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Impeach Bush

CIA Kills Two POW's--Violates Geneva Convention *
An Impeachable Offense
Jewish World Review
Jonathan Turley
March 7, 2003 / 3 Adar II, 5763

In Afghanistan, it is hardly surprising to find two dead bodies with signs of torture. This week, however, a shocking U.S. military coroner's report also suggested that the most likely suspect in the homicides was the U.S. government. Even more disturbing is emerging evidence that the United States may be operating something that would have seemed unimaginable only two years ago: an American torture facility.

Credible reports now indicate that the government, with the approval of high-ranking officials, is engaging in systematic techniques considered by many to be torture.

U.S. officials have admitted using techniques that this nation previously denounced as violations of international law. One official involved in the "interrogation center" in Afghanistan said "if you don't violate someone's human rights, you probably aren't doing your job."

For months, international human rights groups have been protesting activities at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. In a closed-off part of the base, the CIA has constructed an "interrogation center" out of metal shipping containers. Last year, reports began to surface that the CIA was getting information the old-fashioned way -- by breaking suspects physically, except when they inconveniently die.

There is a striking consistency to these accounts, including those from unnamed U.S. officials. Following the arrest of terrorist suspect Abu Zubeida last year after he was shot in the chest, groin and thigh, U.S. officials admitted withholding painkillers as an inducement to force information from him. For part of his interrogation, John Walker Lindh was held naked in an unheated metal container in the dead of winter and duct-taped to a stretcher with a bullet in his leg.

The latest allegation concerns two men who died while guests of the CIA. According to the military coroner, both men show "blunt force trauma" that contributed to their deaths. They died within a week of each other at the base, one of a pulmonary embolism and one of a heart attack. Both cases are now officially listed as homicides.

One U.S. official is quoted as predicting that "this investigation will not go well for us."

U.S. Special Forces troops have been accused of beating suspects before turning them over for exposure to other techniques, such as being kept awake for days or forced to stand or kneel for long periods in painful positions. Witnesses also reported the use of bright lights and loud noises to reduce suspects to blithering idiots through sleep deprivation.

To the amazement of the international community, the U.S. government has openly admitted that it is now using such "stress and duress techniques." These practices would be unconstitutional -- if not criminal -- if committed in the United States.

However, the government insists that it can use the techniques abroad and that they fall just short of a technical definition of torture.

Respected international organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International and other groups disagree and have condemned the techniques as flagrant violations of international law. Though not declaring them to be torture, the European Court of Human Rights found in 1978 that identical practices used by the British in Ireland were "inhuman" and in violation of various international agreements.

Among the violations is the denial of rights under the Geneva Convention, which states in Article 17 that "no physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatsoever."

There is no retroactive clause: The U.S. cannot round up suspects, torture them and, if they die, retroactively label them enemy combatants outside of the Geneva Convention.

The Bush administration position is also dangerously shortsighted: Its alleged use of torture puts every service member in any Iraq war at risk. Saddam Hussein can now cite the U.S. in support of his taste for torture.

Hussein missed his opportunity to market his services. When U.S. techniques have proved unavailing, officials have transferred suspects to countries that we have previously denounced for grotesque violations of human rights. Suspects are simply shipped to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or Morocco with a list of questions for more crude torture techniques.

One official involved in these interrogations explained that "we don't kick the [expletive] out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the [expletive] out of them."

This week, West Virginia Sen. John D. Rockefeller actually encouraged the U.S. to hand over the recently arrested Al Qaeda suspect Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to another country for torture. Whatever legal distinction Rockefeller sees in using surrogates to do our torturing, it is hardly a moral distinction. As a result, we are now driving the new market for torture-derived information. We have gone from a nation that once condemned torture to one that contracts out for torture services.

Instead of continuing our long fight against torture, we now seek to adopt more narrow definitions to satisfy our own acquired appetite for coercive interrogations. If the U.S. is responsible for the deaths of the two men in Afghanistan, it is more than homicide. It would be suicide for a nation once viewed as the very embodiment of human rights.

JWR contributor Jonathan Turley is Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law George Washington University Law School.

Commentary:
Besides the actual murder of at least two Pow's, the government of the United States is violating the Geneva Convention. It is a moral imperative that all Americans oppose this government.


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Six British Demands
New York Times
March 12, 2003

LONDON, March 12 — Following is an unofficial list of six British demands for Saddam Hussein, according to British officials:

1. Mr. Hussein must admit on Iraqi television that he possesses weapons of mass destruction and will now disarm fully.

2. He will account for and destroy stocks of anthrax and other biological and chemical weapons.

3. Mr. Hussein will permit 30 scientists and their families to fly to Cyprus for interrogation by United Nations weapons inspectors.

4. He will admit to possession of an unmanned drone aircraft discovered by inspectors.

5. He will promise to destroy mobile production facilities for biological weapons.

6. Mr. Hussein will pledge to complete the destruction of all unlawful missiles.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

Commentary:
Here's one for Tony and Georgie. When they invade Iraq in violation of International Law they must subject their countries to these same demands. Why is it ok for us to invade a sovereign country? Why is it ok to do it without support of the UN? Cuz, we can? Whatever happened to the "rule of law?"


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Brits hint: no war
Islamic Republic News Agency
March 12, 2003

London, March 12, IRNA -- Prime Minister Tony Blair Wednesday refused to be drawn on whether British troops would be excluded from being involved in US military action against Iraq without a fresh Security Council mandate.

Answering a succession of questions from MPs in a somber House of Commons, Blair insisted his intention was still to show a 'determination to act'.

He said that he wanted to 'send the strongest possible signal' to Saddam Hussein about the threat of war.

The prime minister was being challenged about his position on Iraq following comments from US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in which he suggested there may be an exit strategy for Britain's involvement in any war launched without a second UN resolution.

"Of course it is true that the United States could go alone. And of course this country should not take military action unless it is in our interests to do so. It is the British national interests that must be upheld at all times," Blair said.

But he said the reason it is important to hold firm to the course set out is 'not whether the US goes alone or not, it is whether the international community is prepared to back up the clear instruction it gave to Saddam Hussein with the necessary action'.

The prime minister refused to clarify the terms on which Britain would join the US, saying that he had set out the circumstances on many previous occasions.

"At the moment, the best thing is to go flat out for that second resolution," he said. In contrast to the haste shown by the US, he listed a series of tests for Saddam to meet to prove that he was in full compliance with disarmament demands.

Earlier in ambiguous tones, Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon indicated for the first time that it was not certain British troops would participate in a US war against Iraq, saying it was a 'theoretical possibility' that the UK may not be involved.

Blair also declined to state whether he had been warned by Britain's Attorney General Lord Goldsmith that it would be illegal to go to war without a fresh UN mandate, but insisted that the UK would not do anything other than on a proper legal basis.

Asked more directly if UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was wrong in his advice about breaching the UN charter, he insisted that he wanted to ensure that the international community stays united at this time.

The prime minister was chided by opposition Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith over International Development Secretary Clare Short's criticism of his 'reckless' Iraq policy, asking whether it fitted in with his 'doctrine of collective cabinet responsibility'.

"At this point of time when we are facing quite momentous decisions for the country, it is probably better if we discuss the substance," he said, refusing to disclose if or when he was prepared to sack his cabinet colleague.

After facing domestic criticism, Blair was due later to have a meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, one of the main European opponents of military action, who is making a private visit to London.

During question time, the British premier also appealed to both Russia and France to 'reconsider' using their veto against a second resolution, saying they were not only risking not only not disarming Iraq but also the unity of the United Nations.

Commentary:
Let's hope Blair comes to his senses and pulls out of this silly war. Maybe then, he can salvage Britain's ability to lead in the EU and the United Nations for years to come.


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US House bans the word 'French'
New York Times
March 12, 2003
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG

WASHINGTON, March 11 — The French may have Champagne, Brie, croissants and even kisses. Americans, at least in the cafeterias of the House of Representatives, now have freedom fries and freedom toast.

With frustration rising in the Capitol over French opposition to President Bush's policy on Iraq, Representative Bob Ney, the Ohio Republican who is chairman of the House Administration Committee, which is responsible for House operations, ordered the word "French" stricken from all House menus. The action was unilateral. No vote was required.

"It's a symbolic gesture," said Mr. Ney, who is of French descent and speaks French fluently. "Not to slap the French around, but people are not hot on the French government right now. This is just to send a message to the troops to say that here in the Capitol, we are not happy."

But one man's symbolism can be another man's silliness. In a city where the prospect of war looms like a foreboding cloud, where lawmakers keep "go bags" packed in their offices in case of biological or chemical attack — and where Democrats and Republicans find little to agree on in any event — some in the minority party were quick to condemn Mr. Ney's action as, well, small potatoes.

"Making Congress look even sillier than it sometimes looks would not be high on my priority list," said Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts.

"There's a potential war going on. There's a lot of debate about is Congress being actively involved in foreign policy. It's bad enough not to be able to do anything, but I think self-caricature is a poor substitute for thoughtful discussion."

Of Russia, China and France, the three nations threatening to veto a United Nations resolution urging war with Iraq, France has been the most unequivocal in its opposition, which is why the French have aroused the ire of House Republicans.

"They have isolated themselves pretty well," said Representative Tom DeLay, Republican of Texas and the majority leader.

But as the great French fry debate raged in the House, Senator Robert C. Byrd, the West Virginia Democrat who has long bemoaned his colleagues' lack of serious debate on the war, took to the Senate floor. Through a spokesman, Mr. Byrd declined to comment on the French fry/freedom fry uproar. But his speech made clear he did not view a fight with the French, over fries or otherwise, as sound foreign policy.

"The day after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America, the French newspaper Le Monde proclaimed, `We are all Americans!' " he said. "Eighteen months later, the United States and France are hurling insults at each other, and the French are leading the opposition to the war against Iraq. In country after country, the United States has seen the outpouring of compassion and support that followed Sept. 11 dissolve into anger and resentment at this administration's heavy-handed attempts to railroad the world into supporting a questionable war with Iraq."

By the time Mr. Byrd delivered his speech, the lunchtime offerings on the House side of the Capitol complex had already been changed. A sign in the food court in the House Longworth Office Building — which, for the record, also serves tacos, vegetable lasagna, Greek salad and Chinese lo mein — announced: "Update: Now serving in all House office buildings. Freedom fries."

A highly unscientific survey of cafeteria patrons found opinion to be either neutral, or anti-French. "There ain't a whole lot of need for the French," said Roger Todd, an official with the Albany, Ga., chapter of the Communications Workers of America, who was in town on a lobbying trip. "I would just as soon call them freedom fries, even though I'm a Democrat."

Noting that French fries originated in Belgium, a French Embassy spokeswoman did not seem amused. "I wonder if it's worth a comment," the spokeswoman, Nathalie Loiseau, said. "Honestly. We are working these days on very, very serious issues of war and peace, life or death. We are not working on potatoes."
There is, apparently, some historical precedent for the switch, which was proposed by Representative Walter B. Jones, Republican of North Carolina. Mr. Jones, whose district includes three military bases, was inspired by Cubbie's, a restaurant in Beaufort, N.C. Neal Rowland, the owner of Cubbie's, said he began serving freedom fries after a local history teacher reminded him that during World War I, anti-German sentiment prompted Americans to begin calling sauerkraut liberty cabbage and frankfurters hot dogs.

"We bought little stickers, stuck it over French and put a couple of posters in the window," Mr. Rowland said. "Next thing you know, we were receiving phone calls from London, Ireland, Australia and all over the continental United States."

By this afternoon, some calls were being directed to Mr. Jones, who said he did not eat fries, no matter what they were called. (At 60, he is watching his cholesterol.) He did a string of interviews, two with British television. "I thanked Tony Blair on both," he said of the British prime minister, a firm ally of Mr. Bush.

While Mr. Jones said he viewed the name change as a "lighthearted gesture," some in Congress wondered what would come next.

"If China vetoes it," Mr. Frank said of the United Nations resolution, "what are we going to call Chinese checkers?"

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

Commentary:
Can we find a bigger bunch of morons than republicans in Congress? Banning the word French makes the US look small. As small as the minds that want war. How does the rest of the world look at us these days? As war-mongers, as idiots (who don't know that french frying refers to how a dish is cooked), or do they just throw up their arms in disgust?


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Rumsfeld pulls rug out from under Blair
By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

Wednesday, 12 March, 2003, 10:15 GMT

If this was Donald Rumsfeld trying to help Tony Blair, he had better not consider a career in the diplomatic service.

With one brief comment he has managed to blow a series of massive holes in the prime minister's armour.

He undermined the prime minister's claims he is a major influence on President Bush.

He handed the prime minister's anti-war faction the opportunity to declare Britain now had a way out of conflict.

And he allowed the dissenters to claim he had finally let the cat out of the bag and shown what they had been saying all along - that the US is determined to go to war on Iraq with or without the support of any other country.

No wonder Downing Street hit the phones within seconds of his intervention.

Tony Blair must be utterly dismayed that Mr Rumsfeld has pulled the rug from under his feet just as the crisis within the UN is approaching critical mass and extra-sensitive diplomacy is required.

More damage

But the US defence secretary's comments have had another consequence.

They have added to a growing feeling amongst those who support action that the sooner it comes the better.

The longer the diplomatic process continues, the more damage is being done - to international relations, to the UN, and to Tony Blair's standing.

None of the key countries are about to change their positions, despite the prime minister's predictions that things may change once cards have to be put on the table.

And if the prime minister believes he will emerge victorious at home after a short, clean, successful war - with or without the UN's backing - then he might as well get on with it.

Mr Blair can claim he has done what his dissenters want by pursuing the UN route to the last.

And he can claim that the French insistence it would veto a second resolution under any circumstances is the "unreasonable veto" he has previously said he would ignore.

Meanwhile, his defence secretary Geoff Hoon has signalled that Britain is ready to play the 1441 card - by declaring the original UN resolution gives countries the right to take action against Saddam without further permission.

This is surely the end of the diplomatic game.

And few in Westminster now believe Britain will not be at war within days.

© BBC News 2003

Commentary:
I suppose this is what happens when weak minds pretend to know what they're doing. Bush and his cronies have done everything in their power to destroy NATO, the UN, and now Blair. When will we stop pretending these idiots are acting in anything other than their own selfish egomaniac self-interest?

Note too how the US press only picks up on the problem Blair is having AFTER Rumsfeld mentions it. News in the US is dictated on high by the White House. If Rummy wouldn't have mentioned Blair's problems, few in the US (and the readers of this site) would have known how serious Blair's political problems are.

Once again, it takes a moron not to know the rest of Europe is opposed to this war as much as the British people and those leaders who support Bush are going against the will of their people. We can only assume they were paid-off with monies from our Treasury.


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Lawyers doubt Iraq war legality
BBC News/Guardian Newspaper
Last Updated: Friday, 7 March, 2003, 13:38 GMT

In an open letter to 10 Downing Street, published in the Guardian newspaper, a group of 16 academic lawyers have argued that taking action without a new, clear United Nations mandate "will seriously undermine the international rule of law". This is the full text.

We are teachers of international law. On the basis of the information publicly available, there is no justification under international law for the use of military force against Iraq.

The UN charter outlaws the use of force with only two exceptions: individual or collective self-defence in response to an armed attack and action authorized by the security council as a collective response to a threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression.

There are currently no grounds for a claim to use such force in self-defence.

The doctrine of pre-emptive self-defence against an attack that might arise at some hypothetical future time has no basis in international law.

Neither security council resolution 1441 nor any prior resolution authorizes the proposed use of force in the present circumstances.

Before military action can lawfully be undertaken against Iraq, the security council must have indicated its clearly expressed assent.

It has not yet done so.

A vetoed resolution could provide no such assent.

The prime minister's assertion that in certain circumstances a veto becomes "unreasonable" and may be disregarded has no basis in international law.

The UK has used its security council veto on 32 occasions since 1945.

Any attempt to disregard these votes on the ground that they were "unreasonable" would have been deplored as an unacceptable infringement of the UK's right to exercise a veto under UN charter article 27.

A decision to undertake military action in Iraq without proper security council authorisation will seriously undermine the international rule of law. Of course, even with that authorisation, serious questions would remain.

A lawful war is not necessarily a just, prudent or humanitarian war.

Prof Ulf Bernitz, Dr Nicolas Espejo-Yaksic, Agnes Hurwitz, Prof Vaughan Lowe, Dr Ben Saul, Dr Katja Ziegler (University of Oxford), Prof James Crawford, Dr Susan Marks, Dr Roger O'Keefe (University of Cambridge), Prof Christine Chinkin, Dr Gerry Simpson, Deborah Cass (London School of Economics), Dr Matthew Craven (School of Oriental and African Studies), Prof Philippe Sands, Ralph Wilde (University College London), Prof Pierre-Marie Dupuy (University of Paris)

© BBC News 2003, © Guardian Newspaper 2003

Commentary:
Let's face it, no facts will stop this president and his boy-Robin Mr. Blair. The people have to stop them. So, let's get to it.


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War with Iraq 'could be illegal'
BBC News Online
By Peter Gould
Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 March, 2003, 10:15 GMT

Britain and the United States could soon be at war with Iraq. But will it be legal?
Experts on international law have conflicting views about the rights and wrongs of any military conflict.

Some believe that the use of force would be justified under existing UN resolutions, so another vote is not needed.

But others argue a second resolution may not even provide the legal authority for military action.

A group of 16 academic lawyers have questioned the validity of an attack on Iraq under UN resolution 1441.

The letter, published in The Guardian newspaper, said use of force would only be justified in self-defence to armed attack or if a new resolution on force was passed.

Others have even posed a startling question. Could George W Bush and Tony Blair one day find themselves facing criminal charges for going to war against Iraq?

Responsibility

A British academic, Professor Nicholas Grief, says this is not as far fetched as it may seem. He cites the Nuremberg charter of 1945, which established the concept of a crime against peace.

"There is a school of thought that going to war without the express authority of the Security Council would violate the UN charter," says Professor Grief.

"That could raise serious questions about the personal responsibility of President Bush and Mr Blair, and they could have a case to answer.

"They could be held to account in years to come. It is something they ought to be concerned about."

Professor Grief, who is head of the law school at Bournemouth University, says there would be a further risk if US and British forces failed to make a proper distinction between military targets and civilians.

Colin Warbrick, Professor of Law at Durham University, agrees that the possibility of criminal charges should be taken seriously.

"It could apply to military commanders in the field, as well as civilian leaders," he says.

"Initially, it would be up to the British Government to investigate any allegations, and bring cases under British law. But if that failed, the International Criminal Court would have jurisdiction."

Political

The US president and the British prime minister are hoping that if a second resolution is passed, it will justify their tough stance against Saddam Hussein.

Professor Anthony Aust was until recently one of the top legal advisers at the Foreign Office. He says previous resolutions allow the United States and Britain to use military action to restore peace and security in the Gulf region.

"There are strong legal arguments for saying that the Security Council has already authorised the use of force," he says.

"A second resolution may be very desirable politically, but there is sufficient authority in Resolution 1441 for military action."

But in sharp contrast, Professor Grief argues that previous resolutions are no longer valid, and the use of force against Iraq now would have to be expressly approved by the UN.

"Even the Security Council does not have a completely free hand to authorise military action," he says.

"Force is only to be used as a last resort, when efforts to resolve conflict peacefully have been exhausted. You have to say, hand on heart, that we are not at that stage."

Vulnerable

The complexity of the legal and political issues is highlighted by David Armstrong, Professor of International Relations at Exeter University.

"If a second resolution is voted against, or vetoed, the legal ground looks a bit shaky.

"But I think the Americans want it to protect Mr Blair. They are worried because he has made himself so vulnerable."

The use of force can be justified under the UN charter as an act of self defence. But Professor Grief argues that it does not apply to the present circumstances.

"There has been no use of arms against the United States or the UK, or the imminent threat of their use," he says.

Regime change

Professor Warbrick agrees. Not only is there no imminent threat from Iraq, he says, but the UK Government has not demonstrated a link between the regime in Baghdad and any terrorist group who might pose such a threat.

Without a second resolution, he says, it would be unlawful for the UK to use military force against Iraq.

He warns that if those who rely on previous resolutions are right, it will provide an open-ended power to achieve regime change.

"Authorisation by the Security Council for action needs to be explicit," he says.

"The draft resolution does not contain the authority to use force, neither does Resolution 1441.

"Resolution 1441 does talk about 'serious consequences' for Iraq, but the decision on what that means should be reserved for the Security Council.

"It should set precise mandates, time limits, and a mechanism for accountability."

© BBC News 2003

Commentary:
Has Bush ever stated his legal justification for war? Of course not. His cronies have him play on your emotions---Saddam is bad, Bush is good, kinda crap. Too bad the war networks aren't telling us the truth isn't it? If they did, a majority of Americans would oppose this war also.


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US press downplays Blair revolt
BBC News
By Steve Schifferes BBC News Online in Washington
Last Updated: Thursday, 27 February, 2003, 16:49 GMT

Mr Blair suffered a rebellion by 122 members of his party
Tony Blair may be America's closest ally over Iraq, but his political problems did not rate very highly in the American news media despite the big revolt by Labour MPs in Parliament.

Mr Blair's troubles with his party over Iraq may be front-page news in Britain, the debate was buried deep in coverage in the United States - if it was included at all.

The vote did not merit a mention on any of the main network news programmes on Wednesday, which were dominated by President Bush's speech on post-war Iraq and the exclusive interview with Saddam Hussein by CBS News' Dan Rather.

Two cable news networks - CNN and MSNBC - did report the results of the vote in short factual packages, and CNN's Christiane Amanpour also did a live link ahead of the vote, warning that Mr Blair was in political difficulty.

'Parliament backs Blair'

But it was left to stories on the inside pages of the serious newspapers, notably the Washington Post and the New York Times, to cover this important moment in British politics.

And they gave more weight to the fact that Parliament ultimately backed Mr Blair than to the size of the rebellion.

The New York Times reported in its headline that "Parliament backs Blair on Iraq, but vote bares rift in Labour Party".

The day-long debate "laid bare the deep divisions in Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour Party over his hard-line stance on disarming Iraq", it said.

But the paper added: "It was not expected to alter Mr Blair's resolve to push ahead with his tough approach and his close alliance with President Bush."

The Washington Post's headline said: "Blair takes a lashing but wins support on Iraq".

Pointing out that the debate exposed "deep divisions over military action against Iraq's President, Saddam Hussein", the paper said that Mr Blair's supporters, "citing the final margin of victory, said he had the mandate he needed".

But opponents within Labour "said they had bloodied the prime minister", it reported.

'Rebellion in the ranks'

One other paper that covered the news was the Los Angeles Times, which said Mr Blair suffered the "worst legislative rebellion of his tenure" though he "resolutely soldiered on with his campaign to persuade worried Britons that his policy has a firm moral basis".

The paper said that although Mr Blair had endured, "the pronounced divisions within the Labour Party could hurt Blair if the Iraq crisis goes disastrously wrong".

The same story ran in the Baltimore Sun, a paper also owned by the Tribune Group.

But the Boston Globe, a paper owned by the New York Times, had no coverage of the British Parliamentary vote.

Lack of foreign coverage

The other Washington paper, the Washington Times, ran an article from London's Daily Telegraph - reflecting the lack of foreign bureaux in many US papers.

And the news rated only a brief mention in one of the most widely read US papers, USA Today.

"By a 2-1 ratio, Britain's House of Commons rejected the view that the case for war was unproven," it said.

In some ways, the size of the coverage was not unexpected. The US news media run relatively few foreign stories, and right now it the Middle East that is by far their biggest focus.

But it is also a sign that, while many people in the UK are following US politics closely, the reverse is not necessarily true.

©BBC News 2003

Commentary:
Needless to say the war networks don't tell us what we really need to know. Blair is going to fall if the UN doesn't pass another resolution. Bush doesn't care. World leaders that support Bush will also fall in their next elections because Bush is hated by the world. Is there a single country whose people support his war? I'd be hard pressed to name one...how about you? Our only allies are those we buy or threaten into submission.


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House Ethics? What's That?
Washington Post
By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 11, 2003; Page A01

Faced with limits on how much wining and dining they can do in Washington, interest groups are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to take lawmakers and aides on out-of-town excursions to deliver their pitches on legislation.

These trips, which frequently include dinner at elegant restaurants and visits to tourist sites, have become an integral part of lobbying for many organizations. Some watchdog groups question why lawmakers and staffers are allowed to accept what the House ethics committee describes as "among the most attractive and alluring gifts" they can receive.

"These are basically gifts to the members and staff," said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, an independent group that monitors the role of money in politics. The trip sponsors "are caring for and feeding them, both in terms of their daily sustenance and the ideas they need to buy into."

Under rules that apply to entertaining in Washington, lawmakers and their aides may not accept gifts worth more than $50, with an annual cap of $100 from any single source.

On supposedly educational outings, however, there are no such limits on food, lodging and transportation. That's why "educational trips" in attractive locales are popular with the recording industry, pharmaceutical firms and many other groups eager for face time with legislators and their top aides.

Disclosure forms, which lawmakers must submit one month after they travel, provide some details.

Last April, for example, the National Association of Broadcasters arranged for Rep. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) to fly first-class to Las Vegas and stay in the Bellagio Hotel during its annual convention. The association covered his poolside drinks and a massage, although the congressman later reimbursed the group for his spa stay.

Burr, vice chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said the trip was business-oriented. "It's extremely valuable for members to get that overall snapshot of their particular industry," Burr said, adding that lawmakers need to see the industry's technological advances for themselves. "If not, we rely on everyone to come up here and tell us how things have changed."

Some lawmakers acknowledged that they and their aides were more likely to accept a group's invitation if the destination was attractive. The American Association of Airport Executives spent nearly $90,000 to transport three House members and six aides to a conference in Kona, Hawaii, in January 2002.

Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.), who sent an aide to the conference, said his aide benefited from the trip. "The sessions were substantive and timely, and sure, it was in a warm place," DeFazio said. "If they held it in Newark, a lot fewer people would go."

The policy branch of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce used an August trip to Toulouse, Paris and Brussels to make its case for why the United States should not impose tariffs on imported Airbus planes. A chamber spokeswoman said the trip was intended not to promote the interests of any single company, but to inform decision makers on how American and international policies affected all the group's members.

Dan Maffei, a House Ways and Means Committee aide who went on the trip, said the organizers were explicit about their motives.

"Obviously, whoever the sponsor is, is going to present their particular point of view," Maffei said. "It's like lobbying. People can come see you, or you can go to their facilities."

Last year, when the House faced a critical vote on whether to proceed with plans to establish a federal nuclear-waste repository under Yucca Mountain in Nevada, the Nuclear Energy Institute -- which was actively lobbying for the project -- paid for 50 aides and three House members to tour nuclear facilities in Nevada and Europe. The House and Senate ultimately authorized the Bush administration plan for the Yucca Mountain site.

Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who took his wife on an NEI-sponsored tour of Barcelona and Seville, said he came back even more convinced that the United States could safely keep its radioactive waste under Yucca for thousands of years. "It helps give you a broader understanding of issues I don't work on day to day," Boehner said.

Institute spokesman Steve Kerekes said the trips were intended to give staffers and lawmakers "a feel for the remoteness of that site. . . . It behooves all of us to have informed decision-making taking place."

Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-Nev.), who opposes the Yucca project, said that although the institute describes the trips as educational, "I think they're more lobbying than educational. . . . It has had a direct influence on the votes taken on the issue."

Some groups tailored their trips for a specific member's staffers. In April, for example, the Recording Industry Association of America briefed an aide to then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) in Nashville about issues affecting the gospel and Christian music industry.

In a trip two months later, RIAA brought eight House staffers to Nashville to learn how intellectual property rights issues affect country music. According to an itinerary, the trip included musical performances each night, a reception at the Wildhorse Saloon and a tour of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

RIAA lobbyist Mitch Glazier said that to grasp the nuances of the business, staffers needed to meet the people who produce and market music. "It's just hard to make our case alone on the Hill," he said.

Last year, AOL Time Warner brought congressional aides to Atlanta to learn about the company's operations. The itinerary included a tour of Turner Field and lunch with Atlanta Braves executives, a special viewing of a broadcast of a Final Four game in the NCAA basketball tournament, a tour of CNN, a viewing of "Talk Back Live" and dinner with top executives.

Fidelity Investments brought half a dozen staffers to Boston amid a congressional debate over pension reform last year. And Fox News took 10 House staffers on a Los Angeles studio visit that included their choice of a walking tour of Rodeo Drive or tickets to a baseball game between the hometown Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

In all these cases, the trip sponsors said the main purpose was to brief lawmakers and aides on policy issues.

The House ethics committee does monitor these trips, and recently ruled that three House Democrats improperly accepted an all-expense-paid Caribbean fundraising cruise last year. The purpose of the trip -- to raise money for scholarships to historically black colleges -- was not at issue. Instead, Democratic Reps. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. (Ill.), Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (Mich.) and Maxine Waters (Calif.) were sanctioned for staying longer than was necessary.

The Tom Joyner Foundation fundraiser was billed as a "party with a purpose" aboard the Royal Caribbean ship Explorer of the Seas. A slew of businesses funded the trip, underwriting travel costs and individual activities, including a Budweiser Bon Voyage Party, a Bud Lite Beach Party, the Hewlett Packard Maharaja Lounge and the American Airlines Dizzy Gillespie Lounge.

The cruise included panel discussions, some of which involved Jackson, Kilpatrick and Waters. In addition to having the $2,700 cost of the cruise covered, the lawmakers received varying amounts for airfare and lodging.

The cruise lasted a week. Each lawmaker spoke on two or three panels. And that is what drew sanctions from the ethics committee.

House rules say trips should last only as long as is "reasonably necessary to accomplish the trip's purpose." After scrutinizing the trip, the ethics panel concluded that each of the lawmakers had stayed longer than necessary. Jackson and Kilpatrick had to repay about $2,000; Waters, because she left the cruise early, had to repay $300.

All three lawmakers said they had informally consulted Rep. Howard L. Berman (Calif.), at the time the top Democrat on the ethics committee, before taking off. It was after they returned, they said, that the committee asked them to answer a lengthy questionnaire about the cruise's corporate sponsors.

Kilpatrick, who took her sister along for the cruise, said she was surprised when she learned that the committee was investigating the trip. "It wasn't like a place from where you could go home," she said, adding that she was focused on the policy aspects of the trip. "I wasn't there for the party. I wasn't there for the relaxation."

Waters questioned why the committee would penalize her and others for speaking at a public policy forum. "I think I did it right," she said, adding that a panel she was on was televised. "People heard me in my district, people heard me in Washington, D.C. I would do it again."

Jackson was irate. "I said I would not participate without his [Berman's] preliminary assurances," Jackson said. "The committee sought to charge me for the activities when I said I would not go if they told me not to go."

Berman said that account was "not accurate. You must consult with committee staff."

© 2003 The Washington Post Company

Commentary:
So you need to go to Hawaii, Paris, Brussels and take cruises for educational purposes? Yeah right. Who do they think they're kidding? Anyone who has to go to the ethics committee to ask if these trips are beyond the $100 limit doesn't have the ethics to be in public office.


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British Dissent Imperils Blair's Political Future
New York Times
March 11, 2003
By ALAN COWELL

LONDON, March 11 — For weeks and months, a seemingly unruffled Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain has weathered a gathering storm of discontent among members of his Labor Party who are incensed — or at least unsettled — by his lock-step alliance with President Bush.

But recently, as Mr. Blair has acknowledged that he might join a war in Iraq without a new authorization from the United Nations, that unease has crystallized into something more ominous.

Now, in by far the worst crisis for Mr. Blair since he took office in 1997, the dissent has given rise to a startlingly open debate about his political future.

"I don't think it is possible to exaggerate the degree of concern about the illegality of what is proposed," said Tam Dalyell, a longtime and often maverick legislator from the Labor Party. "If there is no U.N. mandate and there is not a vote in the Commons before the commitment of British troops, then we ask the prime minister to consider his position as leader of the party."

The clearest sign of the severity of Mr. Blair's predicament came late Sunday when Clare Short, the influential and often outspoken cabinet minister, blind-sided the prime minister and his followers by threatening to resign if Britain joined the United States in a war in Iraq without a second United Nations Security Council resolution. Not only that, Ms. Short, the international development secretary, called his stewardship in the Iraq crisis "deeply reckless."

It is a seeming token of Mr. Blair's current political weakness — or at least of his desire to avoid the perils of Ms. Short's being cast as a martyr to peace — that he has responded with public silence, neither castigating nor dismissing her.

Mr. Blair's destiny seems entwined with developments at the Security Council, where France and Russia have threatened to veto Britain's proposals for a new resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq, and with the nature of any military campaign to oust Saddam Hussein.

In essence, the prime minister is fighting a two-front campaign, one at at the Security Council and the other at home.

"If there's no second resolution and the war is anything other than short, sharp and bloodless, he'll be in serious trouble," said Charles Grant of the Center for European Reform, an independent policy organization.

The latest opinion survey suggests growing disillusion with the allies' justification for war. The survey, published in The Times of London, said 62 percent of respondents did not believe that Britain and the United States had put forward a convincing case for war, compared with 57 percent a month ago. There appears to be a growing sense here that the weapons inspections are forcing Mr. Hussein to disarm, however falteringly, and should be given more time.

The survey showed that antiwar sentiment was building among Labor voters, while followers of the opposition Conservative Party had become more supportive of a war.

Other surveys suggest that a second United Nations resolution would swing public opinion behind Mr. Blair, giving developments at the Security Council with potentially more political consequences for Mr. Blair than they seem to portend for the White House.

The political crisis here has profound implications for Mr. Bush's "coalition of the willing," apparently raising doubts among some senior American officials about the likely impact of Labor Party dissent on Britain's ability to fight.

While Mr. Blair has given no indication that his resolve is weakening, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld seemed to hint today that Washington might even contemplate an initial campaign without Britain.

"What will ultimately be decided is unclear as to their role — that is to say, their role in the event that a decision is made to use force," Mr. Rumsfeld said of the British, who have committed some 40,000 troops to join the 200,000-plus Americans in the Persian Gulf region.

Mr. Rumsfeld later modified those remarks, saying he had "no doubt" about Britain's "full support" in the effort to disarm Iraq.

Mr. Blair had earlier castigated France and Russia for their readiness to ease the pressure on Mr. Hussein by rejecting a new United Nations authorization to invade Iraq.

"The only reason we made any progress at all in the past few weeks has been because of the threat of force," the prime minister said today after meeting here with the Portuguese prime minister, José Manuel Durão Barroso. "And my concern is that if countries talk about using a veto in all sets of circumstances, the message that sends to Saddam Hussein is, `You are off the hook.' "

Mr. Blair has sent a senior foreign office official, Baroness Amos, to the impoverished African countries of Cameroon, Angola and Guinea, which are current members of the Security Council. That trip follows that of the French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin. Both envoys have sought to swing the undecided African nations in their favor.

"In going to war without the sanction of the United Nations, we will see the prospects for another fine Labor government disappear," said Hilton Dawson, a legislator who was one of 122 Laborites to challenge Mr. Blair in Parliament last month on the need to go to war. "We will see the distinct possibility of this Labor Party being brought to its knees."

John McDonnell, another Labor rebel, declared, "We are asking Tony Blair to consider his position."

That same discontent has been drummed home to Mr. Blair in televised meetings in the last week with audiences as disparate as young rock fans in an MTV studio to women in a television debate on Monday night. Some of the women were mothers of people who died in the attacks on New York on Sept. 11, 2001, or in the first Persian Gulf war a decade earlier. Some harangued Mr. Blair. Many urged him not to go to war.

The misgivings have been echoed by student leaders as well as a former Labor defense minister, Denis Healey, who said Mr. Blair's unequivocal support for Washington was "a disastrous error."

Mr. Blair stands accused of losing touch with the traditional, pacifist grass roots of the Labor Party, but draws strong backing from the Conservatives. The impact on parliamentary arithmetic is clear and not necessarily threatening to Mr. Blair. Even if more than 120 Labor legislators vote to oppose him, as happened last month, he can still count on the support of most of the 165 Conservatives. In addition, Labor has a huge majority, with 411 of the 659 seats. But if Mr. Blair was seen to be depending on the Conservatives for his political survival while his own party revolts, his position could be weakened still further.

The Labor Party's mainstream heavyweights have moved to squelch rebellious talk.

John Reid, the party chairman, today dismissed the mavericks like Mr. Dalyell as "the usual suspects." On Monday, Gordon Brown, the chancellor of the exchequer, who is often depicted as the person most likely to succeed Mr. Blair, declared that "the whole country should support Tony Blair in his determination to secure international agreement for a second resolution."

That was significant, said Mr. Grant at the Center for European Reform. "The only person who matters is Gordon Brown, and he was being very supportive," he said.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

Commentary:
There's only one way for Blair to savage his battered reputation. He should wait for a vote in the UN, a vote that will most likely be a defeat for the US and then say International Law forbids the British from going to war. The pro-war side will accept his "rule of law" argument and the anti-war crowd will cheer him because of his character.


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