New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller today announced that the paper’s longtime staff writer Michael Gordon is not an actual person, but rather a voice-activated tape recorder.
“I’m not sure why everyone didn’t figure this out before now,” said Keller, pointing to the fact that, in Gordon’s 26-year career, all of “his” stories have consisted entirely of transcribed statements by anonymous government officials.
According to Jill Abramson, the paper’s Managing Editor, Gordon was purchased for $27.95 at a Radio Shack on West 43rd Street. Describing the situation as “a prank” that had “gotten slightly out of hand,” Abramson said the paper had decided to acknowledge Gordon’s identity because—after the tape recorder’s front page story today, “Deadliest Bomb in Iraq Is Made by Iran, U.S. Says”—there “was no place left to take the joke.”
Keller described how he and Abramson “really had a good laugh” while preparing the Iran story, which is based on the following sourcing:
U.S. Says…United States intelligence asserts…reflects broad agreement among American intelligence agencies…civilian and military officials from a broad range of government agencies provided…military officials say…The officials said…The assessment was described in interviews over the past several weeks with American officials…Administration officials said…according to the intelligence…According to American intelligence…Some American intelligence experts believe…they assert…notes a still-classified American intelligence report…a senior administration official said…according to Western officials…Officials said…An American intelligence assessment described to The New York Times said…Other officials believe…American military officers say…American officials say…According to American intelligence agencies…Assessments by American intelligence agencies say…Marine officials say…American intelligence agencies are concerned…Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week.“You can’t deny that’s funny,” said Keller, adding that the lack of skepticism displayed by Gordon was “literally inhuman.” Keller and Abramson asserted that the Iran article is “even more hilarious” than Gordon’s 2002 stories on Iraq’s purported nuclear program, written with Judith Miller.
According to the paper’s management, the Times plans to keep the tape recorder on its staff indefinitely, given that it does not require health insurance and its voice-activation feature “saves a lot of tape.” Indeed, the tape recorder formerly known as Michael Gordon has already filed its own story on the matter, consisting entirely of transcribed statements from anonymous government officials.
Sunday, February 11, 2007
New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller today announced that the paper’s longtime staff writer Michael Gordon is not an actual person, but rather a voice-activated tape recorder.
Saturday, February 10, 2007
The NYT reports:
The most lethal weapon directed against American troops in Iraq is an explosive-packed cylinder that United States intelligence asserts is being supplied by Iran.
The assertion of an Iranian role in supplying the device to Shiite militias reflects broad agreement among American intelligence agencies, although officials acknowledge that the picture is not entirely complete.
In interviews, civilian and military officials from a broad range of government agencies provided specific details to support what until now has been a more generally worded claim, in a new National Intelligence Estimate, that Iran is providing “lethal support” to Shiite militants in Iraq.
The focus of American concern is known as an “explosively formed penetrator,” a particularly deadly type of roadside bomb being used by Shiite groups in attacks on American troops in Iraq. Attacks using the device have doubled in the past year, and have prompted increasing concern among military officers. In the last three months of 2006, attacks using the weapons accounted for a significant portion of Americans killed and wounded in Iraq, though less than a quarter of the total, military officials say.
Because the weapon can be fired from roadsides and is favored by Shiite militias, it has become a serious threat in Baghdad. Only a small fraction of the roadside bombs used in Iraq are explosively formed penetrators. But the device produces more casualties per attack than other types of roadside bombs.
Any assertion of an Iranian contribution to attacks on Americans in Iraq is both politically and diplomatically volatile. The officials said they were willing to discuss the issue to respond to what they described as an increasingly worrisome threat to American forces in Iraq, and were not trying to lay the basis for an American attack on Iran.
The assessment was described in interviews over the past several weeks with American officials, including some whose agencies have previously been skeptical about the significance of Iran’s role in Iraq. Administration officials said they recognized that intelligence failures related to prewar American claims about Iraq’s weapons arsenal could make critics skeptical about the American claims.
The link that American intelligence has drawn to Iran is based on a number of factors, including an analysis of captured devices, examination of debris after attacks, and intelligence on training of Shiite militants in Iran and in Iraq by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and by Hezbollah militants believed to be working at the behest of Tehran.
The Bush administration is expected to make public this weekend some of what intelligence agencies regard as an increasing body of evidence pointing to an Iranian link, including information gleaned from Iranians and Iraqis captured in recent American raids on an Iranian office in Erbil and another site in Baghdad.
The information includes interrogation reports from the raids indicating that money and weapons components are being brought into Iraq from across the Iranian border in vehicles that travel at night. One of the detainees has identified an Iranian operative as having supplied two of the bombs. The border crossing at Mehran is identified as a major crossing point for the smuggling of money and weapons for Shiite militants, according to the intelligence.
According to American intelligence, Iran has excelled in developing this type of bomb, and has provided similar technology to Hezbollah militants in southern Lebanon. The manufacture of the key metal components required sophisticated machinery, raw material and expertise that American intelligence agencies do not believe can be found in Iraq. In addition, some components of the bombs have been found with Iranian factory markings from 2006.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates appeared to allude to this intelligence on Friday when he told reporters in Seville, Spain, that serial numbers and other markings on weapon fragments found in Iraq point to Iran as a source.
Some American intelligence experts believe that Hezbollah has provided some of the logistical support and training to Shiite militias in Iraq, but they assert that such steps would not be taken without Iran’s blessing.
“All source reporting since 2004 indicates that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Corps-Quds Force is providing professionally-built EFPs and components to Iraqi Shia militants,” notes a still-classified American intelligence report that was prepared in 2006.
“Based on forensic analysis of materials recovered in Iraq,” the report continues, “Iran is assessed as the producer of these items.”
The United States, using the Swiss Embassy in Tehran as an intermediary, has privately warned the Iranian government to stop providing the military technology to Iraqi militants, a senior administration official said. The British government has issued similar warnings to Iran, according to Western officials. Officials said that the Iranians had not responded.
An American intelligence assessment described to The New York Times said that “as part of its strategy in Iraq, Iran is implementing a deliberate, calibrated policy — approved by Supreme Leader Khamenei and carried out by the Quds Force — to provide explosives support and training to select Iraqi Shia militant groups to conduct attacks against coalition targets.” The reference was to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Iranian leader, and to an elite branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Command that is assigned the task of carrying out paramilitary operations abroad.
“The likely aim is to make a military presence in Iraq more costly for the U.S.,” the assessment said.
Other officials believe Iran is using the attacks to send a warning to the United States that it can inflict casualties on American troops if the United States takes a more forceful posture toward it.
Iran has publicly denied the allegations that it is providing military support to Shiite militants in Iraq. Javad Zarif, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, wrote in an Op-Ed article published on Thursday in The Times that the Bush administration was “trying to make Iran its scapegoat and fabricating evidence of Iranian activities in Iraq.”
The explosively formed penetrator, detonated on the roadside as American vehicles pass by, is capable of blasting a metal projectile through the side of an armored Humvee with devastating consequences.
American military officers say that attacks using the weapon reached a high point in December, when it accounted for a significant portion of Americans killed and wounded in Iraq. For reasons that remain unclear, attacks using the device declined substantially in January, but the weapons remain one of the principal threats to American troops in and around Baghdad, where five additional brigades of American combat troops are to be deployed under the Bush administration’s new plan.
“It is the most effective I.E.D out there,” said Lt. Col. James Danna, who led the Second Battalion, Sixth Infantry Regiment in Baghdad last year, referring to improvised explosive devices, as the roadside bombs are known by the American military. “To me it is a political weapon. There are not a lot of them out there, but every time we crack down on the Shia militias that weapon comes out. They want to keep us on our bases, keep us out of their neighborhoods and prevent us from doing our main mission, which is protecting vulnerable portions of the population.”
Adm. William Fallon, President Bush’s choice to head the Central Command, alluded to the weapon’s ability to punch through the side of armored Humvees in his testimony to Congress last month.
“Equipment that was, we thought, pretty effective in protecting our troops just a matter of months ago is now being challenged by some of the techniques and devices over there,” Admiral Fallon said. “So I’m learning as we go in that this is a fast-moving ballgame.”
Mr. Gates told reporters last week that he had heard there had been cases in which the weapon “can take out an Abrams tank.”
The increasing use of the weapon is the latest twist in a lethal game of measure and countermeasure that has been carried out throughout the nearly four-year-old Iraq war. Using munitions from Iraq’s vast and poorly guarded arsenal, insurgents developed an array of bombs to strike the more heavily armed and technologically superior American military.
In response, the United States military deployed armored Humvees, which in turn spawned the development of even more potent roadside bombs. American officials say that the first suspected use of the penetrator occurred in late 2003 and that attacks have risen steadily since then.
To make the weapon, a metal cylinder is filled with powerful explosives. A metal concave disk manufactured on a special press is fixed to the firing end.
Several of the cylinders are often grouped together in an array. The weapon is generally triggered when American vehicles drive by an infrared sensor, which operates on the same principle as a garage door opener. The sensor is impervious to the electronic jamming the American military uses to try to block other remote-control attacks.
When an American vehicle crosses the beam, the explosives in the cylinders are detonated, hurling their metal lids at targets at a tremendous speed. The metal changes shape in flight, forming into a slug that penetrate many types of armor.
In planning their attacks, Shiite militias have taken advantage of the tactics employed by American forces in Baghdad. To reduce the threat from suicide car bombs and minimize the risk of inadvertently killing Iraqi civilians, American patrols and convoys have been instructed to keep their distance from civilian traffic. But that has made it easier for the Shiite militias to attack American vehicles. When they see American vehicles approaching, they activate the infrared sensors.
According to American intelligence agencies, the Iranians are also believed to have provided Shiite militants with rocket-propelled grenades, shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles, mortars, 122-millimeter rockets and TNT.
Among the intelligence that the United States is expected to make public this weekend is information indicating that some of these weapons said to have been made in Iran were carried into Iraq in recent years. Examples include a shoulder-fired antiaircraft missile that was fired at a plane flying near the Baghdad airport in 2004 but which failed to launch properly; an Iranian rocket-propelled grenade made in 2006; and an Iranian 81-millimeter mortar made in 2006.
Assessments by American intelligence agencies say there is no indication that there is any kind of black-market trade in the Iranian-linked roadside bombs, and that shipments of the components are being directed to Shiite militants who have close links to Iran. The American military has developed classified techniques to try to counter the sophisticated weapon.
Marine officials say that weapons have not been found in the Sunni-dominated Anbar Province, adding to the view that the device is an Iranian-supplied and Shiite-employed weapon.
To try to cut off the supply, the American military has sought to focus on the cells of Iranian Revolutionary Guard operatives it asserts are in Iraq. American intelligence agencies are concerned that the Iranians may respond by increasing the supply of the weapons.
“We are working day and night to disassemble these networks that do everything from bring the explosives to the point of construction, to how they’re put together, to who delivers them, to the mechanisms that are used to have them go off,” Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week. “It is instructive that at least twice in the last month, that in going after the networks, we have picked up Iranians.”
Friday, February 2, 2007
Warren era comes to life in cases on student signs and standing to sue
For the ABAJournal.com, David G. Savage writes:
A pair of unusual first amendment cases gives the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. a chance to reconsider doctrines that were set in the late 1960s, under Chief Justice Earl Warren.
The court this term will take up a test of the free speech rights of high school students and will decide whether taxpayers have a right to challenge President Bush’s faith-based initiative as a violation of the establishment clause.
The cases recall some that were argued during the Warren era, which famously expanded individual rights. When students showed their disapproval of the Vietnam War by wearing black armbands to high school, the court overturned their suspensions and said students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969).
And when some taxpayers sued because federal education aid was used to subsidize religious schools, the Warren court made an exception to the rule that taxpayers do not have standing to challenge government policies. In Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83 (1968), the court said taxpayers may sue to enforce the First Amendment ban on spending tax money to promote religion.
But in more recent times, those doctrines have been narrowed. And in this term, the court will decide whether to narrow them even further.
Perhaps the more colorful case before the court is Morse v. Frederick, No. 06-278. Students outside a Juneau, Alaska, high school unfurled a 14-foot banner along the street after they were dismissed from class to watch the torch for the 2002 Winter Olympics pass by.
As the torch and local TV cameras approached, senior Joseph Frederick and a few friends hoisted the banner, which read, “Bong Hits 4 Jesus.” Principal Deborah Morse spotted it, grabbed it from the students and crumpled it.
When Frederick invoked the group’s right to freedom of speech, the principal said the school’s policy prohibited the display of “offensive” messages, including ones that “promote the use of illegal drugs.” She suspended the senior for 10 days.
Frederick appealed the suspension to the superintendent and the school board, but lost. He then sued in federal court, alleging his free speech rights were violated, but he lost there too.
Last March, however, he won before the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which held that school officials may not “punish and censor” expressions by students simply because their message conflicts with the school’s policy.
“What schools are entitled to do ... is suppress speech that disrupts the good order necessary to conduct their educational function,” wrote Judge Andrew Kleinfeld, one of the most conservative judges on the 9th Circuit.
He reviewed the trilogy of student free speech cases decided by the Supreme Court. Tinker in 1969 said the free speech rights of students would prevail except when they would cause a “substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities.”
In 1986, however, the court upheld the suspension of a high school student who gave a nominating speech in the auditorium that contained a thinly veiled sexual allusion. School authorities need not tolerate “plainly offensive” speech from students during a “school-sponsored educational program,” the court said. Bethel School District v. Frazer, 478 U.S. 675. Two years later, the court said school officials were free to censor a student newspaper that was produced in a journalism class and therefore was “part of the school curriculum.” Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260.
NOT ‘PLAINLY OFFENSIVE’
Kleinfeld said the student’s banner was protected free speech. “The phrase ‘Bong Hits 4 Jesus’ may be funny, stupid or insulting, depending on one’s point of view, but it is not ‘plainly offensive’ in the way sexual innuendo is,” he wrote. And since it was displayed outside the school, along the street, it certainly cannot be described as part of the curriculum, he added.
The 9th Circuit not only sided with Frederick on the free speech claim but also rejected the principal’s claim of qualified immunity. “This is no case of ignorance,” the 9th Circuit said. “The law was clear.”
Former U.S. Solicitor General Kenneth Starr, now dean of the Pepperdine University law school, petitioned on behalf of the school board and principal, arguing the law was anything but clear. He noted that school boards across the nation have adopted policies that forbid students from wearing clothes at school events that promote the use of alcohol, tobacco or illegal drugs.
By contrast, the 9th Circuit’s decision says school authorities “must tolerate pro-drug messages in the face of threats of draconian civil damages lawsuits. This is wildly wrong,” Starr said.
The two sides differ on how to regard the torch parade that sparked the incident. Juneau attorney Douglas Mertz, a lawyer for Frederick, calls it an “off campus” event, since the student was standing on the street, not on the school grounds. But Starr referred to the same incident as a “school-sponsored” event, akin to a football game, since school authorities were in control.
In the second case, Hein v. Freedom from Religion Foundation, No. 06-157, the court will focus on standing of a different sort. Arguments are slated for Feb. 28.
In his first term, Roberts made clear he would strictly enforce the limits on standing. Last year, taxpayers in Ohio challenged the state’s subsidies for out-of-state manufacturers to build new plants in the Buckeye State. They won a ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals saying this subsidy discriminated against interstate commerce and violated the commerce clause.
But Roberts spoke for the court and dismissed the suit. “We have an obligation to assure ourselves of litigants’ standing under Article III,” he wrote in Cuno v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., 126 S. Ct. 2286.
Otherwise, it would “transform federal courts into forums for taxpayers’ generalized grievances.” Ohio taxpayers had not suffered a specific injury that gave them grounds to sue, he said.
While rejecting standing for the Ohio taxpayers in DaimlerChrysler, Roberts noted that the Flast decision had created a “narrow exception” for taxpayers who complain about spending to promote religion.
Shortly after taking office, President Bush created a Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in the White House that encouraged religious groups to participate in government-funded social-service programs. Bush’s order stressed tax money would not be used for “inherently religious activities,” such as worship or religious teaching.
Nonetheless, the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom from Religion Foundation sued, contending the White House was using tax money for conferences and meetings that promoted “the funding of faith-based organizations.”
The administration’s lawyers moved to block the suit on standing grounds. They said federal officials were merely assuring that church groups and other religious charities had the same opportunity as others to participate in public programs. Certainly, the president and other officials can speak favorably about religion without violating the establishment clause or giving taxpayers grounds for suing, they said.
A federal judge in Wisconsin dismissed the suit, but the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals revived it in a 2-1 decision. “Taxpayers have standing to challenge an executive-branch program, alleged to promote religion, that is financed by a congressional appropriation, even if the program was created entirely within the executive branch,” said Judge Richard Posner.
After the full appeals court upheld that decision in a 7-4 vote, U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement urged the justices to rule that taxpayers do not have standing to challenge “the executive’s use of general appropriations.”
“This is a relatively narrow question, but it’s quite important,” says Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “We believe that no tax money should be spent to advance religion. It’s essential that the justices uphold the principle that taxpayers can go to court when their money is being used to advance religion.”
But Kevin J. Hasson, president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in Washington, D.C., says he hopes the court will use the case to end the “jurisprudence of hurt feelings.”
“Paying taxes should not give every malcontent with a gripe against religion a license to sue the government,” Hasson says. “This case could finally close a loophole in the law through which radical secularists have been driving entire convoys of trucks.”