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Thursday, April 27, 2006


Remember the Rendon Group? They have long been a CIA and Defense Department contractor, helping to sell wars that America favors for one reason or another.

Rendon essentially created the Iraqi National Congress and then worked with INC-produced "defectors" to help create the myth that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Under the Iraq Liberation Act, Congress created a nice pot of money to make all this possible.

Journalist Jack Fairweather reveals more detail about the INC's and Rendon's shady operations in the March/April 2006 Mother Jones. Fairweather interviewed a former INC official he pseudonymously calls "Haider," who more than debunks the story of General Jamal al-Ghurairy.

Ghurairy had granted an anonymous interview to PBS's "Frontline" on November 6, 2001, describing the infamous "Salman Pak" training facility, where Iraqis and various foreign nationals allegedly practiced airline hijackings. A New York Times reporter, Chris Hedges, was also present and he too bought the general's story:
"These Islamic radicals were a scruffy lot. They needed a lot of training, especially physical training. But from speaking with them it was clear they came from a variety of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt and Morocco. We were training these people to attack installations important to the United States. The gulf war never ended for Saddam Hussein. He is at war with the United States. We were repeatedly told this."
The tale was also in the White House's "A Decade of Deception and Denial," September 12, 2002, which was used to launch the pro-war PR campaign.

Though the Salman Pak tale has previously been debunked, Fairweather details the extent of the ruse:
Unfortunately, the story was an elaborate scam. The purported general had indeed met with American intelligence agents in Turkey, but unbeknownst to Hedges the agents had dismissed his claims out of hand. What the reporters also didn’t know, and what has never before been reported, is that it now appears that the man himself was a fake. According to an ex-INC official, the Ghurairy who met with the Times and PBS was actually a former Iraqi sergeant, then living in Turkey and known by the code name Abu Zainab. The real Lt. General Ghurairy, it seems, had never left Iraq.
Fairweather interviewed the real general recently and identifies the imposter who portrayed him for the INC. Haider admits that "defectors" were often coached as to what "bullshit" (his word) to say.

Let's keep this kind of stuff in mind as the Iran debate proceeds.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Fox in the house

Maybe I'm just confused.

However, I was under the impression that the people at Fox News already served as spokespersons for the Bush administration.

Why would one of them want to take a pay cut?

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

After the fall

If the Phase II Senate report is ever issued, maybe it will include information from the recently retired former head of CIA covert operations in Europe, Tyler Drumheller. Sunday, he told Ed Bradley of "60 Minutes" a significant bit of news:
...the CIA had made a major intelligence breakthrough on Iraq’s nuclear program. Naji Sabri, Iraq’s foreign minister, had made a deal to reveal Iraq’s military secrets to the CIA. Drumheller was in charge of the operation.

"This was a very high inner circle of Saddam Hussein. Someone who would know what he was talking about," Drumheller says.

"You knew you could trust this guy?" Bradley asked.

"We continued to validate him the whole way through," Drumheller replied.

According to Drumheller, CIA Director George Tenet delivered the news about the Iraqi foreign minister at a high-level meeting at the White House, including the president, the vice president and Secretary of State Rice.

At that meeting, Drumheller says, "They were enthusiastic because they said, they were excited that we had a high-level penetration of Iraqis."

What did this high-level source tell him?

"He told us that they had no active weapons of mass destruction program," says Drumheller.

"So in the fall of 2002, before going to war, we had it on good authority from a source within Saddam's inner circle that he didn't have an active program for weapons of mass destruction?" Bradley asked.

"Yes," Drumheller replied.
Josh Marshall reports that Drumheller told him that he had been interviewed multiple times by both the Senate investigators and Robb-Silbermann -- but his story didn't make it into the reports!

Drumheller also confirms that the CIA was skeptical about the uranium from Africa story all along -- and says that friendly intelligence was used to support the policy of invading Iraq. Intelligence that doubted Iraqi WMD, such as the information from Saddam's inner circle, was simply ignored:
"It directly contradicts, though, what the president and his staff were telling us," Bradley remarked.

"The policy was set," Drumheller says. "The war in Iraq was coming. And they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy, to justify the policy."

...Once they [the administration] learned what it was the source had to say — that Saddam Hussein did not have the capability to wage nuclear war or have an active WMD program, Drumheller says, "They stopped being interested in the intelligence."

..."I think over time, people will look back on this and see this is going to be one of the great, I think, policy mistakes of all time."
It's a whopper all right.

Since I'm again blogging about Iraq's non-existent WMD, let me link to the Washington Post story revealing that the National Intelligence Council had concluded the Niger documents were phony -- weeks before the President mentioned the allegation in the State of the Union address in January 2003.
The council's reply, drafted in a January 2003 memo by the national intelligence officer for Africa, was unequivocal: The Niger story was baseless and should be laid to rest. Four U.S. officials with firsthand knowledge said in interviews that the memo, which has not been reported before, arrived at the White House as Bush and his highest-ranking advisers made the uranium story a centerpiece of their case for the rapidly approaching war against Iraq.
Maybe some of this can be investigated more thoroughly if Dems claim a majority of seats in at least one House of Congress after the midterm elections?

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Saturday, April 22, 2006


Do you have lots of CDs that you never play anymore?

Me too.

My wife and I got rid of a few some years ago when we hosted a "CD swap party" for some friends. It worked OK, but we needed a greater selection.

Last week, the New York Times had an article about Zunafish, a website for people wanting to trade their CDs (and DVDs, paperback books, etc.). I know this isn't a new idea, and competitors are a bit jealous of the latest coverage...but I decided to give it a try today.

I've already had some responses and at least one looks promising. You have to register to list the CDs you want to trade.

If anyone gave me a CD that I've listed...sorry. No offense intended. I'm listing virtually everything as "good" because the plastic cases have some minor scratches and I've actually played the disks over the years.

But I might play something else more now.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Busy week

This is the last week of school and I have a couple of stacks of papers to grade. Yesterday, I received the page proofs for a forthcoming article. My coauthor and I have 48 hours to turn that around.

It is also Grawemeyer week at the University of Louisville. Fiona Terry is a great guest and her public address was terrific, but job demands are currently fairly high.

Light blogging, right?

So, this seems like a good opportunity to point to some of my recent Duck of Minerva posts that you might enjoy:

"The foreign policy establishment" April 18, 2006, which is about the lack of dissent among mainstream foreign policymakers.

"Nowhere roads" April 12, 2006, concerning socialization and America's "car culture."

"Igor and Vlad: The Horror" March 27, 2006 about Vlad Putin's plagiarism.

"Sopranos" March 13, 2006 is about my read of this season's first episode of the popular TV show.

"What VP Cheney did not say about Iran" March 8, 2006 is about the Vice President's recent rhetoric on the Iranian threat.

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Saturday, April 15, 2006

Generals: Dump Rummy

These past couple of days, this blog has been receiving a lot of google search hits for some provocative search strings: "Generals against Rumsfeld," "Generals against Bush" or "Generals against the war."

These pertain, of course, to the recent press reports focusing on the anti-Rumsfeld comments made by a number of retired Generals. See this article from the NY Times as well as this one.

Yet, this is certainly not a new angle to the Iraq story. Rumsfeld resignation rumors go back to October 2003. Looking for more context?
I blogged "Generals Against the War" December 31, 2003

"Generals Against the War" again on May 9, 2004

See also these related entries:

"Another Republican/General Jumps Ship" May 5, 2004

"Zinni on Iraq" May 2, 2004
And don't forget about critics like General Wesley Clark, who was a 2004 presidential candidate, and General Brent Scowcroft.

President Bush has tried to minimize the problem by speaking out in support of the Defense Secretary. To my knowledge, he didn't say that Rumsfeld was doing a "heckuva job" -- well, not this time anyway. When Mike Brown was praised in those words, he was gone a week later.

Remember, in the words of Francois de La Rochefoucauld, "Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue."

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Friday, April 14, 2006

Baseball 2006: predicted mlb standings

This is a little late. Sorry.

AL East W L
New York 93 69
Boston 88 74
Toronto 82 80
Baltimore 74 88
Tampa Bay 71 91

AL Central W L
Cleveland 90 72
Minnesota 87 75
Chicago 86 76
Detroit 79 83
Kansas City 62 100

AL West W L
Oakland 95 67
Texas 83 79
Seattle 78 84
Los Angeles 79 83

NL East W L
New York 87 75
Philadelphia 86 76
Atlanta 85 77
Washington 73 89
Florida 69 93

NL Central W L
St. Louis 93 69
Chicago 85 77
Milwaukee 80 82
Houston 78 84
Cincinnati 76 86
Pittsburgh 75 87

NL West W L
Los Angeles 86 76
San Francisco 83 79
San Diego 80 82
Arizona 76 86
Colorado 71 91
AL ROY: Francisco Liriano (Min)
AL MVP: Victor Martinez (Cle)
AL Cy Young: Rich Harden (Oak)
AL Champs: Oakland A's

NL ROY: Jeremy Hermida (Flo)
NL MVP: Albert Pujols (StL)
NL Cy Young: Roy Oswalt (Hou)
NL Champs: St. Louis Cardinals

World Series: A's win in 6 games.

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Greatest story never sold

If any leader faced an imminent threat that he knew all about, it was Jesus. At his last supper, he not only forecast his own demise, he foretold the course of events that would very soon be upon him.

And when the attack was about to come, Jesus didn't preempt it. Luke 22:
47 While Jesus was still speaking, a crowd came up. It was led by Judas, one of the twelve apostles. He went over to Jesus and greeted him with a kiss.

48 Jesus asked Judas, "Are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?"

49 When Jesus' disciples saw what was about to happen, they asked, "Lord, should we attack them with a sword?"

50 One of the disciples even struck at the high priest's servant with his sword and cut off the servant's right ear.

51 "Enough of that!" Jesus said. Then he touched the servant's ear and healed it.
Earlier this week, Patrick pondered an interesting counterfactual concerning the immediate post 9/11 world. What if President Bush had reminded everyone that Jesus was the most influential figure in his life -- and that Jesus would have wanted the U.S. to turn the other cheek?

However absurd that may have seemed in autumn 2001, I'm wondering about 2006. The discussion about Iran is starting to sound a lot like the discussion about Iraq in 2002.

Clearly, even the threat of imminent death didn't turn Jesus into an Old Testament (Exodus 21) "eye for eye, tooth for tooth" kind of leader. Rather, upon being nailed to the cross, he cried out: "Father, forgive these people! They don't know what they're doing."

It's Maundy Thursday. Maybe some leaders in Washington will have an epiphany this weekend and realize that war and violence are not exactly recommended Christian practices.

Or don't they buy their own rhetoric?

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Realist fantasies?

I finally got around to reading "The Israel Lobby," a controversial piece published in the London Review of Books, March 23, 2006, by John Mearsheimer of University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard.

The article has been much-discussed and raises all sorts of interesting empirical claims and substantive arguments. Mearsheimer and Walt, recall, authored a much-read article in advance of the Iraq war arguing that the looming military confrontation was unnecessary -- and likely a bad idea.

Since they are realists who believe that most states behave according to realist logic most of the time, the Iraq war poses something of a puzzle. Why did the US go to war? Their answer: it served the purposes of the Israeli lobby. Domestic interests, acting virtually as foreign agents, took the US into war against Iraq.

Despite this remarkable claim, and others, I am most interested in the authors' great emphasis on public debate.

Controlling the public debate is one of "the Lobby's" central strategic purposes, according to Mearsheimer and Walt.
it strives to ensure that public discourse portrays Israel in a positive light, by repeating myths about its founding and by promoting its point of view in policy debates. The goal is to prevent critical comments from getting a fair hearing in the political arena.
The Lobby uses its influence to control debate in Congress as well.
The Lobby doesn’t want an open debate, of course, because that might lead Americans to question the level of support they provide. Accordingly, pro-Israel organisations work hard to influence the institutions that do most to shape popular opinion.
The authors provide some evidence that the Lobby manages to dominate think tanks and media outlets and is working to stifle open debate on college campuses.

Here's the punchline -- and remember they're supposed to be hard-nosed realists, not "fantasy theorists" interested in public deliberation:
the Lobby’s campaign to quash debate about Israel is unhealthy for democracy. Silencing sceptics by organising blacklists and boycotts – or by suggesting that critics are anti-semites – violates the principle of open debate on which democracy depends. The inability of Congress to conduct a genuine debate on these important issues paralyses the entire process of democratic deliberation. Israel’s backers should be free to make their case and to challenge those who disagree with them, but efforts to stifle debate by intimidation must be roundly condemned....

Although the Lobby remains a powerful force, the adverse effects of its influence are increasingly difficult to hide. Powerful states can maintain flawed policies for quite some time, but reality cannot be ignored for ever. What is needed is a candid discussion of the Lobby’s influence and a more open debate about US interests in this vital region. Israel’s well-being is one of those interests, but its continued occupation of the West Bank and its broader regional agenda are not. Open debate will expose the limits of the strategic and moral case for one-sided US support and could move the US to a position more consistent with its own national interest, with the interests of the other states in the region, and with Israel’s long-term interests as well.
A more complete version of this article is available at a Harvard website, as is a critique penned by Alan Dershowitz.

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Sunday, April 09, 2006

The vision thing

Today is the third anniversary of Iraqi Freedom Day. Recall, April 9 was the day a small group of U.S. soldiers helped a small group of Iraqis take down the statue of Saddam Hussein.

Let this date serve as yet another opportunity to re-examine the Bush Doctrine and the competence of the current administration.

Sy Hersh was on CNN earlier today explaining his latest New Yorker piece. President Bush is apparently thinking seriously about war with Iran:
"This White House believes that the only way to solve the problem is to change the power structure in Iran, and that means war," Hersh quotes an unidentified senior Pentagon adviser on the war on terror as saying.
CNN showed some footage of both Bush and Cheney making very hawkish comments about Iran.

So let's get this straight.

It was impossible to forecast the 9/11 attacks, despite the fact that the "system was blinking red," a potential hijacker was already in FBI custody, an agent (as well as Tom Clancy) had hypothesized something much like the very threat that played out, and a Presidential Daily Briefing in August 2001 was titled, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike In U.S."

It was impossible to forecast the potential effects of Hurricane Katrina, despite the fact that the President was briefed on the implications before the levies broke. And federal emergency management officials had at least since 2001 considered this one of the three most likely catastrophic natural disasters.

In contrast, it was possible to forecast in 2002 and 2003 that Iraq posed a "grave and gathering threat" to the U.S. -- despite the fact that it did not. Neither Bush nor Condi Rice wanted the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud, despite the fact that the IAEA, operating virtually unfettered in-country, had already dismissed the uranium-from-Africa story and visually inspected the uranium tubes and high power magnets. Also, numerous sources inside the U.S. government dismissed the severity of the alleged nuclear threat.

So why should anyone believe the Bush administration about the threat from Iran? The leaked intelligence suggests that Iran is a decade away from a bomb.

Not to mention the fact that all sorts of non-violent options to this "problem" remain available: (1) nuclear deterrence; (2) UN-imposed international economic sanctions; (3) horse-trading, the U.S. could offer WTO membership; and (4) conflict resolution. There are undoubtedly more.

President George Herbert Walker Bush was often criticized for lacking the so-called "vision thing." His son, by contrast, is often praised for his instincts and vision.

However, it certainly looks like the young Bush has very serious trouble with the most difficult questions. His administration not only misses very real threats that more competent public officials might have handled very differently, but it also has an established record of trumping up a false threat, leading to a costly and dangerously prolonged war.

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

A look back at February 2003

I was cleaning up some files on my hard drive today and found a letter to the editor that I wrote in February 2003. It was in response to syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer's op-ed piece called "Bracing for the Apocalypse." I won't quote extensively from it here. Read it if you want to recall what the American foreign policy debate was like pre-invasion of Iraq.

Short version: Democrats and other critics were being bashed and the Bush administration was walking tall. This is from an extended tirade against Clinton:
The Second Gulf War is about to begin. This is not the Apocalypse. But it is excellent preparation for it. You don't get to a place like this overnight. It takes at least, oh, a decade. We are now paying the wages of the 1990s, our holiday from history....[This] is how one acts on holiday: Mortal enemies are dealt with not as combatants, but as defendants...

On June 19, 2000, the Clinton administration solved the rogue-state problem by abolishing the term and replacing it with ``states of concern.'' Unconcerned, the rogues prospered, arming and girding themselves for big wars. Which are now upon us.

On Sept. 11, the cozy illusions and stupid pretensions died. We now recognize the central problem of the 21st century: the conjunction of terrorism, rogue states and weapons of mass destruction.
Krauthammer attempts to blame Democrats for 9/11, virtually all high profile terrorism, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and WMD proliferation.

Worst of all, hawks like Krauthammer vastly inflated nuclear fears to beat the drums of war against Iraq. The columnist claimed that "our species" was "on the brink" of "self destruction." Truly frightening stuff.

This was my (previously unpublished) letter to the editor:
The Sunday op-ed piece by Charles Krauthammer was one of the worst pieces of journalism I've read in some time.

Krauthammer seems primarily engaged in blaming Democrats for current foreign policy crises. His analysis is weak and his history is worse.

The very recent threat against Heathrow airport largely reflects a decision by the Reagan administration to send 1000s of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles to the mujahadeen in the 1980s. Did GHW Bush clean all that up once the Soviet troops left? No.

Krauthammer, like many current commentators, also completely ignores the impressive disarmament that occurred in Iraq from 1991-1998. The IAEA totally eliminated the Iraqi nuclear weapons program and inspectors have found no evidence that it has been rekindled. Almost all the SCUDS were destroyed. Vast amounts of chemical and biological weapons were found and destroyed. Why can't inspections work? Oh, the inspectors were withdrawn, not expelled in 1998.

North Korea, of course, did not overnight emerge as a nuclear power in 1994 under Clinton's watch. The Reagan/Bush people spent over a decade mostly ignoring proliferation issues. I'm all for making proliferation a higher priority, but lots of smart people all over the world think that will mean much greater US support for on-site inspections in the Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions. Oh, and the US would need to meet arms control commitments owed under Article VI of the Nonproliferation Treaty and to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Krauthammer doesn't mention Pakistan, but the US is again looking the other way on what analysts used to call the "Islamic bomb." That threat remains and Clinton-era sanctions were reversed almost immediately after 9/11. What kind of message does that send?

Finally, is there any evidence that the Bush anti-terror strategy emphasizing military power is more effective than the Clinton law enforcement approach? Numerous terrorists (especially in Western Europe) have been captured and jailed since 9/11 because of good law enforcement. By contrast, Israel's militarized approach doesn't look too effective to me, but that's what the US is emulating.

Pessimists wrote similar apocalyptic pieces in the 1950s, but proliferation did not bring catastrophe even though tyrants like Stalin and Mao had their fingers on the button. The promise of US nuclear retaliation can deter minor powers like North Korea and Iraq. It certainly seems like the US is deterred by North Korea's small arsenal.
This three-year-old (pre-blog) exchange highlights a tremendous feature of blogging: instant reaction to journalism.

Heck, I can even publish my own op-ed pieces now.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Bad neighbors

President Bush may not want to admit that Iraq is moving rapidly toward civil war, but the surrounding states are starting to fear it. From the AP (after appearing in The Washington Post):
Top intelligence officers from several Arab countries and Turkey have been meeting secretly to coordinate strategies in case civil war erupts in Iraq and in an attempt to block Iran's interference in the war-torn nation, Arab diplomats said Tuesday....

The four diplomats said intelligence chiefs from Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and non-Arab Turkey held a series of meetings over the past few weeks to assess the situation in Iraq and work out plans to avoid any regional backlash that may result from sectarian conflict in Iraq.
Iran and Syria were apparently excluded, and part of the conversation concerned the possibility of an "American-Iranian deal."

Unlike Iraq (and Iran), most of the states that met are majority Sunni and some are openly concerned that the region may see development of a dangerous "Shiite crescent."

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Flu watch

Only about 200 people worldwide have caught the bird flu, but over 55% of the human cases died. There is no vaccine.

Los Alamos National Laboratory and the University of Washington just released a report describing what might happen in the US if the strain mutated a bit more and caused a flu outbreak.

The results are truly frightening. From today's AP story:
Left unchecked, a global outbreak of bird flu could infect 54 percent of the U.S. population and peak in just over two months, while a less-contagious strain could affect a third of the population and peak after 117 days, a new report predicts.
Tim Germann, a computational scientist at Los Alamos, spoke frankly:
"Eventually there will be a pandemic strain, and we're probably overdue for one."
Experts consulted by the journalist apparently recommended travel restrictions and quarantines as measures to try to avoid the worst-case scenario.

As I blogged last February, this kind of health crisis could post a genuine threat to all Americans -- and perhaps to global security.

On the bright side, the death rate is down from 70% at that time.

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Monday, April 03, 2006

The end; the beginning

Today is typically one of my favorite sports days of the year. The college basketball championship is decided the first Monday in April -- and the major league baseball season opens.

That means, of course, that the fantasy baseball season started too. This is my 20th year playing. How can that be?

Does it make me seem old to admit that I saw Tito Horford play in college? Horford is the father of Florida's Al Horford.

How 'bout if I admit that I was well into graduate school when I saw Horford play? It was early 1987 (February 7!); I specifically went to see David Robinson (then of Navy) play in Baltimore -- against Horford's Miami team.

Florida coach Billy Donovan was a senior in 1987 and led his Providence team to the Final Four. Robinson had taken Navy to the Elite 8 in 1986.

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Sunday, April 02, 2006


Does the Chinese government operate a death camp called Sujiatun, where thousands of Falun Gong followers are taken to be tortured and killed? China banned Falun Gong as a cult in 1999. Allegedly, prisoner organs are "harvested" at Sujiatun and sold by the Chinese government. I recently received an email making these allegations -- complete with disturbing photographs. Most of the charges are made by two eyewitnesses, said to be the wife of a doctor who worked at the facility and an investigative journalist.

Reuters had this report on March 31:
THE United Nations is looking into allegations by the Falun Gong group that thousands of its followers are being held at a Chinese "concentration camp" and some had been killed.
The spiritual movement banned in China has alleged that up to 6000 people at a time were being kept at a state-run camp in the Sujiatun district of the northern city of Shenyang, where it said some had been killed and their organs sold.

"The allegation is Falun Gong practitioners are being used for the sale of organs and human tissues ... According to the allegation nobody has so far left this concentration camp," said Manfred Nowak, UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

"I am presently in the process of investigating as far as I can these allegations ... If I come to the conclusion that it is a serious and well-founded allegation, then I will officially submit it to attention of the Chinese government," he told a news briefing in Geneva today.
China denies the allegations. Nowak is a law professor from Austria.

The U.S. State Department says it does not know whether the charges or accurate or not. This is from a press briefing with State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli, March 31:
QUESTION: About the recent revealed Sujiatun concentration camp where it is said thousands of Falun Gong practitioners were killed for their organs, what is the State Department's comment about that?

MR. ERELI: Well, obviously, any such reports are taken very seriously by us. We haven't been able to confirm them. We have contacted the Government of China about them. The Chinese have publicly denied the allegations. We've made the point that a further investigation would be helpful. We urge that it be done. So at this point, they are basically unconfirmed reports and we've raised them and we've urged a full investigation.

QUESTION: Did you suggest any international investigation or a third party --

MR. ERELI: No. We've raised it with the Chinese and urged them to investigate.
Amnesty International frequently criticizes China for its use of the death penalty -- the Chinese state kills more people than the rest of the world's governments combined -- and notes that there have long been allegations of "organ harvesting" in this "strike hard" context. Those about to be killed are forced to surrender organs without their consent.

U.S. exports to China totaled nearly $42 billion in 2005, while imports topped $243 billion. That $200 billion deficit likely has economic implications, but U.S. government officials have essentially stopped talking about the human rights dimensions of trade since China was admitted to the WTO and granted permanent normal trade relations.

Perhaps the U.S. should think of that $200 billion trade deficit with China as a very large amount of negotiating leverage -- to demand a thorough investigation of Sujiatun by international human rights authorities.

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