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Obama signs law barring Gitmo trials in US

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* Bill includes sections blocking funding for transfer of suspects from Gitmo to US

WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama, in a setback to hopes for the quick closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison, reluctantly signed a bill on Friday barring suspects held there from being brought to the United States for trial.

Making plain he would fight to repeal language in the law obstructing civilian US trials for Guantanamo terrorism suspects, Obama said he was left with no choice but to sign the defence authorisation act for fiscal 2011.

“Despite my strong objection to these provisions, which my administration has consistently opposed, I have signed this act because of the importance of authorising appropriations for, among other things, our military activities in 2011,” Obama said in a statement. Obama has vowed to close the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which has drawn international condemnation for the treatment of detainees, but has met stiff resistance at home.

The bill includes sections blocking funding for the transfer of suspects from the Guantanamo prison to the United States. It also restricts the use of funds to ship them to other countries, unless specified conditions are met.

“The prosecution of terrorists in federal court is a powerful tool in our efforts to protect the nation and must be among the options available to us,” Obama said. “Any attempt to deprive the executive branch of that tool undermines our nation’s counter-terrorism efforts.”

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said the legislation Obama signed into law showed there was overwhelming bipartisan opposition to bringing Guantanamo detainees to the United States for trial and detention. “When it comes to terrorism, we should err on the side of protecting the American people,” McConnell said in a statement.

The provisions expire on September 30, at the end of the current fiscal year.

‘Betrayed Pakistan doesn’t trust us’

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WASHINGTON: Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said US and Pakistan can resolve issues that led to the closure of a major supply route for US and Nato operations in Afghanistan, and he hasn’t yet seen any major impact from the closure.

The US military has analysed the situation to determine what the effects would be if the route was closed for a longer period, the Admiral told reporters between speaking engagements this week in Tucson, Arizona, but officials are hoping such a closure can be averted, the Pentagon reported on Sunday.

“I believe we will figure a way to work our way through this,” Mullen said, emphasising Pakistanís importance as a strategic partner. Mullen, who has visited Pakistan 20 times since taking the top military post in 2007, said the United States had been working to rebuild Pakistani trust. How thatís resolved, hesaid, will go a long way towards shaping the future US-Pakistani relationship.

Pakistan closed the crossing at Torkham Gate along its northwestern border with Afghanistan after Nato helicopters ‘mistakenly’ killed several Pakistani border guards September 30, the Pentagon news report said.

“We left them in a dark hole from about 1990 to 2002, and they donít trust us,” the US military leader said. “We are trying to rebuild that trust. And itís basically coming, but you donít rebuild it overnight,” Mullen remarked.

This effort, Mullen noted, comes at a time of enormous challenge for Pakistan, whose border with Afghanistan, he claimed, is the epicenter of terrorism. This summer’s unprecedented monsoon flooding – that submerged one fifth of the country’s land and affected around 21 million people – has compounded Pakistanís struggles.

They have just been devastated, said Mullen, who toured flood-stricken areas of Pakistan last month with General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani Chief of Army Staff. Meanwhile, the American military continues to provide relief to flood victims in northwestern Pakistan. US military aid operations began August 5 with Army helicopters from Afghanistan delivering supplies and rescuing those trapped by flooding.

Marine helicopters from the USS Peleliu replaced the Army aircraft, and together they have delivered more than 8 million pounds or relief supplies, reported Department of Defense spokesman Marine Col. David Lapan.

Air Force C-130s and C-17s have been delivering aid since Aug. 16. As of last week, airmen have delivered more than 5.5 million pounds of aid. This brings the total to almost 13.7 million pounds of aid, Lapan said.

The US military aircraft have rescued more than 20,000 displaced Pakistanis, the Pentagon said. Flood relief efforts continue, Lapan said. It has not been curbed, but there are ongoing discussions about what the need is, because there are now roads open that were not previously.

Investigators claim US money is funding Afghan Taliban

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Investigators say the US military has been giving tens of millions of dollars to Afghan security firms who are channelling the money to warlords.


The US military report follows a six-month investigation

Trucks carrying supplies to US troops allegedly pay the firms to ensure their safe passage in dangerous areas of Afghanistan.

The convoys are attacked if payments are not made, according to allegations on a US military document.

The congressional report follows a six-month investigation.

The document states that trucks carrying food, water, fuel, and ammunition may be supplying up to $4 million (£2.7m) per week to the firms.

A US congressional committee is expected to hear the evidence on the investigation from senior officials at the US Department of Defense later on Tuesday.

‘Vast protection racket’

The congressional subcommittee that carried out the investigation says that bribes are paid to the Taliban and virtually every governor, police chief and local military commander whose territory the convoys pass through.

One of the security companies in question is alleged to be owned by two cousins of the Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The report released late on Monday says the security agreements violate laws on the use of private contractors, as well as US Department of Defense regulations.

The report states that “although the warlords do provide guards and coordinate security, the contractors have little choice but to use them in what amounts to a vast protection racket”.

The document states that security companies hired under the Afghan Host Nation Trucking are the ones funneling the money.

Watan Risk management is one of the largest security providers in Afghanistan and one of the companies currently under investigation.

The military report states that representatives of the company allegedly negotiate or dictate the price of safe passage in a given area. The company then issues warnings to trucking companies who are late in paying or refuse to pay the sum.

A spokesman for the Army Criminal Investigation Command at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, confirmed to the AP news agency that the inquiry is taking place.

The report comes as the number of US casualties is rising in Afghanistan, and suggests not only that money from the US tax payer is being used to finance the enemy, but also to undermine international efforts towards stability in the country.

WikiLeaks to release film of US Afghan air strike

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By Chris McGreal

WASHINGTON: The whistleblowing website WikiLeaks says it plans to release a secret military video of one of the deadliest US air strikes in Afghanistan in which scores of children are believed to have been killed.

WikiLeaks announced the move in an email to supporters. It said it fears it is under attack after the US authorities said they were searching for the site’s founder, Julian Assange, following the arrest of a US soldier accused of leaking the Afghanistan video and another of a US attack in Baghdad in which civilians were killed.

WikiLeaks released the Baghdad video in April, prompting considerable criticism of the US military. It says it is still working to prepare the film of the bombing of the Afghan village of Garani in May 2009.

The Afghan government said about 140 civilians were killed in Garani, including 92 children. The US military initially said up to 95 people died, of which about 65 were insurgents. However, American officials have since wavered on that claim and a subsequent investigation admitted mistakes were made during the attack.

The video could prove to be extremely embarrassing to the US military and risks weakening Afghan support. The US said it was targeting Taliban positions when it used weapons that create casualties over a wide area, including one-tonne bombs and others that burst in the air. But two US military officials told a newspaper last year that no one checked to see whether there were women and children in the buildings.

The US commander, General David Petraeus, said a year ago the military’s video of the attack would be made public as evidence that the US assault on Garani was justified. But it was not released.

In an email to supporters, Assange said WikiLeaks has the Garani video and “a lot of other material that exposes human rights abuses by the US government”.

Last week, it was revealed that US authorities are trying to make contact with Assange to press him not to publish information the Pentagon says could endanger national security. Assange cancelled an appearance in Las Vegas last Friday.

In his email, Assange also calls on supporters to protect the website from “attack” by the authorities following the detention of a US soldier, Bradley Manning, who was arrested in Iraq after admitting to a former hacker that he leaked the Garani and Baghdad videos to WikiLeaks.

U.S. hopes to give Pakistan drones within a year

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The Pentagon aims to deliver a fleet of surveillance drones to Pakistan within a year, but weaponized versions of the unmanned aircraft are still off-limits, a U.S. military official said on Monday.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced plans in January to provide Islamabad with what aides said at the time were 12 Shadow drones, aiming to boost its ability to track insurgents.

But a senior U.S. military official, briefing reporters at the Pentagon on the condition of anonymity, said Islamabad was still weighing whether Shadow drones were the model of unmanned aircraft best suited to its needs.

“We looked at Shadows. We looked at Scan Eagles and other tactical UAVs that are out and about and what we want to do is try to find out” which model is best, the official said, referring to drones as unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs.

Shadows are manufactured by AAI Corporation, a unit of Textron Systems, while Scan Eagles are manufactured by Boeing Co.

Islamabad has also pressed for weaponized drones, like the ones the CIA is covertly using in Pakistan to track and kill al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents.

The official, asked about that request, said general U.S. policy was not to export weaponized capabilities of any drone aircraft. Washington has been reluctant to share sensitive technology so far.

The number of surveillance drones that the United States would eventually provide to Pakistan depends on the cost of the model selected, the official said.

“A key factor will be how quickly we can get the capabilities to them,” the official said.

Pressed on timing, the official said: “I would like to think that we would get them there within a year.”

Pakistan is already using some non-U.S., imported drone technology and has modified a C-130 military transport aircraft to allow some surveillance activities, the official said.

Drones have proven to be a crucial technological advantage for the U.S. military in Afghanistan and Iraq, allowing it to remotely track militants and giving commanders battleground imagery in real time.

Gates told a Senate hearing last week it was in the U.S. interest to try to help close allies get drone technology, despite limitations on exports imposed by an international pact, known as the Missile Technology Control Regime.

The MTCR is a pact among at least 34 countries aimed at curbing the spread of unmanned delivery systems that could be used for weapons of mass destruction.

U.S. judge orders release of Guantanamo detainee

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A federal judge ordered on Monday that a man accused of having ties to some of the hijackers in the September 11, 2001, attacks, be released from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.


A guard tower of Camp Delta is seen at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba September 4, 2007.

Mohamedou Ould Slahi of Mauritania was described in the report of the 9/11 Commission that investigated the hijacked plane attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon as “a significant al Qaeda operative” who helped arrange for the Hamburg cell members to travel to Afghanistan for training.

The ruling by Judge James Robertson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordering Slahi’s release from the controversial prison for foreign terrorism suspects, was classified.

A declassified version, with details of the judge’s decision, is expected to be released later. Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said the agency “was reviewing the decision.”

The ruling came as President Barack Obama’s administration has been struggling to close the Guantanamo prison. Obama has argued that anti-American militants have used it as a recruiting tool for their causes.

Some detainees are expected to be prosecuted, while others have been cleared for release, although the administration has had some trouble finding places to send them.

Obama officials have said that detainees who still pose a threat but win release through the courts could still be held under the Authorization of Use of Military Force that the U.S. Congress approved in 2001. The administration could also appeal the ruling.

In his habeas corpus petition in 2008 seeking release from the Guantanamo prison, his lawyers argued Slahi had been subject to harsh interrogation techniques authorized by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

WELL-KNOWN TO INTELLIGENCE FIGURES

In 1999, Slahi was well known to U.S. and German intelligence officials, although they did not know he was in Germany at the time, according to the 9/11 report.

He was approached by a few individuals interested in fighting in Chechnya, including two of the hijackers on September 11, and Ramzi Binalshibh, the roommate of a third hijacker, Mohamed Atta, the report said.

Instead, Slahi recommended they go to Afghanistan for training. They took his advice, met various al Qaeda members there and the plot began to take shape, the report said, citing intelligence and interrogations.

Slahi said he turned himself in to authorities in Mauritania weeks after the 2001 attacks and was taken to Jordan where he was interrogated for several months before being sent to Afghanistan and then to the U.S. prison in Cuba, according to transcripts of his American military tribunal proceedings.

During those proceedings, he also said he had been to Afghanistan in the early 1990s, received weapons training, and had been a member of al Qaeda, although he said he broke ties when he left the country in 1992, according to the transcript.

The War on Afghan Civilians

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By DAVE LINDORFF

Three months after it initially lied about the murder by US forces of eight high school students and a 12-year-old shepherd boy in Afghanistan, and a month after it lied about the slaughter by US forces of an Afghan police commander, a government prosecutor, two of their pregnant wives and a teenage daughter, the US military has been forced to admit (thanks in no small part to the excellent investigative reporting of Jerome Starkey of the London Times), that these and other atrocities were the work of American Special Forces, working in conjunction with “specially trained” (by the US) units of the Afghan Army.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of the US war effort in Afghanistan, is he is taking over “direct charge” of Special Forces operations because of “concern” that they were not following his orders to make limiting civilian casualties a “paramount” objective. McChrystal is quoted as saying the US military “carries the burden of the guilt” for the “mistakes” made by those Special Forces.

This has to be a sick joke. These incidents were not mistakes; they were planned actions. It’s all the sicker because we know that the US is busy training the Afghan Army to take over this kind of dirty work. And besides, even if McChrystal does assume direct command over Special Forces, that would leave unaccounted for the tens of thousands of private mercenary units hired by the US who are working completely in the shadows for the CIA or other organizations. (One such group hired buy the Defense Department, which posed as an intelligence-gathering operation, was recently exposed as actually being a privately run death squad.)

McChrystal, recall, was in charge of a huge and brutal death squad operation in Iraq before he was given his new assignment in Afghanistan, and at the time he was put in charge of the Afghanistan War, it was reported that he was planning to put in place a similar operation in Afghanistan, designed to take out the Taliban leadership in the country.

What we have been seeing in Afghanistan–and this goes way back to before the appointment of McChrystal, or even the election of President Barack Obama, and his subsequent escalation of the war–has been a vicious campaign of terror against the Afghan people.

It should be no surprise that this is so. It is the way the US has always done counterinsurgency. In a war in which the insurgents (or patriots, if you will–the people fighting against foreign occupiers, or in out case, the US) are a part of the people, and American forces are the invaders, the goal is to drive a wedge between those fighters and the rest of the population.

In Pentagon propaganda, this is referred to as “winning the hearts and minds” of the people, but in reality, the US military doesn’t give a damn about hearts and minds. It simply wants the people to become unwilling to hide or support the enemy fighters it is facing. If it can accomplish that by making people afraid, then that is what it will do, and making people afraid is much easier than “winning hearts and minds.”

How do you make people afraid of supporting or hiding and protecting enemy fighters like the Taliban? You terrorize them. You bomb their homes. You conduct night raids on their homes. You bomb their weddings and their excursions to neighboring towns or markets. You shoot them when they get too close to your vehicles.

Statistics show that the US has, in both Iraq and now Afghanistan, routinely killed more civilians than actual enemy fighters. That tells us all we need to know about what is really going on. America is fighting a war of terror against the people of Afghanistan.

No amount of feigned public hand-wringing by the blood-stained Gen. McChrystal, or of assertions that he is going to assume direct control (from whom? are we to assume that they were operating without direction before?) of the Special Operations troops in the country, will alter that fact. Civilians–including especially women and children–in Afghanistan will continue to die in prodigious numbers because that is how the US fights its wars these days.

The people of Afghanistan know this. That’s why the majority of them want the US out of their country.

It’s Americans who don’t know the truth, and it’s Americans who are really the target of statements from the Pentagon and from Gen. McChrystal claiming that the US is taking steps, nine years into this war, to “reduce civilian casualties” in Afghanistan. It doesn’t help that news organizations like the New York Times propagate that propaganda, as the paper did today in a lead headline that said: “US is Reining in Special Forces in Afghanistan. General Takes Control. McChrystal has Raised Civilian Casualties as a Concern.” It simply wouldn’t do to tell Americans that their country is conducting a war of terror. We are supposed to be the good guys who are bringing peace and democracy to a benighted land.

So let’s just face the facts squarely. The US is not the good guy in Afghanistan. It is an agent of death and destruction. Just check out the town of Marjah, largely destroyed over the last few months in order to “save” it from a handful of Taliban fighters. Over 30 civilians died in that American show of force, and the message of those deaths was clear: allow the Taliban to operate in your town, and we’ll kill you–not just your men, but your wives and your children, too.

Written by rohitkumarsviews

March 19, 2010 at 6:55 am

Kandahar slides into lawlessness as Taliban attacks force government to retreat

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By Keith B. Richburg

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN : Even in this dusty, dangerous city long accustomed to violence, the killing last month of Abdul Majid Babai managed to shock.


New Special Representative of the United Nations for Afghanistan Staffan de Mistura speaks to the media upon arrival at Kabul airport, Afghanistan, Saturday, March 13, 2010. (AP Photo/Peter Graff, Pool) (Peter Graff – AP)

Babai, a well-liked writer and poet, was the provincial government’s minister of information and culture and was working to locate and preserve Afghanistan’s antiquities. He was fatally shot Feb. 24 by two assailants on a motorcycle as he walked to work, as he always did, alone and without bodyguards.

His death appeared intended as a warning: No one, no matter how respected, is safe.

“Whoever is working for this government, the Taliban will kill him,” said Haji Mohammed Qasim, a physician and tribal elder who was close to Babai. Qasim now carries a pistol in his pocket, travels only with two armed bodyguards and rarely leaves his home; for exercise, he jogs on his roof. “I am afraid,” he said.

In theory, the Afghan government is in place in Kandahar, but its authority is nominal. Bombings and assassinations have left the government largely isolated behind concrete barricades and blast walls. In the latest burst of violence, a suicide squad struck across the city late Saturday, detonating bombs at a recently fortified prison, the police headquarters and two other sites, the Associated Press reported. At least 30 people were killed.

For the first time in years, however, the U.S. military again has Kandahar in its sights.

American troops are seeking to reclaim the city and surrounding province, where the Taliban has proved resurgent, more than eight years after the U.S.-led invasion forced the group from power. But a visit here last week made clear that American forces will face an insidious enemy that operates mainly in the shadows and exercises indirect control through intimidation and by instilling fear. The provincial governor remains mostly behind barricades. The provincial council has trouble convening because many members have fled to Kabul. The police are viewed as ill-trained, corrupt and possibly in league with criminal gangs.

“I think nobody is in control,” said Ahmad Nader Nadery, a member of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, who recently visited Kandahar. “What was worrying to me is how the government is nonfunctional.”

In many ways, that makes the environment here more complicated than the one the Marines have encountered in neighboring Helmand province and the town of Marja, where the Afghan government’s presence was nonexistent and where Taliban fighters were massed in large numbers. The Marines took Marja with relative ease, installing a governor handpicked by the Kabul government.

In Kandahar city, residents say, real power rests with Ahmed Wali Karzai, head of the council and the younger brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Ahmed Karzai has been accused of vote rigging and involvement in the drug trade, allegations he has consistently denied. The eight judges still working in the city and province live together for security, packed into an impregnable compound, behind gray concrete walls topped with razor wire.

“If we want to walk, we just walk inside our building,” said Judge Dilagha Hemat, director of the Kandahar appeals court, who like others hears cases in the fortress, where judges sleep two to a room and a cook prepares the meals.

In the past few weeks, the precarious security situation in Kandahar city has worsened, with several assassinations and car bombings.

Written by rohitkumarsviews

March 15, 2010 at 10:01 am

Growing differences between the Pakistani civil and military leadership with the US administration

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By Shireen M Mazari

On January 17, the supposedly reputable Sunday Times of Britain, published a story by Christina Lamb from Washington – known for her bashing of the Pakistani state – entitled “Elite US troops ready to combat nuclear hijacks”, which was premised on lies and half-truths, derived from sources already proven incorrect in the distant and not-so distant past. Lamb’s story goes that US troops are ready to snatch Pakistan’s nukes if militants get their hands on either fissile material or a nuke itself. The stale premise is that this could possibly be from within the country’s “security apparatus”. It is too bad the newspaper failed to verify its facts – something we in the Pakistani media are constantly being told to do!

Point by point Lamb has either presented or quoted outright lies or distorted facts.

First: She has cited a retired CIA source, who had worked in the US energy department intelligence unit, as declaring that Pakistan had the “highest density of extremists in the world”! Now how has this statistic been acquired? Was any research done? Where did the 9/11 hijackers come from? What do they mean by the term “extremist?” Are those who elect extreme right parties in Europe not “extremists” also? And so on.

Two: The same source is quoted as claiming that there have been attacks on army bases “which stored nuclear weapons” and a suspect source, Shaun Gregory, has been used to substantiate this baseless claim. Yes, army targets have been there but nowhere close to any nuclear base or site.

Three: Gregory had, a while back, written in a US military journal on counterterrorism, documenting three incidents connecting acts of terror in Pakistan to nuclear targets. None of these match the facts on the ground. The first incident was a November 2007 suicide attack on a PAF bus near the Sargodha air base, on the main road and not inside the base itself. This was cited as an attack on a nuclear site since this was a F-16 base and these planes are of course nuclear capable! What logic for a supposedly sound British academic. The second incident cited by Gregory was a December 2007 incident when a suicide bomber blew up at the Kamra air base – again because the F-16s are there so it was assumed the nukes were the targets! But the base is recessed far away from the main aeronautical complex at Kamra which was targeted and where there are neither F-16s nor nukes! The third incident Gregory had cited was the devastating attack at the gates of the POF complex at Wah. But the ignorance of both Gregory and Lamb is revealed by the fact that neither of them seem to know that the Wah complex focuses on conventional weapons especially tanks and APCs and not on missiles or warheads. One can take comfort in the fact that these writers do not know where the missiles and warheads are produced and assembled!

Four: Lamb then goes on to cite a “fourth” attack supposedly targeting our nukes which took place on the GT Road at the turning for Kamra! According to Lamb, even though the Pakistanis have denied that Kamra is a nuke base, Gregory asserts it is. Now how credible is Mr. Gregory? Well, suffice it to say that he has a personal axe to grind with the Pakistani state and that his so-called Pakistan Security Research Unit at Bradford is more on the net than on the ground and many questioned have been raised about the source of its funding, especially for those in the know who are aware of its origins!

As for Lamb’s assertion that last August a 6-man suicide team was arrested in Sargodha but there is some confusion as to whether this was the same group that included the 5 US citizens of Pakistani origin who were arrested much earlier than when the story of their arrest broke in the Pakistani media. Lamb cites the latter case as an additional one and then refers to the map of Chashma that they had. Now what she fails to mention, although as a journalist on Pakistan she should have known, is the fact that the reason the Pakistani authorities have refused to deport these 5 to the US is because they are suspected of working for the CIA – either to infiltrate the militants or to actually gather information on Chashma which the US has desperately been seeking out in connection with info regarding our nukes – and have still not gained much access on this count.

Five: Lamb then in a show of either feigned or genuine ignorance refers to the suicide attack at the gate of the Naval Housing Complex in E-8 as an attack on the “naval command centre.” The latter is not in sector-E-8 at all, which is only a naval residential colony!

Six: She sees the attack on GHQ also as a targeting specifically of our nukes although this would be like declaring that the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon was specifically to target US nukes! So 9/11 made US nukes and their command and control insecure and unsafe by this logic!

Seven: Then a really old issue is raised again – that of the scientist Bashir Mahmood, who was arrested in October 2001, after he had retired from being a power plant engineer in the nuclear power sector, for having met Osama Bin Laden and because he had set up a Muslim charity. Again what Lamb conveniently refuses to mention is that the man had been interrogated and the case had been closed. Certainly he had met OBL but so many CIA people had also been meeting OBL when they thought he could be set up to work for them, before 9/11 of course.

All in all, clearly this story has been planted and Lamb used, once again to put forward lies and factual distortions to drum up a scare about Pakistan’s nuclear assets. Is it also a mere coincidence that the story has come in the wake of the growing differences between the Pakistani civil and military leadership with the US administration? It is unfortunate that a paper like The Sunday Times failed to verify the contents of the story first.

Written by rohitkumarsviews

January 18, 2010 at 11:17 am