United States News Digest
Congress Waters Down Aid to Palestinians
The U.S. Congress watered down aid to the Palestinians, barring money from going directly to the Palestinian Authority, and handing over $50 million of the $200 million in aidto Israel (!), to build security check points. That's right: The spending bill passed by Congress late on May 3 included the $200 million in Palestinian aid which Bush included in his State of the Union speech three months ago, but a quarter of the amount goes to Israel, to build terminals at Israel-Palestinian Territory crossing check points. And instead of any funds going directly to the Palestinian Authority, the money must pass through non-governmental organizations.
Edward Abington, a consultant to the Palestinian Authority, told the May 5 Washington Post that the restrictions represent a "huge slap in the face" to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. "The Palestinians will not see this money for months and months," added Abington. UPI commented that Israeli officials claim Abbas has not confronted militants and has not worked with the Israelis on plans for settler withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
Lampson Files To Run Against DeLay
On May 4, Democrat Nick Lampson filed to challenge House Minority Leader Tom Delay (R-Texas) for his Congressional seat in the 2006 elections. Lampson was the ranking Democrat on the Space Subcommittee of the House Science panel when DeLay's redistricting moved the Johnson Space Center from Lampson's district to his own. Lampson submitted bills for a Moon/Mars mission for NASA for several years in a row, before losing his seat in the last election. His wife works on the International Space Station.
'Salvador option' underway in Iraq
In January, Newsweek ran an article entitled "The Salvador Option," which reported that the Pentagon was considering setting up Iraqi counter-insurgency forces modelled on the El Salvador "death squads" of the 1980s. This was elaborated by Seymour Hersh in a New Yorker article soon after.
Now, the Sunday New York Times Magazine May 1 ran a feature article by Peter Maass on U.S.-led Iraqi "Special Police Commandos," led by Adnan Thabit, a Sunni, and a former general in Saddam Hussein's army. Adnan is conducting counter-insurgency operations in the Sunni Triangle, in which beatings, torture, and killings of prisoners seem to be routine.
One of the leading U.S. military advisers to Adnan is one James Steele, described by Maass as "one of the U.S. military's top experts on counterinsurgency." Steele's role in Central America in the 1980s was described by former DEA agent Celerino Castillo in his book Powderburns, and also in discussions with EIR over a decade ago.
Steele worked closely with the Salvador death squads, particularly with Dr. Hector Antonio Regalado, known as "Dr. Death," a dentist who used a pliers to extract teethwithout anesthesiaof prisoners during interrogations, before killing them. Castillo also reports that then-Colonel Steele, as the "MilRep" (military attache) at the U.S. Embassy, was supervising the guns- and drug-running operation at Ilopango airport, run by the Ollie North-Richard Secord Iran-Contra operation.
It is probably no accident that Steele was brought in to help create these Iraqi death squads, while John Negroponte, the former U.S. Ambassador to Honduras, who also worked closely with the death squads, was the U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad.
Hagel Tours New Hampshire as Presidential Pre-Candidate
Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb) began a three-day, pre-candidate tour of New Hampshire by telling a house meeting there that he is open to a Presidential campaign, but won't decide until after the 2006 election, the Lincoln Journal Star reported May 3. Hagel hit the administration on several critical issues:
* Allegations about John Bolton, the Bush nominee for UN Ambassador, are "coming from serious people" and should be explored, rather than trying to "ramrod a party vote":
* "Both parties' hands are not clean" on blocking Federal judge nominees, but stopping minority rights (ending the filibuster) would "not be in the best interests of this country;"
* Issues like Social Security reform, trade, energy, immigration, health care, and government spending must be solved by both parties, working together. Asked if there were Democrats willing to do so, he said: "Sure. There are enough to make things work. Enough to get 60 votes."
Iraq and Afghanistan Wars Collapsing the Army
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, reported to Congress on May 2, that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are straining the military services to the point that there is a risk of being less able to defeat potential adversaries. Military and Defense officials at the Pentagon were quick to tell reporters, however, that there is no chance that any potential adversary could defeat the United States. A U.S. victory would just take longer and come at greater cost.
Underlying this increased risk is, of course, the collapse in Army recruiting. The Army reported separately that it made less than 60% of its April recruiting goal, putting it 16% behind for the fiscal year, so far. The impact of poor recruiting is showing at the army's basic training center at Fort Benning, Ga. The center has a capacity to train 14 companies at a time, but currently is only training seven. Those seven are smaller than usual, at 190 men each, rather than 220. The Army is hoping for a "summer surge" in recruiting to help it make up the shortfall, but a spokesman for the Basic Combat Training Brigade told the May 3 Washington Post that, last year, "there was no summer surge."
Frist Threatens 'Nuclear Option' by Memorial Day
After weeks of avowing that he and Vice President Dick Cheney could exercise the "nuclear option" any day now, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn) told USA Today in an interview, on May 2, that a filibuster showdown is "almost inevitable," and that he is going to push for a vote on judicial nominees before Memorial Day.
But, as is commonly recognized, if Frist had had the votes, he would have done it already. "I don't think he has the votes," a Republican source told the May 2 New York Daily News. "He's now in his own corner. If he doesn't have the votes, he's really screwed."
Waxman Demands Halliburton Explain Discrepancies
Representatives Henry Waxman (D-Calif) and Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass) have demanded that Halliburton CEO David J. Lesar explain discrepancies in testimony by senior Halliburton officials before the House Committee on Government Reform, and information disclosed in a recent Federal indictment of Halliburton employees for taking kickbacks in exchange for illegal mark-ups on services to U.S. troops in Iraq and Kuwait through the subcontractor "La Nouvelle." which operates under Halliburton's LOGCap contract.
In the Waxman-Lynch letter, the two Congressmen note mark-ups on contracts of more than 700%.
U.S. To Start Troop Withdrawal by December?
A "classified document being circulated among senior officers," suggests that the U.S. will begin withdrawing troops from Iraq by December, the May 2 London Telegraph reported. Meanwhile, Mowaffak Al-Rubaie, Iraq's chief security adviser, speaking to CNN's Late Edition, confirmed as much, by stating that larger troop withdrawals would likely take place in early 2006. Last month Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary, said he expected British troops to start being withdrawn from Iraq next year, a move that would fit in with the proposed American timetable. Tied in closely with this, is the training and ability of the Iraqi security forces to control the situation on the ground. The Defense Department is now stating that "credible threats" against U.S. forces are at their lowest since Sept. 11.
The circulation of this "good news" is likely to be carefully managed by Vice President Dick Cheney and company, to rescue the failing Bush (and Congressional Republicans) from collapsing in the polls in the lead-up to the 2006 elections.
National Guard Platoon Complains About Poor Training
While the Iraq war is eating up a lot of money, it still appears that that money is not well spent, at least not on training the ground troops who are deployed there. The commander of an Iowa National Guard platoon, which recently returned from Iraq, reported in his after-action review, which was obtained by the Des Moines Register, that the training his unit received at Fort Hood prior to deploying was "inept."
"Having been in Iraq ... conducting combat operations on a wide spectrum, we can confidently say we did not learn a thing at Fort Hood," wrote Capt. Aaron Baugher, according to the April 29 Register. Baugher also complained about the lack of professionalism of Fort Hood soldiers, and poor living conditions in the Fort Hood barracks, among other things. While officials at Fort Hood vehemently disagreed with Baugher's report, Col. Luke Green, chief of staff of the 5th Army, which is responsible for the training of National Guard troops, told the Register, "There is some truth there, because I will tell you this is just a damn hard business and it does not go perfectly every day."