things being considered, it was a mistake to launch that military action, especially without a broad and engaged international coalition," Bereuter wrote in a four-page letter to his constituents.
"The cost in casualties is already large and growing, and the immediate and long-term financial costs are incredible."
Bereuter was particularly critical of the pre-war intelligence, which described an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But no such weapons have been found since the U.S.-led invasion.
Bereuter voted in support of an October 2002 resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq, but he said that vote was based on what he had been told about the WMD threat from Iraq.
"Left unresolved for now is whether intelligence was intentionally misconstrued to justify military action," Bereuter said.
After 26 years on Capitol Hill, Bereuter is retiring next month, and will become the president of Asia Foundation.
Congressional Republicans were surprised and angry at Bereuter's comments.
Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Illinois, a member of the intelligence committee, described Bereuter as "very bitter" for having been passed over in recent years to head both the intelligence and international relations committees. He suggested Bereuter's comments were a parting shot to House GOP leaders and President Bush.
An aide denied Bereuter was motivated to write the letter because he didn't get the appointments.
Rep. James Gibbons, R-Nevada, who is also on the intelligence panel, said Bereuter's new conclusions are wrong.
"The facts don't change. Iraq was a dangerous place," Gibbons said. "Mr. Bereuter is entitled to his opinion."
Bush officials tired to downplay the congressman's statement.
"He is not an opinion maker or someone who has taken a leadership role. I don't think you can take this as a sign his comments are a barometer of other Republican thinking," one Bush political aide said.
Bereuter's critique of the administration on Iraq was sharp.
He said the administration was wrong to disband the Iraqi army -- because so many of its members joined forces with the insurgents -- and was wrong to rely on the Defense Department instead of the State Department to spearhead reconstruction and the interim government.
He also said the administration was wrong to ignore military leaders who warned many more troops would be needed in Iraq to maintain the postwar peace.
"Now we are immersed in a dangerous, costly mess and there is no easy and quick way to end our responsibilities in Iraq without creating bigger future problems in the region and, in general, in the Muslim world," Bereuter said.
Bereuter said it was important for both the executive and legislative branches of government to learn from the "errors and failures" relating to the war in Iraq and its aftermath.
Some Democrats see Beureter's comments as a political plus in part because he argued the president should have gone to war in Iraq with a broader international coalition, as Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, has said.
But Bush aides pointed out a key difference between the two that could benefit the president politically: Kerry, answering a direct challenge from Bush, said recently he does not regret voting to authorize war.
Bush officials said they are in constant contact with congressional Republicans. They said they want to to keep them engaged in the president's campaign, and behind his argument that even knowing what he knows now, war in Iraq was the right thing to do.
CNN's Dana Bash contributed to this report.



MSNBC > Military records counter a Kerry critic Fellow skipper's citation refers to enemy fire

By Michael Dobbs
Updated: 11:12 p.m. ET Aug. 18, 2004
WASHINGTON - Newly obtained military records of one of Sen. John F. Kerry's most vocal critics, who has accused the Democratic presidential candidate of lying about his wartime record to win medals, contradict his own version of events.
In newspaper interviews and a best-selling book, Larry Thurlow, who commanded a Navy Swift boat alongside Kerry in Vietnam, has strongly disputed Kerry's claim that the Massachusetts Democrat's boat came under fire during a mission in Viet Cong-controlled territory on March 13, 1969. Kerry won a Bronze Star for his actions that day.
But Thurlow's military records, portions of which were released yesterday to The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act, contain several references to "enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire" directed at "all units" of the five-boat flotilla. Thurlow won his own Bronze Star that day, and the citation praises him for providing assistance to a damaged Swift boat "despite enemy bullets flying about him."
• More politics newsAs one of five Swift boat skippers who led the raid up the Bay Hap River, Thurlow was a direct participant in the disputed events. He is also a leading member of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a public advocacy group of Vietnam veterans dismayed by Kerry's subsequent antiwar activities, which has aired a controversial television advertisement attacking his war record.
In interviews and written reminiscences, Kerry has described how his 50-foot patrol boat came under fire from the banks of the Bay Hap after a mine explosion disabled another U.S. patrol boat. According to Kerry and members of his crew, the firing continued as an injured Kerry leaned over the bow of his ship to rescue a Special Forces officer who was blown overboard in a second explosion.
'Constant enemy small arms fire'
Last month, Thurlow swore in an affidavit that Kerry was "not under fire" when he fished Lt. James Rassmann out of the water. He described Kerry's Bronze Star citation, which says that all units involved came under "small arms and automatic weapons fire," as "totally fabricated."
"I never heard a shot," Thurlow said in his affidavit, which was released by Swift Boats Veterans for Truth. The group claims the backing of more than 250 Vietnam veterans, including a majority of Kerry's fellow boat commanders.
A document recommending Thurlow for the Bronze Star noted that all his actions "took place under constant enemy small arms fire which LTJG THURLOW completely ignored in providing immediate assistance" to the disabled boat and its crew. The citation states that all other units in the flotilla also came under fire.
"It's like a Hollywood presentation here, which wasn't the case," Thurlow said last night after being read the full text of his Bronze Star citation. "My personal feeling was always that I got the award for coming to the rescue of the boat that was mined. This casts doubt on anybody's awards. It is sickening and disgusting."
Thurlow said he would consider his award "fraudulent" if coming under enemy fire was the basis for it. "I am here to state that we weren't under fire," he said. He speculated that Kerry could have been the source of at least some of the language used in the citation.
In a telephone interview Tuesday evening after he attended a Swift Boat Veterans strategy session in an Arlington hotel, Thurlow said he lost his Bronze Star citation more than 20 years ago. He said he was unwilling to authorize release of his military records because he feared attempts by the Kerry campaign to discredit him and other anti-Kerry veterans.
The Post filed an independent request for the documents with the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, which is the central repository for veterans' records. The documents were faxed to The Post by officials at the records center yesterday.
Thurlow and other anti-Kerry veterans have repeatedly alleged that Kerry was the author of an after-action report that described how his boat came under enemy fire. Kerry campaign researchers dispute that assertion, and there is no convincing documentary evidence to settle the argument. As the senior skipper in the flotilla, Thurlow might have been expected to write the after-action report for March 13, but he said that Kerry routinely "duked the system" to present his version of events.
For much of the episode, Kerry was not in a position to know firsthand what was happening on Thurlow's boat, as Kerry's boat had sped down the river after the mine exploded under another boat. He later returned to provide assistance to the stricken boat.
Thurlow, an oil industry worker and former teacher in Kansas, said he was angry with Kerry for his antiwar activities on his return to the United States and particularly Kerry's claim before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that U.S. troops in Vietnam had committed war crimes "with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command."
Anti-Kerry TV ad
" 'Upset' is too mild a word," said Thurlow, a registered Republican, of his reaction to Kerry then. "He did it strictly for his own personal political gain, and it directly affected every single one of us as we were trying to put our lives together."
Two other Swift boat skippers who were direct participants in the March 13, 1969, mine explosion on the Bay Hap, Jack Chenoweth and Richard Pees, have said they do not remember coming under "enemy fire." A fourth commander, Don Droz, who was one of Kerry's closest friends in Vietnam, was killed in action a month later.
The incident featured prominently in an anti-Kerry television ad produced by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth earlier this month. "John Kerry lied to get his Bronze Star," says Van Odell, a gunner on PCF-23, one of the boats that came to the rescue of the stricken boat. "I know. I was there."
The Bronze Star controversy is also a major focus of an anti-Kerry book by John E. O'Neill, "Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry," which will hit No. 2 on The Post's bestseller list this weekend. The book accuses Kerry of "fleeing the scene" and lying repeatedly about his role.
Members of Kerry's crew have come to his defense, as has Rassmann, the Special Forces officer whom he fished from the river. Rassmann says he has vivid memories of being fired at from both banks after he fell into the river and as Kerry came to his rescue. The two had an emotional reunion on the eve of the Iowa Democratic caucuses in January, an event that some political analysts believe helped swing votes to Kerry at a crucial time.
The Bronze Star recommendations for both Kerry and Thurlow were signed by Lt. Cmdr. George M. Elliott, who received reports on the incident from his base in the Gulf of Thailand. Elliott is a supporter of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and has questioned Kerry's actions in Vietnam. But he has refused repeated requests for an interview after issuing conflicting statements to the Boston Globe about whether Kerry deserved a Silver Star. He was unreachable last night.
Money has poured into Swift Boat Veterans for Truth since the group launched its television advertisement attacking Kerry earlier this month. According to O'Neill, the group has received more than $450,000 over the past two weeks, mainly in small contributions. The Dallas Morning News reported yesterday that the organization has also received two $100,000 checks from Houston home builder Bob Perry, who backed George W. Bush's campaigns for Texas governor and for president.
Bush campaign officials have said they have no connection to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which is not permitted to coordinate its activities with a presidential campaign under federal election law.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company


New York Times > August 19, 2004 INSURGENCY Rebel Cleric in Najaf Sends Messages of Conciliation

By JOHN F. BURNS
AGHDAD, Iraq, Aug. 18 - Displaying the brinkmanship that has made him one of the United States' most powerful adversaries in Iraq, the rebel cleric Moktada al-Sadr sent last-minute messages of conciliation on Wednesday that appeared to have staved off an imminent assault on his fortress in the country's holiest Shiite shrine.
For two weeks, Mr. Sadr has led his militia force, known as the Mahdi Army, in some of the deadliest fighting with American troops since the invasion 16 months ago. But faced with a deadline of hours from Iraq's interim government to back down or face attack by Iraqi troops, he abruptly signaled a change of course, and suggested he would accept demands to vacate Imam Ali shrine in Najaf, disband his militia and transform it into a political party.
Not for the first time in his months of confrontation with American troops, Mr. Sadr's apparent backing down came hedged with uncertainties, among them that he spoke only through aides, and that they were vague on what exactly he had agreed to. One of his spokesmen in Najaf told news agencies that Mr. Sadr was insisting, before any concessions, on a cease-fire that would require American and Iraqi troops to pull back from positions around the shrine, a move that would yield territory won in recent days.
Meanwhile, fighting continued in Najaf and the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City in Baghdad, killing two Americans.
Mr. Sadr's offer was met with applause by delegates gathered in Baghdad to select a national assembly.
Among senior officials in Washington and Baghdad, however, Mr. Sadr's move was met with deep skepticism.
"I don't think we can trust al-Sadr," said Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser. Iraq's defense minister, Hazim al-Shaalan, issued a statement calling Mr. Sadr's initiative "strange," after his earlier intransigence, and demanding that he substantiate his offer by having his militiamen "immediately deliver their weapons" to Iraqi forces around the shrine.
Even as American and Iraqi officials were weighing Mr. Sadr's intentions, a menacing new dimension was added to the Najaf crisis by a report on Al Jazeera television that Iraqi militants calling themselves the Martyrs' Squad had captured an American journalist, Micah Garen, and threatened to kill him within 48 hours if United States forces did not pull out of Najaf.
On Wednesday night, the Arab news channel showed video images of a man identified by Al Jazeera as Mr. Garen, kneeling in front of five masked men with rifles. Mr. Garen, 36, whose family home is in New Haven, is an independent documentary filmmaker who spent much of the last year in Iraq researching a film and articles on the looting of Iraq's archaeological heritage.
He was seized by two armed men on Friday outside a gun shop in Nasiriya, 230 miles south of Baghdad. Nasiriya is one of a network of towns and cities across the Shiite heartland of southern Iraq that have been roiled by the spreading insurrection Mr. Sadr and his militia have stirred since the fighting began in Najaf.
In another development, the United States military command said American soldiers guarding Abu Ghraib prison, west of Baghdad, had shot dead two Iraqi security detainees after a fight among inmates got out of control shortly after dawn on Wednesday. The command's statement said guards had seen a group of detainees attacking a fellow inmate with stones and tent poles before the disturbance swelled to involve more than 200 men.
"Nonlethal ammunition" was used in an initial attempt to quell the disturbance, the command said, apparently referring to rubber bullets, and when that failed, "lethal force" had been authorized to save the life of the detainee who had been attacked.
Mr. Sadr's latest about-face came after Defense Minister Shaalan flew to Najaf on an American military helicopter on Wednesday and announced that an attack on the Imam Ali Mosque was imminent. Answering Iraqis who have condemned any American involvement in an assault on the shrine, Mr. Shaalan said the attack would be led by Iraqi troops, with "no U.S. intervention" other than air support and tanks to control roads leading to the shrine.
"They have a chance," he said of the rebels. "In the next few hours, they have to surrender themselves and their weapons."
The ultimatum was reinforced by Ayad Allawi, the interim prime minister, who issued a statement on Wednesday assigning responsibility for the government's decision to Mr. Sadr's intransigence, after the cleric snubbed a delegation of Iraqi religious and political leaders who had traveled to the shrine with an appeal for an end to the rebellion.
Dr. Allawi, once a stalwart of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party and later leader of an exile group in London, has been almost as changeable in his pronouncements on the Najaf fighting as Mr. Sadr. He has issued ultimatums, then withdrawn them and resumed negotiations, only to return to threats to settle the confrontation by force. His latest statement, though, seemed unequivocal.
Events in Najaf threatened to overshadow the conference in Baghdad, attended by more than 1,100 delegates who had gathered to establish a new milestone in the country's troubled course to democracy. It was the conference that sent the delegation that flew to Najaf on Tuesday, then drove to the Imam Ali shrine under sporadic mortar and rifle fire, only to be kept waiting for three hours in a darkened reception room before aides to Mr. Sadr told them that he was in a "secret place" and would neither come to meet the delegates nor allow them to come to him.
The hope that Mr. Sadr might have resolved to make a turn for peace, and that he had done so in response to appeals from the what was arguably the most representative political gathering held in Iraq in 35 years, added momentum to the Baghdad conference after four days of often chaotic and contentious debate.
On Wednesday night, the conference closed with an announcement that it had established, as required by the provisional constitution, a 100-member assembly to monitor the Allawi government's decrees and oversee a first round of parliamentary elections in January.
For all that it succeeded in completing its assigned task, choosing the new assembly, the conference itself seemed redolent of how tortured an enterprise the remaking of Iraq had become.
After wrangling that saw smaller groups at the gathering accusing larger ones of hijacking the meeting, it ended by selecting, without voting, the 81 delegates who will occupy seats on the new body that Iraq's provisional constitution had set aside for election. An additional 19 seats were pre-assigned to members of the now-disbanded Iraqi Governing Council, an advisory body during the period of formal American occupation that ended seven weeks ago.
Charges by many of the delegates that the conference was a vehicle for a predetermined carving up of power appeared to set the stage for further dissension among Iraqi groups that have agreed to work with the United States on building a democracy.
But the strains among the delegates, from every quarter of Iraqi society, were seen by many at the meeting as part of the natural birth pangs of the new Iraq. Mr. Sadr's challenge has been of a different magnitude altogether, posing, at least until now, a mounting threat to the very idea of an American-assisted progress toward a fully elected government by January 2006.
Since the earliest days of the American occupation last year, Mr. Sadr has maneuvered skillfully, and often ruthlessly, to advance his ambition to emerge as Iraq's most politically powerful Shiite cleric, and thus as a potential claimant to outright power in a country where Shiites form a majority.
His first move after American forces toppled Mr. Hussein, according to an indictment drawn up last fall by Iraqi prosecutors, was to orchestrate the death of a rival cleric. This spring, he reacted to the American closing of the Mahdi Army's newspaper by setting off an uprising in Sadr City, then occupying the shrine in Najaf and spreading the rebellion across much of southern Iraq.
American troops who battled his militiamen eventually settled for a series of uneasy truces that left him in effective control of Sadr City and much of Najaf, with other militia bands entrenched in or near every other major Shiite town as far south as Basra. The truces faltered for weeks, then collapsed altogether in Najaf in early August, setting off the latest uprising.
In Najaf and other towns, fighting continued as before. Reporters in Najaf said the day reverberated to continuing exchanges of mortar and small-arms fire, and American officers said one marine was killed in a battle in the cemetery that surrounds the shrine.
American military officials said that another soldier had been killed on Wednesday while on patrol in Sadr City, and that more than 50 Iraqis identified as firing on the Americans had also been killed.
Sabrina Tavernise contributed reporting from Baghdad for this article andAlex Berenson from Najaf. Iraqi employees of The New YorkTimes, whose names are withheld for their security, also contributed reportingfrom Najaf


August 19, 2004 New York Times > Rising Cost of Health Benefits Cited as Factor in Slump of Jobs

By EDUARDO PORTER
relentless rise in the cost of employee health insurance has become a significant factor in the employment slump, as the labor market adds only a trickle of new jobs each month despite nearly three years of uninterrupted economic growth.
Government data, industry surveys and interviews with employers big and small indicate that many businesses remain reluctant to hire full-time employees because health insurance, which now costs the nation's employers an average of about $3,000 a year for each worker, has become one of the fastest-growing costs for companies. Health premiums are sapping corporate balance sheets even more than the rising cost of energy.
In the second quarter, the cost of health benefits rose at a 12-month rate of 8.1 percent - more than three times the inflation rate and the rate of increases in wages and salaries.
"Health care is a major reason why employment growth has been so sluggish," said Sung Won Sohn, the chief economist at Wells Fargo.
Although the economy emerged from recession long ago, posting 11 straight quarters of growth, there are still about a million fewer jobs in the United States than there were at the beginning of 2001, just before the country sank into recession.
A spurt in job growth between March and May raised hopes that employment would emerge from the doldrums. But job growth slowed sharply again in June and came to a virtual standstill last month. In July, businesses added a mere 32,000 jobs, and for the first time this year more businesses let workers go than hired new ones.
Because of the cost of health insurance, "we are making decisions not to hire people," said Steve Hayes, the owner of Custom Electronics in Falmouth, Me., which installs electronic systems like home theaters and communications networks in homes and offices. "Before, we hired based on workload," he added. "Now it's a question of affordability."
Mr. Hayes said his health insurance premiums had risen by 22 percent a year in the last four years. He now pays $4,150 a month in health insurance premiums for his 33 employees, and the workers contribute an equal amount from their own pockets. The company's revenue - less than $5 million annually - has been growing briskly, he said, but outlays for health benefits are growing even faster, eating into the company's profits.
The increase in health insurance premiums reflects the rising cost of health care, which is being driven by expensive new drugs, many of them heavily advertised to consumers; medical advances including diagnostic tests that require costly new machines; and a reaction to past restrictions in managed care health plans that sought to rein in costs.
In the presidential campaign, both candidates have proposed measures for tackling the high cost of health insurance, including tax credits for small businesses and low-income people.
President Bush has pointed out that consumers can buy relatively inexpensive, high-deductible insurance to protect against catastrophic illnesses and can pay for routine care with new tax-free health savings accounts.
He also favors pending legislation that would let small businesses get volume discounts by buying insurance through trade associations, a plan that is opposed by many insurers, state insurance officials and some influential Senate Republicans. Critics say they are concerned that those associations would be largely exempt from state regulation and their insurance pools might attract healthier people, driving up costs for those who stay in the traditional insurance market.
Senator John Kerry's campaign plans to weigh in today with its own study of the link between rising health care costs and the employment slump. A summary of the report, which was prepared by Laura D. Tyson, who served as an economic adviser to President Bill Clinton, contends that industries with more health care benefits - like automobile manufacturing - have suffered the biggest losses in jobs and that those, like food service, that typically offer few benefits have realized the biggest gains.
"We're losing jobs in high-wage, high-benefits sectors like manufacturing, where employers are responding to this surge in health care costs,'' Ms. Tyson said in an interview yesterday.
A centerpiece of Mr. Kerry's plan would be to reduce health insurance premiums by having the federal government pick up 75 percent of the cost of catastrophic medical care. That would reduce the cost to employers and employees about 10 percent, or $1,000 a year, according to campaign officials.
Businesses, meanwhile, are trying all kinds of coping strategies. Some companies have responded by shifting part of the health insurance burden onto their workers or by ratcheting up premiums and deductibles. Some have eliminated coverage for dependents, while others have canceled their medical plans altogether. Many have frozen or reduced wages to compensate for ever bigger health insurance bills.
"Our health care costs are rising at three to four times the rate of increase of our revenues," said Michael Stoll, vice president for corporate benefits at the Kroger Company, a supermarket giant that owns several retail chains, including Ralph's, Food 4 Less and King Soopers, and employs 290,000 people around the nation.
Kroger, one of the targets of the five-month supermarket workers' strike in California that ended in March, reached an agreement with unions in that state to retain existing health benefits for current workers but to allow the company to offer new employees significantly curtailed health plans.
Trotter Machine, a small maker of parts for hydraulic valves in Rockford, Ill., has taken a different approach. In the last year, the company has doubled the employee's deductible on the company health plan, to $1,000 a year, and it has slowed wage increases - all in response to the company's escalating health care premium, which has risen to $18,000 a month from less than $10,000 five years ago.
Trotter's business has picked up after two flat years, and the company has responded by adding 12 full-time jobs since last November, bringing the total to 65 full-time workers and 5 temporary positions. But health care inflation has instilled a new level of caution in the hiring process: 9 of the 12 new workers started off as temps, achieving full-time status only after three or four months on the job.
"In the past we would hire people right out of the gate, and they could get on the health plan in 60 days," said Skip Trotter, the company's vice president for operations. "Now we use temp services. I can keep a temp for 90 to 120 days, and the agency pays for the health benefits."
The lagging job market has contributed to brisk growth in the temporary employment industry, where jobs may or may not include health benefits. In July, 2.4 million people were working for temporary agencies, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That was a 9 percent increase from a year earlier, compared with an overall increase in the labor force of 1 percent, to 131.2 million.
Mr. Hayes, at Custom Electronics in Maine, says the soaring cost of health insurance has tempted him to do away with health benefits altogether. But he has held back.
"You lose your best people, you don't lose your worst people," he said. "I would rather fire more of the bad people and keep the benefit than risk losing my good people."
Other businesses are resorting to tactics of dubious legality to avoid the health care burden.
Phyllis Burlage, an accountant in Millersville, Md., whose clients include several small businesses, said rising health insurance costs were driving some employers to skirt age-discrimination law by hiring only younger workers as a way to reduce premiums. "It's the deep dark secret of small businesses," Ms. Burlage said.
Even though the economy emerged from recession in late 2001, unremitting international competition has led to continued financial restraint by American employers. They have been uncharacteristically reluctant to invest in capital equipment and have tried to wring as much productivity and profit as possible from their existing workers.
"In other business cycles, businesses hired in anticipation of demand; that's no longer the case," Mr. Sohn of Wells Fargo said. "Today businesses only hire people because they have to, to meet demand."
In this economic environment, rising health care costs are particularly burdensome because they increase labor costs even as wages are barely moving. In the second quarter, wages for private-sector workers increased 2.6 percent from the year before, according to the Labor Department's employment cost index. Yet the inflation rate for benefits, primarily for health insurance, was 7.3 percent, pushing total compensation costs up 4 percent.
The trade-off between health and wages has become a prime workplace topic. In 2002, Local 226 of the hotel and restaurant workers union in Las Vegas negotiated a contract agreement with casino and hotel operators for a blanket raise of 60 cents an hour, which the union could apportion between wages and health care.
The union considered the deal a victory because it allowed workers to maintain health care benefits at virtually no cost. In the first year of the contract, though, all of the increase ended up going to health care, leaving nothing for higher wages. "It was the first time we had to sacrifice wages to health care," said Pilar Weiss, assistant political director of Local 226.
The growing portion of employee compensation used for health care ultimately depresses workers' ability to spend on other items. And health care outlays can, in turn, force automakers and other consumer-product companies to raise prices.
The Big Three automakers spent $8.5 billion last year on health care. General Motors estimates that providing health coverage for its workers and retirees adds about $1,400 to the price of each of its vehicles built in the United States.
Allan D. Gilmour, the vice chairman at Ford Motor, said it was difficult to trace a causal relationship between higher health care costs and weak employment, because hiring decisions were driven by many factors. But he agreed that escalating health care costs were a drag on the labor market.
"Health is a larger and larger part of our compensation package," Mr. Gilmour said. "It is hard to know what we are doing or not doing because of this. But on a macro level there's no question about it: this pressure comes to bear on everything we do."
Milt Freudenheim and Edmund L. Andrews contributed reporting for this article.


BBC > Google will float at $85 a share

Google's initial public offering has been priced at $85 a share, much lower than earlier estimates of up to $135.
US regulators on Wednesday approved documents relating to the flotation of the internet search engine, and shares could start trading on Thursday.
The sale of 19.6m shares - lower than the planned 25.7m - will raise $1.67bn in the fourth largest US IPO this year.
The move is likely to have been needed to revive interest as stock exchanges around the world come under pressure.
The Securities and Exchange Commission signed off relevant paperwork on Wednesday, enabling Google to proceed.
The price values Google at $23bn, significantly less than the $36bn projected at the higher share price.
With the rewards set to be less, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are selling a smaller part of their stake, with other executives also holding on to more of their stocks.
"They recognised that there wasn't the appetite for shares," said Hilary Cook, an analyst at Barclays stockbrokers in London.
Hiccups
The planned flotation, watched with keen interest around the globe, already has encountered some problems.
It was delayed after the SEC took longer to sign off the necessary paperwork than previously expected.



BBC > Huge boost to Darfur aid effort

The push comes at what the WFP says is a critical stage, when the "rainy season begins to bite", making aid deliveries much harder.
The UN said there are now nearly 1.5 million people in need of help.
Most of them have left their homes in Darfur to flee Arab militias, accused by many of atrocities.
Sudan has two weeks to rein in the militias or face UN sanctions.
The Sudan government denies backing the Arab Janjaweed militias and blames two Darfur rebel groups for the humanitarian crisis, for taking up arms 18 months ago.
'Expensive option'
The WFP says that if the sand and gravel runway at El Geneina, the capital of the West Darfur region, becomes unusable because of the rains, any food that remains undelivered will be air-dropped directly to the town from two Ilyushin-76 planes.
"Delivering food by air is an expensive option but at this time of the year we have no other choice in parts of Darfur," said WFP Sudan Country Director Ramiro Lopes da Silva.
In addition to the nine daily flights by three Antonov-12 aircraft, 21 trucks are due to leave the capital, Khartoum, with more food for El Geneina.
A UN spokesman said the number of internally displaced people in the Darfur region had increased to 1.2 million, from the one million reported last month.
In addition, there are 270,000 people in need of humanitarian assistance, "bringing the total number of conflict-affected people in Darfur to a staggering 1.48 million people," Radhia Achouri said.
Meanwhile, the UN's senior envoy to Darfur has called for thousands of observers and troops to be sent to the remote region the size of France.
Jan Pronk told London's Financial Times newspaper that the African Union force which has started to arrive in Sudan was too small.
Some 150 Rwandan troops landed last week and Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo has asked parliament to approve the deployment of between 150 and 1,500 Nigerian troops.
On Tuesday, the Sudanese authorities allowed aid deliveries into a camp for 90,000 internally displaced people in Southern Darfur for the first time in three days.
Kalma camp near Nyala was closed last week, denying access to aid workers and United Nations staff, following riots in which one Arab refugee suspected of belonging to the Janjaweed militia was killed.




Straitstimes > Taiwan's Chen, defying China, to visit US cities

TAIPEI - Taiwan's leader plans to visit Hawaii and Seattle in two weeks, officials said Wednesday, in a trip that would defy rival China's intense campaign to block Taiwanese leaders from visiting major nations.
The United States has ignored China's protests and has allowed Mr Chen visit. -- AP
President Chen Shui-bian will make his US stops while travelling to Panama and Belize, which are among the few nations that have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, the Presidential Office said.
China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949, and Beijing is eager for unification. China's communist rulers consider democratic Taiwan to be a province of China that's ruled by an illegal government.
Beijing tries to isolate Taiwan by pressuring other countries to sever formal ties with the island and deny visas to Taiwanese leaders.
The campaign has largely been successful in Europe and Asia. But the United States - which doesn't have official relations with Taiwan - has ignored China's protests and has allowed Mr Chen to visit several times during the past four years.
He will stop in Hawaii on Aug 30 on the way to Panama to attend President-elect Martin Torrijos's inauguration on Sept 1, the Presidential Office said. He will visit Belize on Sept 2 before returning to Taiwan after a Sept 3 stopover in Seattle, the office said.
This is the first time he has visited Hawaii and Seattle as president. Past trips to Taiwanese diplomatic allies have included stopovers in New York, Los Angeles, Houston and Anchorage.
The Taiwanese insist that the US stopovers are necessary for refueling and plane maintenance. But China says they are just ploys to advance Mr Chen's campaign to permanently split China and Taiwan. -- AP





Wednesday, August 18, 2004

CNN > Israel targets Hamas in Gaza City strike

Tuesday, August 17, 2004 Posted: 9:07 PM EDT (0107 GMT)
GAZA CITY (CNN) -- An explosion rocked a house in Gaza City early Wednesday, killing at least five people and wounding 16 others, Palestinian security sources and hospital sources said.

FT.Com > Kerry to set out case against US troop realignment

By James Harding in Washington and Peter Spiegel in London

John Kerry will on Wednesday set out his opposition to the Bush administration's plans to bring home 70,000 US troops from permanent overseas bases, leaving their future dependent on the outcome of the presidential election.

Setting out one of the few clear strategic differences between himself and George W. Bush, Mr Kerry is expected to argue that the withdrawal of troops from Europe and Asia threatens to undercut alliances and weakens America's ability to project its power overseas.

White House officials described the realignment as addressing an outdated distribution of US forces, a legacy of the cold war ill-suited to defeating terrorists.

But Mr Kerry will make what Michael Meehan, a senior adviser to the Democratic presidential candidate, called a “sweeping critique” of the realignment in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Cincinnati the same venue where Mr Bush this week announced the planned withdrawal of a third of US forces from their foreign posts.

BBC > Bush Plugs Missile Defense System Plan

Tue Aug 17, 8:12 PM ET

By TOM RAUM, Associated Press Writer
RIDLEY PARK, Pa. - President Bush (news - web sites) paid tribute Tuesday to defense workers who help equip U.S. troops in Iraq (news - web sites) and Afghanistan and also put in a plug for his administration's plans for an anti-missile system as he toured a helicopter factory involved in both missions.

In his second visit to a Boeing Co. plant in a week, this time in election-critical Pennsylvania, Bush also renewed his pledge to appeal to the World Trade Organization (news - web sites) if necessary to challenge European Union (news - web sites) subsidies of Boeing's chief commercial aircraft competitor, Airbus.


Addressing thousands of Boeing employees and their families as well as local political supporters, Bush praised people who "work day and night to put out a good product for our country."

He spoke at an outdoor rally in a parking lot alongside a helicopter assembly and refitting plant in this Philadelphia suburb. Two CH-47 Chinook choppers served as props.

Bush also spoke of his administration's proposal for an anti-missile defense system, noting that Boeing was a major contractor on the project.

"I think those who oppose this ballistic missile system don't understand the threats of the 21st century," the president told applauding workers.

The president noted that last month Boeing engineers loaded the first missile interceptor into a silo in Alaska. He characterized that as the beginning of a national shield "that was envisioned by Ronald Reagan

BBC > Annan demands Suu Kyi's release

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has called for Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to be freed from house arrest.
He said the Burmese government's reforms would not be credible without the involvement of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.

He called for "substantive dialogue" between all parties.

He released a statement after Aung San Suu Kyi's party failed in an attempt to win her release.

BBC > US suspends Halliburton decision

By Nick Childs
BBC correspondent at the Pentagon
The US army has said it has suspended for now a decision to withhold some payments to Halliburton, its biggest contractor in Iraq.
The army had earlier said it would be withholding 15% of payments on future bills to Halliburton, once run by US Vice-President Dick Cheney.

One of its subsidiaries has featured in auditing disputes with the Pentagon.

It allegedly overcharged on contracts to supply accommodation, meals and fuel to troops in Iraq and Kuwait.

Halliburton is by far the Pentagon's bigg

BBC > Iraq peace mission falls through

A delegation of leading Iraqis that went to Najaf has failed to end a stand-off between Shia militiamen and US-led forces in the holy city.
The delegates went to the Imam Ali shrine to meet radical cleric Moqtada Sadr, who has led a 12-day-old uprising, but he refused to see them.

The convoy, led by a cousin of Mr Sadr, was sent by religious and political leaders at Iraq's national conference.

Heavy clashes continued in Najaf as the group left the site.

Fighting intensified on Tuesday near the Imam Ali shrine, where Mr Sadr and his forces are surrounded by US tanks.

At least one US aircraft dropped bombs on a cemetery - where Mr Sadr's Mehdi militia has taken up positions.

The Australian > Downer assures China on Taiwan

By Catherine Armitage, China correspondent
August 18, 2004
FOREIGN Minister Alexander Downer has indicated in Beijing that the US should not automatically expect Australia's support in the event that China launches an attack against Taiwan.

His statement followed a meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who raised the idea of a new "strategic perspective" in the Australia-China relationship.

In a news conference later, Mr Downer gave the strongest indication so far that Australia would not automatically take the US's side against China in the event of an attack across the Taiwan Strait.

The ANZUS alliance for mutual defence between Australia and the US was invoked only in the event of an attack on either country, "so some other activity elsewhere in the world ... doesn't invoke (it)", Mr Downer said.

By contrast, the US is obliged by its Taiwan Relations Act to defend Taiwan against attack.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

New York Times > Bush Tells Veterans of Plan to Redeploy G.I.'s Worldwide

By ELISABETH BUMILLER

CINCINNATI, Aug. 16 - President Bush said Monday that the Pentagon would withdraw 60,000 to 70,000 troops during the next decade from Europe and Asia in the biggest realignment of the United States military since the end of the cold war.

In a speech to a convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in the political combat zone of Ohio, the president said the redeployment would create a more flexible military that would be better positioned to fight terrorism. Many of the details of the plan had been reported in early June, after the proposal was circulated among European and Asian allies.

Some troops will be brought home, Mr. Bush said, while others will be rotated through locations closer to the terrorist threat - principally the Middle East and Central Asia, as well as Southeast Asia. The administration already is striking deals for greater access rights and temporary basing privileges in nations closer to locations believed to be terrorist headquarters and havens.

New York Times > Georgia's New Leader Baffles U.S. and Russia Alike

By C. J. CHIVERS

TBILISI, Georgia, Aug. 11 - From the moment he took office in January, Mikhail Saakashvili, the New York-trained lawyer turned president of Georgia, has rushed his nation along an agenda of ambitious design.

Drawing on public support after chasing his predecessor, Eduard A. Shevardnadze, from power, Mr. Saakashvili has moved against corruption, pledged to revive Georgia's economy, steered his government closer to the West and vowed to unify the fractured country.

Georgians have found his energy and momentum compelling. His popularity remains high.

But in recent weeks his populist ride has hit bumps on the central question of the Georgian state: reunification with two breakaway regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

New York Times > Nation's Charter Schools Lagging Behind, U.S. Test Scores Reveal

August 17, 2004
By DIANA JEAN SCHEMO

WASHINGTON, Aug. 16 - The first national comparison of test scores among children in charter schools and regular public schools shows charter school students often doing worse than comparable students in regular public schools.

The findings, buried in mountains of data the Education Department released without public announcement, dealt a blow to supporters of the charter school movement, including the Bush administration.

The data shows fourth graders attending charter schools performing about half a year behind students in other public schools in both reading and math. Put another way, only 25 percent of the fourth graders attending charters were proficient in reading and math, against 30 percent who were proficient in reading, and 32 percent in math, at traditional public schools.

BBC News > Rwanda warning after Tutsi deaths

Rwanda has warned it could intervene to prevent any new genocide, as massacred Tutsi refugees were buried in Burundi.
Rwandan Foreign Minister Charles Murigande told the BBC his country had the right to defend itself against rebel Hutu militias.

He was speaking after more than 150 mostly Congolese ethnic Tutsis were buried in a mass grave.

The refugees, many of them children, were allegedly killed on Friday by men from Burundi, DR Congo and Rwanda.

BBC News > Iraqi peace team to go to Najaf

An Iraqi delegation is heading to the city of Najaf on Tuesday to try to end a stand-off between US-led forces and supporters of Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr.
Religious and political leaders have voted to send about 50 delegates to the holy city to persuade Mr Sadr to call off his fighters.

A spokesman for Mr Sadr said he was ready to discuss any peace initiative.

The uprising in Najaf has dominated the national conference in Baghdad, which is meeting to elect an interim council.

Navy Times.Com > U.S. to sell ships to Taiwan

Associated Press

TAIPEI, Taiwan — The United States plans to announce next year that it will sell Taiwan four anti-missile warships equipped with the high-powered Aegis radar system — a move rival China has fiercely opposed, a Taiwanese newspaper reported Monday.
Delivery of the ships could begin by 2011, the mass-market China Times said in a front-page story that only cited unidentified “authoritative sources.”

Taiwan has been trying to buy the ships for years. But the United States has refused to sell them to the island, fearing the sale might seriously raise tensions with China.

Beijing insists the self-ruled, democratic island belongs to China and has repeatedly threatened to use force to take it over. The two sides split amid civil war in 1949, and Beijing strongly discourages nations against selling advanced weapons to Taiwan.

Go Asia Pacific > China moves to keep Taiwan out of UN

China has taken steps to block Taiwan's latest attempt to join the United Nations.
Taiwan, which has tried to join the U.N. every year since 1993, has urged the international body to end its "political apartheid".

But in a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Beijing condemned Taiwan's bid, saying it brings cross-straits relations to the brink of danger and seriously threatens peace and stability in the region.

China has claimed soveriegnty over the island since their split in 1949 and tensions have been high since the March re-election of Taiwan's President, Chen Shui-bian.

China's envoy to the United Nations, Zhang Yishan, has urged Mr Annan to circulate the letter as a formal document among UN members.

Manorama Online > Annan prepared to play "a facilitating role" in Najaf

United Nations: Secretary-General Kofi Annan held talks on Iraq with a number of key figures and is prepared to play "a facilitating role" to help end the violence in the country if all sides agree, a UN spokesman said.

Over the weekend, Annan spoke to US Secretary of State Colin Powell, Iran's Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, and his new Iraq envoy Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, spokesman Fred Eckhard said.

Japan Today - News - Japan to provide medical%2C diplomatic%2C electrical training to Iraqis - Japan%27s Leading International News Network

Japan Today - News - Japan to provide medical%2C diplomatic%2C electrical training to Iraqis - Japan%27s Leading International News Network: "Japan to provide medical%2C diplomatic%2C electrical training to Iraqis%0D%0A%0D%0A%0D%0ATuesday%2C August 17%2C 2004 at 06%3A02 JST%0D%0ATOKYO %97 The Japanese government will invite about 40 people in the medical profession in Iraq to Japan as early as September for training%2C government officials said Monday.%0D%0AJapan will also train 20 to 30 Iraqi diplomats in September. It will pay for training programs for 375 Iraqi doctors and other medical workers and 75 Iraqi electrical engineers in Egypt in September and November respectively. %28Kyodo News%29"

Monday, August 16, 2004

BBC > Plot to kill Taiwan's leaders'

'By Chris Hogg
BBC correspondent in Taiwan
Taiwan's prime minister has accused China of planning to kill or capture the island's leaders.
Yu Shyi-kun made the claim to reporters during a trip to South America.
A military official said the strategy appeared to have been inspired by the United States military's operation to capture Saddam Hussein.
China sees Taiwan as a renegade province, which it has threatened to reunite by force if the island tries to declare independence.
These were off-the-cuff comments during a foreign trip by the Taiwanese premier. His office in Taipei says it has no details of what evidence Mr Yu has for his claims.
But this makes them no less inflammatory.
Beijing has always threatened to retake the democratic, self-governing island by force.
'War preparation'
Mr Yu accused the Chinese military of simulating an attack on the presidential palace during war games being held in the Taiwan Straits. Killing or capturing the island's leaders was their aim, he said.
Last week Taiwanese military sources were reported to have claimed the island could withstand an attack for two weeks. That followed reports of a computer simulation which suggested the Chinese could capture Taipei within six days.
China appears to be accelerating its efforts to build up its military forces in preparation for war, experts say, but still lacks the sophisticated amphibious vessels to turn the People's Liberation Army into a credible invasion force.
Taiwan is reported to have stepped up security around the president and his offices. The United States has a treaty obligation to come to the island's defence if it is attacked by China.



Manorama Online, Malaysia > UN condemns massacre of Congolese refugees in Burundi


United Nations: The UN Security Council has condemned last week's massacre of refugees in Burundi and called on that country and the Democratic Republic of Congo to help bring the perpetrators to justice. The council called for informal consultations on the situation in Burundi after the massacre on Friday. The council "condemns with the utmost firmness the massacre of refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which occurred on the territory of Burundi, in Gatumba," the statement said on Sunday.

The rebel Burundian Hutu National Liberation Forces claimed responsibility for the slaughter, but Burundi President Domitien Ndayizeye said his country "has been attacked, our frontier violated by elements coming from the DRC to massacre Congolese civilians who had sought asylum." Some 20,000 Tutsis from the DRC have sought refuge in Burundi since May as a result of clashes between Hutu fighters and Congo military forces.

"The council calls upon the authorities of Burundi and of the Democratic Republic of Congo to cooperate actively so that the perpetrators and those responsible for these crimes can be brought to justice without delay," the statement said. "The council calls upon all states in the region to ensure that the territorial integrity of their neighbors is respected. It encourages them to redouble their efforts in order to provide security for the civilian population on their territories including the foreigners to whom they grant refuge," it said.



CTV CA > Korean protesters clash with police > Associated Press

SEOUL — Hundreds of protesters clashed with police Sunday near the U.S. Embassy in Seoul during a demonstration against the country's plans to send more troops to Iraq.
"We are against war! We are against America!" the demonstrators chanted, ripping up a large replica of a U.S. flag before attempting to charge through police blockades. Officers in riot gear sprayed water at the demonstrators, who jabbed back with flag poles.
Those clashing with police were among about 5,000 demonstrators who converged on a street in the center of the South Korean capital to urge President Roh Moo-hyun to abandon the troop deployment.
"We are not foolish enough to let the government dispatch troops to Iraq. ... We are not that ignorant," they sang during the rally.
Meanwhile, Roh warned Sunday against "blind opposition" to the United States.
"This attitude seems to reflect the thinking that the United States is responsible for all the past, present and future problems of the Republic," he said during a speech marking the anniversary of the Korean Peninsula's liberation from Japanese colonial rule in 1945.
This month, South Korea began sending 3,000 troops to northern Iraq to join 660 soldiers already stationed in the country's south. In June, Kim Sun-il, a South Korean who worked for a company that supplies the U.S. military, was beheaded by militants after Seoul refused to bow to their demand to scrap the troop dispatch plans.
South Korea has portrayed the troop deployment as a way of strengthening ties with the United States and winning Washington's support for a peaceful end to the standoff over North Korea's nuclear programs.
The dispatch will make South Korea the biggest coalition partner after the United States and Britain.
The crowd of protesters, mostly students and union members, also called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea. The Pentagon has redeployed some of the 37,000 American troops based here to Iraq.


New York Times> F.B.I. Goes Knocking for Political Troublemakers

August 16, 2004
F.B.I. Goes Knocking for Political TroublemakersBy ERIC LICHTBLAU
ASHINGTON, Aug. 15 - The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been questioning political demonstrators across the country, and in rare cases even subpoenaing them, in an aggressive effort to forestall what officials say could be violent and disruptive protests at the Republican National Convention in New York.
F.B.I. officials are urging agents to canvass their communities for information about planned disruptions aimed at the convention and other coming political events, and they say they have developed a list of people who they think may have information about possible violence. They say the inquiries, which began last month before the Democratic convention in Boston, are focused solely on possible crimes, not on dissent, at major political events.
But some people contacted by the F.B.I. say they are mystified by the bureau's interest and felt harassed by questions about their political plans.
"The message I took from it," said Sarah Bardwell, 21, an intern at a Denver antiwar group who was visited by six investigators a few weeks ago, "was that they were trying to intimidate us into not going to any protests and to let us know that, 'hey, we're watching you.' ''
The unusual initiative comes after the Justice Department, in a previously undisclosed legal opinion, gave its blessing to controversial tactics used last year by the F.B.I in urging local police departments to report suspicious activity at political and antiwar demonstrations to counterterrorism squads. The F.B.I. bulletins that relayed the request for help detailed tactics used by demonstrators - everything from violent resistance to Internet fund-raising and recruitment.
In an internal complaint, an F.B.I. employee charged that the bulletins improperly blurred the line between lawfully protected speech and illegal activity. But the Justice Department's Office of Legal Policy, in a five-page internal analysis obtained by The New York Times, disagreed.
The office, which also made headlines in June in an opinion - since disavowed - that authorized the use of torture against terrorism suspects in some circumstances, said any First Amendment impact posed by the F.B.I.'s monitoring of the political protests was negligible and constitutional.
The opinion said: "Given the limited nature of such public monitoring, any possible 'chilling' effect caused by the bulletins would be quite minimal and substantially outweighed by the public interest in maintaining safety and order during large-scale demonstrations."
Those same concerns are now central to the vigorous efforts by the F.B.I. to identify possible disruptions by anarchists, violent demonstrators and others at the Republican National Convention, which begins Aug. 30 and is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of protesters.
In the last few weeks, beginning before the Democratic convention, F.B.I. counterterrorism agents and other federal and local officers have sought to interview dozens of people in at least six states, including past protesters and their friends and family members, about possible violence at the two conventions. In addition, three young men in Missouri said they were trailed by federal agents for several days and subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury last month, forcing them to cancel their trip to Boston to take part in a protest there that same day.
Interrogations have generally covered the same three questions, according to some of those questioned and their lawyers: were demonstrators planning violence or other disruptions, did they know anyone who was, and did they realize it was a crime to withhold such information.
A handful of protesters at the Boston convention were arrested but there were no major disruptions. Concerns have risen for the Republican convention, however, because of antiwar demonstrations directed at President Bush and because of New York City's global prominence.
With the F.B.I. given more authority after the Sept. 11 attacks to monitor public events, the tensions over the convention protests, coupled with the Justice Department's own legal analysis of such monitoring, reflect the fine line between protecting national security in an age of terrorism and discouraging political expression.
F.B.I. officials, mindful of the bureau's abuses in the 1960's and 1970's monitoring political dissidents like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., say they are confident their agents have not crossed that line in the lead-up to the conventions.
"The F.B.I. isn't in the business of chilling anyone's First Amendment rights," said Joe Parris, a bureau spokesman in Washington. "But criminal behavior isn't covered by the First Amendment. What we're concerned about are injuries to convention participants, injuries to citizens, injuries to police and first responders."
F.B.I. officials would not say how many people had been interviewed in recent weeks, how they were identified or what spurred the bureau's interest.
They said the initiative was part of a broader, nationwide effort to follow any leads pointing to possible violence or illegal disruptions in connection with the political conventions, presidential debates or the November election, which come at a time of heightened concern about a possible terrorist attack.
F.B.I. officials in Washington have urged field offices around the country in recent weeks to redouble their efforts to interview sources and gather information that might help to detect criminal plots. The only lead to emerge publicly resulted in a warning to authorities before the Boston convention that anarchists or other domestic groups might bomb news vans there. It is not clear whether there was an actual plot.
The individuals visited in recent weeks "are people that we identified that could reasonably be expected to have knowledge of such plans and plots if they existed," Mr. Parris said.
"We vetted down a list and went out and knocked on doors and had a laundry list of questions to ask about possible criminal behavior," he added. "No one was dragged from their homes and put under bright lights. The interviewees were free to talk to us or close the door in our faces."
But civil rights advocates argued that the visits amounted to harassment. They said they saw the interrogations as part of a pattern of increasingly aggressive tactics by federal investigators in combating domestic terrorism. In an episode in February in Iowa, federal prosecutors subpoenaed Drake University for records on the sponsor of a campus antiwar forum. The demand was dropped after a community outcry.
Protest leaders and civil rights advocates who have monitored the recent interrogations said they believed at least 40 or 50 people, and perhaps many more, had been contacted by federal agents about demonstration plans and possible violence surrounding the conventions and other political events.
"This kind of pressure has a real chilling effect on perfectly legitimate political activity," said Mark Silverstein, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, where two groups of political activists in Denver and a third in Fort Collins were visited by the F.B.I. "People are going to be afraid to go to a demonstration or even sign a petition if they justifiably believe that will result in your having an F.B.I. file opened on you."
The issue is a particularly sensitive one in Denver, where the police agreed last year to restrictions on local intelligence-gathering operations after it was disclosed that the police had kept files on some 3,000 people and 200 groups involved in protests.
But the inquiries have stirred opposition elsewhere as well.
In New York, federal agents recently questioned a man whose neighbor reported he had made threatening comments against the president. He and a lawyer, Jeffrey Fogel, agreed to talk to the Secret Service, denying the accusation and blaming it on a feud with the neighbor. But when agents started to question the man about his political affiliations and whether he planned to attend convention protests, "that's when I said no, no, no, we're not going to answer those kinds of questions," said Mr. Fogel, who is legal director for the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York.
In the case of the three young men subpoenaed in Missouri, Denise Lieberman, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union in St. Louis, which is representing them, said they scrapped plans to attend both the Boston and the New York conventions after they were questioned about possible violence.
The men are all in their early 20's, Ms. Lieberman said, but she would not identify them.
All three have taken part in past protests over American foreign policy and in planning meetings for convention demonstrations. She said two of them were arrested before on misdemeanor charges for what she described as minor civil disobedience at protests.
Prosecutors have now informed the men that they are targets of a domestic terrorism investigation, Ms. Lieberman said, but have not disclosed the basis for their suspicions. "They won't tell me," she said.
Federal officials in St. Louis and Washington declined to comment on the case. Ms. Lieberman insisted that the men "didn't have any plans to participate in the violence, but what's so disturbing about all this is the em from participating in a protest before anything even happened."
The three men "were really shaken and frightened by all this," she said, "and they got the message loud and clear that if you make plans to go to a protest, you could be subject to arres


International Herald Tribune > Italy gets new threats from ally of Al Qaeda


Elisabetta Povoledo/IHT IHT
Monday, August 16, 2004
MILAN A militant group linked to Al Qaeda on Sunday issued fresh threats against Italy as the country's interior minister said the government would not be intimidated and assured Italians that "high levels of security" had been put into place.

The minister, Giuseppe Pisanu, said that Italians had reacted calmly to a series of threats, but added that he could not rule out the possibility of an attack.

Pisanu was speaking at a press conference in Rome on the day the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades had set as a deadline for "a blood bath" unless Italy withdrew its troops from Iraq. "There's no place in the world that can be considered safe today," he said.

On Sunday morning, Masri Brigades, a group that claims links with Al Qaeda and has taken responsibility for a series of attacks, including the bombing in Madrid on March 11, issued an Internet statement calling for its cells to hit all possible targets because Italy had not heeded previous calls to pull its troops, numbering 3,000, from Iraq.

"The earth will be shaken under the feet of every Italian," the group wrote in Arabic on an Islamic Web site that The Associated Press described as a clearinghouse for militant-related material.

The text said that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was a target.

Pisanu said that the statement was in line with several others issued by the group. "It is similar with preceding threats," he said. "We won't underestimate it, but neither will we allow ourselves to be frightened."

Italians, he added, had not changed their plans because of the deadline, Aug. 15, known in Italy as Ferragosto, an important religious holiday.

Last week, the national security commission beefed up security measures on more than 13,000 potential targets, and police chiefs in several cities revoked holiday time off for law officers. Hospitals and municipal fire departments were also put on alert.

Some experts have questioned the credentials of the Masri Brigades and have suggested that the threats are more hyperbole than concrete. But Pisanu said the government was not ruling out the threat of action, "even without direct input from abroad."

The interior minister played down a report in Sunday's Corriere della Sera that said the police were looking for a car with French tags that passed into Italy carrying explosives. Pisanu said the police were investigating.

International Herald Tribune






CNN > Lawmakers predict Goss' CIA confirmation

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Top lawmakers from both parties predicted Sunday that President Bush's nominee for CIA director, Rep. Porter Goss, would win confirmation despite misgivings among some Democrats that a politician should not fill the post.
Bush announced Tuesday that the 65-year-old Goss was his choice to replace George Tenet, who left the director's post in July. (Full story)
Goss, a Republican who was not running for re-election from his southwest Florida district, is a former Army intelligence officer and CIA operative. Until he stepped down following Bush's nomination, he had been chairman of the House Intelligence Committee since 1997.
His confirmation requires a majority of the GOP-controlled Senate.
Since the post was created in 1947, only one CIA director has come from the ranks of politicians -- George H.W. Bush, the president's father, who led the agency in 1976-77 and went on to become president 12 years later.
"I don't know of a better choice the president could pick at this point in time. He doesn't need any on-the-job training. He can take over that job tomorrow morning," Sen. John Warner of Virginia, Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on CNN's "Late Edition."
Warner predicted the Senate would "act appropriately and confirm that nomination."
Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat of the Armed Services Committee, said he thought Goss was "clearly qualified" but was not the best pick for the job.
"There's a very big political aspect to that appointment and to what he would do in terms of advising the president," Levin said on "Late Edition."
"The question is whether or not he is going to give objective, independent, unvarnished assessments, not just to the president ... but also to the Congress, to the country and to the world."
Goss would get his vote, Levin said, "if he can satisfy me that despite being a highly partisan person and a very close political supporter of the president," he would confront the president when necessary.
Right fight, wrong fight
Democratic Rep. Jane Harman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said a partisan battle over Goss would be "the wrong fight" to have in the fall.
The "right fight," she said, would be over whether the White House and Congress are, "on a bipartisan basis, going to step up and fix problems that have been clearly identified by a number of very thoughtful investigations," including the Senate Intelligence Committee and the 9/11 commission.
"My view, and I said it personally to Porter Goss -- that my candidate to replace George Tenet was no one. And what I meant by that is that we should revamp the job first" as part of an overhaul of the U.S. intelligence apparatus, she said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Harman said Goss "will probably be confirmed" after "a tough set of confirmation hearings." The House does not vote on presidential appointments.
Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told NBC that he and his Democratic vice chairman, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, want to expedite Goss' confirmation hearings.
"We have a lot on our plate," he said, "but we want to do a careful job."
Rockefeller issued a statement last week saying that he was "concerned with the president's choice" but that he would with Roberts to "move the process forward."