11
Mai
2004

West's Snowpack Shrinks

Melt comes sooner, speeded up by hot spring temperatures and soot. Flowers, trees blossom early, but water runs short in summer heat.

By Don Thompson
Associated Press Writer
May 9, 2004

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-adme-snowmelt9may09,1,5690563.story

ECHO SUMMIT, Calif. -- Frank Gehrke skied out on an unseasonably warm March day to take the final Sierra Nevada snowpack measurements of the season near this mountain pass south of Lake Tahoe -- only to be stopped short by a muddy meadow where usually there would be deep snow.

Something is happening to the snowpack, according to measurements Gehrke has collected for 20 winters as chief of California's water survey program.

Near-record snows are melting under record-setting early temperatures this year, a harbinger of the Sierra Nevada spring -- and of a trend that is bringing vast changes across the West.

The snow that piles up in the Sierra, Rockies and Cascades forms an
immense frozen reservoir that drives western power turbines, waters crops and cattle, and flows hundreds of miles to thirsty lawns and throats in desert cities like Las Vegas, Phoenix and Albuquerque.

Snowmelt provides roughly 70% of the West's water flow. But the icy
trickle is becoming a roar earlier as spring creeps into what used to be winter.

Spring temperatures in the Sierra have increased 2 to 3 degrees since 1950, bringing peak snowmelt two to three weeks earlier. Trees and flowers bud one to three weeks sooner.

Western rivers are seeing their peak runoff five to 10 days sooner than 50 years ago. Glaciers are melting from Alaska through the Cascades and east into Montana. And in the Pacific Northwest, snowpack has dropped by as much as 60% over the last four decades.

The trend is consistent with global warming, scientists say, although
they're less sure of the consequences. The Pacific Northwest could
become wetter or drier as weather patterns shift; Northern California could develop the Santa Ana winds that fed Southern California's record wildfires last fall -- or not.

The uncertainty illustrates that scientists still have too little information to conclude that the trend is more than a regional cycle,
said Bonner Cohen, a senior fellow at the National Center for Public
Policy Research.

"Lots of things can happen, and right now it's way beyond what the
computer modelers can even pretend to understand," said Myron Ebell, global warming policy director at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Global or not, if the warming trend continues as projected,
scientists say it means a smaller snowpack no matter if precipitation increases or diminishes.

More moisture will fall as rain instead of snow, endangering ski
resorts as well as alpine meadows that will see encroachment from plants and trees that today grow only at lower elevations.

Two studies last year showed the range of many species has moved north at nearly 4 miles per decade over the last century, while spring
activities like egg-laying, flower blooming and ending hibernation have come three to five days earlier each decade.

"The elevation of the snowpack keeps creeping up. That affects us quite a bit," said Scott Armstrong, whose family has operated All-Outdoors Whitewater Rafting for nearly 40 years.

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory this spring predicted snowpack reductions of up to 70% in the Sierra and Cascade mountains of California, Oregon and Washington. The 400-mile-long Sierra range supplies water to two-thirds of California's population and much of northern Nevada, irrigates 3 million acres of California farmland, and provides about one-fourth of California's power.

"There are a lot of places in the Cascades and the Northern Sierra where the average winter temperature is above freezing. It's those places that have seen 50% to 80% declines, in some places 100% declines," said Philip Mote, a University of Washington climate researcher.

Climate changes are muted farther inland, where average temperatures are generally colder. But as much as a 30% reduction is predicted for the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and New Mexico over the next 50 years, with snow melting about a month earlier than it does now.

Soot darkens snow and ice, deadening their ability to reflect sunlight, contributing to a near-universal melting and causing as much as a quarter of global warming, the National Aeronautic and Space Administration reported. The process accelerates each spring as soot accumulates on the surface, making the remaining snow darker and speeding the melting cycle.

The economic and social impacts flow downstream along with the earlier snowmelt.

"That's where the river really meets the road," Mote said. "Then you're talking [about] affecting a lot of people's lives, a lot of people's livelihoods."

The changes mean less water flowing down western rivers in the dry
summers when it is needed most. The Columbia and Sacramento rivers could be hardest hit because of warmer temperatures there. Runoff into the Sacramento River has dropped 11% over the last century even as needs have grown exponentially in the nation's most populous state.

A University of Washington study this spring predicted that the Colorado River could see runoff drop 14% to 18%, sparking more water warfare between Southern California and upstream states. But the Colorado's Rocky Mountain headwaters are colder and the basin has more existing storage capacity to mute the effects.

More spring flooding and longer summer droughts mean pressure for
reservoirs to capture more water when it's available. Dams and
reservoirs "are not politically correct to talk about right now both
because of cost and ... environmental impact. But there may be a cost to not building reservoirs as well," said David Kranz of the California Farm Bureau Federation.

Environmentalists say water conservation is the answer, with
desalinization and water transfers between regions.

Copyright 2004 Los Angeles Times

Informant: Teresa Binstock

Bush Giving Away Wilderness to Oil and Gas Industry

May 10, 2004

The White House's rush to lease pristine public lands across the Rocky Mountains to the oil and gas industry is showing signs of being little more than a land grab, designed to prevent protection of hundreds of thousands of acres under the Wilderness Act.

A recent study of oil and gas drilling activity by The Wilderness Society found that the gas industry is stockpiling leases and drilling permits on 34 million acres of public lands in the Rockies, but is only producing oil or gas on 32 percent of that land. Over the past 10 years, the industry has received permission from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to drill 25,000 new wells, but has only drilled 19,000. Based on the record pace of drilling over the last few years, it would take several years to finish drilling the wells that have already been approved by the BLM.

While some industry representatives and Republican leaders accuse environmental groups of allegedly causing a slowdown in gas drilling activity, drilling is currently at its physical limit: there aren't enough drilling rigs in the Rockies to satisfy the abundant drilling prospects already made available to the gas industry. Further, some experts suspect that the gas industry is sitting on all that land in order to keep gas prices high -- many firms in the Rockies are posting record profits while families and businesses struggle to pay their energy bills.

"If sensitive areas on public lands were the only places left to drill, the BLM's actions might be explainable," the Denver Post said in a recent editorial. "But they're not. Energy companies have plenty of promising places to drill without invading proposed wildernesses or creating disturbances near parks and monuments."[1]

Meanwhile, the industry continues to push BLM to lease more land in even more remote areas -- many of which had already been nominated in Congress for wilderness protection.

One recent such proposal in Colorado drew the ire of U.S. Rep Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat who has legislation pending to protect nearly 19,000 acres of critical habitat and watersheds in her state's high country. Next month the BLM plans to offer all 19,000 acres for lease to the oil and gas industry.

"I realize that it is not a mistake that these particular areas are picked out for drilling, and all of us intend to protect them," DeGette told the Rocky Mountain News.[2] "(The) vast majority of federal land in Colorado already is open for drilling," she added. "Only a small amount is eligible for protection as wilderness, and the Bush administration should respect that."

The reasons behind Bush's push to give away public lands may be less obvious than they appear. The President's industrial backers and business partners are consistent opponents of federally-designated wilderness, because it precludes industrial activity like road building, timber cutting and oil and gas drilling.

But oil and gas industry executives, working from inside the administration, may have a more pressing reason to give away public lands to their once and future employers.

The energy industry, rocked by the Enron scandal and its own dubious business decisions, is saddled with massive amounts of debt. Large gas companies like El Paso have been forced to sell off major assets in order to keep Wall Street off their backs.

But questionable accounting practices common in the industry encourage gas firms to book potential future profits as a way to improve their earnings outlook. By stockpiling leases and drilling permits, the gas industry could be sacrificing America's wilderness heritage in order to pay off its junk debt.


SOURCES:
[1] "Public Lands Under Attack," Denver Post, Apr. 11, 2004.
[2] "Foes seek protection for land Bush plan targets for
drilling," Rocky Mountain News, Apr. 30, 2004.

http://www.bushgreenwatch.org/mt_archives/000114.php

ACT NOW to Protect the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

We have a rare opportunity to save one of the last wild places on earth! Please act today.

This alert is in response to National Ocean Service call for public comment on a Draft Operations Plan for the NWHI Reserve. This plan is important because it will guide the management of the Reserve and serve as a foundation for future management of a proposed Sanctuary. The Reserve Advisory Council developed a strong conservation-based Operations Plan, which was edited by the NOS in ways that weaken needed protections. Your comments are needed to encourage important measures be reinstated in the plan.

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands form the most isolated archipelago in the world. These remote and ancient islands, atolls and shoals contain some of the most diverse and pristine reefs on earth. This biologically diverse ecosystem is unique, fragile and magnificent--truly a world treasure. Please visit http://www.kahea.org for more information.

Your letter today will inform the federal government that you truly care about protecting our imperiled marine resources and that you recognize the NWHI as an important and unique region.

Your comments WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE and are vitally important to secure strong protection measures for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Please act today and help protect this unique place as a true Pu'uhonua (Place of Refuge) for future generations. The deadline for commenting is midnight (HST) May 15, 2004.

See also:

http://actionnetwork.org/campaign/nwhi3/i5sxe82pjb3n6m

Monsanto suspends biotech wheat program

OCA & Allies Declare Major Victory as Monsanto Drops GE Wheat
Monsanto suspends biotech wheat program
By Carey Gillam, Reuters

KANSAS CITY, Mo. < Monsanto on Monday said it was suspending plans to introduce what would be the world's first biotech wheat, a product that has generated concerns around the world about scientific tinkering with a key food crop.

Monsanto, whose shares moved lower Monday morning, said it had reached the decision after "extensive consultation" with customers in the wheat industry, and would continue to monitor the desire for crop improvements to determine "if and when" it might be practical to move forward.

St. Louis-based Monsanto has been doing field tests of Roundup Ready wheat for six years. It has already commercialized Roundup Ready corn and soybeans, and had hoped to spread the technology into the vast wheat-growing industry, starting in the United States and Canadian markets.

The company has been under fire from environmentalists, farmer groups and some export trade experts for its plans to introduce a spring wheat variety called Roundup Ready, which is tolerant of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide.

Opponents said the biotech crop would be moderately beneficial to only a small segment of the wheat-growing industry, but could devastate exports of all U.S. and Canadian wheat. Survey after survey done by export officials has shown that foreign buyers were unwilling to risk alienating their own customers by accepting biotech wheat supplies.

U.S. Wheat Associates, which markets American wheat abroad, had warned Monsanto that foreign opposition was strong.

U.S. Wheat Associates President Alan Tracy said he was both disappointed and relieved by Monsanto's move.

"It's a shame when a promising scientific trait is deferred because of nonscientific concerns," Tracy said. "Monsanto is obviously responding to the same concerns that we've seen in the marketplace, and we want to give them credit ... for recognizing the problems we would face."

Just two weeks ago, a group of grain industry players, including the North American Millers' Association, sent a letter to Monsanto Chief Executive Hugh Grant expressing industry concerns and asking that Monsanto tread carefully in its introduction.

Several groups have sought moratoriums on a biotech wheat introduction, and some foreign buyers have threatened to avoid purchasing U.S. wheat if Monsanto's biotech wheat was introduced.

"I think it is a very wise decision," said Louis Kuster, a North Dakota wheat farmer, referring to Monsanto's decision. "Our foreign markets overwhelmingly did not want it and repeatedly had told us they would seek other sources of supply. That would mean ruination of the wheat market."

Monsanto said that so far in fiscal 2004 it had spent less than $5 million on the Roundup Ready wheat project, and the plans to shelve it would not change its forecast for fiscal-year 2004 earnings.

The company said it would stop breeding and field research of Roundup Ready wheat and focus instead on work on Roundup Ready cotton and an improved soybean oil.

National Association of Wheat Growers CEO Daren Coppock said the decision was "a positive outcome" for the industry and for Monsanto. He said two other biotech wheat traits are in development by other organizations and they might be able to help forge an easier path to acceptance.

"If we see a broader-based trait come forward, it helps us all, plus it
gives us time to do our homework on gaining acceptance," Coppock said.

Added Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers
Association, "Monsanto has correctly read the winds of public opinion and farmers and consumers who are opposed to their Roundup Ready wheat."

"I think that the crops that are in the pipeline are not going to be able to be introduced without a tremendous amount of debate and civil strife," Cummins said.

Monsanto shares were down 66 cents or 2% at $32.33 on the New York Stock Exchange Monday morning, off an earlier low at $32.14

http://www.organicconsumers.org/monsanto/wheatwin051004.cfm

and

Embattled Biotech Industry Seeks to Bring Non-Food GMOs to Market
http://www.organicconsumers.org/ge/grasses051004.cfm


Informant: Teresa Binstock

HELP SAVE UNIQUE SPECIES AND CORAL REEF ECOSYSTEM

Dear Friend,

I thought you might be interested in this e-activism campaign to save a critically important coral reef, endangered sea turtles and the last 50 dugongs (a marine mammal related to manatees) in Okinawa from a massive proposed U.S. military base. The base is proposed to be constructed atop a coral reef off the NE coast of Okinawa, Japan.

If you go to the URL below you can check out what is at stake and
send your own message directly to the relevant decision makers

http://actionnetwork.org/campaign/dugong_aa?rk=6dq3_wp1jafjW

Thanks for taking action!

Peter Galvin

California and Pacific Director
Center for Biological Diversity
pgalvin@biologicaldiversity.org
http://www.biologicaldiversity.org

The Center for Biological Diversity protects endangered species and wild places through science, policy, education, and environmental law.

Salmon unlikely to tip balance in election

The onslaught is coming at us and everything from so many angles we must bend together our movements against war, against environmental destruction, against the destruction of what social fabric we have left to cover ourselves--flags don't count.

They have us so on our heels keeping us in reactionary mode, but we still must take those most needed steps beyond and can only do this with the resources of the larger movements already in place. Merging these movements can be done so it causes a media event that keeps us in the media. A voice strong and concerted enough it can no longer be ignored, because we adamantly push it into the mainstream.


May 8, 2004

Salmon unlikely to tip balance in election

By Blaine Harden
The Washington Post

SEATTLE - The Pacific Northwest woke up last week to what Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., called a ``bombshell.'' The Bush administration had abruptly changed the rules on protecting wild salmon, the semi-sacred indicators of regional identity.

As outlined in a leaked document, the administration would count hatchery salmon, bred in concrete tanks and pumped into rivers by the hundreds of millions, when deciding whether endangered wild salmon deserve federal protection.

``The president's men are plotting a brazen flanking move around the Endangered Species Act,'' wrote Joel Connelly, a columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, in an overwhelmingly negative assessment that was echoed by editorials and politicians across the Northwest.

Suddenly, it seemed, there was an environmental issue with political legs in Oregon and Washington, both regarded as swing states in the presidential race. Pollsters see a tight contest, especially in Oregon, with Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the presumptive Democratic nominee, narrowly ahead but President Bush within striking distance.

Had Bush tripped over a fish? Might an environmental issue make a significant difference in the presidential race? The realpolitik answer, from two longtime independent pollsters in Oregon and Washington, is an emphatic no.

``There are only so many issues people can be fretful about, and right now salmon is not one of them,'' said Tim Hibbits, a pollster in Portland. ``There are these monster issues out on the table: the economy and the war. The environment is not an issue in any major way. If people don't have a job, they are not going to worry as much about salmon.''

Oregon has the country's highest unemployment rate.

A decade ago, a regional poll found that three-quarters of those questioned agreed that if wild salmon were lost, an important part of the identity of the Pacific Northwest would also disappear.

But now, according to Stuart Elway, a Seattle pollster whose firm asked that salmon question, the economy and the war monopolize public attention, pushing environmental issues - salmon included - into the political shadows. ``Too many things are crowding that issue out,'' he said. ``It has been a long time since people thought the environment was enough in peril to raise it to the level of a real campaign issue.''

The Pacific Northwest, for all its avowed greenness, is not unlike the rest of the country. Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the percentage of Americans who say protecting the environment should be a top priority for Bush and Congress has fallen sharply, according to the Pew Research Center. It was 63 percent in January 2001, but slid to 39 percent in 2003 before rising to 49 percent in January of this year.

``Environmental issues play much better when the economy is good, and people aren't worried about war,'' Hibbits said. ``In a more benign climate, this salmon decision would be an issue.''

The Bush administration decision on salmon appears likely to cause multiple secondary eruptions of environmentalist rage throughout the summer. Courts have ordered federal officials to decide by then whether they will remove a dozen or so salmon species from protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Many salmon biologists say the federal government has tipped its hand on this decision by announcing it will count genetically similar hatchery fish in assessing the survival chances of wild fish. They expect that a number of salmon species will be moved from the endangered or threatened list - moves that will certainly infuriate many environmentalists.

``This will give people who don't like George Bush another reason not to like him,'' Hibbits said. ``Bush supporters will probably like it, as they tend to be on the resource-extraction side of these issues. But it won't make any difference to swing voters, who are the key to the election. They won't decide based on salmon.''

The Sierra Club's executive director, Carl Pope, agrees that the administration's new salmon policy is unlikely to tip the balance for undecided voters. But he said the policy will rile up the Democratic base in Oregon and Washington and make it more likely to vote. ``This decision is the most compelling example we have to demonstrate to Northwest residents that Bush is using his imperial power to take your identity away from you,'' Pope said.

In a normal presidential election year, Pope said the environmental community expects that about 10 percent of the strongly pro-environment electorate would not bother to vote. But thanks to this decision, he said, ``we can bring them out.''

That is a prediction that Bob Moore, a Portland pollster who works for GOP candidates in the West, finds improbable. He said his polls show that while most voters do care about salmon, they do not see a distinction between fish bred in hatcheries and fish bred in the wild.

http://www.registerguard.com/news/2004/05/08/b3.cr.salmon.0508.html

Informant: Let's Make Change

SUMMER HEAT WILL CAUSE DEADLY OZONE

By Robin McKie
The Observer
Sunday, May 9, 2004

Thousands of Britons may be forced to wear charcoal masks and stay indoors this summer to avoid deadly fogs of ozone that will pollute the country during heatwaves, scientists have warned.

They have discovered that last August's heatwave caused plants and trees to release waves of a chemical called isoprene, which contributes to the production of ozone in the air. Scientists now believe ozone killed up to 600 people last summer.

'Temperatures topped 100F (37.7C) last summer for the first time since UK records began, and similarly intense heatwaves will become increasingly frequent as global warming intensifies. Current projections suggest they could happen ten times more often,' said Professor Alan Thorpe, of the Centres of Atmospheric Science. 'Among all our other problems, we are going to deal with severe ozone pollution.'

Ozone, which is particularly dangerous for children, old people and asthmatics, is produced when strong sunlight breaks up the nitrogen oxides released by car exhausts. In recent years Britain has made major improvements in reducing these oxide levels in the air, and hopes rose that the problem was under control.

But the latest ozone study, carried out by a team led by Alastair Lewis, of York University and funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, has discovered that a dangerous new factor arises when temperatures soar into the high 30s.

'We went to Chelmsford to study ozone and isoprene levels last year,' said Lewis. 'By chance, we picked the two weeks of the heatwave. What we discovered was startling. When the temperature reached the high 90s and topped 100, plants and trees ... start to produce greatly increased amounts.'

It is thought that isoprene acts as a kind of heat-shock molecule, protecting leaves from damage when temperatures rise above 35C. When plants are short of water, they produce even more.

However, in the atmosphere isoprene acts as a catalyst driving the rate at which sunlight breaks down nitrogen oxide and turns it into ozone. The more isoprene there is, the more ozone is generated, effectively wiping out the moderate success the government has had in reducing levels.

Britain's new midsummer heatwaves are therefore likely to have severe consequences. European law states that governments must inform the public when hourly concentrations of ozone rise above 180 microgrammes per cubic metre. On 6 August last year, ozone levels over London peaked at 300 microgrammes. Other high spots were found in East Anglia and the Midlands.

The impact on the public was dramatic. One study by the Office of National Statistics indicated that 2,000 more people died in August 2003 compared with the same month in previous years. But calculations by John Stedman, at the National Environmental Technology Centre, indicate that these deaths were not all caused by heat stress and deyhdration, as was initially supposed.

Between 225 and 593 were caused by ozone, Stedman estimated. Many thousands of others suffered extreme distress, such as museum clerk Alison Bottomley, of Nottingham, who suffers from asthma. 'I had to stay indoors last summer to get away from the ozone. It was awful. I could hardly breathe. I tried a charcoal mask but it restricted my breathing. I had to lie or sit down till the heatwave went away.'

While most advice for dealing with the heat involves staying in the shade and drinking plenty of water, the response to pollution by ozone, which irritates the lining of the lung, is more draconian. Vulnerable individuals are told to avoid major road junctions (where car exhaust levels are high), stay indoors and wear masks.

The team's discovery will intensify calls for Britain to introduce even tougher new regulations to reduce emissions of car exhaust gases, the basic ingredient that fuels ozone production.

http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,6903,1212727,00.html


Informant: NHNE

Climate Change Out of the Blue

By Douglas Page

02:00 AM May. 10, 2004 PT

Those wispy streams of vapor that follow jetliners across the sky may not be as innocuous as they appear.

A new NASA study claims man-made cirrus clouds formed by commercial jet engine exhaust may be responsible for the increased surface temperatures detected in the United States between 1975 and 1994.

Climate data shows there has been a 1 percent per decade increase in cirrus cloud cover over the United States, which the NASA paper says is likely due to commercial air traffic.

Cirrus clouds, whether natural or artificial, play an important climatological role because they trap heat in the atmosphere by reflecting infrared radiation emitted from the Earth's surface.

The study, which appeared in the April 15 issue of the Journal of Climate, estimates that cirrus clouds from jet engine condensation trails, or contrails, increased the temperature of the lower atmosphere by anywhere from 0.36 to 0.54 degrees Fahrenheit per decade. These findings tend to agree with National Weather Service data that shows temperatures at the surface and lower atmosphere rising by almost 0.5 degrees per decade between 1975 and 1994.

Using 25 years of global surface observations of cirrus clouds, temperature and humidity from the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, the researchers confirmed the cirrus trends with 13 years of satellite data from NASA's International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project.

"Both air traffic and cirrus coverage increased during the period of warming, despite no changes in the NCEP humidity at jet-cruise altitudes over the United States," said Patrick Minnis, senior research scientist at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

By contrast, humidity at flight altitudes decreased over other land areas, such as Asia, and was accompanied by less cirrus coverage, except over Western Europe, where air traffic is very heavy, Minnis said.

The trends in cirrus cover and warming over the United States were greatest during winter and spring, when contrails are most frequent. These results led to the conclusion that contrails caused the increase in cirrus clouds.

Exhaust from aircraft engines is hot and moist, the water vapor in them coming mostly from combustion of hydrogen in the aircraft's fuel. The exhaust takes a moment to cool and mix with the surrounding air, so there is normally a 50- to 100-meter gap behind an aircraft before the contrail appears.

Once formed, contrails are distorted and spread by upper winds. Curtains of ice crystals can sometimes be seen falling from them.

Humidity in the air determines how long contrails remain in the atmosphere. Persistent trails sometimes form large patches of fibrous clouds indistinguishable from natural cirrus, cirrocumulus or cirrostratus clouds, according to Malcolm Walker, of England's Royal Meteorological Society.

Contrails that persist for an extended period of time are most likely to affect the climate. Minnis has estimated that a contrail that begins as a thin gossamer line across the sky can spread to cover more than 20,000 square kilometers in just a few hours.

Not everyone was immediately convinced by Minnis' contrail conclusions.

"The idea that the Earth is warming and high cloudiness is increasing and therefore part of the warming is due to increasing high cloudiness is not logically valid, if one is considering observations only," said Andy Detwiler, a professor of atmospheric sciences at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

Correlation does not equate to causation, he said.

"So many processes affect the temperature of the Earth that contrails could easily be acting to cool the Earth, and yet the overall temperature trend could be increasing," Detwiler said.

Still, this is not the first study to connect contrails to the issue of global warming. In 1999, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated that contrails from the world fleet of 12,000 civilian jetliners contribute as much to global warming as the carbon dioxide their engines emit burning jet fuel.

Source:

http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,63365,00.html


Informant: NHNE

RED CROSS: IRAQ ABUSE WIDESPREAD, ROUTINE

By Alexander G. Higgins
Associated press
May 10, 2004

GENEVA - Up to 90 percent of Iraqi detainees were arrested "by mistake," according to coalition intelligence officers cited in a Red Cross report disclosed Monday. It also says U.S. officers mistreated inmates at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison by keeping them naked in dark, empty cells.

Abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers was widespread and routine, the report finds -- contrary to President Bush's contention that the mistreatment "was the wrongdoing of a few."

While many detainees were quickly released, high-ranking officials in Saddam Hussein's government, including those listed on the U.S. military's deck of cards, were held for months in solitary confinement.

Red Cross delegates saw U.S. military intelligence officers mistreating prisoners under interrogation at Abu Ghraib and collected allegations of abuse at more than 10 other detention facilities, including the military intelligence section at Camp Cropper at Baghdad International Airport and the Tikrit holding area, according to the report.

The 24-page document cites abuses -- some "tantamount to torture" -- including brutality, hooding, humiliation and threats of "imminent
execution."

"These methods of physical and psychological coercion were used by the military intelligence in a systematic way to gain confessions and extract information and other forms of cooperation from persons who had been arrested in connection with suspected security offenses or deemed to have an 'intelligence value.'"

High-ranking officials were singled out for special treatment, according to the report, which the International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed as authentic after it was published by The Wall Street Journal on Monday.

"Since June 2003 over a hundred 'high value detainees' have been held for nearly 23 hours a day in strict solitary confinement in small concrete cells devoid of daylight," says the report. "Their continued internment several months after their arrest in strict solitary confinement constituted a serious violation of the third and fourth Geneva Conventions."

It did not say who the detainees were, but an official who discussed the report with the Red Cross told The Associated Press they include some of the 55 top officials in Saddam's regime named in the deck of cards given to troops.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said detainees held at Baghdad International Airport include many of the 44 "deck of cards" suspects already captured. It was not clear if Saddam was at the airport, but the Red Cross has said it visited him in coalition detention somewhere in Iraq last month.

The high-value detainees were deprived of any contact with other inmates, "guards, family members (except through Red Cross messages) and the rest of the outside world," the report says.

Those whose investigations were near an end were said to be allowed to exercise together outside the cells for 20 minutes twice a day.

The report says some coalition military intelligence officers estimated "between 70 percent and 90 percent" of the detainees in Iraq "had been arrested by mistake. They also attributed the brutality of some arrests to the lack of proper supervision of battle group units."

The agency said arrests tended to follow a pattern.

"Authorities entered houses usually after dark, breaking down doors, waking up residents roughly, yelling orders, forcing family members into one room under military guard while searching the rest of the house and further breaking doors, cabinets and other property," the report says.

"Sometimes they arrested all adult males present in a house, including elderly, handicapped or sick people," it says. "Treatment often included pushing people around, insulting, taking aim with rifles, punching and kicking and striking with rifles."

It was unclear what the Red Cross meant by "mistake." However, many Iraqis have claimed U.S. forces arrested them because of misunderstandings, bogus claims by personal enemies, mistaken identity or simply for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

One former detainee who claims he was abused, Haider Sabbar Abed, said he was arrested in July when the driver of the car he was in was unable to produce proper papers at a U.S. checkpoint. He was not released until April 15.

In one operation, U.S. special operations troops detained nearly the entire male population of the village of Habbariyah, ranging in age from 81 to 13, apparently to prevent terrorists from slipping across the border from Saudi Arabia. The 79 men were held for weeks.

Language problems sometimes led to detainees'"being slapped, roughed up, pushed around or pushed to the ground," according to the Red Cross report. "A failure to understand or a misunderstanding of orders given in English was construed by guards as resistance or disobedience."

The report says that in coalition prisons "ICRC delegates directly witnessed and documented a variety of methods used to secure the cooperation" of the inmates "with their interrogators." The delegates saw detainees kept "completely naked in totally empty concrete cells and in total darkness."

"Upon witnessing such cases, the ICRC interrupted its visits and requested an explanation from the authorities," the report says. "The military intelligence officer in charge of the interrogation explained that this practice was 'part of the process.'"

This apparently meant detainees were progressively given clothing, bedding, lighting and other items in exchange for cooperation, it says.

The report says the Red Cross found evidence supporting prisoners' allegations of other forms of abuse during arrest, initial detention and interrogation -- including burns, bruises and other injuries.

Once detainees were moved to regular prison facilities, the abuses typically stopped, it says.

The report also cites widespread abuse of power and ill-treatment by Iraqi law enforcement officers under the coalition, including extorting money from people in their custody by threatening to hand them over to coalition authorities. Under the Geneva Conventions, the coalition is responsible for the Iraqi officers' behavior, the report says.

The Red Cross has emphasized that the report was only a summary of its repeated attempts in person and in writing from March to November 2003 to get U.S. officials to stop abuses. Those earlier interventions by the Red Cross far preceded the Pentagon's decision to investigate after a low-ranking U.S. soldier stepped forward in January.

The Geneva-based organization gave its report to coalition forces in February. The prisoner abuse erupted into an international scandal in recent days after the publication of disturbing photographs from Abu Ghraib.

The Red Cross said it wanted to keep the report confidential because it saw U.S. officials making progress in responding to their complaints. Still, the American reaction was far slower than that of British officials, according to the report.

It says the Red Cross informed the commander of British forces in April 2003 of "ill-treatment" by military intelligence personnel in interrogating Iraqis at Umm Qasr in southern Iraq. "This intervention had the immediate effect to stop the systematic use of hoods and flexi-cuffs in the interrogation section of Umm Qasr."


Informant: NHNE

Omega see also

http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/0510042icrc1.html

Informant: Thomas L. Knapp
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