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Tuesday, November 09, 2004

'Scores of Civilians' Killed in Falluja

Muhammad Abbud said he watched his nine-year-old son bleed to death at their Falluja home, unable to take him to hospital as fighting raged in the streets and bombs rained down on the Iraqi city.

In the midst of a US onslaught and hemmed in by a round-the-clock curfew, he said he had little choice but to bury his eldest son, Ghaith, in the garden.

"My son got shrapnel in his stomach when our house was hit at dawn, but we couldn't take him for treatment," said Abbud, a teacher. "We buried him in the garden because it was too dangerous to go out. We did not know how long the fighting would last."

Residents say scores of civilians have been killed or wounded in 24 hours of fighting since US-led forces pushed deep into the city on Monday evening.

Doctors said people brought in at least 15 dead civilians at the main clinic in Falluja on Monday. By Tuesday, there were no clinics open, residents said, and no way to count casualties.

Medical supplies low

US and Iraqi forces seized control of the city's main hospital, across the Euphrates river from Falluja proper, hours before the onslaught began.

Overnight US bombardments hit a clinic inside the Sunni Muslim city, killing doctores, nurses and patients, residents said. US military authorities denied the reports.

Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said troops detained 38 fighters entrenched at Falluja Hospital and accused doctors there of exaggerating civilian casualties.

Sami al-Jumaili, a doctor at Falluja Hospital, said the city was running out of medical supplies.

"There is not a single surgeon in Falluja. We had one ambulance hit by US fire and a doctor wounded. There are scores of injured civilians in their homes whom we can't move," he said by telephone from a house where he had gone to help the wounded.

"A 13-year-old child just died in my hands."

ICRC voices concern

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Tuesday that it was extremely worried about the fate of people wounded in the ferocious battle for control of the Iraqi city of Falluja.

"The ICRC urges the belligerents to ensure that all those in need of such care - whether friend or foe - be given access to medical facilities and that medical personnel and vehicles can function without hindrance at all times," a statement said.

The organisation said it was "deeply concerned about reports that the injured cannot receive adequate medical care."

Families flee

Weekend air raids destroyed a clinic funded by an Islamic relief organisation in the centre of Falluja and a nearby warehouse used to store medical supplies, witnesses said.

Many families fled the city of 300,000 long before the offensive began. An official from a Sunni Muslim group with links to some fighters in Falluja said on Monday only about 60,000 people remained.

Residents say they have no power and are using kerosene lamps at night. They say they keep to ground floors for safety. Food shops have been closed for six days.

"My kids are hysterical with fear," said Farhan Salih. "They are traumatised by the sound but there is nowhere to take them."

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Monday he did not foresee large numbers of civilian casualties in the assault, saying US forces were disciplined and precise.

Those words were of little comfort to the Abbud family, sitting in a house damaged by the bomb that killed their child.

"We just bandaged his stomach and gave him water, but he was losing a lot of blood. He died this afternoon," said Abbud.

Tuesday 09 November 2004, 23:53 Makka Time, 20:53 GMT Reuters

Halliburton, the Second-Term Curse?

The White House's Halliburton Honeymoon is already history.

Only two days after President Bush declared victory in his quest for a second term, the company once run by Vice President Cheney dropped a political bomb.

In a filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday, the oil services company said that the Justice Department expanded its investigation into Halliburton, that government probes have found that bribes may have been made in Nigeria and that A. Jack Stanley, a former senior executive, may have been involved.

The latest news about alleged shenanigans at Halliburton, some of which may have occurred on Cheney's watch, serves as a timely warning for the Bush administration: Second terms are often beset by scandal. President Bill Clinton was impeached in the Monica S. Lewinsky affair. President Ronald Reagan endured the Iran-contra scandal. And President Richard M. Nixon had Watergate.

Bush could defy the second-term curse, of course. And, with Congress in friendly hands and with the demise of the independent counsel statute, he has advantages his predecessors did not. But there are several investigations and simmering controversies that were held off until after the election -- and that could present trouble for the president as they resurface.

After last week's drubbing, the president's opponents have begun to seek solace in scandal. "At some point in the next four years there will be a great scandal that will make Watergate look like a fraternity prank," an article on the left-wing Web site Salon predicted yesterday.

That's a bit of a stretch. But there are certainly plenty of thorny matters awaiting resolution: the probe into the leak of a CIA operative's employment; reports and lawsuits stemming from the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib; probes into prewar intelligence in Iraq and the White House's use of it; and FBI investigations into how sensitive intelligence wound up in the hands of Israelis and Iranians.

Even the chief investigator faces investigation. The Justice Department's Public Integrity Section is examining whether Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, when he served in the Senate, violated criminal campaign funding laws or federal disclosure laws relating to the transfer of a mailing list to his campaign committee.

Halliburton gets the prize for being the first to reassert itself since the election. Its SEC filing Friday disclosed more trouble related to investigations by the SEC, Justice, a French magistrate and Nigerian officials into whether a consortium including Halliburton paid $180 million in bribes to Nigerian officials involving a gas plant from 1995 to 2002. Cheney ran the company from 1995 to 2000, and Halliburton bought the unit involved in the consortium in 1998.

That followed by little more than a week the last bad news about Halliburton: that the FBI expanded a probe into charges of contract irregularities by Halliburton in Iraq and Kuwait. Lawyers for a Pentagon official said the FBI requested an interview with her over her complaints that the Army gave a Halliburton unit preferential treatment when granting it a $7 billion contract to restore Iraq's oil fields.

Halliburton also told shareholders that the Justice Department is examining whether operations in Iran by a subsidiary violated U.S. sanctions. The company received a grand jury subpoena in July and produced documents in September.

Also proceeding is special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald's probe into the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's employment to columnist Robert D. Novak. Novak said his sources were two senior administration officials. According to people involved in the inquiry, Fitzgerald has learned the identity of at least one person who allegedly was involved in leaking Plame's name, but he has not made that information public.

The FBI, for its part, is probing whether Lawrence A. Franklin, a Pentagon official, passed to Israel, by way of a pro-Israel lobbying group, classified intelligence about Iran. That examination follows another FBI probe that began in the spring into Iraqi figure Ahmed Chalabi, a former Pentagon ally who may have compromised U.S. intelligence by leaking sensitive information to Iran.

Investigations into the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq -- though largely exhausted in Bush's first term -- will have an encore in the second term. The Senate intelligence committee earlier this year voted to expand its investigation of prewar intelligence to the sensitive subject of how policymakers used the data; the new Senate, with more Republican members, may reconsider that choice. Also continuing is an FBI probe into the forged documents showing Iraq was seeking to buy nuclear material from Niger. Meantime, a commission appointed by Bush related to the Iraq intelligence is scheduled to report by March 31.

Speaking of deadlines, a report that may be the last word on the Abu Ghraib torture scandal is due in the next several weeks. Navy Vice Adm. Albert "Tom" Church has been probing interrogation practices throughout Iraq and Afghanistan.

If that doesn't resolve the matter, there is also a CIA report on the subject, potentially dozens of court-martial proceedings and a passel of civil cases -- a veritable full-employment plan for government lawyers and investigators.

Dana Milbank
Tuesday, November 9, 2004
Staff writer Walter Pincus contributed to this report.

A Cancer Drug's Long Journey From Cuba

What It Took to Bring a Promising Lung Cancer Drug to the United

Nov. 5, 2004 - When the president of a small California biotech firm heard of a promising new treatment for lung cancer, he was intrigued.

"It stimulates a very strong immune response in patients," said David Hale, chief executive officer of CancerVax Corp. There was just one hitch -- the drug, referred to as SAI-EGF -- is made in
Cuba as part of Fidel Castro's $1 billion biotech program. Still, Hale
was determined to bring the drug to the United States. "I had no idea what an overwhelming task this was going to be," he said. In early testing, SAI-EGF prolonged the lives of those with advanced lung cancer by as much as eight months. The drug triggers the body's own immune system to fight the tumor and slow its growth. Scientists hope it may also be effective in treating breast and other cancers. Cuban scientists were willing to help Americans gain access to the drug.

"There is no reason why scientists here and there cannot cooperate," said Dr. Augustin Lage, director of the Center of Molecular Immunology in Havana, which developed the drug.

Exception to Trade Embargo

But for the drug to come to the United States, the State Department had to recommend that an exception be made to the 44-year-old U.S.-Cuban trade embargo. The Treasury Department later approved that request. The deal came together just as the Bush administration was getting tougher on Cuban trade.
"The Bush administration doesn't want to do anything to validate the [Cuban] revolution, whether it be public relations terms or financial terms, and that was the quandary with CancerVax," said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.
CancerVax hired lobbyists to build political support. Their pitch hit
home with many. Among the top-level decision-makers at the State Department, two had recently lost relatives to lung cancer.
"A lot of the people that might normally be opposed to such a
transaction actually were supportive of our efforts to bring the product into the U.S.," said Hale.

The U.S. government did not want the Cuban government to benefit from the sale of the drug. So instead of paying $6 million in cash for the drug, CancerVax was told to pay in food and medical supplies. For Castro, the deal was the perfect opportunity to show the world that Cuba had something the United States wanted.
After years of effort, CancerVax hopes to begin clinical trials next
year. If all goes well, and the drug is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, it may be on the market by 2009.
ABC News' Lisa Stark filed this report for World News Tonight.

Copyright © 2004 ABC News Internet Ventures

Black Watch Pays Price for Backing Fallujah Offensive

Tony Blair faced calls from Labour MPs last night to pull British troops out of Iraq's notorious "Triangle of Death" after another Black Watch soldier was killed and two more were injured.

The attack brought the death toll of British troops to four in the past five days since the Black Watch was moved into the area to allow US troops to launch an assault on rebel insurgents based in Fallujah.

The soldiers' Warrior fighting vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb while they were on patrol north of their base at Camp Dogwood at about 6.30pm yesterday. The force of the blast threw the armoured car on to its side and into a ditch.

The injured soldiers were taken by helicopter to a US military hospital in Baghdad. Families of all three soldiers were being contacted last night by the Ministry of Defence.

Soldiers shot up dozens of bright illumination flares into the night sky to shed light on the disaster scene and aid rescue efforts. A helicopter buzzed overhead in an effort to track down the insurgents who fled into the darkness.

The Black Watch spokesman Captain Stuart Macaulay, 31, said: "While we mourn a lost colleague, the whole battle group has just been made more determined by this to complete our important mission. Our thoughts are with his family."

The former defence minister Peter Kilfoyle accused Mr Blair of allowing Britain to be dragged into an unwinnable war. "It is a throwback to the misjudgements of the Vietnam war," he said.

The Foreign Office minister Bill Rammelldefended the decision to send UK troops into the more dangerous US zone and said "minimising the risk to our troops" was part of the "operational judgement" made by the MoD.

Only two days after their redeployment last week from Basra to the US sector near Baghdad three Black Watch soldiers died when a suicide bomber drove his car into a roadblock in a hostile area on the eastern bank of the Euphrates. Pte Paul Lowe, Pte Scott McArdle, 22, and Sgt Stuart Gray, 31, were killed along with their civilian Iraqi interpreter. Eight other soldiers were injured in the ambush.

On Sunday, two of the regiment's bomb disposal experts from the Royal Logistic Corps and the Royal Signals were seriously injured in a suicide car bomb attack in the area.

The Defence Secretary has ordered a more compassionate approach to the families of the soldiers who have been killed. However the bereaved heavily criticised GeoffHoon and Mr Blair for sending the Black Watch into the perilous area, when they should have been heading home to Britain at
the end of their tour of duty.

The 850-strong Black Watch group was controversially deployed to the base to relieve US forces preparing for the Fallujah assault. They have been tasked with cutting off the "rat runs" from the city to prevent insurgents escaping and supplies getting in.

In the lead-up to the redeployment, Lt-Col James Cowan, the commanding officer of the battalion, expressed concern over the decision to move his troops to Camp Dogwood, 25 miles south-west of Baghdad.

In a series of e-mails, Lt-Col Cowan reportedly wrote that the regiment expected "every lunatic terrorist from miles around to descend on us like bees to honey". He also expressed concern about the effect on the soldiers' families.

In one e-mail, Lt-Col Cowan wrote: "I hope the Government knows what it has got itself into. I'm not sure they fully appreciate the risks. The marines we have taken over from have taken nine dead and 197 injured since July. I hope we do better."

Colin Brown and Marie Woolf
09 November 2004
UK Guardian

Judge Says Detainees' Trials Are Unlawful

Ruling Is Setback For Bush Policy

The special trials established to determine the guilt or innocence of prisoners at the U.S. military prison in Cuba are unlawful and cannot continue in their current form, a federal judge ruled yesterday.

In a setback for the Bush administration, U.S. District Judge James Robertson found that detainees at the Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, may be prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions and therefore entitled to the protections of international and military law -- which the government has declined to grant them.

The decision came in a lawsuit filed by the first alleged al Qaeda member facing trial before what the government calls "military commissions." The decision upends -- for now -- the administration's strategy for prosecuting hundreds of alleged al Qaeda and Taliban detainees accused of terrorist crimes.

Human rights advocates, foreign governments and the detainees' attorneys have contended that the rules governing military commissions are unfairly stacked against the defendants. But Robertson's ruling is the first by a federal judge to assert that the commissions, which took nearly two years to get underway, are invalid.

The Bush administration denounced the ruling as wrongly giving special rights to terrorists and announced that it will ask a higher court for an emergency stay and reversal of Robertson's decision. Military officers at Guantanamo immediately halted commission proceedings in light of the ruling.

"We vigorously disagree. . . . The judge has put terrorism on the same legal footing as legitimate methods of waging war," said Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo. "The Constitution entrusts to the president the responsibility to safeguard the nation's security. The Department of Justice will continue to defend the president's ability and authority under the Constitution to fulfill that duty."

Robertson ruled that the military commissions, which Bush authorized the Pentagon to revive after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, are neither lawful nor proper. Under commission rules, the government could, for example, exclude people accused of terrorist acts from some commission sessions and deny them access to evidence, which the judge said would violate basic military law.

Robertson said the government should have held special hearings for detainees to determine whether they qualified for prisoner-of-war protections when they were captured, as required by the Geneva Conventions. Instead, the administration declared the captives "enemy combatants" and decided to afford them some of the protections spelled out by the Geneva accords.

Robertson ordered that until the government provides the hearing, it can prosecute the detainees only in courts-martial, under long-established military law.

Robertson issued his decision in the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a detainee captured in Afghanistan in late 2001 and accused of being a member of al Qaeda. Robertson's opinion is expected to set the standard for treatment of other detainees before military commissions. So far, four Guantanamo Bay detainees have been ordered to stand trial.

The unusual coalition of defense lawyers and conservative military law experts who banded together to challenge the commissions hailed the decision as a major victory in efforts to level the playing field for the detainees, some of whom have been held for nearly three years.

"We are thrilled by this ruling," said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based group that represents the families of some Guantanamo Bay prisoners. "Military commissions were a bad idea and an embarrassment. The refusal of the Bush administration to apply the Geneva Conventions was a legal and moral outrage."

Kevin Barry, a retired Coast Guard judge who is critical of the Pentagon's legal justifications for the Guantanamo Bay detentions, called Robertson's ruling a "remarkable" decision that "will give heart to all who think the rule of law should apply in the Afghanistan conflict." Barry said the war on terrorism is the first U.S. war since the Geneva Conventions' adoption in 1949 in which the government has not accorded POW status to enemy fighters.

"Even the Viet Cong, who were farmers by day and fighters at night, were accorded that status," he said. "The judge got these issues right."

The government has been under pressure since June to revise other facets of its strategy for handling the cases of the more than 500 Guantanamo Bay detainees. In a landmark ruling that month, the Supreme Court rejected the government's argument that the president may indefinitely hold and interrogate alleged al Qaeda and Taliban members captured on the battlefield without filing charges or providing them lawyers.
The court ruled that the detainees were entitled to hear the charges against them and challenge their imprisonment in U.S. federal courts. Nearly 70 have filed such challenges, called habeas corpus petitions, in federal courts here.

Since the Supreme Court ruling, the government has begun holding "combatant status review tribunals" at Guantanamo Bay for each detainee to determine whether he should continue to be held. The detainees do not have legal representation at those hearings. So far 317 hearings have been held and 131 cases have been adjudicated, all but one in favor of continued detention.

Douglass Cassel, director of the Center for International Human Rights at the Northwestern University School of Law, said he hopes the Bush administration reconsiders its overall strategy in light of the Supreme Court's June decision and Robertson's ruling yesterday.

"I hope the government sits back and says, 'This is a chance to regain the high ground in the court of public opinion,' " he said. "This decision is of enormous importance to the perceived commitment of the United States to the rule of law."

But Douglas W. Kmiec, a Pepperdine University law professor, called Robertson "sadly mistaken" for intervening in the case at this point. He said the judge should have postponed any ruling until the military commissions had completed their work.

Eugene R. Fidell, a Washington lawyer specializing in military justice, said it will be difficult for military commissions and status review panels to decide fairly whether a detainee is a prisoner of war, after top executive branch and military leaders have declared all of them enemy combatants, not POWs.

"That's where they got into trouble," Fidell said. "The people driving the train were not people familiar with the military justice system."

Carol D. Leonnig and John Mintz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 9, 2004; Page A01