United States News Digest
Pentagon Violated Medical Ethics
A forthcoming article in the New England Journal of Medicine concludes that the Defense Department violated medical ethics and international law by integrating physicians and mental-health professionals into the interrogation of detainees at Guantanamo, the Wall Street Journal reported June 23. The prison's health-care providers were told that detainees didn't enjoy medical confidentiality, that they were to provide information on detainees' physical and mental health to interrogators. Documents indicate mental-health professionals used medical records to build psychological profiles to help interrogators.
Shays Threatens Subpoena of Iraq Reconstruction Documents
In perhaps another sign of the lame-duck status of the Bush Administration, Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn), the chairman of the National Security subcommittee of the House Government Reform Committee, threatened, that if the Pentagon did not turn over unredacted documents on Halliburton's 2003 Iraq oil contract by June 27, he would seek a subpoena. Shays, during a hearing on the Development Fund for Iraq, the U.S.-managed successor of the UN Oil for Food program, expressed his frustration over the Pentagon's management of the Fund.
The Pentagon has, so far, only provided redacted copies of its audits of Halliburton's billings, supposedly to protect Halliburton's proprietary information, the Washington Post reported June 22. Shays said that the redactions "regretfully, very regretfully, make it appear DOD has something to hide. This undermines our international standing and, even more importantly, harms our efforts in Iraq."
Later in the hearing, Stuart W. Bowen, Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, told the subcommittee that he had referred evidence of three potential fraud cases to Federal prosecutors for investigation, although he would not comment specifically on the cases. "If we uncover information with respect to a contractor who has misappropriated or fraudulently expropriated ... dollars, then we will pursue that as a U.S. crime," he said. He downplayed any possibility of widespread malfeasance, however. "We have investigations going on with respect to fraud," he said, "but our audits point primarily to inefficiencies."
Report on Religious Intolerance at Air Force Academy
On June 22, the Air Force released a report by a headquarters review group, headed by Lt. Gen. Roger Brady, the deputy chief of staff for personnel, concerning the religious environment at the Air Force Academy. The investigation was spurred by news reports indicating that off-campus Protestant evangelical groups may have been involved in aggressive proselytizing on campus, and that some professors and other staff at the Academy may have been involved. Brady reported that the investigation found that there were actions by members of the staff, up to and including the commandant of the Academy, the second-ranking officer, to promote religious messages in an inappropriate manner, including through official e-mails and from behind the lectern while lecturing cadets.
He also reported that there was a perception among some groups that their religious needs were not being met, and there was a lack of awareness as to what constitutes appropriate expressions of faith. There were also incidents involving the mass advertising of the highly controversial Mel Gibson film, "The Passion of the Christ," which some cadets objected to. Throughout the press briefing, however, Brady, Acting Air Force Secretary Michael Dominguez, and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper emphasized that the superintendent of the academy, Lt. Gen. John Rosa, discovered the problem on his own in 2003, and acted to address it before there were any news reports on it.
A component of the problem, however, is outside religious groups coming onto campus for "religious education" classes. Brady acknowledged that there are 19 such groups at the Air Force Academy, and 15 of them are Protestant evangelical groups. According to the report, these include the Campus Crusade for Christ and Christian Leadership Ministries, both of which have a relationship with Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship ministries. Brady claimed that the only problem with these groups is that some of them may not be aware of Air Force standards regarding religious expression.
GOP Puts Out Last-Gasp Social Security Bill
The last-gasp tactic of the Congressional Republican leadership, now that President Bush's Social Security privatization drive has failed, is to throw in a confetti of privatization and "solvency" bills, hoping that some Democrats will be willing to negotiate on one of them. These desperation bills are being introduced before the Congressional recess. All the Republicans, of course, are at pains to try to explain about how very different these "new" bills are from Bush's privatization scheme.
The Democratic leadership in the Senate moved preemptively on June 21, with a press statement, and in coordination with House Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee, to put the "new" bills in their place"same scheme, new packages," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) pronounced.
The bill by Republican Senators Jim DeMint (S.C.), Rick Santorum (Pa), and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) would take the current annual Social Security surpluses ($150 billion a year or so), and divide them up into private accounts for 150 million members of the workforce, i.e., $1,000 a year each, until the surplus runs out. Or, somewhat fewer workers could receive slightly larger accounts for a decade or soanother tax cut, in other words. This pathetic "lock-box" scheme is advertised primarily for its supposed ability to stop Bush and the GOP Congress from throwing the surplus away on tax breaks for the wealthy and imperial wars. However, the bill's effects would be identical in all respects to those of Bush's own privatization scheme, and Senator Reid and the Senate leadership immediately challenged it appropriately: "How deep are the benefit cuts?... How much new debt will be created?... To what extent will Social Security's solvency be made worse?... What impact will raiding the Trust Fund have on the long-term health of the Social Security system?... Will there be a privatization tax that will further cut traditional benefits?"
Bloomberg News quoted Senators John Kyl (R-Ariz) and DeMint saying that the bills are intended to provoke the Democrats into negotiating or looking "obstructionist." In fact, they are a desperate attempt to save Bush from the necessity of publicly admitting defeat. Congressional Quarterly on June 21 reported other privatizersGOP Senators Mike Pence (R-Ind), Nancy Johnson (Conn), and Sam Johnson (Texas)are lining up behind them. And even House Ways and Means Committee chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif) is reported to be near to adopting this as the privatization part of his "retirement bill," soon to be unveiled.
Waxman Bill To Investigate Detainee Abuses
California Democrats Rep. Henry Waxman and Rep. Nancy Pelosi held a press conference June 21, to announce the introduction of a bill, which already has 170 co-sponsors, to establish a ten-member, bipartisan commission, modelled on the "successful" 9/11 Commission. Waxman noted that it has been over a year since the first pictures surfaced from Abu Ghraib, and that new reports, like the abuse of the Koran at Guantanamo, are continuing to surface. "The reports of detainee abuse are undermining one of our nation's most valuable assets: our reputation for respect for human rights," Waxman said. The investigation in the House lasted a mere five hours, and although the Senate's was more thorough, it still "stopped far short of assessing individual accountability up the chain of command." He added, "Our troops deserve better, our nation deserves better."
Waxman admitted that, "Some of the allegations that have been replayed repeatedly around the world may not be true. President Bush calls them 'absurd.' But," he added, "we won't know what's true and what's not true unless we investigate. And when we refuse to conduct thorough, independent investigations, the rest of the world thinks we have something to hide."
The Commission would examine: the extent of the abuses, why they occurred, and who was responsible; specifically, to what extent the executive branch was involved; what policies or programs failed to prevent the abuses and if new legislation is needed; and to what extent policies at Guantanamo influenced those at the Abu Ghraib or other Iraqi prisons.
The Senate action follows an initiative by a bipartisan group of prominent conservatives and liberals, calling for a similar commission. Back in September 2004, a group of eight retired flag officers also issued such a call.
U.S.-British Bombing of Iraq Before War Was Illegal
The recently leaked "Downing Street Memo" confirmed that the May 2002 dramatic increase in bombing of Iraq was intended "to put pressure on the regime," "degrade" Iraqi forces, and provoke a response which would, in turn, "legitimize war," the Timesonline reported June 19. Now, newly leaked Foreign Office legal advice from March 2002, two months before the bombing, said that patrolling the no-fly zones in the north and south of Iraq was legal only to deter attacks by Iraqi forces on Kurds or Shi'a populations.