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Friday, August 20, 2004

Hidden Gulag in NYC

200 locked away & under the radar

NY Daily News

There is a little gulag in New York City. And it is nothing to be proud of.
Its name is the Wackenhut Detention Center, and more than 200 human beings - men and women - languish ignored within its walls. Yet most New Yorkers have never heard about it.

The situation of the people inside the privately run immigration maximum-security jail is so hopeless that on Monday, 175 of the imprisoned men resorted to a desperate measure: They went on a hunger strike.

"Nobody is eating," said Makham Singh in a telephone interview. An immigrant from India in his 30s, Singh has a wife and two children who are American citizens. He has been in Wackenhut for six months.

"They bring us food and we send it back," added Singh.

The Wackenhut prison is a converted warehouse building with no windows in the middle of a warehouse district in Springfield Gardens, Queens.

It is drab and anonymous and out of the way, which works out well for keeping the men and women imprisoned in it out of New York's collective consciousness.

But the detainees are determined to do whatever it takes to let everybody know about the prison and what goes on inside it.

"We need people to know about our situation," Singh said. "We must be heard, and we will starve if we have to."

The strikers' demands are nothing if not fair. They are asking for the right to be treated humanely, the right to due process and appropriate medical care, the review of their cases and the immediate release of all noncriminal prisoners so they can be reunited with their families.

Many of the Wackenhut prisoners - people from all over the world - have been deprived of freedom for years even though no terrorism-related or other criminal charges have been brought against any of them.

"Yet they are locked up 23 hours per day, and several have been there a year or more," said Bobby Khan, a member of the Coney Island Avenue Project, a group based in the Pakistani community in Brooklyn that advocates for the rights of imprisoned immigrants.

"Most of them were picked up in the aftermath of 9/11 and have been held without criminal charges or due process and, in some cases, without access to a lawyer," Khan added. "The food is insufficient and inadequate, and even though some of the detainees have heart conditions or suffer from diabetes and ulcers, medical care is practically nonexistent."

Like Singh, several of the detainees - all of them confined for alleged immigration violations - are married to U.S. citizens and have American children. Yet the government refuses to release information about their status or what their future might be - even though few, if any, of the immigrant detentions since 9/11 have yielded any useful results for President Bush's "war on terror."

Shameful as it is, the misfortune of these immigrants and their families is just one more opportunity for big profits for Wackenhut, the private corporation running the jail under contract with the federal government.

"For example, the food they are given is so bad and so little that detainees have to buy cafeteria food," Singh said.

Inmates receive one dollar a day for work they do within the prison walls.

Pretty low stuff in anybody's book.

Yes, there is a little gulag in New York City. It is located in Queens and its name is the Wackenhut Detention Center. And everybody should know about the more than 200 human beings languishing behind its walls.

Bush's Dubious Terror Alerts

Is administration's political agenda driving warnings of terrorism?

WASHINGTON -- "The Bush administration has discovered no evidence of imminent plans by terrorists to attack U.S. financial buildings, nearly two weeks after the government issued startling warnings about such possible threats, a White House official said." -- Associated Press, August 12, 2004.
When the going gets tough, the "tough" get to issuing terrorist alerts, announcing high profile arrests, and raising the terrorism threat level. Since January 2002, according to JuliusBlog, an Internet web log, there have been at least fifteen incidents where Team Bush, responding to adverse news or dipping presidential poll numbers, turned either Attorney General John Ashcroft or Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge loose to ramp up talk of terrorism and terrorist attacks.

The latest episode aired on August 1, shortly after the conclusion of the Democratic National Convention, when Secretary Ridge raised the Homeland Security Department's terrorist level to Code Orange -- "high threat of terrorist attacks" -- claiming that there was ample information about terrorists targeting the financial services sector in New York City, northern New Jersey and Washington, D.C. to warrant the action. In prepared remarks, Ridge told the press: "...reports indicate that al-Qaeda is targeting several specific buildings, including the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in the District of Columbia; Prudential Financial in Northern New Jersey; and Citigroup buildings and the New York Stock Exchange in New York." The rest of the country remained at Code Yellow -- "significant risk of terrorist attacks."

One week later, the New York Times reported that Pakistan had warned the United States "that Al Qaeda has considered using tourist helicopters in terror attacks in New York City." Within hours reporters were on the scene interviewing heliport personnel and scaring the bejeezus out of tourists coming off their flights.

In the run-up to the Republican Party Convention in New York City later this month, terrorist alerts are rolling out of the Dept. of Homeland Security faster than the grounds crew rolls out the Yankee Stadium tarp during a sudden summer shower.

With each real or perceived threat, the American people are reminded of the president's belief that we live in the age of the permanent war against terrorism, a stance he spelled out in a November 2002 document titled "Securing the Homeland, Strengthening the Nation." While outlining his budget priorities, Bush maintained that the threat of terrorism is "an inescapable reality of life in the 21st century" and "a permanent condition to which America and the entire world must adjust." The president also said:

"Today's terrorists can strike at any place, at any time, and with a wide variety of weapons. The most urgent terrorist threat to America is the Al Qaeda network. We will prosecute our war with these terrorists until they are routed from the Earth. But we will not let our guard down after we defeat Al Qaeda. The terrorist threat to America takes many forms, has many places to hide, and is often invisible. We can never be sure that we have defeated all of our terrorist enemies, and therefore we can never again allow ourselves to become overconfident about the security of our homeland."

Ramping up the Homeland Security Dept.'s threat level may result in greater vigilance amongst both law enforcement and the public, and it is conceivable that a terrorist attack may have been prevented. The cranking-up of the threat level, however, also drives the panic-mongers, most notably the 24/7 cable news networks: "Terrorist Alert" banners drape the screen, crawls get creepier, and terrorist experts are trucked out to provide wall-to-wall commentary.
After several years of warnings, and no major terrorist incident, some are questioning the accuracy and timing of these alerts: Are they based on new information or old information? Is the information reliable? How great is the threat? Should we take for granted the administration's oft-heard mantra that Al Qaeda wants to disrupt the November elections?

With the presidential election less than three months away, there are those with the temerity to question these warnings: Are there other stories -- the continued fighting in Iraq, the mounting death toll of U.S. service personnel, more Abu Ghraib revelations -- that are overshadowed by terrorist warnings? Are the recent warnings aimed at discouraging protesters from demonstrating at the GOP convention? Is there a relationship between how the president is doing at the polls and the issuing of terrorist alerts?

JuliusBlog, posted under the pseudonym Julius Civitatus, along with Biltud, put together a chart and timeline (available at the site) which in part compares "Bush approval numbers to the timeline of terror alerts." Although JuliusBlog doesn't claim that all the "alerts are politically motivated," it "is important to note...that many of these 'immediate' terror alerts were later on discredited."

A few examples provided by JuliusBlog:

February 2002: A week after Ken Lay was subpoenaed by Congress to testify about Enron, and the media latched on to the Bush/Lay connection, Attorney General John Ashcroft called on "all Americans to be on the highest state of alert" after an FBI warning of a possible imminent terrorist attack.
June 9, 2002: Whistleblower Coleen Rowley testified before Congress "that she had tried to notify her superiors about the suspicious flight students 9/11...compare[ing] the agency's bureaucracy to the 'Little Shop Of Horrors,' [and told] Congress the FBI could have done more to prevent the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Two days later, at a press conference in Russia, Attorney General Ashcroft announced the arrest of Jose Padilla, the "dirty bomb" suspect.

July 25 through July 29, 2003: After delaying the publication of Congress' findings on 9/11, the government publishes them, but deleted 28 pages "believed to detail Saudi funding of members of Al Qaeda in the Untied States prior to Sept. 11." Shortly after U.S. troops were charged with beating Iraqi POWs and 15 U.S. soldiers died over 8 days in Iraq, the Department of Homeland Security "issue[d] a warning about the possibility of suicide attacks on airplanes."

December 18, through December 21, 2003: During this period, 9/11 Committee Chair Thomas Kean pointed out that the attacks were preventable; a federal appeals court ruled the government can not detain U.S. citizen Jose Padilla indefinitely without pressing charges against him or allowing him access to the courts; the Wall Street Journal reported that Pentagon auditors accused Halliburton of refusing to hand over internal documents related to allegations that it overcharged the U.S. government in Iraq; and David Kay, the heads of the weapons inspection team in Iraq, quits, having found no WMDs. Secretary Ridge raised the terror threat level in time for the holidays.

According to JuliusBlog: 1) when Bush's poll ratings dip, "there's a new terror alert"; 2) the alerts are followed by "a slight uptick" in the president's approval ratings; 3) "Whenever there are many unfavorable headlines, there's another alert or announcement (distraction effect)"; 4) As the November elections get closer, "the number and frequency of terror alerts keeps growing, to the point that they collapse in the graphic."
JuliusBlog is paying a price for his work. In an e-mail, the creator of the web log told me that while the "attacks on his computer were waning," the first few days after the posting he received "an avalanche of emails loaded with viruses, some even disguised (or forged), as journalists asking about the timeline. Even though I'm very savvy about these matters, and won't ever open any of these virus-laden emails, somehow something nasty got into my home computer on Sunday and destroyed all data and boot records."

Although he admits to not having a "clue" as to who might be behind the sabotage, it is "obviously someone unhappy" with the chart and timeline. "There are some infamous right-wing activists groups on the net that engage in all sorts of harassment activities like these. While I have no clue or proof to point at anyone in particular, I am working with my ISP and email provider to locate the origins of these attacks."

"Julius Civitatus" said that he was "surprised that nobody in the so-called mainstream media thought about plotting all the terror alerts in a chart."

It is worth remembering that since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, other than the anthrax attacks in 2001 -- the perpetrator/s of those incidents remain at large -- there has been a series of seemingly well-orchestrated false alarms: Terrorist attacks on bridges, water systems, transportation hubs, and nuclear power plants have not occurred; the use of chemical or biological weapons have not materialized; there have been no "dirty bombers" or suicide bombers; and the much-hyped smallpox epidemic -- remember when President Bush pushed for a national smallpox vaccination program? -- has not happened.

When the threat level is raised, polls invariably find Americans becoming more fearful and more anxious. The alerts sustain public anxiety even if information later proves the threat was over-hyped. This was best exemplified by the near-panic atmosphere Secretary Ridge caused by his Duct Tape & Plastic Sheeting Advisory in early 2003. Imagine the response if there actually were another foreign-initiated terrorist attack on American soil? For more please see the Bill Berkowitz archive.

Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.

Democrats' Pro-War Nominee Difficult to Explain

By R.W. Bradford

The membership of the Democratic Party is overwhelmingly opposed to the Iraq war. So why has the party nominated a man who supports the war even more enthusiastically than George Bush does?

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal on July 16, well after he had secured the nomination, John Kerry said he hoped that by "the end of my first term," the U.S. will have "reduced the number [of troops in Iraq] significantly." (Earlier this week, he said he might aim for some reductions within the first six months of taking office.) In the meantime, he intends to get more help from other governments, and, the Journal reported, "consult with military commanders to determine how many more troops might be needed to make Iraq more secure."

For the U.S. to withdraw from Iraq, he said in the interview, three conditions must be met: Iraq must be "stable"; "the outlook for the stability to hold" must be good; and we must be assured that Iraq's armed forces can provide "security sufficient for the government to stand on its own."

Until these conditions are met, he said, "I will provide for the world's need not to have a failed state in Iraq." He then accused Bush of being less resolute about continuing the effort in Iraq and, as a "political move," possibly withdrawing troops before the election.

The conditions that Kerry insists upon before ending the Iraq conflict are far more stringent than any set by Bush. And until withdrawal, he is likely to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq. In short, Kerry is even more committed to the war than Bush.

To underscore his support for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Kerry told reporters on Aug. 9 that he would "have voted for the authority" for the war even if he had known that Iraq possessed no weapons of mass destruction and that there were no ties between Saddam Hussein and the terrorist attacks on America.

The last time the U.S. was bogged down in an unpopular war was in the late 1960s. The quagmire in Vietnam is largely mirrored by events today in Iraq. But there is a massive difference.

In 1968, the president who got the nation into Vietnam was forced to end his re-election campaign after faring poorly in several of his party's primaries. Forces loyal to Lyndon Johnson managed to capture the presidential nomination for his vice president, but it was plain that voters had done something unprecedented: They had repudiated the war by denying an incumbent president a chance to run for another term.

Meanwhile, the opposition party nominated for president a man who promised somehow to get out of the war with dignity (a process that ultimately took several years and cost many lives) and to end the draft.

This year, as in 1968, there is ample public opposition to the war. Most Democrats have voiced opposition, as have some conservative Republicans. For the first time ever, a documentary movie has become a major hit — and that documentary is a propaganda blast against the war.

Opposition to the war is not quite as well-developed this year as in 1968, mostly because the U.S. is in only the second year of its futile attempt to "rebuild" Iraq, as opposed to 1968, when it was in its third year of planting social democracy in Southeast Asia. So it's not surprising that the incumbent president will easily retain his party's nomination.

But the Democrats' nomination of a strong supporter of the war is harder to explain. The only plausible reason is that they oppose Bush much more than they oppose the war. Witness the "anybody but Bush" chanted, mantra-like, at Democratic conventions and caucuses from coast to coast. For ordinary voters and ordinary party members, this mantra also means "end the war" or perhaps simply "I hate Bush." But for party regulars and bureaucrats it means something far different: Winning the presidency is necessary for Democrats to get jobs and power in the federal government.

For these people, uniting behind a single candidate early in the campaign was critical. A contentious battle for the nomination would use up much of their money. A consensus quickly developed that they would coalesce behind whichever candidate pulled out to a significant lead, no matter what his stands on the issues were. The media have proclaimed that Iowa's caucuses in January are the first major venue for candidates, and when Kerry won the caucuses, these party regulars all jumped to support him.

That is how, after decades of reform of the nominating process, the Democrats allowed their nominee to be determined by a handful of self-selected people from Iowa, a smallish, sometimes Republican state whose voters are atypical in many ways.

And it is how the American voters have been denied an opportunity to express their doubts about the war, unless they are among the tiny minority that is willing to vote for fringe-party candidates.

R.W. Bradford is editor of Liberty, a monthly magazine on culture and politics written from a classical liberal (libertarian) perspective. He is based in Port Townsend.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

Researchers Turn To Adult Stem Cells

Biotech Firms See Potential for Medical Use

By Michael S. Rosenwald
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 20, 2004; Page E01

Biotech executive C. Randal Mills flies a lot, and he's learned what to expect. Almost as likely as getting those tiny bags of peanuts or pretzels, someone in a neighboring seat will ask, "So what do you do for a living?"

Mills says his answer -- that he's chief executive of a stem-cell research company -- is met with comebacks that fluctuate between "you must be having a really hard time" to "you must really hate President Bush."

Mills's company, Osiris Therapeutics Inc. of Baltimore, is one of about a dozen firms developing therapies using adult cells, not cells from embryos. That puts Osiris both outside and inside the national debate over stem-cell research.

It isn't directly affected by the limits placed on federal funding of embryonic-cell research by the Bush administration. But in another sense it is in the thick of the scientific and political controversy: If life-saving treatments can be developed with adult cells, it would probably ease pressure on the administration to reverse its stand.

Three years ago, Bush limited federal spending for research using embryonic stem cells to a number of cell "lines" already derived from 5-day-old human embryos. Some conservatives liken research on embryos to abortion, while critics of Bush's policy say he has hobbled studies that could lead to cures of a broad range of diseases.

Stem cells differ from other cells because they can divide and regenerate. Embryonic stem cells, which were first isolated in 1998, are prized by scientists for their "plasticity," the potential to grow into many other cells or tissues. Scientists have for many years theorized that adult stem cells can regenerate only as cells of the tissue from which they are drawn.

But many of the companies working with adult stem cells are staking their efforts on a series of provocative and controversial scientific studies they claim show that adult stem cells can convert into other cell types -- that cells drawn from bone marrow can grow into cardiac muscle cells, for example.

None of the companies working with adult stem cells has yet brought a drug to market, but several have treatments in clinical trials. Some struggle for funding; a few are publicly traded. Others keep going with investments from biotech giants such as Amgen Inc. and Boston Scientific Corp. Like other biotech start-ups, all face skepticism as they try to show that their research can work as medicine and as a business.

The debate over adult stem cells, including among patients and investors, concerns whether they will ever approach the potential of embryonic stem cells, whose proponents predict revolutionary therapies to cure diseases such as Parkinson's. That question prompts impassioned disagreements between those who favor and those who oppose expanded research on embryonic cells.

"Adult stem cells are really where the real progress is being made," said Jay P. Lefkowitz, a former adviser to Bush on stem-cell policy.

"This is voodoo science," said Steve Brozak, a New York biotechnology investment banker who is running for Congress in New Jersey as a Democrat. "This is only a political sidestep. Adult-stem-cell research holds no real promise that I can see. It's not usable."

Executives and academics who work with adult stem cells note that last year the National Institutes of Health spent $190 million on adult-stem-cell research and that there are hundreds of clinical trials in progress that are using such cells. In comparison, the NIH spent $24.8 million on embryonic-stem-cell research last year, though that may be in part a gauge of the political challenges to doing such research. There are no clinical trials in progress using embryonic stem cells, according to the NIH.

Adult stem cells are used in bone-marrow transplants and to treat certain cases of blood disorders and leukemia. Companies say they are in the very early stages of devising treatments for heart attacks, liver disease, bone and cartilage diseases and brain disorders.

"It is mind-blowing stuff," said Johns Hopkins University professor Saul J. Sharkis, who recently published a study maintaining that his lab converted bone-marrow stem cells from animal donors into healthy liver cells. "I never would have thought this would be possible," Sharkis said. "Preposterous. Not possible. No way."

Osiris, which grew out of research by scientists at Case Western University in Cleveland, is using stem cells from bone-marrow donors to target, among other maladies, heart disease, specifically heart attacks. It is in early-stage human testing of a therapy in which heart-attack patients are intravenously injected with stem cells that are said to migrate to the heart and replace damaged cells.

Mills said the company, which has a stem-cell factory at its waterfront Fells Point headquarters, has patented technology that allows it to take a small amount of bone marrow, extract the stem cells, and grow them into thousands of stem-cell doses. "We've developed a process to find the needle in the haystack and grow it thousands and thousands of times over," he said.

But even some advocates of adult-stem-cell research are skeptical that technology has yet been developed to isolate enough adult stem cells from donor samples for therapeutic use, let alone reproduce them in large quantities.

The other obstacle for adult-stem-cell companies is funding. Only a few are publicly held -- StemCells Inc. in California, Aastrom Biosciences Inc. in Michigan, Curis Inc. in Massachusetts among them -- and investors haven't showed much enthusiasm for them lately. From a high of $17.12 in 1995, StemCells' stock closed yesterday at $1.42 a share, down 3 cents. Aastrom's stock, which climbed to $7.69 in 1997, closed yesterday at 74 cents a share, unchanged.

Most others, like Osiris, are privately held and only now are changing from university spinoffs to profit-conscious companies, using a combination of grants and the capital markets. Mills declined to disclose who has invested in the company, which has 50 employees, though he said it has received several multimillion-dollar grants from the Defense Department and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Landing investors is tricky for companies that are early in the clinical process, particularly with unproven adult stem cells.

"I believe that as we continue to make clinical progress that the data will be there to support individual investment of equity capital," said R. Douglas Armstrong, Aastrom's chief executive and chairman. For now, the company can afford to run only a limited number of clinical trials.

The key, said Mills and other executives, is corporate partnerships. Osiris is partnering, under undisclosed financial terms, with Boston Scientific in developing cardiac treatments. Mills said he hopes to take Osiris public, perhaps by the end of 2005.

ViaCell Inc., a Boston company, has sold a $20 million equity stake to Amgen. Under the deal, the two companies would split any eventual profits from stem-cell therapies. ViaCell filed for an initial public offering of stock this year after canceling a previous bid to go public.

The partnerships provide not only cash but also validation, the message that a well-financed, established firm thinks that the research might lead to useful, profitable medicines.

"While I can't tell you how medicine will be revolutionized or which stem cells will do it, I think it's a safe bet that a revolution will take place," said James F. Battey Jr., the head of the NIH's stem-cell task force.

Sharkis said: "The world needs to know that we're not there yet, but we will be there and that we will make a difference."

For now, though, ViaCell said of potential products in its most recent IPO filing : "If we are not able to successfully develop and commercialize them, we may not generate sufficient revenues to continue our business operations."

Iraqi Footballers' Fury at Bush


Friday 20 August 2004

Iraq's successful Olympic football team has launched an outspoken attack on US President George W Bush.

Midfielder Salih Sadir said the team - which won its group stage in Greece - was angry it had been used in Mr Bush's re-election campaign ads.

One accused the US leader of committing "many crimes", and another said he would be fighting US troops if not for Athens.

Their comments were made in a US Sports Illustrated magazine interview.

Salih Sadir said he was angry at Mr Bush's campaign adverts showing pictures of the Afghan and Iraqi flags with the words: "At this Olympics there will be two more free nations - and two fewer terrorist regimes".

"Iraq as a team does not want Mr Bush to use us for the presidential campaign," said the Iraqi player.

"He can find another way to advertise himself."

He called for US troops to be withdrawn from Iraq. "We don't wish for the presence of the Americans in our country. We want them to go away."

Another star player, 22-year-old Ahmed Manajid, asked: "How will [Mr Bush] meet his god having slaughtered so many men and women? He has committed so many crimes."

'Best people'
Mr Manajid, from Falluja - a hotbed of armed opposition to the US-led occupation in Iraq - said if he was not playing football "for sure" he would be fighting as part of the resistance.

"I want to defend my home. If a stranger invades America and the people resist, does that mean they are terrorists?" he asked.

"Everyone [in Falluja] has been labelled a terrorist. These are all lies. Falluja people are some of the best people in Iraq."

The team said they were glad Iraq's former Olympic committee head Uday Hussein - Saddam Hussein's notorious son killed by US forces after the invasion - was no longer in charge.

But coach Adnan Hamad said he was concerned with what the Bush administration was doing in Iraq.

"My problems are not with the American people. They are with what America has done in Iraq: destroy everything," he said.

"The American army has killed so many people in Iraq. What is freedom when I go to the stadium and there are shootings on the road?"

Mr Bush's spokesman defended the war on Iraq and the campaign adverts.

"The ad simply talks about President Bush's optimism and how democracy has triumphed over terror," he was quoted by the Press Association as saying.

"Twenty-five million people in Iraq are free as a result of the actions of the coalition."

Kerry Deals Away His Ace in the Hole


WASHINGTON -- It appears American voters have little choice between the presidential candidates in the November election when it comes to the disastrous war against Iraq.

Both President Bush and his rival, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., seem to think it was worth the 932 American lives (so far) and thousands of U.S. wounded to get one man behind bars -- Saddam Hussein.

There also are the untold thousands of Iraqis dead and wounded as well. But, as one Pentagon spokesman told me, "They don't count."

Kerry has made a colossal mistake by continuing to defend his October 2002 vote authorizing President Bush's invasion of Iraq.

Last week at the Grand Canyon, Kerry said he would have "voted to give the president the authority to go to war" even if he had known there were no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction -- Bush's original justification for war on Iraq.

Kerry explained that he believes a president should have the "authority" to go to war, and he voted accordingly. But he insisted that Bush subsequently misused the authority by rushing headlong into combat based on faulty intelligence about Saddam's weapons arsenal.

Kerry is mistaken on a key point. Under the U.S. Constitution, the president does not have that sole right to declare war. Despite its mindless default, that right still belongs to Congress.

Kerry has passed up several chances to distance himself from the Iraqi debacle. But instead he has left himself wide open to Bush's ridicule. What's he got left -- stem-cell research?

Bush had a field day smirking and mocking his political rival and telling the nation that he was "right" to attack Iraq, absence of weapons notwithstanding.

Bush has sarcastically told cheering Republican rallies, "After months of questioning my motives and even my credibility, Sen. Kerry now agrees with me."

"We did the right thing," Bush bragged. "And the world is better off for it."

The senator should have called Bush's hand months ago and laid it on the line after so much official deception. How could he say he would have voted for the 2002 war resolution after he and the whole world learned the rationale for the war was based on falsehoods?

Does Kerry realize that the U.S. invasion of Iraq without provocation violates the U.N. Charter and the Nuremberg Tribunal principles?

Kerry has a weak fallback position-- that he would have planned things differently before going to war and would have lined up more European allies. Knowing what they know now about the Bush fiasco, France and Germany are congratulating themselves for having the good sense to stay out of Iraq.

So Kerry has blown it big time, rising to Bush's bait and throwing away his ace in the hole -- Bush's shaky credibility on the profound question of war and peace.

Bush has yet to apologize for misleading the nation or to explain why he needed a war when Saddam's regime was tightly contained with sanctions, weapons inspections and U.S. patrolling of the "no-fly" zone.

Bush has no exit strategy or timetable for a troop withdrawal even under the facade of Iraqi sovereignty.

Kerry has talked about drawing down American forces and an eventual pullout.

But he could learn something from two previous wartime Republican presidential candidates who had a better take on the public pulse and won the White House.

In 1952 during the Korean War, Dwight D. Eisenhower made a campaign promise that he would "go to Korea" and end the bloodshed. He did go to Korea and the war ended with a cease-fire standoff months after his inauguration.

In 1968, Richard Nixon said he had a "plan" to end the Vietnam War and the voters, wanting peace, bought it. Nixon -- in part forced by Congress -- reduced the U.S. troop commitment to Vietnam, but U.S. forces were still there when Nixon was forced to resign from office in 1974 because of the Watergate scandal. But the war ended the following year.

These were not triumphal solutions but they did give Americans some hope of eventual escape from the two quagmires.

In 1964, a Los Angeles Times cartoon by famed Paul Conrad showed a pollster knocking on a door. A woman sticks her head out of a window and the pollster asks her voting preference: "President Johnson or Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz.?" She replies: "Who else have you got?"

That may be the fix some Americans are in again.

Helen Thomas is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers. E-mail: helent@hearstdc.com. Copyright 2004 Hearst Newspapers.

What does Muqtada al-Sadr Want?

Juan Cole

Thursday, August 19, 2004: The Associated Press expresses confusion, both its own, and that of US government officials, about what Muqtada al-Sadr's goals are.

I don't understand this confusion. Muqtada has given many sermons and interviews in the past 16 months outlining his goals exactly.

1) He wants the US troops out of the country immediately, which is to say, an end to Occuption. If there have to be foreign troops in Iraq, he wants them under a United Nations command.

2) He refuses to cooperate (he would say "collaborate") with the caretaker government of Iyad Allawi, which he sees as a puppet regime installed by the United States. He insists that no legitimate Iraqi governmental process can begin until the US is out.

3) He wants the reestablishment of a strong central Iraqi government with a strong military, but which has cut all ties with the Baathist past.

4) He wants Iraq to stay together rather than being partitioned, and has denounced Kurdish demands for loose federalism.

5) He wants Iraqi Shiism to emerge from Iran's shadow and to establish its independence from Iran. His movement is rooted in the Shiite ghettos of Iraq and is very indigenous. He is not Iran's catspaw in Iraq, quite the opposite. He is strong Iraqi nationalist.

6) He sometimes talks about "democracy" in post-American Iraq, but probably just means populism. Like Peron and Franco, his populism implies his ability to maintain and direct his own militia, who provide "order" (read puritanical morality imposed by force) to Shiite neighborhoods.

7) In the long term, he would like to see a system in Iraq similar to the regime in Iran. He wants Islamic law to be the law of the land, and he wants clerics to rule. His father studied with Ayatollah Khomeini and accepted the notion of clerical rule. So does Muqtada. That is, there may be a place for elections (as in Iran), but true power would rest in the hands of the clerics. He has admitted all this in Arabic press interviews.

So, I don't understand the widespread puzzlement reported by AP. It may not be a simple set of positions, but they aren't hidden from view or hard to understand.

There were several loud explosions Thursday morning near the Shrine of Ali where Muqtada is holed up with about 1000 men.

Although Muqtada agreed Wednesday to disarm his militia and leave the shrine if US troops would withdraw from the city first, few expect this siege to end well or easily. The wire services do not appear to have caught on that Muqtada is demanding the withdrawal of US troops as a necessary precondition, but that is what is being reported by al-Jazeerah.

Interim Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan threatened to teach Muqtada a lesson he would never forget, and promised decisive action against him, if he did not leave the shrine within hours. (-al-Zaman ). (Shaalan has adopted the body language and rhetoric of the old Baath regime, which makes the skin of a lot of Iraqis crawl. To be fair, Muqtada also acts in a thuggish way that alarms many Iraqis who have had enough of thugs.)

Juan Cole is Professor of History at the University of Michigan. http://www.juancole.com

Copyright: Juan Cole.

Chavez Victory: Defeat for Bush Policy

By Marjorie Cohn

Friday 20 August 2004

The Bush administration is gritting its collective teeth at the outcome of Sunday’s recall election in Venezuela, which overwhelmingly affirmed President Hugo Chavez’s tenure. If President Jimmy Carter had not lent his enormous credibility to the election results, Bush and his minions would surely be crying foul in unison with the opposition.

Chavez was popularly elected by his countrymen and women in 1998 and 2000. Yet in spite of Bush’s claims to support democracy around the world, his administration has given succor those trying to overthrow Chavez’s government before, during and since the aborted coup in April 2002.

Officials at the Organization of American States affirmed that the Bush administration had sanctioned the coup. Bush’s then-Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Otto Reich, met with leaders of the coup for months before it was executed. Elliot Abrams, one of the neoconservative policymakers in Bush’s inner circle, approved the coup, according to the London Observer. And John Negroponte, now our ambassador to Iraq, was in on it, too.

Reich, Abrams and Negroponte comprised the troika that administered the “Reagan doctrine” in the 1980s, which supported vicious dictatorships in Central America, including those in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

As documented in the film, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” Chavez was forcibly removed from the presidential palace on April 11, 2002 by forces acting on behalf of Venezuela’s propertied class. Pedro Carmona, head of Venezuela’s confederation of business and industry, declared himself president. Within hours, Carmona purported to repeal laws enacted under Chavez that the executives of foreign oil companies opposed.

Forty-eight hours later, after thousands of workers and peasants stormed the palace demanding Chavez’s return to power, the military did an about-face and brought him back. The filmmakers, fortuitously present at the scene, were caught inside the palace and filmed the class struggle that played out with Chavez’s ouster and reinstatement.

Former U.S. Navy intelligence officer Wayne Madsen told the Guardian that our navy helped with communications jamming support to the Venezuelan military during the would-be coup. An American plane was present on the island to which Chavez was whisked away. The Bush administration provided financial backing to key participants in the coup attempt, which resulted in the deaths of 19 people.

Chavez incurred the wrath of Team Bush by championing the interests of the working class over the oil-igarchy in Venezuela. The fifth largest oil supplier in the world, Venezuela is a key provider of U.S. petroleum. By using oil profits to help his people instead of the multinational corporations, Chavez created an alternative model to Bush-backed neoliberal globalization.

Hugo Chavez’s plan of Bolivarianism – named after Simon Bolivar, father of Venezuelan independence – focused on a redistribution of the massive wealth generated by his country’s rich oil profits. He passed a law that doubled royalty taxes paid by ExxonMobil and other oil companies on new finds.

Chavez enacted the Ley De Tierras, which provided for unused land to be given to the landless; he instituted free health care and public education to all; he backed a new Constitution that enshrines rights for women and indigenous peoples; and he lowered the inflation rate.

Unlike the U.S.-backed Iraqi interim government, which shut down Al Jazeera for its broadcasts critical of the occupation, Chavez never shut down or censored private media controlled by tycoons trying to unseat him in the months leading up to Sunday’s election.

Nearly 95 percent of the electorate voted in the election, the largest percentage Jimmy Carter has ever seen. Carter and the Organization of American States have independently verified the validity of Sunday’s election results, and have even supported an audit, which Carter calls “infallible,” according to The New York Times. Nevertheless, the opposition refuses to sanction the results of the election or the audit.

Opposition exit polls, which Carter has dismissed as inaccurate and “deliberately distributed … in order to build up, not only the expectation of victory, but also to influence the people still standing in line,” were funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

NED, a U.S. government organization purporting to promote democracy, was set up in the early 1980s by Reagan to counter negative revelations about the CIA’s covert operations in the late 1970s. NED successfully manipulated the Nicaraguan elections in 1990 and worked with right-wing groups in the late 1990s to oust Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Just last February, the Bush administration engineered a coup d’etat in Haiti, as I described in my editorial, Coup d’Etat – This Time in Haiti. The U.S. Marines put democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on a plane out of Haiti after officials from the United States threatened him into signing a purported resignation letter. Aristide, like Chavez, fell out of favor with Bush by resisting neoliberalism.

Hugo Chavez is, according to The Wall Street Journal, “Washington’s biggest Latin American headache after the old standby, Cuba.” Indeed, Venezuela is Cuba’s top trading partner, selling it discounted oil, while Cuba has sent thousands of doctors, teachers and engineers to work in Venezuela.

Speaking of Cuba, NED donated a quarter-million dollars in the early 1990s to the Cuban-American National Fund, the terrorist anti-Castro group in Miami. CANF financed Luis Posada Carriles, notorious for his involvement in the blowing up of a Cuba airplane in 1976, which killed 73 people.

Chavez, now trying to reunify his country in the wake of a contentious election, says: “Violence can only be ended if actions are taken so that all human beings have access to the fundamental human rights, including education, housing, work and health.” In a déjà vu from a hot-button issue facing us in the United States, Chavez told journalist Greg Palast: “Our upper classes don’t even like paying taxes. That’s one reason they hate me. We said, ‘You must pay your taxes.’”

Critical of the Bush administration’s covert activity against him and Fidel Castro, Chavez maintains: “They are also manipulating the U.S. people because there is a dictatorship in the United States.”

One would hope our election results in November are as reliable as Venezuela’s. If Bush is elected, we can expect him to go after Chavez again, and Castro as well. This would likely destabilize Latin America in much the same way Bush has destabilized the Middle East with his war on Iraq.

Leaders of countries throughout Latin America congratulated Hugo Chavez on his victory Sunday. Yet the Bush government, although grudgingly accepting the results, did not hail the exercise of democracy in Venezuela.

Bush’s agenda was roundly defeated with Chavez’s triumph. Chavez has opposed U.S. policy in Latin America, including military aid to Colombia and efforts to spread free trade agreements throughout the region. Voters who supported him understood that a vote to recall Hugo Chavez would be a vote for U.S. imperialism.

Marjorie Cohn, a contributing editor to t r u t h o u t, is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, executive vice president of the National Lawyers Guild, and the U.S. representative to the executive committee of the American Association of Jurists.