8 November 2003

Not since Suleyman the magnificent...

The threat from the north, of course, has been immense: an invasion of 14 wet and weary Turkish Kurds on a leaky fishing boat.

Not since Suleyman the Magnificent expanded the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century has the world seen such a terrifying army on the march. A desperate effort was required to stop the interlopers, lest they cleverly forced us to honour our own laws.


The Wahabis' radical beliefs have led to members being banned from visiting the mainstream Lakemba mosque. It is presumably one of the most-under-surveillance buildings in the country.

Did ASIO wonder about this muscular and dreadlocked French convert, suddenly hanging around, and already in breach of his three-month visa?

Did they ask the French about his background? No. So then Brigitte marries a local woman, and does so, according to one report, in that same Wahabi hall. Brigitte's bride is a recent convert to Islam. She's also a former soldier in the Australian military.

Any questions yet? No. None. Just what does it take to make ASIO curious? It's as if Brigitte is jumping up and down, trying to get himself noticed. He's like Kath, from Kath & Kim, yelling: 'Look at moi, look at moi.'

It's not until the French authorities contact the Australians that ASIO finally makes inquiries, and we get the usual statesmanlike speeches from the Prime Minister and the Premier about our excellent security services.

National security is a great thing. But instead of swaggering talk, and the occasional bashing of boat people, most of us may prefer the real thing.

The government, when they finally arrested Brigitte, immediately sent him back to France like any harmless overstayed visitor. That did not stop Ruddock claiming that they had squashed a major terrorist attempt or that laws passed as drafted by the government stopped them doing whatever it is they should have done to Brigitte for whatever it is that he was doing if only Labor had agreed to the laws they actually agreed to.

Frankly I am beginning to dread the day when Grand Inquisitor Ruddock rises in the house, unzips himself and starts bellowing that when it comes to national security, size does matter.

Talking Points Memo

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. And if you're already pretty corrupt when you get the power ... well, then things can really get bad pretty quick, as we're seeing.

What a great, great line...

Reg the dog might be happy, but we're trading in our culture

As I understand it, the world's largest economy, with most of its largest corporations, will get free and unfettered access to our markets, and the world's 40th or so largest economy (that's us) - whose locally owned corporations now consist entirely and solely of the management company responsible for licensing Puppetry of the Penis - will get free and unfettered access to a market which has dealt with the problem of wages cost by increasingly drawing on the services of a casual employment provider known as Mexico.

The free trade agreement has been offered to us as a consequence of our participation in the war on terrorism, the war on Iraq and next year's invasion of Spain - and given that it is seen as a reward, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that had we not gone, the US would have rebombed Darwin.

The major setback so far has been the attempt to rally the public behind Australian artists and the protection of local content, especially in the world of cinema. There are two reasons for this. One is the postmodern transformation of the nature of national identity in a globalised context, and the other is that Australian films suck.

Actually, I suspect the USFTA is dead on its feet. Any changes to the PBS, the cultural diversity rules or the single wheat desk in the FTA would need legislative action to bring them into force and they are not going to pass the Senate. The Hanson release has probably made a double dissolution (at which Hanson would need only half the quota she would need at a regular senate election) the very last thing John Howard wants. The US agriculture lobby is violently opposed to free trade in agriculture and unlikely to agree to any trade openings. 2004 is an election year and the electoral college empowers special interests.

The FTA has already left the building.

President Bush Discusses Freedom in Iraq and Middle East

Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe -- because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export. And with the spread of weapons that can bring catastrophic harm to our country and to our friends, it would be reckless to accept the status quo. (Applause.)

Therefore, the United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. This strategy requires the same persistence and energy and idealism we have shown before. And it will yield the same results. As in Europe, as in Asia, as in every region of the world, the advance of freedom leads to peace. (Applause.)

We can all look forward to US pressure to ensure that Israel observes human rights in the Occupied Territories and that Egypt releases members of the Islamic opposition from jail and lets them run for parliament.

I notice Human Rights Watch has some recommendations for both Egypt and Israel.

On the other hand, cynics might see this as yet another Bush speech that says a lot but has absolutely zero, zip, nada results in action or programs. I say let the cynics bark, Bush's phone calls demanding action on human rights to Mubarak and Sharon will give them the lie.

Innocent, but not as pure as it is painted

The appeal court - in a technical judgement - found that the confused procedures used for signing up members of the two groups - Pauline Hanson's One Nation and the Pauline Hanson Support Movement - had in reality made many of them full members of Pauline Hanson's One Nation, with voting rights.

In her judgement overturning the convictions of Hanson and Ettridge, the president of the Court of Appeal, Margaret McMurdo said: 'When all the evidence is considered, the prosecution was unable to negate the inference reasonably open that those on the list given to the Electoral Commission were members of the political party, Pauline Hanson's One Nation, and that the statements made by Hanson and Ettridge to the opposite effect were simply misinformation intended to confuse the membership and to entrench the management committee's grip on power under the constitution.'

So much for Pauline Hanson's belief in grassroots democracy.

John Quiggin blogs that Hanson's conviction was 'unfair and unjust'. I disagree. The judgment says that the conduct of proceedings by the trial judge were completely lawful. I also think Geoff Kitney is wrong to say that the judgment was 'technical' as if that somehow vitiated the acquittal.

The court did not find that Hanson should not have been prosecuted, only that the PHSM members were also (without their knowledge) PHON members. That point was not argued at trial. The law does not know any offfence of denying party members their voting rights in party affairs and running a political party as a dictatorship. Perhaps it should.

7 November 2003

His own private Guant�namo

Always eager to keep up with the Bushes, the Howard government has created a watery Guant�namo off Melville Island in the Northen Territory.

The [NT] Supreme Court in Darwin has been told that 14 suspected Turkish asylum seekers are no longer in Australia.

Lawyers in Darwin lodged an application to allow the asylum seekers to apply for refugee status

However, lawyers for the Federal Government have told the court the asylum seekers are now outside Australia, are not in custody or detention, and are free to go anywhere they like except Australia."

According to John-Pierre Fonteyne, professor of international law at the Australian National University:

'That is essentially the upshot. We can pretend as much as we want that they haven't reached Australian territory, but in terms of international law they have. Therefore our obligations under the convention apply. You can't use your domestic law to simply pretend that an international obligation under the 1951 Convention on Refugees doesn't apply because you've passed a domestic law which says 'it doesn't apply to us.' As I have suggested in an article previously, why don't we just excise the whole of Australia from the Australian migration zone, and we would have no problem at all. Wouldn't matter where they arrived, we wouldn't have to process them.'

What the NT Supreme Court does with the government's attempt to exclude its jurisdiction should be interesting.

Legal doubts over banning Greens

Senate staff were ordered to defy an official demand to use force against Greens senators Bob Brown and Kerry Nettle to prevent them from attending last month's parliamentary address by Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Harry Evans, the veteran Clerk of the Senate, told an estimates committee yesterday that there was no constitutional basis for the conduct of joint sittings of parliament to hear speeches by foreign leaders.

According to Mr Evans, a security directive jointly signed by Speaker Neil Andrew and Senate President Paul Calvert to apprehend senators Brown and Nettle was possibly unlawful. Both Greens senators were banned from parliament for 24 hours after standing to heckle US President George W. Bush and refusing to accede to the chair.

The next morning, before Mr Hu's speech, Mr Andrew and Senator Calvert issued a directive to senior parliamentary staff saying: 'We hereby authorise you ... to take appropriate measures, including in the event that it is necessary, preventative force, to enforce the suspension.'

But Mr Evans said he had instructed Senate attendants under his control to defy the directive. 'It would be highly undesirable to have Senate officers assaulting senators,' Mr Evans told the estimates committee.

He said it was 'extremely dubious' whether the presiding officers had the authority to ban the senators from Mr Hu's address. Asked if the presiding officers' directive was lawful, Mr Evans said this was 'a very moot question'.

I am still hunting through the chaos of the parliamentary website to see if I can find a transcript.


The Estimates Committee hansard (PDF) has Evans testimony on the dubious legality of both the suspensions and the steps taken by the Speaker and the President of the Senate to enforce them.

Senator FAULKNER�Do you as Senate Clerk have a view as to whether it is competent for senators to be named and excluded?

Mr Evans�The resolution of the House of Representatives agreed to by the Senate says that the rules of the House of Representatives shall apply so far as they are applicable. That is one of those phrases that drafters of things put in when they are not sure what the situation is, what the interpretation should be and how the rules are going to apply. They put that in and keep their fingers crossed that they do not have to interpret it. You can argue a great deal about what that expression means and how far the rules were applicable. There is a great difficulty with having, simultaneously, a meeting of the Senate�which this is�and a meeting of the House of Representatives in the House of Representatives chamber and saying that someone else�the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives voting on the question�can decide whether a senator is permitted to attend a meeting of the Senate. You can say that that is a question so significant to the Senate and so exclusively for the Senate to determine that that adoption of House of Representatives rules cannot possibly extend to that question. If it were a legal question before the High Court, a great many QCs would receive a great deal of money for arguing it. But it is very dubious that that sort of expression in that resolution covers that sort of situation.

Senator FAULKNER�Has the Department of the Senate given any consideration�again, in the broad� to the actual constitutionality of such a joint meeting?

Mr Evans�Not again. These questions were raised when this procedure was first adopted. They have not been revisited in any systematic fashion. But there are great potential difficulties with the two houses having simultaneous meetings and then providing that someone else will preside over what is in effect a meeting of the Senate and that members of the House of Representatives will be voting about what goes on in a meeting of the Senate. There is a great difficulty with that situation. All this was raised back in 1991. I raised it with everybody who was willing to listen to me, and a good many were not. Some were and some were not. There has been no systematic revisit of it.

CHAIR�Senator Brandis, I think you had a few questions.

Senator BRANDIS�Do you mind if I pursue this same issue, Senator Faulkner?

Senator FAULKNER�Not at all, Senator Brandis.

Senator BRANDIS�Mr Evans, what do you say was the constitutional character of the proceedings in the House of Representatives chamber for President Bush and President Hu? Mr Evans�On one view it had no constitutional character because it is not provided for in the Constitution but, theoretically, it was a meeting of the Senate which happened to be taking place in the House of Representatives chamber at the same time as a meeting of the House of Representatives was occurring there. This is the way in which it was framed in the resolutions. The Senate, in its resolution, agrees to meet for that purpose�for the purpose of receiving the address�and it agrees to meet simultaneously with the House of Representatives in the House chamber.

Senator BRANDIS�So it was not a joint sitting?

Mr Evans�No. I have been very careful and I have tried to persuade other people to be careful about calling it a joint meeting rather than a joint sitting to distinguish it from the joint sitting, which is a particular arrangement occurring under the Constitution.

Senator FAULKNER�I think the Hansard record of these particular hearings will show that I am one at least who is convinced on that point.

Mr Evans�Section 57 of the Constitution refers to a joint sitting where the members of the two houses will meet and vote together, so it is a different body constituted under that provision of the Constitution. It is not a meeting of the Senate, it is not a meeting of the House of Representatives; it is an entirely different body consisting of the members of the two houses meeting and voting together. As a purist I take the view that it is not open to the two houses to authorise that sort of different body to meet for any purpose other than under section 57 of the Constitution.

Senator BRANDIS�Is that because the joint sitting contemplated by section 57 operates under the circumstances provided for by section 57�that is, after a double dissolution election and not otherwise?

Mr Evans�Precisely.

Senator BRANDIS�There is nowhere else in the Constitution is there which provides for a joint sitting?

Mr Evans�No. There is a provision in the Constitution, section 50, which says the two houses can provide rules for their proceedings either separately or jointly with the other house, or some words to that effect. Some people take the view that that authorises the houses to hold joint meetings on all manner of things if they want to; other people take the view that that refers specifically to the joint sitting under section 57 and nothing else, which is the only constitutionally authorised joint proceedings.

I am not sure embarrassment is a good enough reason to override the constitution. The whole mess has now been referred to the Senate Privileges Committee.

Bonobo Society: Amicable, Amorous and Run by Females

Nature's raucous bestiary rarely serves up good role models for human behavior, unless you happen to work on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange. But there is one creature that stands out from the chest-thumping masses as an example of amicability, sensitivity and, well, humaneness: a little-known ape called the bonobo, or, less accurately, the pygmy chimpanzee.

Before bonobos can be fully appreciated, however, two human prejudices must be overcome. The first is, fellows, the female bonobo is the dominant sex, though the dominance is so mild and unobnoxious that some researchers view bonobo society as a matter of 'co-dominance,' or equality between the sexes. Fancy that.

The second hurdle is human squeamishness about what in the 80s were called PDAs, or public displays of affection, in this case very graphic ones. Bonobos lubricate the gears of social harmony with sex, in all possible permutations and combinations: males with females, males with males, females with females, and even infants with adults. The sexual acts include intercourse, genital-to-genital rubbing, oral sex, mutual masturbation and even a practice that people once thought they had a patent on: French kissing.

Bonobos use sex to appease, to bond, to make up after a fight, to ease tensions, to cement alliances. Humans generally wait until after a nice meal to make love; bonobos do it beforehand, to alleviate the stress and competitiveness often seen among animals when they encounter a source of food.

I think I'll take the bonobo approach over octopuses, baboons, capuchin monkeys and Homo Crawfordensis any day.

Number of troops in Iraq to expand

Washington The Pentagon has decided to dispatch thousands of Marines to Iraq early next year as part of a revised troop rotation that will swell the size of the US occupation by up to 50,000 troops during critical months when the United States hopes to hand off greater security responsibilities to Iraqis, senior defense officials said yesterday.

Pentagon officials say the new plan is aimed at adding manpower to improve security in the short term -- when troop numbers will increase from the current 130,000 to as many as 180,000 -- but also meeting President Bush's goal of shrinking the force to 100,000 by the middle of next year.

Two Marine brigades -- with a total of between 12,000 and 20,000 active and reserve troops -- will be heading to Iraq beginning no earlier than January, the officials said. They will join a force that, under an existing rotation plan, will be temporarily increased by about 30,000, by having more troops arrive before others go home.

The plan will be announced today, officials said.

Yesterday, Marine Corps General Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a congressional hearing that the Pentagon would be 'issuing orders tonight' that 'include a call-up of reserves. It does include use of land forces. It does include the Navy and Air Force.'

I have no idea how this fits in with Rumsfeld's Iraqification claims last Sunday. I guess a week is a long time in making stuff up as you go along.

Britain is furious with America

It is no good for British supporters of George Bush to accuse his critics of anti-Americanism. It is a plain statement of the facts that the allies are today in a dreadful mess in Iraq, as a direct consequent of culpable blunders by Bush, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and their friends, who understand everything about American military power and nothing about the human behaviour of societies other than their own.

They were told again and again, long before the war, that Iraqi celebration and gratitude for the fall of Saddam would last five minutes, to be followed by a huge requirement for troops to maintain security, and vociferous Iraqi demands to make the sewage system work. In 1945, the Germans and the Japanese did not show themselves penitent, but they knew that they were defeated, and abased themselves accordingly. The Iraqis, however, have been told that they are not enemies, but victims. In consequence, they are today behaving with the extravagant petulance of all other paid-up members of the compensation culture. They treat the allies as if they were political leaders who have failed to deliver on election promises.

The British urged the Americans not to disband the Iraqi army, but to keep it in being and continue to pay its soldiers. They advised strongly against President Bush's Leninist policy of telling Iraqis that 'he who is not for me is against me'. They urged that it would be wiser instead to treat as a potential friend any Iraqi who did not take up arms against the occupiers. All this was ignored.

The British have no confidence in Paul Bremer, the American overlord of Iraq, whose political process is advancing at a snail%u2019s pace. As for the American military performance, four years ago I attended an Anglo-French conference in Paris on peacekeeping. The unanimous view of the soldiers and diplomats assembled, who shared great experience of failed societies, was that the Americans should never be asked to do peacekeeping, because they are so bad at it.

Go read the whole thing.

Erectile tissue found in octopus 'fingers'

In most octopus males, the tip of one of their eight arms is used to pass spermatophores, little packages filled with sperm, to females during mating. Thompson and Voight found the extra modification in one species of shallow-water octopus.

Thompson, who called the finding weird, said biologists have looked for erectile tissue in other molluscs but not found them.

It is not surprising that no-one has noticed this before, Thompson said.

Octopuses, known for their intelligence and complex behaviour, are shy animals. Observing their mating is difficult and often the females attack and eat the males during courtship.

And you thought baboon males have it bad. It was almost certainly a Liliputian octopus. Blefuscan octopuses are far too well-behaved.

Wedged into the heartless zone

This first rise in rates for 18 months begins to change the political landscape. If it is followed by others, it could transform it. The choices facing voters would become much more stark: the wedge or the wallet?

Recent history gives a clue to the impact of these fear factors.

The last time interest rates rose - in two 0.25 percentage point steps in May and June last year - the polls started to turn Labor's way within six weeks. By mid-July, Labor had gone from 4 points behind to a rare, narrow two-party preferred lead.

But in mid-October - after the Bali bombings and amid swirling fears of possible terrorist attacks on Australian soil - the Coalition snapped back to a 10 per cent lead.

It's easy to see why the Howard Government is again whipping up national security and border protection. And if rates continue rising, watch that whip crack a lot harder.

The issue the opposition and minor parties should be arguing a lot more is that the Howard government is not terribly good at the War on Terror. Why was Brigitte sent back to France without any serious investigation? And why did Attorney-General Ruddock then claim that the drastic powers which went through parliament unamended were too weak because of Labor's intransigence? And, for that matter, why were the Taliban and al-Qa'ida not proclaimed as enemies of the Commonwelath so that Hicks could be prosecuted for treachery in Australia?

6 November 2003

Hanson freed after winning appeal

One Nation co-founders Pauline Hanson and David Ettridge were set free today after a court overturned their convictions for electoral fraud.

Queensland Chief Justice Paul de Jersey told a stunned courtroom the Court of Appeal had acquitted both Ms Hanson and Mr Ettridge.

They had served 11 weeks in jail since a Brisbane District Court jury found them guilty in August.

Ms Hanson and Mr Ettridge embraced soon after their release tonight.

A tearful Ms Hanson called for reform of the justice system and urged retired judges and lawyers to join a campaign to assist those who were wrongly jailed.

'The system let me down like it let a lot of people down,' she said outside the gates of Brisbane Women's Prison.

'I've learnt from this experience and I do think I'm wiser for it.'

This is a first. I was moved by what Pauline Hanson said on here release, especially the clear solidarity with those she described as failed by the system and left behind bars.

The dripping sound you can hear in the background is law ploggers salivating while they read R v Hanson, R v Etteridge.

Labor smells a new Tampa

The day he was appointed Attorney-General, it was obvious Philip Ruddock had been anointed as a central player in the run-up to next year's election. John Howard knew the Government had to keep national security up in lights as an issue and Ruddock had the toughness and political skills to do that.

That was the plan at reshuffle time but in politics, chance is important too. For Ruddock the matter of Frenchman Willie Brigitte, accused of being a terrorist with al-Qaeda connections, has come as a stroke of good political timing. It has given an early focus to his mission.

Just as Labor thought it was making ground on bread-and-butter issues, especially health, it is back in trouble. Yesterday's Newspoll, showing the Coalition getting a big bounce from the Bush/Hu visits, is less important for itself than for its likely effect in feeding back into perceptions about Simon Crean and the morale of the party.

Let's see, Ruddock blames Labor for Brigitte's release, even though the sections under which Brigitte should have been prosecuted passed the aprlaiment unchanged. Those sections are exactly as the government drafted them.

The French laws which Ruddock apparently finds more desirable allow terrorist supects to be held for up to 3 years without trial. There could be advantages to apssing such a law - given 3 years, even this government and this attorney-general might be able to work out what to do with a suspect.

As for the unopposed and unamended sections, Ruddock's spokescreature answered that question by saying it was 'moot'. Were they amended or were they not? Even in these exciting pomo times it should be possible to answer yes, or no.

The Green Man: Harry Potter And The Kyrgyzstan Body Parts.

The post hasn't got anything to do with Harry Potter actually but my hits have been dropping off a bit lately so I thought it was time to give him a mention.

I unequivocally condemn those bloggers who try to inflate their hit count by mentioning people like Harry Potter...

Process asylum seekers, UN tells Australia

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) met with federal government representatives yesterday who assured the agency Australia would apply the refugee convention to the asylum seekers who reached the island aboard an Indonesian fishing vessel.

The government immediately moved to excise Melville Island and thousands of others from the migration zone to prevent the Turkish asylum seekers from applying for refugee status or accessing Australia's legal system.

But UNHCR regional representative Michel Gabaudan said the asylum seekers were Australia's responsibility and any attempt to return them to Indonesia was concerning.

Ho hum...

Death by Optimism

Evidence suggests that Mr. Bush and Dick Cheney may have actually believed that our troops would be, as Mr. Cheney predicted, 'greeted as liberators.' The administration chose to rely not on intelligence but on wishful thinking, and it became intoxicated by the siren calls of Ahmad Chalabi, a silver-tongued charlatan.

I wish administration officials were lying, because I would prefer hypocrisy to delusion - at least hypocritical officials make decisions with accurate information.

At last, if not by intent, someone has captured the exact distinction between the Howard and Bush governments

Latest Sun Flare Likely Strongest of Modern Era

A flare released by the Sun on Tuesday could be the most powerful ever witnessed, a monster X-ray eruption twice as strong as anything detected since satellites were capable of spotting them starting in the mid-1970s.

The strongest flares on record, in 1989 and 2001, were rated at X20. This one is at least that powerful, scientists say. But because it saturated the X-ray detector aboard NOAA's GOES satellite that monitors the Sun, a full analysis has not been done.

The satellite was blinded for 11 minutes.

The aurora australis gets another chance. On the other hand, if you're starting to obsess about sun storms, keep an eye on them.

Rumsfeld's new model army

While the manpower crisis on the ground is bad - there are just not enough troops available to match the administration's imperial sprawl - it is likely to get a whole lot worse. A recent poll by the military newspaper Stars and Stripes found that only 49 percent of the reserves intend to re-enlist.

So is this blind folly? Or does 'transformation' offer an unseen benefit? 'The arguments in support of technological monism echo down the halls of the Pentagon,' Major-General Robert Scales (Retired) told the House Armed Service Committee on October 21, 'precisely because they involve the expenditures of huge sums of money to defense contractors.'

In the 2002 election cycle, US arms corporations' political action committees spent US$7,620,741, two-thirds of which went to the Republican Party. 'Transformation' might not work well once the initial 'shock and awe' of battle is over, but it can be a formidable re-election machine.

When the 'Young Turks' of the French army adopted the doctrine of elan, they were certain it was a formula for victory. The battle of the Marne convinced them otherwise, and the French abandoned the tactic. Of course the French general staff wasn't running for office.

Elan was supposed to save the French army from German technological superiority (no-one asked why the Germans would not have the same �lan). The Bush administration has a new version. It is the now to be the �lan of the civilian leadership, embedded in the White House, that determines the outcome of wars.

Australia's 'regional sheriff' policy

A clear mandate and robust rules of engagement, as in the case of East Timor, are perceived as significantly contributing to the success of any intervention. Therefore, Australia also secured a clear mandate and robust rules of engagement before intervening in the Solomon Islands. This was the reason Canberra wanted a resolution passed by the local parliament.

The third step to be followed in future multilateral interventions will be to devise an exit strategy. In 1999, in order to intervene in East Timor, Australia demanded that the multinational force should be replaced as soon as possible by a UN peacekeeping operation. For several reasons, Canberra did not wish to be trapped in a long-term commitment in Timor. Medium-to-long-term commitments by the Australian Defense Forces (ADF) are not only costly, they also threaten to overstretch the troops. For these reasons, Howard did not wish to be trapped in a long-term police and military commitment in the Solomons. Thus, as soon as law and order were restored, Australia started to scale down its police and military presence.

In sum, Australia may well play the role of the regional sheriff again in the future. But under current policy, Australian-led multilateral interventions will likely occur only when explicit authorization, a clear and robust mandate, and an exit strategy are all guaranteed.

The sheriff policy and the Howard doctrine are actually different things. the sheriff policy is thoughtful, multilateral and consistent with international law. The Howard doctrine of unilateral preemptive strikes is none of those.

The Howard doctrine, of course, is not intended to be implemented, ever. Proclaiming it loudly has major domestic advantages, but actually following it would not. The 3 tests the Howard government uses for its intervention strategy were not applied in Iraq, and that's a great pity.

Even the exclusion of the UN from the intervention policy is likely a temporary feature that will fade with time.

Mission demolished

In February, former Army Chief of Staff Eric K. Shinseki testified before Congress that 'several hundred thousand' U.S. soldiers would be needed to keep Iraq subdued after the war. Wolfowitz and other Pentagon hawks mocked the suggestions as being 'wildly off the mark,' and insisted because U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators, not that many troops would be needed inside the country.

Today, experts suggest 100,000 additional troops are needed to really secure the country, on top of the approximate 116,000 currently serving in Iraq. But the White House won't budge. 'It's doable if they're willing to make hard choices. But politically the administration has said there are enough troops. And they're trying to avoid all comparisons to Vietnam,' says Pena. 'But if you ramp up to almost a quarter of a million troops, suddenly Vietnam comparisons become impossible to avoid.'

In the same time, the cost of reconstructing of Iraq has leapt from Wolfowitz's February estimate of US$10 billion to 170 billion. When do these people get held to account?

Peace not a question of legitimacy, but of humanity

The notion that a whole nation can be brought to its knees by the use of unbridled violence, or that the will of a people can be defeated by military means must be discarded once and for all. Armies may be able to defeat other armies, but the limits of power are most apparent when used against civilians and non-combatants. Along with that, the fallacy that there is or can be a military solution to the conflict must be completely and irrevocably discarded.

I think Ashrawi probably won her recent contest of legitimacy with the Jewish lobby. Once upon a time, when South Africa's apartheid regime was still planning to stay in power forever, they had great difficulty justifying why someone like Desmond Tutu could not vote and were never going to vote.

Ashrawi's opponents seemed to have the same trouble justifying why she should be silenced. All they could produce to justify that silencing were fabrications. Palestinians are human and that gives them the same rights as Israelis. Denying those rights is not the road to peace. Nor is keeping them silent.

Border security debate reignites

Prime Minister John Howard accused Labor of making it easier for illegal immigrants to enter the country as the arrival of a boatload of Kurdish asylum-seekers reignited political debate over border protection.

Mr Howard attacked Labor for refusing to support government legislation and regulations excising hundreds of islands and reefs off the Australian coast from the country's migration zone.

'On three occasions the Labor Party, under the direction of the Leader of the Opposition, has acted to make it easier for illegal immigrants to gain access to this country,' Mr Howard told parliament. 'That is what the leader of the opposition has done and no amount of obfuscation can alter that fundamental fact.'

But Labor said the government's move to excise territories from Australia's migration zone was a huge overreaction and an attempt to distract attention from how its coastal surveillance efforts had failed to stop the latest boat before it arrived at Melville Island, near Darwin.

Are we surprised? Let's see, the start of the Tampa pseudocrisis was the government drawing down border protection and then creating a national panic when the effect of the drawing down was the arrival of a refugee boat in Australian waters.

Now we have a sudden border crisis, the result of drawing down border surveillance, and the prime minister shrieking about 'no amount of obfuscation'. Plus �a change...

5 November 2003

Iraqification: Losing Strategy

For the neoconservatives in the Pentagon, a quick transfer fulfills a pet obsession, installing in power the Iraqi exiles led by Ahmad Chalabi. Last week the Philadelphia Inquirer quoted a senior administration official as saying, 'There are some civilians at the Pentagon who've decided that we should turn this over to someone else and get out as fast as possible.' But every indication we have is that the exiles do not have broad popular support.

Yep, what he said, especially when he argues the difficulties faced by any Iraqi security force...

There are no shortcuts out. Iraq is America's problem. It could have been otherwise, but in the weeks after the war the administration, drunk with victory, refused to share power with the world. Now there can be only one goal: success. The first task of winning the peace in Iraq is winning the war -- which is still being waged in the Sunni heartland. And winning it might take more troops, or different kinds of troops (send back the Marines). It might take a mixture of military force and bribes -- to win over some Sunni leaders. But whatever it takes, the United States must do it. Talk about a drawdown of troops sends exactly the wrong message to the guerrillas. In the words of one North Vietnamese general, 'We knew that if we waited, one day the Americans would have to go home.'

No. An emotional need to postpone the evil day when the US abandons the enterprise of Iraq is not a policy. Iraq is the Iraqi people's problem and until they own both the problem and its solutions nothing much is going to happen except more blood and more misery.

'The central problem in Vietnam,' says Brookings's Kenneth Pollack, 'was that we had a corrupt and ineffective local government that did not inspire either the allegiance or the confidence of the Vietnamese people. Whatever happened militarily became secondary to this fundamental political reality.' We don't have that problem in Iraq. But a hasty Iraqification will almost certainly produce it.

Actually, that is wrong also. There is already a corrupt and ineffective local government that does not inspire the allegiance or confidence of the Iraqi people. It is called the Iraqi Governing Council although it exercises no governmental authority. It is corrupt in the manner of its appointment, the inclusion of various exiles without popular support, and ineffectual in terms of the manner of its creation as a wholly-owned and -operated CPA subsidiary. Even the revolving door governments of the RVN had at least some powers which were independent of the US military command. The IGC has none. A successor elected under US auspices is unlikely to have more would still be weaker in relation to the CPA than any RVN government was.

Yes, Iraq is broken and needs fixing. It does not follow that the US has a mandate (or even the ability) to continue its fixation.

I usually don't mirror the debate in the US quite this closely, but for some reason this meme has been driving me crazy the last couple of days. And isn't 'Iraqification' an even uglier word than 'regime change'?

Rush to pass exclusion rules as boat people arrive

The Federal Government last night passed emergency regulations to prevent a boatload of apparent asylum seekers from applying for protection after they arrived at Melville Island, near Darwin, yesterday.

The regulations seek to excise nearly 4000 islands from Australia's migration zone, denying anyone landing there from seeking asylum under Australian law.

Labor immediately vowed to use its numbers in the Senate to disallow the regulations. Such a move, if supported by the minor parties and one independent, would disrupt the Government's attempts to prevent the boatload of 14 people, said to be from Turkey, from applying for asylum.

I guess we must be headed for an election. the regulations will be disallowed in the Senate and the government will spend weeks leaping up and down and proclaiming the evils of the ALP. The government's own record on dealing with French al-Qa'ida members visiting Australia will not be up for discussion.

Seriously, how do you defend the national territory by giving it away?

A Must-Read Speech

I think that calls for serious debate in America about the role of America in the world, and I do not believe that that serious debate is satisfied simply by a very abstract, vague and quasi-theological definition of the war on terrorism as the central preoccupation of the United States in today's world. That definition of the challenge in my view simply narrows down and over-simplifies a complex and varied set of challenges that needs to be addressed on a broad front.

It deals with abstractions. It theologizes the challenge. It doesn't point directly at the problem. It talks about a broad phenomenon, terrorism, as the enemy overlooking the fact that terrorism is a technique for killing people. That doesn't tell us who the enemy is. It's as if we said that World War II was not against the Nazis but against blitzkrieg. We need to ask who is the enemy, and the enemies are terrorists.


I do not expect we'll be worn down, but I think we want to understand the dynamics of the resistance. This provides a much better analogy for grappling with what is becoming an increasingly painful and difficult challenge for us. A challenge which will be more successful in meeting if we have more friends engaged in meeting it and if more Iraqis begin to feel that they are responsible for the key decisions pertaining to their country.

We will not turn the Middle East into a zone of peace instead of a zone of violence unless we more clearly identify the United States with the pursuit of peace in the Israeli/Palestinian relationship. Palestinian terrorism has to be rejected and condemned, yes. But it should not be translated defacto into a policy of support for a really increasingly brutal repression, colonial settlements and a new wall.

Let us not kid ourselves. At stake is the destiny of a democratic country, Israel, to the security of which, the well-being of which, the United States has been committed historically for more than half a century for very good historical and moral reasons. But soon there will be no option of a two-state solution.

Soon the reality of the settlements which are colonial fortifications on the hill with swimming pools next to favelas below where there's no drinking water and where the population is 50% unemployed, there will be no opportunity for a two-state solution with a wall that cuts up the West Bank even more and creates more human suffering.

While I this is a great speech, it does contain the sad formula that failure is not an option.

That is formally true. No-one chooses failure, but then no-one chooses success either. You cannot determine an outcome by being passionate about it, and in a sense Brzezinski falls into his own trap of magical thinking. Let us put it in more accurate terms.

The Bush rhetoric about evildoers may be fine for canvassing political support, but evil has been around for quite a long time and is likely to stay around for some little time to come. It's actually a refusal to think. The Howard rhetoric that the terrorists attack us for who we are, not what we have done, is just another attempt to substitute passion for thought.

I am not sure on what battlefield, other than the human soul, evil can ever finally be defeated or what theology could conflate success in battle with the triumph of good in the world.

This is not 1099 and the fall of Jerusalem to the Crusaders did not actually end evil in the world, although the eschatologically-obsessed Crusaders believed they had destroyed evil for good. Saladin retook the city in 1187. Magical thinking does not work.

In Iraq, failure is a possibility. If the coalition does not radically alter its policies failure is almost a certainty. The coalition cannot opt to succeed, but it can opt for policies which work and those which don't. So let us ask if failure is a possibility in Iraq and what is to be done to avoid it. Let us remember this is not 1099.

This Can't Go On

For sure, good things are happening in Iraq. But are we making the kind of progress that would allow us to withdraw large numbers of soldiers, and greatly reduce casualties, in the fairly near future? That's a hard case to make.

Yet we keep expecting a magic solution. We'll get European, Indian and Pakistani forces to help us! But since we went to war without international support, they're not interested. We'll bring in the Turks! But the Iraqi Governing Council itself is bitterly opposed. We'll engage in 'Iraqification,' creating local forces that take the place of American troops! Let's hope that works - but hope is not a plan.

Just as the federal government is in no immediate danger of running out of money, our forces in Iraq are in no danger of outright defeat. But in both cases, current policies appear to be unsustainable: we can't go on like this indefinitely. And things that can't go on forever, don't.

I feel guilty whenever I link to a Krugman piece because I know about a thousand other bloggers are rushing lemming-like to do the same. All the same, Stein's law does apply and Iraq cannot go on forever.

This is what happens when you get a government led by someone who has failed again and again and always been rescued by mysterious corporate benefactors. The new military benefactors who are always just around the corner, most recently the Turks, just never seem to appear.

Bush seems to share with Blair the weird feeling that if you only believe hard enough, it's true. Talking Points Memo points to a White House transcript that has the president telling the Australian parliament he 'seeks a free China'. The official Hansard of that speech says: 'seeing a free China'. It's a little example beside his other clangers, but it runs true to form for someone who believes what he says or does is of little importance if it can be explained away.

4 November 2003

Cotton receives double subsidy

WASHINGTON -- Hidden in plain sight, a federal farm subsidy program is paying nearly $1.7 billion to U.S. agribusiness and manufacturers to buy U.S. cotton that is already one of the highest subsidized crops in the world, according to figures compiled by the program's critics.

The plan, which is the equivalent of paying Kellogg's to buy U.S. corn, is known as the upland cotton marketing certificate program, and was started in 1990 when U.S. cotton was selling at a much higher price than foreign cotton. Under it, U.S. cotton is, in essence, subsidized twice, with payments going to companies that purchase the cotton from farmers. The farmers themselves also receive subsidies from growing the cotton. The program is drawing increased criticism from foreign cotton producers.

A senior agricultural official said the program was intended to temporarily make up the difference between high U.S. prices and world cotton prices. But, he said, the cotton industry has fought to keep the program in place because it 'hasn't wanted to adjust to the world market; it would be too painful for them.'

Some of the largest recipients of these subsidies over the last seven years include the Allenberg Cotton Co. of Cordova, Tenn., which received $106.9 million; Dunavant Enterprises of Fresno, Calif., and Memphis, Tenn., which received $102 million; and Cargill Cotton, also of Cordova, Tenn., $87 million.

These companies declined requests to comment on the subsidies they received.

The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research organization that has been critical of U.S. farm subsidies, obtained the data on the cotton program through requests under the Freedom of Information Act and assembled a database on its Web site that will be released to the public today.

I wonder how much use the Australian side in the FTA negotiations will make of this database.

Aussies Do It Right: E-Voting

Election officials in the Australian Capital Territory, one of eight states and territories in the country, turned to electronic voting for the same reason the United States did -- a close election in 1998 exposed errors in the state's hand-counting system. Two candidates were separated by only three or four votes, said Phillip Green, electoral commissioner for the territory. After recounting, officials discovered that out of 80,000 ballots, they had made about 100 mistakes. They decided to investigate other voting methods.

In 1999, the Australian Capital Territory Electoral Commission put out a public call for e-vote proposals to see if an electronic option was viable. Over 15 proposals came in, but only one offered an open-source solution. Two companies proposed the plan in partnership after extensive consultation with academics at Australian National University. But one of the companies later dropped out of the project, leaving Software Improvements to build the system.

Green said that going the open-source route was an obvious choice.

'We'd been watching what had happened in America (in 2000), and we were wary of using propriety software that no one was allowed to see,' he said. 'We were very keen for the whole process to be transparent so that everyone -- particularly the political parties and the candidates, but also the world at large -- could be satisfied that the software was actually doing what it was meant to be doing.'

It took another year for changes in Australian law to allow electronic voting to go forward. Then in April 2001, Software Improvements contracted to build the system for the state's October election.

Software Improvement's Matt Quinn, the lead engineer on the product, said the commission called all the shots.

'They, as the customer, dictated requirements including security and functionality, (and they) were involved at every step of the development process, from requirements to testing,' Quinn said. 'They proofed every document we produced.'

The commission posted drafts as well as the finished software code on the Internet for the public to review.

The reaction was very positive.

I'd still like a paper trail, preferably one the elector could carry away. The ACT electoral commission has lots more information.

No answers as the body bags mount up

But for months the attacks in Iraq have been co-ordinated and politically targeted.

The strikes at the Red Cross, police stations and the hotel housing Mr Rumsfeld's deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, assassinations of a Spanish intelligence officer and a deputy mayor, and roadside bombs against US patrols all indicate a military strategy.

Yet this week, President George Bush, Mr Rumsfeld, Mr Wolfowitz and the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, could offer no coherent description of the insurgency or its leadership.

And all went out of their way to deny reports that Saddam Hussein and some of his commanders have been co-ordinating the attacks for months in what is becoming an ugly guerilla war.

Mr Rumsfeld rejected a suggestion that Saddam and his inner circle had abandoned the fight for Baghdad in April in the face of US military superiority with the deliberate aim of launching a protracted guerilla war.

'The idea that his plan was to do that I think is far-fetched,' he told NBC's Meet the Press. But he added: 'What role he is playing today I don't know, we don't know . . . Is he interested in re-taking his country? Sure.'

After months of relentless attacks, a huge US-led counter-insurgency operation and hundreds of arrests, how is it possible that US officials know so little about their opponents?

There are two possible answers. The first is that the US forces in Iraq do know more but do not want to admit that Saddam and the Baathists are playing a leading role. This could terrify the Iraqis who are co-operating with them.

The second answer is that US intelligence on the ground in Iraq is just as woeful as it was before the war.

Intelligence is supposed to be predictive. Why then are so many coalition predictions so far from the reality? And when will they improve at all?

3 November 2003

Blair waged war illegally, say leading lawyers

Tony Blair is facing a formal complaint to the international war-crimes tribunal by a panel of senior international legal experts for unlawfully waging war in Iraq.

The panel of eight law professors, including experts from Oxford University and the London School of Economics, is studying evidence that alleges Britain has broken international treaties on war and human rights in Iraq.

The allegations centre on Iraqi civilian deaths caused by British cluster bombs, the targeting of power stations and the use of toxic depleted uranium shells against tanks.

Lawyers advising the panel allege that these tactics have led to thousands of avoidable civilian casualties - in breach of the Geneva Conventions. The case against the Prime Minister is strengthened, they claim, by his failure to get UN sanction for the war.

Of course this will go nowehere, but we need a better process than mere advice from the attormey-general to determine the lawfulness of a war.

Resistance is the first step towards Iraqi independence

The Arab east is today the venue of a dual occupation: the US-Israeli occupation of Palestine and Iraq. If initially the Palestinians were demoralised by the fall of Baghdad, the emergence of a resistance movement has encouraged them. After Baghdad fell, the Israeli war leader, Ariel Sharon, told the Palestinians to 'come to your senses now that your protector has gone'. As if the Palestinian struggle was dependent on Saddam or any other individual. This old colonial notion that the Arabs are lost without a headman is being contested in Gaza and Baghdad. And were Saddam to drop dead tomorrow, the resistance would increase rather than die down.

Sooner or later, all foreign troops will have to leave Iraq. If they do not do so voluntarily, they will be driven out. Their continuing presence is a spur to violence. When Iraq's people regain control of their own destiny they will decide the internal structures and the external policies of their country. One can hope that this will combine democracy and social justice, a formula that has set Latin America alight but is greatly resented by the Empire. Meanwhile, Iraqis have one thing of which they can be proud and of which British and US citizens should be envious: an opposition.

That's an extreme view and one I do not completely agree with. The one question I would ask is what makes Iraq in 2003 different from Algeria in 1962 or India in 1947? Or the United States in 1776? Until the war party come up with an answer (and one that goes beyond mere US exceptionalism) the occupation is doomed to fail and should be ended.

Male apes share intense greetings only with close friends.

'Male baboons have a high potential for aggression. One bite to the genitalia with sharp canines can effectively end a male's mating career,' says Whitham. She and her colleagues spent nearly 200 hours over six months watching a colony of captive baboons at Chicago's Brookfield Zoo.

Penis and scrotum diddling is the culmination of a complex greeting ritual that begins with face pulling and progresses through rump presentation and embracing.

The baboons that were more likely to embrace or exchange diddles also spent a lot of time together, and groomed one another frequently1. Aggressive interactions led to frostier greetings.

Genital fiddling is unique to guinea baboons, but other primates invade each other's space in similarly challenging ways. White-faced capuchin monkeys, for example, stick their fingers up each other's noses in greeting.

But we shouldn't look for a human equivalent, says Whitham: 'Most human greetings do not carry the same potential costs as those exchanged between adult male baboons.'

This male ape has decided to stick with handshaking for the moment...

The Australia-US Free Trade Agreement: An Environmental Impact Assessment

A free trade agreement with the US would increase Australian farmers' water use by at least 1.3 trillion litres per year, according to research by OzProspect's Michael Cebon.

In other FTA news:

I am beginning to doubt this train is going anywhere. The benefits to us seem extraordinarily limited and the costs, especially once the water issues are taken into account, seem to outweigh any benefits. Although the PBS is off the table it seems that investor-to-state proceedings and the single wheat desk are not.

A sensible opposition party might try and start a debate in the Senate by introducing a bill that would require parliamentary consent to future FTAs.

2 November 2003

Sun more active than for a millennium

Ice cores provide a record of the concentration of beryllium-10 in the atmosphere. This is produced when high-energy particles from space bombard the atmosphere, but when the Sun is active its magnetic field protects the Earth from these particles and levels of beryllium-10 are lower.

But he told New Scientist that when he saw the data converted to sunspot numbers he thought, 'why the hell didn't I do this?' It makes the conclusion very stark, he says. 'We are living with a very unusual sun at the moment.'

The findings may stoke the controversy over the contribution of the Sun to global warming. Usoskin and his team are reluctant to be dragged into the debate, but their work will probably be seized upon by those who claim that temperature rises over the past century are the result of changes in the Sun's output (New Scientist, print edition, 12 April 2003). The link between the Sun's magnetic activity and the Earth's climate is, however, unclear.

Go read...

Rebel war spirals out of control

Most worrying of all is the emergence of a broad, post-Saddam ideology across the groups. And if recent polling in Baghdad is to be believed, it is rapidly gaining currency with ordinary Iraqis. It is crudely simple, insisting that the US-led occupation is an assault against both Islam and the wider Arab nation, that Iraqis must resist and that anyone who assists the occupiers is an enemy as much as US troops.

Things to note: apparently Iraqis are capable of reacting for themselves and they don't like the occupation; US and UK intelligence disagree on the nature of the resistance and what to do about it; spinning the Western media does not seem to have a vigorous deterrent effect on the Iraqi resistance.

Police hold man over internet fraud

NSW police say they have cracked the multimillion-dollar, so-called Nigerian internet scam based in Australia, arresting a Sydney man, 39, yesterday.

The scam involved fraudsters sending out spam emails that con people into believing they could claim millions of dollars.

Detectives from the state crime command assets confiscation unit arrested the man during a search of a property in Nyngan, in the NSW central west.

I expect an email any minute now claiming to represent a business associate arrested recently in Sydney.

Big cats not a tall tale

A State Government inquiry has found it is 'more likely than not' a colony of 'big cats' is roaming Sydney's outskirts and beyond.

The revelations are the result of a fresh four-month investigation into the 'black panther phenomenon' which for years has plagued residents across Sydney's west, north-west, Richmond, the Blue Mountains and Lithgow.

While National Parks and Wildlife officials are yet to implement a positive course of action, a senior source confirmed last night a big cat expert had been contacted with a view to future work.

He said: 'While we still haven't got conclusive evidence that the creature exists, compiled evidence points strongly to the fact that it does.'

The source added: 'If and when an expert is commissioned, the first aim would be to identify exactly what sort of animal it is. The second would be to ascertain how many there might be.'

Although big cat sightings across NSW date back more than 100 years, speculation intensified in May 2001 when a successful Freedom of Information request revealed the NSW Government had been maintaining a secret file on the creature.

It also revealed wildlife hierarchy were so concerned about the potential threat to humans that they commissioned big cat expert Dr Johannes Bauer to evaluate what had previously been deemed unthinkable.

Wow, Sydney really does have everything. Next we find yowies. Then UFOs. Then Iraq's WMDS.

Warm seas melting ice shelf the size of Scotland

An ice shelf in Antarctica the size of Scotland is rapidly disintegrating because of warmer seas, scientists said yesterday. They believe that the Larsen ice shelf on the Antarctic peninsula may disappear within 70 years.

Although the ice shelf will not raise sea levels - it is already floating on the ocean - scientists say that its loss may trigger a release of ice from the peninsula's mainland, causing global sea levels to rise by 1 metre (3ft 3in).

Researchers led by Andrew Shepherd, a glaciologist from Cambridge University, found that the Larsen ice shelf had thinned by as much as 18 metres in the past 10 years. That can only be explained by a warmer ocean, he said.

The study is published in the journal Science a day after a study revealed that the ice in the Arctic was melting rapidly due to a rise in temperatures, threatening the natural habitat of the polar bear.

Both studies used radar measurements taken by the European Space Agency's ERS-1 and ERS-2 satellites. This enabled the scientists to monitor the loss of ice over huge areas of sea at opposite ends of the Earth for 10 years.

I guess if global warming ever happens we can expect the shit to hit the fan. We could always invade Antarctica in the name of regime change.

Err War - The [US] Army buries its mistakes

Back in Soviet times, there was a Russian army general who liked to bellow, 'Analysis is for lieutenants and women.' This brute-force approach to military matters didn't serve the Soviet Union well in the long run. Unfortunately, the same attitude seems to be creeping into the U.S. Army today.

Two pieces of evidence shine all too glaringly: 1) an official, unclassified, and highly critical report on the U.S. Army's inefficient-to-shoddy intelligence practices in Iraq and Afghanistan, written by the Center for Army Lessons Learned in Ft. Leavenworth, Kan.; and 2) the removal of this report from the center's Web site, after the Washington Post published a story summarizing its contents.

If the Iraq adventure is such a great idea why is it necessary to fiddle the books so much? In the last week we've had the White House fiddling its website to rpevent Iraqi documents being searched. Actual documents on the White House website have been retrospectively amended, as the Memory Hole:

When the White House published the text of and photos from Bush's speech announcing the supposed end of the Iraq attack, the headline read: "President Bush Announces Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended." But on Tuesday, 19 Aug 2003, the Cursor website noticed that the headline had been changed to read: "President Bush Announces Major Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended." The word "major" had been added.

Apparently, with the quagmire resulting in at least one dead US soldier a day--not to mention even more injuries, dead Iraqis, and sabotage--that headline had proved incorrect. Therefore, straight out of 1984, the headline was stealthily altered to make it seem as if that's what it had always said.

We were able to recover numerous instances of the unaltered headline. At the top of the page is the original headline, as it has been preserved on the Website of Scott Long, who collects photos of politicians on aircraft carriers. Under that, you'll find the headline as it is now. More examples are below.

At least in the bad old days of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, they had to rely on actually cutting and pasting pieces of paper to execute historical revisionism. It's worthwhile downloading Need-to-know Democracy to get a grip on the whole sorry tale.

Foreign influx?

Though the Bush administration has for months claimed that foreign fighters were entering Iraq to kill Americans, U.S. military commanders who are responsible for monitoring the borders here say that they have not witnessed a large infiltration of foreign terrorists.

As recently as Tuesday, President Bush said that 'the foreign terrorists are trying to create conditions of fear and retreat because they fear a free and peaceful state in the midst of a part of the world where terror has found recruits.'

But officers whose areas of operations include Iraq's borders with Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran -- the primary Arab entry points into Iraq -- all said there is no evidence that a significant number of foreign terrorists have entered the country.

'We cover the border, so we would know if they came in or not,' said Lt. Col. Antonio Aguto, executive officer of the U.S. Army's 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which monitors Iraq's border with Syria and Saudi Arabia. 'Most of them are locals.'

The officers said that very few foreigners have been captured while crossing into Iraq illegally, arrested later inside Iraq or detained when trying to enter the country at existing border checkpoints.

One intelligence officer said emphatically that there was simply no evidence to support the claim.

'We keep hearing that, but we haven't seen anything to back it up,' the officer said.

Just more of the same, spinning Washington is more important than anything actually happening on the ground.