Where’s the smoking gun?

Chairman John Conyers of the House Judiciary Committee in justifying the subpoenaing of two former top White House aides said that this was not just a request but a “demand” by the American people, who are burning for answers about the firings of nine U.S. attorneys, who, it seems necessary to mention once again, serve at the pleasure of the president of the United States.

Well, guess what congressman. You know better than anyone that while there may be some demand from some, the downfall of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is not very high on the list of goals for a vast majority of Americans. In fact, most of them recognize the subpoenas of former White House counsel Harriet Miers and political aide Sara Taylor for what they are — politically inspired attempts to embarrass the president.

There may be an even more sinister motive in this continuing dogged effort by Conyers and his Senate counterpart Patrick Leahy to confront the White House. Over the years, almost since President Bush took office, Conyers has made little secret about his desire to impeach the president. So far he’s been thwarted by party leaders, but the longtime liberal Democrat from Michigan clearly views the Justice department “scandal” as the possible catalyst for reaching that goal.

The furor over the fired U.S. attorneys has dragged on for months, fed by almost hysterical minute-by-minute media coverage, including a barrage of editorials demanding that Gonzales, who admittedly has made a hash of the way the firings were handled, resign post haste. But that level of attention has been confined mainly inside the Capital Beltway with the vast continent beyond more concerned about problems from immigration to Iraq than the alleged politicization of the Justice department.

If Bush in his last 18 months in office seems an elusive if not impossible target for Conyers and Leahy, Karl Rove, the hated villain of two presidential elections, isn’t. Right now Rove seems to be where congressional Democrats are aiming. Few presidential aides have been more obsessively despised by the opposition. Even H.R. Haldeman of Watergate infamy, the chief of staff for President Nixon often compared to a vicious Doberman, fared better.

Taylor, as former White House political director, worked for Rove and figured in the dismissal of the attorneys, at least one of whom was replaced by a former Rove assistant. There is very little doubt that the firings were an ill-advised exercise in both political and ideological purity stemming, in part at least, from Republican complaints that certain U.S. attorneys weren’t moving quickly enough to prosecute alleged Democratic voter fraud. So far, however, the Democrats have been unable to prove that the firings were connected to any effort to influence a specific criminal investigation.

This failure to produce a smoking gun that could lead to who knows where is what Leahy and Conyers obviously hope to rectify by subpoenaing Miers and Taylor and demanding e-mails and other material from the White House. With determination that can at least partially be attributed to getting revenge for years of frustration under Republican leadership, they seem ready to carry on this time consuming, constitutionally questionable assault until Bush walks out the door of the White House for the last time.

Meanwhile, Americans should be concerned about what this over-hyped wrangle has done to what little comity remains in the Senate. It has so poisoned the atmosphere that it is doubtful many of the growing number of judicial vacancies can be filled by Leahy’s committee where advise and consent on nominations begins. The White House has been slow to send up their choices in the face of extended delays and hostility. Any nominee considered the least bit conservative would have little chance of winning Senate Judiciary Committee approval at this stage.

Should the president decide to claim executive privilege despite threats from the committees to go to court, the constitutional confrontation with the White House over the subpoenas and other demands has the potential of so increasing the bitterness and lack of cooperation between the two parties that it would have a debilitating impact on any hope for meaningful compromise on major issues. Then the American people may begin paying attention and “demand” a solution from both sides.

(Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.)

The ‘Generalization’ of Iraq

A surprising surge of optimism has just bubbled up from America’s famously circumspect and straight-talking top military man in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus. Next came a not-surprising rush to rebuke by Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid.

Because we all know where this is going — namely, that September report from Petraeus on whether the so-called troop surge is working — it is important to first note that the Iraq War has produced a historic shift: The unprecedented Generalization of the Iraq War, a shift historians may judge as one of the few good outcomes of this badly bungled mission that could end with America losing the war it won.

By “generalization,” we are not talking about glib statements from spokesmen, pols or pundits. (Although there has been no shortage of those in this war that began with a quick victory but evolved into an un-won peace that has dragged on longer than World War II.) The “generalization” we are focusing on is about America’s military generals and the unprecedented way they have emerged to tell us tough truths we needed to hear. Truths about miscalculations, misperceptions, deceptions and blunders that civilian policymakers committed and were hell-bent to hide.

We’ve heard them from retired generals who apparently felt free to speak their minds in ways we should have heard — but never did — during the Vietnam War. And most impressively, we’ve also heard tough truths from active-duty generals who understood that in a democracy truth is a core component of patriotic service. We did not always recognize instantly the value of the truths they told.

In 2003, when Army Gen. Erik Shinseki said that several hundred thousand troops would be needed in postwar Iraq, then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz famously scoffed that the general was “wildly off the mark.” The Pentagon was saying just 100,000 could do it, and that was what President Bush wanted to hear and so did we all. So we just shrugged when then-Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld’s team of acolytes arrogantly pushed back until Shinseki retired.

Now this: Petraeus last week told USA Today that he was seeing “astonishing signs of normalcy” in Baghdad. “I’m talking about professional soccer leagues with real grass field stadiums, several amusement parks — big ones, markets that are very vibrant.” The same day, the new post-Rummy/post-Wolfie Defense Department was telling Congress, in a quarterly report, that the surge of some 50,000 more U.S. troops had not reduced the violence in Iraq, as Bush and others had said it would. The Pentagon said the increased troops in the capital city had merely pushed those causing violence into other areas of Iraq.

In the wake of Petraeus’ interview and the Pentagon’s comment, came the Senate’s top Democrat, Harry Reid of Nevada. In recent weeks, he has been a font of under-informed overstatements, as when he said weeks earlier that the war was lost and the surge cold not work — without giving it a chance. This time he held himself a bit more in check, telling reporters that Petraeus “isn’t in touch with what’s going on in Baghdad.” Reid said he hoped Petraeus would be “a little more candid” in his September report on the surge. In that, the Democratic leader got it just about right.

And that gets us to the bottom line. Petraeus, according to those who have known him well, has been a forthcoming and straight-talking general. He is a Princeton Ph.D. who shows that “military intelligence” need not be a contradiction in terms. He knows his duty to his country and its citizens is more than telling his desperate and dispirited commander in chief only the good news he wants to hear.

The general also knows it will be very wrong if his September report is just an on-the-one-hand/on-the-other-hand assessment that bends over backward to find ways of saying good things about the surge — because he designed it and implemented it.

What the general doesn’t need are politicians who pre-judge. What we need are generals who possess the military intelligence and integrity to do the same — even when they are reporting on their own best efforts. We need a straight-talker, not a cheerleader.

Those who know Petraeus best believe he can be our best hope for providing the tough truth we need in this time of national disenchantment over the war we thought we’d won four years ago.

(Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at martin.schram(at)gmail.com.)

An overwhelming lack of common sense

A young man of 17 engages in a consensual Clintonesque sexual activity at a party with a 15-year-old girl and is put away for 10 years and must register as a pervert.

A Washington, D.C., administrative judge sues a cleaning establishment for $54 million for a missing pair of pants and actually gets his case heard.

A prosecutor and judge team up to throw the book at a former vice presidential aide in a blatant political show of force over something that occurs almost daily in this city.

How much more evidence is needed to prove that the American judicial system is in sad need of a transfusion of common sense? Actually, there are plenty more examples ranging from gross incompetence to malicious disregard for justice in the daily operation of the nation’s courts at all levels.

The most disturbing of these travesties has been the celebrated Duke University lacrosse case that ultimately resulted in the destroyed legal career of the imprudent prosecutor, Michael Nifong, who brought unimaginable pain to innocent young men and their families.

In Georgia young Genarlow Wilson has already served 28 months of his 10-year sentence for receiving the oral favors of a girl two years his junior at a high school party. Once a gifted student and athlete with a future, he now faces years of uncertainty and embarrassment as a registered sex offender. His plight has been appealed by a host of notables, including former President Carter. The response by Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker was astounding.

Granting that the sentence was bit harsh, Baker still argued before the Georgia Supreme Court that to release Wilson could well lead to appeals by hundreds of jailed child molesters. What an absolute load of nonsense. As one of Wilson’s defenders noted, if there are a huge number incarcerated whose cases are similar to Wilson’s, they also should be released.

Now take the case of the missing pants that has made the American system of justice a laughing stock the world over.

Roy Pearson, an unemployed lawyer for several years before winning appointment here as an administrative law judge, took his suits to a cleaning establishment owned by a Korean couple, refugees who came to America and made good. When one of the suits came up missing its pants, Wilson, who has a record of litigious complaint, wanted compensation for this mistake, but not just the amount for a new suit. He asked the court to award him millions upon millions of dollars to cover not only the cost of replacing the trousers, but the emotional strain of losing them. He reportedly turned down every effort to settle even for as much as $12,000.

Meanwhile, the disillusioned Korean couple is nearly broke after spending thousands on defense and is talking of heading back to Korea.

The sad thing here is that this case wasn’t tossed out instantly as preposterously frivolous no matter how many stupid legal precedents Pearson threatened to cite. Certainly TV’s Judge Judy would have make mincemeat of this despicable claimant’s arguments. He is up for reappointment, which obviously shouldn’t take place, and to make matters more insulting has asked lawyer’s fees for representing himself. Serious questions should be asked about the judge who let this come to trial.

The U.S. district judge in the matter of Scooter Libby, along with the special counsel who initiated what has become a serious political injustice, has decided that Libby should be made the poster boy for white-collar crime. He has refused to grant Libby, whom he is treating like public enemy number one, the right to stay out of jail while his lawyers appeal a far too harsh sentence of 30 months for his conviction in the Valerie Plame outing case. Never mind that his was a victimless crime that could be prosecuted hundreds of times a year in this town. And so far the White House has left the former top aide to Vice President Cheney slowly twisting in the wind over whether to grant him a pardon.

All three cases represent the harsh reality of ever finding oneself caught up in a justice system where travesty is too often a byword. If that occurs, run to the library and ask for Franz Kafka’s “The Castle.” It might help you understand where you are.

(Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.)

Hard times for the NAACP

The recent announcement by the NAACP of a major retrenchment due to funding shortfalls received brief coverage and got scant attention.

But I think it is an important story that should get attention, because it is a story as much about the real challenges facing our country today as it is about the NAACP.

The NAACP announced that it will cut its national staff by 40 percent and that seven regional offices will be cut — at least temporarily. Several weeks before this the organization announced a delay of plans to move from Baltimore to fancy new headquarters in Washington.

It should be of interest to everyone why the nation’s oldest and most prestigious civil-rights organization is faltering and on shaky ground.

The last headlines generated by the organization came with the departure earlier in the year of its president of only 18 months, Bruce Gordon. Gordon’s hire was an attention-getter because he was not a civil-rights-movement veteran, but one of the nation’s most prominent black corporate executives.

The decision seemed to reflect thinking that the organization needed management and fund-raising talent.

But it was a brief marriage, as Gordon clashed with the organization’s board. He wanted to roll up his sleeves and address practical problems in the community. Board members felt that the organization’s mission should be “social justice.”

In an interview shortly after he departed, Gordon analyzed the NAACP’s problems and summed them up as typical of any business that has lost touch with its customers.

Gordon touched the heart of the problem. But I would take it a step further.

Not only has the organization lost touch with the realities and needs of black America, but it is driven by an agenda that is actually damaging its own community.

I see African-American history unfolding in three chapters: slavery; Jim Crow (the period from the end of the Civil War through the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964); and the post-1964 welfare state.

The struggle of the first two chapters was a struggle against external oppression. The inspiration and guidance for these struggles was taken from Scripture and the church. Politics was the means through which the moral injustices were fought.

With the heady victories of the church-inspired civil-rights movement, blacks fell in love with the tools of battle — politics — and lost sight of the moral beacons that defined that battle.

Politics and government were transformed from the means through which we fought oppression to the very source of defining justice and for fixing our lives.

The NAACP, founded in the early part of the last century, at the height of the Jim Crow era, helped lead this politicization of the civil-rights movement after 1964.

The NAACP’s “social justice” agenda today is simply a boilerplate program of the political left.

The crisis in black America is poverty and a growing underclass — about 25 percent of our black population — whose problems largely stem from lifestyle rather than oppression. It is a social and moral crisis.

Yet the NAACP’s obsession is working to allow gays to get married rather than to restore the primacy of traditional values in our hurting communities. Traditional values are the steppingstones for rebuilding black families and rebuilding the crumbled foundations of personal responsibility essential for successful lives.

Ironically, one institution that does need dismantling, the NAACP works to defend. And that is our public school system.

We read a lot today about earnings gaps and wealth gaps. These gaps are largely driven by the increasing premiums that follow from getting educated. In 1980, a college graduate earned 30 percent more than a high-school graduate. Today it is 70 percent more. In 1980, an individual with a graduate-level degree earned 50 percent more than a high-school graduate. Today it is 100 percent more.

Otherwise stated, the penalty for not getting educated is increasing.

Fifty percent of our inner-city kids are not graduating from high school. We need school choice, both to introduce competition into education and to give these kids the opportunity to go to church schools.

In church schools, these kids, mostly from broken families, and under siege by the nihilist messages of our popular culture, would have a chance to learn and absorb values critical to live successfully in a free society. The very values that are off-limits in public schools.

Yet, the NAACP fights school choice. For reasons perhaps someone else can explain, the agenda of the political left is more important to the NAACP today than honest scrutiny of the real needs of its own community and serving those needs.

(Star Parker is president of CURE, Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education (www.urbancure.org) and author of “White Ghetto: How Middle Class American Reflects Inner City Decay.”)

Moore admits omissions from films

Left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore admitted Saturday he left details of a discussion with then General Motors chairman Roger Smith out of the documentary that launched his controversial career but claimed he could not get an interview that he felt was central to the film.

The bombastic Moore shot back at "Manufacturing Dissent," a documentary that accuses Moore of dishonesty in claiming that he never talked to Smith in his 1989 film, "Roger and Me."

"Anyone who says that is a fucking liar," Moore said Saturday after a screening of "Sicko," his latest take on the Bush Administration and post-9/11 America.

Reports The Associated Press:

Filmmaker Michael Moore gave people in the rural county where he lives an early look at his new film "Sicko" on Saturday, and had some harsh words for critics of the documentary that launched his career.

"Manufacturing Dissent," a film that accuses Moore of dishonesty in the making of his politically charged documentaries, alleges that he interviewed then-General Motors Corp. Chairman Roger Smith, the elusive subject of Moore's 1989 debut "Roger & Me," but left the footage on the cutting room floor.

"Anybody who says that is a fucking liar," Moore told The Associated Press in an interview Saturday after a showing of "Sicko," his take on U.S. medicine, in the northern Michigan village of Bellaire.

Moore, who said he hadn't seen "Manufacturing Dissent," acknowledged having had "a good five minutes of back-and forth" with Smith about a company tax abatement at a 1987 shareholders' meeting, as reported by Premiere magazine in 1990.

But that was before he began working on "Roger & Me" and had nothing to do with the film, Moore said. A clip of the meeting appears in "Manufacturing Dissent," released in March.

Filmmakers Rick Caine and Debbie Melnyk also interviewed an activist who said he saw Moore interview Smith in 1988 in New York. Caine and Melnyk say that undercuts the central theme of "Roger & Me" — Moore's fruitless effort to interview Smith about the effects of GM plant closings in Flint, Moore's hometown.

Moore, however, said the film wasn't primarily about interviewing Smith, but getting him to observe the economic devastation in Flint.

"If I'd gotten an interview with him, why wouldn't I put it in the film?" Moore said. "Any exchange with Roger Smith would have been valuable." And GM surely would have publicized any interview in response to the movie, he said.

"I'm so used to listening to the stuff people say about me, it just becomes entertainment for me at this point," Moore said. "It's a fictional character that's been created with the name of Michael Moore."

"Sicko" opens Monday in New York and two nights later in Washington before hitting screens nationwide June 29, but Moore gave Bellaire, a tourist village about 250 miles north of Detroit, a sneak peek as a fundraiser for the Democratic Party in rural Antrim County, where he lives. His wife and the film's executive producer, Kathleen Glynn, is the local party's vice chairwoman.

About 880 people paid $40 per ticket to watch the sardonic and sometimes heart-rending indictment of American health care. For an additional $60, they could attend a party with Moore at a restaurant across the street, where he autographed film posters, surgical gloves and even bandages.

The film chronicles the struggles of ordinary Americans — some with insurance coverage, others without — to navigate the health bureaucracy. Portraying insurance companies and supportive politicians in both parties as the villains,

Moore contrasts the U.S. system with those of Canada, France and Great Britain, which have government-run programs.

He ends up accompanying a group of rescue workers who became ill after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to Cuba, where the film describes them as getting better care and cheaper drugs than at home.

The gloomy tone struck a chord with many who attended.

"I feel like Michael Moore's a digger for truth," said Carole Chirgwin of Traverse City.

Most of Baghdad beyond U.S. control

Security forces in Baghdad have full control in only 40 percent of the city five months into the pacification campaign, a top American general said Saturday as U.S. troops began an offensive against two al-Qaida strongholds on the capital’s southern outskirts.

The military, meanwhile, reported that paratroopers had found the ID cards of two missing U.S. soldiers at an al-Qaida safe house 75 miles north of where they were captured last month, but there was no sign of the men. The house contained computers, video equipment and weapons.

Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno said American troops launched the offensive in Baghdad’s Arab Jabour and Salman Pac neighborhoods Friday night. It was the first time in three years that U.S. soldiers entered those areas, where al-Qaida militants build car bombs and launch Katyusha rockets at American bases and Shiite Muslim neighborhoods.

The overall commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, said during a news conference with visiting Defense Secretary Robert Gates that the operation would put troops into key al-Qaida-held areas surrounding Baghdad.

Odierno said there was a long way to go in retaking the city from Shiite Muslim militias, Sunni Arab insurgents and al-Qaida terrorists. He said only about “40 percent is really very safe on a routine basis” — with about 30 percent lacking control and a further 30 percent suffering “a high level of violence.”

The U.S. ground forces commander discussed the new offensive and the security situation in an interview with two reporters as he visited an American outpost near the main market in the capital’s southern Dora district, a major Sunni Arab stronghold.

“There’s about 30 percent of the city that needs work, like here in Dora and the surrounding areas,” Odierno said. “Those are the areas that we consider to be the hot spots, which usually have a Sunni-Shiite fault line, and also areas where al-Qaida has decided to make a stand.”

With Baghdad and Basra — the country’s second largest city and gateway to the Persian Gulf — under curfew, violent deaths were down dramatically Saturday. Only three people were reported to have been killed or found dead in sectarian violence.

That did not include the discovery of 13 bodies of a tae kwon do team kidnapped last year in western Iraq while driving to a training camp in neighboring Jordan. The bodies were found 65 miles west of Ramadi, police and hospital officials said.

The U.S. military revealed that identification cards belonging to the two missing soldiers were found June 9 near Samarra but said no one was in the safe house. Troops approaching the building came under fire from nearby trees, suffering two wounded before air support intervened, the statement said.

Spc. Alex R. Jimenez and Pvt. Byron Fouty were snatched in a raid on their 10th Mountain Division unit on May 12 near Youssifiyah. The body of a third soldier taken in the raid, Pfc. Joseph Anzack Jr., was found floating in the Euphrates River. Four other U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi translator were killed in the May 12 ambush.

The Islamic State of Iraq, a front group for al-Qaida, claimed in a video posted on the Internet this month that all three missing soldiers were killed and buried. The militants showed images of the military IDs of Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence, Mass., and Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Mich., but offered no proof they were dead.

Fouty’s stepfather found hope in the ID find. “I take it as they keep moving him, and that he’s alive,” Gordon Dibler Jr. said. “I was happy that they found something tangible. I’m going to keep hoping.”

Wendy Luzon, a friend of the Jimenez family, had a similar response. “It’s better than not getting any news for weeks,” she said. “Getting this news is something good. We keep hoping that he’s alive. We have nothing that tells us differently.”

The military announced that a U.S. soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in southern Baghdad and an Ohio National Guard pilot died when his F-16 fighter crashed shortly after takeoff from Balad Air Base in central Iraq. The two deaths Friday raised to at least 3,522 the number of U.S. personnel who have died since the Iraq war began in March 2003, according to an AP count.

In Baghdad, aides to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told The Associated Press that talks Saturday between the U.S. defense secretary and the Iraqi leader were difficult.

Two top advisers to the prime minister said al-Maliki, a Shiite, objected vigorously to the new U.S. policy of arming and training Sunni militants in the fight against al-Qaida.

A third said Gates told al-Maliki that political and legislative action sought by the U.S., including a new law to share oil revenues among all Iraqis, must be complete by September when the defense secretary has to report to Congress on progress in Iraq.

Gates also met with President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and expressed concern that the security situation nationwide might be spiraling out of control, a presidential aide said.

All the Iraqi officials agreed to discuss the talks only if not quoted by name because they were not authorized to release details. They said they were briefed on the talks by officials who attended the meetings.

The top U.S. commander in the Middle East, Adm. William Fallon, delivered a similar message to Iraqi leaders on June 10, and John Negroponte, the No. 2 State Department official, reinforced it in a visit at midweek.

Underscoring the challenges, Gates arrived in Baghdad on Friday to find a city all but shut down by a security lockdown imposed after the bombing of an important Shiite shrine north of the city. The explosion at the Askariya shrine in Samarra destroyed the mosque’s minarets and prompted at least two retaliatory attacks — both in southern Iraq.

On Saturday, attackers blew up the al-Ashrah al-Mubashra mosque in Basra at dawn, residents in nearby houses said. As they were leaving, the bombers wrote graffiti on the complex’s outer wall with the names of revered Shiite saints, witnesses said. No injuries were reported.

___

Associated Press correspondent Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed to this report.

Home of the free, land of the terrorist

“America is still the land of opportunity,” Sen. John McCain recently said. “And we’re not going to erect barriers and fences.”

Unlucky us.

Along with Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy, the Arizona Republican co-sponsored immigration legislation currently stalled in the Senate. McCain should recognize that without a barrier or fence, the U.S./Mexican frontier will keep welcoming Islamic extremists pledged to America’s doom.

This is not hypothetical.

“Members of Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based terrorist organization, have already entered the United States across our southwest border,” declares “A Line in the Sand,” a January report of the House Homeland Security subcommittee on Investigations, then-chaired by Texas Republican Michael McCaul.

The study cites FBI Director Robert Mueller’s March 2005 congressional testimony confirming that “there are individuals from countries with known al Qaeda connections who are changing their Islamic surnames to Hispanic-sounding names and obtaining false Hispanic identities, learning to speak Spanish, and pretending to be Hispanic immigrants.”

Zapata County, Texas, Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez told House members last July: “If smugglers can bring in tons of marijuana and cocaine at one time and can smuggle 20 to 30 persons at one time, one can just imagine how easy it would be to bring in two or three terrorists or their weapons of mass destruction across the river and not be detected.”

In fiscal year 2005 alone, 3,308 aliens got caught sneaking into America from nations the State Department considers state-sponsors of terrorism: 3,262 Cubans, 25 Iranians, four North Koreans, four Sudanese and 13 Syrians. Assuming the Cubans all were pro-American anti-communists, 46 people remain from terror-supporting nations. A group that size could staff another Sept. 11 twice over, or populate seven more Lackawanna Six Islamic-fanatic conspiracies.

Others who were collared that year departed nations in which terrorists thrive, though without government assistance: three Saudis, seven Lebanese, seven Yemenis, 11 Algerians, 15 Afghans, 17 Egyptians, 22 Somalis, 25 Indonesians, 27 Jordanians and 101 Pakistanis. Let’s hope these 235 individuals tried to break into America to harvest broccoli.

Of course, these are folks the Border Patrol arrested.

“Federal law-enforcement entities estimate they apprehended approximately 10 to 30 percent of illegal aliens crossing the border,” that House report states. If true, aliens from terrorist-laden nations successfully penetrated America’s perimeter in numbers three to 10 times those above.

May those we have missed be unlike those we have caught:

— Mahmoud Youssef Kourani pleaded guilty in March 2005 to providing terrorists material support. After bribing a Mexican diplomat in Beirut for a visa, Kourani and another Middle Easterner’s Mexican guides shepherded them into America. Kourani settled in Dearborn, Michigan’s Lebanese-immigrant enclave, where he raised cash for Hezbollah.

— Federal agents arrested Neeran Zaia and Basima Sesi in September 2004 for smuggling more than 200 Middle Easterners — mainly Iraqis, Jordanians and Syrians — through Latin America into the United States. Zaia previously was convicted of alien-smuggling.

— Tijuana cafe owner Salim Boughader Mucharrafille was arrested in December 2002 for smuggling into America more than 200 Lebanese, including suspected Hezbollah associates.

— Beyond Islamic prayer mats among the cacti, Jim Hogg County, Texas, Border Patrol agents found a jacket with Arabic-language patches. One reads “martyr” and “way to immortality.” The other depicts a jet flying into a skyscraper.

Despite Congress’ September 2006 vote to fence off 700 miles of the southern border, the Senate now backs only a 370-mile partition. This is especially discouraging, since that frontier’s condition is, officially, dismal:

“DHS does not as yet have a wholly satisfactory methodology of determining whether a portion of the border is considered under control from a system-wide, defense-in-depth, and continuously enforceable perspective,” laments a May 1 Homeland Security congressional update. “In the end, gaining control of the border requires gaining control of the entire border, so that as illegal immigration is stopped at one location along the border, it can find no alternate crossing point.”

In the end, Congress quickly must stitch the gaping wound across America’s underbelly. While the U.S./Canadian boundary is worrisome, 1/24 as many illegals traverse it, versus its southern counterpart. While most illegals come here to work, which presents its own challenges, others endure extreme heat and dodge Gila monsters to come here and kill us.

It remains Washington’s solemn duty to stop them.

(New York commentator Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University. E-mail him at deroy.murdock(at)gmail.com.)

What, exactly, is an ‘enemy combatant?’

One of the most difficult dilemmas in the war on terrorism is and has been from the start to define the designation “enemy combatant” and determine to whom it should apply.

In this sixth year since the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on America, the courts have wrestled with the question several times, leaving no one satisfied, least of all those charged with preventing a recurrence of that fateful event.

The latest of these judicial exercises came the other day when a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit decided that a legal resident of the United States could not be held in detention by the military and denied the due process so afforded citizens under the Constitution. The court said in a 2 to 1 decision that Ali al-Marri, a citizen of Qatar, must be charged, held as a material witness, deported or set free. It was a ruling that challenged President Bush’s authority not only constitutionally but also under a congressional resolution approving the use of military force.

Al-Marri was arrested originally in December, 2001 on charges of credit card fraud and lying to federal agents. Before his trial in 2003, he was declared an enemy combatant and transferred to a military brig. The government claimed that he was a “sleeper” agent of Osama bin Laden who had been trained at an al Qaeda camp and even had volunteered for a suicide mission. In his first 16 months of incarceration, he was held incommunicado.

Not unlike the case of Jose Padilla, an American citizen arrested on U.S. soil on allegations that he was plotting to set off a dirty bomb here and held for years without being charged, the cases raise serious questions both about American values and constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus. On the other hand, there are legitimate concerns about what is needed to head off a repeat of the worst outside attack on the United States in history.

How do we head off the elusive plots of men like al-Marri and even Padilla — who, after years of solitary confinement, was brought to trial under charges completely unrelated to the original allegations — if we are held to the difficult standards of proof required in a civilian court? Must we let them go to return to the battlefield, which in this case, is our own country?

It is difficult to argue with those who contend that there can be no presidential suspension of basic rights for Americans or, in this case, a legal resident, that the price we pay for our own freedom always is the protection of due process even for those who would do us harm. In other words, that is the chance we take to preserve the viability of the document under which all of us have benefited. That principle is the very foundation of our democracy.

There is validity in the argument that the only way of defending ourselves against worldwide accusations that we speak out of both sides of our mouths, preaching freedom and the rule of law while at the same time denying all that to alleged domestic enemies, to separate those caught overseas or here illegally from our own citizens and those, like al-Marri, granted legal status. The solution, many argue, is for Congress to redefine “enemy combatant” to include cases where U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are a legitimate threat to the nation can be held indefinitely without charges. But even that might not meet the constitutional test set out by the Fourth Circuit panel.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department has appealed the al-Marri ruling to the full court and the matter ultimately may reach the Supreme Court.

Most of us should be uncomfortable with the enemy combatant definition as the government now interprets it. Threats to national security always have been an excuse for an abuse of presidential power. Still there is legitimate worry about this faceless enemy and how to stop more horrific acts against us.

Hopefully, there can be a definitive, once and for all resolution to this thorniest of dilemmas. One can only pray that in the end we haven’t so perverted our values and beliefs that we have accomplished the terrorists’ goals for them, not the least of which is to prove us a nation of hypocrites whose cherished system is in reality a sham full of inequities.

Yes, Virginia, there is a ‘gay bomb’

At first it seemed like one of those urban myths that spread through the Internet like wildfire.

But this one turned out to be true. The Pentagon now admits that it did, at one time, consider producing a so-called “gay bomb,” an explosive devise with aphrodisiac producing capabilities.

Why? Good question. The Associated Press has a video report:

Rise of the one-button bandit

In a cloud of mesmerizing stardust, legalized gambling crept a little closer to Pittsburgh this week with the opening of The Meadows Racetrack & Casino at the site of what had been a harness racing track so sleepy even the horses yawned.

As for the city of Pittsburgh itself, plans for the proposed casino on the North Shore remain delayed while its neighbors — the Steelers, the Pirates, the Carnegie Science Center — continue to complain.

And why not? Complaining is what we do best in these parts and it is no surprise that complaining has become a team event with a little science thrown in. Why, when Pittsburghers die and go to heaven, they complain because they have to play the harp and can’t get their team jerseys over their wings.

Frustrated local gamblers were left to conduct office pools on when the city casino might be built and when the promised property tax relief is finally delivered (state officials say it will be soon but I suspect when it comes it will be strapped to the backs of the pigs flying over).

Now local gamblers can travel south down Interstate 79 to nearby Washington County to go to The Meadows, where the new casino — in temporary quarters for the moment — is open for business 24 hours a day, 365 days a year including Christmas (hark the herald slot machines ring).

At the opening on Monday, 500 people lined up to be the first inside and many more came later. This has been the experience elsewhere in Pennsylvania where casinos have opened — thousands of people joyfully thronging the joints for the privilege of being among the first to throw away their money.

I know, I know. They think they are going to be winners, just as I wake up every morning thinking I will suddenly resemble Brad Pitt or discover that I can flap my ears so that I can levitate my way out of boring conversations.

Why? What moves people to flock to these palaces of guaranteed long-term loserdom? Do they think money that is handled by so many unsanitary people should be taken away by well-polished machines in the interests of public health?

This isn’t a moral issue for me. I see all of life as a gamble. Some of us are born rich and some of us are born poor, depending on the cards we draw. Some of us are born with talent and good looks and some of us have to develop a nice personality, according to the roulette wheel of fate. (Darn, lost again!)

No, it’s the mass failure of imagination that rankles. I know that we have had to do something in this life to fill in the time until our funerals. But do we have to play slots?

In Pennsylvania, only slot machines are allowed. It was the way the deal was sold politically, so that the opponents of gambling could be marginalized. Oh, it’s only slot machines, how bad can the effects be?

Well, this was a classic come-hither. Once the old camel gets his nose in the gambling tent, he wants to play blackjack.

Already the state House Democratic leader Bill DeWeese is moving to introduce table games, because West Virginia has just approved them. As table games actually involve a modicum of skill and social interaction, it wouldn’t be a bad idea — that is, if it wasn’t such a blatant repudiation of the original understanding.

Until the inevitable happens, slots is the only game in town, or in Pittsburgh’s case, the only game fairly near to town. That being the case, money will flow from small pockets to big pockets and the collective IQ will fall — but there will be jobs and fun and everyone will be happy, even the losers because they can’t help it.

Not to be a spoilsport, but nothing has ever been devised to insult human intelligence as much as the slot machine. You don’t even have to pull the bandit’s arm; the new machines have a button so players can avoid the risk of exercise.

In Las Vegas, a place of exquisite bad taste where I fit in perfectly, the most I ever played was for half an hour before a terrible boredom seized me and I felt like I was in Albania and was so desperate for entertainment that I wanted to cheer President Bush.

See the human monkey press the button to get a reward. Press the button, press the button, oh some quarters came out! press the button, press the button. This is some kind of fun and, ladies and gentlemen, you are welcome to it. Wake me up when my property taxes come down.

(Reg Henry is columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E-mail rhenry(at)post-gazette.com)