The Battle for Misrata Continues. Forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi pounded the rebel held city of Misrata on Sunday, hours after the Libyan government claimed its troops had pulled back from the besieged city in order to allow tribal leaders try to negotiate a political resolution. More from the The Guardian. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports more on the use of unmanned American drones in the conflict suggesting that they may provide a "psychological edge" in the fighting.
Army Joins Crackdown in Syria.Al Jazeera reports that the Syrian Army has been called into action to crackdown on anti-government protests in the southern city of Deraa and the Damascus suburb of Douma. Communications have been cut off and, for the first time, the military has become directly involved in attempts to quell the on-going protests against the regime of Bashir al Assad.
Clashes in the South Sudan. South Sudan's army (SPLA) claimed today killing 57 militia members during Saturday's clashes in Jonglei state. The militia forces were to integrate into the SPLA before July 9 when the South will secede from the North after voting overwhelmingly to separate in a referendum and it is not clear what set off this latest round of fighting. All Africa has the full report.
Alternative Vote Referendum Strains UK Coalition. The already strained relations between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in Britain's coalition government reached a new low yesterday amid an increasingly bitter campaign ahead of next month's referendum on the voting system. The story in The Independent.
Hundreds of Taliban Escape. Some 500 Taliban fighters, including some high level commanders, have escaped from a detention centre in Kandahar via a 320 meter tunnel. According to a Taliban statement the tunnel was not dug by the inmates but by fighters outside the prison. The tunnel took 5 months to complete. A full report including video from Al Jazeera.
by ralphlopez, Fri Nov 05, 2010 at 04:18:27 PM EDT
And why wouldn't they? The war is making everyone rich (except us, who pay the bill.) Reported practically before the ballots in all the states had been counted:
WASHINGTON: Republican lawmakers who now control the US House of Representatives said on Thursday that they would try to prevent President Barack Obama from withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan as he planned...
Now, thanks to Rep. John Tierney (D-MA), who won his re-election handily, we know that at least 20% of Pentagon contract funds for overland transportation of military supplies goes to insurgents, as payment for not attacking the truck convoys. This means up to $400 million a year goes directly to financing the Taliban and its allies, which could include warlords on the U.S. payroll in other ways accustomed to playing both sides. To put that in context, the Taliban hierarchy's income from opium profits is estimated at about $300 million a year. This is not small leakage. If the Pentagon gave the Taliban anymore, it should be issued stock.
Add to this the fact that a huge amount of reconstruction dollars never even reach the country, but are taken back by American contractors in the form of 40% profit margins and ex-patriot "consultant" salaries, and it's a "splendid little war," to quote President McKinley's Secretary of State.
A 2008 report by OXFAM bares the truth about what's really happening to reconstruction dollars going to Afghanistan, the loss of which is blamed, in the official line, on corrupt Karzai government cronies, which is only part of the truth. OXFAM's watershed "Aid Effectiveness in Afghanistan" tells us:
Afghanistan's biggest donor, USAID, allocates close to half of its funds to five large US contractors in the country and it is clear that substantial amounts of aid continue to be absorbed in corporate profits. According to the US based Centre for Public Integrity, the US government has awarded major contracts in Afghanistan, some worth hundreds of millions of dollars, to, inter alia, KBR, the Louis Berger Group, Chemonics International, Bearing Point and Dyncorp International. In some large contracts in Afghanistan there are up to five of layers international or national subcontractors, each of which usually takes between 10-20% profit on any given contract but in some cases as much as 50%.
Afghans keep asking: "Where did the money go?" American taxpayers should be asking the same question. The official answer is that donor funds are lost to Afghan corruption. But shady Afghans, accustomed to two-bit bribes, are learning how big-bucks corruption really works from the masters of the world.
So it's no mystery why Establishment Republicans would want to misread this week's Tea Party victories as a mandate to keep financing the Taliban. No Taliban, no war. No war, no hand-over-fist money making for campaign contributors who'll take care of them once they are out of office in one way or the other. Son we are talking gigantic gobs of cushy jobs, stock options, likker, DC madams forever YEE HAW!!
Could this story get any worse? Yes. Not only are we paying for insecurity and hatred due to the civilian casualties, night raids based on faulty information, and drone attacks which leave Afghans begging us to tell them why we are doing this to them, we could easily have the very opposite, real security, a people allied with us in the region who would hunt down Al Qaeda themselves, and a prospering Central Asian economy, for about one-tenth the price. When politicians intone gravely "we don't do nation-building" they may as well be saying "we don't do things the cheap, smart way that works for national security. No damned profit."
Kristof went to Kabul to talk to men in a shanty town on the outskirts and reported:
What intrigues me is that the men don’t seem particularly ideological...These men say that their preference would be to get regular jobs and live in peace. But there are no jobs, and now they are being told that they will be kicked out of their camp. They say the threatened expulsion is the result of a corrupt land deal by tycoons tied to the government of President Hamid Karzai. "If the government forces us out, then we’ll have to go and join the Taliban and fight..."
On Wednesday, to the surprise of some spectators in the courtroom, a U.S. federal judge did the right thing: he followed the law.
Judge Lewis Kaplan had a clear choice before him: he could exclude the testimony of a government witness discovered via abusive CIA interrogation of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, or he could allow the government to introduce that testimony, in blatant violation of U.S. law. Ghailani, transferred from Guantanamo Bay to New York last year, is now on trial for allegedly assisting in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa.
In a U.S. federal court, testimony derived from a coercive interrogation is not admissible. A similar rule applies in the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay. Although judges there have more leeway, most military judges are equally principled and take the ban seriously. Torture-derived evidence is inadmissible for two reasons: to prevent U.S. authorities from engaging in torture, and because such evidence is inherently unreliable. International treaties similarly ban its use.
The government knew, of course, that this would be a problem, and it surely has plenty of other evidence against Ghailani or it wouldn't have transferred him to civilian court in the first place. After Judge Kaplan's ruling, Attorney General Eric Holder expressed his continued confidence in the case. Notably, four of his alleged co-conspirators in the bombings were tried and sentenced to life in prison back in 2001 - without the use of this particular government witness. Evidence introduced in that trial pointed to Ghailani as well.
Still, since Wednesday, commentators such as Liz Cheney and Jack Goldsmith have seized on Judge Kaplan's ruling to lament not the fact that Ghailani was thrown in a CIA black site for two years and likely tortured (the government refuses to address Ghailani's treatment in this trial but concedes he was "coerced"), but the fact that the judge has excluded the evidence that his interrogators squeezed out of him - or to claim the administration should never have given Ghailani a trial at all.
"If the American people needed any further proof that this Administration's policy of treating terrorism like a law enforcement matter is irresponsible and reckless, they received it today," announced Cheney after the ruling. Goldsmith, the Harvard Professor and former head of the Office of Legal Counsel Under President Bush, now writing on the new Lawfare blog, wonders "why the government is bothering to try Ghailani." Why not simply imprison him indefinitely?
Coming from Goldsmith, this is particularly disappointing. When he was at OLC, he had the courage to criticize his colleagues John Yoo and Jay Bybee for their twisted legal analysis that allowed them to institutionalize torture as U.S. policy. Now, rather than recalling that error as the source of the problem in Ghailani's trial today, he's criticizing the Obama administration for applying the rule of law at all.
Technically, Goldsmith may be right: the administration could just declare Ghailani an al Qaeda member and ongoing threat and hold him in military detention forever. That's the unfortunate consequence of the "war against al Qaeda, the Taliban and associated forces," which has no logical end. But as a matter of principle and policy, imprisoning people indefinitely without trial would be a disgrace, along the lines of what Goldsmith's colleagues at OLC sanctioned.
If there's anything the United States stands for -- or used to stand for -- it's that we don't throw people in prison without proof they've done something wrong.
Principle aside, it's just bad strategy. As General Petraeus has acknowledged, winning the war against al Qaeda and the Taliban is as much about winning over the local populations where they live as it is about U.S. military prowess. Throwing Muslims in prison for decades without charge or trial is hardly a good strategy. If, as national security experts tell us, al Qaeda's strategy is to present the U.S. war against terror as a war against Islam, indefinite detention of suspected Islamic insurgents without trial hands al Qaeda its most effective propaganda campaign on a silver platter.
Cheney and Goldsmith may be right that excluding a witness derived by torture will make the government's case against Ghailani more difficult. But in the end, a fair trial for a suspected terrorist in a respected federal court will do far more to defeat al Qaeda and its associates -- and to bolster the image of the United States in the world -- than will foregoing justice altogether.
Up in Alaska, Senator Lisa Murkowski trails Joe Miller, a Fairbanks lawyer who received endorsements from Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck's 9-12 Project and the Tea Party Express. With 429 of 438 precincts reporting, Miller has 45,909 votes while Murkowski has 43,949 votes. According to the Alaska Division of Elections, more than 16,000 absentee ballots were requested and fewer than half (7,600) had been returned as of Monday night. The full results won't be known for at least a week and it is possible that Murkowski may yet overtake Miller. The Anchorage Daily News has more:
Miller credited the support of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for his lead.
"I'm absolutely certain that was pivotal," he said.
Murkowski on Tuesday night took a shot at Palin, saying that when Palin resigned as governor last summer she said she would use her new national role to help out Alaska.
"I think she's out for her own self-interest. I don't think she's out for Alaska's interest," Murkowski said as she waited at her campaign headquarters for results to come in.
Her campaign spokesman, Steve Wackowski, was holding out hope that she would benefit from support in rural and coastal areas of the state that hadn't yet reported.
"We knew the race was going to be tight. The rural areas have yet to come in and we know Sen. Murkowski is going to be very strong in the rural areas."
Most of the remaining precincts are in rural areas, where paper ballots are counted by hand.
The final results of the race won't be known for over a week. The Alaska Division of Elections said over 16,000 absentee ballots were requested and as of Monday night 7,600 had been returned. The first count of absentees will be next Tuesday and there will be two subsequent counts as the absentee votes trickle in on Sept. 3 and on Sept. 8.
Polls prior to vote had Murkowski winning comfortably by double digits. The last poll I saw was from RT Nielson poll, a poll commissioned by the Tea Party Express backing Miller, put Murkowski at 46.91 percent and Miller at 35.39 percent. Clearly, the polls were off.
Here's what we know about Miller. He is a 43-year-old father of eight and deeply religious. Born in the mid-west ( I've heard both Kansas and Illinois), he graduated from West Point in 1989 and served in the first Gulf War. He went on to earn a law degree from Yale in 1995 and moved to Alaska to take a law firm job. In Alaska, he earned a Master's in Economics from the University of Alaska. He soon became a U.S. magistrate judge before stepping down in 2004 to make an unsuccessful run for state representative. He is currently an attorney in private practice in Fairbanks. He is a friend of Todd Palin which is how he got the endorsement of Sarah Palin.
His positions on the issues -- though we don't know many specifics -- would put him in line with diehard conservatives in the Senate like Jim DeMint of South Carolina. He says not only that he would repeal what he calls "ObamaCare," but that the health care overhaul law is not consititutional. Ditto for cap and trade legislation: he opposes it, and argues it is unconstitutional. Miller has said he would cut funding to the U.N. and the IMF and other foreign aid, but maintained in a letter to seniors he would not cut Social Security.
Miller also holds that unemployment insurance is unconstitutional. A strict constitutionalist, Miller says he believes the Federal Department of Education and the Department of Energy should be abolished and that, over the long term, the government should stop offering Social Security and Medicare. He believes that the TARP and the healthcare reform are not just wrong but unconstitutional.
On other issues, Miller has placed himself in line with other Tea Party candidates running for Senate seats this year -- including Nevada's Sharron Angle and Colorado's Ken Buck -- by saying that he is opposed to allowing women to obtain abortions, even in cases of rape and incest. In a recent interview with the Fairbank Daily News-Miner, he said that he is "unequivocally pro-life," except "when the mother's life is in danger." He supports the Arizona immigration stance and does not believe the millions of immigrants already here illegally should be granted amnesty.
The winner of the Murkowski-Miller race will face Democrat Scott McAdams, the former mayor of Sitka, in the November general election. If Murkowski does lose, there's a chance that she can run on a third party ticket or perhaps run a write-in candidacy. She cannot, however, run as independent a la Joe Lieberman. The filing deadline for independent candidates ended in June.
Here are some of the other news stories making the rounds today.
Judge Royce C. Lamberth, a US District Court judge, granted a preliminary injunction Monday to stop federal funding of embryonic stem cell research that he said destroys embryos, ruling it went against the will of Congress. Lamberth's ruling said all embryonic stem cell research involves destroying embryos, which violates the Dickey-Wicker Amendment included in federal spending bills. The ruling overturns the guidelines issued by President Obama early in his Administration to allow federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.The full story from CNN.
General David Petraeus, the top commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said the Afghan Taliban's momentum has been reversed in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, as well as near Kabul. The Christian Science Monitor has the details.
One in four Californians lack health insurance according to a study released Monday by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. According to the latest estimates, the state's uninsured population rose by over 31 percent over the past two years. The number of uninsured has reached 24.3%, or about 8.4 million, up from 6.4 million in 2007. In Los Angeles County, 28.9% of residents were uninsured for all or part of last year, the largest number of uninsured residents of any county in the state. The Los Angeles Times has more on this story.
My former colleague at Goldman Sachs, Wallace Turbeville writes about how an SEC/CFTC roundtable exposes how little is being done about the next financial time bomb in a post entitled Derivatives Clearing: At the End of the Beginning over at New Deal 2.0. The post tackles the issue of clearinghouses that were set up the recently passed 880 page Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Law and that are dominated by ten or so large financial institutions. As Yves Smith over at Naked Capitalism writes "we were skeptical of derivatives reform efforts as inadequate to deal with the product that needed to be reined in, credit default swaps, and subject to evisceration depending on how various details were sorted out" noting that "if the types of contracts that wind up being covered are reasonably broad, the new derivatives clearinghouse is merely another too big to fail entity." Turbeville suggests that new derivatives clearinghouses "are, or soon will be, Too Big to Fail." This, of course, points to the problem of doing incremental, if not half-assed, reform. No credit will be rewarded for moving the ball forward and all blame will come due when the inevitable failure occurs.
Former House Majority Leader and de facto leader of the Tea Party Movement Dick Armey (R-Texas) on Sunday said lawmakers who have not signed onto Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to balance the budget lacked “courage” and could be targeted by the conservative tea party movement as a result. “All Paul Ryan is saying is let Social Security be voluntary, let Medicare be voluntary,” Armey said. “The fact that he only has 13 co-sponsors is a big reason why our folks are agitated against the Republicans as well as the Democrats — the difference between being a co-sponsor of Ryan or not is a thing called courage.” Or political suicide. More from the Congressional Quarterly.