Daily Archives: November 9, 2007

Blair ‘knew Iraq had no WMD’

Information Liberation | Nov 9, 2007

By David Cracknell

TONY BLAIR privately conceded two weeks before the Iraq war that Saddam Hussein did not have any usable weapons of mass destruction, Robin Cook, the former foreign secretary, reveals today.

John Scarlett, chairman of the joint intelligence committee (JIC), also “assented” that Saddam had no such weapons, says Cook.

His revelations, taken from a diary that he kept as a senior minister during the months leading up to war, are published today in The Sunday Times. They shatter the case for war put forward by the government that Iraq presented “a real and present danger” to Britain.

Cook, who resigned shortly before the invasion of Iraq, also reveals there was a near mutiny in the cabinet, triggered by David Blunkett, the home secretary, when it first discussed military action against Iraq.

The prime minister ignored the “large number of ministers who spoke up against the war”, according to Cook. He also “deliberately crafted a suggestive phrasing” to mislead the public into thinking there was a link between Iraq and Al-Qaeda, and he did not want United Nations weapons inspections to be successful, writes the former cabinet minister.

Cook suggests that the government misled the House of Commons and asked MPs to vote for war on a “false prospectus”.

He also reveals that Blair earlier gave President Bill Clinton a private assurance that he would support him in military action in Iraq if action in the UN failed “and it would certainly have been in line with his previous practice if he had given President Bush a private assurance of British support”.

Cook’s long-awaited diaries, published in book form as Point of Departure, are the first memoir of any member of Blair’s cabinet. His disclosures are likely to lead to renewed calls for a judicial inquiry into the legitimacy of the war.

The Hutton inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly has dealt only with the question of what the government believed ahead of publication of its Iraq dossier in September 2002 and whether Downing Street hardened intelligence reports to make the threat from Saddam seem more compelling.

Cook today opens a new controversy. He says that just days before sending troops into action, Blair no longer believed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction ready for firing within 45 minutes, the claim the prime minister had repeatedly made when arguing the case for war.

Cook reveals that on February 20 this year he was given a briefing by Scarlett. “The presentation was impressive in its integrity and shorn of the political slant with which No 10 encumbers any intelligence assessment,” Cook writes in his diary. “My conclusion at the end of an hour is that Saddam probably does not have weapons of mass destruction in the sense of weapons that could be used against large-scale civilian targets.”

Two weeks later, on March 5, Cook saw Blair. At the time the government was still trying to get a fresh UN resolution and Cook was still in government as leader of the Commons.

Cook writes: “The most revealing exchange came when we talked about Saddam’s arsenal. I told him, ‘It’s clear from the private briefing I have had that Saddam has no weapons of mass destruction in a sense of weapons that could strike at strategic cities. But he probably does have several thousand battlefield chemical munitions. Do you never worry that he might use them against British troops?’

“[Blair replied:] ‘Yes, but all the effort he has had to put into concealment makes it difficult for him to assemble them quickly for use’.”

Cook continues: “There were two distinct elements to this exchange that sent me away deeply troubled. The first was that the timetable to war was plainly not driven by the progress of the UN weapons inspections. Tony made no attempt to pretend that what Hans Blix [the UN’s chief weapons inspector] might report would make any difference to the countdown to invasion.

“The second troubling element to our conversation was that Tony did not try to argue me out of the view that Saddam did not have real weapons of mass destruction that were designed for strategic use against city populations and capable of being delivered with reliability over long distances. I had now expressed that view to both the chairman of the JIC and to the prime minister and both had assented in it.

“At the time I did believe it likely that Saddam had retained a quantity of chemical munitions for tactical use on the battlefield. These did not pose ‘a real and present danger to Britain’ as they were not designed for use against city populations and by definition could threaten British personnel only if we were to deploy them on the battlefield within range of Iraqi artillery.

“I had now twice been told that even those chemical shells had been put beyond operational use in response to the pressure from intrusive inspections. I have no reason to doubt that Tony Blair believed in September that Saddam really had weapons of mass destruction ready for firing within 45 minutes. What was clear from this conversation was that he did not believe it himself in March.”

Cook asks: “If No 10 accepted that Saddam had no real weapons of mass destruction which he could credibly deliver against city targets and if they themselves believed that he could not reassemble his chemical weapons in a credible timescale for use on the battlefield, just how much of a threat did they really think Saddam represented?”

He raises “the gravest of political questions. The rules of the Commons explicitly require ministers to correct the record as soon as they are aware that they may have misled parliament. If the government did come to know that the [United States] State Department did not trust the claims in the September dossier and that some of even their top experts did not believe them, should they not have told parliament before asking the Commons to vote for war on a false prospectus?”

Cook decided not to publish his diaries ahead of last week’s Labour conference in Bournemouth. Had he done so, his revelations would have ensured Blair received a much tougher ride from activists, many of whom are deeply uneasy about the war.

He reveals that in the months leading up to the war Downing Street aides, including Alastair Campbell, Blair’s former director of communications, and Jonathan Powell, his chief of staff, were obsessed with not falling out with Washington.

Cook discloses that several cabinet ministers had held misgivings about the war, not just himself and Clare Short. At a cabinet meeting in late February 2002, Blunkett asked for a discussion on Iraq and Cook received cries of “hear, hear” from cabinet colleagues when he argued that Arab governments regarded Israel, not Iraq, as the real problem for the Middle East. Cook records it was “the nearest thing I’ve heard to a mutiny in cabinet”.

His diary entry of March 7, 2002, a year before the war, says that Blunkett and Patricia Hewitt, the trade secretary, raised objections at cabinet.

“A momentous moment. A real discussion at cabinet. Tony permitted us to have the debate on Iraq which David [Blunkett] and I had asked for. For the first time that I can recall in five years, Tony was out on a limb.”

According to Cook, Blunkett asked Blair: “What has changed that suddenly gives us the legal right to take military action that we didn’t have a few months ago?”

Hewitt warned Blair: “We are in danger of being seen as close to President Bush, but without any influence over President Bush.”

But the prime minister was “totally unfazed” and, when Hewitt again raised objections at cabinet the following month, Blair refused to be boxed in, telling colleagues: “The time to debate the legal base for our action should be when we take that action.”

Cook reveals that Bush had wanted to hold a crucial war council with Blair in London on the weekend before the invasion of Iraq, a move that would have been a public relations disaster given public hostility to the war. Blair persuaded Bush to hold the summit in the Azores instead.

By September last year most of the cabinet had fallen into line. At cabinet on September 23, before parliament was recalled from its summer break, Cook says: “Personally I found it a grim meeting. Much of the two hours was taken up with a succession of loyalty oaths for Tony’s line.”

He says only Estelle Morris, then education secretary, “bravely” reported public disquiet that Britain was simply following Bush.

Giuliani Commissioner Kerik Indicted for Conspiracy

 

Knights of the British Empire proudly displaying medals from their Queen. Kerik may spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted.

Bloomberg | Nov 9, 2007

By David Glovin and Patricia Hurtado

Nov. 9 (Bloomberg) — Bernard Kerik, the police commissioner under New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani who withdrew his nomination to head the Department of Homeland Security, was charged with fraud, tax evasion and lying to the White House.

Kerik, 52, received cash and gifts for lobbying regulators on behalf of a New Jersey construction and waste-management firm, according to a 16-count federal indictment unsealed today. He cheated on taxes, lied to investigators–including those vetting him for the cabinet-level post on behalf of U.S. President George W. Bush–and tried to conceal his crimes, prosecutors alleged.

“It is a sad day when this office returns an indictment against a former law enforcement officer, particularly one who served in positions as high as those held by Bernard Kerik,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia said at a press conference in White Plains, New York. Kerik may spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted.

The indictment may complicate Giuliani’s 2008 presidential aspirations as the first state primaries approach. Giuliani, 63, has a double-digit lead over his opponents for the Republican Party’s nomination, according to a Nov. 5 Washington Post-ABC News poll. The two men also worked as partners in a security business that was part of Giuliani’s consulting firm.

Giuliani’s Driver

Giuliani, who once held Garcia’s current office, appointed Kerik corrections commissioner in 1997 and police commissioner in 2000, after Kerik served as Giuliani’s driver during his mayoral campaign. Kerik turned down a 2004 offer by Bush to run the Homeland Security Department, a post Giuliani recommended him for, after it was disclosed that Kerik failed to pay taxes for a nanny.

Giuliani said last week Kerik’s crime-fighting successes outweighed his legal problems, the Associated Press reported.

Kerik surrendered to authorities today, pleaded not guilty in federal court in White Plains and was freed on a $500,000 bond by a U.S. magistrate. He’s charged with conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, obstructing the Internal Revenue Service and making false statements. Prosecutors said they secretly recorded about 2,500 telephone calls made by Kerik during their investigation.

Kerik, who rejected a plea bargain with prosecutors in March, said today that he’d be vindicated.

`Marked by Challenge’

“My life has been marked by challenge,” Kerik said. “The worst challenge, until this time, was my challenge during and after 9/11. This is a battle I am going to fight.”

Today’s charges follow Kerik’s guilty plea last year to state misdemeanor charges for accepting $165,000 in home renovations and failing to report a loan. He was fined $221,000.

Kerik’s name, which Giuliani added to the Manhattan Detention Complex after Kerik’s term as corrections commissioner, was stripped from the jail the next day.

In his 2001 autobiography, “The Lost Son: A Life in Pursuit of Justice,” Kerik wrote about growing up in Paterson, New Jersey, and learning his mother was a prostitute who abandoned him and his father. She was murdered in Ohio in 1964, he wrote.

Kerik worked as a New Jersey jail warden and New York City police patrolman and detective. Appointed New York’s 40th police commissioner in August 2000, he held the post until 2001, leaving after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He was later sent by the Bush administration to Iraq to oversee the formation and training of that nation’s police force after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

`Honest Services’

Bush nominated Kerik to succeed Tom Ridge, the first secretary of the Homeland Security department, after Giuliani recommended him for the job. Kerik withdrew his nomination in December 2004 after it was revealed that he didn’t pay the housekeeper’s taxes.

According to today’s indictment, Kerik deprived New York City of his “honest services” by secretly lobbying for a New Jersey company.

The New Jersey company, called XYZ in the indictment, enlisted Kerik in 1998 to convince city regulators that the firm had shed its ties to organized crime, prosecutors claimed.

The next year, Kerik told an employee of the company, which The New York Times identified as Interstate Industrial Corp., that he’d purchased and planned to renovate an apartment in the Riverdale section of New York City, according to the indictment.

`Living on Eggshells’

Kerik “asked for money to pay for the renovations,” and the company paid more than $255,000 on Kerik’s behalf, the government claimed.

“I’m living on eggshells until this apartment is done,” Kerik wrote in an e-mail to an employee of the New Jersey firm, according to the indictment. Kerik said he felt like he was living on “welfare.”

Kerik didn’t disclose the payments on financial disclosure forms or tax returns and lied to city investigators probing the matter, prosecutors said. The indictment also lists other instances where he allegedly lied on his returns.

From 1999 to 2004, Kerik didn’t report more than $500,000 in income that a company he owned received for his speaking engagements, and for book royalties, according to the indictment. Kerik didn’t declare that a real estate developer paid $9,650 a month for a Manhattan apartment the former police commissioner lived in between 2001 to 2003, prosecutors said.

Kerik is charged with lying on a mortgage loan application in 1999 and not paying taxes for a woman who worked as his nanny and housekeeper.

As he was being vetted to serve as Homeland Security chief, Kerik failed to disclose a $250,000 loan from an unnamed Israeli businessman who did business with the U.S., prosecutors said.

“Time and again, he lied,” Garcia said.

The case is U.S. v. Kerik, 07-1027, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (White Plains).

More than 25 percent of homeless are veterans

While veterans make up 11 percent of the population, 26 percent of homeless people are veterans

WPTV | Nov 8, 2007

By: Dori Robau

This according to a new study released today  by the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

“I Was stationed in fort jackson did motor work in the motor pool.”

At 18 years old, James Musser looked forward to a future in the Army.  But when his health took a turn for the worse, his plans changed.

“I  done my 2 years, they let me out honorable discharge for medical reasons,” said Musser.

James ended up on the streets with no where to go and no one to turn to.

“When people come home and they have family then you’re ok, but when you don’t have nothing  it seems like society turns their back on you,” he said.

A new study released Thursday by the National Alliance to End Homelessness found that James is certainly  not alone.

Researchers found veterans make up close to 200,000 of the three quarters of a million people without a home on any given night.

“Veterans are overrepresented in the homeless population.  While veterans make up 11 percent of civilian population, 26 percent of homeless people are veterans,” said Alliance President, Nan Roman.

“I see a lot of veterans out there.,” said Musser.  “ A lot of them are a lot worse than I am- missing arms, legs, you know.”

Roman says that must change.

“No veteran should be homeless and we know the solution to homelessness. affordable housing does end homelessness and gives them a base to attend treatment or tend to service needs they may have,” she said.

The alliance recommends creating five thousand housing units a year for homeless veterans for the next five years.

Related

Surge Seen in Number of Homeless Veterans

National Debt at Record $9 Trillion

AP | Nov 9, 2007

By MARTIN CRUTSINGER

WASHINGTON (AP) — The national debt has hit $9 trillion for the first time.

The Treasury Department, which issues a daily accounting of the debt, said Wednesday that the debt subject to limit was at $9 trillion on Tuesday. It was $8.996 trillion on Monday.

Last month, Congress passed and President Bush signed into law an increase in the government’s borrowing ceiling to $9.815 trillion. It was the fifth debt limit increase since Bush took office in January 2001. Those increases have totaled $3.865 trillion.

The administration contends the rising debt reflects such factors as slow economic growth during the 2001 recession, the Sept. 11 attacks and the cost of fighting terrorism.

Democrats place much of the blame for the exploding debt on Bush’s first-term tax cuts, which they say are tilted to the wealthy. The administration says those tax cuts helped to jump-start the economy and resulted in falling budget deficits in recent years.

The tax cuts are set to expire at the end of 2010. The administration and Republicans in Congress want to see them made permanent; many Democrats would like to see them revamped to provide more benefits to lower and middle-income taxpayers.

The budget deficit for the 2007 budget year, which ended Sept. 30, was $162.8 billion, the lowest in five years.

In 2004, the deficit was $413 billion, a record in dollar terms.

The national debt is the total of the annual budget deficits plus money that the government borrows from the Social Security and other government trust funds.

The total national debt is actually higher than $9 trillion because it includes borrowing by some agencies that are not covered by the congressional debt limit. That total was $9.086 trillion on Tuesday.

It took the country from George Washington until Ronald Reagan to reach the first $1 trillion in debt.

Blackwater’s impunity

Neither Iraqi nor U.S. laws apply to its contractors, so a controversial shooting may go unpunished.

LA TIMES | Nov  9, 2007

‘They can get away with murder” has been the cry of critics of hiring private companies such as Blackwater to provide security for the U.S. military and diplomats in Iraq and other war zones. Now it looks as though the critics may be right — and in the worst way.

Legal experts say the Blackwater contractors accused of killing 17 Iraqi civilians and wounding 24 others while guarding a State Department convoy in Baghdad in September cannot be prosecuted under either Iraqi or U.S. law — even if an FBI investigation validates the Iraqi view that the contractors opened fire unprovoked. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, quizzed by a congressional committee last month, agreed that “there is a lacuna in our law about this. And even though this particular case . . . has been referred to the Department of Justice for further action, we believe that there is a hole.” What Rice didn’t say was that the State Department has been aware of that “hole” for at least two years and has rejected Pentagon suggestions to plug it by making security contractors subject to military law.

Why couldn’t offenders be prosecuted under existing U.S. law? U.S. military personnel who commit crimes abroad can be prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice or the War Crimes Act. The Pentagon says contractors working for the Department of Defense are also subject to military justice (though some experts believe that’s unconstitutional). But the Blackwater contractors worked for the State Department. The U.S. did prosecute CIA contractor David Passaro in the death of an Afghan detainee — but it had jurisdiction only because the victim was beaten to death on a U.S. Army base. The Blackwater shootings occurred in downtown Baghdad.

So why couldn’t the Iraqis prosecute? First, the U.S. would have to hand over the contractors, but it has no extradition treaty with Iraq and, given its dim views of the status of Iraqi justice, no guarantee that the accused would get a fair trial. Second, L. Paul Bremer III, then head of the U.S. occupation, signed a now-infamous order specifically exempting armed security contractors from prosecution. The Iraqi Cabinet has introduced legislation revoking Bremer’s order. But even if parliament passes it, Article 19 of the Iraqi Constitution prohibits retroactive punishment for an act that wasn’t a crime when it was committed.

It is, of course, possible that some clever lawyer in Washington or Baghdad will devise a novel legal theory to get around these obstacles. Either government could decide that in such a politically charged case, mounting a prosecution that is eventually thrown out of court is better than not attempting to punish wrongdoers at all. Better yet, Congress could act now to start cleaning up the legal, political and moral mess that has been exposed by the Blackwater debacle.

How Blackwater Sniper Fire Felled 3 Iraqi Guards

An Iraqi police report described the shootings as “an act of terrorism”

Washington Post | Nov 8, 2007

Witnesses Call Shooting From Justice Ministry Unprovoked, But State Dept. Cleared Its Security Team After a Brief Probe

By Steve Fainaru

BAGHDAD — Last Feb. 7, a sniper employed by Blackwater USA, the private security company, opened fire from the roof of the Iraqi Justice Ministry. The bullet tore through the head of a 23-year-old guard for the state-funded Iraqi Media Network, who was standing on a balcony across an open traffic circle. Another guard rushed to his colleague’s side and was fatally shot in the neck. A third guard was found dead more than an hour later on the same balcony.

Eight people who responded to the shootings — including media network and Justice Ministry guards and an Iraqi army commander — and five network officials in the compound said none of the slain guards had fired on the Justice Ministry, where a U.S. diplomat was in a meeting. An Iraqi police report described the shootings as “an act of terrorism” and said Blackwater “caused the incident.” The media network concluded that the guards were killed “without any provocation.”

The U.S. government reached a different conclusion. Based on information from the Blackwater guards, who said they were fired upon, the State Department determined that the security team’s actions “fell within approved rules governing the use of force,” according to an official from the department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Neither U.S. Embassy officials nor Blackwater representatives interviewed witnesses or returned to the network, less than a quarter-mile from Baghdad’s Green Zone, to investigate.

The incident shows how American officials responsible for overseeing the security company conducted only a cursory investigation when Blackwater guards opened fire. The shooting occurred more than seven months before the Sept. 16 incident in which Blackwater guards killed 17 civilians at another Baghdad traffic circle.

The Feb. 7 shootings convulsed the Iraqi Media Network, one of the prominent symbols of the new Iraq, in anger and recrimination.

U.S. officials and the security company, now known as Blackwater Worldwide, offered no compensation or apology to the victims’ families, according to relatives of the guards and officials of the network, whose programming reaches 22 million Iraqis.

“It’s really surprising that Blackwater is still out there killing people,” Mohammed Jasim, the Iraqi Media Network’s deputy director, said in an interview. “This company came to Iraq and was supposed to provide security. They didn’t learn from their mistakes. They continued and continued. They continued killing.”

A Blackwater spokeswoman, Anne E. Tyrrell, said the company’s guards came under “precision small-arms fire” and fired back with “well-aimed shots.” The company was unable to comment further because of operational security and contractual obligations, she said. “This was absolutely a provoked incident,” Tyrrell said.

U.S. officials were “overwhelmingly convinced” that the Blackwater guards acted appropriately, based on information they had provided, according to the diplomatic security official. He spoke on condition of anonymity because a joint U.S.-Iraqi commission is investigating private security matters, including previous Blackwater shootings. Shortly after the Feb. 7 incident, the official said, the U.S. Embassy briefed an Iraqi government official and invited him to discuss the matter further, but the embassy never heard from him again.

Under State Department rules for the use of force, security contractors are authorized to use deadly force only if there is no safe alternative and the guards or the people they are protecting face “imminent and grave danger.” The Blackwater guards said they came under fire from the building and responded, the security official said.

“The embassy conducted a review of the circumstances surrounding the whole shooting incident and essentially what happened is, after going over all the reports, interviewing all the personnel that were involved in it, talking with people that were coming back in the motorcade, they concluded that the actions of the security team fell within the approved rules,” the official said.

“To say Blackwater was the only source of information for this investigation is completely false,” the security official added. U.S. officials declined to say who else was contacted as part of the probe or to provide any details about the assertions of Blackwater guards that they came under fire.

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Weather Channel founder calls global warming ‘the greatest scam in history’

“In searching for a new enemy to unite us, we came up with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine and the like would fit the bill…The real enemy, then, is humanity itself….Bring the divided nation together to face an outside enemy, either a real one or else one INVENTED for the purpose…”

– The First Global Revolution: A Report by the Council of Rome

Telegraph | Nov 9, 2007

The founder of the The Weather Channel in the US has described the concept of global warming as ‘the greatest scam in history’ and accused global media of colluding with ‘environmental extremists’ to alarm the public.

“It is the greatest scam in history. I am amazed, appalled and highly offended by it. Global Warming; It is a SCAM,” John Coleman wrote in an article published on ICECAP, the International Climate and Environmental Change Assessment Project, which is known for challenging widely published theories on global warming.

The maverick weather forecaster is known for his regular critic of widely accepted global warming theories. The Weather Channel broadcasts weather forecasts and weather-related news in the US 24 hours a day.

His views challenge the consensus of the international science community that it is at least 90 per cent certain that temperatures will continue to rise, with average global surface temperature projected to increase by between 1.4 and 5.8ºC above 1990 levels by 2100.

This increase will be accompanied by rising sea levels, more intense precipitation events in some countries, increased risk of drought in others, and adverse effects on agriculture, health and water resources.

A recent joint statement by the scientific academies of 17 countries, including the UK’s Royal Society, endorsed the theory of climate change and dismissed doubts raised over the need for action to mitigate possible damage caused by climate change.

“We do not consider such doubts justified,” the group said in a joint statement, urging prompt action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

But Mr Colemen slams their views as part of a global conspiracy: “Some dastardly scientists with environmental and political motives manipulated long term scientific data to create in [sic] allusion of rapid global warming.”

“Other scientists of the same environmental whacko type jumped into the circle to support and broaden the “research” to further enhance the totally slanted, bogus global warming claims. Their friends in government steered huge research grants their way to keep the movement going. Soon they claimed to be a consensus.

“Environmental extremists, notable politicians among them, then teamed up with movie, media and other liberal, environmentalist journalists to create this wild “scientific” scenario of the civilization threatening environmental consequences from Global Warming unless we adhere to their radical agenda.

“Now their ridiculous manipulated science has been accepted as fact and become a cornerstone issue for CNN, CBS, NBC, the Democratic Political Party, the Governor of California, school teachers and, in many cases, well informed but very gullible environmental conscientious citizens.

“Only one reporter at ABC has been allowed to counter the Global Warming frenzy with one 15 minutes documentary segment.”

He added: “I have read dozens of scientific papers. I have talked with numerous scientists. I have studied. I have thought about it. I know I am correct.

“There is no run away climate change. The impact of humans on climate is not catastrophic. Our planet is not in peril.”