United States News Digest
New National Security Strategy Reasserts Preemptive War
The Bush Administration is promising more preemptive war and regime change in its new national security strategy, released on March 16. At the outset, it declares that it is "the policy of the United States to seek and support democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." Therefore, "the fundamental character of regimes matters as much as the distribution of power among them." On the hit list are North Korea, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Belarus, Myanmar (which the document refers to by its British colonial name of Burma), and Zimbabwe, named as countries where the people "know firsthand the meaning of tyranny." It reaffirms the preemptive war doctrine first laid out in the National Security Strategy of 2002. "The greater the threat," it says, "the greater the risk of inaction, and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack"
National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley was peppered with questions about, among other things, Iraq and the preemptive war policy, during an appearance, sponsored by the U.S. Institute of Peace, following the document's release. He insisted that, even though no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, the invasion was justified. He said that there were 12 years of diplomacy and 16 or 17 UN Security Council resolutions making clear to the Iraqi regime what it had to do, "and the Iraqi leadership made the choice not to do it." After all that, Hadley huffed, it was "hardly a preemptive war."
As for the fact that no WMD have been found in Iraq, despite Saddam's ambitions for WMD being used to make the case for war, Hadley said that one of the things the administration learned was "that we need better intelligence," adding, "the basic proposition, though, remains, that we have seen the lethality of terrorist groups and their state sponsors without access to weapons of mass destruction. And we cannot turn away from the risk that those groups will acquire weapons of mass destruction and the threat that that could pose to the United States of America."
FBI Database Has 200,000 Names
The FBI has created a computer database, the Terrorist Screening Center, with 200,000 names of terrorist suspects and their associates, which can be accessed by U.S. law enforcement (including local and state authorities), and government officials worldwide. The TSC consolidates ID information of both domestic and international terror suspects, from databases formerly maintained by DOJ, State, Defense, and DHS. According to the TSC Director, many of those listed in the database "have what she described as inconclusive ties to terrorism or terrorist organizations," the Washington Times reported March 16. But, not to worry: The FBI claims that the majority of the listed individuals live outside the U.S., and the database has daily updates of additions, modifications, deletions of information.
Abu Ghraib Commander Takes the Fall
Colonel Thomas Pappas, intelligence commander at Abu Ghraib prison during the detainee abuse in the fall of 2003, took responsibility in March 15 testimony in the court martial of one of the dog handlers, for the inappropriate use of dogs in interrogation, the Washington Post reported March 16. Pappas said that he was the one who authorized the use of the technique against one detainee, and failed to oversee that use. Pappas said he had learned of the use of dogs from a team of intelligence officials from the Guantanamo military prison, and that there was a discussion with Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller and his staff about exploiting the Arabs' fear of dogs to "set the conditions" for interrogation.
Separately, the just-retired judge advocate general of the Army, Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Romig, and the judge advocates general of the Navy and the Marine Corps, responding to questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee about a specific Guantanamo detainee, said that a number of aggressive techniques used by military interrogators on the detainee "were not consistent with the guidelines in the Army field manual on interrogation," because the techniques were humiliating or degrading. In contrast, an earlier investigation by two generals of FBI allegations of abuse at Guantanamo, found that the techniques could be considered collectively abusive and degrading, but that each individual tactic was authorized under the Army field manual.
SBA Approval Rate for Disaster Loans Lowest in 15 Years
The Bush/Cheney Administration's Small Business Administration approval rate for disaster loans is the lowest in 15 years, AP reported March 15. Democratic members of the House Small Business Committee released a study on March 15 showing that in the face of the nation's worst natural disaster, Hurricane Katrina followed by Rita and Wilma, SBA's approval rate is barely 15% of all applications. The report shows that disaster loans for homes and businesses during the Bush 41 and Clinton Administrations averaged near 60%. Bush 43's SBA loan approval rates were about half that, at 35%, until last year's disasters when the approval rate plummeted to 15%. The Ranking member on the committee, Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), scored the Bush/Cheney malfeasance, "This was a monumental disaster, and it requires a monumental response. That hasn't happened. People are suffering, and it's the SBA's role to provide assistance."
SBA officials have argued that the high rejection rate is due to the region's high number of low-income families and businesses. The report is expected to show that in Louisiana, nearly three in five applicants could not meet credit standards to be approved for a loan. The message is clear: If you are poor and disaster strikes you and your family, you can't expect this government to help you. It is noteworthy that soon after Katrina and Rita hit, the Bush team rejected outright any provisions put forward in disaster-relief bills that would turn any loans into grantsa standard practice in previous administrations.
Prestigious Group To Look at Iraq With 'Fresh Eyes'
Growing concerns about Iraq have led a bipartisan group of 30-40 members of Congress, all of whom have visited Iraq multiple times, to ask an independent group to make its own assessment. That group, co-chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker III and former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind), will look at Iraq with what Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va) described, on March 15, as "fresh eyes." Wolf said that "the request for this really came out of members of Congress from both parties who have been to Iraq who feel fresh eyes is a very good approach." He added that it was no secret that "people have been desirous of coming together to find a common ground." Other members of Congress supporting the effort include Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John Warner (R-Va) and Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del), ranking member, Foreign Relations Committee.
As described by Baker, the purpose of the Iraq Study Group is to make "a bipartisan forward-looking assessment of the situation on the ground in Iraq," with the objective of making "an honest assessment of where we are, and how to move forward." Hamilton added that the group will not be revisiting past debates on Iraq policy. "We have to understand where we are," he said, "but our effort will be to look forward." Aside from the ten members who were announced on March 15, the group will also have an advisory panel of retired senior military officers and four working groups focussing on the strategic environment in Iraq and the region, the military and security situation in Iraq, political development, and economic reconstruction. Neither Baker nor Hamilton would comment on the present situation in Iraq, however. Hamilton would only say, "We see a formidable challenge for the country."
Quick Action Needed Against Foreign Ownership of Airlines
Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) has called for quick action on a bill to prevent the White House from ending the 65-year ban on foreign ownership of U.S. airlines. Lautenberg made his appeal in a March 8 letter to the two Senate leaders, Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn) and Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev), regarding a bill that he and Hawaii Democrat Daniel Inouye had introduced last year. "Too much is at stake to allow such a sweeping proposal without careful study of the impact to our national defense, homeland security, U.S. jobs, and the financial stability of the U.S. airline industry. First our ports, now our airlinesPresident Bush is holding a fire sale of vital parts of our U.S. economy. The safety and security of the flying public should be the President's top prioritynot helping foreign companies with their bottom line. This decision will only make air travel more risky," Lautenberg warned.
AIPAC Defendants Want Top Administration Officials To Testify
The attorneys for the two ex-AIPAC officials, Keith Weissman and Steven Rosen, accused of illegally receiving classified information, want to subpoena top Bush Administration officials, to testify at their trial, the Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported March 13. The officials named include Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, and Hadley's deputy Elliott Abrams; former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage; David Satterfield, deputy head of the U.S. mission in Iraq, William Burns, the top U.S. envoy to the Middle East; retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, and Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA officer. The judge in the case has yet to decide whether to allow all of them to be subpoenaed.