I think I may on my way to a state of transcendental numbness. My outrage reservoirs may be drained. There’s more appalling news than a person can keep up with lately. Today alone, we have graft in Iraq…
In what is expected to be the first of a series of criminal charges against officials and contractors overseeing the rebuilding of Iraq, an American has been charged with paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks to American occupation authorities and their spouses to obtain construction contracts, according to a complaint unsealed late yesterday.
The man, Philip H. Bloom, who controlled three companies that did work in Iraq in the multibillion-dollar reconstruction effort, was charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, conspiracy to launder money and interstate transportation of stolen property, all in connection with obtaining up to $3.5 million in reportedly fraudulent contracts.
The complaint, unsealed in the Federal District Court of the District of Columbia, also cites two unnamed co-conspirators who worked in the Coalition Provisional Authority, the American administration that governed Iraq when the contracts were awarded in early 2004. These were the officials who, with their spouses, allegedly received the payments.
“This is the first case, but it won’t be the last,” said Jim Mitchell, a spokesman for the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, an independent office. Mr. Mitchell said as many as a dozen related cases had been referred to the Justice Department for possible prosecution.
…renewal of a mostly-intact Patriot Act…
Congressional negotiators neared a final agreement Wednesday night on legislation that will extend and keep largely intact the sweeping antiterrorism powers granted to the federal government after the Sept. 11 attacks under the law known as the USA Patriot Act.
After months of vitriolic debate, the tentative agreement represents a significant and somewhat surprising victory for the Bush administration in maintaining the government’s expanded powers to investigate, monitor and track terror suspects.
Negotiators met into the night Wednesday, with last-minute wrangling over several narrow points, and were expected to reach a final agreement by Thursday. Once negotiators sign the deal, it will require the final approval of the full House and Senate, which is likely to come this week.
But civil rights advocates and Democrats were already in full attack mode late Wednesday, calling the expected deal an “unacceptable” retreat from promised restrictions on the government’s sweeping antiterrorism powers.
The agreement ensures the extension of all 16 provisions of the law that were set to expire in six weeks. Fourteen will be extended permanently, and the remaining two – dealing with the government’s demands for business and library records and its use of roving wiretaps – will be extended for seven years.
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Nov. 17 – As Iraqi investigators began searching through a secret underground prison run by the police in the capital, Sunni Arab leaders furiously denounced the Shiite-led government on Wednesday, saying it supported the torture of Sunni detainees there and calling for an international inquiry.
The discovery of the prison by the American military in a raid on Sunday has galvanized Sunni Arab anger and widened the country’s sectarian divide just a month before elections for a full, four-year government.
…said torture being justified with the old “not as bad as the terrorists” defense…
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) — Iraq’s interior minister has defended a government facility that was found to be holding dozens of prisoners, including some showing signs of torture, saying it held “the most criminal terrorists.”
“Nobody was beheaded or killed,” a defiant Bayan Jabr told a news conference Thursday, saying that only seven of 170 detainees showed marks of torture.
“Those detainees, those criminal killers inside the bunker were not Indians or Pakistanis or Iranians,” he said, waving a stack of passports in the air. “Those are your Arab brothers that came here to kill your sons.”
He said one detainee who had been reported as paralyzed was afflicted before his arrival at the facility and had been used “by one of the terrorists” to set off bombs.
“They gave the handicapped $1,000, and he was just a beggar,” Jabr said.
…and, in a classic Rovian hit-back-at-their-strongest-point strategy, the White House continues to attack critics of the war for stating the obvious.
WASHINGTON, Nov. 16 – Vice President Dick Cheney joined the White House attack on critics of the Iraq war Wednesday night when he told a conservative group that senators who had suggested that the Bush administration manipulated prewar intelligence were making “one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city.”
Mr. Cheney, who was the administration’s toughest, most persistent advocate for the war in Iraq, depicted the senators as hypocrites swayed by antiwar sentiment and their own political ambitions.
“Some of the most irresponsible comments have, of course, come from politicians who actually voted in favor of authorizing force against Saddam Hussein,” Mr. Cheney told the group, Frontiers of Freedom, at the Mayflower Hotel. “What we’re hearing now is some politicians contradicting their own statements and making a play for political advantage in the middle of a war.”
And going back a day or two, we can add this little gem to our list:
The US initially said white phosphorus had been used only to illuminate enemy positions, but now admits it was used as a weapon.
BBC defence correspondent Paul Wood says having to retract that denial is a public relations disaster for the US.
A Pentagon spokesman, Lt Col Barry Venable, confirmed to the BBC the US had used white phosphorus “as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants” – though not against civilians, he said.
He said earlier denials had been based on “poor information”.
Washington is not a signatory to an international treaty restricting the use of the substance against civilians.
The US-led assault in November 2004 on Falluja – a stronghold of the Sunni insurgency west of Baghdad – displaced most of the city’s 300,000 population and left many of its buildings destroyed.
San Diego journalist Darrin Mortenson, who was embedded with US marines during the assault on Falluja, told the BBC’s Today radio programme he had seen white phosphorous used “as an incendiary weapon” against insurgents.
However, he “never saw anybody intentionally use any weapon against civilians”, he said.
White phosphorus is highly flammable and ignites on contact with oxygen. If the substance hits a person’s body, it will burn until deprived of oxygen.
Globalsecurity.org, a defence website, says: “Phosphorus burns on the skin are deep and painful… These weapons are particularly nasty because white phosphorus continues to burn until it disappears… it could burn right down to the bone.”
Britain’s Defence Secretary John Reid said UK forces had used white phosphorus in Iraq, but not as “anything other than a smokescreen to protect our troops when in action”.
The UK Ministry of Defence said its use was permitted in battle in cases where there were no civilians near the target area.
But Professor Paul Rogers, of the University of Bradford’s department of peace studies, said white phosphorus could be considered a chemical weapon if deliberately aimed at people.
He told the BBC: “It is not counted under the chemical weapons convention in its normal use but, although it is a matter of legal niceties, it probably does fall into the category of chemical weapons if it is used for this kind of purpose directly against people.”
Of course, there’s also the Bob Woodward story, which might possibly count as good news, at least if the Times is correct that it will prolong the leak inquiry:
The revelation left the special prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, grappling with an unexpected new twist – one that he had not uncovered in an exhaustive inquiry – and gave lawyers for I. Lewis Libby Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff and the only official charged with a crime, fresh evidence to support his defense.
Mr. Woodward’s account of his surprise testimony to Mr. Fitzgerald – reported by The Post in Wednesday’s issue and elaborated on in a first-person statement – now makes it apparent that he was the first journalist known to have learned the C.I.A. identity of Valerie Wilson, whose husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, has sharply criticized the administration’s rationale for war with Iraq.
He says that he was told in mid-June 2003 that Ms. Wilson worked as a C.I.A. weapons analyst, by an official who made an offhand reference that did not appear to indicate her identity was classified or secret.
* * *
A lawyer for Karl Rove, the deputy White House chief of staff who has acknowledged conversations with reporters about the case and remains under investigation, said Mr. Rove was not Mr. Woodward’s source.
Mr. Cheney did not join the parade of denials. A spokeswoman said he would have no comment on a continuing investigation. Several other officials could not be reached for comment.
Woodward helped bring down one corrupt administration by trumpeting what an anonymous source was feeding him. It would be a small historical irony if he helped bring down another corrupt administration by trying to downplay what another anonymous source fed him.