Thursday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
April 22, 2004 4:52PM (UTC)

Pentagon admits secret war funding
The Wall Street Journal (Sub. only) says the "Pentagon acknowledged that in tandem with its secret planning for the Iraq war two years ago, it funded 21 military-related projects in the Mideast when the Bush administration had yet to seek a war resolution from Congress."

"The administration said in late summer 2002 that $178.4 million was spent on projects that could be justified as part of the larger war against terrorism. The first detailed accounting of that spending was provided to Congress just this week, and even lawmakers who supported military action against Saddam Hussein say the Defense Department stretched its authority and hid facts that should have been shared with lawmakers."

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"The heaviest concentration of projects was in Kuwait, including a $24 million contract to build up an ammunition storage and supply system for an Army brigade, and $15 million for communications equipment at the Arifjan Base Camp. A $3 million detention facility for unspecified prisoners also was funded, together with almost $6.5 million for an inland petroleum-distribution system, including fuel trucks."

And it was just two days ago on Capitol Hill that deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz denied doing this very thing. "Wolfowitz was closely questioned about claims in journalist Bob Woodward's new book, Plan of Attack, that the Defense Department had secretly diverted $700 million earmarked for Afghanistan and other purposes to planning for Iraq in summer 2002. Wolfowitz said that money was not assembled until after Congress voted in October 2002 to authorize the use of force 'if necessary' in Iraq."

More money badly needed in Iraq
The Associated Press reports on the debate over how much the Iraq operations will cost. "A rough first estimate showed that the decision to keep 20,000 troops in Iraq for some 90 days longer to deal with increased violence will cost about $700 million, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee. "

" ... Two leading lawmakers said policy-makers should examine whether mandatory military service should be used to relieved the already-strained volunteer force. And several members of urged the administration to present Congress with a projected price tag for Iraq operations beyond 2004, a politically delicate step that the White House has said it does not intend to take in an election year."

"'They haven't asked for one single penny for next year for Afghanistan and Iraq,' said Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee. 'Give me a break. Give me a break!' Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said he smelled election-year politics."

"'The administration would be well served here to come forward now, be honest about this, because the continuity and the confidence in this policy is going to be required to sustain it,' Hagel said. 'And that means be honest with the Congress, be honest with the American people. Every ground squirrel in this country knows that it's going to be $50 billion to $75 billion in additional money required to sustain us in Iraq for this year,' Hagel said."

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We've heard this before
The Washington Post reports: "President Bush told newspaper editors in Washington yesterday that Iran 'will be dealt with,' starting through the United Nations if it does not stop developing nuclear weapons and begin total cooperation with international inspectors."

"Bush said he will encourage allies to insist to the Iranians that they live up to commitments to cooperate with U.N. inspectors and end any enriching and reprocessing of uranium."

"'The Iranians need to feel the pressure from the world that any nuclear weapons program will be uniformly condemned -- it's essential that they hear that message,' he said. 'The development of a nuclear weapon in Iran is intolerable, and a program is intolerable. . . . Otherwise, they will be dealt with, starting through the United Nations.' Earlier this month, Iran pledged to speed up cooperation with the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency, but called for an end of inspections by June."

"The language was reminiscent of comments Bush made about Iraq long before the war, and to admonitions he has issued to Syria. Iran, along with Iraq and North Korea, was part of the 'axis of evil' in his State of the Union address in 2002. Bush said last July that Iran and Syria 'will be held accountable' if they failed to cooperate more fully with the administration's campaign against terrorism. Administration officials said they have no plans to attack Iran, and that Bush's policy on Tehran had not changed."

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Grasping at straws
Newsweek reports that the Pentagon considered extending the "enemy combatant" label as it desperately tried to prove, despite the evidence, that Saddam was linked to al-Qaida.

"The proposal, pressed by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, called for President George W. Bush to declare Ramzi Yousef, the convicted mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, as an enemy combatant in the war on terror. This would have allowed Yousef to be transferred from his cell at the U.S. Bureau of Prisons 'supermax' penitentiary in Florence, Colo., to a U.S. military installation."

"Wolfowitz contended that U.S. military interrogators -- unencumbered by the presence of Yousefs defense lawyer -- might be able to get the inmate to confess what he and the lawyer have steadfastly denied: that he was actually an Iraqi intelligence agent dispatched by Saddam to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993 as revenge for the first Persian Gulf War."

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"The previously unreported Wolfowitz proposal -- and the high-level consideration it got within the Justice Department -- sheds new light on the Bush administrations willingness to expand its use of enemy-combatant declarations inside the United States beyond the three alleged terrorists, two of them American citizens, who have already been designated by the White House."

"It also underscores the persistence with which Wolfowitz and his allies within the Pentagon pursued efforts to uncover evidence of links between Saddams government and Al Qaeda -- a key, and still disputed, element in the Bush administration's case for war. One principal reason for that persistence, sources say, was Wolfowitz's fascination with the conspiracy theories of academic Laurie Mylroie, who has argued in a series of books and magazine articles that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, along with virtually every other terrorist strike in the years since that have been commonly attributed to Al Qaeda."

Kerry hits back
The Los Angeles Times reports on John Kerry's "television counteroffensive against President Bush on Wednesday with two meet-the-candidate commercials in which he pledged to seek more international help in Iraq, keep America secure and focus on jobs and healthcare. Bush is firing back today with a new advertisement on cable TV stations that calls Kerry more liberal than two of his famous Democratic Senate colleagues: Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York."

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"The dueling ads illustrate the intensifying effort to define Kerry for voters who have not yet formed strong impressions of him. They come in the wake of new polls showing Bush edging ahead in the presidential race. The Bush campaign recently cut back on a massive ad barrage that depicted Kerry as soft on national defense, a flip-flopper on key issues and a tax-and-spend liberal. To counter such charges, Kerry's new ads spotlight his agenda."

What's in Kerry's military records?
The Boston Globecovers the dozens of pages John Kerry released from his four years of service in the Navy, "including evaluations that characterized him as an outstanding and aggressive officer."

"One document said Kerry was 'unofficially credited with 20 enemy killed in action' in December 1968 while he commanded a naval 'swift boat' near Cambodia. Kerry's unit was involved in an ambush and fighting that broke out at the time of a shaky 'Christmas truce.' But both of the commanding officers who signed that fitness report said in telephone interviews yesterday that they do not recall an event at that time in which 20 enemy were killed. Kerry himself has never publicly claimed to have killed such a high number of enemy combatants."

"The release of records on Kerry's campaign website did not include a copy of a medical report related to the shrapnel wound that led to his first purple heart; Kerry aides have shown that document to some reporters but have not made it publicly available. Overall, the records portray the former Navy lieutenant as a courageous officer. Kerry's commanders described him as 'top notch,' 'intelligent,' 'polished,' and 'brilliant.' The records cover the period when Kerry was an officer from 1966 to 1970. The Kerry campaign yesterday said that it was trying to collect as many documents as possible and might post more in the future, indicating that the document delivery was not complete."

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HHS, MoveOn.org team-up irks right
The Hill newspaper reports that conservatives are "outraged" that Bush's Health and Human Services Department is teaming up with groups like MoveOn.org for a conference on global health and reproductive rights that is sure to highlight policies the president opposes.

"The conference, sponsored by the Global Health Council, will gather health experts and advocates from around the world, including International Planned Parenthood Federation, the United Nations International Family Planning Fund and the Alan Guttmacher Institute, each of which has opposed the administrations positions on abortion or reproductive health, some conservatives charge. In particular, the groups have balked at the presidents endorsement of abstinence over the use of condoms."

"The conference will also feature activists from MoveOn.org, a group that has spent millions of dollars on television ads attacking the president. To the chagrin of these conservatives, the conference is being paid for in large part by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The CDC and HRSA are both divisions of the Department of Health and Human Services. "

"Featured speakers at the conference include Doortje Braeken, senior adviser for adolescents and youth at the International Planned Parenthood Federation, and Dr. Thorya Ahmed Obaid, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). ... Those organizations as well as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Family Health International, a 'gold' sponsor of the conference, and the Alan Guttmacher Institute have drawn fire from conservatives for opposing Bush on sexual health issues."

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'All of them are opposed to the principles announced by this administration when it comes to HIV prevention. They are the same organizations that opposed groups like ours on the Africa AIDS bill,' said Michael Schwartz, the vice president of government relations at Concerned Women for America, a conservative advocacy group that promotes family values and the sanctity of life."


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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