Inspect, Don't Invade

Colin Powell put his reputation on the line to give George W. Bush the war he so desperately wants. Bush's poll numbers soar when the talk is about fighting terrorism but the numbers tank when the talk is about the economy, so despite the fact that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were enemies before 9/11 and despite the advice of the CIA as well as French and German diplomats that pressing for war in Iraq would inflame Islamic radicals worldwide, the US secretary of state soldiered on for the boss in his presentation to the United Nations Security Council.

If the polls are to be believed, Powell succeeded in convincing a majority of Americans that war with Iraq is justified. He was less convincing with the rest of the world, but Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have made it clear that the US will go it alone if necessary to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein and his "weapons of mass destruction" (and gain control of Iraq's oilfields in the process).

We wish we could believe that invading Iraq would solve the problems. More likely the bombing of Baghdad and other parts of Iraq to clear the way for the invasion will kill tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi people, create hundreds of thousands of refugees, plunge the Middle East into chaos and expand the radical Islamic jihad against the western world.

US officials keep talking about the crisis of credibility with the Security Council, where France threatens to veto military intervention, and with NATO, after France, Germany and Belgium blocked the alliance from reinforcing Turkey in anticipation of a counterattack from Iraq. We should be concerned with US credibility as Bush preposterously claims he has not made up his mind on going to war, Rumsfeld repeatedly insults French and German efforts at resolving the crisis through diplomacy and Powell not only undermines UN inspection efforts but he strains to link secularist Saddam and the Islamic fanatics of Al Qaeda when more credible Al Qaeda links lead to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Kuwait and Qatar, our supposed allies.

Powell also overreached when he described a "poison factory" run by Ansar al Islam, the militant group that Powell linked both to Saddam and to Al Qaeda. Reporters who toured the "poison factory" found a primitive collection of buildings without plumbing and powered only by a small generator. And it's in Kurdish territory in northern Iraq, which is not controlled by Saddam, whom Ansar al Islam oppose for his secular views.

The US has no use for the UN or NATO when they refuse to follow Bush's bellicose lead. Our government continues to oppose the International Criminal Court, which 89 nations, including Afghanistan, have set up to prosecute war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. It seems as if the only international organization whose prerogatives the Bush administration respects is the sovereignty-snatching World Trade Organization.

As we wait for the jihad to strike again we learn that the Bush administration is preparing a sequel to the USA PATRIOT Act that would grant the government even broader powers to increase domestic intelligence-gathering and surveillance while restricting access to information and limiting judicial review. The Center for Public Integrity obtained a copy of the draft legislation, labeled "confidential," and posted it at its web site (www.publicintegrity.org) along with an analysis.

Rumors about the bill, entitled the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, had circulated around the Capitol for months, but Democratic staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee who inquired about the measure were told as recently as the week before it was leaked that no such legislation was being planned. Spokeswoman Barbara Comstock later told the Associated Press the Justice Department is "continually considering anti-terrorism measures and would be derelict if we were not doing so."

The original PATRIOT Act, passed by Congress in the hysteria following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, sidestepped the Bill of Rights as it gave the government broad new powers to use wiretaps, electronic and computer eavesdropping, searches and the authority to obtain a wide range of other information in its investigations.

According to the Center, PATRIOT II would, among other things, prohibit disclosure of information regarding people detained as terrorist suspects (allowing them to be "disappeared" into the Homeland Security gulag) and prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from distributing information to the public about nearby companies' use of chemicals (gutting the right to know about dangerous pollutants).

In addition, the measure would create a DNA database of "suspected terrorists;" force suspects to prove why they should be released on bail, rather than have the prosecution prove why they should be held; and allow the deportation of US citizens who the government believes have ties to terrorist groups.

Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said the legislation "turns the Bill of Rights completely on its head" and "constitutes yet another egregious blow to our citizens' civil liberties." Bush and Ashcroft apparently were waiting until the next terrorist attack to spring it on Congress. Send pre-emptive contacts to your Congress members to stand up for civil liberties. The rights you save may be your own!

Save the paper ballot

Election officials in many jurisdictions are too quick to throw out paper ballots as voting becomes increasingly automated. Computers are wonderful machines, but they can be manipulated in ways the casual observer might never suspect. Voters should be very alarmed that voting machine manufacturers tout their products without assurances that votes will produce audit trails in case of disputed elections.

Thom Hartmann details a few of those concerns in his article on page 20. Bev Harris, author of Black Box Voting, Ballot Tampering in the 21st Century, to be published in May, writes on her web site (www.blackboxvoting.com) that voting machine manufacturers and testing labs are salted with vested interests, including active politicians such as Sen. Chuck Hagel, corporate lobbyists and people who have been prosecuted on charges of bribery and fraud. They are using lobbying and political influence to influence purchase of machines and specifications and regulations of their operation.

Computerized machines may make vote rigging possible on a scale unimaginable to political bosses of generations past. "It's hard to stuff more than a dozen ballot boxes in your trunk, and it's nigh-on impossible to get 100,000 dead people to vote," Harris wrote. "But with these machines, we sometimes lose hundreds of thousands of votes in a single city!"

Rebecca Mercuri, an assistant professor of computer science at Bryn Mawr College and another critic of electronic voting, also strongly recommends that election officials refrain from procuring any system that does not provide an indisputable paper ballot. See her writings at (www.notablesoftware.com/evote.html).

Voters should demand that election officials reject "proprietary" contracts which are supposed to protect "trade secrets" but also prohibit a thorough inspection of voting machines, including computer code, by public advocates. Most important, voters should demand of their election officials that computerized voting produce paper ballots to back up the electronic voting and allow a recount of suspicious election results. All it takes is a printer connected to the computer to produce a printout of the ballot, which the voter can inspect and then place in the ballot box. In case of a voting discrepancy, election judges can not only run the numbers on the computer again, but they can haul out the paper ballots, count them and see if the results match.

As writer Lynn Landes wrote last September, "when it comes to elections in America, assume crooks are in control and then act accordingly." (See EcoTalk.org/VotingSecurity.htm.) Demand a paper ballot trail. -- JMC

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