Remain Vigilant, etc

by matttbastard

ZOMG CAR BOMBS IN LONDON!!11

Police have confirmed they are now investigating the discovery of two car bombs in the West End of London.

Police said the second device had been found in a Mercedes hours after the car was given a parking ticket in Cockspur Street and towed to Park Lane.

Another Mercedes, with a bomb made up of 60 litres of petrol, gas cylinders and nails, had been found outside a nightclub in Haymarket at 0130 BST.

Both bombs were similar, potentially viable and clearly linked, police said.

[...]

Police sources said it would have caused “carnage” if it had exploded.

“International elements” were believed to have been involved with the bombs, Whitehall sources told the BBC.

The ever-breathless Blotter sez it wuz teh Islamofascists fer sure:

British police have a “crystal clear” picture of the man who drove the bomb-rigged silver Mercedes outside a London nightclub, and officials tell the Blotter on ABCNews.com he bears “a close resemblance” to a man arrested by police in connection with another bomb plot but released for lack of evidence.

[...]

U.S. and British law enforcement officials tell ABC News it is increasingly clear Friday’s bomb plot in London involves multliple vehicles, and is described by a senior official as a “terror plot involving lslamic extremists.”

[...]

The car contained five or six propane and butane gas cylinders as well as 33 gallons of gasoline, all rigged to detonate with calls to two cell phones. Officials say the cell phones failed to initiate the explosions, even after each phone had been called twice.

But what would have happened if the dastardly plot had succeeded? Chaos! Devastation! 9/11 times a thousand!

The Times:

The “patio gas” bomb defused in Haymarket would have generated a fireball the size of a house and a shock wave spreading out over a diameter of at least 400 yards, explosives experts said today.

The propane cylinders and petrol used in the device would have triggered a huge conflagration, as well as causing shrapnel and blast injuries from the exploding car chassis and the nails packed around the bomb, according to Hans Michels, Professor of Safety Engineering at Imperial College, London.

Just one 13kg propane canister — the type sold by Calor under the brand name “Patio Gas” — would release a highly flammable cloud of vapour that would spread over an area of 50 to 60 cubic metres before igniting into a still larger fireball, he said.

“The vapour cloud from one cylinder would fill the order of a big room, and when it ignited the effect would be even bigger,” Professor Michels said. “In addition to the power of the explosion and the shrapnel, you would get a fireball the size of a small house.”

[...]

Professor Michels said: “It is almost certain that the explosive device itself would have been sufficiently powerful not to just fragment the gas cylinders, but to destroy the car and possibly the front of buildings, with missiles, shrapnel, nails and burning petrol flung at very high velocity in the wake of the shock wave and the whole surrounded by a massive fireball resulting from the instantly evaporated and exploded propane and/or butane.

Or would it? Scoffing at the media ‘hyperventilation’ in the wake of this latest near-incident, former CIA operative Larry Johnson dismisses the official spin:

You know what you call a vehicle with 50 gallons of gas? A Cadillac Escalade. The media meltdown over this incident is simply shameful.

For starters, gasoline is not a high explosive. If we were talking 50 pounds of Semtex or the Al Qaeda standby, TATP, I would be impressed. Those are real high explosives with a detonation rate in excess of 20,000 feet per second. Gasoline can explode (just ask former owners of a Ford Pinto) but it is first and foremost an incendiary. If the initial reports are true, the clown driving the Mercedes was a rank amateur when it comes to constructing an Improvised Explosive Device aka IED. Unlike a Hollywood flick the 50 gallons of gas would not have shredded the Mercedes into lethal chunks of flying shrapenal.

The fact that “officers courageously disabled the trigger by hand” coupled with the report of the smoke in the car leads me to believe that the mad London “bomber” tried to construct a Molotov cocktail of sorts and lit a cloth fuze. Fortunately he left the windows in the car up and there was not enough oxygen to really get the fire going. Looks like the brave British police reached in and snuffed the flame.

Ex-pat Brit Scot Cernig also thinks the technical expertise of the perpetrator(s)–and the supposed experts convinced a successful detonation would have caused mass destruction–leaves much to be desired:

…[T]he use of gasoline and propane point to an attempt at a fuel-air explosion – but if so the presence of nails shows the folks responsible don’t really get the dynamics of such explosions. As expert David Hambling points out, either the fuel-air explosion works or the nail-bomb element works – not both. That indicates they’re amateurs with knowledge gleaned second-hand rather than trained experts who understand the physics of explosives.

And David, not being a Brit insurance underwriter, may have missed one important fact. UK propane and other gas canisters don’t explode in all directions. They’re manufactured with a deliberate weakness in the base so that any explosion is channelled as the base gives way. The canister will shoot out like an underpowered rocket, but the explosive force of the detonation is far smaller and more directional (backwards) than if the whole canister failed all at once. That’s why the famous “Gas limos” scheme wasn’t quite all it was hyped to be.

[...]

The London Times has found an expert willing to deny logic and causation to make the bombs seem scarier. He says the explosion would have ” generated a fireball the size of a house and a shock wave spreading out over a diameter of at least 400 yards”. However, it’s clear from his explanation that for this to be true, the cloud of gas from the propane cylinders would have to expand to its fullest possible extent before igniting – something that would be impossible in the presence of burning petroleum – and that the original explosive charge would have to be big enough to fragment, not just pierce, the gas cylinders. Given the lack of evidence of such a large conventional explosive charge so far, he’s pushing the boundaries of possibility to their maximum.

More evidence that there’s no aptitude test required to become a (wannabe) violent extremist or a media-cited ‘expert’.

Update 07/01: ZOMG CAR BOMB IN GLASGOW!!11
UK counterterrorism officials make a wild leap of faith, saying this latest (inept) incident is likely connected to Friday’s attempted London car bombings (also hindered by extreme ineptitude).

Johnson and Cernig: still exhaling.

Quote of the Day: Accepting Responsibility

by matttbastard

How, if at all, can the US discharge its obligations not only to the people of Iraq but to our own soldiers as well?

For the war’s supporters, confident that that the “surge” is working, the answer is clear: fight on, winning the victory that Iraqis and the troops both deserve.

For those opposing the war, it’s not so easy. However much they may want out of Iraq, few are willing simply to disregard the moral quagmire into which the nation has waded. Leaving Iraqis in the lurch certainly qualifies as problematic. Yet for those who see the war as wrong or ill-advised or merely lost, continuing to send American soldiers to fight and die in such a cause is equally untenable.

A morally acceptable approach to closing down the war will resolve this conundrum, ending the conflict in a way that keeps faith with ordinary Iraqis and with our own troops. In short, the war’s opponents must align their moral concerns, which are complex, with their seemingly straightforward policy prescription.

That alignment becomes possible if we recognize that America’s obligation is not to Iraq but to Iraqis. As a nation-state, Iraq – awash with sectarian violence and lacking legitimate institutions – can hardly be said to exist. We owe Iraq nothing.

In contrast, we owe the Iraqis whose lives we have blighted quite a lot. We should repay that debt much as we (partially at least) repaid our debt to the people of South Vietnam after 1975: by offering them sanctuary. In the decade after the fall of Saigon, some half-million Vietnamese refugees settled in the United States. Here, they found what they were unable to find in their own country: safety, liberty, and the opportunity for a decent life. It was the least we could do.

The least we can do for Iraqis today is to extend a similar invitation.

- Andrew J. Bacevich, What America owes the Iraqis (via IraqSlogger)

Related: Spiegel International on Iraqi refugees in Sweden, one of the only Western nations that has stepped up and done the right thing by allowing nearly 10,000 Iraqi refugees to settle within its borders post-invasion.

About That Pony…

by matttbastard

The other day I posted on how US military officials in Iraq were (once again) musing about the possibility of future US troop reductions – if Iraqi forces can maintain local security without an American presence.

Cernig was skeptical, and rightfully so, judging by this AP report:

Several senior American officers have warned in recent days that Iraqi soldiers and police are still incapable of maintaining security on their own in the most crucial areas, including Baghdad and the recently reclaimed districts around Baqouba to the north.

[...]

Iraqi forces may be able to handle security in the Kurdish north and parts of the Shiite south. But that would face huge challenges in Baghdad and surrounding provinces where Sunni insurgents are deeply entrenched. The Americans then would face the dilemma of maintaining substantial forces in Iraq for years _ perhaps a politically untenable option _ or risk the turmoil spreading to other parts of the Middle East.

“The challenge now is: How do you hold onto the terrain you’ve cleared?” said Brig. Gen. Mick Bednarek, the operations chief of the current offensive in Baqouba, where Sunni insurgents have taken root in recent months. He said this week that U.S. forces have control of much of Baqouba.

“You have to do that shoulder-to-shoulder with Iraqi security forces. And they’re not quite up to the job yet,” Bednarek said.

[...]

“A lesson learned is … do not draw down too quickly when we think there’s a glimmer of success,” Brig. Gen. Dana Pittard, a former battalion commander in Diyala, told reporters this week.

Pittard, who heads the day-to-day effort to train Iraqi security forces, estimated that it will take “a couple of years” before the Iraqis are ready to take full control of their own security.

“The Law is the Law”

by matttbastard

Apparently the leader of Ontario’s Opposition has rejected Chief Fontaine’s invitation to join frustrated First Nations peoples in solidarity. In a speech today at a meeting of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, purportedly ‘moderate‘ Ontario Progressive Conservative leader John Tory showed his true Blue roots. Alluding to the potential of violence and blockades at National Day of Action protests this upcoming Friday, Tory crassly pandered to the law and order vote while exploiting post-Caledonia anti-First Nations sentiment (again).

Nice to see some things haven’t changed after the revolution.

Related:

  • Peter Kulchysky on the tarnished history of land claims negotiations in Canada
  • Contemporary timeline (as of November 2006) of the Caledonia land claim dispute from CBC News, which also has a backgrounder on the history of the land in question.
  • What you can do to support the National Day of Action

National Day of Action

Drawing the Line (Updated)

by matttbastard

WaPo:

In a radio interview last fall, Cheney said, “We don’t torture.” What he did not acknowledge, according to Alberto J. Mora, who served then as the Bush-appointed Navy general counsel, was that the new legal framework was designed specifically to leave room for cruelty. In international law, Mora said, cruelty is defined as “the imposition of severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” He added: “Torture is an extreme version of cruelty.”

How extreme? Yoo was summoned again to the White House in the early spring of 2002. This time the question was urgent. The CIA had captured Abu Zubaida, then believed to be a top al-Qaeda operative, on March 28, 2002. Case officers wanted to know “what the legal limits of interrogation are,” Yoo said.

This previously unreported meeting sheds light on the origins of one of the Bush administration’s most controversial claims. The Justice Department delivered a classified opinion on Aug. 1, 2002, stating that the U.S. law against torture “prohibits only the worst forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” and therefore permits many others. [Read the opinion] Distributed under the signature of Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee, the opinion also narrowed the definition of “torture” to mean only suffering “equivalent in intensity” to the pain of “organ failure ….. or even death.”

When news accounts unearthed that opinion nearly two years later, the White House repudiated its contents. Some officials described it as hypothetical, without disclosing that the opinion was written in response to specific questions from the CIA. Administration officials attributed authorship to Yoo, a Berkeley law professor who had come to serve in the Office of Legal Counsel.

But the “torture memo,” as it became widely known, was not Yoo’s work alone. In an interview, Yoo said that Addington, as well as Gonzales and deputy White House counsel Timothy E. Flanigan, contributed to the analysis.

The vice president’s lawyer advocated what was considered the memo’s most radical claim: that the president may authorize any interrogation method, even if it crosses the line of torture. U.S. and treaty laws forbidding any person to “commit torture,” that passage stated, “do not apply” to the commander in chief, because Congress “may no more regulate the President’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.”

That same day, Aug. 1, 2002, Yoo signed off on a second secret opinion, the contents of which have never been made public. According to a source with direct knowledge, that opinion approved as lawful a long list of specific interrogation techniques proposed by the CIA — including waterboarding, a form of near-drowning that the U.S. government classified as a war crime in 1947. The opinion drew the line against one request: threatening to bury a prisoner alive.

Comforting to know that even John Yoo has (arbitrary) limits. Hey, “simulated” drowning is one thing. Threatening to bury someone alive? That’s going too goddamn far, man.

(updates below the fold)

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