Afghanistan's First 5-Star Hotel Opens
By DANIEL COONEY, Associated Press Writer Tue Nov 8, 4:37 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - The first five-star hotel opened in the Afghan capital on Tuesday, part of a construction boom that is changing the face of dusty Kabul nearly four years after the ouster of the Taliban.
President Hamid Karzai inaugurated the Serena Hotel in a ceremony attended by ambassadors, foreign aid workers and others. The luxury hotel joins a shiny office block and a glitzy shopping mall, two other new additions to a city nearly destroyed by a quarter-century of war.
And though many of Kabul's crumbling buildings are now being torn down, the city is far from being a modern metropolis.
It has electricity only a few hours a day. The vast majority of residents remain impoverished, living in single-room, mud-brick houses and drawing water from wells sometimes polluted with cholera.
Militants occasionally fire rockets into downtown areas, and the threat of being kidnapped forces many foreigners to live in tightly guarded compounds surrounded by concrete bomb barriers and to travel in armored convoys.
A room at the Serena costs between $250 and $1,200 a night — a fortune in a city where a government salary is about $50 a month.
With a large swimming pool, a health club, a pastry shop, two restaurants and a neat mustard-colored exterior, it sits in sharp contrast to its surroundings.
On the pavement outside, crippled old men compete with ragged street children and burqa-clad widows to beg for change from passing cars. About 300 yards away is the Murad Khani slum, where thousands shelter in flimsy shacks next to open sewers.
A short distance from the Serena, another construction project is nearing completion — a new U.S. Embassy building and an adjoining apartment block for its staffers. Painted brightly in yellow and orange, the buildings stand out from the rest of the drab, mud-colored city.
Since 2001, the mission has been operating mainly out of modified shipping containers. Staffers have often had to bunk together in small rooms and work in cramped offices.
The fancy shopping mall, the Kabul City Center, was an instant hit after it opened earlier this year. Afghans throng there on weekends, marveling wide-eyed at its shiny escalators and elevators.
"I am amazed by these moving stairs," said Ahmad Jan, a 23-year-old tailor visiting Kabul from the eastern town of Gardez. "I just had to see this building. It's so beautiful."
Bomb explosion injures 4 in eastern Afghanistan
KABUL, Nov. 7 (Xinhua) -- Four persons were injured Monday afternoon as a bomb exploded in a music shop in Afghanistan's eastern province of Nangahar, a local official said.
"A bomb explosion happened this afternoon at about 5:30 in Chawk Talashi area of Jalalabad city in a music shop, and injured four persons including the shop keeper," Abdul Ghafor Khan, the spokesperson of provincial police department told Xinhua.
The spokesperson blamed Taliban militants to carry out the explosion, and said Taliban didn't allow people to listen to the music, and forbid people from the beautiful things.
He said the investigation is still going on, but no one has been arrested in charge of this affair.
Taliban's elusive leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, in a fax sent toa news organization on Thursday, called on all the Afghans to unite together and fight against US-led foreign troops until drawing them out of the country.
A suicide attacker riding a white Toyota Corolla car attempted to ram his vehicle on the provincial governor's car Monday morningin the southern Helmand province, but the governor escaped unhurt fortunately. Four of the five bombs in the car were exploded and the attacker was badly injured.
Over 1,500 people, with the majority of them according to officials were Taliban fighters, have been killed in Taliban-led insurgency since the beginning of this year.
Afghanistan says not aware of reported secret CIA jails
KABUL (AFP) -Afghanistan said it is not aware of any secret CIA prisons within its borders but that it will investigate after a newspaper reported the country had one of several such facilities around the world.
The Washington Post reported earlier this month that the CIA was holding top Al-Qaeda suspects in secret detention centres known as "black sites" in eight countries, including Afghanistan.
"Regarding the presence of secret prisons in Afghanistan, we have no information," presidential spokesman Karim Rahimi told a media briefing. "That is why we say there is no such secret prison in Afghanistan.
"Since it has been reported in the media, we will try to investigate and follow this issue and see what can we get, but now we have no information."
The Afghan government had not immediately responded to the news as it broke during the three-day holiday for Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim festival marking the end of fasting month of Ramadan.
The allegations, which the United States has denied, were met with international calls for a thorough investigation.
The US daily said the Central Intelligence Agency had sent more than 100 suspects into its hidden internment network. The number was a rough estimate and did not include prisoners picked up from Iraq, it said.
In mid-2004 Afghan police arrested three US nationals for running a private secret prison in the capital Kabul.
The leader of the group, "Jack" Idema, said they were working with the knowledge of the US Defence Department, but the American military distanced itself from the men.
An Afghan court found them guilty in September last year of running a private prison and torturing at least eight Afghans in a vigilante counter-terror operation.
They were sentenced to between eight and 10 years in prison each, but the terms were in March cut to between two and five years.
Russia’s drugs control service to open offices in Afghanistan 2006
MOSCOW, November 8 (Itar-Tass) -- Russia’s federal drugs control service will open offices in several countries, including Afghanistan, next year, its chief, Viktor Cherkesov told a news conference at the Itar-Tass headquarters on Tuesday.
“The staff of the office to be opened in Afghanistan has been formed and a working contact established with the Afghan government,” he said. “Paper work is over. The task of establishing direct contacts to exchange information to plug drugs proliferation loopholes is coming to the forefront.”
The drugs control service is certain that its mission in Afghanistan will maintain close contact with Afghan officials and the officials of other countries involved in the struggle against drugs production there.
Since the withdrawal of Russian border guards from Tajikistan the amount of Afghan drugs being confiscated inside Russia has grown considerably, Cherkesov said.
U.N. Condemns Killing of Afghan Poet
KABUL, Afghanistan - The United Nations on Tuesday condemned the killing of a renowned 25-year-old Afghan poet, who was found dead in her home last week. Police said they have arrested the woman's husband and mother in the murder.
Nadia Anjuman — who was widely praised for her first book of poems, titled "Gule Dudi," or "Dark Flower" — died in a hospital in the western city of Herat on Friday after being beaten to death, said Nisar Ahmad Paikar, the chief of the city's police crime unit.
Her husband has allegedly confessed to slapping her after an argument, he said. The woman's mother was at home at the time and is also suspected of having had a role in her death. Both are yet to be charged.
Thousands of people attended her burial in Herat on Sunday.
"Students everywhere are so upset over this. She was such a prominent poet in Afghanistan," said Homayan Ludin, a student at Kabul University.
U.N. spokesman Adrian Edwards said the death highlights the threat still facing women in Afghanistan four years after the ouster of the Taliban.
"This is a tragic loss for Afghanistan," he said. "Domestic violence is a concern. This case illustrates how bad this problem is here and how it manifests itself. Women face exceptional challenges."
Before U.S.-led forces ousted them from power, the Taliban barred women from working and girls from studying. Women were unable to travel without a male relative accompanying them and if they were caught outside without wearing an all-encompassing burqa, they were often beaten.
Though things have much improved in parts of the country, President Hamid Karzai's U.S.-backed government has little authority in many rural areas to enforce a new constitution that guarantees gender equality.
AFGHANISTAN: Final election results out Wednesday
07 Nov 2005 18:56:28 GMT
KABUL, 7 November (IRIN) - The final results from Afghanistan's first parliamentary elections for more than three decades will be announced on Wednesday, an election official said on Monday in the Afghan capital Kabul.
"The final results from the parliamentary election will be announced at a press conference on Wednesday," said Aleem Siddique, a spokesman for the UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB).
Election results for the historic parliamentary polls last September had initially been expected by 22 October. But counting only ended last week.
The JEMB certified final results for a further six provinces on Sunday. The body expects to certify results in the coming days for the remaining five provinces: Kabul, Kandahar, Paktia, Paktika and Nangahar, and for the countrywide Kuchi (nomad) constituency.
"Certified final results already declared for 29 of Afghanistan's provinces and the remaining results are expected to be certified within the coming days," Bissmillah Bissmil, JEMB chair, said.
The JEMB also set out plans for the election to the upper house of parliament. The 102-member Meshrano Jirga will consist of two members from each provincial council and 34 presidential appointees.
"We are moving forward with our plans for the Meshrano Jirga elections. We are confident that preparations for this final phase of the election operation are on track and that Afghanistan will soon have its first democratically elected national assembly in decades." Bissmil noted.
Provincial councils are scheduled to meet for the first time on 10 November, with the Meshrano Jirga election taking place on Saturday 12 November.
Ballots cast in up to 3 percent of polling stations were excluded from the vote count because of fraud allegations, including ballot-stuffing, the JEMB said last month.
Of the country's 12.5 million registered voters, some 6.8 million Afghans took part in the polls to elect a national legislature and 34 provincial councils for a five-year term. Almost 5,800 candidates contested the poll, including over 2,700 for the 249-seat Wolesi Jirga (lower house) and more than 3,000 for 420 seats in the provincial councils.
Afghanistan's last parliamentary elections were held in 1969.
Delays Hurting U.S. Rebuilding in Afghanistan
By DAVID ROHDE and CARLOTTA GALL The New York Times November 7, 2005
TURMAI, Afghanistan, Nov. 2 - Islamuddin Ahmadiyar, a 22-year-old student, remembers the excitement in this dusty farming hamlet in central Afghanistan when American contractors broke ground two years ago.
A one-story, 12-room health clinic, nestled between apple and mulberry tree groves, was to replace the mud hut where the village's lone doctor labored through Afghanistan's quarter-century nightmare of Soviet occupation, civil war and Taliban rule.
But the clinic remains an unfinished shell, one of 96 American-financed clinics and schools that a New Jersey-based company was supposed to build by September 2004. To date, nine clinics and two schools have been completed and passed inspection, according to the company.
The company, the Louis Berger Group, says progress has been slowed by the requirement to use Afghan construction companies, forcing it to hunt, sometimes vainly, for those that can work fast and to high standards. A design flaw is also forcing it to replace or strengthen the roofs of 89 of the buildings.
"If you play just the numbers game, we're going to look bad, no doubt about it," said Thomas Nicastro, a Louis Berger vice president. "But if you look at this as a development issue, then you have an understanding of what we're trying to do."
Four years after American-led forces ousted the Taliban, the United States has spent $1.3 billion on reconstruction in Afghanistan, intending to win over Afghans with tangible signs of progress. And indeed, there are some. But to Afghans, the Turmai clinic is emblematic of what they see as a wasteful, slow-moving effort that benefits foreigners far more than themselves. "The aid that comes from other countries for the Afghan people, it's not going to the Afghan people," said Mr. Ahmadiyar. "It's being wasted."
The stakes are enormous. Afghans, famed for briefly tolerating and then viciously turning on occupiers from the British in the 19th century to the Soviets in the 1980's, are increasingly disenchanted with the American-led reconstruction program.
Meanwhile, the United States hopes to withdraw 4,000 soldiers from the country's south next spring; a drop in overall foreign aid is expected; and Taliban attacks are rising. So both Afghan officials and foreign diplomats are assessing what has been achieved during the past four years, and many are disturbed by what they see.
Government ministers here say that the foreign consultants and contractors the Americans pay for are producing shoddy work and achieving little - though charging dearly.
"Assistance is coming to Afghanistan, but we don't know how it is spent, where it is spent," said Amin Farhang, the Afghan minister of economy, who oversees foreign assistance programs.
And a July report by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, sharply criticized the American reconstruction effort and the department leading it, the United States Agency for International Development. It said inconsistent financing, severe staff shortages and a lack of oversight slowed the efforts.
"We really need to reform the external assistance in this country," said Jean Mazurelle, the World Bank manager in Afghanistan. "We are not in the position to provide the result on the ground that the people of this country are expecting."
Alonzo Fulgham, A.I.D.'s mission director in Kabul, said much progress had been made, citing two national elections, sharply improved health care and five times as many children in school, including 1.6 million girls. He dismissed criticism, saying that under dangerous conditions the agency had produced strong oversight, planning and achievements. He said American programs had built or refurbished 312 schools and 338 clinics, and constructed 500 miles of asphalt road and resurfaced another 500 miles. He said major progress had been made despite Taliban attacks that have killed 80 people working on agency projects, most of them Afghans.
The head of A.I.D. in Washington, Andrew Natsios, also defended his agency, which leads the American nation-building efforts in Iraq as well. But he noted that the agency's spending had doubled since 2000 to $14 billion, while its staff of 2,300 had grown by only 100.
Until this year, the A.I.D. office in Kabul suffered severe personnel shortages that limited its ability to monitor contractors, according to the G.A.O. report. The agency went from 12 staff members in Kabul in 2002 to 39 in 2003, 101 in 2004 and 160 this year, with 35 in outlying provinces. The report said the mission managed $11.2 million per staff member in 2004, while worldwide, the norm is $1.3 million.
The reconstruction effort also began slowly. The United States spent $214 million on that in fiscal 2002 and 2003, and then began an "accelerating success" initiative to produce more visible achievements before Afghan and American presidential elections in the fall of 2004. Reconstruction spending increased to $1.1 billion in fiscal 2004 and 2005. In Iraq, the United States has spent $9 billion on reconstruction. President Hamid Karzai and his top ministers, who now will have to answer to Parliament as well as the public, are calling for stricter oversight over all and greater government control of reconstruction money.
While Afghans remain grateful, they argue that much more could have been achieved. "This golden period has also been this massive waste period," said Jawed Ludin, Mr. Karzai's chief of staff. "The efficiency has to be increased."
Slow Gains Cause Rancor
The discontent was reflected in the elections last month, according to Western diplomats and analysts. Ramazan Bashardost, a demagogic former minister who bitterly, and often falsely, accused "a mafia" of foreigners and government officials of pocketing vast amounts of reconstruction funds, was elected to Parliament with the third highest vote total in Kabul.
Seated this week outside the modest tent that served as his campaign headquarters, the populist vowed to start a formal investigation when the new Parliament sits next month. "From the tax money of Americans, these people are living like kings," Mr. Bashardost said. "This money is donated so that it should be given to the hungry people of Afghanistan."
At the unfinished health clinic in Turmai, Mr. Ahmadiyar and other college students smiled when asked when they thought the building would open. "Probably another three years," he said, and laughed.
In 2002 and 2003, profit-making companies won five of six major A.I.D. contracts in education, legal reform, agriculture, economic governance and infrastructure.
Louis Berger, an engineering consulting company with 3,000 employees worldwide and extensive construction experience in developing countries, won the largest: a sweeping contract, eventually worth $665 million, to build schools, health clinics, roads and power systems.
In April 2003, after President Bush promised a new highway to link Kabul to the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar by the end of the year, A.I.D. officials directed Louis Berger to focus on the road.
The urgency doubled costs, according to the Government Accountability Office report. Louis Berger hired Turkish and Indian road construction companies. Taliban attacks killed several employees and guards. At a final cost of roughly $1 million per mile, the road was completed on schedule.
The company's school and clinic program, meanwhile, progressed slowly.
Mr. Nicastro of Louis Berger said the company and the aid agency decided to build California-standard earthquake-resistant schools and clinics, at a cost of $174,000 for a school and $133,000 for a clinic. It struggled to find Afghan companies that could build to its specifications.
Officials from one nonprofit organization, which builds A.I.D.-approved schools for roughly $150,000 and clinics for $85,000, said the Louis Berger designs were more complex than necessary.
Louis Berger initially proposed building prefabricated school buildings, a company official said, but aid agency officials rejected the idea because it would not help develop an Afghan construction industry.
"Part of the mission was to build Afghan construction capability," said Larry Walker, a vice president. "By the time we finish, there will be eight Afghan construction firms that are able to do international-quality construction."
The company subcontracted the construction of the Turmai clinic to a local company. That company, villagers said, passed the work on to another Afghan company. Neither subcontractor could be reached for comment.
The second began work but cut corners, using four reinforcing beams instead of six, putting sand under the floor in some places instead of concrete and building doors out of chipboard instead of wood, according to villagers. That company failed to pay local workers for months.
Mohammed Ali, a 40-year-old security guard and father of six who had not been paid for half a year, said American employees of Louis Berger visited the site at least three times. Inspectors contracted by A.I.D. visited weekly, he said. All companies made their profit, he said, but no one seemed to ensure that the clinic would be properly built.
"Everyone is doing their reports," he said. "They don't care about what they should actually be doing here."
Louis Berger officials said they maintained strict oversight over all their projects and have fired 3 of 11 Afghans subcontractors for poor quality work and other problems.
Last month Louis Berger hired Afghans to finish the clinic and said it would pay the additional costs itself. The company said all 96 of its contracted buildings would be done by the end of the year.
As for the faulty roof design, Louis Berger officials blamed an American subcontractor who they declined to name, saying they were pursuing damages. They said Louis Berger would pay the $3 million costs of strengthening or replacing the 89 roofs.
Mr. Fulgham, the A.I.D. director in Kabul, defended Louis Berger's work, saying that finding qualified contractors was difficult and that its road construction was successful. "It's very easy to look back and be a Monday morning quarterback," he said. "But I think they answered the call."
The five nonprofit groups also building schools for A.I.D. have also struggled to find skilled contactors and experienced delays, aid agency officials said, though none as severe as Louis Berger. Development groups with long experience in Afghanistan said Louis Berger's experience showed that large foreign contractors may not be the best choice to build in difficult places like Afghanistan, where intensive supervision is an absolute necessity. One, Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, said it had built 16 health clinics in the northern province of Kunduz on time, while the 16 that were to be built in the same province by Louis Berger remain unfinished four months after the deadline.
Consultants and Criticism
Louis Berger is not the only company that has drawn criticism. Bearing Point, formerly KPMG Pete Marwick, won an aid agency contract to "improve economic governance" in the Afghan Finance Ministry and Central Bank and other ministries. The contract eventually grew to be worth $98 million.
The company, based in McLean, Va., put roughly 50 foreign advisers to work in the bank and ministries in 2003 and 2004. Bearing Point and A.I.D. officials declined to give the cost, but Afghanistan's current finance minister said it was $500,000 a year for each consultant, roughly $150,000 for a consultant's salary and the rest to cover living expenses and security, and the company's overhead and profit.
Complaining that the consultants were too numerous and too expensive, and sometimes less effective than expected, Afghan officials tried to terminate the contract in 2004, according to the G.A.O. report. But A.I.D. said the consultants were performing well, and Bearing Point remained.
Anwar ul Haq Ahadi, the finance minister (on leave from Providence College in Rhode Island, where he is a professor), cut the number of his Bearing Point advisers roughly in half this year, to 27.
"There were some advisers I don't think were terribly necessary," said Mr. Ahadi. "In some cases, the positions were not necessary, and in other cases they were not the strongest professionals."
Rob Hager, an American lawyer and former Bearing Point consultant who now works for the Asian Development Bank in Kabul, agreed that some consultants were subpar. He said A.I.D. should be far more stringent and confrontational with contractors in Afghanistan. "They can put in any bozo," said Mr. Hager. "Pay them what they want and make their profit."
Lori Bittner, a managing director for Bearing Point, declined to state the company's fees, but said they were commensurate with those of other consulting companies. She said that Afghan officials approved the number of consultants and that they had helped introduce a new currency, attracted 12 commercial banks and issued licenses to cellphone companies.
"Many of them have been with Bearing Point for 5 to 10 years and have worked in many countries," she said. "They are individuals that know how to build a government, and revamp a government and give advice."
Some members of Congress say an understaffed A.I.D., which has shrunk from a height of 13,000 during the Vietnam War, has become far too reliant on large construction companies and Washington-based consulting firms to carry out its development programs. "Usaid increasingly is becoming a check-writing agency," said Tim Rieser, an aide to Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont. "We have to address the agency's staffing shortage in the context of designing and implementing effective programs."
Eager to blunt Afghan frustration, Mr. Karzai has ordered his ministers to tour the provinces and inspect reconstruction projects.
Mr. Farhang, the economy minister, said he had used government pressure to force contractors to redo inferior work on two roads and a dozen schools.
"The important thing is to have supervision, otherwise we will lose money," he said. "In the end, it is the Parliament and the Afghan people who will ask me and the other ministers what we did and where the money was spent."
David Rohde reported from Turmai for this article, and Carlotta Gall from Kabul.
Afghan Army Chief returns from U.S. with new ideas
November 6, 2005 Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan Coalition Press Information Center (Public Affairs)
By Army Sgt. Mason T. Lowery Office of Security Cooperation – Afghanistan Public Affairs
KABUL , Afghanistan – The chief of the Afghan National Army’s General Staff recently returned from a tour of the United States where he visited three U.S. Army posts to learn U.S. Army training techniques and experience American culture.
Gen. Bismullah Khan returned to Afghanistan Oct. 22 certain of the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan . He said he was impressed with the professionalism of U.S. Army training, particularly the role of the noncommissioned officer, and returned with new ideas on how to train a professional army and a greater appreciation for the American way of life.
“It was an extremely educational visit. We learned a lot about U.S. military facilities and methods of training,” he said.
Khan brought three key members of his staff with him on the trip, Maj. Gen. Abdul “Habibi” Abdullah, chief of personnel; Brig. Gen. Aminullah Karim, operations deputy director in training and education; and Lt. Col. Mohammad Farid, training and operations director.
“We highlighted to ANA senior leadership time-tested and proven methods of training Soldiers, empowering NCOs and developing leaders,” said Army Lt. Col. John T. Hansen, Office of Security Cooperation–Afghanistan’s Air Division chief and Khan’s escort during the trip. He added that the impact of the trip on the ANA is qualitative rather than quantitative. “It’s more of a mindset – thoughts and ideas, which are the start of any meaningful process.”
The Afghan delegation began their visit at Fort Drum , near Watertown , N.Y. While there, they observed training and established relationships with leaders and staff members of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, which is scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom early next year.
Khan addressed the leaders and Soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division, explaining the operational environment of the conflict and how the Coalition effort is helping Afghanistan . “Islam is not a culture of terror,” he stated. “Afghans now have no fear of external threats, thanks to the U.S and Coalition.”
From Fort Drum , the delegation traveled south to Fort Benning , near Columbus , Ga. While at the “Home of the Infantry,” Khan observed Soldiers training at Ranger School and Basic Combat Training as well as those conducting training at the Noncommissioned Officer Academy and Officer Candidate School.
“The most significant thing we showed them was the impact of an empowered noncommissioned officer corps. The Soviet system, by which previous Afghan military formations were modeled, marginalized NCOs. We demonstrated the powerful impact of NCOs bestowed with authority, responsibility, and autonomy by visiting the Primary Leadership Development Course and other NCO-owned and operated organizations and events,” Hansen said. “We hope to help them empower their own NCO Corps (in Afghanistan ).”
The delegation viewed hands-on training at Fort Benning and observed U.S. Soldiers conduct training on military operations in urban terrain. They saw NCOs leading the training, based on guidance they received from officers.
At the Officer Candidate School , Karim asked Army Brig. Gen. James Yarbrough, deputy commanding general of Fort Benning , why college graduates join the Army. Yarbrough told him, “They just have a desire to serve their country.”
The final leg of Khan’s American journey took him to Fort McPherson , near Atlanta , to meet with senior leaders from the U.S. Army Forces Command and U.S. Army Forces Central Command. There they discussed future security cooperation objectives for Afghanistan .
In addition to gaining invaluable insight about how the U.S. Army conducts its training, Khan and his staff also experienced a bit of American culture during their stay. Several short excursions to local neighborhoods and businesses familiarized the Afghan staff officers with the characteristics of American society.
When Khan and the delegation returned to Afghanistan , they were able to reflect on what they learned. “It was a perfect combination of visiting military installations and visiting with Americans and seeing different cultural sites,” Khan said.
Hansen said the U.S. Army benefited from the trip as well. “The visit demonstrated to U.S. operational commanders, training base leaders and our Soldiers the commitment of Afghanistan to developing a national army with competent leadership.” He noted that the trip also had a positive impact on basic trainees. Seeing the Afghan leaders brought home the reason for their training, he said.
“The delegation gained valuable insight from the trip. They are looking forward to implementing many new ideas and techniques as they improve their own training base in Afghanistan ,” Hansen said.
Bush Declares: 'We Do Not Torture'
By DEB RIECHMANN / Associated Press / November 7, 2005
PANAMA CITY, Panama - President Bush vigorously defended U.S. interrogation practices in the war on terror Monday and lobbied against a congressional drive to outlaw torture.
"There's an enemy that lurks and plots and plans and wants to hurt America again," Bush said. "So you bet we will aggressively pursue them but we will do so under the law."
He declared, "We do not torture."
Over White House opposition, the Senate has passed legislation banning torture. With Vice President Dick Cheney as the point man, the administration is seeking an exemption for the CIA. It was recently disclosed that the spy agency maintains a network of prisons in eastern Europe and Asia, where it holds terrorist suspects.
The European Union is investigating the reports, which have not been confirmed by the White House.
"Our country is at war and our government has the obligation to protect the American people," Bush said. "Any activity we conduct is within the law. We do not torture."
Bush pointedly noted that Congress as well as the White House has an obligation to protect U.S. citizens.
Not only is the Republican-controlled Congress challenging an element of Bush's policy, but the Supreme Court agreed Monday to consider a challenge to the administration's handling of military tribunals for foreign terror suspects. The case, which won't be decided for months, is a major test of presidential wartime powers.
The United States is holding hundreds of foreign terrorism suspects, also, at the military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Bush spoke at a news conference with Panamanian President Martin Torrijos on last day of five-day Latin America trip. Bush was ending the day in Virginia, where he was to campaign for Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore just ahead of Election Day.
On another issue, Bush ducked a question about the CIA leak investigation, declining to say whether he has lived up to his campaign pledge in 2000 to abide by the spirit of federal ethics laws.
"We take this investigation very seriously and we'll continue to cooperate during the investigation," he said.
Bush expressed his condolences to victims of a tornado that hit Indiana over the weekend.
Crime, despair, Islam: among the "rabble" in a riot suburb
Sun Nov 6, 5:51 PM ET
AULNAY-SOUS-BOIS, France (AFP) - A life of empty despair enlivened by crime and drugs and rationalised through the prism of militant Islam: this is the lot of the young rioters who have sent a shockwave through France with their ten-day trail of burning and destruction.
At one of the worst-affected towns in the eastern Paris suburbs, a group of five or six adolescents in baseball caps and hooded sweatshirts lounges in the parking lot of the notorious estate known as the "City of the 3,000."
Across the Paris-bound dual-carriageway that fronts the apartment complex, a Renault garage lies in black cinders. Charred plastic drips in weird shapes where it has been frozen by the blast of water-hoses. Police and passers-by are taking photographs with their mobile telephones.
Elsewhere in Aulnay-sous-Bois, which is in most parts a safe and genteel area not far from Charles de Gaulle airport, burned-out cars litter the pavement. A faint smell mixing tear gas and smoke still lingers in the air, several hours after the latest outbreak of violence.
Among Abdelkarim and his friends, no one bothers to deny that they were in the thick of it the night before.
"In the olden days this used to be a huge forest. It was called the Foret de Bondy. And in those days there used to be highwaymen who cut the throats of the people in the carriages when they came through. That's what we are -- like pirates," laughs Abdelkarim, a 20-year-old in a woollen hat.
The story he tells is one of poverty, discrimation, dreams of his old homeland of Morocco -- as well as hatred of Jews, regular consumption of hashish and a swaggering satisfaction with his record of car-theft, prison and violence.
"Look around you -- there is nothing here. Nothing. We live four to a room. Our parents go to work every day like zombies. But we have nothing. Even the jobs that there are round here go to people from elsewhere. This parking lot is like our living room. It is the only place we can go," he says.
The surroundings are indeed grim. The estate consists of a series of long low-rise buildings made of the cheapest 1970s materials and painted in an unsavoury off-white. Patches of scrubby grass are covered in rubbish and upturned wheely-bins.
"The police know us all by name. But when they come here they still beat down the door and order our parents to lie on the ground. And when they ask where we are from, we answer from here of course, but they say: 'No you're not. You're from Africa,'" says Abdelkarim.
Though he modestly refuses the appellation, Abdelkarim is the local "Caid" -- the Arabic word means leader -- and he happily boasts of the 2,000 euros (2,400 dollars) which he makes from each car stolen. "You want prostitutes, DVD-players, jewellery? I can get anything you want," he says.
One of his friends, Karim aged 15, pulls back his sleeves to reveal gold bracelets and then opens his shirt buttons to show a gold chain. Both nicked, he winks. Another, named Jackie, cradles a palm pilot he has robbed from the local shopping centre.
A third boy, younger with a pubescent moustache, has a new edition mobile telephone with moving colour pictures. "Come and look," he gestures, laughing. It is a short film of a Chechen guerrilla cutting off the head of a Russian soldier.
The group are all observant Muslims -- and though it would be far-fetched to describe them as jihadists it is clear that their worldview has been shaped by September 11, the rise of Osama bin Laden, the war in Iraq and the July suicide bombings in London.
"Did you see what happened in London?" says Mohamed, 22, his thumbs in the air. There is delight at being told that the Paris riots have become an international television story, featuring regularly on the al-Jazeera Arabic satellite television station.
An auburn-haired man alights from a car and is greeted by the friends. "See him? He was in Afghanistan with bin Laden. He has pictures of the two of them together," says Mohamed.
"I want to go back to Morocco," says Abdelkarim. "There are too many Jews here. Africa is the greatest. Here we are totally rootless. This is not our home. The French hate us and we hate the French."
He goes on: "They came to our country and they colonised us. Then they brought our parents over here to work. My father was given a quick medical and before he knew it he was flown from Morocco and building Citroen cars here in Paris.
"But now the wheel has turned. It never occurred to them that our parents would have children. But now we are here. All the misery of the world is here. And we are taking our revenge."
Indian foreign minister to step aside in Iraq oil-for-food probe
New delhi (AFP) - Natwar Singh will step down as India's foreign minister during an inquiry into claims that he benefited from the UN's oil-for-food programme for Iraq but will stay in the cabinet, it was announced here.
Singh will remain in the cabinet as minister without portfolio and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will take over the post of foreign minister pending the outcome of the probe by a retired judge ordered earlier Monday, a government statement said on Monday.
It said the move was made at Natwar Singh's request. If cleared by the inquiry Natwar Singh will resume his duties as foreign minister, said the prime minister's spokesman Sanjaya Baru.
The ruling Congress party, which has also been named in a UN report as a beneficiary of Saddam Hussein's largesse, said Prime Minister Singh had acted in a "laudable" manner.
"The prime minister has taken a wise step to avoid a conflict of interest and, besides, it is the prime minister's prerogative to bring changes in his cabinet," said Congress party spokesman Abhisekh Sanghvi.
"Today even without any evidence our government set up a judicial inquiry... It is a laudable and wise step taken by the prime minister," he said as the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party demanded the 74-year-old foreign minister resign.
Earlier Monday India's former chief judge R.S. Pathak was named to inquire into claims in the UN report, prepared by former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, that Natwar Singh and Congress benefited from the programme.
The Volcker report named Natwar Singh as a non-contractual beneficiary of four million barrels of Iraqi oil allotted to Zurich-based firm Masefield AG.
Congress, India's oldest political entity, is also listed as a beneficiary of a separate allotment of four million barrels of oil as part of the transactions.
The report found that Saddam's regime manipulated the programme to extract about 1.8 billion dollars in surcharges and bribes, while an inept UN headquarters failed to exert administrative control.
On Sunday the government apppointed Virender Dayal, India's former undersecretary to the United Nations, to obtain information about the charges against the ruling party and its members. The government says the inquiry by Justice Pathak and the one headed by Dayal are independent of each other.
Congress lost power in the early 1980s following allegations of involvement in a multi-million dollar bribery scandal over an artillery acquisition deal from the Swedish firm Bofors. Natwar Singh has held senior diplomatic posts in previous governments and hails from an one-time royal family in the western desert state of Rajasthan.
He was appointed foreign minister in May 2004 after a Congress-led coalition came to power with the support of communist parties after defeating the Bharatiya Janata Party. Singh joined the foreign service in 1953. During a 31-year stint, he served in missions in China, the United States and the United Nations.
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