Closing Out 2005

To celebrate the end of 2005, the FM and I finally went out and saw The Chronicles of Narnia this evening after a couple of false starts at it the past two weeks. We both really enjoyed the movie, and we would recommend it to everyone. I won’t write a full review, but the movie was excellent in all of its facets — acting, cinematography, music, the works. The only complaint I had was that the score tended to drown out the dialogue in a couple of places. Otherwise, it should please every member of the family — and I can’t wait for the sequel.
I don’t have a retrospective to offer for 2005. I had thought I might go through some of my old posts for a list of favorites, but in the end, I just had other tasks going on. Instead, take a look at some of my friends who did:
* Patterico looks at the year for the LA Times, whose time may be up soon.
* The Anchoress looks at 2005, and makes predictions for 2006
* Michelle Malkin reviews 2005 in The War on Blogs
* Hugh reviews five blogs that hit their stride in 2005
* The Persistent Burrito comes back with a list of predictions after a busy day of posting
As for me, I’m going to ring in the New Year by watching my new DVD of Serenity, and I’ll get back to blogging in the morning. Happy New Year, everyone!

Northern Alliance Radio Today

Once again, and for the final time in 2005, the Northern Alliance Radio Network takes to the Twin Cities airwaves starting at noon Central Time. We will spend our first hour reviewing the week’s news, probably giving special attention to leak probes, the Alito nomination, the ridiculous desperation of the latest domestic spying stories, the real story behind “extraordinary rendition”, and so on. The following two hours will review the past year of Northern Alliance tomfoolery, and if you’ve been a faithful listener, you’ll know that two hours will hardly do that any justice. (I expect my brilliant non-endorsement of a non-sponsor from a couple of weeks ago to get a highlight somewhere in there.)
If you’re in the Twin Cities, tune us in at AM 1280 The Patriot. If you’re outside our signal reach, you can listen to the fun on the webstream at the station’s website, which is not brought to you by Jorgensen Real Estate, who are, uh, … good. Join the conversation by calling us at 651-289-4488. If that’s not a local call, use your cell phones and take advantage of your free weekend calling!
UPDATE: We have a challenge for Northern Alliance listeners. We need an additional 200 hits for SCSU Scholars to get King to 500,000 on his Sitemeter stats. Also, we need one of our listeners to start a Persistent Burrito blog, which our first segment (over)used as a metaphor.
UPDATE II: We get results! The Persistent Burrito has now been launched, and even has two new posts!

Knucklehead Of The Year?

The Florida Masochist has taken his daily Knucklehead award (one which I’ve thankfully not yet won) and used it to anoint the Knucklehead of the Year. He got a blue-ribbon panel of bloggers to help him judge the contest. I won’t reveal exactly who it is here, but in keeping with the nautical theme of CQ, you can expect a good Kelo-hauling at The Florida Masochist.

Iran In The Crosshairs?

The German magazine Der Spiegel published a report yesterday that speculates an impending military response to Iranian intransigence on nuclear proliferation, primarily involving the US military. According to the magazine, the US has leaned on Turkey to provide extensive intelligence on Iran in exchange for helping to suppress the PKK in northern Iraq, and will use that intelligence in a series of air strikes on key strategic points in Iran:

The most talked about story is a Dec. 23 piece by the German news agency DDP from journalist and intelligence expert Udo Ulfkotte. The story has generated controversy not only because of its material, but also because of the reporter’s past. Critics allege that Ulfkotte in his previous reporting got too close to sources at Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the BND. But Ulfkotte has himself noted that he has been under investigation by the government in the past (indeed, his home and offices have been searched multiple times) for allegations that he published state secrets — a charge that he claims would underscore rather than undermine the veracity of his work.
According to Ulfkotte’s report, “western security sources” claim that during CIA Director Porter Goss’ Dec. 12 visit to Ankara, he asked Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to provide support for a possibile 2006 air strike against Iranian nuclear and military facilities. More specifically, Goss is said to have asked Turkey to provide unfettered exchange of intelligence that could help with a mission.
DDP also reported that the governments of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman and Pakistan have been informed in recent weeks of Washington’s military plans. The countries, apparently, were told that air strikes were a “possible option,” but they were given no specific timeframe for the operations.
In a report published on Wednesday, the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel also cited NATO intelligence sources claiming that Washington’s western allies had been informed that the United States is currently investigating all possibilities of bringing the mullah-led regime into line, including military options. Of course, Bush has publicly stated for months that he would not take the possibility of a military strike off the table. What’s new here, however, is that Washington appears to be dispatching high-level officials to prepare its allies for a possible attack rather than merely implying the possibility as it has repeatedly done during the past year.

The background context for these attacks come from Iran itself. Not only has the new hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a number of anti-American statements, but he has openly campaigned for the destruction of Israel, hosting a “seminar” exploring the ramifications of a world without America and Israel. He has disputed the historical fact of the Holocaust and told Europe that if they want to save Israel, they will need to relocate the entire country to Europe.
Having given Israel an almost perfect excuse for a pre-emptive attack, the Germans think that George Bush won’t pass up the opportunity to join them. The DDP quoted a high-ranking German military officer as saying that an attack would have to happen before Iran develops its nuclear weapon, and that window appears to be closing fast. Along with a series of high-level meetings in Turkey between American and Turkish diplomats and military planners, it looks like something may soon be afoot regarding Iran. And oddly enough, although Der Speigel doesn’t mention it in their article, one of the clearest indicators may be Teheran’s sudden reversal on the Russian offer to process their uranium for the Iranians. Until this week, Iran rejected the offer outright, saying that Iran had a sovereign right to process their own uranium for peaceful purposes. Without much explanation, though, the Iranians changed course this week and endorsed the Russian proposal in concept while asking for clearer details on the Russian plan.
In other words, it looks like everyone has suddenly understood that the Americans have taken over the game plan on Iran, as quietly as possible under the circumstances. The question remains what we intend to do with Teheran to blck their acquisition of nuclear weapons and end Iranian provocations of Israel.

Syrian VP Confirms Assad Threatened Hariri

Former Syrian VP Abdel-Halim Khaddam confirmed in an interview yesterday with al-Arabiya that Bashar Assad threatened to “break Lebanon” on the head of Rafik Hariri after the latter refused to submit to orders to circumvent Lebanese law and extend President Emile Lahoud’s term of office. Khaddam makes clear that Assad and his security advisors made numerous threats to Hariri during the meeting, which upset the Lebanese billionaire and patriot so much that he left with a nosebleed:

The meeting in Damascus referred to by Mr. Khaddam occurred on Aug. 26, 2004, when Mr. Assad bluntly ordered that the Lebanese Parliament amend the Constitution to extend the term of his ally, President Émile Lahoud. Mr. Hariri, a billionaire who had almost single-handedly rebuilt the center of Beirut after 15 years of civil war, objected.
The meeting lasted just 15 minutes. According to both the United Nations report and previous accounts by Mr. Hariri’s political allies, Mr. Hariri returned shaken, saying Mr. Assad had threatened to “break Lebanon on your head.”
The report also included the transcript of a taped conversation with the Syrian deputy foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, just two weeks before Mr. Hariri was killed in which he called the meeting “the worst day of my life.”
When Mr. Hariri protested Syria’s domination of Lebanon, the report said, Mr. Moallem replied, referring to the security services, “We and the services here have put you into a corner.” He continued, “Please do not take things lightly.”

Khaddam now lives in Paris, outside the reach of Syrian security services, and claims that he wanted to make sure that the record was set straight. He also pointed out to al-Arabiya that the security services of Syria could not have acted alone in assassinating Hariri, and that means that they had to get higher authority for coordination. Khaddam told his interviewer that the UN probe would reveal the “apparatus” behing Hariri’s car-bomb death soon enough, and strongly implied that the report would implicate the entire Syrian government in the assassination.
This will present a problem for the Security Council, which has demanded the investigation. One sovereign nation — and a member of the SC itself — has conducted assassinations on politicians of another sovereign member-state. What punishment will the UNSC devise for such a transgression? Will Russia and China use their vetoes to ensure that Syria remains unaffected by United Nations actions? Even more than with Iraq, this has the potential to reduce the UN to nothing more than the League of Nations with better stationery. Russia and China will not allow the British, French, and Americans to lock Assad into a sanctions regime that will cut him off and ensure his collapse. Anything less would be a joke, and for truly effective action such as military strikes, I suspect that the Russians and Chinese wouldn’t even need to use the veto; it would probably lose on a majority vote in the UNSC.
Does that mean that Assad will escape without any consequences? Not hardly. The French and the Americans will push for sanctions anyway, and perhaps even a military demonstration or two just to remind Assad that he’s playing on a much larger scale now. Bypassing the UNSC will drive another nail into its long-overdue coffin, though, and the Russians and Chinese might consider that when they debate on whether to use those vetoes.

Rendition Started Under Clinton

After months of debate about the Bush administration’s supposed support of torture through the “rendition” policy of sending captured terrorists to their nations of origin for questioning, it turns out that the policy did not start with the Bush administration after all. Former CIA operative and now-author Michael Scheuer, who wrote a lengthy criticism of the Bush administration’s war policy in 2003 in part for not being aggressive enough, has revealed that the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” policy began in 1995 under President Clinton:

The CIA’s controversial “rendition” program to have terror suspects captured and questioned on foreign soil was launched under US president Bill Clinton, a former US counterterrorism agent told a German newspaper. Michael Scheuer, a 22-year veteran of the CIA who resigned from the agency in 2004, told Thursday’s issue of the newsweekly Die Zeit that the US administration had been looking in the mid-1990s for a way to combat the terrorist threat and circumvent the cumbersome US legal system.
“President Clinton, his national security advisor Sandy Berger and his terrorism advisor Richard Clark ordered the CIA in the autumn of 1995 to destroy Al-Qaeda,” Scheuer said, in comments published in German.
“We asked the president what we should do with the people we capture. Clinton said ‘That’s up to you’.”
Scheuer, who headed the CIA unit that tracked Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden from 1996 to 1999, said that he developed and led the “renditions” program, which he said included moving prisoners without due legal process to countries without strict human rights protections.
“In Cairo, people are not treated like they are in Milwaukee. The Clinton administration asked us if we believed that the prisoners were being treated in accordance with local law. And we answered, yes, we’re fairly sure.”

Instead, the Bush administration decided not to render CIA captives after 9/11 but to have the agency keep custody of the terrorists in foreign bases, such as Guantanamo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and apparently some of the European nations that the Washington Post exposed in its leak publication. In point of fact, the Bush administration took more responsibility and offered a plan that resulted in lowered likelihoods of torture by foreign governments of American prisoners. That decision probably came from the accepted wisdom that real torture produces bad intelligence, and that the best way to ensure good intelligence was to keep the entire process under American control.
That certainly changes the entire rendition story. Amazingly, the New York Times and the Washington Post both failed to report on this development, as did the Los Angeles Times. If I hadn’t read the link from the excellent local blog Everything I Know Is Wrong, I would never have known that critical part of the rendition story and the context of the Bush administration’s changes to it. Instead, the Scheuer interview got published in the German magazine Die Zeit and carried on the French wire service Agence France-Presse. How’s that for irony?
Why doesn’t the Exempt Media want to report these findings on the policy about which they have railed on their editorial pages ad nauseam? Perhaps it has more to do with their efforts to protect the Bill Clinton legacy than to report the news, and the former effort has more to do with allowing Senator Clinton to run for president on that legacy in 2008. It certainly appears that the large media outlets suddenly couldn’t care less about extraordinary rendition at an odd moment in time — when its principle architect goes public to explain its origins.
UPDATE: Forgot the link!

Prayers Needed For FM

Got some bad news today on the transplant front. The biopsy came back from the hospital, and the tissue shows a polyoma virus infection of the transplanted kidney, which has led to the lessened kidney function that we have seen the past few weeks. It often comes with the transplant, and normally healthy people don’t have a problem with it as the body suppresses the virus without incident. However, when a patient is on immunosuppressive therapy as transplant patients are for life, this is always a potential threat.
The First Mate will have to go three days each of the next three weeks to the hospital for IV infusions of anti-virals, as well as add in more medication for fighting the infection. At the same time, the doctors have to lessen the immunosuppressive therapy somewhat to allow the body to fight the infection — but which risks the kidney and pancreas that she received over the last year. It’s a tightrope act, and for the next few weeks we’ll have to just keep a close eye on her to make sure she comes through OK.
She has always appreciated your thoughts and prayers, so I thought I’d keep you updated. We could use a few of them now and for the next few weeks.

Insider Trading Scandal Deals Blow To Liberal Momentum

In the Canadian elections, I have mostly followed the Ipsos polling numbers as I believe them to be more reliable and closer to reality than others. I do often see poll data from SES Research, which has shown a consistent Liberal national lead from six to nine points since the passage of the no-confidence motion. Based on other research, that gap seems too wide for a true look at Canadian political fortunes at the moment.
However, SES has shown an interesting change today. Since the Goodale insider-trading scandal pushed the RCMP to open a criminal investigation, even SES shows that the Liberal gap has disappeared, almost literally overnight. SES now reports that their tracking has the Liberals in a virtual tie with the Tories:

The announcement of a RCMP criminal investigation of a possible tax leak from Finance Minister Ralph Goodale’s office has initially had an impact on the political environment. CPAC-SES tracking has the Liberals and the Conservatives statistically tied for the first time in the campaign. Nationally, the Liberals have 35%, the Conservatives 34%, the NDP 14%, the BQ 13% and the Green Party 5%. Overnight, the CPAC-SES one day measure on trust and vision for Canada has realized a noticeable drop for Paul Martin. Outside of Quebec, the Conservatives lead the Liberals by 5 points.

The most interesting part of this change is that SES show the Tories gaining five points, while the Liberals only lost two. That appears to demonstrate a positive momentum for Stephen Harper and the Conservatives, even at the onset of this latest scandal — and it shows that the Liberals have plenty of room to fall further behind on their own. In fact, SES has the Tories at 42% nationwide outside of Quebec, numbers that hint at a possible majority government for Harper if the Tories can maintain that momentum.
Right now, it looks like Paul Martin is fading fast. If he cannot quickly recover from the Adscam and income-trust financial scandals, the Liberals may need to rethink their leadership quickly.

Justice Department To Follow Plame Precedent

“The fact is that al Qaeda’s playbook is not printed on Page One and when America’s is, it has serious ramifications. You don’t need to be Sun Tzu to understand that.” — Thomas Duffy, White House spokesman
The New York Times will soon wish it hadn’t pushed so hard for a criminal investigation into the leak of Valerie Plame’s identity on the basis of national security violations. The Justice Department has now decided to act on the NYT’s publication of a top-secret NSA program in exactly the same manner for much clearer damage to national security, and the NYT’s James Risen and Eric Lichtblau find themselves in the Judith Miller Hotseat in this case:

The Justice Department has opened an investigation into the disclosure of classified information about a domestic surveillance program authorized by President Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, officials said today.
Justice prosecutors will examine whether classified information was unlawfully disclosed to the New York Times, which reported two weeks ago that the National Security Agency had been conducting electronic surveillance on U.S. citizens and residents without court-approved warrants.

The Times won’t find itself alone in the dock, however. The Washington Post will also have some dancing to do over its exposure of CIA detentions of terrorists captured abroad, endangering missions in Eastern Europe and undermining our wartime alliances:

The Justice Department has also opened a probe into whether classified information was illegally disclosed to The Washington Post, which reported on a network of secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

Thomas Duffy at the White House has the best line on the new investigations, as I quoted at the start. That one leak started a flood of Big Brother hysteria that flooded the Exempt Media over the past month, most of it complete nonsense and almost all of it miscommunicated and misunderstood. The NSA program that the NYT “exposed” has less reach than the infamous Echelon program, reported by CBS News in 2000, but has specific application to suspected al-Qaeda assets and their contacts. Despite the continuing insistence of critics to call it “domestic spying”, the Times report clearly stated that domestic calls only got wiretapped after getting a FISA warrant, and that the presidential directive only applied to calls and communications that crossed international boundaries and did not appear to involve “US persons” as defined by FISA. Those communications don’t require a warrant at all, especially while the President works under a grant of war powers from Congress.
However, the exposure of the program and the wailing and gnashing of teeth have done two things for the enemies of the US. First and most generally, it has shown them that Americans have a problem getting serious about national defense even after the loss of 3,000 of its citizens after a terrorist attack. Second and more specifically, it reveals to them the broad strokes of how the NSA has gleaned enough information to frustrate their plans for more attacks on American cities. Both developments allow Islamofascist terrorists to recalculate their strategies and tactics in the future for greater success — which means Americans are more likely to die in an attack, thanks to the New York Times. As for the Post, they have made it more difficult for the CIA to get intelligence from captured AQ assets, thanks to their leak, and have made it much more difficult for European leaders to provide support and logistical assistance to our intelligence operations.
The pattern of leaks clearly shows that members of the intelligence community want to fight a war — but rather than fight a war against the terrorists that killed thousands of Americans and want to kill millions more, they’ve chosen to fight one against the elected civilian government of the US. For some strange reason, those who claim to love civil liberties have decided to take the side of the unelected bureaucrats in this Coup Of The Thousand Leaks. When partisan hatred meets with professional egotism, the resulting bedfellows turn strange indeed. The Justice Department needs to put an end to this wholesale dismantling of the national defenses that have kept the US safe from attack for the past four years, and do it quickly.
UPDATE: Mark Tapscott links back to me and, as a former newsman himself, muses about journalist shield laws:

Will any of the reporters who could now face jail time for not disclosing their sources be able to hold out as long as Judith Miller? Frankly, I doubt it, as Miller was caught up in a misguided Special Prosecutor drama that had everything but an actual crime.
This time around there is no question about serious crimes having been committed and only the most blindly obstinate professor of journalism will insist on the right of the relevant journalists at the Times, Post and elsewhere to protect the guilty parties.
I am generally a supporter of the strongest possible shield laws for journalists, but in these newest cases it seems most likely there will be no such legitimate place to afford cover for the recipients of the illegal leaks that almost certainly damaged national security and endangered the lives of thousands, possibly millions, of Americans.

I’m not as big on the shield laws as others. In this case, the people who came to the Times and the Post had plenty of other opportunities to blow the whistle through other means if the sources felt that the programs were illegal. They could have gone to Congress and forced hearings, a la Able Danger; I daresay they would have gotten more attention than Lt. Colonel Anthony Shaffer. They hardly needed to run to James Risen and Eric Lichtblau to expose top-secret American capabilities to everyone, including our enemies.
Be sure to read all of Mark’s commentary.

Losing Their Position

The Saddam regime had long adopted the Palestinian cause as a means of championing a pan-Arabic political movement, one that he thought would carry him to the throne of a secular caliphate that would control Southwest Asia and North Africa. He paid the families of Palestinian suicide bombers and feted Palestinians inside Iraq as well, giving them privileges he denied to native Iraqis. When Saddam invaded Kuwait, the Palestinians cheered — and when the US ejected him from Kuwait and eventually from power, the Palestinians protested. Now they complain that life has gotten much more difficult without their patron to give them their customary handouts:

For years, Saddam Hussein harbored a small population of Palestinians in Iraq, trotting them out to cheer whenever he went to war — which he routinely justified as essential to Arab nationalism and the Palestinian cause.
Shiites and other Iraqis looked glumly at his wards, jealous of the Palestinians’ privilege and status while others suffered.
Now Hussein is in prison. The Shiites are in power. The Palestinians are worried.

Perhaps they worry because the Palestinians come from a long history of “insurgency”, and the last thing the new Iraqi government needs is more foreigners with the inclination to join terrorist bands. The Palestinians would certainly prefer Saddam’s return, and considering their lost privileges, it would make sense for them to do so. The Post hints at that even as it reports on their plight. Consider the following passages, emphases mine:

After the fall of Hussein in 2003, several thousand Palestinians left for Jordan and were stuck in a no-man’s land at the border. Most eventually went to a refugee camp just inside Jordan. With the new threats, another group of 19 Palestinians left the capital in October for Syria and spent more than a month camped in the no-man’s land before they were finally let into a refugee camp in northeastern Syria, according to Stort.
But the majority of Palestinians here are hunkering down in Baghdad. Most live in a neighborhood of shabby concrete buildings where they have been housed, at government expense, for decades. …
Palestinians were not allowed to become Iraqi citizens under Hussein’s rule and were discouraged from purchasing property, but they were given housing and free utilities and were exempt from military service. They were also favored for government positions and allowed to travel more freely than Iraqi citizens. …
The Palestinians say their position was less privileged than it seemed. “This was all just talk,” said Thayer Mahdi, 39, a Palestinian who owns a clothing store. “We suffered like all Iraqis.”
When Hussein fell, nearly 1,500 Palestinians were forced from their homes as landlords suddenly found themselves free to raise rents and evict their formerly privileged tenants. They lived for a while in tents at a sports club in Baghdad before eventually finding other housing.

Not only did Hussein keep them at government expense — giving them a rather carefree life on the Iraqi dole — but they lived in non-government housing at little or no expense until after Saddam fell. Landlords had to put up with them at whatever rate Saddam deemed satisfactory. And the Palestinians wonder why Iraqis don’t like them?