U.S. Chummy With Sudan Despite Darfur?

Children in a Darfur refugee camp
Children in the Um Shalaya refugee camp south of the Darfur town of Al-Geneina, April 25, 2007.
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Even as the United States has condemned Sudan for its role in the mass killings in Darfur, the Sudanese regime has secretly worked with the CIA to spy on insurgents in Iraq, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

President Bush has imposed sanctions on Sudan and labeled the killing of tens of thousands in Darfur as genocide. But critics charge the administration has "soft-pedaled the sanctions to preserve its extensive intelligence collaboration with Sudan."

Sudan, the Times says, has become "increasingly valuable to the United States since the Sept. 11 attacks because the Sunni Arab nation is a crossroads for Islamic militants making their way to Iraq and Pakistan." Sudan has also helped the U.S. track militants in neighboring Somalia.

Sudan gets a "number of benefits in return" for its efforts. "Its relationship with the CIA has given it an important back channel for communications with the U.S. government" – which the U.S. has also used to lean on Sudan over the Darfur crisis and other issues.

And while much of the world has censured Sudan, the U.S. State Department recently lauded the country as a "strong partner in the war on terror."

The U.S.-Sudan relationship, the Times says, "underscores the complex realities of the post-Sept. 11 world," in which the U.S. has relied on countries like Sudan and Uzbekistan, which are considered "pariah states" for their dismal human rights records, for intelligence and military cooperation.

Politics And Judges

There are new suggestions Monday that the Bush administration stressed politics above qualifications in its selection of federal judges.

The Washington Post reports the administration "increasingly emphasized partisan political ties over expertise in recent years" in choosing immigration judges, despite laws that forbid such practices.

Based on an analysis of Justice Department, immigration court and other records, the Post says "at least one-third of the immigration judges appointed … since 2004 have had Republican connections or have been administration insiders, and half lacked experience in immigration law."

The Post calls its analysis "the first systematic examination of the people appointed to immigration courts, the relationships that led to their selection and the experience they brought to their position."

Those given immigration judgeships included two GOP loyalists whose bids for seats on the U.S. Tax Court had failed; a former Louisiana Republican Party treasurer; an election law specialist from New Jersey who represented Republican candidates; a former White House domestic policy adviser and a "conservative crusader against pornography."

The appointments, the Post says, were all made by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, or his predecessor, John Ashcroft.

The report comes at a particularly inconvenient time for President Bush, as he pushes to revive the stalled immigration bill, and as the Senate takes up a no-confidence vote on Gonzales over his handling of the controversial firings of U.S. attorneys, whom critics charge were dismissed for political reasons.

Justice officials said they had changed their hiring practices in April but defended those selected earlier as "well-qualified."

"The Sopranos" Fades To Black

So you thought they were going to whack Tony. Or his long-suffering wife Carmela. Or at least Paulie Walnuts.


Much to the surprise of longtime viewers, not a single member of America's favorite TV crime family was killed off on the series finale last night – only rival crime boss Phil Leotardo was whacked, his plan to rub Tony out cut short with a bullet to the head.

The Washington Post hailed the show's "unorthodox and arguably ingenious" ending, in which the screen abruptly faded to black as "menacing strangers" entered the New Jersey diner where the Sopranos were gathered for a family dinner.

The New York Times, in a front-page story, called the ending "almost like a prank, a mischievous dig at viewers who had agonized over how television's most addictive series would come to a close."

And the Los Angeles Times said the show's producers "faced with deciding between a bang and a whimper, chose neither." Instead they opted to "fool millions of Americans into believing their cable had gone out for possibly the most important moment in the history of televised drama."

But while some may be frustrated at the lack of a definitive wrap-up to the show's eight-year run, keeping the lethally lovable clan alive leaves open "the distinct possibility of 'The Sopranos: The Movie.'"

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