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Powell Admits False WMD Claim

It would be a foolish endeavor to call for this Republican Congress to mount a thorough investigation of this Republican administration. But what else is there to do in response to the comments made by Secretary of State Colin Powell this past weekend?

Appearing on Meet the Press, Powell acknowledged--finally!--that he and the Bush administration misled the nation about the WMD threat posed by Iraq before the war. Specifically, he said that he was wrong when he appeared before the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003, and alleged that Iraq had developed mobile laboratories to produce biological weapons. That was one of the more dramatic claims he and the administration used to justify the invasion of Iraq. (Remember the drawings he displayed.) Yet Powell said on MTP, "it turned out that the sourcing was inaccurate and wrong and in some cases, deliberately misleading." Powell did not spell it out, but the main source for this claim was an engineer linked to the Iraqi National Congress, the exile group led by Ahmed Chalabi, who is now part of the Iraqi Governing Council.

Powell noted that he was "comfortable at the time that I made the presentation it reflected the collective judgment, the sound judgment of the intelligence community." In other words, the CIA was scammed by Chalabi's outfit, and it never caught on. So who's been fired over this? After all, the nation supposedly went to war partly due to this intelligence. And partly because of this bad information over 700 Americans and countless Iraqis have lost their lives. Shouldn't someone be held accountable? Maybe CIA chief George Tenet, or his underlings who went for the bait? Or Chalabi's neocon friends and champions at the Pentagon: Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle? How do they feel about their pal, the great Iraqi leader, now?

For months after the invasion, George W. Bush told the public that he had based his decision to invade Iraq on "good, solid intelligence." Does he still believe that? Has anyone told him that his government was hornswoggled by Chalabi, who was once convicted of massive bank fraud in Jordan. (Since Bush has said he does not read the newspapers or pay much attention to conventional media, he may not have heard about Powell's remarks unless an aide bothered to brief him on them.) And in January, Dick Cheney said that there was "conclusive evidence" that Saddam Hussein had manufactured bioweapons labs on wheels. Is he willing to say he was wrong?

For his part, Chalabi has not shown any regret. In February, he told the London Telegraph, "we are heroes in error....As far as we're concerned, we've been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone, and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important." [UPDATE: On May 20, Chalabi's compound in Baghdad was raided by US forces while Chalabi was present. Iraqi police, who participated in the raid, seized documents and a computer belonging to Chalabi. Several members of his entourage were taken away. Other offices of Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress were raided. A senior coalition official told Associated Press the raids were conducted pursuant to warrants issued by an Iraqi judge. And US officials in Iraq have complained that Chalabi has interfered with an investigation into corruption in the UN-run oil-for-food program. "I am America's best friend in Iraq," said Chalabi.]

Perhaps the previous--and apparently fraudulent-- allegations made by the Chalabi gang are no longer "important" for him. But Powell--fronting for Bush--placed his credibility on the line before the war. A Powell associate told The New York Times that Powell is "out there publicly saying this now because he doesn't want a legacy as the man who made up stories to provide the president with cover to go to war." But if Powell did not make up the stories himself, he was none too reluctant to peddle them. And he has displayed little outrage in public that he was turned into a fibbing pimp for the war.

In fact, at the time of his UN presentation, there was reason for Powell and the administration to be suspicious of the claims Powell were hurling. After his UN speech, several experts in the field of bioweapons said that it was possible for Hussein to develop mobile bioweapons labs but not likely that he could. "This strikes me as a bit far-fetched," observed Raymond Zilinskas, a former weapons inspector. Why did Powell and the CIA trust the word of a biased source that could not be confirmed more than the expertise of independent scientists? The answer is all too obvious. (There were plenty of other problems with Powell's UN performance. For instance, he maintained that one Iraqi military official had ordered another to "clean out" an ammunition site that was about to be inspected; but the official translation of this intercepted conversation, which was posted on the State Department website, did not contain that order. Powell also claimed there was a direct and close connection between Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a terrorist operating in northern Iraq, which was an area outside of Baghdad's control. But Powell provided sketchy evidence regarding what is probably a complicated, perhaps even competitive, relationship and one that apparently had nothing to do with Saddam Hussein.)

On Meet the Press, Powell said of the bioweapons claim, "I am disappointed and I regret it." But that's not good enough. Powell provided cover for Bush's case for war. And he's still providing cover for the Bush administration overall. Why is he not angrily calling for an inquiry into how Chalibi flim-flammed the CIA and the administration? Why is Powell sticking around and helping Bush get reelected, when it's expected he will resign after that and leave the public with an administration that is not moderated (to the extent that it is) by the presence of this presumably sage grown-up?

Think about it. The secretary of state revealed that he, the CIA and the administration were conned (perhaps too easily) by exiles supported by the Pentagon, and this fraud helped set the stage for a war and a bloody and difficult occupation that still is claiming the lives of Americans. If this is not cause for investigations, dismissals, and angry statements from congressional leaders and administration officials, then what is?

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DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research....[I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer....Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the official website: www.bushlies.com.

The Dumbest Policy

As if the military, political, and moral fallout from George Bush's regime change in Iraq isn't enough, the White House has now announced its intentions "to bring an end" to the Castro government in Cuba.  

Last week's release of a 500-page report of the Presidential "Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba"-appointed by a year ago under a barrage of pressure from Cuban-American hardliners in the politically pivotal sub-state of Miami-marks a new escalation in the 45-year effort to roll back the Cuban revolution.

Peter Kornbluh, a regular contributor to The Nation who follows Cuba policy at the non-profit National Security Archive, compares Bush's new initiative to "an Operation Mongoose without the CIA covert sabotage and assassination efforts." The Commission, he notes, is adopting what the report describes as "a more proactive, integrated and disciplined approach to undermine the survival strategies of the Castro regime."  

The Commission's recommendations, which Bush has adopted, add $45 million dollars to the budget for "hastening change" in Cuba.  Among the new operations: a White House plan to send a C-130 plane on a mission to circle Cuba and beam the signals of TV and Radio Marti onto the island; a major expansion of propaganda operations to discredit and isolate Castro, i.e. spreading the specious and threatening charge that Cuba has the capacity to make biological weapons; escalating the political operations of the US interest section on the island; and further efforts to squeeze Cuba economically by curtailing the ability of US citizens, including Cuban-Americans, to travel to, and spend money on, the island.

That last component not only violates the rights of US citizens--last year both the House and the Senate voted to lift the ban on free travel to Cuba, only to have Bush's Congressional allies, Bill Frist and Dennis Hastert, strip the legislation of that clause in committee--but hurts the very families in Miami whose votes Bush hopes to win in 2004. Under Bush's punitive rules, Cuban-Americans will only be able visit their relatives once every three years, instead of once a year, as is the case under the already draconian travel policies.

The new Bush policy means that Cuban-Americans will be prevented from seeing elderly parents still on the island for interminable periods of time and that relatives in Cuba will have to go without the emotional, financial and material support these already limited visits bring.  

According to Silvia Wilhelm, who runs Puentes Cubanos, a non-profit group in Miami promoting exchanges with Cuba, these measures will only hurt ordinary Cubans, not the Castro government. "It will determine, in some cases, the people who will survive or perish," she says. "In the name of democracy, I might add." Even Cuba's leading dissidents--including Oswaldo Paya and Elizardo Sanchez, two of the island's best-known democracy activists--have rejected Bush's initiative. Paya has said that it is up to the Cubans, not the US, to design a post-Castro transition.

The Administration's new initiative, according to a recent editorial in the Financial Times, "combines ideology with the narrowest political short-termism." And, as is the case in every electoral cycle, it immediately transforms Cuba into a game of political kickball. John Kerry, who also wants votes in Miami, supports continuing the embargo, but favors lifting the restrictions on travel as a less threatening and more promising approach to bringing US influence to bear on an eventual post-Castro transition of power.  

With brother Jeb in the background, Bush is taking the low road. For now his new Cuba policy will be associated with Secretary of State Colin Powell who chaired the Commission. But this just gives more weight to Powell's chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, who seems to understand the folly of Washington's approach. In an interview in next month's GQ Magazine, he describes the embargo and efforts to isolate Castro as "the dumbest policy on the face of the earth. Its crazy," he said. We couldn't agree more.

Occupation Watch

One of the hallmarks of the Iraqi occupation is the way that new technologies are changing the face of war. The digital cameras that were employed by the Abu Ghraib photographers and the speed with which their photos circulated around the world via the internet were only the latest examples.

An international coalition of peace and justice groups, together with their Iraqi counterparts, have launched a new project, hoping to take advantage of new forms of communication to keep track of what's really going on in Iraq.Founding organizations of the International Occupation Watch Center include Bridges to Baghdad, CodePink, Global Exchange, Focus on the Global South, United for Peace and Justice and ZENKO.

The idea is to create a safe and effective space for "monitoring the economic and reconstruction policies under occupation, including the activities of international corporations, and advocate for the Iraqis' right to control their own resources, especially oil." (Click here for a full mission statement.)

Iraq Occupation Watch offers calls to action, press links, reports from Iraq and info on delegations. Click here to learn more about this important new resource, click here to tell your local media to check the reports out, and click here to contribute to Iraq Occupation Watch.

Back to the Two Americas

One day after the most recent monthly jobs report showed that 280,000 new jobs were created in April--welcome news, but, the Bush Administration's job record is still dismal and characterized by broken promises--a more important reflection of the nation's economic health could be found buried in the New York Times business section.

The article detailed a new report by Citizens for Tax Justice, which shows that Americans are being taxed more than twice as heavily on earnings from work as they are on investment income, even though more than half of all investment income goes to the wealthiest five percent of taxpayers.

Bush's tax cuts, according to the report, widened the advantages for investors, reducing taxes on investment income by twenty-two percent while taxes were only reduced by nine percent on income generated from actual work. According to CTJ's study, if investment income were taxed exactly as earnings from work, government tax revenues would increase by about $338 billion this year.

If any further evidence was needed of how this Administration has relentlessly shifted the country's tax burden from those who live off their wealth to those who work for a living, here it is.

So, why was John Kerry sounding like a tired deficit buster this past weekend at the Democratic Leadership Council's confab? Why not use such a report to deliver a passionate critique of the way Bush and his cronies enforce one set of rules for the wealthy and another set for the poor and middle classes? Instead of reacting defensively to short-term indicators, Kerry needs to lay out the broad pattern of economic injustice that has defined this Administration's policies. That's a winning strategy. Instead of channeling tired DLC mantras, Kerry should start channelling John Edwards and his rousing theme of Two Americas. If there was ever a year for it, this is it.

The New Disaster Flick

On May 28th, Twentieth Century Fox will release a new disaster film. But The Day After Tomorrow is not your conventional fear flick. It's not about biological, nuclear or military attacks. Instead, its harrowing premise is that climate change could destroy planet earth. In the film's trailers, tsunamis overtake Manhattan, tornadoes threaten Los Angeles, and volcanoes spew lava near the Hollywood sign.

This is a film that uses celluloid to teach and inform--and, yes, inspire--people about a critical and still misunderstood subject. The Day After Tomorrow's website includes links to environmental groups with information about the dangers of global warming and ways to get involved in combating the crisis. And while the film is an Eco-Armageddon fantasy flick, I hope it will act as a wake-up call to millions of movie-goers nationwide. (Click here to read environmental writer Bill McKibben's recent piece on The Day After Tomorrow and global warming in Grist magazine.)

Make no mistake: Global warming is a real threat. The majority of policy experts and scientists believe that unless strong action is taken, climate change will lead to widespread environmental destruction with a devastating human toll.

Scientists agree that the earth's temperature is rising faster than ever before. Since 1990, the planet has experienced the ten hottest years ever recorded. Unless we reduce emissions that produce heat-trapping pollutants soon, the weather will keep getting hotter and hotter. Climate change is already causing droughts and water shortages in the Southwestern US and elsewhere. And since 1970, twenty percent of the North Pole's ice cap has melted away.

The problem is so severe that David King, Tony Blair's scientific adviser, calls global warming more of a threat than terrorism. By 2080, hundreds of millions of people will be "exposed to frequent flooding in the river delta areas of the world," predicts King. Even the Pentagon recently cited climate change as a national security threat that could lead to war, drought and mass starvation.

Moreover, according to a recent study conducted by the Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and the Global Environment, climate change and air pollution are already increasing asthma rates among poor and minority children. Christine Rogers, a scientist at Harvard's School of Public Health, warns: "This is a real wake-up call for people who think global warming is only going to be a problem off in the future...The problem for these children is only going to get worse."

The Bush Administration's track record on global warming is--no surprise here--appalling. While Bush pays lip service to "sound science," in truth, he shills for his supporters in the oil, gas and coal industries. Congressman Henry Waxman is right when he charges that W. believes that policies and industry contributions should determine America's environmental policies, not scientific information and research. (Click here to read about Bush's lies on Waxman's website.)

Since 2001, Bush has created a little shop of policy horrors. This president turned his back on the Kyoto Treaty, which offered our best opportunity to attack the global warming problem. He also proposed the so-called Clear Skies Act which, like so many Bush Administration policies, does the opposite of what it purports by failing to regulate carbon dioxide, an important greenhouse gas.

The scary thing is that this Administration warned NASA scientists not to do any interviews "or otherwise comment on anything having to do with the film The Day After Tomorrow." While the order was later rescinded, the Bushies tipped their hand; they don't like science, and they certainly don't want a fact-based discussion on climate change.

Kudos then to Al Gore and MoveOn.org, for their joint effort to encourage a dialogue on climate change, pegged to the release of the film. (The group will distribute flyers at theaters nationwide.)

The infuriating thing, as experts know, is that the threat can be addressed. Bush would just prefer if we all ignored it. Here are some actions a leader committed to building a safer, healthier and cleaner America would endorse.

1) Rely more on new technologies to reduce the emissions from cars, trucks and SUVs that cause global warming. Promote clean energy sources, including wind and solar that will reduce heat-trapping pollutants in the atmosphere.

2) Support the Apollo program for energy independence, a $300 billion, ten-year plan to invest in hybrid cars, renewable energy, efficient buildings and diversified transit. Such a program will generate more jobs than the president's tax cuts for the rich at a fraction of the cost and, at the same time, it will enable us to reduce our dependence on Middle East oil.

3) Revive the Kyoto protocols, and let the world know that America takes climate change seriously.

But, if the Bush team and their pals in the fossil fuel industries keep thumbing their noses at climate change, then scenes from The Day After Tomorrow could become more than just a sci-fi fantasy dreamed up in Hollywood.

Rumsfeld Gets Off Easy

Donald Rumsfeld got off easy.

Once again, members of the US Senate showed that grasping the big picture is not their strong suit. When the defense secretary made his much-anticipated appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee--as newspapers (including The New York Times) and Democrats called for his scalp--the members of this panel focused on what Rumsfeld knew when about the Abu Ghraib prison abuse inquiry and why he failed to brief Congress on the scandal to come before 60 Minutes published the shocking photos.

These are not unimportant points. Rumsfeld and his lieutenants do need to explain the investigative and corrective actions that did and did not occur, as well as the Pentagon's failure to notify fully Congress and George W. Bush that it had a mess--perhaps a lethal PR nightmare--on its hands. (When NBC News reporter Jim Miklaszewski asked a Pentagon official about the soldiers alleged to have committed the abuse, the official replied, "You mean the six morons who lost the war?")

But the question is not only how Rumsfeld and the Pentagon responded to the accusations confirmed by the Taguba report, which was completed on March 20; it is, why didn't the Pentagon take steps to prevent the abuses documented in that report when it had ample warning about abusive practices there and in other military facilities? The horrific acts that have triggered the current controversy transpired between October and December of last year. But before these acts became the subject of an inquiry--which was prompted by the report of a courageous whistleblower in January--there were indications that prisoners were being abused at detention facilities throughout Iraq. Between March and November 2003, the International Committee of the Red Cross inspected these facilities and found numerous violations. A confidential report the ICRC prepared--which was disclosed in today's Wall Street Journal-- noted that Red Cross inspectors had uncovered "excessive and disproportionate use of force against persons deprived of their liberty resulting in death or injury." The report cited the use of "physical or psychological coercion during interrogation to secure information" which "in some cases was tantamount to torture." It noted that prisoners were beaten, paraded naked with women's underwear over their heads, photographed in humiliating positions. The ICRC maintains that it began telling U.S. officials about the abuse of Iraqi prisoners--in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere--shortly after the beginning of the war.

Why didn't Rumsfeld's Pentagon respond to these warnings? That's what the senators should have demanded to know. But they didn't. The ICRC reports were not the only sign that the Bush administration needed to pay close attention to the treatment of Iraqi prisoners and detainees. A year ago, the Sun newspaper in England disclosed the existence of photographs showing British soldiers abusing Iraqi POWs. In one shot, it appeared that an Iraqi prisoner was being forced to engage in oral sex. In another, a man stripped to his waist was tied to a fork-lift and suspended high in the air; a soldier driving the fork-lift was laughing. A third picture showed two naked Iraqi men in what seemed to be a coercive sexual position. These photos involved British soldiers, but they should have sounded alarm bells for the U.S. military. And in October and November 2003, Maj. Gen. Donald Ryder, provost marshal of the Army, investigated conditions at the prisons in Iraq, including Abu Ghraib and found that the guards had not been trained adequately.

The Pentagon ought to have responded to these warnings. Given that a secondary reason for the war was to bring democracy and human rights to Iraq--after taking care of the supposed threat posed by weapons of mass destruction that, it turns out, did not exist--the U.S. military had an obligation to go above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that the conduct of U.S. troops were in keeping with the values the Bush administration claimed as justification for the war. Rumsfeld deserves criticism more for ignoring this responsibility than for his handling (or non-handling) of the Taguba report. Before the Senate committee, he said that no one in the U.S. military condoned or permitted "these things" to take place. Perhaps--though there are reports that military intelligence officers did ask the troops in the prisons to "soften up" detainees for interrogations. But Rumsfeld cannot say that he and others made sure that "these things" would not happen.

His dereliction of duty in this regard is part of his overall failure--and that of the entire administration--to plan and prepare adequately for the war and the occupation. The abuse scandal has revealed that American troops were not adequately prepped for running prisons. In an interview with the British Guardian, Torin Nelson, a private contractor who worked at Abu Ghraib, maintained that "cooks and truck drivers" were put to work as interrogators at the prison. He claimed that "many of the detainees at the prison are actually innocent of any acts against the coalition and are being held until the bureaucracy there can go through their cases and verify their need to be released." He depicted a detention system that overall has been a disaster.

Pundits and citizens have expressed shock at the photos of abuse. But, sadly, such excesses come with the territory. There are prison scandals in the United States on a regular basis--and they involve people who supposedly are fully trained. Troops serving as guards at Abu Ghraib were trained as military police, who know how to arrest and detain people, not how to function as prison guards. And if abuse routinely happens in civilian prisons, it is not surprising that such awful acts would occur in prisons in a war zone.

The Bush administration claimed it could bring democracy, human rights and freedom to Iraq via invasion and occupation. But that means it has to advance these values as it engages in military and security actions that are often hard to control and tough to mount with respect for human rights and due process. War breeds brutality. (At the end of the first Persian Gulf War, a family friend in the military told me she knew of "body parts boxes" that had to be set up for departing GIs who were coming home. Before entering aircraft that would return them to the United States, U.S. soldiers had to rid themselves of trophies--ears, fingers, etc.--that had been removed from the corpses of enemy soldiers.) War is a blunt instrument; using it to export democracy and human rights is a tall order. The prison scandal demonstrates further that the Bush administration and the Pentagon marched off to war without thinking through the consequences and the challenges. Rumsfeld deserves to be grilled--if not hung out to dry--for that. And so does his boss.

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DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research....[I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer....Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the official website: www.bushlies.com.

Patrick Leahy on US Abuses

As Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking member of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee, said in a stirring speech this past Tuesday on the Senate floor:

"The mistreatment of prisoners by the US military in Iraq was not limited to the crimes that have come to light at the Abu Ghraib prison. Rather, there was, in the words of the US Army's own inquiry, a 'systemic and illegal abuse of detainees.' It is revealing, and particularly disturbing, that the US personnel involved conducted themselves so openly, even posing with the victims of their sadistic acts. They obviously felt they had no reason to believe that their superiors would be upset with their conduct. The brazenness of these acts, the reported role of US intelligence officers in encouraging such treatment to 'soften up' detainees for interrogations, combined with earlier reports of similar abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan, suggests a much larger failure."

We couldn't have said it any better ourselves. Hopefully a statement this strong from such a senior member of the Senate will have some reverberations. Click here to read and circulate Leahy's full speech, click here to read follow-up remarks Leahy made on Wednesday, and click here to read Katha Pollitt's new Nation column, Show & Tell at Abu Ghraib.

The World Tribunal on Iraq

On February 15, 2003, one of the greatest mobilizations of popular protest the world has ever seen demonstrated its opposition to the Bush Administration's plans to invade Iraq. More than a year later, much of Iraq lies in ruins, invaded, smashed, and then occupied by a hostile and unwanted invasion force. More than seven hundred US soldiers have been killed along with tens of thousands of Iraqis, some of them, we now know, tortured to death by sadistic soldiers and private contractors.

The political costs are still unseen but will anyone be held accountable for the war crimes committed during the military campaign, or the crimes committed by the occupying forces?

There's no tribunal that will judge the actions of the US and its allies. All official international institutions, including the International Criminal Court, lack jurisdiction and enforcement power. In response, a coalition of civil society groups from around the world, taking their cue from the 1967 Russell Tribunal formed to investigate crimes committed by the US in Vietnam, have organized what they call the World Tribunal on Iraq . The WTI has been endorsed by the Jakarta Peace Consensus and the antiwar assemblies that converged at the recent European Social Forum in Paris and the World Social Forum in Mumbai, India.

Hearings and events have already taken place in London, Monterrey, Brussels, Hiroshima, Paris, Costa Rica, Munich, Mumbai, Barcelona, Istanbul, Copenhagen and Rome. Tomorrow, a panelwill convene in New York City to discuss questions like:

*Could the doctrine of "preventive war" ever be legal under international law?

*Can we record the crimes committed in launching this war of aggression, during the military campaign and ongoing occupation?

*Can an effective grassroots mechanism be established which can initiate the process of providing justice and/or accountability?

New York Session of the World Tribunal on Iraq, Saturday, May 8, 2004, Cooper Union, Great Hall, 7 East 7th Street at 3rd Ave.--Starts at 10:00am.

FREE - donations welcome

The panel will feature Rabab Abdulhadi, Sinan Antoon, Dennis Brutus, Hamid Dabashi, Bhairavi Desai, Eve Ensler, Jenny Green, Lisa Hajjar, Elias Khoury, Robert van Lierop, Motarilavoa Hilda Lini, Kiyoko McCrae and Ibrahim Rames.

The World Tribunal on Iraq is one important effort trying to address the failure of the US to guarantee a minimal standard of human-rights for the inhabitants of the country which we'er currently occupying. Click here for more info on tomorrow's New York Session of the World Tribunal on Iraq and click here to find out how you can assist the Tribunal's efforts no matter where you live.

Big Worries About John Kerry

LOS ANGELES -- John Kerry is going to have to decide who he wants to be when he grows up politically. His post-primary campaign has been so dramatically unfocused and ineffectual that -- even as George Bush has taken more serious blows to his credibility than any sitting president since Richard Nixon in the first years of his second term -- Kerry has not been able to open up a lead nationally or in the essential battleground states.

Kerry is making moves to muscle up his Democratic presidential candidacy, with a $25-million let's-make-some-introductions advertising campaign, an effort to sharpen his message and a sped-up vice presidential search. The next month will be critical. If he can open a five- to eight-point lead nationally and establish leads that mirror those of Al Gore's 2000 wins in Democratic-leaning battleground states, his campaign will be sufficiently renewed to make the race. If, on the other hand, he continues to hold even nationally and trail behind Gore's showings in the states that will tip the balance in the Electoral College, there will come a round of questioning -- prior to the Democratic National Convention in July -- about whether the party is making the right choice.

Kerry will still be the nominee. Modern political parties lack the flexibility to clean up messes, no matter how obvious the need. The was proven in 1996, when the Republican National Convention dutifully nominated Bob Dole, despite the fact that no honest observer thought he had a chance of winning.

Will Kerry be the Dole of 2004? That's the question that the Massachusetts senator needs to sort out this month.

The decisions Kerry makes now will determine whether his campaign is for real. And the pressure for some kind of signal is only going to increase as the month passes.

In southern California this week to contribute to Robert Greenwald's upcoming documentary on media issues, I had a chance to talk with political activists, journalists and entertainment-industry insiders. They were all for getting rid of George Bush. But they were also, to a one, convinced that Kerry's campaign wasn't doing what was necessary to accomplish that task. They still thought Kerry would carry California -- a must-win state for the Democrats -- but they were worried that he was slipping even there. And they were convinced that his failure to come on strong was eliminating enthusiasm for his candidacy.

Writer and activist Arianna Huffington, who has written a good new book about the Bush crowd, Fanatics and Fools, was particularly concerned. A none-of-the-above voter in 2000, she's determined to achieve regime change in the White House this year and she recognizes that Kerry offers the only realistic hope for sending Bush back to Texas. But she is so worried about Kerry's cautious campaigning that she has penned a letter to the candidate, which she hopes hundreds of thousands of activists will sign. The letter urges the presumptive Democratic nominee to, "Offer voters a bold moral vision of what America can be. A vision that is bigger than the things that divide us. A vision that brings hope and soul back to our politics and appeals to more than voters' narrow self-interests. A vision that makes America once again a respected force for good in the world.

(You can learn more about Huffington's recent projects by visiting her www.fanaticsandfools.org website.)

I don't know whether a letter will get John Kerry's attention, let alone whether it will get him to recognize that his campaign really is in trouble. But I do know that it is right to target messages toward Kerry, himself.

Again and again, people asked me: Who is advising Kerry? The answer is that the names don't really matter.

Like any soon-to-be-nominated presidential candidate, Kerry is getting advice from every corner. The noxious Democratic Leadership Council, which every election season commands Democrats to run as Republican-lite centrists, is indeed bending his ear. But Kerry is getting advice from credible and competent sources, as well.

The problem is that the senator seems to be having a hard time separating the wheat from the chaff when it comes to messaging.And, unfortunately, this is a challenge that only he is in a position to resolve.

No one else but the candidate can cure what ails this presidential campaign. That's because only the candidate can send the a broad and meaningful message that says his campaign really does promise fundamental change. Kerry cannot count on the "Beat Bush" message to carry him to victory in November. Nor should he assume that just promising to be kinder and gentler than Bush will be enough.

John Kerry needs to present himself as the candidate who offers America a clean break from Bushism.

If he does so, he will win.

If he fails to do so, he will be this year's Bob Dole -- without the sense of humor.