Archive for the ‘Terrorists’ Category

Current U.S. strategy against the terrorist group al Qaida has not been successful in significantly undermining the group’s capabilities, according to a new RAND Corporation study issued today.

Al Qaida has been involved in more terrorist attacks since Sept. 11, 2001, than it was during its prior history and the group’s attacks since then have spanned an increasingly broader range of targets in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa, according to researchers.

In looking at how other terrorist groups have ended, the RAND study found that most terrorist groups end either because they join the political process, or because local police and intelligence efforts arrest or kill key members. Police and intelligence agencies, rather than the military, should be the tip of the spear against al Qaida in most of the world, and the United States should abandon the use of the phrase “war on terrorism,” researchers concluded.

“The United States cannot conduct an effective long-term counterterrorism campaign against al Qaida or other terrorist groups without understanding how terrorist groups end,” said Seth Jones, the study’s lead author and a political scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “In most cases, military force isn’t the best instrument.”

The comprehensive study analyzes 648 terrorist groups that existed between 1968 and 2006, drawing from a terrorism database maintained by RAND and the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism. The most common way that terrorist groups end — 43 percent — was via a transition to the political process. However, the possibility of a political solution is more likely if the group has narrow goals, rather than a broad, sweeping agenda like al Qaida possesses.

The second most common way that terrorist groups end — 40 percent — was through police and intelligence services either apprehending or killing the key leaders of these groups. Policing is especially effective in dealing with terrorists because police have a permanent presence in cities that enables them to efficiently gather information, Jones said.

Military force was effective in only 7 percent of the cases examined; in most instances, military force is too blunt an instrument to be successful against terrorist groups, although it can be useful for quelling insurgencies in which the terrorist groups are large, well-armed and well-organized, according to researchers. In a number of cases, the groups end because they become splintered, with members joining other groups or forming new factions. Terrorist groups achieved victory in only 10 percent of the cases studied.

Jones says the study has crucial implications for U.S. strategy in dealing with al Qaida and other terrorist groups. Since al Qaida’s goal is the establishment of a pan-Islamic caliphate, a political solution or negotiated settlement with governments in the Middle East is highly unlikely. The terrorist organization also has made numerous enemies and does not enjoy the kind of mass support received by other organizations such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, largely because al Qaida has not engaged in sponsoring any welfare services, medical clinics, or hospitals.

The study recommends the United States should adopt a two-front strategy: rely on policing and intelligence work to root out the terrorist leaders in Europe, North America, Asia and the Middle East, and involve military force — though not necessarily the U.S. military — when insurgencies are involved.

The United States also should avoid the use of the term, “war on terror,” and replace it with the term “counterterrorism.” Nearly every U.S. ally, including the United Kingdom and Australia, has stopped using “war on terror,” and Jones said it’s more than a mere matter of semantics.

“The term we use to describe our strategy toward terrorists is important, because it affects what kinds of forces you use,” Jones said. “Terrorists should be perceived and described as criminals, not holy warriors, and our analysis suggests that there is no battlefield solution to terrorism.”

Among the other findings, the study notes:

  • Religious terrorist groups take longer to eliminate than other groups. Since 1968, approximately 62 percent of all terrorist groups have ended, while only 32 percent of religious terrorist groups have done so.
  • No religious terrorist group has achieved victory since 1968.
  • Size is an important predictor of a groups’ fate. Large groups of more than 10,000 members have been victorious more than 25 percent of the time, while victory is rare when groups are smaller than 1,000 members.
  • There is no statistical correlation between the duration of a terrorist group and ideological motivation, economic conditions, regime type or the breadth of terrorist goals.
  • Terrorist groups that become involved in an insurgency do not end easily. Nearly 50 percent of the time they end with a negotiated settlement with the government, 25 percent of the time they achieved victory and 19 percent of the time, military groups defeated them.
  • Terrorist groups from upper-income countries are much more likely to be left-wing or nationalistic, and much less likely to be motivated by religion.

“The United States has the necessary instruments to defeat al Qaida, it just needs to shift its strategy and keep in mind that terrorist groups are not eradicated overnight,” Jones said.

The study, “How Terrorist Groups End: Lessons for Countering al Qaida,” can be found at http://www.rand.org.

The report was prepared by the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center that does research for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the unified commands and other defense agencies.

Read the excellent commentary at The Existentialist Cowboy – one of our FAVORITES!

Earlier this year, after former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto was tragically assassinated, pundits speculated that the shocking attack may have benefited Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) politically. Now, McCain’s chief strategist, Charlie Black, tells Fortune that the “unfortunate event” of Bhutto’s death “helped us.” Asked if another terrorist attack on U.S. soil would help McCain as well, Black told Fortune that it would be “a big advantage to him“:

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December was an “unfortunate event,” says Black. “But his knowledge and ability to talk about it reemphasized that this is the guy who’s ready to be Commander-in-Chief. And it helped us.” As would, Black concedes with startling candor after we raise the issue, another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. “Certainly it would be a big advantage to him,” says Black.

From ThinkProgress.org

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Former terrorist suspects detained by the United States were tortured, according to medical examinations detailed in a report released Wednesday by a human rights group.

The Massachusetts-based Physicians for Human Rights reached that conclusion after two-day clinical evaluations of 11 former detainees, who had been held at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Afghanistan.

The detainees were never charged with crimes.

“We found clear physical and psychological evidence of torture and abuse, often causing lasting suffering,” said Dr. Allen Keller, a medical evaluator for the study.

In a 121-page report, the doctors’ group said that it uncovered medical evidence of torture, including beatings, electric shock, sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, sodomy and scores of other abuses.

The report is prefaced by retired U.S. Major Gen. Antonio Taguba, who led the Army’s investigation into the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal in 2003.

“There is no longer any doubt that the current administration committed war crimes,” Taguba says. “The only question is whether those who ordered torture will be held to account.”

Over the years, reports of abuses at Abu Ghraib and allegations of torture at Guantanamo prompted the Bush administration to deny that the U.S. military tortures detainees.

Since only 11 detainees were examined “the findings of this assessment cannot be generalized to the treatment of all detainees in U.S. custody,” the report says.

However, the incidents documented are consistent with findings of other investigations into government treatment, “making it reasonable to conclude that these detainees were not the only ones abused, but are representative of a much larger number of detainees subjected to torture and ill treatment while in U.S. custody.”

Four of the men evaluated were arrested in or taken to Afghanistan between late 2001 and early 2003 and later were sent to Guantanamo Bay, where they were held for an average of three years before being released without charge, the report says. The other seven were detained in Iraq in 2003 and released within a year, the report says.

All the subjects told examiners that they were subjected to multiple forms of torture or ill treatment that “often occurred in combination over a long period of time,” the report says.

While the report presents synopses of the detainees’ backgrounds based on interviews with them, the authors did not have access to the detainees’ medical histories. Therefore, there’s no way to know whether any of the inmates may have had medical or mental problems before being detained.

Among the ex-detainees was an Iraqi in his mid-40s, identified only as Laith, whom U.S. soldiers took into custody in October 2003 and who was released from Abu Ghraib in June 2004. According to the report, Laith was subjected to sleep deprivation, electric shocks and threats of sexual abuse to himself and his family.

“They took off even my underwear. They asked me to do some movements that make me look in a very bad way so they can take photographs. … They were trying to make me look like an animal,” Laith told examiners, according to the report.

According to the report, Laith said the most “painful” experiences involved threats to his family: “And they asked me, ‘Have you ever heard voices of women in this prison?’ I answered, ‘Yes.’ They were saying, ‘Then you will hear your mothers and sisters when we are raping them.’ ”

The examiners concluded in the report that “Laith appears to have suffered severe and lasting physical and psychological injuries as a result of his arrest and incarceration at Abu Ghraib prison.”

Another detainee, Youssef, was detained by U.S. soldiers nearly seven years ago when he tried to enter Afghanistan from neighboring Pakistan without a passport, the report says. He initially was held in an Afghan prison, where he describes “being stripped naked, being intimidated by dogs, being hooded and being thrown against the wall on repeated occasions,” the report says.

A few months later, he was taken to the Guantanamo Bay facility, where he was subjected to interrogators who would enter his cell and force him to lie on the floor with his hands tied behind his back to his feet, the report says.

Youssef said the interrogators wanted him to confess of involvement with the Taliban, the report says.

Based on its investigation, the report calls on the U.S. government to issue a formal apology to detainees subject to torture and ill treatment by the military since fall 2001 in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.

The rights group also demands that the Bush administration:

• “Repudiate all forms of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”;

• Establish an independent commission to investigate and report publicly the circumstances of detention and interrogation at U.S.-run prisons in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay;

• Hold individuals involved in torturing detainees accountable through criminal and civil processes; and

• Monitor thoroughly the conditions at U.S.-run prisons all over the world.

SPECIAL COMMENT
Keith Olbermann – ‘Countdown’

President Bush has resorted anew to the sleaziest fear-mongering and mass manipulation of an administration and public life dedicated to realizing the lowest of our expectations. And he has now applied these poisons to the 2008 presidential election, on behalf of the party at whose center he and John McCain lurk.

Mr. Bush has predicted that the election of a Democratic president could “eventually lead to another attack on the United States.” This ludicrous, infuriating, holier-than-thou and most importantly bone-headedly wrong statement came during a May 13 interview with Politico.com and online users of Yahoo.

The question was phrased as follows: “If we were to pull out of Iraq next year, what’s the worst that could happen, what’s the doomsday scenario?”

The president replied: “Doomsday scenario of course is that extremists throughout the Middle East would be emboldened, which would eventually lead to another attack on the United States. The biggest issue we face is, it’s bigger than Iraq, it’s this ideological struggle against cold-blooded killers who will kill people to achieve their political objectives.”

Mr. Bush, at long last, has it not dawned on you that the America you have now created, includes “cold-blooded killers who will kill people to achieve their political objectives?” They are those in — or formerly in — your employ, who may yet be charged some day with war crimes.

Through your haze of self-congratulation and self-pity, do you still have no earthly clue that this nation has laid waste to Iraq to achieve your political objectives? “This ideological struggle,” Mr. Bush, is taking place within this country.

It is a struggle between Americans who cherish freedom, ours and everybody else’s, and Americans like you, sir, to whom freedom is just a brand name, just like “Patriot Act” is a brand name or “Protect America” is a brand name.

But wait, there’s more: You also said “Iraq is the place where al-Qaida and other extremists have made their stand and they will be defeated.” They made no “stand” in Iraq, sir, you allowed them to assemble there!

As certainly as if that were the plan, the borders were left wide open by your government’s farcical post-invasion strategy of “they’ll greet us as liberators.” And as certainly as if that were the plan, the inspiration for another generation of terrorists in another country was provided by your government’s farcical post-invasion strategy of letting the societal infra-structure of Iraq dissolve, to be replaced by an American viceroy, enforced by merciless mercenaries who shoot unarmed Iraqis and then evade prosecution in any country by hiding behind your skirts, sir.

Terrorism inside Iraq is your creation, Mr. Bush!

***

It was a Yahoo user who brought up the second topic upon whose introduction Mr. Bush should have passed, or punted, or gotten up and left the room claiming he heard Dick Cheney calling him.

“Do you feel,” asked an ordinary American, “that you were misled on Iraq?”

“I feel like — I felt like, there were weapons of mass destruction,” the president said. “You know, ‘mislead’ is a strong word, it almost connotes some kind of intentional — I don’t think so, I think there was a — not only our intelligence community, but intelligence communities all across the world shared the same assessment. And so I was disappointed to see how flawed our intelligence was.”

Flawed.

You, Mr. Bush, and your tragically know-it-all minions, threw out every piece of intelligence that suggested there were no such weapons.

You, Mr. Bush, threw out every person who suggested that the sober, contradictory, reality-based intelligence needed to be listened to, fast.

You, Mr. Bush, are responsible for how “intelligence communities all across the world shared the same assessment.”

You and the sycophants you dredged up and put behind the most important steering wheel in the world propagated palpable nonsense and shoved it down the throat of every intelligence community across the world and punished anybody who didn’t agree it was really chicken salad.

And you, Mr. Bush, threw under the bus, all of the subsequent critics who bravely stepped forward later to point out just how much of a self-fulfilling prophecy you had embraced, and adopted as this country’s policy in lieu of, say, common sense.

The fiasco of pre-war intelligence, sir, is your fiasco.

You should build a great statue of yourself turning a deaf ear to the warnings of realists, while you are shown embracing the three-card monte dealers like Richard Perle and Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney.

That would be a far more fitting tribute to your legacy, Mr. Bush, than this presidential library you are constructing as a giant fable about your presidency, an edifice you might as claim was built from “Iraqi weapons of mass destruction” because there will be just as many of those inside your presidential library as there were inside Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

***

Of course if there is one overriding theme to this president’s administration it is the utter, always-failing, inability to know when to quit when it is behind. And so Mr. Bush answered yet another question about this layered, nuanced, wheels-within-wheels garbage heap that constituted his excuse for war.

“And so you feel that you didn’t have all the information you should have or the right spin on that information?”

“No, no,” replied the President. “I was told by people, that they had weapons of mass destruction …”

People? What people? The insane informant “Curveball?” The Iraqi snake-oil salesman Ahmed Chalabi? The American snake-oil salesman Dick Cheney?

“I was told by people that they had weapons of mass destruction, as were members of Congress, who voted for the resolution to get rid of Saddam Hussein.

“And of course, the political heat gets on and they start to run and try to hide from their votes.”

Mr. Bush, you destroyed the evidence that contradicted the resolution you jammed down the Congress’s throat, the way you jammed it down the nation’s throat. When required by law to verify that your evidence was accurate, you simply resubmitted it, with phrases amounting to “See, I done proved it,” virtually written in the margins in crayon.

You defied patriotic Americans to say “The Emperor Has No Clothes,” only with the stakes — as you and the mental dwarves in your employ put it — being a “mushroom cloud over an American city.”

And as a final crash of self-indulgent nonsense, when the incontrovertible truth of your panoramic and murderous deceit has even begun to cost your political party seemingly perpetual congressional seats in places like North Carolina and Mississippi, you can actually say with a straight face, sir, that for members of Congress “the political heat gets on and they start to run and try to hide from their votes” — while you greet the political heat and try to run and hide from your presidency, and your legacy — 4,000 of the Americans you were supposed to protect — dead in Iraq, with your only feeble, pathetic answer being, “I was told by people that they had weapons of mass destruction.”

***

Then came Mr. Bush’s final blow to our nation’s solar plexus, his last reopening of our common wounds, his last remark that makes the rest of us question not merely his leadership or his judgment but his very suitably to remain in office.

“Mr. President,” he was asked, “you haven’t been golfing in recent years. Is that related to Iraq?

“Yes,” began perhaps the most startling reply of this nightmarish blight on our lives as Americans on our history. “It really is. I don’t want some mom whose son may have recently died, to see the Commander in Chief playing golf. I feel I owe it to the families to be as — to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal.”

Golf, sir? Golf sends the wrong signal to the grieving families of our men and women butchered in Iraq? Do you think these families, Mr. Bush, their lives blighted forever, care about you playing golf? Do you think, sir, they care about you?

You, Mr. Bush, let their sons and daughters be killed. Sir, to show your solidarity with them you gave up golf? Sir, to show your solidarity with them you didn’t give up your pursuit of this insurance-scam, profiteering, morally and financially bankrupting war.

Sir, to show your solidarity with them you didn’t even give up talking about Iraq a subject about which you have incessantly proved without pause or backwards glance, that you may literally be the least informed person in the world?

Sir, to show your solidarity with them, you didn’t give up your presidency? In your own words “solidarity as best as I can” is to stop a game? That is the “best” you can do?

Four thousand Americans give up their lives and your sacrifice was to give up golf! Golf. Not “Gulf” — golf.

And still it gets worse. Because it proves that the president’s unendurable sacrifice, his unbearable pain, the suspension of getting to hit a stick with a ball, was not even his own damned idea.

“Mr. President, was there a particular moment or incident that brought you to that decision, or how did you come to that?”

“I remember when [diplomat Sergio Vieira] de Mello, who was at the U.N., got killed in Baghdad as a result of these murderers taking this good man’s life. And I was playing golf, I think I was in central Texas, and they pulled me off the golf course and I said, it’s just not worth it any more to do.”

Your one, tone-deaf, arrogant, pathetic, embarrassing gesture, and you didn’t even think of it yourself? The great Bushian sacrifice — an Army private loses a leg, a Marine loses half his skull, 4,000 of their brothers and sisters lose their lives — and you lose golf, and they have to pull you off the golf course to get you to just do that?

If it’s even true.

Apart from your medical files, which dutifully record your torn calf muscle and the knee pain which forced you to give up running at the same time — coincidence, no doubt — the bombing in Baghdad which killed Sergio Vieira de Mello of the U.N. and interrupted your round of golf was on Aug. 19, 2003.

Yet CBS News has records of you playing golf as late as Oct. 13 of that year, nearly two months later.

Mr. Bush, I hate to break it to you 6 1/2 years after you yoked this nation and your place in history to the wrong war, in the wrong place, against the wrong people, but the war in Iraq is not about you.

It is not, Mr. Bush, about your grief when American after American comes home in a box.

It is not, Mr. Bush, about what your addled brain has produced in the way of paranoid delusions of risks that do not exist, ready to be activated if some Democrat, and not your twin Mr. McCain, succeeds you.

The war in Iraq, your war, Mr. Bush, is about how you accomplished the derangement of two nations, and how you helped funnel billions of taxpayer dollars to lascivious and perennially thirsty corporations like Halliburton and Blackwater, and how you sent 4,000 Americans to their deaths for nothing.

It is not, Mr. Bush, about your golf game! And, sir, if you have any hopes that next Jan. 20 will not be celebrated as a day of soul-wrenching, heart-felt thanksgiving, because your faithless stewardship of this presidency will have finally come to a merciful end, this last piece of advice:

When somebody asks you, sir, about Democrats who must now pull this country back from the abyss you have placed us at …

When somebody asks you, sir, about the cooked books and faked threats you foisted on a sincere and frightened nation …

When somebody asks you, sir, about your gallant, noble, self-abdicating sacrifice of your golf game so as to soothe the families of the war dead.

This advice, Mr. Bush: Shut the hell up!

From a reader –

“Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives. I think we’re being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think I’m liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That’s what’s insane about it.” – John Lennon, before his murder by Mark David Chapman.

Please take the time to watch these videos – it’s what’s necessary for all of this to change.

Spread The Word

Please take a few minutes out of your busy day to read the latest anti-terrorism bill – presented by a Democrat. It has passed the House and is on its way to the Senate. The link to the bill is here.

As a wise observer just said, “Coming soon…political prisoners just like in China.”

If you need a movie to watch tonight, try “Minority Report” with Tom Cruise.

The president’s warmongering remarks on the Iranian threat suggest he is psychotic. Really.

 

October 25, 2007 – Los Angeles Times

Forget impeachment.

Liberals, put it behind you. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney shouldn’t be treated like criminals who deserve punishment. They should be treated like psychotics who need treatment.

Because they’ve clearly gone mad. Exhibit A: We’re in the middle of a disastrous war in Iraq, the military and political situation in Afghanistan is steadily worsening, and the administration’s interrogation and detention tactics have inflamed anti-Americanism and fueled extremist movements around the globe. Sane people, confronting such a situation, do their best to tamp down tensions, rebuild shattered alliances, find common ground with hostile parties and give our military a little breathing space. But crazy people? They look around and decide it’s a great time to start another war.

That would be with Iran, and you’d have to be deaf not to hear the war drums. Last week, Bush remarked that “if you’re interested in avoiding World War III . . . you ought to be interested in preventing [Iran] from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.” On Sunday, Cheney warned of “the Iranian regime’s efforts to destabilize the Middle East and to gain hegemonic power . . . [we] cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its most aggressive ambitions.” On Tuesday, Bush insisted on the need “to defend Europe against the emerging Iranian threat.”

Huh? Iran is now a major threat to Europe? The Iranians are going to launch a nuclear missile (that they don’t yet possess) against Europe (for reasons unknown because, as far as we know, they’re not mad at anyone in Europe)? This is lunacy in action.

Writing in Newsweek on Oct. 20, Fareed Zakaria, a solid centrist and former editor of Foreign Affairs, put it best. Citing Bush’s invocation of “the specter of World War III if Iran gained even the knowledge needed to make a nuclear weapon,” Zakaria concluded that “the American discussion about Iran has lost all connection to reality. . . . Iran has an economy the size of Finland’s. . . . It has not invaded a country since the late 18th century. The United States has a GDP that is 68 times larger and defense expenditures that are 110 times greater. Israel and every Arab country (except Syria and Iraq) are . . . allied against Iran. And yet we are to believe that Tehran is about to overturn the international system and replace it with an Islamo-fascist order? What planet are we on?”

Planet Cheney.

Zakaria may be misinterpreting the president’s remark about World War III though. He saw it as a dangerously loopy Bush prediction about the future behavior of a nuclear Iran — the idea being, presumably, that possessing “the knowledge” to make a nuclear weapon would so empower Iran’s repressive leaders that they’ll giddily rush out and start World War III.

But you could read Bush’s remark as a madman’s threat rather than a madman’s prediction — as a warning to recalcitrant states, from Germany to Russia, that don’t seem to share his crazed obsession with Iran. The message: Fall into line with administration policy toward Iran or you can count on the U.S.A. to try to start World War III on its own. And when it comes to sparking global conflagration, a U.S. attack on Iran might be just the thing. Yee haw!

You’d better believe these guys would do it too. Why not? They have nothing to lose — they’re out of office in 15 months anyway. Après Bush-Cheney, le déluge! (Have fun, Hillary.)

But all this creates a conundrum. What’s a constitutional democracy to do when the president and vice president lose their marbles?

The U.S. is full of ordinary people with serious forms of mental illness — delusional people with violent fantasies who think they’re the president, or who think they get instructions from the CIA through their dental fillings.

The problem with Bush is that he is the president — and he gives instructions to the CIA and military, without having to go through his dental fillings.

Impeachment’s not the solution to psychosis, no matter how flagrant. But despite their impressive foresight in other areas, the framers unaccountably neglected to include an involuntary civil commitment procedure in the Constitution.

Still, don’t lose hope. By enlisting the aid of mental health professionals and the court system, Congress can act to remedy that constitutional oversight. The goal: Get Bush and Cheney committed to an appropriate inpatient facility, where they can get the treatment they so desperately need. In Washington, the appropriate statutory law is already in place: If a “court or jury finds that [a] person is mentally ill and . . . is likely to injure himself or other persons if allowed to remain at liberty, the court may order his hospitalization.”

I’ll even serve on the jury. When it comes to averting World War III, it’s really the least I can do.

rbrooks@latimescolumnists.com

By Scott Ritter

Don’t worry, the White House is telling us. The world’s most powerful leader was simply making a rhetorical point. At a White House press conference last week, just in case you haven’t heard, President Bush informed the American people that he had told world leaders “if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing [Iran] from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.” World War III. That is certainly some rhetorical point, especially coming from the man singularly most capable of making such an event reality.

Pundits have raised their eyebrows and comics are busy writing jokes, but the president’s reference to Armageddon, no matter how cavalierly uttered and subsequently brushed away, suggests an alarming context. Some might note that the comment was simply an offhand response to a reporter’s question, the kind of free-thinking scenario that baffles Bush so. In a way, this makes what the president said even more disturbing, since we now have an insight into the vision, and related terminology, which hovers just below the horizon in the brain of George W. Bush.

When I was a weapons inspector with the United Nations, there was a jostling that took place at the end of each day, when decisions needed to be made and authorization documents needed to be signed. In an environment of competing agendas, each of us who championed a position sought to be the “last man in,” namely the person who got to imprint the executive chairman (our decision maker) with the final point of view for the day. Failure to do so could find an inspection or point of investigation sidetracked for days or weeks after the executive chairman became distracted by a competing vision. I understand the concept of “imprinting,” and have seen it in action. What is clear from the president’s remarks is that, far from an innocent rhetorical fumble, his words, and the context in which he employed them, are a clear indication of the imprinting which is taking place behind the scenes at the White House. If the president mentions World War III in the context of Iran’s nuclear program, one can be certain that this is the very sort of discussion that is taking place in the Oval Office.

A critical question, therefore, is who was the last person to “imprint” the president prior to his public allusion to World War III? During his press conference, Bush noted that he awaited the opportunity to confer with his defense secretary, Robert Gates, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice following their recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. So clearly the president hadn’t been imprinted recently by either of the principle players in the formulation of defense and foreign policy. The suspects, then, are quickly whittled down to three: National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, Vice President Dick Cheney, and God.

Hadley is a long-established neoconservative thinker who has for the most part operated “in the shadows” when it comes to the formulation of Iran policy in the Bush administration. In 2001, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, Hadley (then the deputy national security adviser) instituted what has been referred to as the “Hadley Rules,” a corollary of which is that no move will be made which alters the ideological positioning of Iran as a mortal enemy of the United States. These “rules” shut down every effort undertaken by Iran to seek a moderation of relations between it and the United States, and prohibited American policymakers from responding favorably to Iranian offers to assist with the fight against al-Qaida; they also blocked the grand offer of May 2003 in which Iran outlined a dramatic diplomatic initiative, including a normalization of relations with Israel. The Hadley Rules are at play today, in an even more nefarious manner, with the National Security Council becoming involved in the muzzling of former Bush administration officials who are speaking out on the issue of Iran. Hadley is blocking Flynt Leverett, formerly of the National Security Council, from publishing an Op-Ed piece critical of the Bush administration on the grounds that any insight into the machinations of policymaking (or lack thereof) somehow strengthens Iran’s hand. Leverett’s article would simply underscore the fact that the Bush administration has spurned every opportunity to improve relations with Iran while deliberately exaggerating the threat to U.S. interests posed by the Iranian theocracy.

The silencing of informed critics is in keeping with Hadley’s deliberate policy obfuscation. There is still no official policy in place within the administration concerning Iran. While a more sober-minded national security bureaucracy works to marginalize the hawkish posturing of the neocons, the administration has decided that the best policy is in fact no policy, which is a policy decision in its own right. Hadley has forgone the normal procedures of governance, in which decisions impacting the nation are written down, using official channels, and made subject to review and oversight by those legally and constitutionally mandated and obligated to do so. A policy of no policy results in secret policy, which means, according to Hadley himself, the Bush administration simply does whatever it wants to, regardless. In the case of Iran, this means pushing for regime change in Tehran at any cost, even if it means World War III.

But Hadley is simply a facilitator, bureaucratic “grease” to ease policy formulated elsewhere down the gullet of a national security infrastructure increasingly kept in the dark about the true intent of the Bush administration when it comes to Iran. With the Department of State and the Pentagon now considered unfriendly ground by the remaining hard-core neoconservative thinkers still in power, policy formulation is more and more concentrated in the person of Vice President Cheney and the constitutionally nebulous “Office of the Vice President.”

Cheney and his cohorts have constructed a never-never land of oversight deniability, claiming immunity from both executive and legislative checks and balances. With an unchallenged ability to classify anything and everything as secret, and then claim that there is no authority inherent in government to oversee that which has been thus classified, the Office of the Vice President has transformed itself into a free republic’s worst nightmare, assuming Caesar-like dictatorial authority over almost every aspect of American national security policy at home and abroad. From torture to illegal wiretapping, to arms control (or lack of it) to Iran, Dick Cheney is the undisputed center of policy power in America today. While there are some who will claim that in this time of post-9/11 crisis such a process of bureaucratic streamlining is essential for the common good, the reality is far different.

It is said that absolute power corrupts absolutely, and this has never been truer than in the case of Cheney. What Cheney is doing behind his shield of secrecy can be simply defined: planning and implementing a preemptive war of aggression. During the Nuremberg tribunal in the aftermath of World War II, the chief American prosecutor, Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, stated, “To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” Today, we have a vice president who articulates publicly about global conflict, and who speaks in not-so-veiled language about a looming Armageddon. If there is such a future for America and the world, let one thing be certain; World War III, as postulated by Dick Cheney, would be an elective war, and not a conflict of tragic necessity. This makes the crime even greater.

Sadly, Judge Jackson’s words are but an empty shell. The global community lacks a legally binding definition of what constitutes a war of aggression, or even an act of aggression. But that isn’t the point. America should never find itself in a position where it is being judged by the global community regarding the legality of its actions. Judge Jackson established a precedent of jurisprudence concerning aggression based upon American principles and values, something the international community endorsed. The fact that current American indifference to the rule of law prevents the international community from certifying a definition of criminality when it comes to aggression, whether it be parsed as “war” or simply an “act,” does not change the fact that the Bush administration, in the person of Dick Cheney, is actively engaged in the committing of the “supreme [war] crime,” which makes Cheney the supreme war criminal. If the world is not empowered to judge him as such, then let the mantle of judgment fall to the American people. Through their elected representatives in Congress, they should not only bring this reign of unrestrained abuse of power to an end, but ensure that such abuse never again is attempted by an American official by holding to account, to the full extent of the law, those who have trampled on the Constitution of the United States and the ideals and principles it enshrines.

But what use is the rule of law, even if fairly and properly implemented, if in the end he who is entrusted with executive power takes his instructions from an even higher authority? President Bush’s relationship with “God” (or that which he refers to as God) is a matter of public record. The president himself has stated that “God speaks through me” (he acknowledged this before a group of Amish in Pennsylvania in the summer of 2004). Exactly how God speaks through him, and what precisely God says, is not a matter of speculation. According to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, President Bush told him and others that “God told me to strike at al-Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did.” As such, at least in the president’s mind, God has ordered Bush to transform himself into a modern incarnation of St. Michael, smiting all that is evil before him. “We are in a conflict between good and evil. And America will call evil by its name,” the president told West Point cadets in a speech in 2002.

The matter of how and when an individual chooses to practice his faith, or lack thereof, is a deeply personal matter, one which should be kept from public discourse. For a president to so openly impose his personal religious beliefs, as Bush has done, on American policy formulation and implementation represents a fundamental departure from not only constitutional intent concerning the separation of church and state but also constitutional mandate concerning the imposition of checks and balances required by the American system of governance. The increasing embrace by this president of the notion of a unitary executive takes on an even more sinister aspect when one realizes that not only does the Bush administration seek to nullify the will of the people through the shackling of the people’s representatives in Congress, but that the president has forgone even the appearance of constitutional constraint by evoking the word of his personal deity, as expressed through his person, as the highest form of consultation on a matter as serious as war. As such, the president has made his faith, and how he practices it, a subject not only of public curiosity but of national survival.

That George W. Bush is a born-again Christian is not a national secret. Neither is the fact that his brand of Christianity, evangelicalism, embraces the notion of the “end of days,” the coming of the Apocalypse as foretold (so they say) in the Book of Revelations and elsewhere in the Bible. President Bush’s frequent reference to “the evil one” suggests that he not only believes in the Antichrist but actively proselytizes on the Antichrist’s physical presence on Earth at this time. If one takes in the writing and speeches of those in the evangelical community today concerning the “rapture,” the numerous references to the current situation in the Middle East, especially on the events unfolding around Iran and its nuclear program, make it very clear that, at least in the minds of these evangelicals, there is a clear link between the “end of days” prophesy and U.S.-Iran policy. That James Dobson, one of the most powerful and influential evangelical voices in America today, would be invited to the White House with like-minded clergy to discuss President Bush’s Iran policy is absurd unless one makes the link between Bush’s personal faith, the extreme religious beliefs of Dobson and the potential of Armageddon-like conflict (World War III). At this point, the absurd becomes unthinkable, except it is all too real.

Thomas Jefferson, one of our nation’s greatest founders, made the separation of church and state an underlying principle upon which the United States was built. This separation was all-inclusive, meaning that not only should government stay out of religion, but likewise religion should be excluded from government. “I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else where I was capable of thinking for myself,” Jefferson wrote in a letter to Francis Hopkinson in 1789. “Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent.” If only President Bush would abide by such wisdom, avoiding the addictive narcotic of religious fervor when carrying out the people’s business. Instead, he chooses as his drug one which threatens to destroy us all in a conflagration derived not from celestial intervention but individual ignorance and arrogance. Again Jefferson, in a letter written in 1825: “It is between fifty and sixty years since I read it [the Apocalypse], and I then considered it merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams.”

Nightmares, more aptly, unless something can be done to change the direction Bush and Dobson are taking us. The problem is that far too many Americans openly espouse not only the faith of George W. Bush but also the underlying philosophy which permits this faith to be intertwined with the governance of the land. “God bless America” has become a rallying cry for this crowd, and those too ignorant and/or afraid to speak out in opposition. If this statement has merit, what does it say for the 6.8 billion others in the world today who are not Americans? That God condemns them? The American embrace of divine destiny is not unique in history (one only has to recall that the belt buckles of the German army during World War II read “God is with us”). But for a nation born of the age of reason to collectively fall victim to the most base of fear-induced theology is a clear indication that America currently fails to live up to its founding principles. Rather than turning to Dobson and his ilk for guidance in these troubled times, Americans would be well served to reflect on President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, delivered in the middle of a horrific civil war which makes all of the conflict America finds itself in today pale in comparison:

“Both [North and South] read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other…. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes…. [T]hat He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?”

God is not on our side, or the side of any single nation or people. To believe such is the ultimate expression of national hubris. To invoke such, if one is a true believer, is to embrace sacrilege and heresy. This, of course, is an individual right, granted as an extension of religious freedom. But it is not a collective right, nor is it a right born of governance, especially in a land protected by the separation of church and state.

The issue of Iran is a national problem which requires a collective debate, discussion and dialogue inclusive of all the facts, and stripped of all ideology and theocracy which would seek to deny reasoned thought conducted within a framework of accepted laws and ideals. It is grossly irresponsible of an American president to invoke the imagery of World War III without first sharing with the American people the framework of thought that produced such a comparison. Such openness will not be forthcoming from this administration or president. Not in the form of Stephen Hadley’s policy of no policy, designed with intent to avoid and subvert both bureaucratic and legislative process and oversight, or Dick Cheney’s secret government within a government, operating above and beyond the law and in a manner which violates both legal and moral norms and values, and certainly not in the president’s own private conversations with “God,” either directly or through the medium of lunatic evangelicals who embrace the termination of all we stand for, and especially the future of our next generation, in a fiery holocaust born from the fraudulent writings of centuries past. The processes which compelled George W. Bush to speak of a World War III are intentionally not transparent to the American people. The president has much to explain, and it would be incumbent upon every venue of civic and public pressure to demand that such an explanation be forthcoming in the near future. The stakes regarding Iran have always been high, but never more so than when a nation’s leader invokes the end of days as a solution.

Scott Ritter is a former United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq.