Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The PNAC's blueprint for empire

Not a whole lot of new information or analysis here, but Chris Floyd does a pretty comprehensive job here of analyzing post-9/11 events through the lens of the PNAC's publicly declared ambitions.

Floyd is one of my favorite journalists when it comes to the Bush administration. Check out his article here.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Social security, revisited

A thorough dissection of the Social Security myths employed by right wing hacks in our government and in various think tanks, courtesy of the Left Business Observer:

The ludicrously dire projections for Social Security's future only make sense when they're considered as part of a massive propaganda campaign to promote the privatization of Social Security, a long-standing obsession of the U.S. right largely unshared by the broader population. Polls show large majorities in favor of leaving the system largely as it is—even among the young, who are more friendly to the idea of private accounts than the middle-aged and elderly. Polls also show the public with far more pressing economic concerns, like low wages, scarce jobs, and rising health insurance costs. So people must be scared into giving up Social Security.

Rarely is the political thinking behind Social Security privatization expressed bluntly; it's usually wrapped in a lot of blather about "choice" and "ownership." An exception to the rule of euphemism was former Bush economic advisor Glenn Hubbard's appearance before the Council on Foreign Relations. Hubbard, now a dean at Columbia, said: "If we were to start afresh thinking of Social Security today, I strongly suspect what we would have is a program that had a very substantial guaranteed benefit for low-income people, and a variety of things that narrowed that down for middle- and upper-income people, replacing those with a combination of personal accounts and savings incentives." It's hard to take the "very substantial" bit very seriously, but the major point is that the right is dying to transform the system from a universal one into one targeted at the poor, with the rest of us expected to fend for ourselves. Cutting benefits by switching to a price index would promote this goal, without having to come out and say it directly.

This is the most thorough, authoritative discussion of the myth of the Social Security "crisis" I've read. Read the whole article here.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Permanent vacation

Some fun facts and figures about our vacationer-in-chief from Digby.

Friday, March 25, 2005

The God Racket, From DeMille to DeLay

As Congress and the president scurried to play God in the lives of Terri Schiavo and her family last weekend, ABC kicked off Holy Week with its perennial ritual: a rebroadcast of the 1956 Hollywood blockbuster, "The Ten Commandments."

Cecil B. DeMille's epic is known for the parting of its Technicolor Red Sea, for the religiosity of its dialogue (Anne Baxter's Nefretiri to Charlton Heston's Moses: "You can worship any God you like as long as I can worship you.") and for a Golden Calf scene that DeMille himself described as "an orgy Sunday-school children can watch." But this year the lovable old war horse has a relevance that transcends camp. At a time when government, culture, science, medicine and the rule of law are all under threat from an emboldened religious minority out to remake America according to its dogma, the half-forgotten show business history of "The Ten Commandments" provides a telling back story.

As DeMille readied his costly Paramount production for release a half-century ago, he seized on an ingenious publicity scheme. In partnership with the Fraternal Order of Eagles, a nationwide association of civic-minded clubs founded by theater owners, he sponsored the construction of several thousand Ten Commandments monuments throughout the country to hype his product. The Pharaoh himself - that would be Yul Brynner - participated in the gala unveiling of the Milwaukee slab. Heston did the same in North Dakota. Bizarrely enough, all these years later, it is another of these DeMille-inspired granite monuments, on the grounds of the Texas Capitol in Austin, that is a focus of the Ten Commandments case that the United States Supreme Court heard this month.

We must wait for the court's ruling on whether the relics of a Hollywood relic breach the separation of church and state. Either way, it's clear that one principle, so firmly upheld by DeMille, has remained inviolate no matter what the courts have to say: American moguls, snake-oil salesmen and politicians looking to score riches or power will stop at little if they feel it is in their interests to exploit God to achieve those ends. While sometimes God racketeers are guilty of the relatively minor sin of bad taste - witness the crucifixion-nail jewelry licensed by Mel Gibson - sometimes we get the demagoguery of Father Coughlin or the big-time cons of Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker.

The religio-hucksterism surrounding the Schiavo case makes DeMille's Hollywood crusades look like amateur night. This circus is the latest and most egregious in a series of cultural shocks that have followed Election Day 2004, when a fateful exit poll question on "moral values" ignited a take-no-prisoners political grab by moral zealots. During the commercial interruptions on "The Ten Commandments" last weekend, viewers could surf over to the cable news networks and find a Bible-thumping show as only Washington could conceive it. Congress was floating such scenarios as staging a meeting in Ms. Schiavo's hospital room or, alternatively, subpoenaing her, her husband and her doctors to a hearing in Washington. All in the name of faith.

Like many Americans, I suspect, I tried to picture how I would have reacted if a bunch of smarmy, camera-seeking politicians came anywhere near a hospital room where my own relative was hooked up to life support. I imagined summoning the Clint Eastwood of "Dirty Harry," not "Million Dollar Baby." But before my fantasy could get very far, star politicians with the most to gain from playing the God card started hatching stunts whose extravagant shamelessness could upstage any humble reverie of my own.

Senator Bill Frist, the Harvard-educated heart surgeon with presidential aspirations, announced that watching videos of Ms. Schiavo had persuaded him that her doctors in Florida were mistaken about her vegetative state - a remarkable diagnosis given that he had not only failed to examine the patient ostensibly under his care but has no expertise in the medical specialty, neurology, relevant to her case. No less audacious was Tom DeLay, last seen on "60 Minutes" a few weeks ago deflecting Lesley Stahl's questions about his proximity to allegedly criminal fund-raising by saying he would talk only about children stranded by the tsunami. Those kids were quickly forgotten as he hitched his own political rehabilitation to a brain-damaged patient's feeding tube. Adopting a prayerful tone, the former exterminator from Sugar Land, Tex., took it upon himself to instruct "millions of people praying around the world this Palm Sunday weekend" to "not be afraid."

The president was not about to be outpreached by these saps. The same Mr. Bush who couldn't be bothered to interrupt his vacation during the darkening summer of 2001, not even when he received a briefing titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.," flew from his Crawford ranch to Washington to sign Congress's Schiavo bill into law. The bill could have been flown to him in Texas, but his ceremonial arrival and departure by helicopter on the White House lawn allowed him to showboat as if he had just landed on the deck of an aircraft carrier. Within hours he turned Ms. Schiavo into a slick applause line at a Social Security rally. "It is wise to always err on the side of life," he said, wisdom that apparently had not occurred to him in 1999, when he mocked the failed pleas for clemency of Karla Faye Tucker, the born-again Texas death-row inmate, in a magazine interview with Tucker Carlson.

These theatrics were foretold. Culture is often a more reliable prophecy than religion of where the country is going, and our culture has been screaming its theocratic inclinations for months now. The anti-indecency campaign, already a roaring success, has just yielded a new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Kevin J. Martin, who had been endorsed by the Parents Television Council and other avatars of the religious right. The push for the sanctity of marriage (or all marriages except Terri and Michael Schiavo's) has led to the banishment of lesbian moms on public television. The Armageddon-fueled worldview of the "Left Behind" books extends its spell by the day, soon to surface in a new NBC prime-time mini-series, "Revelations," being sold with the slogan "The End is Near."

All this is happening while polls consistently show that at most a fifth of the country subscribes to the religious views of those in the Republican base whom even George Will, speaking last Sunday on ABC's "This Week," acknowledged may be considered "extremists." In that famous Election Day exit poll, "moral values" voters amounted to only 22 percent. Similarly, an ABC News survey last weekend found that only 27 percent of Americans thought it was "appropriate" for Congress to "get involved" in the Schiavo case and only 16 percent said it would want to be kept alive in her condition. But a majority of American colonists didn't believe in witches during the Salem trials either - any more than the Taliban reflected the views of a majority of Afghans. At a certain point - and we seem to be at that point - fear takes over, allowing a mob to bully the majority over the short term. (Of course, if you believe the end is near, there is no long term.)

That bullying, stoked by politicians in power, has become omnipresent, leading television stations to practice self-censorship and high school teachers to avoid mentioning "the E word," evolution, in their classrooms, lest they arouse fundamentalist rancor. The president is on record as saying that the jury is still out on evolution, so perhaps it's no surprise that The Los Angeles Times has uncovered a three-year-old "religious rights" unit in the Justice Department that investigated a biology professor at Texas Tech because he refused to write letters of recommendation for students who do not accept evolution as "the central, unifying principle of biology." Cornelia Dean of The New York Times broke the story last weekend that some Imax theaters, even those in science centers, are now refusing to show documentaries like "Galápagos" or "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea" because their references to Darwin and the Big Bang theory might antagonize some audiences. Soon such films will disappear along with biology textbooks that don't give equal time to creationism.

James Cameron, producer of "Volcanoes" (and, more famously, the director of "Titanic"), called this development "obviously symptomatic of our shift away from empiricism in science to faith-based science." Faith-based science has in turn begat faith-based medicine that impedes stem-cell research, not to mention faith-based abstinence-only health policy that impedes the prevention of unwanted pregnancies and diseases like AIDS.

Faith-based news is not far behind. Ashley Smith, the 26-year-old woman who was held hostage by Brian Nichols, the accused Atlanta courthouse killer, has been canonized by virtually every American news organization as God's messenger because she inspired Mr. Nichols to surrender by talking about her faith and reading him a chapter from Rick Warren's best seller, "The Purpose-Driven Life." But if she's speaking for God, what does that make Dennis Rader, the church council president arrested in Wichita's B.T.K. serial killer case? Was God instructing Terry Ratzmann, the devoted member of the Living Church of God who this month murdered his pastor, an elderly man, two teenagers and two others before killing himself at a weekly church service in Wisconsin? The religious elements of these stories, including the role played by the end-of-times fatalism of Mr. Ratzmann's church, are left largely unexamined by the same news outlets that serve up Ashley Smith's tale as an inspirational parable for profit.

Next to what's happening now, official displays of DeMille's old Ten Commandments monuments seem an innocuous encroachment of religion into public life. It is a full-scale jihad that our government signed onto last weekend, and what's most scary about it is how little was heard from the political opposition. The Harvard Law School constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe pointed out this week that even Joe McCarthy did not go so far as this Congress and president did in conspiring to "try to undo the processes of a state court." But faced with McCarthyism in God's name, most Democratic leaders went into hiding and stayed silent. Prayers are no more likely to revive their spines than poor Terri Schiavo's brain.

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Saturday, March 19, 2005

Foreign Policy Mag on Greenspan

A real eye-opener, check it out Here.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Military interference in American film production

Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon shapes and censors the movies by David L. Robb

By Mile Klindo and Richard Phillips
14 March 2005

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Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon shapes and censors the movies by David L. Robb, a former journalist for Daily Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, is a timely work. Published in 2004, a year after the US-led occupation of Iraq, it exposes one of the dark secrets of American movies—military interference in film production and Hollywood’s acquiescence to it.

While collaboration between the US military and Hollywood, of course, is not a new phenomenon, few moviegoers realise how much control the Pentagon has over the American film industry. Citing letters, internal memos and interviews with producers, writers and directors, Robb’s book contains valuable information about its insidious and destructive influence on American cinema.

When the US entered World War I, Washington established the Committee of Public Information, which formulated guidelines for all media to promote domestic support for the war. The small but growing movie industry readily offered its support, with the Motion Picture News proclaiming in a 1917 editorial, “[E]very individual at work in this industry” has promised to provide “slides, film leaders and trailers, posters ... to spread that propaganda so necessary to the immediate mobilisation of the country’s great resources.”

While this support diminished when the war ended, directors such as D.W. Griffiths, King Vidor and others still sought, and were provided with, assistance from the US army on several films during the 1920s and 30s.

With America’s entry into World War II in 1941, this collaboration expanded to an unprecedented level. Hollywood studios, working in association with the Pentagon, rapidly churned out scores of war dramas and documentaries to boost the American war effort. Military officials provided equipment, personnel and advice on numerous American movies. Director Frank Capra’s Why We Fight (1943-44), six powerful documentaries, are perhaps the best known of these films.

After the war, the Pentagon formally established its “film approval” process and then, in 1948, set up a special movie liaison office, as part of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. With the onset of the Cold War, the US military demanded even greater control over the movies it “assisted”.

Producers and directors wanting access to military equipment, locations or personnel, or even Department of Defense (DOD) archival footage—which was always very costly—were required to have their work vetted by the Pentagon. Those prepared to reshape their movies in line with Pentagon directives were given substantial financial and technical help; those unwilling to accept its dictates were denied any assistance.

Since then, plot and character changes and outright historical falsification have been the most common demands made by the military, its stated aim being to encourage movies that boost “recruitment and retention programs”. Filmmakers are told that excessive foul language, alcohol and drug use, sexism, racism and other bigotry in the armed forces must be toned down and replaced with “positive” portrayals. Nor is it unusual for the Pentagon to demand entire scenes, even central characters, be deleted.

Special military “advisers” are appointed to ensure that filmmakers do not attempt to introduce non-scripted innovations that depart from Pentagon directives. As Major David Georgi, the military adviser to Clear and Present Danger, told Robb: “Always, somewhere in the mind of the producers, they’d try and turn the picture in the direction that they had originally presented to us.... It would be my job as a technical advisor to make sure that the movie did not stray substantially from the original approved version” (Operation Hollywood, p. 38).

Today this interference is such a commonplace that the military and other agencies do not even attempt to disguise their operations. The Air Force Entertainment Liaison Office, for example, now boasts it own web site—Wings over Hollywood—and in 2001, the CIA appointed its own film industry liaison officer. His role is to give “advice and guidance” to authors, screenwriters, directors and producers and encourage a “better understanding of and appreciation for the Agency”.

Rewriting of history

The list of post-war films subjected to military interference and cited in Operation Hollywood is too long to include in this review. Phil Stub, the civilian head of the film liaison office since 1989, for example, has demanded changes to more than 100 films and television programs in the course of his tenure.

Some of the better-known movies refused help because their directors would not agree to Pentagon demands include: The Last Detail (1973), Apocalypse Now (1979), An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), Born on the Fourth of the July (1989) and Forrest Gump (1994).

According to Army Major Ray Smith from the film liaison office, Apocalypse Now’s central story line—a CIA mission to assassinate Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a rebel US military officer in Vietnam—was “not realistic”. Smith falsely claimed: “The army does not lend officers to the CIA to execute or murder other army officers. And even if we did, we wouldn’t help you make it.” He refused all assistance, forcing director Francis Ford Coppola to shoot his film in the Philippines.

A few years later, An Officer and a Gentleman was denied all access to military equipment and locations, because the Pentagon claimed that the movie’s depiction of a navy officers’ training program was “inaccurate”. The navy wanted a soldier who makes a Filipino girl pregnant out of wedlock removed from the story, as well as an attack on a US soldier by a Filipino gang, on the grounds that both would harm US-Philippines relations.

The military also objected to the rhyming boot camp chants, or “Jody calls”, by the jogging soldiers in the film. “Flyin’ low and feelin’ mean, Find a family by the stream. Pick off a pair and hear’em scream, Cause napalm stick to kids...” was one of the chants the Pentagon wanted deleted. But Douglas Day Stewart, the film’s screenwriter and associate producer, knew the cadets were still singing this dehumanising chant when he researched the story, and refused to remove it.

Thirteen Days (2000) and John Woo’s Windtalkers (2002) are two of the more recent films cited in Robb’s book.

Thirteen Days dramatises the conflict between John F. Kennedy and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, particularly Generals Curtis E. LeMay and Maxwell Taylor, during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. LeMay, a notorious war hawk, wanted Kennedy to immediately attack Cuba and risk a direct nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union. (See: “The Cuban missile crisis in historical perspective: some thoughts on the film Thirteen Days”).

Strub refused access to US air force jets and other equipment until LeMay was portrayed in a less bellicose manner. He alsowanted a scene involving the shooting down of an American U2 reconnaissance pilot over Cuba removed. The Pentagon maintained this demand in defiance of the historical record: LeMay’s belligerence and military aggression were well-known and extensively documented, and the U2 pilot had been posthumously awarded an Air Force Cross for the Cuban mission, his wife receiving a letter of condolence from JFK himself.

Thirteen Days’ producers correctly refused to compromise and consequently were forced to shoot their jet footage in the Philippines, use digital effects, and spend far more on the production than they had planned.

As producer Peter Almond explained in Operation Hollywood: “There’s a kind of devil’s brew. The problem ... with these big-scale projects that involve military assets is that we’re kind of dependent on them for comparatively inexpensive use of the assets in making our stories. So they have us kind of over a barrel” (p. 56).

Capitulation to Pentagon demands

Windtalkers also ran into trouble with the Pentagon over its portrayal of the Code Talkers story. Code Talkers were Navajo Indians who joined the US Marines during WWII and used their native language as a code that the Japanese were unable to break.

Marine sergeant Joe Enders (Nicolas Cage) is assigned to protect a Code Talker, with orders to kill him in the event of his capture by the Japanese. This became a major point of contention with the Pentagon.

Captain Matt Morgan of the Marine film liaison office claimed that the movie’s portrayals were “un-Marine” and demanded changes. He claimed that the orders to Enders “to take your guy out” were a “fiction” and had to be removed. Contrary to Morgan’s claims, however, Marines were given just such orders. This has been verified by surviving Code Talkers and the US Congress.

In contrast to Thirteen Days, however, the producers of Windtalkers agreed to change this aspect of the script. But this was not enough; Strub and Morgan wanted an entire character, The Dentist, deleted. The Dentist was a deranged and brutalised soldier who removed gold teeth from dead Japanese soldiers. Morgan claimed the portrayal was “un-Marine”.

The military also demanded another scene, where Cage kills a surrendering Japanese soldier with a flamethrower, be excised. Director John Woo shamelessly caved in to all these demands, despite the fact that the original script was based on the historical record. When Windtalkers was finally released, a Marine Corp news release triumphantly claimed that Woo’s movie, not only “has it all” but is “accurate down to the smallest detail”.

Pentagon interference has not been limited to war movies. Screwball comedy Stripes (1981), starring Bill Murray as a misfit army recruit, was drastically changed in pre-production, and children’s television shows such as “Lassie” and “The Mickey Mouse Club” had some of their scripts rewritten in order to make the US armed forces more palatable to children.

Dan Goldberg, the producer and co-writer of Stripes, assured the Pentagon that he planned to make a comedy with “patriotic overtones that would hopefully have a positive effect on Army recruiting”. But the Army ordered Stripes to be rewritten from beginning to end.

Lieutenant Colonel Richard Griffitts, chief of the army’s Policy and Plans Division, did not agree with the depiction of drug use in the barracks and Drill Sergeant Hulka (Warren Oates), he claimed, was too sadistic. In fact, Hulka was a relatively mild practioner of the brutal methods used in army boot camps.

On Pentagon orders, all references to the US Army deployments in Latin America or Mexico were scrapped; jokes about rape and pillage deleted; and various characters toned down or eliminated entirely. In exchange for access to a Fort Knox location and permission to use tanks and a C-140 transport plane, Goldberg capitulated to every Pentagon demand.

Producers of the mindless blockbuster Independence Day (1996) bent over backwards to gain access to Department of Defense heavy equipment. The Pentagon rejected these overtures, claiming that the movie did not contain any “true military heroes” and that Captain Steve Hiller (Will Smith) was too irresponsible to be cast as a Marine leader (he dates a stripper). Moreover, the invading aliens were thwarted not by the Marines, but by civilians. While Dean Devlin, the scriptwriter, agreed to rectify these “flaws”, Independence Day was given no assistance.

Jurassic Park III (2001), on the other hand, was given two navy Seahawk helicopters, four amphibious assault vehicles and 80 Marines to storm the beach at the end of the movie. These were provided after filmmakers agreed to a military “product placement”—a clearly visible Navy logo on a helicopter which rescues stranded protagonists, and a line of dialogue by little Eric (Trevor Morgan): “You have to thank her now. She sent the Navy and the Marines.” In the original script, it was not the Navy but the State Department that arranged for a helicopter.

It is well known that overtly militaristic and patriotic films with Rambo-like heroes boost military recruitment. According to the navy, recruitment of young men into naval aviation increased by 500 percent after the release of Top Gun. Such was the military’s enthusiasm for Top Gun that it even established recruitment booths inside some of the cinemas screening the movie. “These kids came out of the movie with eyes as big as saucers and said, ‘Where do I sign up?’” declared Major David Georgi.

In one of the more contemptible examples cited in Operation Hollywood, Paramount executive Jeffrey A. Coleman offered the Department of Defense (DOD) advertising space on the video releases of two blockbusters—The Hunt for the Red October and Flight of the Intruder—in exchange for the scrapping of several million dollars in production costs owed to the navy.

Robb cites a March 1990 letter to Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney in which Coleman argues that military recruitment advertising in the home-video market, with its large 15- to 19-year-old age group, would bring major gains. “[T]he recruiting benefits for the video release will be of major significance, with particular emphasis on the high priority targets concerning recruits for nuclear power and aviation roles in the Navy,” Coleman wrote.

While the DOD initially warmed to the idea, it eventually rejected the “offer” after advice from Grey Advertising, which concluded that both movies were “already wonderful recruiting tools”. Adding a commercial at the beginning of “what is already a two-hour recruiting commercial,” Grey Advertising suggested, was unnecessary and “redundant”.

Political limitations

While Operation Hollywood provides numerous examples of Pentagon censorship and the subservience of an assortment offilm industry executives, directors and writers over the past five decades, it does not examine the historical context in which this occurred or the underlying political reasons. Most importantly, it fails to provide any analysis of the anti-communist witch-hunts in the late 1940s and 50s and the inherent connection between these events and the Pentagon’s “Operation Hollywood”.

As is well-known, studio chiefs, in collaboration with Washington, not only established the notorious blacklist in 1947 to purge scores of left-wing directors, writers and actors from the industry but also produced a string of anti-communist films, including The Red Menace (1949), I Married a Communist (1950), I Was a Communist for the FBI (1951) Trial (1952) and others, to promote Cold War hysteria. This environment laid the foundations for the high-level military interference in the American movie industry that followed.

Nor does Robb review the vast monopolisation of the entertainment and media corporations over the past three decades, and the economic roots of their political support for Washington’s increasingly reckless military ambitions.

Today a handful of giant companies, Disney, AOL-Time Warner, Sony, General Electric, Murdoch’s News Corporation and Seagram, dominate all aspects of the American film, television and entertainment industry. While their multi-billion dollar interests are not identical to those of the Pentagon, there is a clear recognition that their profits are bound up with Washington’s attempts to seize control of strategic resources in the Middle East and elsewhere. As Rupert Murdoch declared in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a successful American occupation would lower oil prices and benefit the world economy. “This would be bigger than any tax cut in any country,” he said.

Operation Hollywood ignores these issues and fails to even mention the highly publicised meeting between Karl Rove, President Bush’s chief political advisor, and the film and television chiefs and the industry’s union bosses straight after the September 11 terrorist attack on the US. Rove called on those assembled to assist in Washington’s so-called “war on terror”. Predictably the entertainment industry chiefs promised to do all they could to help.

The omission of these and countless other examples of the deepening collaboration between the entertainment and media corporations is bound up with Robb’s underlying political perspective—that military meddling and censorship of the movie industry can be overcome with a bit of pressure and a few minor reforms.

Congress, Robb writes, must launch a “complete investigation into the Pentagon’s role in the filmmaking process” while the Writers Guild of America (WGA) should insist that the employers cannot show writers’ scripts to the military. These actions, combined with consumer boycotts and class action lawsuits, should be initiated, he says, to force Washington to establish a transparent tendering process and a “schedule of uniform fees” for film producers wanting access to military equipment.

These lame appeals seriously underestimate the political power of the US military-industrial complex and promote dangerous illusions in the very institutions that have legislated and funded the largest expansion of the military budget in US history, and sanctioned the most wide-ranging attacks on democratic rights, including freedom of expression.

As Operation Hollywood itself demonstrates, neither Congress nor the WGA have ever done anything to stop Pentagon interference in the film industry. In fact, as the book reports, in the almost 60 years since the DOD film liaison office was established, there have been only two government hearings into Pentagon interference in the movie industry. Both resulted in whitewashes, clearing the military of any wrongdoing.

As for the WGA, it has never even issued a public statement opposing Pentagon censorship of scripts. WGA West president Charles Holland and former army officer told Robb: “If you want people to go into firefights, you’ve got to romanticise it.”

Operation Hollywood contains a wealth of detailed evidence about Pentagon censorship and makes it available to a wide audience. Access to this basic information is certainly important in order to challenge increasing censorship and the escalating attacks on democratic rights. But Robb’s refusal to state what is—that the defence of freedom of expression is bound up with a political struggle against the Bush administration and the US ruling elite as a whole—is a critical flaw.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Attacking Iran: I Know It Sounds Crazy, But...

'This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous.'
(Short pause)
"'And having said that, all options are on the table.'
"Even the White House stenographers felt obliged to note the result: '(Laughter).'"
-(The Washington Post's Dan Froomkin on George Bush's February 22 press conference)

For a host of good reasons -- the huge and draining commitment of U.S. forces to Iraq and Iran's ability to stir the Iraqi pot to boiling, for starters -- the notion that the Bush administration would mount a "preemptive" air attack on Iran seems insane. And still more insane if the objective includes overthrowing Iran's government again, as in 1953 -- this time under the rubric of "regime change."

But Bush administration policy toward the Middle East is being run by men -- yes, only men -- who were routinely referred to in high circles in Washington during the 1980s as "the crazies." I can attest to that personally, but one need not take my word for it.

According to James Naughtie, author of The Accidental American: Tony Blair and the Presidency, former Secretary of State Colin Powell added an old soldier's adjective to the "crazies" sobriquet in referring to the same officials. Powell, who was military aide to Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger in the early eighties, was overheard calling them "the f---ing crazies" during a phone call with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw before the war in Iraq. At the time, Powell was reportedly deeply concerned over their determination to attack -- with or without UN approval. Small wonder that they got rid of Powell after the election, as soon as they had no more use for him.

If further proof of insanity were needed, one could simply look at the unnecessary carnage in Iraq since the invasion in March 2003. That unprovoked attack was, in my view, the most fateful foreign policy blunder in our nation's far.

It Can Get Worse

"The crazies" are not finished. And we do well not to let their ultimate folly obscure their current ambition, and the further trouble that ambition is bound to bring in the four years ahead. In an immediate sense, with U.S. military power unrivaled, they can be seen as "crazy like a fox," with a value system in which "might makes right." Operating out of that value system, and now sporting the more respectable misnomer/moniker "neoconservative," they are convinced that they know exactly what they are doing. They have a clear ideology and a geopolitical strategy, which leap from papers they put out at the Project for the New American Century over recent years.

The very same men who, acting out of that paradigm, brought us the war in Iraq are now focusing on Iran, which they view as the only remaining obstacle to American domination of the entire oil-rich Middle East. They calculate that, with a docile, corporate-owned press, a co-opted mainstream church, and a still-trusting populace, the United States and/or the Israelis can launch a successful air offensive to disrupt any Iranian nuclear weapons programs -- with the added bonus of possibly causing the regime in power in Iran to crumble.

But why now? After all, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency has just told Congress that Iran is not likely to have a nuclear weapon until "early in the next decade?" The answer, according to some defense experts, is that several of the Iranian facilities are still under construction and there is only a narrow "window of opportunity" to destroy them without causing huge environmental problems. That window, they say, will begin to close this year.

Other analysts attribute the sense of urgency to worry in Washington that the Iranians may have secretly gained access to technology that would facilitate a leap forward into the nuclear club much sooner than now anticipated. And it is, of course, neoconservative doctrine that it is best to nip -- the word in current fashion is "preempt" -- any conceivable threats in the bud. One reason the Israelis are pressing hard for early action may simply be out of a desire to ensure that George W. Bush will have a few more years as president after an attack on Iran, so that they will have him to stand with Israel when bedlam breaks out in the Middle East.

What about post-attack "Day Two?" Not to worry. Well-briefed pundits are telling us about a wellspring of Western-oriented moderates in Iran who, with a little help from the U.S., could seize power in Tehran. I find myself thinking: Right; just like all those Iraqis who welcomed invading American and British troops with open arms and cut flowers. For me, this evokes a painful flashback to the early eighties when "intelligence," pointing to "moderates" within the Iranian leadership, was conjured up to help justify the imaginative but illegal arms-for-hostages-and-proceeds-to-Nicaraguan-Contras caper. The fact that the conjurer-in-chief of that spurious "evidence" on Iranian "moderates," former chief CIA analyst, later director Robert Gates, was recently offered the newly created position of director of national intelligence makes the flashback more eerie -- and alarming.

George H. W. Bush Saw Through "The Crazies"

During his term in office, George H. W. Bush, with the practical advice of his national security adviser Gen. Brent Scowcroft and Secretary of State James Baker, was able to keep "the crazies" at arms length, preventing them from getting the country into serious trouble. They were kept well below the level of "principal" -- that is, below the level of secretary of state or defense.

Even so, heady in the afterglow of victory in the Gulf War of 1990, "the crazies" stirred up considerable controversy when they articulated their radical views. Their vision, for instance, became the centerpiece of the draft "Defense Planning Guidance" that Paul Wolfowitz, de facto dean of the neoconservatives, prepared in 1992 for then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney. It dismissed deterrence as an outdated relic of the Cold War and argued that the United States must maintain military strength beyond conceivable challenge -- and use it in preemptive ways in dealing with those who might acquire "weapons of mass destruction." Sound familiar?

Aghast at this radical imperial strategy for the post-Cold War world, someone with access to the draft leaked it to the New York Times, forcing President George H. W. Bush either to endorse or disavow it. Disavow it he did -- and quickly, on the cooler-head recommendations of Scowcroft and Baker, who proved themselves a bulwark against the hubris and megalomania of "the crazies." Unfortunately, their vision did not die. No less unfortunately, there is method to their madness -- even if it threatens to spell eventual disaster for our country. Empires always overreach and fall.

The Return of the Neocons

In 2001, the new President Bush brought the neocons back and put them in top policymaking positions. Even former Assistant Secretary of State Elliot Abrams, convicted in October 1991 of lying to Congress and then pardoned by George H. W. Bush, was called back and put in charge of Middle East policy in the White House. In January, he was promoted to the influential post (once occupied by Robert Gates) of deputy assistant to the president for national security affairs. From that senior position Abrams will once again be dealing closely with John Negroponte, an old colleague from rogue-elephant Contra War days, who has now been picked to be the first director of national intelligence.

Those of us who -- like Colin Powell -- had front-row seats during the 1980s are far too concerned to dismiss the re-emergence of the neocons as a simple case of déjà vu. They are much more dangerous now. Unlike in the eighties, they are the ones crafting the adventurous policies our sons and daughters are being called on to implement.

Why dwell on this? Because it is second in importance only to the portentous reality that the earth is running out of readily accessible oil – something of which they are all too aware. Not surprisingly then, disguised beneath the weapons-of-mass-destruction smokescreen they laid down as they prepared to invade Iraq lay an unspoken but bedrock reason for the war -- oil. In any case, the neocons seem to believe that, in the wake of the November election, they now have a carte-blanche "mandate." And with the president's new "capital to spend," they appear determined to spend it, sooner rather than later.

Next Stop, Iran

When a Special Forces platoon leader just back from Iraq matter-of-factly tells a close friend of mine, as happened last week, that he and his unit are now training their sights (literally) on Iran, we need to take that seriously. It provides us with a glimpse of reality as seen at ground level. For me, it brought to mind an unsolicited email I received from the father of a young soldier training at Fort Benning in the spring of 2002, soon after I wrote an op-ed discussing the timing of George W. Bush's decision to make war on Iraq. The father informed me that, during the spring of 2002, his son kept writing home saying his unit was training to go into Iraq. No, said the father; you mean Afghanistan... that's where the war is, not Iraq. In his next email, the son said, "No, Dad, they keep saying Iraq. I asked them and that's what they mean."

Now, apparently, they keep saying Iran; and that appears to be what they mean.

Anecdotal evidence like this is hardly conclusive. Put it together with administration rhetoric and a preponderance of other "dots," though, and everything points in the direction of an air attack on Iran, possibly also involving some ground forces. Indeed, from the New Yorker reports of Seymour Hersh to Washington Post articles, accounts of small-scale American intrusions on the ground as well as into Iranian airspace are appearing with increasing frequency. In a speech given on February 18, former UN arms inspector and Marine officer Scott Ritter (who was totally on target before the Iraq War on that country's lack of weapons of mass destruction) claimed that the president has already "signed off" on plans to bomb Iran in June in order to destroy its alleged nuclear weapons program and eventually bring about "regime change." This does not necessarily mean an automatic green light for a large attack in June, but it may signal the president's seriousness about this option.

So, again, against the background of what we have witnessed over the past four years, and the troubling fact that the circle of second-term presidential advisers has become even tighter, we do well to inject a strong note of urgency into any discussion of the "Iranian option."

Why Would Iran Want Nukes?

So why would Iran think it has to acquire nuclear weapons? Sen. Richard Lugar, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was asked this on a Sunday talk show a few months ago. Apparently having a senior moment, he failed to give the normal answer. Instead, he replied, "Well, you know, Israel has..." At that point, he caught himself and abruptly stopped.

Recovering quickly and realizing that he could not just leave the word "Israel" hanging there, Lugar began again: "Well, Israel is alleged to have a nuclear capability."

Is alleged to have…? Lugar is chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and yet he doesn't know that Israel has, by most estimates, a major nuclear arsenal, consisting of several hundred nuclear weapons? (Mainstream newspapers are allergic to dwelling on this topic, but it is mentioned every now and then, usually buried in obscurity on an inside page.)

Just imagine how the Iranians and Syrians would react to Lugar's disingenuousness. Small wonder our highest officials and lawmakers -- and Lugar, remember, is one of the most decent among them -- are widely seen abroad as hypocritical. Our media, of course, ignore the hypocrisy. This is standard operating procedure when the word "Israel" is spoken in this or other unflattering contexts. And the objections of those appealing for a more balanced approach are quashed.

If the truth be told, Iran fears Israel at least as much as Israel fears the internal security threat posed by the thugs supported by Tehran. Iran's apprehension is partly fear that Israel (with at least tacit support from the Bush administration) will send its aircraft to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities, just as American-built Israeli bombers destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981. As part of the current war of nerves, recent statements by the president and vice president can be read as giving a green light to Israel to do just that; while Israeli Air Force commander Major General Eliezer Shakedi told reporters on February 21 that Israel must be prepared for an air strike on Iran "in light of its nuclear activity."

US-Israel Nexus

The Iranians also remember how Israel was able to acquire and keep its nuclear technology. Much of it was stolen from the United States by spies for Israel. As early as the late-1950s, Washington knew Israel was building the bomb and could have aborted the project. Instead, American officials decided to turn a blind eye and let the Israelis go ahead. Now Israel's nuclear capability is truly formidable. Still, it is a fact of strategic life that a formidable nuclear arsenal can be deterred by a far more modest one, if an adversary has the means to deliver it. (Look at North Korea's success with, at best, a few nuclear weapons and questionable means of delivery in deterring the "sole remaining superpower in the world.") And Iran already has missiles with the range to hit Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Sharon has for some time appeared eager to enlist Washington's support for an early "pre-emptive" strike on Iran. Indeed, American defense officials have told reporters that visiting Israeli officials have been pressing the issue for the past year and a half. And the Israelis are now claiming publicly that Iran could have a nuclear weapon within six months -- years earlier than the Defense Intelligence Agency estimate mentioned above.

In the past, President Bush has chosen to dismiss unwelcome intelligence estimates as "guesses" -- especially when they threatened to complicate decisions to implement the neoconservative agenda. It is worth noting that several of the leading neocons – Richard Perle, chair of the Defense Policy Board (2001-03); Douglas Feith, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy; and David Wurmser, Middle East adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney -- actually wrote policy papers for the Israeli government during the 1990s. They have consistently had great difficulty distinguishing between the strategic interests of Israel and those of the US -- at least as they imagine them.

As for President Bush, over the past four years he has amply demonstrated his preference for the counsel of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who, as Gen. Scowcroft said publicly, has the president "wrapped around his little finger." (As Chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board until he was unceremoniously removed at the turn of the year, Scowcroft was in a position to know.) If Scowcroft is correct in also saying that the president has been "mesmerized" by Sharon, it seems possible that the Israelis already have successfully argued for an attack on Iran.

When "Regime Change" Meant Overthrow For Oil

To remember why the United States is no favorite in Tehran, one needs to go back at least to 1953 when the U.S. and Great Britain overthrew Iran's democratically elected Premier Mohammad Mossadeq as part of a plan to insure access to Iranian oil. They then emplaced the young Shah in power who, with his notorious secret police, proved second to none in cruelty. The Shah ruled from 1953 to 1979. Much resentment can build up over a whole generation. His regime fell like a house of cards, when supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini rose up to do some regime change of their own.

Iranians also remember Washington's strong support for Saddam Hussein's Iraq after it decided to make war on Iran in 1980. U.S. support for Iraq (which included crucial intelligence support for the war and an implicit condoning of Saddam's use of chemical weapons) was perhaps the crucial factor in staving off an Iranian victory. Imagine then, the threat Iranians see, should the Bush administration succeed in establishing up to 14 permanent military bases in neighboring Iraq. Any Iranian can look at a map of the Middle East (including occupied Iraq) and conclude that this administration might indeed be willing to pay the necessary price in blood and treasure to influence what happens to the black gold under Iranian as well as Iraqi sands. And with four more years to play with, a lot can be done along those lines. The obvious question is: How to deter it? Well, once again, Iran can hardly be blind to the fact that a small nation like North Korea has so far deterred U.S. action by producing, or at least claiming to have produced, nuclear weapons.

Nuclear Is the Nub

The nuclear issue is indeed paramount, and we would do well to imagine and craft fresh approaches to the nub of the problem. As a start, I'll bet if you made a survey, only 20% of Americans would answer "yes" to the question, "Does Israel have nuclear weapons?" That is key, it seems to me, because at their core Americans are still fair-minded people.

On the other hand, I'll bet that 95% of the Iranian population would answer, "Of course Israel has nuclear weapons; that's why we Iranians need them" -- which was, of course, the unmentionable calculation that Senator Lugar almost conceded. "And we also need them," many Iranians would probably say, "in order to deter ‘the crazies' in Washington. It seems to be working for the North Koreans, who, after all, are the other remaining point on President Bush's ‘axis of evil.'"

The ideal approach would, of course, be to destroy all nuclear weapons in the world and ban them for the future, with a very intrusive global inspection regime to verify compliance. A total ban is worth holding up as an ideal, and I think we must. But this approach seems unlikely to bear fruit over the next four years. So what then?

A Nuclear-Free Middle East

How about a nuclear-free Middle East? Could the US make that happen? We could if we had moral clarity -- the underpinning necessary to bring it about. Each time this proposal is raised, the Syrians, for example, clap their hands in feigned joyful anticipation, saying, "Of course such a pact would include Israel, right?" The issue is then dropped from all discussion by U.S. policymakers. Required: not only moral clarity but also what Thomas Aquinas labeled the precondition for all virtue, courage. In this context, courage would include a refusal to be intimidated by inevitable charges of anti-Semitism.

The reality is that, except for Israel, the Middle East is nuclear free. But the discussion cannot stop there. It is not difficult to understand why the first leaders of Israel, with the Holocaust experience written indelibly on their hearts and minds, and feeling surrounded by perceived threats to the fledgling state's existence, wanted the bomb. And so, before the Syrians or Iranians, for example, get carried away with self-serving applause for the nuclear-free Middle East proposal, they will have to understand that for any such negotiation to succeed it must have as a concomitant aim the guarantee of an Israel able to live in peace and protect itself behind secure borders. That guarantee has got to be part of the deal.

That the obstacles to any such agreement are formidable is no excuse not trying. But the approach would have to be new and everything would have to be on the table. Persisting in a state of denial about Israel's nuclear weapons is dangerously shortsighted; it does nothing but aggravate fears among the Arabs and create further incentive for them to acquire nuclear weapons of their own.

A sensible approach would also have to include a willingness to engage the Iranians directly, attempt to understand their perspective, and discern what the United States and Israel could do to alleviate their concerns.

Preaching to Iran and others about not acquiring nuclear weapons is, indeed, like the village drunk preaching sobriety -- the more so as our government keeps developing new genres of nuclear weapons and keeps looking the other way as Israel enhances its own nuclear arsenal. Not a pretty moral picture, that. Indeed, it reminds me of the Scripture passage about taking the plank out of your own eye before insisting that the speck be removed from another's.

Lessons from the Past...Like Mutual Deterrence

Has everyone forgotten that deterrence worked for some 40 years, while for most of those years the U.S. and the USSR had not by any means lost their lust for ever-enhanced nuclear weapons? The point is simply that, while engaging the Iranians bilaterally and searching for more imaginative nuclear-free proposals, the U.S. might adopt a more patient interim attitude regarding the striving of other nation states to acquire nuclear weapons -- bearing in mind that the Bush administration's policies of "preemption" and "regime change" themselves create powerful incentives for exactly such striving. As was the case with Iraq two years ago, there is no imminent Iranian strategic threat to Americans -- or, in reality, to anyone. Even if Iran acquired a nuclear capability, there is no reason to believe that it would risk a suicidal first strike on Israel. That, after all, is what mutual deterrence is all about; it works both ways.

It is nonetheless clear that the Israelis' sense of insecurity -- however exaggerated it may seem to those of us thousands of miles away -- is not synthetic but real. The Sharon government appears to regard its nuclear monopoly in the region as the only effective "deterrence insurance" it can buy. It is determined to prevent its neighbors from acquiring the kind of capability that could infringe on the freedom it now enjoys to carry out military and other actions in the area. Government officials have said that Israel will not let Iran acquire a nuclear weapon; it would be folly to dismiss this as bravado. The Israelis have laid down a marker and mean to follow through -- unless the Bush administration assumes the attitude that "preemption" is an acceptable course for the United States but not for Israel. It seems unlikely that the neoconservatives would take that line. Rather…

"Israel Is Our Ally."

Or so said our president before the cameras on February 17, 2005. But I didn't think we had a treaty of alliance with Israel; I don't remember the Senate approving one. Did I miss something?

Clearly, the longstanding U.S.-Israeli friendship and the ideals we share dictate continuing support for Israel's defense and security. It is quite another thing, though, to suggest the existence of formal treaty obligations that our country does not have. To all intents and purposes, our policymakers -- from the president on down -- seem to speak and behave on the assumption that we do have such obligations toward Israel. A former colleague CIA analyst, Michael Scheuer, author of Imperial Hubris, has put it this way: "The Israelis have succeeded in lacing tight the ropes binding the American Gulliver to Israel and its policies."

An earlier American warned:

"A passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation facilitates the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, infuses into one the enmities of the other, and betrays the former into participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification.... It also gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens, who devote themselves to the favorite nation, facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country." (George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796)

In my view, our first president's words apply only too aptly to this administration's lash-up with the Sharon government. As responsible citizens we need to overcome our timidity about addressing this issue, lest our fellow Americans continue to be denied important information neglected or distorted in our domesticated media.

Ray McGovern served as a CIA analyst for 27 years -- from the administration of John F. Kennedy to that of George H. W. Bush. During the early 1980s, he was one of the writers/editors of the President's Daily Brief and briefed it one-on-one to the president's most senior advisers. He also chaired National Intelligence Estimates. In January 2003, he and four former colleagues founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Income inequality in the US

According to Kash Mansori, a lot of it can be attributed to "technological change".

"Specifically, over the past 20 years we’ve seen technological advances (read computers) that give well-educated workers an increasing advantage over poorly educated workers. Put another way, technology has been more and more able to substitute for low-skill workers. There are other factors as well, but the lion’s share of the blame seems to belong to technology."

U.S. Cites Array of Rights Abuses by the Iraqi Government in 2004

U.S. Cites Array of Rights Abuses by the Iraqi Government in 2004
International Herald Tribune

ASHINGTON, Feb. 28 - The State Department on Monday detailed an array of human rights abuses last year by the Iraqi government, including torture, rape and illegal detentions by police officers and functionaries of the interim administration that took power in June.

In the Bush administration's bluntest description of human rights transgressions by the American-supported government, the report said the Iraqis "generally respected human rights, but serious problems remained" as the government and American-led foreign forces fought a violent insurgency. It cited "reports of arbitrary deprivation of life, torture, impunity, poor prison conditions - particularly in pretrial detention facilities - and arbitrary arrest and detention."

The lengthy discussion came in a chapter on Iraq in the department's annual report on human rights, which pointedly criticized not only countries that had been found chronically deficient, like North Korea, Syria and Iran, but also some close American allies, including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

The allegations of abuses by an Iraqi government installed by the United States and still heavily influenced by it provided an unusual element to the larger report. The report did not address incidents in Iraq in which Americans were involved, like the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, which came to light in 2004.

A senior State Department official said the criticism of Iraq was in keeping with the administration's approach. "What it shows is that we don't look the other way," the official said. "There are countries we support and that are friends, and when they have practices that don't meet international standards, we don't hesitate to call a spade a spade."

The official said Iraqi officials accepted that there had been problems and were correcting their practices. "The Iraqis are not in denial on this," the official added.

The report emphasized the larger accomplishments of the Iraqi people, as symbolized by the successful elections of Jan. 30. But it gave extensive details about complaints that the government had violated human rights provisions of the transitional law put in place by the United States and the Iraqi Governing Council shortly after the 2003 invasion.

These included reports that police officers in Basra were involved in killing 10 Baath Party members; that the police in Baghdad arrested, interrogated and killed 12 kidnappers of three police officers on Oct. 16, 2004, and that corruption was a problem at every level of government.

The document cited without comment a report by Human Rights Watch, an independent advocacy group, that "torture and ill treatment of detainees by police was commonplace," allegedly including "beatings with cables and hosepipes, electric shocks to their earlobes and genitals, food and water deprivation."

In one case, the report said, enough evidence had been gathered "to prosecute police officers in Baghdad who were systematically raping and torturing female detainees." Two of them received prison sentences, while four were demoted and reassigned.

Prison conditions in Iraq had shown "significant improvement" after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the department said, but many prisons still fell short of international standards.

There were also reports of police officers making false arrests to extort money from the families of detainees, and of an Iraqi ministry having members of a political party arrested in order to occupy their offices. "Reportedly," the document said, "coerced confessions and interrogation continued to be the favored method of investigation by police."

The broader annual report, which is required by Congress and is formally titled the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, described rights abuses in other allied countries in notably tough language.

The report said that the Saudi record of abuses in 2004 "far exceeds the advances," that Egypt's and Pakistan's records were poor, and that Jordan had "many problems." It criticized all four countries over allegations of abusing and torturing prisoners.

But the document also struck optimistic notes at times. It cited the success of democratic elections in Afghanistan, Iraq and Ukraine, and suggested that developments in those places, coming as President Bush continued to promote democracy as a counter to terrorism, might be helping to embolden people elsewhere to shed a hopelessness about change.

In much of the broader Middle East, "people are increasingly conscious of the freedom deficit in the region," Under Secretary Paula J. Dobriansky said in introducing the report.

The official attention paid to Egypt and Saudi Arabia is not new, but some of the language in the report was unexpectedly sharp. In Saudi Arabia, for example, it said: "There were credible reports of torture and abuse of prisoners by security forces, arbitrary arrests and incommunicado detentions. The religious police continued to intimidate, abuse and detain citizens and foreigners. Most trials were closed."

Egypt, it said, restricted many basic rights, and its security forces continued to mistreat prisoners, leading to at least 10 deaths in custody.

The report on Iraq also covered the year in which the prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib were uncovered.

An acting assistant secretary of state, Michael G. Kozak, was asked Monday how that scandal had affected the administration's latest evaluation. "Look," he said, "the events at Abu Ghraib were a stain on the honor of the U.S.; there's no two ways about it."

What mattered, he said, was whether a government worked to redress the abuses that do occur. "I think you've seen the U.S. being very active," he said.

The report, coming days after some critics suggested that President Bush had been insufficiently tough with President Vladimir V. Putin, listed several complaints about Russia. It criticized the central government's consolidation of power at the expense of the regions, its restriction of news media, and its allowing of political pressure to taint the judiciary.

It said China, which has a growing commercial relationship with the United States, continued to abuse prisoners, harass activists and restrict religious practices.

North Korea was condemned for continued "brutal and repressive" treatment of its people; Iran for allowing citizen's freedom to "deteriorate;" and Syria for widespread use of torture, poor prison conditions and mass arrests of Kurds.

Sudan's human rights record was called extremely poor, both for restricting freedoms and for the continuing violence by government-linked militias in Darfur Province.

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