Newsdesk November 11, 2005

Ex-Aide Rips White House

A former top official in the Bush administration used his appearance Monday at a West Point conference on the treatment of prisoners to step up his criticisms of his former Bush administration colleagues.

Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to then-secretary of state Colin Powell, suggested that a National Security Council memo stating that hundreds of thousands of troops would be needed for invading Iraq never reached the desk of president Bush in the run-up to the war. In response to a follow-up question after his speech, in which he called on the president to clearly take responsibility for his administration’s policies, Wilkerson, a retired colonel, said he believed that then-national security advisor Condoleezza Rice or her deputy, Stephen Hadley, had blocked the memo, but he acknowledged that he had no clear evidence.

In the end, fewer than 160,000 troops were sent — a decision that critics said has hurt America’s ability to defeat the insurgency in Iraq and has led to increased American casualties.

In July 2003, USA Today reported the existence of the memo, which examined the level of troops in peacekeeping operations and concluded that some 500,000 troops would need to be deployed to Iraq. USA Today raised doubts as to whether the president saw the memo. However, Wilkerson’s assertion seemed to take the matter a step further, suggesting that aides who supported the war kept the president in the dark intentionally.

The NSC declined comment.

In a speech last month, Wilkerson accused Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld of forming a “cabal” to highjack American foreign policy.

In his speech this week at the West Point conference, Wilkerson said that officials in the Pentagon and in Cheney’s office “really pushed the envelope” on permitting harsh interrogations and treatment of prisoners.

Wilkerson recounted how military lawyers who opposed a series of guidelines allowing harsh interrogation techniques were silenced, and how he found out instances of two detainees who died in American facilities in Afghanistan as early as December 2002. However, the Pentagon acknowledged the detainees’ fate only earlier this year.

“We have some 25,000 prisoners and among them maybe 100 real terrorists and we decided to apply those guidelines,” he said, arguing that torture was morally wrong, eroding America’s image and providing little intelligence.

Bush, Jews Talk in Brazil

President Bush heard from Jewish leaders in a meeting Sunday about Latin America’s Jewish community.

In the meeting, held in Brazil, leaders of the World Jewish Congress and the region’s Jewish community stressed to Bush — who has been promoting democracy in the area — that the way Jews are treated can be “a kind of barometer, a bellwether of when things are going badly in South America,” said Rabbi Israel Singer, the WJC’s chairman.

Also present at the meeting were Jack Terpins, president of the Latin American Jewish Congress, and Rabbi Henry Sobel, leader of Latin America’s largest synagogue, Sao Paulo’s Congregacao Israelita Paulista.

Social unrest fanned by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez raises the specter of antisemitism in Venezuela, the Jewish leaders said.

“In these circumstances, the masses are more likely to lend an ear to false messiahs. Also, the need for a scapegoat is more keenly felt,” Sobel said.

Earlier this year, Venezuelan police raided a Jewish school in Caracas, causing an uproar among Jews across Latin America.

Teen Eyed in El Al Plot

A Dutch teenager is under arrest on suspicion of planning to shoot down an El Al plane. Netherlands television reported last week that the 19-year-old son of Moroccan immigrants was among seven terrorist suspects arrested last month. According to the report, the suspect planned to shoot down an El Al passenger plane as it took off from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.

Israeli Aid Approved

House and Senate conferees approved $2.5 billion in assistance for Israel. The package, approved by the House on November 4, keeps funding to Israel at current levels. But the Senate vote on the proposal — likely to take place next week — still could cut foreign aid by an across-the-board percentage because of the costly hurricane season.

The package, lobbied for by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, includes an additional $40 million in refugee-resettlement assistance for Israel. This money helps absorb Ethiopian Jews, and provides up to $75 million annually in additional funds by cutting administrative costs.

The package also preserves $150 million in assistance to the Palestinians as requested by President Bush, though the money is subject to tough congressional oversight.

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Newsdesk November 11, 2005

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