Sections on today's Signs Page:
Editorial: War as an Entertaining Sport
The New American Empire
The U.S. is so often involved in armed conflicts, war is beginning to be seen as a sports event. For many Americans, starting with George W. Bush, the former owner of a baseball team, a war is a bit like a baseball or football game; the aim of this game is simply to be the strongest and to win. In doing so, the people are entertained and the media are occupied with subject matter to fill their pages and airtime. In the U.S., war is part of the entertainment industry.
An anology can also be drawn between bloody war and virtual video games. There is a plethora of warlike video games that children play on their computer, games where the good guys win over the bad guys by exacting justice themselves through violence. Do video games make war and violence easier and more acceptable? Hollywood also does its part in promoting and banalizing violence. In the 25 most popular films of all times, there are more than nine billion deaths! Are modern electronic wars just a transposition in real time of movies and electronic video war games?
The media also played a central role in the country's war psychosis before the onset of the 2003 war against Iraq. In December of 2002, for example, on the eve of the war, some neo-conservative media gave "pre-game shows". They openly discussed how American forces could or should use anti-personnel mines to secure certain Iraqi territories, or how the threat of using tactical nuclear arms could dissuade Iraq from using arms of mass destruction. They didn't seem to be preoccupied by the fact that the victims of land mines are overwhelmingly civilians and especially children. As for nuclear weapons, it is too easily forgotten that the U.S. remains to this day the only country that has used them to destroy civilian populations. Morality doesn't seem to count for some people when it comes to the game of war.
Extracted from the book The New American Empire by Rodrique Tremblay.
Comment on this Editorial
Editorial: Neocon Forever War Plan Creeps Forward
Wednesday March 29th 2006, 2:33 pm
Another Day in the Empire
If you believe the line towed by the corporate media, a line manufactured in the deep recesses of the Pentagon, the United States stumbled into Iraq based on "intelligence failures." According to Vernon Loeb of the Washington Post, former CIA analyst and PNAC conspirator Reuel Marc Gerecht, writing under the pen name Edward G. Shirley, tells us the
CIA has "grown intellectually dishonest" and the intelligence the agency produced is "often nearly worthless." Because of this, the neocons created the Office of Special Plans (OSP), managed by the Leo Strauss scholar Abram Shulsky, and offered up their own "intelligence," mostly gleaned from the overactive imagination of the convicted embezzler Ahmed Chalabi and the so-called "Iraqi chemical engineer" (and the brother of a top lieutenant of Chalabi) colorfully nicknamed Curveball. It is important to note that Chalabi's lies and fabrications were used by Shulsky's OSP-and subsequently fed to an eager shill, New York Times columnist Judith Miller, for wide dissemination-because a key tenet of the Straussian philosophy is the necessity of deception.
"Strauss believed that societies should be hierarchical-divided between an elite who should lead, and the masses who should follow," writes Jim Lobe. "But unlike fellow elitists like Plato, he was less concerned with the moral character of these leaders" who "are fit to rule" because they "realize there is no morality and that there is only one natural right-the right of the superior to rule over the inferior." For the Straussian neocons, it is perfectly natural for the "elite" to deceive the "inferior" masses with scary fairy tales about weapons of mass destruction and cave dwelling Muslim terrorists. In fact, the scam worked famously.
Recall the lie that the Iraqis would welcome the United States, showering its soldiers with rose petals. Of course, the Straussian neocons knew this would never happen and, in fact, it would have been counterproductive to their ultimate plan-the implementation of the "clash of civilizations," the generational war against Islam, root and branch. As a scant glance at the headlines demonstrates, the Straussian neocons are working on the next phase of their plan-the violent "sectarian" balkanization of Iraq and the spreading of the flames of war and misery elsewhere in the Middle East. As the latest outrage reveals-the murder of Muslim worshippers at a Shia mosque in Baghdad-the neocons are doing all they can to turn the Shia majority against the occupation and thus reduce Iraq to a smoldering ruin, or more of a smoldering ruin than it is already, thanks to our "elite rulers" and their "Machiavellian wisdom," as Michael Doliner describes it.
In order to muck up the delicate situation in Iraq even more, the Straussian neocon cardboard cut-out president, George W. Bush, has "made it clear that he does not want Ibrahim al-Jaafari to remain prime minister of Iraq … a move likely to increase hostility between the US and the Shia community," according to the Independent. "Friction between the Americans and the Shia, who make up 60 per cent of Iraq's 27 million population, escalated sharply after at least 16 Shi'ites were killed in the al-Mustafa mosque by Iraqi and American Special Forces on Sunday night. Many Shia believe that the US was shocked by, and is not ready to accept, the success of the Shia Alliance in the election on 15 December." No doubt the Straussian neocons realize the "prolonged negotiations on forming a new national unity government" have "served to underline the fissures dividing Shia, Sunni and Kurds," the very keystone of the neocon effort to form three Bantustans based along ethnic and religious lines.
According to Justin Raimondo, "the U.S. knew perfectly well what it was doing when it charged into Iraq, guns blazing. They knew the Sunnis and Shi'ites would soon be at each other's throats, they anticipated the insurgency and the depth of Iranian influence in post-war Iraq…. and that's just what the neoconservatives in the administration were hoping for. Phase two of their war to 'liberate' the Middle East is about to begin-and it promises to be far bloodier, and to encompass a much bigger battlefield," including Iran and Syria, to name but two. "As American forces begin to take on the Shi'ites in Iraq, and Iran is drawn into the conflict, this new turn … could not be more ominous. If you thought the invasion and occupation of Iraq was a major military production, with more shock and awe than anyone was prepared to withstand, then wait until you get a gander at what's coming next. All I can say is: fasten your seat belts, because it's going to be a very bumpy ride."
Indeed. Of course, the naysayers will complain about the obvious fact the United States does not have the manpower-or for that matter the money-to take on Iran, Syria, the Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine, and other Shia factions across the Middle East who will naturally be drawn into a protracted conflict when the Iraqi Shia finally go into the streets to battle the occupation in earnest.
"Paradoxically, Straussians do think that Cindy Sheehan's son Casey died for a noble cause, the transformation of the United States of America into the Straussian State," explains Michael Doliner. As Shadia Dury points out, the Straussian ideal is not only about transforming the Muslim Middle East-it is also about transforming American society. Like the Nazi Jurist Carl Schmitt and the Hegelian Alexandre Kojève, Strauss "understood politics as a conflict between mutually hostile groups willing to fight each other to the death… In short, they all thought that man's humanity depended on his willingness to rush naked into battle and headlong to his death. Only perpetual war can overturn the modern project with its emphasis on self- preservation and creature comforts…. The combination of religion and nationalism is the elixir that Strauss advocates as the way to turn natural, relaxed, hedonistic men into devout nationalists willing to fight and die for their God and country."
"The real question is not whether the American military can topple Hussein's regime, but whether the American public has the stomach for imperial involvement of a kind we have not known since the United States occupied Germany and Japan," wrote the Straussian neocon Lawrence F. Kaplan prior to Bush's invasion based on deception. Soon enough, we may be told-as tankers aflame block the crucial Strait of Hormuz, bottlenecking access to the most important substance in the world, oil-that we must donate our children or ourselves and "fight and die" for "God and country," or at least to preserve our way of life, even as the Straussian neocons work behind the scenes to destroy it and elevate themselves to the status of Machiavellian princes.
Another Day in the Empire
Comment on this Editorial
Editorial: The War Prayer
By Mark Twain
It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts and which they interrupted at the briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pasters preached devotion to flag and country and invoked the God of Battles, beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpouring of fervid eloquence which moved every listener. It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half-dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety's sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.
Sunday morning - came - the next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams - visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! - then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation -
"God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest, Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!"
Then came the "long" prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory -
An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher's side and stood there, waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, "Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!"
The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside - which the startled minister did - and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:
"I come from the Throne - bearing a message from Almighty God!" The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. "He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd and will grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import - that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of - except he pause and think.
"God's servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two - one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this - keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor's crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.
"You have heard your servant's prayer - the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it - that part which the pastor, and also you in your hearts, fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory - which must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!
"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle - be Thou near them! With them, in spirit, we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it - for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.
(After a pause) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits."
It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.
Comment on this Editorial
Economy Grows at 1.7 Percent Pace
By JEANNINE AVERSA
AP Economics Writer
March 30, 2006
WASHINGTON - The economy hit a soft patch in the final quarter of 2005, growing at an annual rate of just 1.7 percent, an ominous statistic but for fresher readings that suggest America's business health has improved and is mostly sound.
While the latest figure for gross domestic product in the October-to-December period was indeed anemic and marked the worst performance in three years, the new reading actually turned out to be slightly better than the 1.6 percent growth rate estimated a month ago, according to the Commerce Department's report released Thursday.
The 1.7 percent pace matched analysts' expectations. The slight upgrade for the quarter reflected stronger inventory building by businesses than previously thought.
The Federal Reserve and other economists say the economy bounced back smartly in the current January-to-March quarter. Private analysts predict growth during this period will clock in at a brisk pace of 4.5 percent or higher. Then economic activity will moderate to around a 3.4 pace in the April-to-June quarter.
Gross domestic product measures the value of all goods and services produced within the United States and is considered the best gauge of the economy's performance.
In other economic news, the Labor Department reported the new claims filed for unemployment benefits last week dropped by 10,000 to 302,000, another sign that the labor market is strengthening. The decline left claims at a lower level than economists had forecast.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and his colleagues said Tuesday that the economy has snapped out of its end-of-year doldrums and has "rebounded strongly" in the January-to-March quarter. "But (it) appears likely to moderate to a more sustainable pace" going forward, the board said.
Fed policy-makers chalked up the fourth-quarter's mediocre performance to mostly "temporary or special factors" - an assessment that was shared by private economists who likened the final quarter of 2005 to a temporary breather rather than a sign of prolonged economic troubles ahead.
The 1.7 percent growth rate in the fourth quarter marked a big loss of momentum from the third quarter's zippy 4.1 percent pace.
The fourth quarter's slowdown was blamed on lingering fallout from the Gulf Coast hurricanes and elevated energy prices, which especially caused consumers to tighten their belts.
Consumer spending in the final quarter of 2005 grew at a pace of just 0.9 percent, the weakest since the first quarter of 1995. A cut in spending on big-ticket goods, such as cars, was the main culprit behind the lethargic showing in overall consumer spending.
Cuts in spending by government also contributed to the fourth-quarter's weak performance.
Overall business investment - which includes spending on residential and commercial projects and in equipment and software, however, grew at a speedy pace of 16.1 percent in the fourth quarter, the strongest since the second quarter of 2004.
An inflation gauge closely watched by the Federal Reserve showed that core prices - excluding food and energy - rose at a 2.4 percent pace in the fourth quarter. That was higher than the 2.1 percent growth rate previously reported for the period and marks a substantial pickup from the third quarter's 1.4 percent pace.
To fend off inflation, Bernanke, at his first meeting as Fed chairman on Tuesday, boosted a key interest rate to 4.75 percent and hinted further increases were possible. In doing so, Bernanke and his colleagues hewed closely to the rate-raising script written by former chairman
Economists predict another rate increase will come at the Fed's next meeting, May 10.
Fresher economic barometers, meanwhile, have flashed good signs for the economy.
The jobs market is improving, with companies adding a sizable 243,000 positions in February. The nation's unemployment rate of 4.8 percent, meanwhile, is close to a 4 1/2-year low reached in January.
Americans' optimism in the economy rebounded in March, climbing to a nearly four-year high, the
Conference Board reported Tuesday.
Still, those things haven't helped President Bush's standing with the public. He has been mired in some of the lowest job-approval ratings of his presidency, according to polls.
Thursday's report also showed companies' profit growth gaining ground in the fourth quarter of 2005. One measure of after-tax profits in the GDP report showed profits increased by 13.8 percent, a turnaround from the third quarter's 4.3 percent decline.
Comment: Well, golly! As long as the economy continues to beat analysts expectations, we have nothing to worry about - right?
Comment on this Article
Silver storms above $11/oz, gold price rebounds
By Zach Howard
March 29, 2006
NEW YORK - The price of silver shot to a 22-year high above $11 per ounce on Wednesday, as funds continued a recent buying spree on excitement over a proposed U.S. silver-backed security, trading sources said.
Gold raced to a seven-week peak on spillover interest from silver and other supportive factors, with the price holding just shy of last month's 25 year peak near $575 an ounce.
"Silver's still being driven by the expectations of the ETF (exchange-traded fund) and I think gold's more following," said David Rinehimer, head of futures research at Citigroup Global Markets in New York.
Spot silver bolted to $11.10/11.13 an ounce late in New York, versus Tuesday's late quote at $10.84/10.87. On Wednesday, London bullion dealers fixed the daily spot reference rate at $10.8750.
Fund buying took the price up 2.7 percent, helping silver surpassing a short-term technical of $11, on hopes that an ETF that is expected to boost consumer and speculative demand will launch soon.
Silver has risen almost 8 percent since last Tuesday when the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission cleared the way for final approval of the first ETF to be backed by bullion.
ETFs are designed to track a specific market or commodity and trade like any list shares on an exchange.
The SEC has not said if or when it would approve Barclays Global Investors' iShares Silver Trust and a launch date was difficult to predict, analysts said.
Credit Suisse this week said silver could climb further in the medium-term, to $15 an ounce, hoisted by greater demand due to the ETF.
Gold drew support from the gray metal, as well as a softer U.S. dollar, higher energy prices and an almost two-month peak in the Reuters/Jefferies CRB Index (^CRB - news) of 19 commodity futures, market sources said.
"The fact that we made a new high for the month in gold brought some new fund buying and short covering into market," said Rinehimer.
"The market over-reacted in the early decline -- it has had a good bounce, and oil is up as well," a European trader said.
Earlier, the Federal Reserve's move to hike rates prompted selling and dragged down gold and silver by nearly one percent each.
But price dips are providing good buying opportunities and the metals are seen moving toward recent highs after some profit-booking, analysts said.
Spot gold rose to $573.10/574.00 an ounce, up from Tuesday's late New York quote of $564.35/565.20.
The closing level was just shy of the day's peak of $573.60, which was a mere $1 off the February 2 25-year high.
Tokyo Commodity Exchange gold futures had been pressured overnight as Japanese investors locked in profits ahead of book closings on Friday for the end of Japan's financial year.
"Backed by firm oil prices, falls in gold will be limited," said Hiroyuki Kikukawa, an associate director at Nihon Unicom Corp.
Analysts said, longer term, gold still might go higher.
"Despite the potential impact higher U.S. interest rates will have on gold, it is still well placed to test February's 25-year high of $575 as improving supply/demand fundamentals and the metal's anti-inflationary/safe-haven properties draw investors toward gold and the other precious metals," said analysts at TheBullionDesk.com.
In industry news, Barrick Gold Corp., the world's largest gold company, said it was maintaining its previous forecast to produce between 8.6 million and 8.9 million ounces of gold in 2006.
Platinum rose to $1,071/1,075 an ounce from $1,069/1,073 previously, while palladium closed at $333.50/337.50 an ounce from $337/342.
Comment on this Article
Nasdaq hits 5-year high
By Jennifer Coogan
Wed Mar 29, 4:44 PM ET
NEW YORK - U.S. stocks staged a broad rebound on Wednesday, with gains in Google Inc. and Apple Computer Inc. leading a rally in tech shares that drove the Nasdaq to a five-year high.
All major industry sectors rose on the day. Blue chips got a lift from Boeing Co., which received a $2 billion jet order, and from a brokerage upgrade of manufacturer 3M Co. Boeing's shares glided to a record during the day.
Wednesday's gains helped the market recover from losses that came after the Fed voted to increase interest rates and hinted more may be needed to stem inflation.
"If the economy is as strong as the Fed is worried about, that's going to mean better corporate earnings," said John Augustine, chief investment strategist at Fifth Third Asset Management. "The driver is rotating from front-end consumer to back-end business spending. And business spending is being driven by the need to continually improve productivity, which brings in tech spending."
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 61.16 points, or 0.55 percent, to 11,215.70. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up 9.66 points, or 0.75 percent, at 1,302.89. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 33.32 points, or 1.45 percent, at 2,337.78.
The Nasdaq's gains accelerated after the index crossed a key technical level at 2,333, the highest since February 2001.
Apple was the Nasdaq 100's top positive influence. Shares of Apple gained 6.2 percent as rival Microsoft Corp. faced new pressure from the European Union's top antitrust body, which is raising concerns about the company's new Windows operating system, Vista. Apple's stock rose $3.62 to close at $62.33.
Google shares jumped 4.7 percent as index fund managers scrambled to buy shares before the search engine's inclusion in the S&P 500 after the close of trading this Friday. Google shares closed at $394.98, up $17.78 on Nasdaq.
Further boosting the Nasdaq were shares of Qualcomm Inc. Cowen & Co. gave "outperform" ratings to Qualcomm and other wireless technology companies, including Motorola Inc., and said the outlook for the global handset market was positive for this year.
Qualcomm's stock rose 2.8 percent, or $1.36, to $50.72 on Nasdaq, while Motorola shares gained 3.8 percent, or 84 cents, to $22.78 on the New York Stock Exchange.
Boeing led the Dow's advance. Its shares climbed 2.2 percent, or $1.67, to $79.18, after earlier hitting a record at $79.45. Shares of 3M rose 1.7 percent, or $1.26, to $77.56.
GE Commercial Aviation Services, the world's largest aircraft lessor, agreed to buy 30 of Boeing's 737 passenger jets in an order worth about $2 billion.
Shares of Maytag Corp. shot up after U.S. antitrust authorities said on Wednesday they had approved Whirlpool Corp.'s planned acquisition of the appliance maker.
Maytag surged 27.7 percent, or $4.73, to $21.81, while Whirlpool stock gained 7.1 percent, or $6.38, to $95.95.
Trading was moderate on the NYSE, with about 1.58 billion shares changing hands, below last year's daily average of 1.61 billion, while on Nasdaq, about 2.43 billion shares traded, far above last year's daily average of 1.80 billion.
Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones by a ratio of more than 8 to 3 on the NYSE and by more than 5 to 2 on Nasdaq.
Comment on this Article
U.S. bonds dive after decision on rates
March 29, 2006
By Michael McDonald and Elizabeth Stanton
NEW YORK Prices on U.S. Treasury notes plunged on Tuesday after the Federal Reserve raised interest rates for the 15th straight time and signaled that further increases lay ahead.
Fed policy makers lifted their target rate, as economists had forecast, by a quarter-percentage point to 4.75 percent, the highest since March 2001.
The central bank said further "firming" of rates may be needed, repeating a phrase from its January statement. Traders stepped up bets that the Fed would increase its target to 5 percent in May.
"The commentary implied that the Fed rate at 5 percent is almost guaranteed and maybe one more beyond that," said E. Craig Coats at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. Declines in Treasuries are "across the board."
The benchmark two-year note yield shot up 7 basis points to 4.78 percent, nearing its five-year high. The price of the 4 5/8 percent note maturing in March 2008 fell 1/8 to 99 11/16.
Treasuries began their decline earlier in the session after U.S. consumer confidence rose this month to its highest level since May 2002.
Yields on U.S. 10-year and 30-year Treasury securities both jumped 7 basis points, to 4.78 and 4.79 percent respectively. The price of the 4 ½ percent note maturing in February 2016 dived 18/32 to 97 27/32. The 4 ½ percent note due in February 2036 dropped 32/32 to 95 3/8.
Meanwhile, a report showing that business confidence in Germany had set a 15-year high underscored the case for a further rate increase in Europe, even as it weakened government bond markets in Europe and the United States.
"The Treasury market had gotten to a level where it was comfortable going into today's meeting," then European bond markets fell, said Brian Edmonds at Cantor Fitzgerald. "That is forcing our market lower."
Yields on German debt soared as traders raised bets that the European Central Bank would raise its benchmark rate three more times this year, to 3.25 percent.
Two-year German government bond yields climbed nine basis points to 3.23 percent, their highest in more than three years.
The yield on the 10-year German bond also shot up nine basis points, to 3.72 percent, matching its high this year. Its price fell 0.71 to 98.18.
"Global economic growth continues to surprise on the upside, and this German report adds fuels to the fire," said Bernard Walschots, head of research at Rabobank in Utrecht, the Netherlands. "It's pushing a sell-off in bond markets around the globe."
Comment on this Article
GM Begins Firing Salaried Workers at About 30 U.S. Locations
March 28 2006
General Motors Corp., struggling with $10.6 billion in losses last year, started firing hundreds of its U.S. salaried employees at about 30 U.S. locations, part of a North American restructuring plan.
Today's firings are the first of cuts that will continue throughout the year and are part of GM's plan to reduce its U.S. salaried and contract workforce by about 7 percent this year, GM spokesman Robert Herta said. The firings will include employees in most areas of the company and the workers will get severance payments and outplacement assistance, he said.
"Right now this company is a size 38 in a size 46 suit, they have to downsize,'' said John Casesa, an industry consultant at New York-based Casesa Strategic Advisors LLC.
The firing of salaried employees is just one example of the so-called ''equality of sacrifice'' urged by GM board member Jerome York, who has said cuts in pay and benefits for salaried workers will help persuade union employees to agree to concessions. Chief Executive Rick Wagoner in February cut his own pay in half and announced cuts to salaried workers health care and pension.
GM last week offered buyouts of up to $140,000 to 113,000 hourly workers in the U.S. as part of a plan to eliminate 30,000 union jobs and close 12 North American locations by 2008.
A few hundred workers will be fired today, Herta said. Those employees with company cars will be given time to find a new vehicle and workers will be treated with ''dignity'' he said, denying reports in Detroit newspapers that they would be sent home in fleets of taxis.
GM is not saying how many workers will be fired this year, Herta said. GM has 36,000 salaried U.S. workers and doesn't disclose how many contract employees it has, he said.
GM shares rose 28 cents to $22.93 yesterday in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. They've gained 18 percent this year on optimism job cuts and increased sales of new products will reduce losses.
GM in January fired 500 U.S. contract workers, Herta said. Contract workers are employed by an outside company to perform work for GM. GM's normal attrition rate for salaried workers, including buyout offers, is about 5.5 percent, Herta said.
''It's clear that the more they ask from the union, the more they're going to have to take from the salaried workers,'' Casesa said. ''This is the beginning of the process, not the end.''
Employees who are fired will be paid one month of their base salary per full year of employment, up to 15 months, according to a copy of GM severance policy obtained by Bloomberg. Those workers also maintain their health-care insurance for that period and receive three months of outplacement assistance.
GM's salaried and contract workforce had been cut 32 percent from 2000 to the end of last year, Wagoner said in November. When Wagoner took over as CEO in 2000, GM had 44,000 U.S. salaried workers, 18 percent more than it does now.
The firings are the latest in several actions aimed at GM's salaried workforce. On March 7, that automaker said it will freeze defined-benefit pension plans for its 36,000 salaried workers and switch to a defined-contribution plan.
Defined-benefit plans guarantee a set monthly stipend upon retirement. These plans differ from defined-contribution plans, such as a 401(k), which are funded by employer and employee contributions and grow until the account holder retires and begins withdrawals.
GM in February said it will cut pretax health-care expenses by capping salaried health-care coverage at 2006 levels for eligible GM salaried workers.
Cutting salaried costs and compensation were moves suggested Jan. 10 by York, who was appointed to the GM board in February. York, an aide to billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian, has said cuts in the salaried workforce were needed to carve deeper concessions from union workers.
Kerkorian, GM's fourth-largest investor, holds a 9.9 percent stake in the automaker through his holding company, Tracinda Corp. York said Jan. 10 that Kerkorian may buy an additional 12 million GM shares if the automaker follows his recommendations.
Comment on this Article
Illegal Workers: the Cons' Secret Weapon
by Thom Hartmann
Conservatives are all atwitter about illegal immigrants. Some want to give them amnesty. Others want to reinstitute the old Bracero program. Others want to build a wall around America, like the communists did around East Berlin. Some advocate all of the above.
But none will tell Americans the truth about why we have eleven million illegal aliens in this nation now (when it was fewer than 2 million when Reagan came into office), why they're staying, or why they keep coming. In a word, it's "jobs." In conservative lexicon, it's "cheap labor to increase corporate profits."
Recently George W. Bush insulted working Americans by saying that we need eleven million illegal immigrants here in the United States because (in a slightly cleaned-up version of the more blatantly racist comments of Vicente Fox) there are some jobs that "American's won't do." As the modern-day Sago miners, and the 1950s Ed Norton character Art Carney played on the old Jackie Gleason show (who worked in the sewers of NYC) prove, the reality is that there are virtually no jobs Americans won't do - for an appropriate paycheck.
It's really all about breaking the back of the most democratic (and Democratic) of American institutions - the American middle class.
One of the tools conservatives have used very successfully over the past 25 years to drive down wages, bust unions, and increase CEO salaries has been to encourage illegal immigrant labor in the US. Their technique is transparently simple.
Conservatives well understand supply and demand. If there's more of something, its price goes down. If it becomes scarce, its price goes up.
They also understand that this applies just as readily to labor as it does to houses, cars, soybeans, or oil. While the history of much of the progressive movement in the United States has been to control the supply of labor (mostly through pushing for maximum-hour, right-to-strike, and child-labor laws) to thus be able to bargain decent wages for working people, the history of conservative America has, from its earliest days grounded in slavery and indentured workers from Europe, been to increase the supply of labor and drive down its cost.
In the 1980s, for example, the increasing supply of labor (both from Reagan-allowed consolidations eliminating redundant jobs, and from illegal immigration, which was around 3 million illegals by the time Reagan left office) fed massive union-busting in industry sectors from those directly hit with illegal immigrant labor (like construction and agriculture) to those who only felt its fallout but nonetheless were pressed (like coal mining). In part, because of these national downward pressures on organized labor, the miners who died in the International Coal Group's Sago Mine didn't have union protection.
Indeed, as the International Coal Group's June 2005 form S-A/1 filing notes about one of their other recent mine acquisitions: ".assets are high quality reserves strategically located in Appalachia and the Illinois Basin, are union free, have limited reclamation liabilities and are substantially free of other legacy liabilities." Similarly, it's estimated that the construction industry enhanced their profits last year by over a billion dollars because the availability of illegal immigrant labor has so significantly pushed down the price of construction labor.
"Union free" is good for the CEOs and stockholders of giant corporations. Reagan helped make it possible by reducing enforcement of the Sherman Anti-Trust and similar acts, by making the Labor Department hostile to labor, and by thus producing an environment into which illegal immigrant labor could step. He busted PATCO and popularized anti-union rhetoric, at a time when union membership was one of the primary boundaries that keep illegal labor out of the marketplace.
Today, this fundamental economic rule of labor supply and demand is most conspicuous in the conservative reluctance to stop illegal immigration into the United States. All those extra (illegal) workers, after all, drive up the supply - and thus drive down the cost - of labor. Even in areas where there are not high populations of illegal immigrants, their presence elsewhere in the American workforce drives down overall the cost of labor nationwide. And when the cost of labor goes down, there's more money left over for CEOs and stockholder dividends.
Conservatives can't just come out and say that they are pleased with the estimated eleven million illegal workers in the United States driving down wages.Conservatives can't just come out and say that they are pleased with the estimated eleven million illegal workers in the United States driving down wages. They can't brag that, behind oil revenue, Mexico's second largest source of income is money sent home from illegal "cheap labor" workers in the United States. They can't point out that before Reagan declared war on working people in 1981 we didn't "need a fence" to keep out illegal immigrants from the south, in large part because the high rate of unionization in America at that time, and enforcement of laws against hiring illegal immigrants, served as barriers to the entry of illegals into the workforce. They won't acknowledge the corporate benefits of a workforce whose healthcare is paid for by taxpayers but whose productivity belongs to their corporate masters.
But conservative strategists have noticed that the workers - and the voters - of the United States are getting nervous about nearly 10 percent of our workforce being both illegal and cheap. This has led conservative commentators and politicians to resort to classic "wedge issue" rhetoric, exploiting Americans' fears -- while working to keep conditions relatively the same as they are today.
They talk about building fences. They worry out loud about brown-skinned Middle Eastern terrorists slipping in amongst the brown-skinned South- and Central Americans. They warn us of all the social security money we'll lose if illegals have to leave the country and stop paying into a system from which they'll never be able to collect. They even find themselves obligated - catering to both working-class fears and to the bigots among us - to promote the idea of giant fences around the country to keep illegals out. (A fence that would, no doubt, tremendously profit their big contractor friends.)
At the same time, catering to compassionate Americans who don't realize this is all about driving up corporate profits and driving down workers' wages, cons like Arlen Specter are promoting legislation that would decriminalize the illegals currently in the United States, thus making legal our increased workforce. As Rachel L. Swarns reported in The New York Times on February 25, 2006: "Advocates for immigrants said the [Bush/Specter] plan failed to protect the rights of immigrant workers, who they argue deserve a clear path to citizenship. And the AFL-CIO warned that a guest worker program of unlimited scale would depress wages and working conditions while creating a perpetual underclass of foreign workers."
None of the various con proposals - from a fence to amnesty - address the fundamental truth of the situation: Conservatives and the businesses they represent want to maintain a large, illegal or marginally legal, and thus powerless workforce in the United States, to keep down the price of labor and help them finally destroy the union movement - and, thus, that politically pesky middle class.
The reason for all these lies and obfuscations is simple, and found in the core notions of conservatism, articulated from Burke in the late 1700s to Kirk in 1953 and Greenspan over the past two decades. It's all about power, and since wealth equals power, about the control of wealth in society.
Conservatives believe that what John Adams called "the rabble" - you and me - can't really be trusted with governance, and therefore that job should be kept to an elite few. The big difference between the old-line Burke conservatives and modern conservatives is that Burke and the cons of his day felt that an hereditary ruling class was desirable (because it would inculcate rulers with a sense of "noblesse oblige"), whereas modern cons like Adams, McKinley, Kirk, and Bush believe that the ruling class should be more of a meritocracy - rule by the "best."
And - in the finest tradition of John Calvin (who suggested that wealth was a sign of God's blessing) - what better indication of "best" could there be than "richest"? They believe there should be a thin veneer of democracy on these old conservative notions of aristocracy in order to placate the masses, but are quite certain that it would be a disaster should the rabble ever actually have a strong say in running the country.
This is, at its core, why conservatives embrace the idea of eliminating the American middle class and replacing it with a Dickensian "working poor" class, and are working so hard to use illegal immigrant labor as the lever to bring this about.
As the '60's and '70's showed - during the height of the American middle class's economic and political power - a strong middle class will challenge corporate power and assert itself economically and politically. This represents a very real threat to conservative ruling elites. "The people" may even suggest that the most elite of the elites should pay stiffer taxes on the top end of their income, so that money can be used to provide the economically most disadvantaged with an opportunity to become socially and economically mobile. It would reduce the most massive of the wealth and the power of the most elite of our conservative elites.
Offshoring, union-busting, and nurturing a huge population of illegal workers (while pretending to be frantic about it and bleating about building fences, fielding vigilantes, or offering "amnesty") are the core ways to destroy an economic middle class, thus ensuring the ongoing political power of the conservative elite takeover that began with the so-called "Reagan revolution" and continues to this day.
This is why conservatives who complain about illegal immigration in front of the cameras won't lift a finger in the halls of congress to pass legislation that would put employers of illegals into jail. (They may support "tough fines," just so long as they're high enough to sound like a lot of money to the average working stiff but low enough to be a "cost of business" for a corporation that gets caught.)
If Congress were to pass a law that said, quite simply, that the CEO of any business that was caught employing illegal immigrants went to jail for a year - no exceptions - then within a month there would be ten million (more or less) people lined up at the Mexican border trying to get out of the United States. The US unemployment rate would drop close to zero, and wages would begin to rise. The American middle class would begin to return to viability, as would the union movement in this nation.
Legal immigration is a good and healthy thing for a nation, because it is done at a rate and in a way that allows a country to collectively decide what sort of labor/jobs ratios it wants to maintain. Limitless illegal immigration, however, leads to the modern-day equivalent of slavery, benefiting only the conservative corporate elites.
Thus, progressives need to begin a new dialogue about immigration in the United States. (Similar discussions are already underway in many of the countries of Western Europe.) Issues include:
To what extent should the United States bleed its middle class because Mexico is a corrupt oligarchy run by a corrupt former Coca-Cola executive?
How do we work out fair and reasonable options for illegal families living and working here who have birthed "anchor children" in the US, now citizens of this nation?
How can we ensure "security" along our southern border in an "age of terrorism"? (A good start may be to stop promulgating policies that cause the world to hate us, but that's another article.)
How do we recalibrate our business and tax laws so businesses - particularly small and middle-sized businesses - can adjust away from depending on a terrified "working-poor-competing-with-even-more-terrified-illegal-labor" workforce and move toward being able to pay a more robust, domestic, unionized workforce?
How can progressives join with the few remaining populist Republicans (like Lou Dobbs and Patrick Buchanan) to forge an alliance to make this an all-American effort and not have it further split the nation?
And how can we all collectively work to prevent Bush and Specter from re-instituting the brutal Bracero "guest worker" program of the last century?
As the anguished mining families in West Virginia show, Bush was wrong when he said there were jobs Americans "won't do." But in the face of massive illegal immigration and the union-busting and wage deflation it spawns, there are increasingly jobs that Americans "can't do" and still maintain a viable lifestyle.
While some geographically-specific industries (like coal mining) don't appear overwhelmed by illegal immigrant labor, its impact on the nation as a whole has made it easier for union-busting to take place from the construction industry in New Mexico to the coal mines of West Virginia. Directly or indirectly, illegal immigration affects all working Americans.
Condemning the frightened working-class white guys organizing citizens' militias along our southern border, or vilifying those who listen to Limbaugh and are convinced that "liberals" are in some sort of collective plot to undermine America may feel good, but it doesn't address the real problem. Progressives will be most effective when we reach across the divides created by Bush, Specter, et al, and point out how this is really all about corporate conservative efforts to replace the American middle class with a workforce of "working poor" Americans and powerless illegal immigrants (or powerless "amnestied" workers) - all so CEOs can fatten their paychecks and further reward the "conservative" investor class.
Only then will Mexico and other countries to our south have an incentive to get their own houses in order, and will our middle class begin to recover decent bargaining power and the living wages that accompany it.
Thom Hartmann is a Project Censored Award-winning best-selling author and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk show carried on the Air America Radio network and Sirius. www.thomhartmann.com His most recent books include "What Would Jefferson Do?" and "Ultimate Sacrifice" (co-authored with Lamar Waldron). His next book, due out this autumn, is "Screwed: The Undeclared War on the Middle Class and What We Can Do About It."
Comment on this Article
George Bush is LAUGHING at you if aren't speaking out for CENSURE
March 29, 2006
ACTION PAGE: http://www.millionphonemarch.com/censure.php
Why does George Bush feel he can just laugh off the laws passed by Congress and even the Constitution itself? He did it AGAIN by attaching a so-called signing statement to the renewal of the Patriot Act, reserving the right to DISREGARD even the minimal reporting requirements that Congress had the temerity to impose. Who is going to challenge him? He's not just laughing at the legislature. If you do not speak out now, he is laughing at YOU.
He is laughing at you because you complain about the fact that nobody in Congress has any backbone, and yet when someone DOES stand up you do nothing to speak out and support them, and to encourage others to do the same. He is laughing at you because a million mostly NON-citizens got off their butts over the weekend and killed HR 4437 in the Judiciary Committee literally overnight, the same Judiciary Committee that will be considering his censure this very Friday. And yet most of you continue to do nothing. Yes, George Bush is laughing at you.
CALL YOUR SENATORS NOW TOLL-FREE: 888-355-3588 or 800-828-0498
Was it not enough when George Bush defiantly admitted he had ordered illegal wiretaps of American citizens? George Bush is laughing at you. Was it not enough when George Bush signed a law intended to stop the international crime of torture, and then declared he would ignore it at his own dictatorial discretion? George Bush is laughing at you. Was it not enough when he lied in the most pathological way to start a war in Iraq for the sole purpose of aggrandizing his own power? George Bush is laughing at you.
Some say that censure is not enough, that George Bush must be impeached. Some go further and argue that he should be tried for war crimes. Is that any reason NOT to speak out for censure as the first step? We have enough participants right now in our OWN network, just the people who will receive this one alert, that if each and EVERY one of you would take just 20 seconds to submit the action page above, there WOULD be a censure of George Bush. Since we started doing this about the best yield we have ever had to ANY one alert was about ten percent. Just 10 percent. Just ten percent of you gave enough of a damn about ANYTHING to actually DO something as simple and easy as to submit an action page. George Bush is laughing at you.
ACTION PAGE: http://www.millionphonemarch.com/censure.php
You call yourselves progressives. A couple of Spanish language DJ's in Los Angeles got together and decided to issue a concerted call to action, and they put something approaching a million people in the streets. And the Judiciary Committee literally trembled. Where is progressive radio on this? Why are you not all giving out the toll free phone numbers 888-355-3588 and 800-828-0498 every hour on the hour to call our Senators? How lazy do you have to be to not even take the time to make a toll-free phone call to finally demand accountability? George Bush is laughing at you.
You don't always have to draft a lengthy personal comment, just take 20 seconds to submit the form. Take 20 seconds to make a toll-free phone call. Take 20 seconds to wipe that arrogant smirk off his face. Because until you do, George Bush is just going to keep laughing at you.
Comment on this Article
Americans at "tipping point" about energy: poll
By Lisa Lambert
Thu Mar 30, 2006 08:17 AM ET
WASHINGTON - Americans are nearly as worried about their country's dependence on foreign energy sources as they are about the war in Iraq, a poll released by the magazine Foreign Affairs showed on Thursday.
Almost half of the 1,000 Americans surveyed for the Public Agenda Confidence in U.S. Foreign Policy Index gave U.S. policymakers a failing grade in weaning the country from foreign oil.
Nearly 90 percent said the lack of energy independence jeopardizes national security.
Public Agenda, a nonpartisan group, conducted the poll in early January with funding from the Ford Foundation. It said that Americans are at a "tipping point" on energy, akin to their state of mind about the war.
Daniel Yankelovich, chairman of Public Agenda, said the public reaches a "tipping point" when it is gravely worried about an issue and believes the government has the ability to change matters. When the index was first published in August 2005, only the Iraq war triggered a similar response, he said.
"This time we find that a second issue has reached a tipping point, which is energy independence, and you have a very strong increase in the number of Americans who are intensely worried about the problem," Yankelovich said in a conference call.
"Now with this issue having reached the tipping point in the public I think that that means the political complexion of that issue is about to change considerably," he added.
In the latest survey, 85 percent of respondents said the U.S. government could do something about energy dependence if it tried. The share of those who worried foreign conflicts will drive up oil prices or cut off supplies rose to 55 percent from 42 percent in the August poll.
Since the August index was published, the U.S. energy chessboard has been rearranged by a broad energy reform law going into effect, a two-hurricane punch that shut in domestic oil production, sudden spikes in oil prices spurred by geopolitics, and record oil company profits.
While energy independence is certainly on citizens' minds, the index found that the war in Iraq remains their leading international concern.
Their least pressing international issue was promoting democracy abroad, with only one out of five participants saying they considered the activity "very important."
Comment on this Article
New Orleans Health Care Still in Shambles
By KEVIN FREKING
Tue Mar 28, 9:33 PM ET
WASHINGTON - The city of New Orleans has only 456 staffed hospital beds, compared with 2,269 before the city was struck by Hurricane Katrina, according to government auditors who say rebuilding the health care system will be vital for bringing people back.
While emergency care is available, auditors noted that patients at two hospitals waited up to two hours to be unloaded from ambulances. They also found patients being kept and treated in the emergency room because beds weren't available elsewhere.
The Government Accountability Office said several planning efforts are under way about how to rebuild that system, but no clear consensus has emerged.
The lack of clarity stems in part from the uncertain estimates of how many people plan to return. The latest estimates put the city's population at about one-third of the 485,000 people who lived there before Katrina hit.
Democrats who requested the study said the findings show the Bush administration must be more aggressive in leading the rebuilding efforts.
"It is unacceptable that six months after Hurricane Katrina, people are still receiving health care services in mobile tents and old department stores," said Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., taking aim at Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt. "Exactly how does the secretary expect the Gulf Coast region to prepare for a potential flu pandemic or the next hurricane season given the current state of their health care system?"
Leavitt spokeswoman Christina Pearson said the secretary has met regularly with state officials to hear how they would like to see the health care system improved, and he sees opportunities to make the system better than it was before the hurricane struck, particularly through the use of health information technology. She did not have a timetable for when those improvements would be proposed.
The GAO report said that when auditors visited New Orleans, they found primary and emergency health care was available, but access to specialty care was quite limited.
The report also noted that the federal government's estimate of repair costs for two major hospitals run by Louisiana State University - Charity Hospital and University Hospital - amounts to about $36 million. But a private consultant estimated it would cost more than $360 million to repair both hospitals - aging facilities LSU had wanted to replace before the storm.
The city also relied on a network of clinics to treat poor patients before the hurricane, but more than three quarters of those clinics are closed. About 19 clinics are open now, but they generally operate at less than half of capacity.
Comment on this Article
Join the Reserve Bank of Australia and Property Masters' Dots
Translated by Johnno
29 March 2006
The big and successful private property investors are cottoning on [becoming divestors]...
It's the job of the RBA to talk common sense and warn of disasters in the hope the Martin Place [Sydney's equivalent to Wall Street] mandarins scare some of the populace into avoiding irrational exuberance. They were at it again yesterday in warning financial markets of their myopia in pricing risk during this long, golden summer of investment.
As usual, most players will just ignore the RBA though until it threatens to reach for its interest rate lever. Canny investors though might join the dots between the RBA story and another one about a large and very successful private property investor deciding to liquidate his portfolio.
Lang Walker is flogging off his multi-billion dollar property empire and will probably be knocked over in the rush of property trusts wanting to buy. But as the SMH observes:
Marc Besen, Ralph Sarich and Kevin Seymour are among other property operators who recently revealed they are offloading their shopping centres and office towers at premium prices to take advantage of the strongest commercial market in nearly 20 years.
Australian property is the most securitised in the world. Maybe the big and successful private property investors are taking notice of the RBA even if the fee factories [banks] are not.
Comment on this Article
Brazil's Lula Lashes Out At Rich Nations
Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva Monday castigated the wealthy and technologically advanced countries of the world for failing to live up to their responsibility in tackling poverty and environmental degradation on the planet.
"We are concerned at cutbacks in funding for development," he told a major international conference here on biological diversity, which is being attended by more than 4,000 officials, including scientists and conservationists, from around the world.
Despite repeated pledges, most developed countries have not achieved the targets set for official development assistance to poor countries. At the two-week Conference, many delegates from other developing countries have also voiced similar concerns.
In his speech at a ministerial-level meeting on biodiversity, the popular Brazilian leader, known widely as "Lula", also criticised the West for what many economists consider unsustainable patterns of consuming the world's resources, which are contributing to an alarming level of poverty. In 1980, the rich had 30 times more wealth than the poor, noted Lula. Now that ratio has almost doubled.
"The industrialised nations spend about 900 billion dollars to defend their national borders," the Brazilian president said. "But they allocate less than 60 billion dollars for development in poor countries, where hunger has become a silent weapon of mass destruction."
Lula told delegates that the developed world is willfully neglecting the widening gulf between the rich and poor because it continues to cling to a model of development that has no room for collective sharing of resources and lacks concern for environmental degradation.
"Biodiversity is our planet's greatest treasure. Anything that is contrary to its conservation and to fair benefit sharing must be rejected," Lula said. "It's time to act. It's time for change."
Last weekend, over 100 environment ministers arrived here to sort out how they can reverse the adverse effects of unsustainable development on earth's biodiversity. The U.N. Convention on Biodiversity has already set targets which are due to be achieved by 2010. The Convention's implementation requires accessibility to genetic resources, fair and equitable share in ecosystem benefits and funding for technology transfers to developing countries.
Lula's critical take on the West's attitude towards environmental rehabilitation comes at a time when delegates are still engaged in negotiations on a variety of contentious issues, including funding. Observers think that his call for funding will be taken seriously because under his rule, Brazil has taken a number of practical actions to protect the environment.
Last month, for example, Lula signed a presidential decree to place over six million hectares of the Amazon rainforest under direct governmental protection. He also launched a "zero hunger" campaign and agreed to sponsor Baze, the Brazilian Alliance for Zero Extinction, with 25 other partners.
At the conference, Brazil also led the way in maintaining a moratorium on the contentious issue of testing and marketing of some types of genetically modified seeds. On Mar. 24, the working group in charge of addressing the issue elected to keep a ban on field trials of Terminator technology, which produces seeds whose sterile offspring cannot reproduce, over the opposition of Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
"Anything that threatens life is unacceptable," Lula said referring to the ban on testing of so-called "suicide seeds".
Lula's government has also been widely praised for helping the international community adopt what is now known as the Curitiba accord under the Cartegena Protocol on Biosafety, which Dr. Klaus Topfer, the head of the U.N. Environment Programme, has described as "the new legal instrument of the 21st century".
"For your contributions to fulfilling the 2010 Biodiversity promise of the heads of state, I would like to say to you in my capacity as a mere citizen of the world and on behalf of my wife and two children, obrigado (thank you), Mr. President," Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary of the Convention, told Lula.
In a recent interview with IPS, Djoghlaf shared Lula's concern over the question of funding for environmental protection and sustainable development in industrially developing countries. "Financing is very crucial. Is it enough? No, and no," he said.
Djoghlaf, who likes to describe the Convention on Biodiversity as the 14-year-old daughter of Rio (a reference to the 1992 Earth Summit in the Brazilian coastal city Rio de Janeiro), urged environment ministers to agree on the "roadmap" for achieving the 2001 biodiversity target.
"We are probably the last generation that still has the possibility of stopping the destruction of the living environment before an irreversible threshold is crossed," Djoghlaf quoted French president Jacques Chirac as stating at a biodiversity meeting held in Paris last year in January.
Meanwhile, for his part, Lula has expressed his disappointment with the slow pace of progress on the Implementation of the Convention, which he sees as the outcome of the lack of political will in much of the developed world. "Since 1992, how much have we advanced?" he asked. "Yes, we have signed many agreements. But they have offered nothing but protocols."
Comment on this Article
Katrina Evacuees Wear Out Stay in Houston
By ANGELA K. BROWN
Wed Mar 29, 11:54 PM ET
HOUSTON - Seven months after taking in about 200,000 Louisiana residents left homeless by Hurricane Katrina, Houstonians aren't feeling so hospitable anymore.
Many people in the nation's fourth-largest city complain that the influx has led to more murders and gang violence, long lines at health clinics and bus stops, and fights and greater overcrowding in the schools. Some of those claims are debatable, but the sentiment is real.
"We still feel sorry for them. We still want to help them, but it's to the point where enough is enough," said Torah Whitaker, 25, of Missouri City, a Houston suburb.
Houston received national acclaim for accepting more Katrina evacuees than any other U.S. city. It gave them apartments, houses and health care, and held job fairs for them. Celebrities visited schools and brought gifts for the youngsters.
About 150,000 refugees remain in the greater Houston area, which has more than 4 million people. While some evacuees plan to return to Louisiana, thousands have secured their own housing and jobs and plan to make Houston their home.
But a survey last month of 765 Houston-area residents by Rice University sociologist Stephen Klineberg found that three-fourths believed that helping the refugees put a "considerable strain" on the community, and two-thirds blamed evacuees for a surge in violent crime. Half thought Houston would be worse off if evacuees stayed, while one-fourth thought the city would be better off.
The murder rate between the Katrina refugees' arrival in September and last week was up nearly 32 percent from the same period a year ago, Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt said. He said some of that is attributable to Katrina refugees, but added: "I don't mean to send the message that all Katrina evacuees are involved in drug dealing, gangs and violent offenses."
Refugees were involved - as victims or suspects - in 35 of the 212 murders in that time period, Hurtt said. In January, Houston police arrested eight members of rival New Orleans gangs in the murders of 11 fellow refugees. Earlier this month, half of the 18 people arrested in an auto theft sweep were evacuees.
Angelo Edwards, a storm victim from New Orleans and vice chairman of the Katrina Survivors Association, said most evacuees are law-abiding citizens trying to find jobs.
"The majority of evacuees are not thugs, looters and hoodlums," Edwards said. "We'd like for the people of Houston to walk in our shoes." If Hurricane Rita had taken a slightly different course, he added, the people of Houston "just as well could have been in our situation."
Some 21,000 students from Louisiana now attend southeastern Texas schools, including roughly 6,000 in Houston. Across the state, Louisiana children scored considerably worse than Texas youngsters on a state exam and thousands could be held back, imposing even higher costs on overburdened districts that are still awaiting federal reimbursement for helping the storm victims.
Tatiana Boone, a Houston 11th-grader, attends one of several schools where brawls have broken out between local teens and Katrina refugees.
"A city that sleeps and a city that don't sleep - it just does not mix. It's two different cultures," the 17-year-old said, comparing Houston with the more boisterous New Orleans.
She complained that the Katrina refugees are getting preferential treatment, even though some of her classmates are even poorer than they are. Storm victims were taken on shopping sprees to buy clothes and were showered with other gifts after they arrived.
"I feel like they shouldn't have to use that as an excuse all the time, as like, 'Oh, I'm an evacuee from New Orleans,' so you get this and you get that," Tatiana said.
Just after the August hurricane, the Harris County Hospital District, the agency that runs the public hospitals and health clinics in Houston and surrounding Harris County, treated 15,000 evacuees in two weeks at the Astrodome, but now sees about 800 extra patients a month, said spokesman Bryan McLeod.
The agency treats 1.2 million patients a year, so apart from the first few weeks, the number of evacuees is "not overwhelming" and is not delaying care for Houston residents, McLeod said.
Still, treating refugees has cost $11.6 million, and the district has been reimbursed only $1.6 million from the
Federal Emergency Management Agency and Medicaid, he said. The district has dipped into reserve funds, he said.
Bus ridership at the Metropolitan Transit Authority was up 12 percent in October through December from the same period a year ago. Spokeswoman Raequel Roberts attributed the increase to evacuees as well as high gas prices.
Keesha Ramos of the Houston suburb of Sugar Land said she does not believe evacuees have been getting help at the expense of Houston residents. She said people should have more compassion for the storm victims.
"They're not thinking about how long it's going to take one family to get back on their feet," said Ramos, 34, a bank information analyst.
Mayor Bill White said that most Houston residents are still proud of the city's response and that only a small percentage of refugees are "bad apples."
"Everyone understands when you evacuate a major American city that some of those people will be those who committed a crime or have special needs," he said.
Comment on this Article
Flashback: Barbara Bush: Things Working Out 'Very Well' for Poor Evacuees from New Orleans
By E&P Staff
September 05, 2005 7:25 PM ET updated 8:00 PM
NEW YORK - Accompanying her husband, former President George H.W.Bush, on a tour of hurricane relief centers in Houston, Barbara Bush said today, referring to the poor who had lost everything back home and evacuated, "This is working very well for them."
The former First Lady's remarks were aired this evening on National Public Radio's "Marketplace" program.
She was part of a group in Houston today at the Astrodome that included her husband and former President Bill Clinton, who were chosen by her son, the current president, to head fundraising efforts for the recovery. Sen. Hilary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama were also present.
In a segment at the top of the show on the surge of evacuees to the Texas city, Barbara Bush said: "Almost everyone I've talked to says we're going to move to Houston."
Then she added: "What I'm hearing which is sort of scary is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality.
"And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this (she chuckles slightly) is working very well for them."
Comment: It seems old Babs has let the cat out of the bag. All the talk of the Bush government letting the poor people of New Orleans rot both before and after Katrina struck doesn't seem like a "conspiracy theory" anymore, does it?
Comment on this Article
Bush's War of Nerve
He said it on March 24, and March 22 -- and on March 16. And March 9. Oh, and March 13. Did I mention March 21? (He said it four times that day.) He said it March 28. And an "unnamed official" said it on March 29.
He said it at a press conference.
He said it after a cabinet meeting. He said it in Wheeling, West Virginia. He said it at the "Mike Sodrel for Congress and Indiana Victory 2006 Reception." He said it at the National Republican Congressional Committee Dinner. He said it at the Georgia Republican Party President's Day dinner. (The "unnamed official" said -- well, the reporter who gave him cover wouldn't say where he said it.)
In all these comfortable, safe, even plush locations, he said it. But he didn't demonstrate it. What was he talking about? "Nerve."
"I will not lose my nerve in the face of assassins and killers."
"They have said that it's just a matter of time, just a matter of time before the United States loses its nerve."
"We will not lose our nerve."
Why? Because "...someday, someday, if we do not lose our nerve and our will, an American President will be talking to a duly elected leader from Iraq working together to keep the peace."
... unless, of course ...
"... we were to lose our nerve and withdraw prematurely."
"If people in Iran, for example, who desire to have an Iranian-style democracy .. see us lose our nerve, it's likely to undermine their boldness and their desire,"
"The enemy believes that we will weaken and lose our nerve. And I just got to tell you, I'm not weak and I'm not going to lose my nerve."
The robotic repetition of an inane focus-group phrase like "lose our nerve" is annoying, but nothing more. It's the use of the first-person plural by this particular individual, however, that makes the remarks offensive.
"I will not lose my nerve."
"I'm not weak and I'm not going to lose my nerve."
Our soldiers are the ones in the line of fire, Mr. President, while Halliburton or whichever favored vendor you brought in charges them for the Internet access they use to keep in touch with their families. And you want us to think you're the one with "nerve"?
This is why other Republicans are running from Bush like cockroaches from a switched-on light. Character will out, and the President's plunging poll numbers reflect the public's belated realization of who and what he is.
This particular buzzword's going to bring him down. It's "bring it on," squared. Here's a man who's spent a lifetime losing his nerve, who blinks in thinly disguised panic when he's asked a question that's not in the script.
Suddenly his character is crystallizing for the American people, and so -- by inference -- is that of the party that chose him to lead it;
- "Nerve" is playing the game on the field, not wearing cheerleader whites and waving your arms from the sidelines;
- "Nerve" is serving in combat when you support a war, not hiding behind beer kegs and sorority girls' dresses while others die in your place;
- "Nerve" is making your own way in the world, not spending a lifetime financially dependent on your family and its friends;
- "Nerve" is letting all the votes be counted and standing or falling on the results, not sending John Bolton into the vote counting rooms in Florida to say "I'm from the Bush/Cheney campaign and I'm here to stop the voting."
-'Nerve" is not sending other people's kids to die or be maimed to prop up your failing image as a strong leader.
I could go on, but the zeitgeist is doing my work for me. Like they say down South: "Son, I just got one nerve left in my body, and you just got on it."
This pathetic tactic lights the President from within like an X-ray, revealing his nature for the entire country to see: The President is a weakling.
This man, whose biography is a portrait in cowardice and weakness, is a lame duck President. For that reason, I mention his character more as an icon for the GOP's character than to bash the man just for the hell of it. Personally, Bush is already yesterday's fight. But symbolically, he's tomorrow's.
I hope the American people remember these pitiful attempts at bravado, for they should come to characterize the Republican Party as a whole. As Olympia Snowe, Bill Frist, Chuck Hagel, and their other would-be leaders continue to demonstrate, the GOP is a party of weaklings and cowards.
And this draft-dodging cheerleader and his draft-dodging gun-waving VP sit in air-conditioned safety, lecturing the rest of us on "losing our nerve" while they play with our soldiers' lives and our country's security?
They've got some nerve.
Comment on this Article
Pentagon block on move for safer water
Julian Borger Washington
Thursday March 30, 2006
The Pentagon stalled efforts to clean water supplies contaminated by a carcinogenic chemical despite evidence that it posed a significant health risk to millions of people, it was reported yesterday.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) investigated the solvent, trichloroethylene, extensively used on military bases, after significant quantities were found in water supplies. In its report, published in 2001, the EPA found it to be 40 times more likely to cause cancer than had been previously thought, and recommended tough safety standards to limit public exposure. There was also evidence the chemical played a role in birth defects.
But the Los Angeles Times reported that the defence department, which owns 1,400 bases and other sites contaminated by trichloroethylene (TCE), fought the findings, challenging their scientific basis. Under pressure from the Pentagon, political appointees at the EPA overruled their own scientists, took them off the case and postponed action pending a further study by the National Academy of Sciences, which is due to report this summer.
"The evidence is that there was some monkey business going on between the EPA and the Pentagon," said Gina Solomon, an expert on environmental medicine at the University of California, who was on the scientific board that reviewed the EPA report. "The 2001 report was an excellent piece of scientific work," Dr Solomon told the Guardian.
A Pentagon spokeswoman, Major Susan Idziak, said the defence department believed "a better scientific understanding of the toxicity of TCE [was needed] so that cleanup levels are accurately set at levels protective to public health and the environment."
Comment: Ah yes, this must be the "compassionate conservatism" that they talk about.
Comment on this Article
U.S. firm offers 'private armies' for low-intensity conflicts
SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COM
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
AMMAN - A leading U.S. security firm has offered to provide forces for any counter-insurgency mission around the world.
J. Cofer Black, vice chairman of Blackwater USA told the Special Operations Forces Exhibition (Sofex-2006), that his company could supply private soldiers to any country. Black, a former U.S. State Department counter-terrorism coordinator, said Blackwater has been marketing the concept of private armies for low-intensity conflicts.
"About a year ago, we realized we could do it," Black said.
Blackwater has been a leading private security firm in Iraq. The company provides thousands of foreign and Iraqi personnel for government and private security missions.
In his presentation in Amman, Jordan, on March 27, Black said Blackwater could supply peace-keeping forces. He said the company was capable of providing a brigade-sized force on alert.
One option, Black said, was for Blackwater to provide forces for Sudan's Darfour province. He said the company could bolster existing peace-keeping forces from the African Union.
"I believe there is a contribution to be made by a small force," Black said. "The issue is who's going to let us play on their team?"
Black said Blackwater would not participate in conventional military operations. He said he has discussed his concept with the United States and NATO.
"There is clear potential to conduct security operations at a fraction of the cost of NATO operations," Black said. "It's unusual and that's why I'm raising it. This is not what you do if your objective is more money."
Comment on this Article
Army relaxes tattoo rules to attract recruits
By Will Dunham
Wed Mar 29, 5:02 PM ET
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Army, which missed its recruiting goal last year, has relaxed its policy banning certain types of tattoos in a bid to attract new soldiers who otherwise would have been barred from serving.
The Army will now allow new recruits and all its current soldiers to have tattoos on their hands and back of their necks as long as they are not "extremist, indecent, sexist or racist," Army officials said on Wednesday.
The Army said it continues to prohibit tattoos anywhere on the head, face or throat area.
But it will allow women recruits and soldiers to sport "permanent makeup" in the form of indelible eye-liner, eyebrows and lip makeup. The Army said this permanent makeup "should be conservative and complement the uniform and complexion in both style and color, and will not be trendy."
Officials said the policy change was made because the Army understands that the number of young men and women with tattoos or permanent makeup has grown in recent years.
"The Army is America. We are America's sons and daughters. America's sons and daughters are getting tattoos. That means that American soldiers are getting tattoos," said Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon.
"The Army is continuing to update our personnel policies. We have people who are otherwise qualified who want to serve and who have answered the call to duty," Hilferty added, and it made no sense to continue to bar them from serving.
"Clearly, if you have a sexist, a racist or a gang tattoo, you are unfit for duty -- you have been and you continue to be," Hilferty said.
The tattoo policy marks the latest move by the Army to try to boost its ability to attract recruits. The Army has raised the maximum age for enlistment, offered a series of financial incentives for signing up, increased the number of recruiters and hired a new advertising agency.
The Army missed by about 7,000 its goal of recruiting 80,000 in fiscal year 2005, which ended on October 1. It was one of the toughest recruiting years since the all-volunteer military was created in 1973.
Army officials have attributed last year's shortfall in part to wariness among young people about volunteering to serve during the Iraq war. While the Army has achieved its monthly recruiting goals in fiscal 2006, it continues to lag behind the number of recruits netted compared to last year at the same time.
The Army cited a 2003 survey of 1,010 people conducted at the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University that found that roughly 30 percent of U.S. adults under age 35 have tattoos, and that the U.S. post-baby boom generations are more than three times as likely as the baby boom generation to have tattoos.
Comment: Recruiting problem? What recruiting problem??
Comment on this Article
Brain drain hits Homeland Security
By Mimi Hall
WASHINGTON - The Homeland Security Department is losing top managers and rank-and-file employees in a brain drain that could affect morale and the nation's safety, according to members of Congress and labor experts.
Homeland Security is "hemorrhaging on the front lines and higher up," says New York University professor Paul Light, an expert on the federal workforce. The turnover comes amid renewed threats of terrorism and as the department readies itself for another hurricane season.
Key vacancies include top leaders in the department's cybersecurity, technology and disaster response divisions.
The latest high-level departure came last week, when management chief Janet Hale announced she was leaving. She joined an exodus of top officials who have quit recently, many in the aftermath of Homeland Security's failures surrounding Hurricane Katrina last fall.
This month, operations chief Matthew Broderick resigned. Last month, Science and Technology Undersecretary Charles McQueary resigned. And in January, Chief Financial Officer Andy Maner quit.
Meanwhile, the job of cybersecurity chief has been vacant since last summer. David Paulison has been the acting chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency since Michael Brown resigned the $148,000 post in September; no permanent replacement has been found. FEMA is part of Homeland Security.
Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke acknowledged that the stress of top-level government security jobs can be grueling and "wear" on employees, who are expected to make "countless personal sacrifices." Nonetheless, he said he expects a number of the top jobs to be filled soon.
The impact is difficult to gauge. But a House investigation of Hurricane Katrina response recently cited personnel shortages at FEMA as a key part of the agency's failings during the disaster.
"It can't help morale for the rank-and-file employees when you have so much turnover," says Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee. "There just appears to be a continuous brain drain out of the agency."
FEMA typically has 2,500 full-time employees. When Katrina hit, it was down 500. Some of those positions have been filled, but the agency is still struggling to get back to full strength.
To prepare for the next hurricane season, officials in February announced a plan to ensure 95% of FEMA's jobs are filled by June 1.
Randall Larsen of the Institute for Homeland Security questions how the department will attract good people. Though many top-level jobs pay more than $100,000, "Who's going to give up a good job in the private sector to go into an organization that is criticized by the press and Congress and the American people?" he said.
Comment on this Article
Primary voting-machine troubles raise concerns for '06
By Jim Drinkard, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - Problems using voting machines in the Texas and Illinois primaries this month have reinforced fears that the 2006 elections may be beset with glitches.
"There's a lot of evidence that some of those fears are coming to pass," says Doug Chapin, president of Electionline.org, a non-partisan group that studies elections. "The theory that new technology results in error seems to be borne out early in the process."
More than 30 million Americans will be voting on unfamiliar equipment this year, after modernization required by the Help America Vote Act. Congress passed the law in 2002 to address problems stemming from the 2000 presidential election in Florida.
Among early trouble spots:
• The largest jurisdictions in Illinois, Chicago and Cook County, encountered problems in the March 21 primary. In some cases, precinct election judges didn't get hands-on training before the election. There were paper jams, misplaced memory cartridges containing election results and long delays in counting.
Cook County Clerk David Orr says some problems were the result of introducing two new machines in each precinct: a touch-screen ballot and a machine that optically scans paper ballots. "We had our share of problems, but you expect it with new stuff," Orr says.
• In Texas, a candidate for the state Supreme Court will contest the March 7 primary because of what he calls widespread problems using new machines.
In Fort Worth, an initial ballot count showed about 150,000 votes even though there were only one-third that many voters, says David Rogers, campaign manager for the candidate, Steve Smith. And in San Angelo, balky new equipment and a close local race led to a recount that was halted after it appeared some votes were missing.
A spokesman for the secretary of state's office, Scott Haywood, says human factors accounted for any glitches, and they have been fixed. "Anytime you are using a new system, officials have to get used to it," he says. "Our biggest focus now is to increase training."
The next test: 10 states hold primaries in May, including Pennsylvania, which is scrambling to train voters and poll workers.
The state is "a disaster waiting to happen," says John Gideon, director of VotersUnite.org, a group that is skeptical about electronic voting.
The task is manageable, counters Michelle Shafer of Sequoia Voting Systems, an equipment maker that has customers in Pennsylvania and 19 other states. "We have seen this coming and have ramped up as best we can," and will be ready by November, she says.
Comment on this Article
Ky. Boy, 13, Charged With Threatening Bush
Thursday March 30, 2006
A 13-year-old boy who authorities originally said threatened President Bush actually made the threat against a school, not the president, police said.
Police Capt. Linny Cloyd said Tuesday that the teen was being investigated for making threats against Bush, the city of Florence and a school in e-mails sent to the mayor. Bush is scheduled to travel to nearby Cincinnati next week.
On Wednesday, Cloyd told the Cincinnati Enquirer the student did not make a direct threat against Bush. Instead, the teen is charged with terroristic threatening for the alleged threat against the school, Cloyd said Wednesday.
The teen remains in custody of his mother in Florence.
The investigation began after Mayor Diane Whalen received an anonymous e-mail containing the alleged threats, Cloyd said. A second e-mail was also sent to Whalen, he said.
Cloyd went to the teen's home Monday night with agents from the FBI and Secret Service. He said the boy's parents consented to the search, during which a computer was seized.
Investigators did not find anything to make them think he was planning to carry out the threats, he said.
''He is extremely well-versed in the history of President Bush,'' Cloyd told the Enquirer. ''In talking with him, you can tell this is a hot-button topic with him.''
Police said the first e-mail was also sent to the White House, Vice President Dick Cheney and the Pentagon.
Bush is scheduled to be across the Ohio River on Monday to throw out the first pitch on opening day for the Cincinnati Reds.
Comment on this Article
Iraq: American Colony
In Iraq, frontline patience wears thin
By Charles Levinson
Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
March 30, 2006
MOSUL, IRAQ – In a middle-class neighborhood on the bank of the Tigris River, Charlie Company's 4th Platoon dismounts from their armored vehicles and starts banging on doors. They're going house to house, talking to residents, looking for information on insurgents in this city of 1.8 million.
While the soldiers' reception varies, one Christian family welcomes them with smiles. But misunderstanding quickly ensues.
"Please don't take our weapon," the mother of four pleads in Arabic when US Army Staff Sgt. Josh Clevenger comes across an AK-47. "We need it to defend ourselves. It is not safe, anything can happen."
As he stands in the living room, Sergeant Clevenger has no intention of confiscating their rifle - nor any comprehension of the woman's plea. With his platoon's lone interpreter elsewhere, he is effectively rendered speechless.
"Your weapon is filled with blanks," Clevenger, from Muncie, Ind., says to the woman, his voice unwittingly rising as he tries to convey helpful information. "These aren't real bullets - they won't protect you."
For US soldiers who don't grasp the language or the culture here, a central part of their mission - generating goodwill and support - remains far more difficult than capturing insurgent leaders. While their officers remain largely on message and outwardly optimistic, many of the front-line men like Clevenger, who patrol "outside the wire" twice daily, say that their patience is wearing thin.
"I don't want to stay here too much longer. The Iraqi Army is getting to where they can get a hold of things now," says Clevenger. "The longer we're here and the more times they attack us, the more they're going to figure out how to better their attacks."
More than a few soldiers of the US Army's 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team stationed in this Sunni-Kurdish city in northern Iraq, shuddered last week when President Bush said total withdrawal of US troops "will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq." Three years after the invasion, many soldiers say it's time to hand over control to Iraqis. Most of those interviewed echoed a recentZogby poll of 944 military respondents throughout Iraq, that found that 72 percent of US troops favor withdrawal within the next year.
"I think we're doing good things here, but I think we need to start pulling it out," Spc. Mathew Merced, a jovial infantryman from Mcinnville, Ore., says, scanning Mosul's al-Karama neighborhood from a trash-strewn rooftop.
"The Iraqi Army here has come a long way in just the short time we've been here."
More than 2,300 US servicemen have lost their lives in the longest US armed conflict since Vietnam. American support for the war, 62 percent three years ago, has dwindled today to just 43 percent, according to a recent CNN/Gallup/USA Today poll.
How much longer?
For those soldiers with years left on their contracts, for young fathers, and newlyweds, the prospect of the war dragging on is disconcerting. Divorce rates in the Army have risen at least 25 percent since the war began.
"In the back of your mind you wonder how much longer is this going to go on, how many more times am I going to have to come back over here," says 1st Lt. Michael McCasland of Spokane, Wash., who spent just two weeks with his newborn daughter before returning to Iraq. "There has to be a point when Iraqis take responsibility for their own country."
Compared with much of Iraq, the city of Mosul is relatively calm today, sidestepping the sectarian dueling that is roiling much of the country.
Still, two IEDs struck the battalion's armored eight-wheeled Strykers Sunday, though there were no casualties. In the city's eastern half alone, Lieutenant McCasland's battalion (one of four in the Stryker Brigade operating in Mosul) endures an average of 50 IED attacks each month, and a handful of car bombs.
The insurgents' attacks have grown less effective with time, but now they seem to be adapting, officers say. In recent weeks those attacks have become more sophisticated as some here worry a catastrophic attack could be imminent.
"The enemy has gotten very well- organized and very well-versed in what they're doing, as if they've gotten new leadership in the area," intelligence officer Capt. Mark Awad told a gathering of Iraqi Army and police officers in Mosul Saturday.
While US soldiers are practiced in the art of firepower, the sort of counterinsurgency campaign under way at the moment has demanded a far more nuanced approach to battle. Defeating the insurgency is as much about reaching ordinary Iraqis as it is about capturing terrorists.
"The fight is really for the people and their mind-set," says Lt. Col. Richard Greene of Germantown, Md., the battalion's executive officer.
Beanie Babies and candy
Even as they're frustrated at the often-tense relationship with Iraqis, the soldiers here take solace in the swarms of children that come out to greet them wherever they go. Though the children are often after the Beanie Babies and candies that the soldiers dole out, for troops, their response offers much-needed reassurance.
"When we roll into a neighborhood, it's like a parade with all the young kids running out," says Clevenger. "I think we're definitely making a difference here."
But in the leafy front yard of a well-to-do Kurdish family, three women spew vitriol in the face of platoon leader 1st Lt. Raymond Maszarose of Vicksburg, Md. Last year, they say, US troops accidentally killed their father and two of their nephews.
"We hate the Americans," says one of the women, calling herself simply Om Omar. "They destroyed our country. They can't protect this country, can't provide electricity, why'd they come here? It's a nightmare."
The women say their father was caught in the crossfire during a firefight between US soldiers and insurgents. "How do you know it was the Americans that killed him?" Lieutenant Maszarose asks again and again. But it's no use. For these women, the blame lies squarely on US shoulders.
And they are not alone. A recent poll by WorldPublicOpinion.org of 1,150 Iraqis showed that nearly half of all Iraqis and nine out of 10 Sunni Arabs support attacks on US forces.
"We're up to over 2,300 US military deaths and it sucks that they feel like that," says Clevenger.
After the encounter with the angry Kurdish family, members of Maszarose's Charlie Company 4th Platoontake over an Iraqi home for an evening stakeout of an oft-targeted police station. Khaled Saleh, the father whose home has been temporarily commandeered, and his young children sit wearily among them.
As the evening drags on uneventfully, the soldiers complain about new rules of engagement, meant to limit the sort of accidental killings and indiscriminate shootings that can alienate communities overnight. In recent months, they've been ordered to keep their vehicles' rear-mounted machine guns unloaded, to drive slowly down streets that are likely mined with IEDs, and to hunker down in their vehicles when approached by a possible suicide car bomber rather than open fire.
Their efforts are unappreciated
To these soldiers, they are bending over backward to keep the peace, and they are confounded that Iraqis don't seem to appreciate that.
"Why do they blame us?" wonders US Army Spc. Brandon Beard, of Arkadelphia, Ark. "The terrorists are wreaking more havoc on this city than we are."
"I don't hate all Arabs just because a few of them blew up the World Trade Center, so why should they hate all US soldiers just because one shot their father?" asks US Army Cpl. Joshua Hedges, of Warrensburg, Mo., a father of three.
The bleary-eyed Saleh looks on uncomprehending. When asked about the US soldiers in his country, and now in his living room, he shrugs, and barks down to his wife to bring another round of tea.
"What can I do?" he wonders. "We adapt and we survive and we give tea to our guests. But I would like an option beside the murderer Saddam Hussein or the lawlessness and humiliation of foreign occupation."
Back on base, Pvt. Isaac Ussery, of Naples, Fla., offers an explanation as he plays Blackhawk Down on a Sony PlayStation.
"Saddam had [things] under control and we don't basically," he says. "Iraq was safe under Saddam. You weren't safe from him, but you were safe from your neighbor and you were safe from Syrian people trying to come in and blow things up."
Despite their stated frustrations, soldiers say they are prepared to keep coming back. Many here have reenlisted for another four years and throughout the Army reenlistment rates are up.
It beats managing a gas station back home, says Private Ussery.
"I expected to be living in tents in the desert," he says after he rescues the virtual downed Blackhawk. "But I got here and I have electricity, heating, air conditioning, Playstation, TV, surround sound. It's not that bad."
Comment on this Article
A dangerous war makes a staggering shift
7:17 p.m. ET March 29, 2006
With signs of organized crime, attacks on businesses, war enters new phase
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Fourteen shot at a trading company. At least 90 kidnapped at other businesses. Bodies dumped nightly, bound hand and foot, some tortured. A new brand of violence - a deadly mix of organized crime and sectarian murder - is tearing at Iraq.
Its origins are murky. But the savagery has turned March into a pivotal month in the three-year war - a month of gruesome news, mixed with some good. A sharp decline in American deaths appears to be the payoff for handing more duties to the Iraqi army, leaving U.S. forces less exposed to attack.
At the same time, there has been the rise in the slayings of civilian Iraqis, the reasons for which are hard to find.
Not so many weeks ago, this was a conflict with straightforward, if brutal, terms. Sunni insurgents and al-Qaida terrorists used car bombs, roadside bombs, suicide bomb belts and sniper rifles to target U.S. troops, Iraqi soldiers, police and civilians - mainly Shiites, the newly ascendent majority after years of Saddam Hussein's oppression.
Terrorism with different focus
Those groups still operate and still kill. But their war has been dwarfed by the shadowy and incipient terrorism stalking the capital of Baghdad and its adjoining provinces.
Or perhaps - as some Iraq officials believe - the insurgents simply switched their targets, moving from American and Iraqi troops to targeting businesses and Iraqi civilians as a way to cause chaos or to fund their work.
Either way, the staggering shift makes it difficult to predict how the U.S. military will or can react to the new climate of violence, and what it might mean for hopes to begin a troop pullout this summer.
Bombs still rattle the capital and elsewhere, but far less regularly. U.S. helicopters still thunder through the sky, darting here and there and raising a racket that disturbs sleep and sends packs of wild dogs into a howling nighttime frenzy.
The tanks in the streets these days aren't American, by and large, but old Russian T-72s driven by Iraqi soldiers. Faces at military checkpoints are increasingly Iraqi.
Casualties: Fewer Americans, more Iraqis
As of Wednesday, 27 U.S. military personnel had died in March - the lowest monthly American death count since February 2004 and the second-lowest of the war, according to an Associated Press count.
Coincidental with the sharp drop in American deaths was the huge rise in the number of execution-style killings among Iraqis. Since the beginning of the month, at least 385 people - an average of more than 13 a day - have been found slain, the apparent victims of sectarian hatred and settling of old scores after a Shiite shrine was bombed Feb. 22.
The count climbs to at least 486 when the last six days of February are added, according to figures compiled from daily AP reports based on police accounts.
Also since the start of March, gunmen - mostly masked, many wearing police uniforms - have stormed at least six Baghdad businesses. On Wednesday, eight people were killed at the al-Ibtikar trading company when they were lined up against a wall and shot, and six others were wounded. At least 90 workers have been kidnapped and tens of thousands of dollars stolen in the five other assaults.
More killings execution-style
Execution-style killings and kidnappings of civilians happened before late February, of course - but not nearly in such big numbers.
In one rough accounting of the rise, for example, the AP reported 36 bodies found in Iraq in December, 150 in January and 195 in February. To date in March, the AP has reported 374 bodies found.
It is not always easy in war zones to separate criminal thugs from political thugs, and Iraq's insurgency has always been made up of several disparate groups.
"These are concentrated efforts to paralyze the country. They are either from al-Qaida or from the remnants of Saddam's regime. They want to tell the people that there is no government," Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman said after Wednesday's attack.
"All these operations have one aim: to freeze life in Iraq and sabotage the democratic process. They want to take us back to the dictatorship," said Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Khafaji, a deputy interior minister. He, too, blamed al-Qaida and said "we will work day and night to arrest them."
The violence that has hit Iraqi businesses may be aimed at old-line Sunni business moguls. It could be the work of either common criminal gangs, or of death squads operating in or tolerated by the Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry, which controls the police.
Organized crime may now account for a majority of the violence in the country, said Matthew Sherman, who just finished a two-year stint advising the Interior Ministry.
That, he notes, in a recent interview with an online publication of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, "really falls outside of what traditional military counterinsurgency operations cover."
Across this critical month, meanwhile, Iraqi politicians struggled but failed to form a government that might - U.S. officials hope - help put a lid on skyrocketing sectarian violence. The successful creation of a unified central authority remains key to the hoped-for start of an American troop withdrawal this summer.
Yet compromise has proved impossible so far.
Comment: Despite the obvious signs of false flag terrorism (just ask: Who benefits?), the mainstream US media continues to present a filtered view of reality in Iraq to the American people.
Comment on this Article
Bush's call for removal of Iraqi PM threatens rift with Shias
President George W Bush has made it clear that he does not want Ibrahim al-Jaafari to remain prime minister of Iraq in a move likely to increase hostility between the US and the Shia community.
Mr Bush has written to the Shi'ite leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Shi'ite Alliance asking him to nominate somebody else for the post. " The Americans are very firm about this," said a senior official. " They don't want Jaafari at any price."
Friction between the Americans and the Shia, who make up 60 per cent of Iraq's 27 million population, escalated sharply after at least 16 Shi'ites were killed in the al-Mustafa mosque by Iraqi and American Special Forces on Sunday night. Many Shia believe that the US was shocked by, and is not ready to accept, the success of the Shia Alliance in the election on 15 December.
The prolonged negotiations on forming a new national unity government has served to underline the fissures dividing Shia, Sunni and Kurds. The Alliance has called for security to be handed over to the Iraqi government in the wake of the al-Mustafa incident.
The government led by Mr Jaafari for over a year is a Shi'ite-Kurdish coalition, but the Kurds accuse Mr Jaafari of failing to honour agreements on the return of Kurds to Kirkuk and other places from which they were expelled by Saddam Hussein.
Dr Mahmoud Othman, one of the Kurdish negotiators engaged in trying to form the new government, told The Independent yesterday: "Jaafari has been in power one year and he has failed. He's not fit for the job and we should try somebody else." He criticised Mr Jaafari for acting as if he only represented one party and not the whole country. Since he became prime minister last year the Ministry of the Interior has been accused of running anti-Sunni death squads.
Unless he chooses to step down Mr Jaafari may not be finished since he is still the chosen Shia candidate and other Shia leaders may not want to break ranks. The unity of the Shia Alliance is also supported by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and the Hawza (the religious hierarchy) as well as by the Iranians.
The prolonged and rancorous negotiations on the make up of the new Iraqi government gives a false impression that it will be a powerful body. In reality central government authority is now very limited in much of Baghdad, Basra and Mosul, the three largest cities in the country.
There is almost a complete breakdown in law and order. Often criminals wear police uniforms. Three groups of gunmen disguised as police yesterday kidnapped 24 Iraqis working in a currency exchange and two electronic stores. Kidnapping has been rife since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003 but the kidnap gangs are operating ever more brazenly kidnapping many people at the same time. Earlier this month gunmen dressed as police commandos seized 50 men from a security company.
The objective of the kidnappers is money. Many business and professional people have fled the country. One senior political figure said this week: " A kidnap gang seized my nephew. There was nothing he could do to resist because they boxed in his car with seven cars filled with gunmen. They asked for $200,000 but settled for $20,000."
It is often not clear if criminals are disguised as police or are real policemen engaged in criminal activities. Even a large number of bodyguards may not be sufficient protection. A wealthy banker from Basra and his son were kidnapped in Baghdad by men dressed as police who cordoned off the street where they lived and killed seven of their bodyguards.
Iraqi society is dissolving because of the breakdown of law and order. Sami Mudhafar, Higher Education and Scientific Research Minister, said recently that he wanted to lay to rest exaggerated accounts of the number of university professors murdered in the last three years. He said the true figure was only 89 professors killed over three years, Mr Mudhafar's other piece of comforting news was that there was no murder campaign directed against the Iraqi intelligentsia and they were simply being killed because they lived in Iraq. In addition to the professors 311 teachers have been killed in the last four months. He added that the government was too weak to defend anybody: "I myself was target of an assassination attempt recently and the government has failed to obtain any lead on the party behind it."
Many students no longer go to universities that are riven by struggles between parties. "The students and their professors are in a very bad psychological situation," Abdulamir Hayder of Baghdad University was quoted as saying. "The only aim is how to flee to a foreign country to escape assassination or threats."
Comment: Do we need any further evidence that the American interest in Iraq has nothing to do with "democracy"?
Comment on this Article
Political uncertainty grips Iraq as talks cancelled
March 30, 2006
BAGHDAD - Political uncertainty, sparked by a dispute over control of Iraq's security apparatus, has gripped the country again after another planned meeting on forming a national unity government was cancelled.
With no let-up in the violence, political leaders are under increasing pressure to create a new government after three months of squabbling since the elections but have only held one meeting in the past four days.
"There is no meeting scheduled today at the president's house," an Iraqi official said on Thursday, while a senior lawmaker confirmed that the Shiites were debating a Sunni proposal over the country's security portfolios.
"The Shiite United Iraqi Alliance has asked for two days to decide on the issue of security file," Kurdish parliamentarian Mahmud Othman told AFP.
Reda Jawad Taqi, a member of the UIA, confirmed that the Shiite coalition was meeting separately for its own discussions.
"We are seriously discussing the proposal of the Sunnis and we will come up with response as soon as possible," he said without offering a time frame.
The latest development further delays the formation of a national unity government -- a quarter of a year since the election for the 275-member parliament, the first permament post-Saddam Hussein assembly.
The talks stumbled on Wednesday after the Sunnis demanded that a deputy prime minister (presumably Sunni) supervise the security portofolio rather than put it solely under the supervision of the prime minister.
"The Shiites want the prime minister who is their candidate to hold the security file, while the Sunnis want a say in this and want a deputy premier who will also hold the security file under the supervision of the prime minister," Othman told AFP on Wednesday.
Efforts to form a government have constantly been delayed by bickering over cabinet posts and resistance to outgoing Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari's drive to keep his job.
Jaafari's Shiite-backed candidacy is opposed by the Kurdish and Sunni minorities who believe he runs a sectarian-tinged government.
The latest developments have triggered tensions between the Shiites and the US authorities with the former accusing the Washington of tilting in favour of the minority Sunni Arabs.
On Monday, the Shiites boycotted the talks for a day in protest at a night raid by US-backed Iraqi special forces that killed at least 16 Shiites.
The incident further gave Shiite politicians an opportunity to criticise US forces and US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who Shiite politicians allege delivered a message to the Shiites from the US president describing Jaafari as unacceptable.
The US embassy in Iraq denies any such message was delivered.
In the Thursday edition of The New York Times, Jaafari warned against US interference in Iraq's politics.
Jaafari said that certain comments from US officials had undermined President George W. Bush's public stance in favour of democracy in Iraq.
"Now there's concern among the Iraqi people that the democratic process is being threatened."
"The source of this is that some American figures have made statements that interfere with the results of the democratic process," he said, without elaborating. "These reservations began when the biggest bloc in parliament chose its candidate for prime minister."
As the political uncertainty continued, violence continued unabated.
An Iraqi woman lawyer, Maymouna Hamdani, 45, working for local government in the southern port city of Basra, was shot dead early on Thursday, said police. She was hit by nine bullets.
At about the same time in Baghdad, a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol killed a civilian and wounded three others, said the interior ministry.
A bomb also killed one US airman and wounded another, the US military said, taking the toll of US military deaths to 2,330 since the invasion.
Comment on this Article
Fear Up Harsh: The Iraqi Civil War in Context
Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 28 March 2006
The causes underlying any civil war are always complex, confused, even contradictory -- as one would expect in an outbreak of madness. But those seeking to discover some of the key precipitating factors behind Iraq's furious plunge into chaos and disintegration might find one of them in the records of an obscure Congressional committee meeting on August 10, 2004.
At that meeting, then Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, General Peter
Pace (now head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) and General Bryan Brown, head of
Special Operations Command, appeared before the House Armed Services Committee. In
a long session larded with the usual rhetorical posturing, mutual
backscratching with the committee's rubberstamp Republican majority
- and a couple of polite queries from the timid Democratic minority
- Wolfowitz announced the Pentagon's plan to give money, arms and
training to a network of local militias in trouble spots around the
world. These irregular forces - "not just armies," Wolfowitz
emphasized - would be used to "counter terrorism and insurgencies," provide
greater internal security" in regions of American interest and "deny
sanctuary" to America's designated enemies, according to Pentagon
transcripts of the testimony.
General Brown said the use of militas was part of the "unconventional warfare" being
waged by the Bush Administration across the globe, "whereby special forces
accomplishes our national objectives through, by and with surrogate forces." General
Pace gave the legislators a view of the scope of such operations, mentioning "Kuwait,
Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Georgia, Paraguay, Colombia,
Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, North Korea, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan,
Iran" and of course Iraq, which he mentioned twice. Wolfowitz
told the Congressman that Bush wanted $500 million to set up this network
- his own personal Janjaweed.
in September 2004, I described the session this way:
Making copious citations from Bush's 2002 "National Security
Strategy" of unprovoked aggressive war against "potential" enemies,
[Wolfowitz] proposed expanding the definition of "terrorist sanctuary" to
any nation that allows clerics and other rabble-rousers to offer
even verbal encouragement to America's designated enemies du jour.
Any rogue state that countenances such freedom of speech within its
borders will become a prime target for "the path of action," said Wolf, quoting
Bush's most ringing Hitlerian phrase from the 2002 manifesto. To relieve the
overstretched U.S. military, the "action" will be carried
out largely by Bush's new hired guns: religious and ethnic militias,
tribal forces, mercenaries, cultists, insurrectionists, druglords,
pirates - basically anyone willing to slit throats and terrorize
populations at the order of the Oval One.
Two months after this Congressional meeting, Bush duly signed a measure
giving Special Operations Command the authority to provide "support
to foreign forces, irregular forces, groups or individuals," the
Los Angeles Times reports. This was for the Pentagon side of the
scheme; any money for militias funneled through the CIA would of course
be cloaked in the "black budget." The Special Ops deal marked
the first time that the Pentagon had been given such powers, which
previously had been reserved for the CIA. The significance of this "liberation"of
Special Forces became clear in the following months, when, after securing
another four years in power, Bush signed a series of executive orders "authorizing
secret commando groups and other Special Forces units to conduct covert
operations" in "as many as 10 nations in the Middle East
and South Asia," as Seymour Hersh reported in
the New Yorker last year. The orders turned the world into "a
global free-fire zone," a top Pentagon advisor told Hersh.
January 2005, I tied the revelations in Hersh's article to those
unearthed back in October 2002 by William Arkin, then writing for the
Los Angeles Times, which I had featured in
a subsequent column. From the January 2005 piece:
More than two years ago, we wrote here of a secret Pentagon plan to
foment terrorism: sending covert agents to infiltrate terrorist groups
and goad them into action - i.e., committing acts of murder and destruction.
The purpose was two-fold: first, to bring the terrorist groups into
the open, where they could be counterattacked; and second, to justify
U.S. military attacks on the countries where the terrorists were operating
- attacks which, in the Pentagon's words, would put those nations' "sovereignty
at risk." It was a plan that countenanced - indeed, encouraged
- the deliberate murder of innocent people and the imposition of
U.S. military rule anywhere in the world that American leaders desired.
This plan is now being activated.
In fact, it's being expanded, as the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh revealed
last week. Not only will U.S.-directed agents infiltrate existing
terrorist groups and provoke them into action; the Pentagon itself
will create its own terrorist groups and "death squads." After establishing their terrorist "credentials" through
various atrocities and crimes, these American-run groups will then
be able to ally with - and ultimately undermine - existing terrorist
Top-level officials in the Pentagon, the U.S. intelligence services
and the Bush administration confirmed to Hersh that the plan is going
forward, under the direction of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
- just as we noted here in November 2002. Through a series of secret
executive orders, George W. Bush has given Rumsfeld the authority
to turn the entire world into "a global free-fire zone," a
top Pentagon adviser says. These secret operations will be carried
out with virtually no oversight; in many cases, even the top military
commanders in the affected regions will not be told about them. The
American people, of course, will never know what's being done in
The covert units - including the Pentagon-funded terrorist groups
and hit squads - will be operating outside all constraints of law
and morality. "We're
going to be riding with the bad boys," one insider told Hersh. Another likened
it to the palmy days of the Reagan-Bush years: "Do you remember the right-wing
execution squads in El Salvador? We founded them and we financed them. The objective
now is to recruit locals in any area we want. And we aren't going to tell Congress
about it." Indeed, we reported here last summer that Bush has
already budgeted $500 million to fund local paramilitaries and guerrilla
groups in the most volatile areas of the world, a measure guaranteed
to produce needless bloodshed, destruction and suffering for innocent
people already ravaged by conflict.
Bush's executive orders also enabled the Pentagon "to run the
operations off the books, free from legal restrictions imposed on the
CIA," Hersh noted. The orders signed by Bush after the election
in 2004 seem to bring the 2002 plan to fruition.
In January 2005, Pentagon plans to implement such operations in Iraq were leaked
to Newsweek. The talk, again, was of the "Salvador
Option" and also references to Britain's brutal and bloody repression
of anti-colonial insurgencies in the years after World War II. The Iraq plans
called for using Shiite and Kurdish militias to target Sunni insurgents - and
civilians. "The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is
giving to the terrorists," a top Pentagon official told Newsweek. "We
have to change that equation."
All observers agree that the "equation" has now definitely changed
in recent months. The howling chaos of civil war has taken a quantum leap in
Iraq since the bombing of the Shiite's venerated al-Askari shrine in Samarra
- an operation of unusual planning and dexterity. As Mike
Whitney noted in Information Clearing-House, drawing on AFP reports:
AFP is reporting that the bombing of the Golden Domed Mosque "was
the work of specialists" and that the "placing of explosives
must have taken at least 12 hours."
Construction Minister Jassem Mohammed Jaafar said, "Holes were
dug into the mausoleum's four main pillars and packed with explosives.
Then charges were connected together and linked to another charge
placed just under the dome. The wires were then linked to a detonator
which was triggered at a distance."
Clearly, the bombing was not carried out by rogue elements in the disparate
Iraqi resistance. This is the work of highly-trained saboteurs and
bomb-experts who were executing a precision-demolition to incite sectarian
Now Iraq is being devoured in a
maelstrom of carnage and fear. Reports of the horror are pouring
in from all sides: mass beheadings, unspeakable tortures, the
abandonment of vast swathes of Baghdad and other cities to warring
militias, the evident complicity of the Iraqi government in many
of the atrocities coupled with its obvious inability to stop any
of them - and, apparently, a beserker rage infecting American forces,
as attested in story
after story of civilian massacres.
Yet none of this actually does any real harm to the true war aims behind Bush's
illegal war. I will be taking up this theme in a Moscow Times column that will
be posted here in a couple of days, but here is an excerpt from that piece, describing
the Bush Faction's genuine war goals:
The reality clearly shows that Bush had three primary objectives
in launching the invasion. First and foremost was the transfer of
large portions of the national wealth of Iraq - and the United States
- into the coffers of his political cronies, corporate backers and
family members. Second was the frantic acceleration of the long-running,
bipartisan militarization of America, which is now almost wholly
dependent on war and rumors of war to keep its heavily-mortgaged
economy afloat. Third was planting a permanent military presence
in Iraq to "project
dominance" over the strategic oil lands and serve as staging areas
for further operations in regime change and political extortion as
needed. ("Nice little country you got there, Abdul; too bad if
something, like, happened to it - you savvy? Now howzabout signing
that free trade agreement already?")
Yes, the myriad causes underlying the madness of civil war are always
complex and confused. Once loosed, it is a whirlwind that rages in
all directions; no one can control it. But it is obvious that certain
groups would benefit the most from civil war, and thus would have the
most to gain from trying to channel its fury to their own advantage.
Ironically, these primary feasters on chaos are the same two gangs
that have prospered the most from the global "War on Terror":
the Bush Faction and al Qaeda.
Comment on this Article
'If you start looking at them as humans, then how are you gonna kill them?'
By Inigo Gilmore and Teresa Smith
Wednesday March 29, 2006
They are a publicity nightmare for the US military: an ever-growing number of veterans of the Iraq conflict who are campaigning against the war. To mark the third anniversary of the invasion this month, a group of them marched on Katrina-ravaged New Orleans.
At a press conference in a cavernous Alabama warehouse, banners and posters are rolled out: "Abandon Iraq, not the Gulf coast!" A tall, white soldier steps forward in desert fatigues. "I was in Iraq when Katrina happened and I watched US citizens being washed ashore in New Orleans," he says. "War is oppression: we could be setting up hospitals right here. America is war-addicted. America is neglecting its poor."
A black reporter from a Fox TV news affiliate, visibly stunned, whispers: "Wow! That guy's pretty opinionated." Clearly such talk, even three years after the Iraq invasion, is still rare. This, after all, is the Deep South and this soldier less than a year ago was proudly serving his nation in Iraq.
The soldier was engaged in no ordinary protest. Over five days earlier this month, around 200 veterans, military families and survivors of hurricane Katrina walked 130 miles from Mobile, Alabama, to New Orleans to mark the third anniversary of the Iraq war. At its vanguard, Iraq Veterans Against the War, a group formed less than two years ago, whose very name has aroused intense hostility at the highest levels of the US military.
Mobile is a grand old southern naval town, clinging to the Gulf Coast. The stars and stripes flutter from almost every balcony as the soldiers parade through the town, surprising onlookers. As they begin their soon-to-be-familiar chants - "Bush lied, many died!" - some shout "traitor", or hurl less polite terms of abuse. Elsewhere, a black man salutes as a blonde, middle-aged woman, emerging from a supermarket car park, cries out, "Take it all the way to the White House!" and offers the peace sign.
Michael Blake is at the front of the march. The 22-year-old from New York state is not quite sure how he ended up in the military; the child of "a feminist mom and hippy dad", he says he signed up thinking that he would have an adventure, never imagining that he would find himself in Iraq. He served from April 2003 to March 2004, some of that time as a Humvee driver. Deeply disturbed by his experience in Iraq, he filed for conscientious objector status and has been campaigning against the war ever since.
He claims that US soldiers such as him were told little about Iraq, Iraqis or Islam before serving there; other than a book of Arabic phrases, "the message was always: 'Islam is evil' and 'They hate us.' Most of the guys I was with believed it."
Blake says that the turning point for him came one day when his unit spent eight hours guarding a group of Iraqi women and children whose men were being questioned. He recalls: "The men were taken away and the women were screaming and crying, and I just remember thinking: this was exactly what Saddam used to do - and now we're doing it."
Becoming a peace activist, he says, has been a "cleansing" experience. "I'll never be normal again. I'll always have a sense of guilt." He tells us that he witnessed civilian Iraqis being killed indiscriminately. It would not be the most startling admission by the soldiers on the march.
"When IEDs [Improvised Explosive Devices] would go off by the side of the road, the instructions were - or the practice was - to basically shoot up the landscape, anything that moved. And that kind of thing would happen a lot." So innocent people were killed? "It happened, yes." (He says he did not carry out any such killings himself.)
Blake, an activist with IVAW for the past 12 months, is angry that American people seem so untouched by the war, by the grim abuses committed by American soldiers. "The American media doesn't cover it and they don't care. The American people aren't seeing the real war - what's really happening there."
We are in a Mexican diner in Mississippi when Alan Shackleton, a quiet 24-year-old from Iowa, stuns the table into silence with a story of his own. He details how he and his comrades in Iraq suffered multiple casualties, including a close friend who died of his injuries. Then he pauses for a moment, swallows hard and says: "And I ran over a little kid and killed him ... and that's about it." He has been suffering from severe insomnia, but later he tells us that he has only been able to see a counsellor once every six weeks and has been prescribed sleeping pills.
"We are very, very sorry for what we did to the Iraqi people," he says the next day, holding a handwritten poster declaring: "Thou shall not kill."
As we get closer to New Orleans, the coastline becomes increasingly ravaged. Joe Hatcher, always sporting a keffiyeh and punk chains, reflects on his own time in the military and the hostility he has met from pro-war activists at home in Colorado Springs, Colorado, a town with five army bases where he campaigns against the war at town hall forums. He says: "There's this old guy, George, an ex-colonel. He shows up and talks shit on everybody for being anti-war because 'it's ruining the morale of the soldier and encouraging the enemy'.
"I scraped dead bodies off the pavements with a shovel and threw them in trash bags and left them there on the side of the road. And I really don't think the anti-war movement is what is infuriating people."
When we reach Biloxi, Mississippi, the police say that there is no permit for the march and everyone will have to walk on the pavement. This is tricky because Katrina has left this coastal road looking like a bomb site.
Jody Casey left the army five days ago and came straight to join the vets. The 29-year-old is no pacifist; he still firmly backs the military but says that he is speaking out in the hope of correcting many of the mistakes being made. He served as a scout sniper for a year until last February, based, like Blake, in the Sunni triangle.
He clearly feels a little ill at ease with some of the protesters' rhetoric, but eventually agrees to talk to us. He says that the turning point for him came after he returned from Iraq and watched videos that he and other soldiers in his unit shot while out on raids, including hour after hour of Iraqi soldiers beating up Iraqi civilians. While reviewing them back home he decided "it was not right".
What upset him the most about Iraq? "The total disregard for human life," he says, matter of factly. "I mean, you do what you do at the time because you feel like you need to. But then to watch it get kind of covered up, shoved under a rug ... 'Oh, that did not happen'."
What kind of abuses did he witness? "Well, I mean, I have seen innocent people being killed. IEDs go off and [you] just zap any farmer that is close to you. You know, those people were out there trying to make a living, but on the other hand, you get hit by four or five of those IEDs and you get pretty tired of that, too."
Casey told us how, from the top down, there was little regard for the Iraqis, who were routinely called "hajjis", the Iraq equivalent of "gook". "They basically jam into your head: 'This is hajji! This is hajji!' You totally take the human being out of it and make them into a video game."
It was a way of dehumanising the Iraqis? "I mean, yeah - if you start looking at them as humans, and stuff like that, then how are you going to kill them?"
He says that soldiers who served in his area before his unit's arrival recommended them to keep spades on their vehicles so that if they killed innocent Iraqis, they could throw a spade off them to give the appearance that the dead Iraqi was digging a hole for a roadside bomb.
Casey says he didn't participate in any such killings himself, but claims the pervasive atmosphere was that "you could basically kill whoever you wanted - it was that easy. You did not even have to get off and dig a hole or anything. All you had to do was have some kind of picture. You're driving down the road at three in the morning. There's a guy on the side of the road, you shoot him ... you throw a shovel off."
The IVAW, says Hatcher, "is becoming our religion, our fight - as in any religion we've confessed our wrongs, and now it's time to atone."
Just outside New Orleans, the sudden appearance of a reporter from al-Jazeera's Washington office electrifies the former soldiers. It is a chance for the vets to turn confessional and the reporter is deluged with young former soldiers keen to be interviewed. "We want the Iraqi people to know that we stand with them," says Blake, "and that we're sorry, so sorry. That's why it was so important for us to appear on al-Jazeera."
A number of Vietnam veterans also on the march are a welcome presence. For all the attempts to deny a link between the two conflicts, for both sets of veterans the parallels are persuasive. Thomas Brinson survived the Tet offensive in Vietnam in 1968. "Iraq is just Arabic for Vietnam, like the poster says - the same horror, the same tears," he says.
Sitting on a riverbed outside New Orleans, Blake turns reflective. "I met an Iraqi at one of the public meetings I was talking at recently. He came up to me and told me he was originally from the town where I had been stationed. And I just went up to this complete stranger and hugged him and I said, 'I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.' And you know what? He told me it was OK. And it was beautiful ..." He starts to cry. "That was redemption".
Comment on this Article
Finding no fault
By Molly Ivins
The Pentagon has once again investigated itself! And - have a seat, get the smelling salts, hold all hats - the Pentagon has once again concluded the Pentagon did absolutely nothing wrong and will continue to do so!
In this particularly fascinating case, the Pentagon investigated its own habit of paying people to make up lies about how well the war in Iraq is going, and then paying other people to put those lies in the Iraqi media, thus fooling the Iraqis into thinking everything in their country is tickety-boo. Well, if we can't fool them, whom can we fool?
The case revolves around a contract worth several million dollars given by the U.S. military command in Baghdad to the Lincoln Group, a public relations outfit started by two young entrepreneurs, one British, one American, in 2003 in Iraq. Articles were written by American military personnel from the American point of view about the war, to wit, it's going well. Lincoln Group in turn paid Iraqi journalists, some "on retainer," to print the articles without revealing the source.
Amusingly enough, through other programs, the U.S. government is also spending money trying to teach Iraqis about the importance of a free press in a democracy. According to the Pentagon's investigation of itself, none of the Lincoln Group's actions violate military policies because the Pentagon is just trying to counter the vast amount of anti-American propaganda carried in Middle Eastern papers.
While I think this is the best Pentagon-investigating-itself case of the week, I have to admit it's like the Oscars -- these investigations are so hard to compare to comedy and tragedy, documentary and animated shorts. Also featured this week is the case of the Abu Ghraib dog handler, a 24-year-old sergeant who was convicted for tormenting detainees. The dog was not convicted, on the theory that it was just acting on orders.
Despite the huge international outcry over torture, so far the heavy-hitters in the plot receiving real red, white and blue justice are Lynndie England, a 5-foot-tall, 23-year-old woman with learning disabilities and other non-commissioned officers. They were clearly the mastermind behind the entire international stink fest, from Gitmo to Afghanistan. England was put in prison for three years. Her baby boy will be walking and talking by the time Ms. England finishes doing her time, but no one in the upper ranks is responsible for anything that's happened.
In the unfortunate case of the Black Room reported in The New York Times, we taxpayers seem to have been charged with the cost of refurbishing one of Saddam Hussein's military bases into "a top secret detention center." One former torture chamber is now an "interrogation cell" used by Special Operations forces. "In the windowless, jet-black garage-sized room, some soldiers beat prisoners with rifle butts, yelled and spit in their faces and, in a nearby area, used detainees for target practice in a game of jailer paintball." I say, this time, let's indict the dogs.
Of course, there is always the same depressing coda to new accounts of torture and mistreatment of prisoners by American troops -- no useful information was acquired.
With all these horrifying details surfacing ("No Blood, No Foul" was the slogan at the Special Operations forces' Camp Nama), you may wonder why I return to the case of the chipper newspaper articles. I find them deeply symbolic, certainly paradigmatic and possibly even plangent, a word that's hard to work into a newspaper column. Quite some time after we had invaded Iraq, our government informed us we had done so in order to bring democracy to their nation. Originally, we were told we had to invade their country because there were tons of weapons of mass destruction therein, but they turned out not to be there. So, through a process of masterly media manipulation, we went from Saddam's nuclear program to democracy. It seems to me this is how George W. Bush and Co. govern, period. It's a Karl Rove thing. When reality is unsatisfactory, just manipulate the media.
You can't deny that the process has excellent results. It wins elections, for one thing. It confuses our critics and turns debate away from what we might loosely call "the truth" and into pointless fistfights about whether Iraq has descended, is descending or might descend into civil war.
"HOW DARE YOU CALL IT A CIVIL WAR -- YOU'RE JUST LENDING COMFORT TO OUR ENEMIES."
"LOOKS LIKE A CIVIL WAR TO ME."
"DOES NOT -- WHERE'S LEE, WHERE'S GRANT?"
This is not helpful dialogue -- remember the fight over whether there was an "insurgency" in Iraq or the Mission was still Accomplished, it was just "remnant Baathists and foreign terrorists"? That was a mirror of the arguments we had at home over whether President Bush could be described as a "friend" of Ken Lay's or whether he is "close" to Tom DeLay or "knows" Jack Abramoff. Likewise, entire policy discussions would get subsumed by furious debate over whether Bush's proposals meant "privatization" of Social Security or were merely "personal accounts."
Grabbing reality by the throat and forcing it into a form you find more pleasing than reality itself is not only a great election strategy, it works for a lot of people on a lot of levels in life -- denial is a good game while it lasts.
But as we can all attest, if you ignore reality, sooner or later it will bite you in the ass. I suspect the "tough-minded" (they pride themselves on being tough-minded) members of the Bush administration think they are not ignoring reality, but just persuading other people to ignore it long enough to allow them to change it. This is not an original thought. Many of the great thumb-suckers of D.C. have come to the same conclusion and pondered deeply on the "fatal hubris" of this administration. Fatal jackasses are what we have.
Faced with the unappetizing reality of Iraq, Bush and Rove are relying on that grand old reliable strategy -- attack the media. It doesn't play as well as it used to. Everyone who wants an alternative reality is already watching Fox News. The rest of the country is worried.
Let me hasten to admit that I have no solution -- I have tried to be constructive over the course of this war, but I'm flat out of ideas. I haven't an earthly clue whether it would be better if we up and left or if we sat and stayed. What I am sure of is that none of us will figure that out until we stop pretending, until we take a long, cold hard look at the reality on the ground. Then someone needs to level with us about what it will cost to stay, in lives and dollars and, God help us, goodwill.
In a Washington Monthly book review, I found a suggestion that we copy Cold War tactics on terrorism and practice "containment" rather than this War of Good vs. Evil, Battlestar Galactica bull. But that requires someone who will level with the people. And the more this administration plays games with definitions of democracy and weasel wording about torture, the less they can be believed about anything. Like the boy who cried wolf, someday they're going to tell the truth, and no one will believe them.
Meantime, let us all enjoy the game of Pentagon-investigates-itself.
Just remember, sooner or later, we'll have to indict the dogs.
Comment: The above-mentioned Lincoln Group and it's founder Christian Bailey were engaged in placing false information into the Iraqi media, in much the same way that the abovetopsecret forum spreads lies and disinformation around the web. In both cases, it is very clear that this is U.S. government intelligence agency work, aka CoIntelPro.
Comment on this Article
Reporter Jill Carroll Freed in Baghdad
March 30, 2006
WASHINGTON - Christian Science Monitor reporter Jill Carroll has been freed in Iraq and is healthy, a Monitor editor said Thurday.
"She was released this morning, she's talked to her father and she's fine," said David Cook, a monitor editor in Washington.
He said the paper had no further details immediately and just learned of her release aboug 6:15 a.m. EST.
Comment on this Article
Australia demands Iraq shooting probe
March 30, 2006
The Daily Telegraph
AUSTRALIA will insist on a prompt and appropriate investigation by Iraqi authorities into the shooting dead of an Australian resident in Baghdad.
University of Baghdad Professor Kays Juma, 72, was killed by security guards who opened fire when the professor's vehicle got too close to a convoy of 4WDs ferrying private contractors, The Herald Sun reported today.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) confirmed only that an Iraqi man with Australian residency had been shot and killed on Saturday after an incident at a checkpoint in Baghdad. His identity was not revealed.
"The Australian embassy in Baghdad is seeking advice on who is responsible for conducting an investigation into the incident and will register our strong interest with the relevant authorities to ensure the matter is investigated appropriately and promptly," a DFAT spokesman said.
The spokesman said initial speculation that the security guard who fired the fatal shots was Australian were incorrect.
"The manager of the security firm involved has reported that the employee responsible for shooting the man is not an Australian," he said.
DFAT said Professor Juma lived for the greater part of each year in Iraq with his wife, an Australian from Adelaide.
"The Australian embassy in Baghdad is providing consular assistance to the man's wife and consular officers in Canberra are in contact with the woman's family in Australia," the spokesman said.
"This incident underlines that the security situation in Baghdad remains extremely dangerous."
Comment: What seems to be the case is that these so-called "security contractors" are behind a lot of the indescriminate killing of civilians in Iraq over the past 3 years. There is video footage of these men shooting hundreds of bullets from the backs of their jeeps into any "suspicious" car that gets too close to their convey. The above story appears to be just the latest and one of the few reported such events.
Comment on this Article
Man Found Guilty of Plotting to Kill Bush
By MATTHEW BARAKAT
March 30, 2006
ALEXANDRIA, Va. - An American Muslim convicted of joining al-Qaida and plotting to assassinate President Bush was sentenced to 30 years behind bars by a judge who compared him to "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh.
Prosecutors had asked for the maximum - a life sentence - for Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, a 25-year-old U.S. citizen who was born to a Jordanian father and raised in Falls Church.
Authorities said Abu Ali went to Saudi Arabia in 2002 out of hatred for the United States. The Saudis arrested him in June 2003 as he was taking final exams at the Islamic University of Medina.
"The facts of this case are still astonishing," prosecutor David Laufman said. "Barely a year after Sept. 11 the defendant joined the organization responsible for 3,000 deaths."
But U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee said Wednesday that 30 years was sufficient punishment, pointing out that Lindh received a 20-year sentence. Abu Ali's actions "did not result in one single actual victim. That fact must be taken into account."
Abu Ali, wearing a green prison jumpsuit, declined to speak before his sentence was imposed. Defense lawyers said they plan to appeal.
He was convicted in November of conspiracy to assassinate the president, conspiracy to hijack aircraft and providing support to al-Qaida, among other crimes.
The jury in the three-week trial saw a videotaped confession Abu Ali gave to the Saudis in which he said he joined al-Qaida because he hated the United States for its support of Israel.
He claimed that the Saudis had extracted a confession from him through torture. Prosecutors denied he was mistreated.
Abu Ali said he had the scars on his back that proved he was whipped or beaten by the Saudis. Pictures were taken of his back, and doctors for both the government and the defense examined him, coming to different conclusions.
In February, defense lawyers asked for a review of the conviction in light of the disclosure that the Bush administration had eavesdropped on suspected terrorists' conversations without search warrants. Abu Ali's lawyers said they suspected, but had no firm evidence, that Abu Ali had been a target of the surveillance program.
The government's response was not made public, but the judge decided to go ahead with the sentencing after receiving it.
Comment: The comparison to Lindh is most interesting. See next article...
Comment on this Article
Flashback: The Real Story of John Walker Lindh
By Frank Lindh
January 24, 2006
After years of almost total silence on his son's arrest and imprisonment, Frank Lindh sets the record straight about the 'American Taliban.'
Editor's Note: The public has heard little about John Walker Lindh since the media frenzy over his capture in the winter of 2001. On January 19, John's father Frank Lindh delivered an address at The Commonwealth Club of California. Lindh explained that he and his family have avoided the press for nearly four years; he now wants the public to understand the truth about his son, who he says didn't stand a chance of getting a fair trial in the emotional days following 9/11. Immediately characterized as a "terrorist" by the press and politicians, Lindh faced a jury in Northern Virginia, just a few miles from the Pentagon. The trial date scheduled by the judge was the anniversary of 9/11. Initially facing 11 criminal counts -- most relating to terrorism -- the only charge that John Lindh was found guilty of was violating economic sanctions by supporting the Taliban government, for which the 20-year-old was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The following is excerpted from Frank Lindh's speech.
I believe the case of John Lindh is an important story and worthy of this audience's attention. In simple terms, this is the story of a decent and honorable young man, embarked on a spiritual quest, who became the focus of the grief and anger of an entire nation over an event in which he had no part. I refer to the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. The reason I think this story is important is because our system broke down in the case of John Lindh. My goals today are first, just to tell you the story of John Lindh. Second, to ask you to reflect, based on the fact of John's case, on the importance and the fragility of the rights we enjoy under our Constitution. And my third point is to suggest that the so-called war on terrorism lacks a hearts and minds component.
I want to begin by asking you to call to mind the September 11th terrorist attacks and the shock and horror they engendered in the hearts of everyone. On that awful day, a band of terrorists, who claimed Islam as their cause, hijacked four airplanes and flew three of them full of passengers into occupied buildings without warning -- the World Trade Center Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington. They crashed the fourth airplane, also filled with passengers, into a field in Pennsylvania. Three thousand innocent Americans lost their lives that day.
But for those attacks, John's activities, which I will describe, would have been treated with indifference, or perhaps curiosity here in the United States. But, viewed through the prism of the September 11th attacks, those very same activities caused this young man to be vilified as a traitor and a terrorist.
John was born in February 1981 in Washington, D.C., during a time when I was working for the federal government. He's the second of my three children. John was the kind of kid that any parent would want. From the time he was a baby, he was very centered, peaceful and content. Later, after he converted to Islam, I told John that I thought he had always been a Muslim, and he simply had to find it for himself.
I'm a practicing Catholic myself, and we raised John as a Catholic. He attended Sunday school along with his brother in Washington. In 1991, when John was 10 years old, we moved from the D.C. area to the Bay Area. At age 12, John saw the movie "Malcolm X" by Spike Lee and became deeply interested in Islam. He later wrote in his autobiographical statement for the court, "I had first become interested in Islam during 1993, after becoming aware of the Hajj, in which thousands of Muslims all over the world gather at Mecca, a holy site in Saudi Arabia. I learned that all Muslims are required to make this religious journey at least once in their life. I was very moved by the image of thousands of people praying together. Perfectly equal and perfectly humble. I began to read all that I could about Islam."
When he was 16, John formally converted to Islam at a mosque in Mill Valley in Marin County where we live. An elder at the Mill Valley mosque testified in John's case and wrote a statement for the court in which he said that in all of his experience in knowing Americans who had converted to Islam, "no one has come close to John in the embodiment of piety and of the true noble Islamic character." By the time he was 17, John was ready to embark on a course of studies overseas and he went to Yemen to study Arabic.
Travels in the Middle East
His first trip to Yemen lasted from July of 1998 to May of 1999, and then his visa expired, so he came home for a few months. Then, in February of 2000, just before his 19th birthday, John returned to Yemen to continue his study of classical Arabic and Islam at a school in Sanaa, Yemen. Again, he had visa trouble, so in November of 2000, John made a decision to go to Pakistan and to continue his Islamic study, memorizing the Koran. It's the goal of every scholarly Muslim to memorize the entire Koran verbatim, and John's goal was to become both fluent in Arabic and to memorize the Koran so that he could then go on and become a Muslim scholar. His goal was to attend the Islamic university at Medina in Saudi Arabia or a comparable world-class Islamic university.
It is November of 2000 when John goes to Pakistan with my blessing. In late April of 2001, John wrote to me and his mother to say that he wanted to go up to the mountains of Pakistan to get away from the heat. That made sense. John never tolerated the heat in Washington, D.C. What he didn't tell us, what we didn't learn until later was that John was going over the mountains, into Afghanistan, intent on volunteering for military service in the army of Afghanistan.
Civil war in Afghanistan
The Soviet Union, as you know, invaded Afghanistan in 1979. They imposed a communist puppet government upon the country. From the time of that invasion, right up through 2001, Afghanistan was engulfed in constant war. After the Soviets withdrew, the country descended into a civil war among the factions -- many of whom had been funded by the United States in the war against the Soviets, and the consequent civil was resulted in terrible devastation in the country.
Afghanistan had by far the largest refugee population in the world. Many of these refugees lived in terrible conditions in refugee camps in Pakistan, across the border. Eventually, the Taliban, which rose up out of those refugee camps, managed to consolidate power over most of the country. So by the year 2001, they had consolidated power over all except the Northeastern region of the country, which was still controlled by the Russian-backed Northern Alliance, a group of warlords.
America's allegiance with the anti-Russian factions in Afghanistan extended not only through the presidency of Carter, Reagan and the first President Bush, but also to the current Bush administration. In the spring of 2001, roughly at the same time John went to Afghanistan, Secretary of State Colin Powell personally announced a grant of $43 million to the Taliban government for opium eradication, which the New York Times then refers to as "a first cautious step towards reducing the isolation of the Taliban incoming by the new Bush administration." Secretary of State Powell released a press release in which he said "we will continue to look for ways to provide more assistance to the Afghans." This is the context in which John goes to Afghanistan.
When he did go into Afghanistan, John received infantry training at a government-run military training camp. But the training camp was funded by Osama bin Laden. Osama bin Laden really had two operations going on. One was to finance the Afghan army operations -- these training camps for infantry. But he also, as we all know now, had a terrorist organization under way, a highly secretive terrorist organization that we call al Qaeda.
Twice in the course of his training there, John actually saw Osama bin Laden and met him on one occasion. He came away from those encounters very skeptical about bin Laden because John recognized instantly that bin Laden was not an authentic Islamic scholar based on what John himself knows. In the course of John's subsequent criminal cases, attorneys hired a professor named Rohan Gunaratna. He is the world's leading authority on al Qaeda and author of the book "Inside al Qaeda."
Gunaratna has been employed by the U.N., but also by the government of the United States as an expert in al Qaeda, and he interviewed John extensively. After all these interviews, he made this following conclusion: "Those who, like Mr. Lindh, merely fought the Northern Alliance, cannot be deemed terrorists. Their motivation was to serve and to protect suffering Muslims in Afghanistan, not to kill civilians."
U.S. in Afghanistan post-9/11
After the September 11th attacks, the United States goes to war with Afghanistan. There's a period of one month in which the United States attempts to negotiate the extradition of bin Laden and his terrorist group. Those negotiations failed, and so, in October, almost a month later, the United States begins an invasion.
I wanted to introduce an important player in these events. It's a notorious Northern Alliance warlord named Abdul Rashid Dostum. Dostum had served as an officer in the Soviet-backed communist puppet government in Afghanistan. The New Yorker magazine last year said he was "perhaps Afghanistan's most notorious war lord," and he's viewed by most human rights organizations as among the worst war criminals in the country. Throughout the 1990s as well as during the U.S. invasion of 2001, Dostum was involved in numerous documented cases of torture and murder of prisoners of war. He dominates the area of North Central Afghanistan around the city of Masari Sharif.
In the period in late 2001, Taliban forces in Northern Afghanistan were overrun by the Northern Alliance forces after an aerial bombing by the United States. The American strategy was to use Northern Alliance troops as a proxy rather than commit American troops to the ground. This may have been a sound military strategy; however, it appears that the American generals who planned this invasion made no provision for the handling of the prisoners of war.
What happened as a consequence was the murder of thousands of Taliban prisoners by the Northern Alliance during the period of November and December of 2001, the same time when John's case comes to our attention. These war crimes have been documented by Physicians for Human Rights and in the mainstream media here in the United States, including a cover story in Newsweek magazine.
Capture in Afghanistan
Let us return now to the story of John. In early September, before the 11th, John arrived at the frontline in Tahar. The two armies there -- the Taliban army and the Northern Alliance army, were locked in an old-fashioned stalemate. John arrived, he was issued the standard rifle and two hand grenades and performed sentry duty there at the front. He never fired his weapons. After the American bombing campaign began in October, the line broke. Again, no American troops are here in Tahar, it's all Northern Alliance troops, but the American bombing happens.
The frontline breaks, the Taliban soldiers retreat to the capital of Tahar -- Kunduz. It's a confused retreat. Many of them are killed. If they're captured by the Northern Alliance, they're killed. There's a chilling series of pictures in the New York Times of a prisoner as he's taken, castrated and then killed. This is what John faced. He was very desperate and near dead by the time he got to Kunduz.
Then there's a deal made by General Dostum for safe passage of these prisoners from Kunduz to a city in the west called Herat, near the border of Iran. John is one of the 400 that are part of this deal with Dostum. They make this deal, and a large amount of money is given to Dostum in return for the safe passage. The only condition Dostum imposes is that the soldiers must give up their weapons before he'll allow them to pass through. So they give up the weapons and then immediately Dostum breaks the deal. He diverts the prisoners from their path into his fortress -- a place called Kuala Jungi. It's an old 15th- or 16th-century walled fortress near Mazari Sharif. And there all hell broke loose.
The next morning, John was brought out along with these other prisoners, with their hands tied behind their backs for interrogation. There are no American troops present here, but there are two American CIA agents, and they're doing the interrogation of the prisoners as they're brought out of the basement. Their arms are tied behind their backs at the elbow, and they are being very brutally abused by Dostum's troops. All of them are afraid that they are going to be killed by Gen. Dostum given his reputation.
John is struck in the back of the head with a rifle butt by one of the Northern Alliance troops as he's brought out of the basement just moments before some video was taken of John being interrogated by the two U.S. agents. They threatened John with death. John remained silent (Lindh believed the two agents were working for Dostum.) His only goal was to get to Herat so that he could get back to Pakistan.
Moments after this video is shot, the last of the remaining 400 or 500 prisoners, as they're brought out of the basement, jumped Dostum's guards, seized their weapons, and a melee broke out. Dostum's troops panic and begin to shoot down all the prisoners in the yard, most of them, like John with their hands and arms tied behind their backs. Dozens and dozens of these Taliban prisoners are killed on the spot. John gets up and starts to run. He is shot immediately in the thigh.
He lay on the ground there for 12 hours, pretending to be dead while the carnage continued around him. That night, some of the survivors managed to get back down into the basement of the building where they had been taken when they first were brought to the fortress. They went in among the dead and found the wounded and brought them down into the basement. John was one of them.
In the days that followed, there was a deliberate effort by Dostum, supported by the United States Special Forces, to simply exterminate all of the Taliban prisoners in the fortress. By the end of that week, most of them were dead. John and a group of them were still holed up. They were unarmed, they were wounded, and they were in the basement of the fortress. They dropped hand grenades down, they poured burning oil down. At one point, they attempted to drop a 1,000-pound bomb on the building, but it was misdirected and actually killed some of Dostum's troops, so they stopped with the bombing, but they continued to try to exterminate these prisoners.
There was a British journalist there named Luke Harding, and he wrote at the time that "Dostum's Northern Alliance and his British and American allies had only one plan: to kill all those in the compound." On Friday, the 30th of November, after six days, they flooded the basement with water from an irrigation stream and that killed many of the remaining soldiers down there in the basement. As Luke Harding wrote, "For those who had died, it had been a cold, terrifying, and squalid extinction." Harding wrote, "We had expected slaughter, but I was unprepared for its hellish scale."
John was discovered among the 86 survivors of this massacre in the basement of the building, and he instantly became an international sensation. He was quickly dubbed the "American Taliban" in Newsweek magazine which initially broke the story. The coverage from the beginning was overwhelmingly negative and prejudicial, and falsely linked John with terrorism. After the prisoners emerged from the basement of the fortress, they were taken to Sheberghen -- a town nearby -- for medical treatment. They were all starving, they had nothing to eat the entire week. They were suffering from exposure, and pretty much all of them were wounded, including John.
John had the AK-47 bullet in his thigh and numerous shrapnel wounds. He was very near death when he arrived at Sheberghen. As he's lifted onto a gurney by attending medics, a CNN cameraman named Robert Pelton began to film John. The tape shows John saying to Pelton, "Look, you don't have my permission to film me. If you're concerned about my welfare, don't film me." The ethical thing to do at that point would have been to turn off the camera. But Robert Pelton did not do the ethical thing. He kept the camera running and the microphone on as John was interviewed.
The sensation that resulted from the CNN interview is difficult to describe. I think you probably all have seen it. The interesting thing about the CNN interview, from my perspective, is that it was completely exculpatory. He was injected with morphine, and of course then begins to talk, and he forgets about turning off the camera. He tells his story and it's completely exculpatory. He says everything that I've told you -- "I was in the Taliban army, I met bin Laden," and then all the terrible events around this massacre, but the effect in the United States at that time, given the post-9/11 mood, was just terrible. The effect of this video seemed to confirm people's suspicions that John was a terrorist.
It wasn't just the television media that caused this prejudice, it was the print media as well. Newsweek magazine published a terrible cover story saying that John had supported the 9/11 attacks. The tabloid media was on to the case as well. The National Enquirer, which appeared at grocery store checkout lines throughout the country, featured a cover story with John's picture saying "America's traitor tells all." But even worse than this coverage by the tabloids, I believe, was the treatment that John received in the mainstream media including the New York Times.
On Tuesday, the 11th of December 2001, the Times published a front page article above the fold featuring a very compelling photograph of the funeral of Mike Spann, the CIA agent who had been killed at Kuala Jungi at the uprising. The theme of the entire story was that John had fought against his country and had caused the death of Mike Spann.
Interestingly, directly alongside of this incredible damaging article on page 1 of the New York Times, there appeared a leading article that same day about the widespread killing of the Taliban prisoners by General Dostum and the Northern Alliance. The byline of the article was Sheberghen, the very place where John had been taken and filmed by the CNN crew. But the New York Times overlooked the fact that this was the context in which John had been found, that John was the fortunate survivor of a mass killing of prisoners by the Northern Alliance.
Mistreatment by the military
Upon his capture, John was quickly transferred from Dostum's custody to the custody of the U.S. military. I would have thought at that point that John was in safe hands, and John himself thought the same thing because he said so in a brief letter that he dictated to the Red Cross who visited him that first day. But an order, emanating directly from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, instructed the U.S. military to "take the gloves off" in the questioning of John Lindh.
Rumsfeld's order is documented in a letter that was provided to John's lawyers by the prosecutors, and it also has been reported as a front-page story in the L.A. Times. I do not want to dwell here on the military's mistreatment of my son, but I will say categorically that he was treated in a way that is shameful to our nation and its ideals. John's bullet wound was left festering and untreated; he was blindfolded and bound hand and foot with tight plastic strips that caused severe pain. He was stripped naked and duct-taped and, in this condition, blindfolded, bound naked to a stretcher and then left in the cold in an unheated metal shipping container on the desert floor in Afghanistan.
After one initial visit, the Red Cross was denied any further access to John. The letters I wrote to John through the Red Cross were never delivered to him. All of this conduct was in violation of the Geneva Conventions of war. It was beyond what any civilized nation should tolerate. Yet, despite the fact that the torture and abuse of John Lindh was fully disclosed in the press, there was no outcry here in the United States, so strong was the emotion at that time against this young man.
What I find most troubling about this treatment, however, was that it was completely gratuitous and unnecessary. John Lindh did not need to be tortured in order to tell American forces what he knew, where he had been and what he had seen. He was glad to be rescued, he had nothing to hide. I cannot fathom why the military would have felt it necessary to humiliate him in this way.
I would venture to say that never before in the history of this country has any criminal defendant been subject to anything approaching the kind of prejudicial statements made by officials in John's case. Interestingly, though, in the very beginning, when John was first captured, President Bush had a sympathetic response. He said, "I don't know what we're going to do with the poor fellow" in an interview with Barbara Walters. And he referred to him by name, he said, "John." Sen. John McCain had sympathetic words, and Sen. Orrin Hatch also said that he thought that John was on a spiritual quest. But after the CNN interview was aired, the whole mood shifted.
It was both parties, Republicans and Democrats. All of these statements were broadcast and covered in the national media and came into everyone's home in the country. In an Oval Office interview on December 21st, President Bush said, "Obviously Walker is unique in that he is the first American al Qaeda fighter we have captured."
John had never even heard of al Qaeda.
Sen. Hillary Clinton, in a nationally televised interview on "Meet the Press," calls John a "traitor." Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld says, "John Lindh was captured by U.S. forces with an AK-47 in his hands." Imagine the prejudice to John from such a false and inflammatory statement. Secretary of State Colin Powell, the same Colin Powell who had sent the money to Afghanistan in April says, "John Walker Lindh has brought shame upon his family." Former President George Herbert Walker Bush says this: "He's just despicable. I thought of a unique penalty: Make him leave his hair the way it is and his face as dirty as it is, and let him go wandering around this country and see what kind of sympathy he would get." This was on Good Morning America, December 19th.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert, said that John was a "terrorist" who belonged to "an organization that took American lives and came against the American Constitution." Sen. McCain says, "I'd like to take him to Ground Zero, and show him Ground Zero and see how he feels after that." Rudy Giuliani was the person of the year in Time magazine, and what does he do with that bully pulpit? He says, "When you commit treason against the United States of America, particularly at time when the U.S. is in peril of a further attack, I believe the death penalty is the appropriate remedy to consider."
But the most prejudicial commentary of all came from Attorney General Ashcroft. He held two nationally televised press conferences in John's case. I have a copy of the New York Times, the page 1 article on the first of those conferences. This was on the 15th of February. Mind you, John is still overseas, still hasn't even had a chance to visit with his lawyer. He says, "We cannot overlook attacks on America when they come from United States citizens." This is announcing the criminal complaint against John. He's the leading prosecutor in the United States. The same day he says, "We may never know why he turned his back on our country and its values, but we cannot ignore that he did. Youth is not absolution for treachery, and personal self-discovery is not an excuse to take up arms against one's country."
In the second of these conferences, announcing the indictment, the attorney general says, "The reasons for his choices may never be fully known to us, but the fact of those choices is clear. Americans who love their country do not dedicate themselves to killing Americans." As any lawyer would know, it is a breach of professional ethics for a prosecutor to make prejudicial comments about a criminal defendant who is awaiting trial.
Then we get to the criminal case which the Boston Globe refers to as a "collapsed terror case." Initially, the government charged John with 11 criminal counts, most of terrorism-related charges such as supporting al Qaeda. In the end, the government dropped all of the terrorism-related charges in a plea bargain. The one charge that John pleaded guilty to was providing assistance to the Taliban government in violation of the economic sanctions that President Clinton had imposed.
I think it's clear that the government really had to stretch to find any criminal statute that John's conduct had actually violated. But for that one offense, and because he carried a weapon in the commission of the offense, John has been sentenced to 20 years in federal prison, and he's serving that sentence now in Southern California.
On the basis of the inherent unfairness, and also the fact that John has been a model prisoner from the beginning, John's lawyers have filed a petition with President Bush asking that John's sentence be commuted, and that petition is currently pending with the president.
Quickly, I have three conclusions that I have based on the facts of John's case. First, the rights we enjoy as citizens under the Constitution at times of war and national crisis, and they can be undermined by politicians and the media. Recall that every one of the government officials who I quoted took an oath of loyalty to the Constitution when they were sworn into office. And yet look how quick they were to disregard the Constitution in order to make rhetorical points about John Lindh.
As I tell law students when I speak with them about John's case, the Constitution of the United States does not live in a vault at the National Archives, the Constitution lives in our hearts, and it's up to us as people to maintain the values embedded in the Constitution. We cannot trust the politicians and the media to do the job for us. I think I have to say, too, that it was only the intervention of a courageous legal team, headed by Jim Brosnahan, that literally saved my son's life. I cannot even contemplate what might have happened if these lawyers had not stepped up to defend John.
I think it's clear that the United States really made a mistake in treating Taliban footsoldiers and the Afghan army as if they were al Qaeda terrorists. This was unjust in the eyes of the whole world, but especially among Muslims. And finally, I hope you will indulge me when I say that the mistreatment and the imprisonment of John Lindh was and is a human rights violation. It was based purely on an emotional response to the 9/11 attacks, and not on an objective assessment of John's case.
"...[T]he mistreatment and the imprisonment of John Lindh was... based purely on an emotional response to the 9/11 attacks, and not on an objective assessment of John's case."That statement sums up the Bush administration's handling of the entire War on Terror pretty nicely, doesn't it?
Comment on this Article
US officials charged with lying in botched 2003 terrorism trial
Thu Mar 30, 1:13 AM ET
CHICAGO - Two federal officials were charged with lying under oath and hiding evidence to win a conviction against four Moroccan men accused of running a Detroit "sleeper cell" in the days following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The charges highlight the zealousness with which investigators have pursued potential terrorists, critics said.
"In this instance the prosecutor went so far as to warrant a criminal indictment, but his actions were reflective of a broader problem in the Justice Department," said David Cole, a law professor at Georgetown University.
"In the interest of notching up symbolic victories in the war on terror we've seen prosecutors forget their obligation is to do justice and instead overreach in their charges and engage in questionable - and in this case criminal - behavior."
Thousands of Muslim and Arabic men were rounded up and questioned in the weeks and months following the September 11 attacks.
The four arrested in Detroit were the first to be charged and the highly publicized 2003 conviction of two of the men on charges of providing material support to terrorists was hailed as a major victory.
That conviction was thrown out a year later after an internal Justice Department probe found that the prosecution withheld evidence that would show that crude sketches and a videotape with images of Disneyland and other tourism destinations could be plausibly explained as something unrelated to terrorism activity.
Several other high-profile cases have fallen apart, including an Oregon lawyer wrongly accused of participating in the Madrid bombing. Other cases have been compromised because of prosecutorial zeal, like the botched handling of witnesses in the sentencing trial of Al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui.
This was the first to result in felony charges against either a prosecutor or an investigator.
"It's highly unusual - the Department of Justice is usually very protective," said Stephen Saltzburg, a law professor at George Washington University.
"This case turned into a disaster and a public relations nightmare and it threatened to show that all the cases" were tarnished, he said in a telephone interview.
"In the end this case won't fix that but it will send the message that the Department (of Justice) takes these cases seriously and that the war on terror can't be a war on justice at the same time."
Former federal prosecutor Richard Convertino, 45, and State Department special agent Harry Raymond Smith, 49, were indicted Wednesday on charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and making false declarations.
"The object of the conspiracy was to present false evidence at trial and to conceal inconsistent and potentially damaging evidence from the defendants in the Koubriti trial in order to obtain criminal convictions," the indictment said.
The charges focus on a sketch found in a day planner that was said to resemble a military hospital in Jordan.
Smith testified during the 2003 trial that the sketch was an "exact" match to the area surrounding the hospital and Convertino later presented testimony that these sketches proved the men were casing the location for a potential terrorist attack.
The defense team challenged those assumptions and asked prosecutors to produce photographs of the site for comparison. Smith allegedly lied under oath and said he could not take photos of a military site without permission from Jordanian authorities.
In reality, the indictment said, he had to take several aerial photographs and had instructed a colleague to take several more, then had them sent to Convertino who failed to fulfill his duty to get copies to the defense team.
Convertino, who was also charged with obstruction of justice in a narcotics case, faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a one-million-dollar fine. Smith faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and a 750,000-dollar fine.
Comment on this Article
Ex-lobbyist Abramoff gets 6 years
Thursday, March 30, 2006
Fraud in Florida casino deal will send him to federal prison
MIAMI, Florida (AP) -- Jack Abramoff, the disgraced lobbyist at the center of a Washington corruption scandal, was sentenced Wednesday to nearly six years in prison for fraud in the purchase of a Florida casino cruise line.
U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck sentenced Abramoff and a former business partner to five years and 10 months in prison and ordered them to pay restitution of more than $21 million.
The sentences were the minimum under their plea agreement in the case.
Abramoff, 47, and Adam Kidan, 41, both pleaded guilty to conspiracy and wire fraud.
They won't start their sentences for at least 90 days so they can continue cooperating in a Washington corruption investigation and a Florida probe into the murder of Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis, owner of the SunCruz Casinos fleet they bought.
In court, Abramoff said the case was "incredibly painful" for himself, his family and his friends.
"In the past few years I have begun the process of becoming a new man," he said.
Wearing a dark suit and tan, baseball-style cap, Abramoff arrived at the courthouse several hours early, avoiding the media. He and his lawyers did not speak to reporters as they left the courthouse.
Before the hearing, more than 260 people -- including rabbis, military officers and even a professional hockey referee -- wrote letters on his behalf asking the federal judge for leniency.
The letters put a new spin on the foibles and crimes of a man who became the face of Washington's latest corruption scandal.
"Jack is a good person, who in his quest to be successful, lost sight of the rules," National Hockey League referee Dave Jackson wrote, describing the time Abramoff brought 14 youngsters to his dressing room before a game.
Kidan, in his own letter to the judge, said he knew the SunCruz deal was wrong but said he "was very caught up in the fast paced world of my partner and the high profile that came along with it." He added, "I am not the horrible person that the media has written about."
The two admitted concocting a fake $23 million wire transfer to make it appear they had made a large cash contribution to the $147.5 million SunCruz purchase. Based on that fake transfer, lenders provided the pair with $60 million in financing.
The same week Abramoff pleaded guilty to the SunCruz fraud, he entered guilty pleas to three federal charges as part of a wide-ranging corruption probe that could involve up to 20 members of Congress and aides, including former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican.
No sentencing date has been set in that case.
Abramoff and Kidan are expected to give statements in the investigation into the February 6, 2001, slaying of Boulis, who was gunned down at the wheel of his car amid a power struggle over the gambling fleet.
Meanwhile, three men face murder charges, including one who worked for Kidan as a consultant at SunCruz and who allegedly has ties to New York's Gambino crime family.
Both Abramoff and Kidan have repeatedly denied any role in or knowledge of the Boulis murder.
But prosecutors say Kidan has not been ruled out as a suspect and defense attorneys say Abramoff could provide critical inside information about the dispute with Boulis, who also founded the Miami Subs restaurant chain.
Ultimately, cooperation in those investigations could reduce Abramoff's and Kidan's sentences.
Comment: Well, the Abramoff saga serves as a nice distraction from Bush's poor approval ratings, doesn't it?
Comment on this Article
Congressman Denies He Got Deal on House
By SAM HANANEL
Wed Mar 29, 11:52 PM ET
WASHINGTON - Rep. Jim Ryun on Wednesday denied allegations by Democrats that he received a "sweet real estate deal" when he purchased a town house from a nonprofit group with connections to lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
The Kansas Republican bought the historic Capitol Hill town house for $410,000 on Dec. 15, 2000. That was $19,000 less than the U.S. Family Network paid for the home about two years earlier, in January 1999, despite a sharp rise in local real estate values during that time.
He denies receiving any favorable treatment in the purchase. He declined to be interviewed but said in a written statement that he paid "fair market value" for the home.
Ryun said he negotiated the sale price after a housing inspector found a structural problem that would require up to $20,000 to repair. He said the seller also saved money on the deal by not having to pay a real estate agent's commission.
The home is currently assessed at $764,310 for tax year 2007, according to the city's Office of Tax and Revenue.
Mike Gaughan, executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party, called it a "sweet real estate deal" and questioned how Ryun found a house that lost value over two years in one of the nation's hottest housing markets.
The U.S. Family Network is a now-disbanded nonprofit advocacy group for conservative ideas that was founded by Ed Buckham, a former chief of staff to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. Buckham's lobbying firm rented office space in the town house from the group.
The group was funded almost entirely by corporations linked to Abramoff. Federal investigators are now exploring whether DeLay offered favorable treatment to Abramoff clients that made payments to U.S. Family Network, the Washington Post reported this week.
DeLay stepped down from his leadership post last fall after he was indicted in Texas on charges of laundering campaign money.
Ryun has not been connected to the scandals involving Abramoff or DeLay. Spokeswoman Michelle Schroeder said Ryun "was not specifically lobbied by USFN" and that the group has not made any contributions to his campaign.
Ryun said he heard news reports in the summer of 2000 that U.S. Family Network had zoning problems and might need to sell the house. Ryun said he asked Buckham for a contact and spoke to an attorney for the group in the fall of 2000.
"We inquired about the house and then entered into negotiations to buy it, finally arriving at a purchase price we believed to be fair market value based on its overall condition, including a structural deficiency," Ryun said.
A housing inspector found the upstairs master bathroom in the home was in danger of falling through the ceiling and told Ryun the bathtub should be removed and the living room ceiling needed to be reinforced, Ryun said.
Ryun said he asked the U.S. Family Network to take those repairs into account in reaching the sale price. He also agreed not to use a real estate agent, saving the group a 6 percent sales commission of $24,600.
To bolster his argument, Ryun's office released documents showing that another home on the same block was sold for $409,000 on the same day he bought his home. Property records show the other home is on a land area about half the size of Ryun's and is now assessed at $236,000 less than Ryun's home.
Ryun's office also produced documents showing the congressman paid $54,500 to make a variety of repairs to the home, including the structural support problem.
Buckham's attorney, Laura A. Miller, did not return a call seeking comment on the sale.
Meanwhile, Abramoff was sentenced Wednesday in Miami to nearly six years in prison for committing fraud in the purchase of a fleet of gambling boats. He will remain free while helping prosecutors with a vast bribery investigation involving members of Congress.
Abramoff, 47, and former business partner Adam Kidan, 41, received the minimum sentence under federal guidelines: five years and 10 months.
Comment on this Article
Fitzgerald Will Seek New White House Indictments
By Jason Leopold
It may seem as though it's been moving along at a snail's pace, but the second part of the federal investigation into the leak of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson is nearly complete, with attorneys and government officials who have remained close to the probe saying that a grand jury will likely return an indictment against one or two senior Bush administration officials.
These sources work or worked at the State Department, the CIA and the National Security Council. Some of these sources are attorneys close to the case. They requested anonymity because they were not permitted to speak publicly about the details of the investigation.
In lengthy interviews over the weekend and on Monday, they said that Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has started to prepare the paperwork to present to the grand jury seeking an indictment against White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove or National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.
Although the situation remains fluid, it's possible, these sources said, that Fitzgerald may seek to indict both Rove and Hadley, charging them with perjury, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy related to their roles in the leak of Plame Wilson's identity and their effort to cover up their involvement following a Justice Department investigation.
The sources said late Monday that it may take more than a month before Fitzgerald presents the paperwork outlining the government's case against one or both of the officials and asks the grand jury to return an indictment, because he is currently juggling quite a few high-profile criminal cases and will need to carve out time to write up the indictment and prepare the evidence.
In addition to responding to discovery requests from Libby's defense team and appearing in court with his attorneys, who are trying to obtain additional evidence, such as top-secret documents, from Fitzgerald's probe, the special prosecutor is also prosecuting Lord Conrad Black, the newspaper magnate, has recently charged numerous individuals in a child pornography ring, and is wrestling with other lawsuits in his home city of Chicago.
Details about the latest stage of the investigation began to take shape a few weeks ago when the lead FBI investigator on the leak case, John C. Eckenrode, retired from the agency and indicated to several colleagues that the investigation is about to wrap up with indictments handed up by the grand jury against Rove or Hadley or both officials, the sources said.
The Philadelphia-based Eckenrode is finished with his work on the case; however, he is expected to testify as a witness for the prosecution next year against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff who was indicted in October on five counts of perjury, obstruction of justice, and lying to investigators regarding his role in the leak.
Hadley and Rove remain under intense scrutiny, but sources said Fitzgerald has not yet decided whether to seek charges against one or both of them.
Libby and other officials in Cheney's office used the information they obtained about Plame Wilson to undermine the credibility of her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Wilson was an outspoken critic of the Iraq war. He had alleged that President Bush misspoke when he said, in his January 2003 State of the Union address, that Iraq had tried to acquire yellow-cake uranium, the key component used to build a nuclear bomb, from Niger.
The uranium claim was the silver bullet in getting Congress to support military action two months later. To date, no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, and the country barely had a functional weapons program, according to a report from the Iraq Survey Group.
Wilson had traveled to Niger more than a year earlier to investigate the yellow-cake claims and reported back to the CIA that intelligence reports saying Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger were false.
On Monday, though, attorneys close to the leak case confirmed that Fitzgerald had met with the grand jury half a dozen times since January and recently told the jurors that he planned to present them with the government's case against Rove or Hadley, which stems from an email Rove had sent to Hadley in July of 2003 indicating that he had a conversation about Plame Wilson with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper.
Neither Hadley nor Rove disclosed the existence of the email when they were questioned by FBI investigators or when they testified before a grand jury, the sources said, adding that Rove testified he found out about Plame Wilson from reporters and Hadley testified that he recalled learning about Plame Wilson when her name was published in a newspaper column.
Rove testified before the grand jury four times. He did not disclose the existence of the email during the three previous times he testified, claiming he simply forgot about it because he was enmeshed with the 2004 Presidential election, traveling around the country attending fundraisers and meetings, working more than 15 hours a day on the campaign, and just forgot that he spoke with Cooper three months earlier, sources familiar with his testimony said.
But Rove and Libby had been the subject of dozens of news stories about the possibility that they played a role in the leak, and had faced dozens of questions as early as August 2003-one month after Plame Wilson was outed-about whether they were the administration officials responsible for leaking her identity.
The story Rove and his attorney, Robert Luskin, provided to Fitzgerald in order to explain why Rove did not disclose the existence of the email is "less than satisfactory and entirely unconvincing to the special counsel," one of the attorneys close to the case said.
Luskin did not return numerous calls for comment. A spokeswoman for the National Security Council said she could not comment on an ongoing investigation and has vehemently denied that Hadley was involved in the leak "because Mr. Hadley told us he wasn't involved."
In December, Luskin made a desperate attempt to keep his client out of Fitzgerald's crosshairs.
Luskin had revealed to Fitzgerald that Viveca Novak-a reporter working for Time magazine who wrote several stories about the Plame Wilson case-inadvertently tipped him off in early 2004 that her colleague at the magazine, Matt Cooper, would be forced to testify that Rove was his source who told him about Plame Wilson's CIA status.
Novak-who bears no relation to syndicated columnist Robert Novak, the journalist who first published Plame Wilson's name and CIA status in a July 14, 2003, column -met Luskin in Washington DC in the summer of 2004, and over drinks, the two discussed Fitzgerald's investigation into the Plame Wilson leak.
Luskin had assured Novak that Rove learned Plame Wilson's name and CIA status after it was published in news accounts and that only then did he phone other journalists to draw their attention to it. But Novak told Luskin that everyone in the Time newsroom knew Rove was Cooper's source and that he would testify to that in an upcoming grand jury appearance, these sources said.
According to Luskin's account, after he met with Viveca Novak he contacted Rove and told him about his conversation with her. The two of them then began an exhaustive search through White House phone logs and emails for any evidence that proved that Rove had spoken with Cooper. Luskin said that during this search an email was found that Rove had sent to then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley immediately after Rove's conversation with Cooper, and it was subsequently turned over to Fitzgerald.
"I didn't take the bait," Rove wrote in the email to Hadley immediately following his conversation with Cooper on July 11, 2003. "Matt Cooper called to give me a heads-up that he's got a welfare reform story coming. When he finished his brief heads-up he immediately launched into Niger. Isn't this damaging? Hasn't the president been hurt? I didn't take the bait, but I said if I were him I wouldn't get Time far out in front on this."
Luskin wound up becoming a witness in the case and testified about his conversation with Viveca Novak that Luskin said would prove his client didn't knowingly lie to FBI investigators when he was questioned about the leak in October 2003, just three months after Rove told Cooper that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.
The email Rove sent to Hadley, which Luskin said he found, helped Rove recall his conversation with Cooper a year earlier. Rove then returned to the grand jury to clarify his previous testimonies in which he did not disclose that he spoke with journalists.
Still, Rove's account of his conversation with Cooper went nothing like he had described in his email to Hadley, according to an email Cooper sent to his editor at Time magazine following his conversation with Rove in July 2003.
"It was, KR said, [former Ambassador Joseph] Wilson's wife, who apparently works at the agency on wmd [weapons of mass destruction] issues who authorized [Wilson's] trip," Cooper's July 11, 2003, email to his editor said. "Wilson's wife is Plame, then an undercover agent working as an analyst in the CIA's Directorate of Operations counterproliferation division. (Cooper later included the essence of what Rove told him in an online story.) The email characterizing the conversation continues: "not only the genesis of the trip is flawed an[d] suspect but so is the report. he [Rove] implied strongly there's still plenty to implicate iraqi interest in acquiring uranium fro[m] Niger... "
It is unclear whether Rove was misleading Hadley about his conversation with Cooper, perhaps, because White House officials told their staff not to engage reporters in any questions posed about Wilson's Niger claims.
But Fitzgerald's investigation has turned up additional evidence over the past few months that convinced him that Luskin's eleventh-hour revelation about the chain of events that led to the discovery of the email is not credible. Fitzgerald believes that Rove changed his story once it became clear that Cooper would be compelled to testify about the source-Rove-who revealed Plame Wilson's CIA status to him, sources close to the case said.
If any of the people named in this story believe they have been unfairly portrayed or that what was written in this story is untrue, they will have an opportunity to respond in this space.
Comment on this Article
Ball In The Supreme's Court
By William Fisher
29 March, 2006
The U.S. Supreme Court this week heard arguments in what will almost certainly be one of the landmark cases of the past fifty years.
Their decision will determine whether the Supreme Court will continue to assert its authority to review and check the executive's power to detain and try individuals caught up in the "war on terror."
The case is called Hamdan versus Rumsfeld. The Hamdan is Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who has been a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since 2002. The Rumsfeld is Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, whose department has jurisdiction over all detainees held at U.S.-controlled military prisons.
Since the Court agreed to hear Hamdan's case, the administration of President George W. Bush filed an extraordinary motion to dismiss it. The government argues that a law passed by Congress late last year was intended to deny the right of habeas corpus to all prisoners in U.S. custody -- including not only new cases, but those that were pending at the time Congress acted. The Bush administration contends that Congress intended to strip the high court of its jurisdiction to hear any challenge arising out of the detentions at Guantanamo Bay.
But according to Deborah Perlstein, an attorney with legal advocacy group Human Rights First, "Apart from the weakness of the Administration's case on the merits, the statute passed by Congress last year makes clear its intent to apply only to cases arising after Hamdan's."
Perlstein told us, "It's hard to see even this new Court accepting that kind of frontal assault on its own power."
Two new Justices have been appointed to sit on the Supreme Court in the past few months. John Roberts has become chief justice, replacing William Renquist, who died. And Samuel J. Alito Jr. has joined the court, replacing Sandra Day O'Connor, who resigned after 24 years as an associate justice.
Even if the justices resolve the court-stripping issue, it will be left to decide two other weighty questions: Does the President have the authority to convene military commissions to try alleged terrorists and ignore the procedural protections that Congress and the Constitution have long afforded those facing U.S. military trials? And are the Geneva Conventions – the laws of war that the United States long ago ratified and made part of U.S. law – enforceable by individuals in federal court?
According to Perlstein, "Either one of these questions is generational in nature. Taken together, they give Hamdan the potential to be one of the most important cases the Supreme Court has heard on the issue of presidential power in the past half-century."
To complicate matters further, Chief Justice Roberts has recused himself from the Hamdan case because he participated in ruling on it in a lower court before his recent appointment. That means eight justices will hear the arguments, thus eliminating the possibility of the 5-4 decision often made by this court in contentious cases.
But, says Perlstein, "More significant than the absence of Chief Justice Roberts, is the absence of Justice Rehnquist and O'Connor in this kind of case. Those justices had for the past nearly 30 years been at the leading edge of the Court's assertion of its own power, above Congress and the Executive, as a co-equal branch of government. Whether the absence of their voices will have left a court more reluctant to weigh in on matters of individual rights in the face of government power remains to be seen."
The Hamdan case has been bouncing around the U.S. justice system for several years, beginning in 2004, when the DOD Formally referred charges against the 34-year-old Yemeni national, one of six Guantánamo detainees who were designated by President Bush in July 2003 as subject to trial by military commission under the President's Order of November 13, 2001. Hamdan was captured by Afghan forces and handed over to the U.S. military in Afghanistan in late 2001.
The government accuses Hamdan of serving as Osama Bin Laden's bodyguard and personal driver, delivering weapons to al Qaeda members and purchasing vehicles for Bin Laden's security detail. He is formally charged with conspiracy to attack civilians, attack civilian objects, murder, destruction of property, and terrorism.
Held at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, since early 2002, Mr. Hamdan is currently represented by Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, who brought suit in 2004 seeking Hamdan's release from solitary confinement and declaring the commissions unconstitutional.
Documents unsealed in early August reveal allegations that Hamdan was beaten, threatened, and kept in isolation for upwards of eight months. A military commission preliminary hearing began the week of August 23, 2004.
In September 2004, the petition was re-filed in the federal district court for the District of Columbia, and, in November 2004, that court found the military commission unlawful because the process violated the laws of war and military law, and stayed the commission.
In July 2005 the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed the district court and upheld the commission as lawful. Hamdan's lawyers appealed the ruling, and in November 2005 the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.
In January 2006, the government filed a motion for the Supreme Court to dismiss the case on the ground that the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 (the Graham/Levin amendment) divested Hamdan of the right to seek habeas corpus in a federal court.
That law entered congress as an amendment to a massive war-spending bill. It was introduced as a compromise by Sen. Lindsey Graham, a conservative Republican from South Carolina and a former military judge, and Sen. Carl Levin, a liberal Democrat from Michigan.
HRF's Perlstein told us the Graham-Levin compromise was "a mistake". She says that she understands Senator Graham's motivation – "to try to address the uncertain legal status of those held in a U.S. detention system that includes thousands of people worldwide."
However, she adds, "The great irony of Congress' action here was to guarantee that the question of the legal status of those stuck in limbo already for years would remain unresolved, and would continue to be litigated for some time to come. Apart from the Amendment's legal infirmities – trying to strip the federal courts of the power to enforce the Constitution against an executive branch strikingly uninterested in law – as a matter of security policy, it effectively made matters worse."
Brian J. Foley, a professor at Florida Coastal School of Law, told us he was uncertain about whether the Graham-Levin measure "clearly supports an argument that it is prospective only. Legislative history may say otherwise, but courts might not consider legislative history if they think the text is clear. It will be up to the courts"
However, he adds, "Congress did make clear that it doesn't want to give these prisoners a way to 'complain' about conditions of confinement, including torture. Congress made clear that it doesn't want to give them a way to 'complain' that they are not being given a hearing, or that getting a decision in a hearing is taking too long. Congress was foolish to pass this law, because these enormous presidential powers can so easily be turned against US citizens. What if a US citizen is rounded up and never given a hearing to test whether he's an enemy combatant -- or even a US citizen? Well, he can't access the courts, thanks to this statute. The only hope is that the Constitution's right to habeas corpus transcends this statute. That will ultimately be a major issue in the Supreme Court, and we can only hope that the justices don't simply side with the Administration."
The High Court's decision will not be public until July. Meanwhile, American citizens ought to be pondering whether it wants to become a monarchy, ruled by a president. They also ought to give some serious thought to the kind of message indefinite detention of prisoners sends to the rest of the world.
Comment on this Article
New Orleans Officers Indicted in Beating
By MARY FOSTER
March 30, 2006
NEW ORLEANS - Two former New Orleans police officers who were caught on videotape beating a retired teacher were indicted on felony charges that could send them to prison for years.
The officers - Robert Evangelist and Lance Schilling - were fired after the Oct. 8 beating of Robert Davis, 64, was captured on video by an Associated Press Television News crew covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Evangelist, 36, faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of false imprisonment while armed with a dangerous weapon and second-degree battery. Schilling, 29, could spend five years behind bars if convicted of second-degree battery.
"I hope this will result in something good for our city," said Davis, who spent more than an hour Wednesday testifying about the beating, which left him lying on the street, hands cuffed and blood flowing from his head and face.
A third officer, Stewart Smith, 50, was charged with simple battery. If convicted, he faces up to 6 months in jail and a $500 fine. Smith was suspended for 120 days but remains on the force.
Evangelist and Schilling were charged with battery against Davis, and Smith was charged with battery against a reporter.
A telephone call Wednesday to an attorney representing Evangelist, Schilling and Smith for comment was not returned.
Police Superintendent Warren Riley said in a statement late Wednesday that Smith would be reassigned to desk duty pending the outcome of his trial.
After the grand jury appearance, Davis told reporters that he still has headaches and back problems. He had to interrupt his testimony to take medicine.
The retired elementary school teacher said he had returned to the storm-struck city to check on his property and was looking for a place to buy cigarettes in the French Quarter when police grabbed him.
The videotape shows an officer hitting Davis at least four times on the head. Davis twisted and flailed as he was dragged to the ground. One officer kneed Davis and punched him twice.
Smith had ordered APTN producer Rich Matthews and the cameraman to stop recording. When Matthews held up his credentials, the officer grabbed him, jabbed him in the stomach and delivered a profanity-laced tirade.
The video also shows two FBI agents joining the police in subduing Davis. Their role is being investigated by federal officials.
A federal civil rights investigation also was launched.
"Without this videotape, I'm sure this case would be swept under the rug," said Davis' attorney, Joseph Bruno.
District Attorney Eddie Jordan agreed the videotape was important.
"Any time you have strong evidence, and I consider a videotape strong evidence, it helps your case," he said.
When asked if the false imprisonment charge meant that Davis should not have been arrested, Jordan said, "I think that's a fair inference."
Davis has pleaded not guilty to municipal charges of public intoxication, resisting arrest, battery on a police officer and public intimidation. His lawyer said this week he expects the charges will be dropped.
Comment on this Article
Around the World
Charles Taylor arrested but trial still months away
Thu Mar 30, 3:32 AM ET
FREETOWN - Liberian former warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor was in custody in Sierra Leone after been arrested in Nigeria following a failed bid to escape trial for crimes against humanity.
Taylor, 58, was captured early Wednesday on Nigeria's border with Cameroon as he attempted to flee the country which had offered him exile since 2003.
His disappearance from his exile home in Nigeria on Monday had drawn worldwide condemnation and sent panic waves in the region.
He fled after his position became insecure a week ago, when Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo agreed to surrender him to the government of his homeland.
Nigerian customs officials apprehended Taylor as he attempted to leave the country in a Range Rover jeep carrying diplomatic plates and a large sum of US dollars.
He was then flown to Sierra Leone via Liberia and on Thursday was languishing in the custody of a UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone where he to face trial.
"The indictment of Charles Taylor has today been safely secured and he is now in detention facility of the international tribunal in Freetown," said chief prosecutor of the warcrimes tribunal Desmond Da Silva.
"The indictment will be served on Taylor's legal representative but the trial is many months away," Da Silva told a news conference at the UN complex in the Sierra Leonean capital, Freetown.
"Taylor will make his initial appearance before a judge in a short time, perhaps by the end of this week," he said, shortly after Taylor's arrival and arrest in Freetown.
The United States is pressing for Taylor's trial to be switched to The Hague as a better venue considering the importance of the case.
"There is a process to get Charles Taylor to the court in the Netherlands," President George W. Bush said in comments following a speech in Washington.
Bush said that he had discussed switching the trial with Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo during talks at the White House on Wednesday. He praised Nigeria for its action in detaining Taylor on the Nigerian-Cameroon border, which saved Obasanjo from an embarrassing day.
Bush said moving the trial to The Hague would require a UN Security Council resolution, but added that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice believed it could be passed "relatively quickly".
"And so therefore I think he is headed where he belongs, which is trial," declared the president.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said international discussions had been started about prosecuting Taylor. "Part of that discussion is, because of the substantial nature of this case, physically, what is the best place to do it?"
Taylor, is considered the single most powerful figure behind a series of civil wars in both Liberia and Sierra Leone between 1989 and 2003, which between them left around 400,000 people dead.
The Libyan-trained former guerrilla chieftain is alleged to have sponsored the brutal rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), in a war against President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah in return for so-called 'blood-diamonds'.
The RUF rebels slaughtered, maimed, raped and enslaved tens of thousands of civilians in Sierra Leone during a 1991-2001 civil war rated as one of the most brutal in modern history.
"His presence in the custody of the court sets out a clear message that no matter how rich, powerful or feared people may be, the law is above them," said Da Silva.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the crimes of which Taylor is accused "are some of the gravest imaginable".
The Special Court had drawn up a 17-count charge sheet against Taylor alleging crimes against humanity, murder, sexual violence and unlawful use of child soldiers. But Da Silva said on Wednesday this had now been revised down to 11 counts, without reducing the gravity of the charges.
"On March 16 a judge of the Special Court gave permission to amend the indictment against Taylor and he is now charged with 11 counts," Da Silva explained.
"This will ensure a more focussed trial (but) the thrust and gravity of the former indictment is in no way diminished," he added.
"I think his capture and being put on trial does not only close a chapter, but it also sends a powerful message to the region that impunity will not be allowed to stand, and would-be warlords will pay a price," said UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
"Today is a momentous occasion and an important day for international justice, the international community and the people of Sierra Leone," said Da Silva.
On landing at a helipad at the 11-acre UN Special Court compound in Freetown, Taylor was immediately locked up in a cell.
Journalists had a glimpse of him in his cell where he sat handcuffed on a wooden chair dressed in a brown shirt and a pair of shorts.
Taylor was arrested by the UN peacekeeping force in Liberia (UNMIL) on the strength of a UN Security Council mandate which permitted the 17,000-strong force to arrest Taylor whenever he set foot on Liberian soil.
The former Liberian strongman is among 11 people charged by the Special Court for Sierra Leone for crimes during the civil war that ravaged the country.
The court is a hybrid of international and local law created under an agreement signed between the Sierra Leone government and the United Nations.
Comment on this Article
Indonesia, Britain to fight terrorism together: Blair
Thu Mar 30, 3:17 AM ET
JAKARTA - Britain and Indonesia have both been the victims of terrorist atrocities and must join together to fight the scourge of Islamic militancy, Prime Minister Tony Blair said.
Blair was speaking at a press conference in Jakarta after talks with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on a visit billed as recognising Indonesia as a moderate, democratic Muslim country that wants to engage the West.
"In respect of counter-terrorism, both our countries have suffered from terrorism and have a common interest in defeating it and we will work together on that," Blair said.
Indonesia has been scarred by a series of deadly attacks blamed on the Al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) regional network, including the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, mostly Western holidaymakers.
London was also rocked by bombings claimed by Al-Qaeda last July that killed 56 people, including the bombers, on three underground trains and a bus.
Blair said the world's most populous Muslim country also had a key role to play in fostering religious understanding.
"I think Indonesia is a crucial partner in trying to ensure that there is greater understanding of people of different faiths and that they are engaged in resolving the conflicts in the world," he said.
Blair, making the first visit to Indonesia by a serving British prime minister since Margaret Thatcher in 1985, officially launched with Yudhoyono the Indonesia-United Kingdom Islamic Advisory Group.
The group, comprised of Muslims leaders from both nations, will provide advice on countering extremism and promoting mutual understanding and tolerance between Islam and the West.
The British leader also met Islamic scholars in what he described as an "inspiring and at times moving occasion."
On defence and counter-terrorism issues, Blair said there was a close working relationship between the two countries that needed to be strengthened further.
"We want in defence terms now to treat Indonesia as it should be -- as our friend and our ally," he said.
Yudhoyono said Indonesia was improving its capacity to combat terrorism in line with the rule of law while respecting human rights.
"We try to bring perpetrators to justice as transparently and as accountably as possible so that people can follow what has been done by the government and the law enforcement agencies in Indonesia," he told the press conference.
Indonesian authorities have arrested some 270 militants since the 2002 Bali attacks.
Blair took up the theme of greater cooperation between Muslims and Western countries again on a visit to an Islamic boarding school in southern Jakarta.
The school is one of 1,000 set to form an Internet-linkup between the two countries in a bid to foster increased understanding.
The teenagers grilled Blair on his backing for the US-led invasion of Iraq and military action in Afghanistan. He responded by stressing the need for both supporters and opponents to understand each other's viewpoint.
That was the nature of democracy, he said.
"We have got to see how we make sure we build a bridge of understanding between the Muslim and Western world," Blair said. "That doesn't mean we always agree but it means we always understand why we disagree."
The West has shown a growing interest in Indonesia, which made its transition to democracy after the 1998 resignation of former dictator Suharto, assisting in reconstruction in Aceh, where 168,000 people were killed.
Blair jetted into Jakarta late Wednesday after stops in Australia and New Zealand. He was due to depart Thursday evening.
Comment on this Article
Suicide attacker dies, 7 Afghans hurt in blast
Thu Mar 30, 1:48 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A suicide car-bomber was killed in Afghanistan on Thursday when his explosives went off prematurely as he approached a Canadian military convoy, police said.
None of the Canadians was wounded but seven passers-by were hurt in the car-bomb blast in the center of the southern city of Kandahar, police said.
The violence came a day after one of the biggest battles in the past year between U.S.-led forces and Taliban insurgents.
A U.S. and a Canadian soldier were killed in the fighting in the southern province of Helmand, along with 32 Taliban, military officials said.
The Taliban say they have launched a spring offensive in their campaign to oust foreign troops and defeat the Western-backed government. They say they have numerous suicide bombers waiting to strike.
Security forces in Kandahar arrested nine suspected Taliban suicide bombers, two of them Pakistanis, the provincial governor said.
In other incidents, suspected Taliban gunmen on motorcycles killed a government militia commander and his brother in the southern province of Helmand, and a roadside blast in the southeastern town of Khost wounded four people, two of them policemen, police said.
Comment on this Article
Seven people hurt in gas blast in Israeli city
Thu Mar 30, 1:06 AM ET
JERUSALEM - An explosion, apparently caused by a gas canister, ripped through an apartment building in the northern Israeli city of Haifa on Thursday, injuring seven people, Israeli radio stations reported.
One person was seriously hurt from the blast which damaged several apartments in an eight-storey complex, they said.
The explosion, which echoed through a residential neighborhood in Haifa early in the morning, initially raised suspicions it may have been an attack by Palestinian militants.
It later appeared to be an accident, Israeli media reported, adding that police were investigating.
Comment on this Article
Reactions to the Israel Vote: Israel's Political Right has Collapsed
March 29, 2006
Some observers are suggesting that the new parties and new personalities in Israeli politics have clobbered the old.
I think that the bigger story is that the political right in Israel has imploded. Ariel Sharon as former head of the Likud Party, the party now headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, broke apart the vertebrae of the right and shattered the paralysis that had frozen Israel into a long-term self-destructive position regarding its all-important border dispute with Palestinians.
Had Ariel Sharon, who still lies in a coma, died a few days before the election, Kadima -- which drew members from both Likud and Labor -- might have added another ten seats to its tally, but this vote yesterday was not about sympathy for Sharon. In fact, Kadima performed a bit below expectations, securing just 28 seats. But that's enough -- and frankly, Olmert's need for partners makes him more pliable on some of Israel's domestic and foreign policy challenges.
Amir Peretz performed above expectations. Interestingly, his campaign was helped by the firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner which will get at least some credit in Peretz's surprising success. Stan Greenberg's firm was prominently profiled in the recent documentary hit, Our Brand is Crisis, about which I'll be writing more soon.
Peretz wants the government to focus on economic policies that improve conditions for Israel's working underclass and he is a strong believer in "negotiated" rather than "unilaterally imposed" solutions regarding to Israel's permanent borders and other issues like access to and control of Jerusalem, right of Palestinians to return, settlement-related land swaps, and the like. Peretz was able to keep Labor whole, and even moved it up a few notches above 2003 levels even though there were significant defections to Kadima.
Shas, a party of orthodox Jews, that is a likely coalition partner in the new government surged far beyond expectations and is now Israel's third largest political party. Some think that this "black hats" crowd is opposed to anything that would undermine a "Greater Israel". I'm no specialist on Shas, but in the limited discussions I have had with politically aware orthodox Jews, I sense no such rigidity. They are not part of the National Right in Israel and focus more on the religious dimensions of public policy. My sense is that Shas can support the right kind of negotiated Palestinian-Israel deal. Olmert must think so as well or he would not be inviting Shas into the government.
Israel's fourth largest political party is not the Likud, but is rather the new Yisrael Beitenu party headed by the charismatic Avigdor Lieberman -- whose party depends almost entirely on Israel's newest block of mostly-Russian speaking immigrants. Lieberman's party is ultra-nationalist and very committed to settlement protection and expansion, but at the same time must deal with the chronic underemployment and social problems related to his primary constituents. There is a lot of tension regarding the Russian immigrants, many of whom more traditional Israelis do not consider real Jews. This is something I had never heard before -- but the tectonics between other parts of Israeli society and the Russian-speaking segments are fragile.
Yisrael Beitenu will also be seen by many as the new leader of the political opposition. But one of the trends I saw when I was recently in Israel is that the supporters of this party were increasingly isolated from other parts of Israeli society -- and while they have coalesced and pushed their party forward, they may have just hit their upper water mark. I asked the Mayor of Israel's largest settlement in the Occupied territories whether he would become a champion for protecting and promoting the interests of other settlements, many of which have become dominated by the new Russian immigrants. He said definitively, "No", and said that there were serious disagreements among the heads of various settlements.
Thus, Yisrael Beitenu may have a difficult time working in common purpose with other opposition parties if it's own future strength depends upon an agitated and motivated ethnic group that other parties will no doubt either try to co-opt or isolate politically. Given that Olmert has so quickly committed himself to negotiations with the Palestinians, he is calculating that he can get away with bulldozing the supporters of Yisrael Beitenu who solidly support the far right -- but which now have little influence in any of the other leading parties.
Now in fifth, somewhat shockingly, is Likud under the probable temporary direction of Netanyahu. Netanyahu failed to capture the imagination of Israel's security-concerned citizens in the wake of Sharon's move to Kadima. Some blame Netanyahu for inspiring Rabin's death when he failed to speak out against extremist elements in his party who depicted Rabin as a latter-day Nazi. Netanyahu again failed to curb Likud elements who were doing the same with both Ariel Sharon and Olmert. This was one of the reasons why Netanyahu's efforts backfired. He flirts with radicals who tilt more towards violence and force than towards principled policy stands and constructive engagement. Some have told me that chances are high that Netanyahu will be de-throned soon.
On other fronts, the Pensioners -- a new party concerned primarily with seeing to the social safety net for Israel's more aged workers and retirees -- did unbelievably well and probably shore up Amir Peretz's intentions to drive more national attention towards the domestic economy.
The Arab parties also did resoundingly well and have done a good job of securing a Knesset presence more in line with their 20% portion of Israel's population. Interestingly, the success of the Arab parties will underscore for the Israeli Jewish parties why they must move forward on permanent status negotiations. When looking at the entire population of Israelis and Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories, the population is about 52.5% Israeli Jew and 47.5% non-Israeli Jew, and the latter are growing at a raid democratic clip while Israeli Jews are suffering declining replacement rates.
The one somwhat sad result in this election was Meretz, headed by former Justice Minister Yossi Beilin who initiated the Oslo process and who is one of the most intelligent and capable policy players in Israeli politics. Beilin is on the left and focused his party's agenda on securing "civil marriage" -- which is a huge issue it turns out.
Rather than focusing more squarely on the needs of "civil marriage" in heterosexual relationships, Yossi's advisors pushed him to make it a campaign for civil marriage rights in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships -- but the ads promoting same-sex marriage seemed to me to stand out more than the straight ads.
Meretz ran one hilarious political ad with two guys dressed as big white "drops" -- sort of like a white candy kiss -- but these were meant to be drops of sperm (no, I'm not kidding), and they were discussing their fears of being born as a woman because women in Israel are often subjected to religious and other forms of discrimination. Then, I think (as I don't speak Hebrew) one of the sperm "hit on" the other sperm and mentioned that he looked forward to "coming out" -- code words that the sperm thinks he's gay. (Note that I may have some errors in translation from the sperm episode.)
I admire the bravery of the ads, and they are certainly far ahead of the discussions America is having on these fronts -- but still, I'm not sure that Yossi Beilin's party selected a roster of policy objectives that would move it forward. The jury is still out on whether Meretz will be brought into government or not. My sources tell me that it's doubtful at this time.
Hope these reflections are useful to those of you who don't follow the political theatrics in Israel closely. There are many sources more informed than TWN on the nuances and historical context of what is currently happening -- but I also feel that there has been a sort of "cartel" of institutions and commentators in Washington who have dominated discourse on Israel-Palestine issues, and I'm intending to help shatter that cartel.
Comment on this Article
Israel's Election: Voting the Social Agenda
By TIM MCGIRK AND AARON KLEIN/JERUSALEM
March 29, 2006
Behind Olmert's tepid victory are signs that Israelis are paying attention to more than the Palestinians
In Old Jerusalem, it is the Jewish custom to fold written prayers inside the cracks of the Western Wall. Last night, after exit polls in the Israeli elections gave his centrist Kadima Party a slim lead over its rivals, acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wedged his prayer between the stones. Translated from Hebrew, it said: "He who prays for my brother and friend I will speak peace to you."
Olmert's wish can apply to the Palestinians - and to his prospective coalition partners. With only 28 seats for Kadima in the 120-seat Knesset, Olmert's centrist party will need lots of friends, and plenty of prayers, to survive a full four-year term, political analysts say. A wobbly, Kadima-led government could end up being pulled in a dozen opposing directions by its future coalition partners.
These will almost certainly include Labor (with 20 Knesset seats) and the Sephardic Orthodox party Shas (with 13) and possibly the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party (also with 13) representing the Russian-speaking immigrants around the country.
For many Israelis, this vote wasn't just about the big picture - dealing with a hostile Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and Gaza. It was also about more personal issues: as Israel drifts away from its socialist origins of collective farms and all-embracing welfare towards bustling capitalism, it has ignored the poorer folks left behind. That, say analysts, explains the voters' tilt to parties such as Labor, led by Moroccan-born Amir Peretz, which focused its campaign on social inequalities, and the parties such as Shas and Beiteinu that championed the neglected but sizeable Sephardic and Russian communities. The Pensioners Party, whose sole platform was to improve benefits for elderly Israelis, was the surprise of the elections, garnering eight seats. All these factors coalesced to deal the once-dominant right-wing Likud party a resounding blow. Led by ex-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Likud scraped together only 11 seats. Netanyahu's harsh budget cuts in the mid-1990s are remembered in fury by many Israelis who sought revenge in these polls.
Yair Lapid, a columnist from the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth, sums up the elections: "The people do not want to continue to hold on to the (occupied) territories, it supports the next disengagement, and it isn't willing to see its grandfather starve to death."
Only four months old, Kadima was created by Ariel Sharon with defectors - critics say "opportunists"- from Likud and Labor. And it took an iron-fisted patriarch like Sharon to hold this band of feisty Napoleons together. Party insiders admit that if Sharon were leading the party instead of lying in a coma after a January 4 stroke, Kadima would have fared far better. Now, Kadima will be at the mercy of many partners. Even as the votes were still being counted, Olmert's advisers last night say they were swamped by calls from prospective coalition allies wanting in on the deal.
Olmert, who was catapulted into the Kadima leadership after Sharon's terminal illness, has a reputation has a tough, often acerbic backroom pol. Even so, he will need plenty more prayers to weave together a smooth-running government - not to mention working out peace with the radical Palestinians Hamas.
Comment: The Kadima-lef government could end up being pulled in a dozen different directions. How convenient for the Zionists.
Comment on this Article
N-bomb: 'Saudi secretly working with Pak experts'
BERLIN, MARCH 29 : Saudi Arabia is working secretly on a nuclear programme, with help from Pakistani experts, the German magazine Cicero reports in its latest edition, citing western security sources
It says that during the Haj pilgrimages to Mecca in 2003 through 2005, Pakistani scientists posed as pilgrims to come to Saudi Arabia in aircraft laid on by the oil-rich kingdom.
Between October 2004 and January 2005, some of them took the opportunity to "disappear" from their hotel rooms, sometimes for up to three weeks, it quoted German security expert Udo Ulfkotte as saying.
According to western security services, the magazine added, Saudi scientists have been working since the mid-1990s in Pakistan, a nuclear power since 1998 thanks to the work of the now-disgraced Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan
Cicero, which will appear on newsstands tomorrow, also quoted a US military analyst, John Pike, as saying that Saudi bar codes can be found on half of Pakistan's nuclear weapons "because it is Saudi Arabia which ultimately co-financed the Pakistani atomic nuclear programme".
The magazine also said satellite images prove that Saudi Arabia has set up in al-Sulaiyil, South of Riyadh, a secret underground city and dozens of underground silos for missiles.
According to some western security services, long-range Ghauri-type missiles of Pakistani-origin are housed inside the silos.
Comment on this Article
Result could spell end of US role in pushing for peace
By Richard Beeston
THIRTY years of intense US-led diplomacy, aimed at finding a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, could draw to an end in the wake of yesterday's Israeli elections and the confirmation of a new militant Palestinian government.
Ever since Washington brokered the Camp David agreement in 1979, successive US administrations have despatched envoys to the region and produced dozens of plans in the search for an elusive peace.
Now, however, the "peace process", as this tortuous brand of diplomacy is known, could be coming to a end. Yesterday's election victory in Israel for the centrist Kadima party has given Ehud Olmert, the man forming the new government, a strong mandate to carry out territorial moves that would see Israel setting out unilaterally what it regards as its future borders.
Last year Ariel Sharon, the former Prime Minister who is in a coma after suffering a stroke, executed a similar move in the Gaza Strip.
That operation, which involved the removal of 8,000 Jewish settlers, was widely welcomed internationally since it conformed to demands that Israel vacate all land it captured in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Mr Olmert's proposed pullout from the West Bank is far more controversial. While he also plans to remove thousands of Jewish settlers, he would incorporate Arab East Jerusalem and three large chunks of occupied territory, where the bulk of Jewish settlements are located.
With the erection of a "security fence" to protect this new frontier, Israel will de facto have redrawn an international border. The move is likely to produce an outcry internationally, but that in itself will not deter a new Government which has the clear backing of the Israeli people.
On the Palestinian side the situation is even more complex. Yesterday the new Palestinian parliament confirmed the appointment of ministers belonging to Hamas, the militant Islamic group which has waged a bloody campaign against Israel.
For the time being there is no question of direct official contact between the new Palestinian government and the West at any senior level until the movement fundamentally changes its policies. America and the EU insist that Hamas recognise Israel's right to exist and abandons the use of violence.
Senior British officials insisted yesterday that there is still the possibility of bringing both parties back into an international framework. The Quartet group, made up of America, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union, will continue to meet and discuss Middle East issues and give its support to the "road map", a plan which envisages the creation of a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel.
But Western diplomats concede that in the present climate the chance of any real negotiations is virtually nil.
As ever in the Middle East, the US remains the only outside player that can exert real pressure on the parties.
But the Bush Administration has time and again shown itself reluctant to get involved and certainly does not intend to challenge Israel. Washington is already struggling with the war in Iraq and other regional crises, without taking on one more intractable problem.
Comment: Just what Israel has been planning for so many years. We are entering the end game, millions will die. Watch it happen.
Comment on this Article
US Navy prepares aircraft carrier strike group for "major training exercise"
March 28, 2006
The (US) Navy will send an aircraft carrier strike group, with four ships, a 60-plane air wing and 6,500 sailors, to Caribbean and South American waters for a major training exercise, it was announced Monday.
Some defense analysts suggested that the unusual two-month-long deployment, set to begin in early April, could be interpreted as a show of force by anti-American governments in Venezuela and Cuba.
The mission was sought by the US Southern Command, which has its headquarters in Miami and is responsible for all military activities in Latin America south of Mexico.
The Navy was last in the region in force in January 2003, when it used the bombing ranges at the Puerto Rican island of Vieques for the final time.
Led by the aircraft carrier George Washington, the deployment also will include the guided missile cruiser Monterey, guided missile destroyer Stout -- all from Norfolk -- and the guided missile frigate Underwood, based in Mayport, Fla.
"The presence of a US carrier task force in the Caribbean will definitely be interpreted as some sort of signal by the governments of Cuba and Venezuela," said Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute, a pro-defense think tank in Washington.
"If I was sitting in the Venezuela capital looking at this American task force, the message I would be getting is America still is not so distracted by Iraq that it is unable to enforce its interests in the Caribbean," Thompson said.
The objective of the deployment is to support the Southern Command's maritime security in its area of responsibility, the Navy said, which includes 32 countries: 19 in Central and South America and 13 in the Caribbean.
The Navy, citing security requirements, declined to say which nations the carrier group would work with or which ports it might visit. "Each ship will make two or three port visits in the region throughout their two-month deployment, but at this time no announcements are being made," said Lt. Cmdr. Chris Loundermon, a spokesman for the US Southern Command.
Called 'Partnership of the Americas,' the exercise will focus on "unconventional threats, such as narco-terrorism and human trafficking, and improving training levels in a variety of mission areas," the Navy said in a news release.
Stephen Johnson, a former US State Department and senior policy analyst for Latin America at The Heritage Foundation, said such training exercises are relatively common in the region for the United States , albeit smaller ones. "It's a chance to show the flag and let our friends know we care," he said.
As far as the exercise also sending a message to Latin American countries opposed to US policies, particularly to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, "there is a challenge for us not to be threatening and reignite hostilities in the region," Johnson said. However, there also is increasing concern Venezuela has begun to amass new weapons – from rifles to helicopters -- possibly including Russian Su-27 or Chinese J-10 aircraft .
Tom Baranauskas, a Latin American defence analyst with Forecast International, said Venezuela has plans to procure 138 naval vessels, from small patrol craft to larger ones capable of carrying surface-to-air missiles. It also wants to buy 30 transports and gunship helicopters for the army, he said.
* Venezuela has always announced plans for acquiring new military hardware, even before Chavez came to power in 1998, but couldn't afford it , he said.
"That was before the oil prices went up," Baranauskas said. "Now the money is available, and there is a pretty nice pool to buy this stuff from."
Thompson, with the Lexington Institute, said that although the Caribbean is a natural training area for the United States, "we don't have a task force there very often because of the political sensitivities.
"So the fact we are doing it now will be interpreted by Castro and Chavez as indicative of some sort of US plan, or initiative, or whatever you want to call it ," said Thompson, referring to the Venezuelan leader and Cuban President Fidel Castro. He said US military interests in the region "waxes and wanes" depending on the political rhythms.
"Right now, in addition to the persistent irritation of Castro, we have a very anti-American government in Venezuela, and we have a chronic guerrilla insurgency and narcotics problem in Colombia. "Needless to say, the Venezuela issues intersect rather powerfully with our energy dependence."
Norfolk-based Navy officials said the last time an aircraft carrier was in that region was summer 2004, when the Ronald Reagan sailed around South America after it left Norfolk to join the Pacific Fleet. However, that was a relatively quick trip to get the ship to its new home in San Diego.
The Navy drastically cut back sending its carrier groups, as well as all other warships, to the Caribbean for training when it agreed to abandon the island of Vieques near Puerto Rico in May 2003. Such training activities have since moved to the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic.
Likewise, a yearly exercise in the area, called UNITAS, has been scaled back in recent years. UNITAS is a multinational naval deployment exercise.
Every year since 1960, US Navy ships have circumnavigated the South American continent, participating in maneuvers with local navies.
Lately, however, fewer than four US ships have participated. Instead of an exercise that once lasted as long as six months, it now is relegated to a month or two and is conducted in phases.
Comment on this Article
Next Stop: Iran
U.N. Security Council passes nuclear demands for Iran
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The U.N. Security Council has unanimously approved a statement Wednesday demanding that Iran suspend uranium enrichment.
The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council agreed earlier on a statement demanding that Iran suspend uranium enrichment, setting the stage for the first action by the powerful body over fears that Tehran wants a nuclear weapon.
The text gives Iran 30 days to cooperate with the IAEA and suspend its uranium enrichment, according to U.S. Ambassador John Bolton.
The council has struggled for three weeks to come up with a written rebuke that would urge Iran to comply with several demands from the board of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to clear up suspicions about its intentions. Tehran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
"The council is expressing its clear concern and is saying to Iran that it should comply with the wishes of the governing board," Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones-Parry told reporters.
The West believes council action will help isolate Iran and put new pressure on it to clear up suspicions about its intentions. They have proposed an incremental approach, refusing to rule out sanctions.
U.S. officials have said the threat of military action must also remain on the table.
Russia and China, both allies of Iran, oppose sanctions. They wanted the council statement to make explicit that the IAEA, not the Security Council, must take the lead in confronting Iran.
But even though the statement is not legally enforceable, the talks have been extremely sensitive because of the statement's larger significance.
Britain, France and the United States wanted the council statement out of the way before their foreign ministers, as well as Germany's meet in Berlin on Thursday to discuss strategy regarding Iran.
Wednesday's meeting of the five veto-wielding members of the council -- the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia -- was the fourth in fewer than 24 hours.
In Moscow on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov repeated his stance that Moscow would not support the use of force to solve the Iranian nuclear problem.
"As many of our European and Chinese colleagues have stated more than once, any ideas involving the use of force or pressure in resolving the issue are counterproductive and cannot be supported," Lavrov said.
Iran remains defiant. The government released a statement through its embassy in Moscow on Tuesday warning that Security Council intervention would "escalate tensions, entailing negative consequences that would be of benefit to no party."
Comment on this Article
Neo-con cabal blocked 2003 nuclear talks
By Gareth Porter
March 30 2006
WASHINGTON - The George W Bush administration failed to enter into negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program in May 2003 because neo-conservatives who advocated destabilization and regime change were able to block any serious diplomatic engagement with Tehran, according to former administration officials.
The same neo-conservative veto power also prevented the administration from adopting any official policy statement on Iran, those same officials said.
Lawrence Wilkerson, then chief of staff to secretary of state Colin Powell, said the failure to adopt a formal Iran policy in 2002-03 was the result of obstruction by a "secret cabal" of neo-conservatives in the administration, led by Vice President Dick Cheney.
"The secret cabal got what it wanted: no negotiations with Tehran," Wilkerson wrote in an e-mail to Inter Press Service (IPS).
The Iranian negotiating offer, transmitted to the State Department in early May 2003 by the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, acknowledged that Iran would have to address US concerns about its nuclear program, although it made no specific concession in advance of the talks, according to Flynt Leverett, then the National Security Council's senior director for Middle East Affairs.
Iran's offer also raised the possibility of cutting off Iran's support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad and converting Hezbollah into a purely socio-political organization, according to Leverett. That was an explicit response to Powell's demand in late March that Iran "end its support for terrorism".
In return, Leverett recalls, the Iranians wanted the US to address security questions, the lifting of economic sanctions and normalization of relations, including support for Iran's integration into the global economic order.
Leverett also recalls that the Iranian offer was drafted with the blessing of all the major political players in the Iranian regime, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khomeini.
Realists, led by Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage, were inclined to respond positively to the Iranian offer. Nevertheless, within a few days of its receipt, the State Department had rebuked the Swiss ambassador for having passed on the offer.
Exactly how the decision was made is not known. "As with many of these issues of national security decision-making, there are no fingerprints," Wilkerson told IPS. "But I would guess Dick Cheney with the blessing of George W Bush."
As Wilkerson observes, however, the mysterious death of what became known among Iran specialists as Iran's "grand bargain" initiative was a result of the administration's inability to agree on a policy toward Tehran.
A draft National Security Policy Directive (NSPD) on Iran calling for diplomatic engagement had been in the process of interagency coordination for more than a year, according to a source who asked to remain unidentified.
But it was impossible to get formal agreement on the NSPD, the source recalled, because officials in Cheney's office and in under secretary of defense for policy Douglas Feith's Office of Special Plans wanted a policy of regime change and kept trying to amend it.
Opponents of the neo-conservative policy line blame Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser, for the failure of the administration to override the extremists in the administration. The statutory policymaker process on Iran, Wilkerson told IPS in an e-mail, was "managed by a national security adviser incapable of standing up to the cabal ..."
In the absence of an Iran policy, the two contending camps struggled in 2003 over a proposal by realists in the administration to reopen the Geneva channel with Iran that had been used successfully on Afghanistan in 2001-02. They believed Iran could be helpful in stabilizing post-conflict Iraq, because the Iraqi Shi'ite militants whom they expected to return from Iran after Saddam Hussein's overthrow owed some degree of allegiance to Iran.
The neo-conservatives tried to block those meetings on tactical policy grounds, according to Leverett. "They were saying we didn't want to engage with Iran because we didn't want to owe them," he recalled.
Nevertheless, US ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad (now envoy in Iraq) was authorized to begin meeting secretly in Geneva with Iranian officials to discuss Iraq. The neo-conservatives then tried to sandbag the talks by introducing a demand for full information on any high-ranking al-Qaeda cadres who might be detained by the Iranians.
Iran regarded that information as a bargaining chip to be given up only for a quid pro quo from Washington. The Bush administration, however, had adopted a policy in early 2002 of refusing to share any information with Iran on al-Qaeda or other terrorist organizations.
On May 3, 2003, as the Iranian "grand bargain" proposal was on its way to Washington, Tehran's representative in Geneva, Javad Zarif, offered a compromise on the issue, according to Leverett: if the US gave Iran the names of the cadres of the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK) who were being held by US forces in Iraq, Iran would give the US the names of the al-Qaeda operatives they had detained.
The MEK had carried out armed attacks against Iran from Iraqi territory during the Hussein regime and had been named a terrorist organization by the US. But it had capitulated to US forces after the invasion, and the neo-conservatives now saw the MEK as a potential asset in an effort to destabilize the Iranian regime.
The MEK had already become a key element in the alternative draft NSPD drawn up by neo-conservatives in the administration.
The indictment of Iran analyst Larry Franklin on Feith's staff last year revealed that, by February 2003, Franklin had begun sharing a draft NSPD that he knew would be to the liking of the Israeli Embassy.
(Franklin eventually pleaded guilty to passing classified information to two employees of an influential pro-Israel lobbying group and was sentenced to 12 and a half years in prison.)
Reflecting the substance of that draft policy, ABC News reported on May 30, 2003, that the Pentagon was calling for the destabilization of the Iranian government by "using all available points of pressure on the Iranian regime, including backing armed Iranian dissidents and employing the services of the Mujahideen-e Khalq ..."
Nevertheless, Bush apparently initially saw nothing wrong with trading information on MEK, despite arguments that MEK should not be repatriated to Iran. "I have it on good authority," Leverett told IPS, "that Bush's initial reaction was, 'But we say there is no such thing as a good terrorist.'" Nevertheless, Bush finally rejected the Iranian proposal.
By the end of May, the neo-conservatives had succeeded in closing down the Geneva channel for good. They had hoped to push through their own NSPD on Iran, but according to the Franklin indictment, Franklin told an Israeli Embassy officer in October that work on the NSPD had been stopped.
But the damage had been done. With no direct diplomatic contact between Iran and the US, the neo-conservatives had a clear path to raising tensions and building political support for regarding Iran as the primary enemy of the United States.
Comment: And some people still try to tell us that this "war on terror" has not been in the planning for a very long time. But of course, we will soon be treated to a shocking revelation about Iran that means that the US will be "forced" to go to war...again...
The real question is, how stupid are you? As stupid as your leaders think you are?...
Comment on this Article
Iran In NeoCon CrossHairs
By Richard Walker
American Free Press
Air Strikes by Israel would draw U.S. into another war.
What would happen if Israeli warhawks launched an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities? This week, American Free Press takes a look at a new study by an international terrorism expert, which warns that bombing the Persian country would likely drag the United States into a drawnout
and bloody clash of civilizations. AFP predicted it almost a year ago, but are neo-cons that crazy?
A new study by an international terrorism expert warns that a military attack launched by the Israelis on Iran's nuclear facilities would certainly escalate to involve the United States, Iraq and Lebanon, as well as Persian Gulf states.
In its early stages, it would result in many thousands of civilian and military casualties.
In an in-depth report for the Oxford Research Group, titled "Iran: Consequences of a War," Prof. Paul Rodgers writes that Israel has bought [or has been given-Ed.] all the necessary weapons from the United States for such an attack, including long-range fighters and a large supply of so-called "bunker-buster bombs," capable of penetrating hardened underground bunkers.
The targets of such an attack would initially be the Tehran nuclear reactor, as well as a radioisotope facility and a range of laboratories and other facilities, all of them in heavily populated areas.
If the newest reactor at Bushehr were to be targeted after it comes on line later this year, such an attack could lead to a Chernobyl-type disaster with radioactive clouds rising over most gulf countries.
According to Rodgers, if the United States is drawn into such an attack with the aim of setting back Iran's nuclear program, the British could also find themselves dragged into the affair by being asked to provide bases for the refueling of U.S. aircraft as happened when F-111s were used to bomb the Libyan capital of Tripoli in 1986.
If bombings were launched this year against Iran they would, claims the Oxford report, be launched simultaneously in order to kill as many of the technical staff as possible at the various nuclear sites. Iran would be unable to prevent such an air assault because of its lack of a functioning anti-missile and anti-aircraft arsenal.
Some experts dispute this aspect of the report, however, due to recent high-tech weapons purchases Iran has made from North Korea, China and Russia.
In the past decade, it is known that Iran has acquired hundreds of medium-range missiles from China and North Korea and an unknown number of long-range Sunburst cruise missiles from Ukraine, which, it is believed, could be used to sink U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf.
Israeli hawks in Tel Aviv and their allies in Washington want Americans to believe that Iran is a major threat to U.S. and Israeli interests in the Middle East.
The Israelis and their neo-con backers had hoped a successful invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein would undermine the clerical leadership in Iran and lead to its overthrow by an emerging democratic movement led by the youth of the country. To the dismay of Washington and Tel Aviv, however, the war in Iraq has failed to achieve that goal, and the power of the religious leadership in Iran has grown significantly.
The prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran stands in the way of Israeli hegemony in the Middle East. Israeli hardliners have convinced many Americans that they should be the only Middle East country with nuclear weapons. It is estimated that the Israeli nuclear arsenal contains as many as
In order to plan for an attack on Iran, recent reports indicate Israel has been buying long-range versions of American-made F-15 and F-16 aircraft. Beginning in 2003, the Israeli air force purchased 102 F-16s and 500 bunkerbuster bombs.
Efforts are also under way to equip Israeli submarines, including ones given to Israel by Germany, and naval surface vessels with cruise missiles that could reach Iran.
The Oxford Report points to an alarming trend: in the past two years, there has been the appearance of a strengthening of the relationship between the Israeli defense forces and the U.S. Army's Training and Doctrine Command.
The report warns: "Although not commonly covered in the western
media, this relationship is well known in the Middle East and would contribute to an assumption that any Israeli attack on Iran would be undertaken with the knowledge, approval and assistance of the United States. It is certainly the case that an Israeli air attack on Iran would involve flights through airspace currently dominated by the United States."
Rodgers also makes the point in his report that close links between Israel and the United States are far more widely recognized in the Middle East than in the United States and in Europe. Therefore, any Israeli action would
be seen as a joint operation with "Israel acting as surrogate and doing so with direct U.S. support."
He speculates that this would mean that Iranian retaliation would be directed at U.S. interests in the gulf and at U.S. forces in Iraq. Hezbollah, regarded as the most formidable terrorist organization on the planet, would be encouraged by Tehran to launch attacks on Israel from Lebanon and to coordinate strikes against U.S. targets across the Persian Gulf, in Iraq and in the continental U.S. While Israel would enjoy a short-term advantage over Hezbollah forces in Lebanon, there would be long-term consequences for both Israeli and U.S. interests.
It would be costly in terms of lives, money and influence. Perhaps the most troubling outcome, says Rodgers, would be the likelihood of a prolonged military confrontation, which would probably spread to other gulf nations.
Any attack on Iran by Israel, he says, no matter how small, would surely escalate to involve the United States and its bogged-down forces in Iraq.
Comment on this Article
Iran Defiantly Rejects New U.N. Demands
By GEORGE JAHN
March 30, 2006
BERLIN - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Iran on Thursday the "international community is united" in the dispute over its nuclear program, but a Tehran envoy defiantly rejected a U.N. call to reimpose a freeze on uranium enrichment.
Rice spoke after a meeting in Berlin among diplomats from the five veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany over ways to press Iran to stop enriching uranium, which can be used for weapons. Iran says its program is peaceful.
The meeting follows agreement Wednesday by the 15-member Security Council to ask the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the
International Atomic Energy Agency, to report back in 30 days on Iran's compliance with demands to stop enriching uranium.
In Vienna, Iran's chief representative to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told The Associated Press that "it is impossible to go back to suspension."
"This enrichment matter is not reversible," Soltanieh said.
Rice said the Berlin meeting sends "a very strong signal to Iran that the international community is united."
She hinted at escalating Security Council action should Iran disregard the council's demand that it freeze enrichment, although remarks from Russian and Chinese representatives suggested strains in the alliance facing down Tehran.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the issue of sanctions was not discussed at the meeting and were not supported by Moscow.
"Russia on principle doesn't think sanctions can achieve a settlement, especially in the Middle East where there's so much going on," he said.
Lavrov's remarks were echoed by China's Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo, who called for a "peaceful solution" and added there was "too much turmoil" in the region.
"This issue is among the most difficult and complicated in today's world, it requires time, persistence and wisdom, and it can only be resolved through peaceful means," Dai said, adding his country would "work together with the other sides."
The United States and Britain used tougher rhetoric.
British Foreign Minister Jack Straw said Iran had "miscalculated."
"The onus is on Iran to show the international community that its program is entirely for civil purposes and for no other," Straw said. "We have shown very great patience with Iran. They in turn have miscalculated.
"They thought the international community would be divided on this issue but in fact they have become more and more united," he added.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that his country and the five permanent members remained intent on a "diplomatic solution" to the dispute.
He held out hope Tehran might reconsider, telling reporters: "We hope that the declaration by the Iranian ambassador is not the last word offered on this."
Steinmeier said the 30-day window agreed on by the Security Council declaration gives Iran time to "make a choice between isolation ... or a return to the negotiating table.
"We all very much hope that Iran will seize the offer to resume negotiations and we use this opportunity to once again call on Iran to suspend all enrichment activities and to open up once again the path leading to negotiations," he said.
Wednesday's statement from the Security Council took into account the Russian and Chinese reservations about too much toughness, while meeting U.S., French and British calls for keeping the pressure on Tehran.
The modest statement did not go as far as the United States had wanted. It is not legally binding and carries no explicit penalties for Iran if it does not comply, but Rice said it is an important first step. The Security Council could eventually impose economic sanctions, though Russia and China say they oppose such tough measures.
The statement also calls on Iran to ratify the IAEA's additional protocol, which allows unannounced inspections.
The Security Council could eventually impose economic sanctions, though Russia and China say they oppose such tough measures.
The Europeans initially proposed a much stronger statement but accepted a milder one to secure the support of Russia and China. Western countries agreed to drop language that proliferation "constitutes a threat to international peace and security." Also gone is a mention that the council is specifically charged under the U.N. charter with addressing such threats.
Russia and China had opposed that language because they wanted nothing in the statement that could automatically trigger council action after 30 days.
The West has refused to rule out sanctions, and U.S. officials have said the threat of military action must also remain on the table.
In Geneva, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki condemned "unjustified propaganda" about its program.
"Iran's nuclear program is peaceful and has never diverted towards prohibited activities," Mottaki told the 65-nation Conference on Disarmament.
But, he added, Iran is willing to continue talks with the IAEA.
"We are willing to continue with negotiations and also continue with our sincere and constructive cooperation with the agency," Mottaki told reporters. "Our cooperation with the agency will continue."
Negotiations between Iran and France, Germany and Britain collapsed in August after Tehran rejected a package of incentives offered in return for a permanent end to uranium enrichment. Its moves to develop full-blown enrichment capabilities led the IAEA's board to ask for Security Council involvement.
Comment on this Article
US presses for longer-term measures on Iran
Thu Mar 30, 3:52 AM ET
BERLIN - US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called a newly adopted UN statement on Iran a first step and urged world powers to consider longer-term measures to thwart Tehran's suspected nuclear arms ambitions.
Flying in for talks on Iran with Washington's European allies as well as Russia and China, Rice welcomed the UN Security Council presidential statement adopted Wednesday as an important diplomatic marker.
But she acknowledged that the text, which calls on Iran to abandon sensitive uranium-enrichment activities yet does not threaten sanctions, was a compromise struck after weeks of haggling, notably with Russia.
"We've had tactical differences and this gives us the chance to stay together as we move forward," Rice said en route from Washington.
"When you are taking a first step, the unity of ... the Security Council is extremely important."
If Washington wanted unity, Russia wanted no mention of coercive force.
"We were willing to deal with the Russians on their concern and clearly they were willing to deal with us on our concern," Rice said.
She was meeting here with counterparts from the council's other four permanent members -- Russia, China, Britain and France -- plus Germany, for what she called an opening debate on the next steps in the nuclear dispute.
"This is not to go and write another statement. We've finished that," the chief US diplomat told reporters. "This is really to have an open discussion about how to move forward."
Rice denied the UN Security Council vote Wednesday was aimed at paving the way for tough action against Iran.
"We're not trying to hide a chapter seven resolution in a presidential statement," she said referring to the chapter of the UN charter that declares a threat to peace or stability.
She did not detail what measures the United States had in mind, saying that would depend largely on Iran's reaction to the UN statement. But she suggested they might not necessarily involve sanctions, which Moscow and Beijing oppose.
Now that the matter has reached the UN Security Council, she said, "you have a number of options at your disposal and it's not just sanctions of the kind that people have always thought about."
One move might be sending strong political messages to Tehran to hammer home the clerical regime's isolation, Rice said. She also suggested pressure could be applied to Iran's current nuclear program, which Tehran insists is strictly peaceful.
"I think we have to look at how those (nuclear) capabilities are being supported and what we might do about the support to those capabilities," she said without elaborating.
Rice brushed off Iran's threats to bar access to international inspectors if the West moved against its nuclear program. She said Tehran felt no compunction about pursuing its sensitive nuclear research even with inspectors on hand.
"If Iran makes that threat and carries through on it then I think we'll have a better and clearer view of what Iran's intentions really are. And so that's not a cost-free move by the Iranians," she said.
The secretary again called Tehran's nuclear program "one of the most important issues in the international system at this time" but said the Berlin meeting could also take up other dimensions of what Washington considers the Iranian threat.
These include, she said, Iran's role in global terrorism, its repressive government, its support for armed Palestinian resistance to Israel and its status as a "troublesome regime for peace and stability in the Middle East."
Rice was also due to have talks Thursday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and fly to Paris to confer with French President Jacques Chirac before heading to Britain to visit the home constituency of Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
Germany, France and Britain led more than a year of efforts to coax Iran out of its suspected nuclear arms program by offering economic and other incentives. The talks collapsed on January when Tehran said it was resuming sensitive research.
Comment: In other words, the US has plans for Iran.
Comment on this Article
Iran To Stage Massive Gulf Military Maneuver
by Farhad Pouladi
Mar 30, 2006
Tehran - Thousands of Iranian troops will on Friday start a week-long military maneuver in the Gulf to ready armed forces for warding off "threats", a senior commander announced on state television.
The commander of the navy of Revolutionary Guards Corps, Rear Admiral Mostafa Safari, did not specify the nature of the threat although the maneuver comes amid increasing tensions with the West over Tehran's nuclear programme.
"The Revolutionary Guards Corps navy and air force in collaboration with (Iran's regular) army, navy, (the volunteer militia) Basij, and the Iranian police will start a maneuver from 31 March until 6 April in the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman," he said.
Iran has two armed forces in which both have their own ground, naval and air force all under the command of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
He added: "We hope ... We will gain the necessary and needed readiness to decisively reply to any kind of threats."
"More than 17,000 soldiers and sailors will be used, along with 1,500 different kind of vessels, in addition to the different sorts of jet fighter planes, choppers and different missiles," he added, but did not say whether Iran will use its ballistic missiles.
Iran has medium-range Shahab-3 missiles with the capability of 2,000 kilometers (1,280 miles), able of hitting arch-enemy Israel and US bases across the Middle East.
"The exercise will cover an area stretching from the northern tip of the Persian Gulf all the way to the port city of Chah-Bahar in the Sea of Oman extending 40 kilometers (25 miles) into the sea," he said.
In addition, the spokesman of the maneuvers, Rear Admiral Mohammad Ebrahim Dehghan told state television that the strait of Hormouz will be one of the focal points of the exercise.
"Some 80 percent of the Persian Gulf's oil is shipped out of this strait over which Iran has dominant and accurate control," he said.
"If the enemy wants to make the area insecure, he should be rest assured that he will also suffer from the insecurity, since we know the location of their vessels," he added.
The country is currently under mounting international pressure over its disputed nuclear energy drive, alleged by Israel and the West to be cover for weapons development. Tehran denies the charges.
Top diplomats from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany will meet in Berlin on Thursday to map out a long-term strategy on how to contend with Iran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment, which could be used to build a nuclear bomb.
In Israel, Tehran's arch foe, however, several officials have openly hinted at the possibility of pre-emptive strikes against Iran, seen as a threat to the existence of the Jewish state.
On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that any attempt at using force or coercion to resolve the standoff over Iran's nuclear program would be counter-productive.
"Any ideas about a coercive, forceful solution to the issue are highly counter-productive and cannot be supported," Lavrov told reporters in Moscow.
Iran's Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said nearly two months ago that Islamic republic will give an "extremely quick and destructive response" to any attack against its nuclear facilities.
However, Iran -- OPEC's second biggest oil producer -- has been sending mixed messages over whether it would use its oil exports as a weapon in the case of action from the UN Security Council.
Comment on this Article
Jewish lobby? What Jewish lobby?
There is no Israel 'Lobby'
BY DAVID GERGEN
Sunday, March 26th, 2006
It brings no joy to issue a public rebuttal against a valued colleague, but there are moments that demand no less. The occasion is the publication of an essay titled "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," written by two professors, John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt, the academic dean and my colleague at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
In essence, their 82-page piece argues that U.S. policy in the Middle East has been hijacked by a pro-Israel "Lobby." "The core of the Lobby," they say, "is comprised of American Jews who make a significant effort in their daily lives to bend U.S. foreign policy so that it advances Israel's interests."
As a result, "the United States has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel."
Mearsheimer and Walt assert that for decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the lobby has manipulated our political system to give short shrift to Palestinians, was a "critical element" in the decision to invade Iraq and is now skewing our policy on Iran (the United States, they say, "can live with a nuclear Iran").
Not only are these charges wildly at variance with what I have personally witnessed in the Oval Office, but they also impugn the unstinting service to America's national security by public figures like Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk and many others.
As a Christian, let me add that it is also wrong and unfair to call into question the loyalty of millions of American Jews who have faithfully supported Israel while also working tirelessly and generously to advance America's cause, both at home and abroad. They should be praised, not pilloried.
To be sure, pro-Israeli groups in this country, led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, push hard to gain the support of U.S. political leaders. AIPAC is officially registered as a lobbying group, but that does not mean that its members are engaging in something sinister.
It is just not true that the Israel "Lobby" has captured U.S. policy toward the Middle East. As David McCullough writes, Harry Truman recognized Israel in 1948 out of humanitarian concerns and in spite of pressure from Jewish groups, not because of it. Since then, 10 straight American Presidents have befriended Israel - not because they were under pressure but because they believed America had made a commitment to Israel's survival, just as we have to other threatened outposts of freedom like Berlin, South Korea and Taiwan.
Over the course of four tours in the White House, I never once saw a decision in the Oval Office to tilt U.S. foreign policy in favor of Israel at the expense of America's interest.
Moreover, history shows many instances when our Presidents have sharply opposed the Israeli government. I was there when Ronald Reagan, a great friend of Israel, was so repelled by pictures of victims in Lebanon that he insisted the Israelis call off their assault on Beirut (they did).
Has Washington sometimes tilted too much toward Israel? Of course, just as we have toward other friends overseas. Is our policy in the Middle East worthy of serious debate? Absolutely, and we should defend the right of academics to question it.
But let that debate go forward with a clear mind and an understanding heart. And let us remember that our friendship with Israel has always been rooted in noble values - just as our friendships have been with other outposts of freedom.
Gergen is a professor of public service at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government and director of its Center for Public Leadership. He served as a White House adviser to Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.
Comment: For an idea of the Jewish lobby counteracting check out this link at google.
Comment on this Article
Trial of Aipac lobbyists gets postponed one month
Nathan Guttman, THE JERUSALEM POST
Mar. 29, 2006
The trial of two former Aipac lobbyists accused of communicating national security information was pushed back a month, and will begin only on May 23rd.
The decision to postpone the trial by a month was announced Tuesday, and is due to the prolonged debate over pre-trial motions.
The defense has filed motions asking to dismiss the entire case, citing the fact that there are no precedents for putting civilians on trial for receiving and disclosing oral classified information without any document being passed on. The court is expected to rule on these motions in the coming weeks, after receiving detailed briefs from both sides by Friday.
The main reason for the delay in opening the trial is the need to determine what part of the classified information used as evidence in the case will be available for the defense. The final hearing on the discovery of evidence is set to take place late next month.
Comment on this Article
It's The Media, Stupid
By Ramzy Baroud
29 March, 2006
There is little disagreement on the indispensable role of the media in influencing political debate and narrative, thus shaping public discourse.
Among progressives, liberals and most political minorities in the United States and Europe, there is an equal consensus regarding the troubling alliance that is bringing warmongering politicians, ideologues, religious zealots and media moguls together. They alone possess the capabilities to sway the public in any way they wish, or so it seems; they stack a nation's priorities in the way they find most fit; they concoct wars and justify them when they go awry. In short, they manipulate democracy by manipulating the public, using whatever means necessary: fear, misinformation and all the familiar rest.
No other issue has been the victim of such treachery like the Middle East discourse in the West, and particularly that concerning Palestine and Israel. This is a subject that is as old as the conflict itself. Even before the establishment of the state of Israel upon the hundreds of conquered and mostly destroyed Palestinian towns and villages in 1947-48, the founders of Israel seemed utterly aware of the destructive impact of their action on Western public opinion. Israeli historian Benny Morris's commanding book, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem is dotted with instances where - in their secretive dealings - Zionist politicians bickered over the massacring of Palestinians or their overt ethnic cleansing particularly because of how such blatant actions could damage Israel's image in the West, not because of the moral dilemma of the acts themselves.
This 'image' problem has indeed irked Israel since day one and continues to do so; this is why the term 'PR disaster' has always constituted a nightmarish scenario for Israeli politicians throughout the years, and subsequently turned Israel into a master in media spins and crisis management. Israel understood well that in order for its habitually indefensible policies, so evident in the illegal confiscation of land, the oppression of people and the defiance to international law, and so on, to be justified, facts have to be spun, truths have to be hidden and a new discourse, one that defies reality altogether would has to be woven, as it has.
Thus, despite the fact that the Arab-Israeli conflict is the most reported media story on earth, it's the least understood, seemingly the least rational, and most certainly one with the least potential to be resolved. The media's skewed narrative makes the conflict an end in itself; it creates a status quo that is most suitable for Israel's colonial policies and least desirable for Palestinians, who are silently - or so it seems - losing their land, their livelihood and any prospect of freedom, let alone their refugees' right of return.
Israel's impact on the media however, has metamorphosed throughout the years, from that seeking to influence to the one doing its own molding of public opinion. Israel's dedicated media friends, from the New York Times to the British Telegraph are perhaps the largest and by far the most influential interest groups in the media anywhere around the world, a fact
that they - understandably so - often rebuff. But the facts are too apparent to deny. According to the findings of a recent study conducted by two top American scholars - Professor John Mearsheimer at the University of Chicago and Professor Stephen Walt of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University - the single largest influence on US foreign policy in the Middle East is Israel's interest, even when it is at odds with the United States own interests. The study cited the Israeli lobby, AIPAC as chiefly responsible for hijacking US foreign policy in the Middle East and has based its apparently thorough research on diverse sources, including uncountable media reports.
Many are already familiar with the 'special' ties between the United States and Israel, which arguably allowed for the latter to steer the foreign policy of the 'greatest democracy on earth' into the Middle East political abyss - whose injurious consequences are likely to diminish the US global import. But most might not be aware of the fact that the media is largely responsible for manufacturing that 'special relationship'. In fact, US interests in the Middle East - be they political, economic, i.e. strategic - have been greatly hampered, thanks to the perpetual, albeit misguided advocacy by Israel's allies in the administration, Congress, media and 'independent' think tanks and endless lists of 'experts' unleashed whenever Israel's image is at risk.
But what has in fact magnified the impact of the Israeli lobby and its influence in the media - whose work on behalf of Israel has exceeded Palestine, Palestinians and even the Middle East as a whole to all kinds of geopolitical boundaries as far as Africa, Asia, Latin America, and of course, Washington itself, also known as 'the other occupied territory' by a former US congressman - was the pitiable and most disorganized response of Palestinians, Muslims and Arabs. Some out of fear, perhaps, chose to disown the matter altogether using whatever injudicious logic they could drum up. Others tried to develop their own media alternatives, which is commendable. However, such mediums have failed - unlike the Israeli media machine - to carry any depth, strategy or sense of unity toward a fixed goal. In fact, it reflected Arab factionalism and brought into question the actual motives behind these 'alternative' ventures.
The result has been catastrophic. Israel's decades-long quest to bolster its media image has done wonders as American public opinion either sees Israel as a lone defender of democracy amid uncivilized Arab polities or not at all aware of the facts, basing its inane understanding of Middle East politics on media half truths that see Arabs as irrational, lazy and inherently violent, with the Israeli being the embodiment of the complete antithesis.
I am afraid that many Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims are themselves content with the status quo and are the least interested in reversing their misfortune or appreciating the immense impact of the media on politics, wars and indeed peace. There is an overall inclination that associates media bias with racial categorization - always the easy answer to all enigmas - which is usually followed by a shoulder shrug and the defeatist impression that 'all is lost', an echo of the same defeatist sentiment that has accompanied the Arab-Israeli conflict since its inception, which is now directly involving the United States, its military, its resources and reputation.
However all is not lost, for even the most focused misinformation can be reversed, no matter how humble the initiative, how modest the resources. I have said so for many years and many have said it before me and many will continue to echo the same idea: with all due respect "it's the media, stupid." And if one is foolish enough to neglect its import, then maybe one deserves to be burnt by its fire.
-Veteran Arab American journalist Ramzy Baroud teaches mass communication at Australia's Curtin University of Technology, Malaysia Campus. His most recent book is entitled, Writings on the Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle (Pluto Press, London.) He is also the editor-in-chief of the Palestine Chronicle online newspaper.
Comment on this Article
An "Alliance" of Violence
By Dahr Jamail
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Wednesday 29 March 2006
A disturbing trend noticeable in Iraq for quite some time now is that each aggressive Israeli military operation in the occupied territories results in a corresponding increase in the number of attacks on US forces in Iraq. One of the first instances of this was the assassination of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in March 2004 and the reaction it set off across Shia and Sunni, ultimately spiraling into the siege and devastation of Fallujah. Fallujah is but one example one may use to demonstrate how the ongoing use of heavy handed tactics by the US-Israel alliance is proving to be as suicidal as it is homicidal. US troops in Iraq and Israeli civilians in their homes can bear testimony to this, as they are the ones who bear the brunt. Not to mention the collateral damage in Iraq.
May 17, 2004, Washington
Cofer Black, at the time Coordinator for Counterterrorism for the US State Department, in a talk at the 2004 Policy Conference for the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), said that of all the nations cooperating with the US in the global war on terror, "none [is] more stalwart than the state of Israel." He told the audience of the powerful lobby group that "Our two great nations will stand together to fight terror" and deemed the US-Israel Joint Counterterrorism Group (JCG) "an important part of our counterterrorism partnership."
May 10, 2004, Fallujah, Iraq
The first US siege of Fallujah ended in early May, 2004, and on May 10th US forces abandoned all control of the city, handing it back over to the Iraqis.
April 4, 2004, Fallujah, Iraq
US military directed to launch the first, and eventually failed, revenge assault in retaliation for the four Blackwater USA mercenaries killed on March 31st. The siege caused severe casualties among the people of Fallujah, killing 736 people, over 60% of whom were women, children and the elderly, according to the director of Fallujah General Hospital.
April 2, 2004, Iraq
Speaking on al-Manar TV, Muqtada al-Sadr pledged, "From here I announce my solidarity with the genuine unity announced by Hezbollah general secretary Hassan Nasrallah with the mujahideen movement Hamas. Let them consider me their striking hand in Iraq whenever the need arises. As the martyr Sheikh Ahmed Yassin said, Iraq and Palestine have the same destiny."
March 31, 2004, Fallujah, Iraq
Four Blackwater USA mercenaries killed in Fallujah in an attack avenging the assassination of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. Nine days after the assassination, the bodies of four mercenaries from Blackwater USA were burned, chopped into pieces, dragged behind vehicles bearing posters of Sheikh Yassin, and finally put on display by being hung from a bridge. Pamphlets were distributed at the scene which declared the attack against the four men as having been carried out in the name of Yassin. It was also reported by several Arab media outlets at the time that a group known as the "Phalange of Sheikh Yassin" claimed responsibility for the attack, and that the deaths of the four men were meant as a "gift to the Palestinian people."
March 28, 2004, Baghdad, Iraq
The head of the CPA, Paul Bremer, ordered the closing of the al-Hawza newspaper, the mouthpiece of Muqtada al-Sadr. One of Sadr's spokespeople, Sheikh Mahmud Sudani, told reporters at the time that al-Hawza had attracted censure because of its strong critique of the killing of Sheikh Yassin by Israeli forces. The closing of this paper was a primary factor that led to the first violent uprising called by Sadr against the occupiers.
March 26, 2004, Iraq
Four days after the assassination of Yassin, thousands of followers of the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, carrying portraits both of Yassin and Sadr, demonstrated after Friday prayers in protest of Israel's action by burning Israeli flags, chanting "No, no to Israel" and "No, no to occupation." In Najaf, an Imam with the extremely powerful political party the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) called for demonstrations outside the revered Imam Ali mosque. Similar demonstrations were also held as far north as the city of Mosul.
The demonstration began promptly after it was ordered, with protesters shouting, "Death to Israel, death to America." Other demonstrations continued across Iraq daily for weeks after the assassination, denouncing Israel's actions. Even US-appointed puppets in Iraq's Interim Governing Council expressed grave concerns that the killing of Yassin, who was highly respected throughout the Arab world, would escalate violence in Iraq. This concern materialized within hours, as blood began to flow throughout central and southern Iraq.
On the same day Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who commands more followers than any leader in Iraq, political or spiritual, released an unusually staunch statement of criticism, referring to the assassination of Yassin as "an ugly crime against the Palestinian people" with an injunction, "We call upon the core of the Arab and Islamic nations to close ranks, unite and work hard for the liberation of the usurped land."
March 22, 2004, Gaza
While he was being wheeled out of his morning prayer session in his wheelchair on March 22, 2004, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was assassinated by US-built Hellfire missiles fired by a US-built helicopter piloted by members of the Israeli military. The quadriplegic elder die along with two of his bodyguards and six bystanders. The half-blind Hamas leader was replaced by his son Rantissi, who was also murdered shortly after his father, on April 17th.
There was a clear connection between events in Gaza and what these generated in Iraq.
This act of state-sponsored terrorism by the Israeli government was opposed even by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who said, "It [Israel] is not entitled to go in for this kind of unlawful killing and we condemn it. It is unacceptable, it is unjustified and it is very unlikely to achieve its objectives."
Reaction from the United States? The usual feeble inauthentic mumblings of "We condemn this attack." Once again actions spoke far louder than words when the US vetoed a UN resolution condemning Yassin's assassination.
Cofer Black later became Vice President of Blackwater USA, the erstwhile employer of the four mercenaries killed in Fallujah.
The ongoing alliance of unbridled and unbalanced military aid flowing into Israel from the US has gone unchallenged for years. "Since 1976, Israel has been the largest annual recipient of US foreign assistance, and is the largest cumulative recipient since World War II," according to an Issue Brief for Congress from 2002. This US military support to Israel has caused, especially in Iraq, an incredible backlash against US troops and contractors. This is not helped by the fact that much of this aid comes in the form of weapons. Israel is one of the largest importers of weapons from the US, and in the last decade alone, Israel purchased $7.2 billion in weapons and other military equipment. As a result, Israel is now the proud owner of the largest fleet of F-16 fighter jets outside of the United States.
I found it to be common knowledge in Iraq that, during the last six years of the Clinton presidency, the US gave Israel free weapons and ammunition, such as M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, .50 caliber machine guns and the ammunition for all of them.
The reputation of the US in the region has been further demolished both by the failed occupation of Iraq and by its perpetual support for Israeli policies, generally viewed with contempt throughout the Arab and Muslim world. The ongoing violations of international law by both countries don't exactly assist matters either.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who had given the "green light" for the Yassin operation, monitored its progress in real-time video transmitted from the Israeli military helicopters. His ecstasy was accompanied by complete dismissal of all international criticism.
Ask any US military commanders how they feel about the deaths of US soldiers in Iraq generated by revenge attacks in reaction to Israeli military policy against Palestinians. The consensus is an overwhelming thumbs down regarding the effectiveness of the strategy.
One could ask the families of the four Blackwater USA mercenaries who were killed in Fallujah on March 31, 2004, as well. The four men were killed in a revenge attack that had twofold causes - reports had been coming out of Fallujah for months about assassinations, rape and thefts carried out by "plain clothed" men working for the US military. But more pertinent to this particular attack is the date on which it occurred.
I remember seeing photos of Sheikh Yassin in several areas of Baghdad and Abu Ghraib while both entering and exiting Fallujah on April 9 and 10, during the US attack on the city. The photos of the slain Hamas leader were pasted on the sides of cars, trucks, roadside food stalls and even some houses.
It would appear that Cofer Black had left Israeli Prime Minister Sharon out of the cooperation loop of his counterterrorism strategy, as the Israeli military was being instructed by Sharon to carry out operations that engendered severe repercussions in Iraq and took the form, and continue to take the form, of dead American soldiers.
Not so coincidentally, less than a year after the first siege of Fallujah, on February 4, 2005, Cofer Black was named Vice-Chairman of Blackwater USA. The press release proudly announced his arrival in the company's leadership, asserting that during his time in the State Department Black's responsibilities included "coordinating US Government efforts to improve counterterrorism cooperation with foreign governments, including the policy and planning of the Department's Antiterrorism Training Assistance Program."
Is it perhaps possible that despite a 28-year career in the Directorate of Operations at the CIA, Black was unaware of Sharon's plans to murder Yassin, or was unable to stop it, or most likely, approved of this methodology?
The latter possibility seems most likely when we consider the instances of direct Israeli involvement with US policy on the ground in Iraq that have long since come to light.
"One step the Pentagon took was to seek active and secret help in the war against the Iraqi insurgency from Israel, America's closest ally in the Middle East," wrote Seymor Hersh in the New Yorker in December, 2003, "According to American and Israeli military and intelligence officials, Israeli commandos and intelligence units have been working closely with their American counterparts at the Special Forces training base at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and in Israel to help them prepare for operations in Iraq." Israeli commandos are expected to serve as ad-hoc advisers - again, in secret - when full-field operations begin. Neither the Pentagon nor Israeli diplomats would comment. "No one wants to talk about this," an Israeli official told me. "It's incendiary. Both governments have decided at the highest level that it is in their interests to keep a low profile on US-Israeli cooperation" on Iraq.)" Hersh also told the BBC that his sources had confirmed the presence of Israeli intelligence personnel operating inside Iraq.
During that same month, it was reported that Israeli counter-insurgency specialists were sent to Fort Bragg to teach American special forces how to control an unruly Iraqi population. Also during December 2003, it was reported that "Israeli advisers are helping train US special forces in aggressive counter-insurgency operations in Iraq, including the use of assassination squads against guerrilla leaders, US intelligence and military sources said on Monday," and "The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has sent urban warfare specialists to Fort Bragg in North Carolina, the home of US special forces, and according to two sources, Israeli military "consultants" have also visited Iraq. US forces in Iraq's Sunni triangle have already begun to use tactics that echo Israeli operations in the occupied territories, sealing off centers of resistance with razor wire and razing buildings from where attacks have been launched against US troops."
Iraqis are all too aware of this, and I even saw this played out on the ground in Samarra as far back as December 2003. I interviewed a family whose home was demolished by military bulldozers after a roadside bomb detonated near it hit a passing US patrol. This, coupled with collective punishment of the city by cuts in electricity, water and medical aid, had everyone infuriated, and continues to do so today as these policies gain in scale, frequency and intensity.
These collective punishment tactics have been imposed, to one degree or another, in other cities in Iraq, such as Fallujah, Abu Hishma, Siniyah, Ramadi, areas of Baghdad, Balad and Baquba, to name just a few. Iraqis see the collective punishment meted out by Israeli military forces in Palestinian neighborhoods in the occupied territories via Arab satellite television networks, and are horrified to witness the very same tactics being applied on their soil.
Another destructive link highlighting the intertwined policies of the two countries is Abu Ghraib. In July 2004, after the torture scandal broke, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, the US officer at the heart of the Abu Ghraib scandal, told BBC she had evidence that Israelis helped interrogate Iraqis at another detention facility in Iraq. Karpinski told the BBC she'd met a man who told her he was from Israel while she was visiting an intelligence center with a senior US general. "I saw an individual there that I hadn't had the opportunity to meet before, and I asked him what did he do there, was he an interpreter - he was clearly from the Middle East," she said. "He said, 'Well, I do some of the interrogation here. I speak Arabic but I'm not an Arab; I'm from Israel.'"
I've spoken with several Iraqis who had been tortured in various military detention facilities throughout Iraq. Several of them testified to being interrogated by Israeli Mossad (an Israeli intelligence agency).
Another event that sent shock-waves throughout Iraq was the news from December 2004 that detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were tortured and, according to FBI agents, one detainee was wrapped in an Israeli flag and subjected to extremely loud music in order to shake his resistance to his interrogation.
It is clear that the longer the two countries continue with the use of their brute military power as the prime strategy in their war on terrorism, the greater grows the threat to the civilians they claim to protect.
Dahr Jamail is an independent journalist who spent over 8 months reporting from occupied Iraq. He presented evidence of US war crimes in Iraq at the International Commission of Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration in New York City in January 2006. He writes regularly for TruthOut, Inter Press Service, Asia Times and TomDispatch, and maintains his own web site, dahrjamailiraq.com.
Comment on this Article
Hamas takes power
By Nidal al-Mughrabi
Thu Mar 30, 2006 08:13 AM ET
GAZA - Hamas vowed to keep fighting Israel as the militant group's government began work on Thursday, ignoring Western isolation that has brought the Palestinian Authority to the brink of financial collapse.
Hamas's exiled leader Khaled Meshaal said the Islamist movement had not changed its stance now that it was in government in the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank.
"We do not promise our people to turn Gaza into Hong Kong or Taiwan but we promise them a dignified and proud life behind the resistance in defense of their honor, their land and their pride," Meshaal said on Al Jazeera Television from Beirut.
"Our battle is only against the Zionist occupation."
One of the first challenges for Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and his cabinet, sworn in on Wednesday after winning January elections, will be paying March salaries for 140,000 Palestinian Authority staff that fall due within days.
Israel, where interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is building a coalition after his Kadima party won polls this week but took less than a quarter of seats in parliament, has already withheld monthly Palestinian tax transfers of $50 million-$55 million.
On Wednesday, the United States ordered its diplomats and contractors to have no contacts with Palestinian ministries, and Canada suspended aid to the Palestinian Authority.
Hamas is committed to Israel's destruction and has rebuffed demands from the "Quartet" of Middle East peace mediators to recognize the Jewish state, renounce violence and abide by peace accords or risk losing vital aid.
Israel Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said an "unreformed" Hamas was not a party for dialogue.
"If through their stubbornness and short-sightedness and extremism, they isolate the Palestinian government and turn it into a pariah in the international community, they will have no one to blame but themselves," Regev said.
February salaries to 140,000 Palestinian Authority workers, including security personnel, were paid weeks overdue.
In Ramallah, senior finance ministry official Jihad al-Wazir said Authority staff should get March salaries by mid-April.
Algeria deposited $34.5 million into the Authority account on Thursday, Wazir said. More money was expected from Saudi Arabia, Russia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
The Palestinian Authority relies on more than $1 billion in foreign aid each year.
Assuming the post of foreign minister in Gaza, hardline Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Zahar told his staff not to have contacts with "hostile" countries and those that cut aid.
Hamas loyalist Saeed Seyam took over as interior minister, in charge of around half of the 58,000-strong Palestinian security forces. President Mahmoud Abbas controls the rest.
Olmert's centrist Kadima party won Tuesday's election on plans to set Israel's final borders within four years with or without the agreement of its Palestinian neighbor.
While he has slammed the unilateral plans, Abbas telephoned Olmert on Thursday to congratulate him on his election win.
An Olmert spokesman said the conversation did not touch on scheduling talks between the two. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Abbas, a moderate who favors a two-state solution, expressed his willingness to resume final-status peace talks.
In the absence of negotiations, Olmert has vowed to draw Israel's permanent frontier by 2010 by removing isolated settlements in the occupied West Bank and expanding bigger ones.
That would displace tens of thousands of settlers.
Palestinians say such a move would annex land and deny them the viable state they seek in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Olmert's Kadima party fared worse than predicted in the Israeli elections, taking 28 of parliament's 120 seats. Coalition talks are expected to last weeks.
Comment on this Article
US cuts diplomatic ties with Hamas government
Wednesday March 29, 2006
The US today banned its diplomats from having any contact with the Hamas-led cabinet as it was sworn in by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.
The directive, issued to US officials in the region by email, bars them from communicating with Hamas-appointed government ministers, whether they belong to the militant Islamic group or not, US officials told Reuters.
The order took effect in Ramallah at 6pm (1600 GMT), when Hamas formally took power with the swearing-in of its 24-member cabinet.
The first to be sworn in was the prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh.
The ceremony came the day after a general election in Israel that looks set to bring a Kadima-led coalition to power.
The party, founded at the end of last year by Ariel Sharon, has vowed to unilaterally withdraw from parts of the West Bank if an agreement cannot be reached with the Palestinians.
After the win, the Kadima leader, Ehud Olmert, reiterated his intention to proceed with that plan. Israeli officials have ruled out new talks unless Hamas changes its ways.
US diplomats would still be allowed to contact Mr Abbas, his personal office and non-Hamas members of the Palestinian parliament, but America is trying to either sideline Hamas or force it to recognise Israel, renounce violence and abide by peace accords.
The group, which won Palestinian elections in January, is considered a terrorist organisation by the US.
The Hamas MP Mushir Masri today said the group would not abandon its armed struggle if Mr Olmert pursued his plan to unilaterally draw the Israeli borders with the West Bank.
He accused the Kadima leader of trying to gain international approval for his one-sided moves by presenting his plan as a fallback to failed negotiations.
"I think proposing negotiations along with the unilateral plan is only to make the plan pass and market it to the world," Mr Masri told the Associated Press.
Mr Haniyeh said yesterday that unilateral moves by Israel "definitely won't be accepted by the Palestinian people or the Palestinian government".
Comment on this Article
Mother Nature's Revenge
UN Conference Calls For Alert Systems For All Disasters By 2015
by Emsie Ferreira
Mar 30, 2006
Berlin - A UN conference ended here on Wednesday with a call for the whole world to have early warning systems against natural disasters like the Asian tsunami and the Kashmir earthquake by 2015.
"We have to cover all countries against all hazards and risks. That is the challenge we face in the next eight and a half years," said Salvano Briceno, the head of the UN's International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.
The call matches an appeal made by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in the wake of the tsunami which was triggered by a massive earthquake in the Indian Ocean on December 26, 2004 and claimed 217,000 lives.
Fifteen months on, the tsunami was the main talking point at the Third International Conference on Early Warning and the UN promised here that Indian Ocean rim countries will have an alert system by July to warn them of future sea surges.
The region had no alert system when the tsunami struck.
This contributed massively to the death toll and to devastation that meant 50,000 people were still living in tents, former US president Bill Clinton, the UN's special envoy for tsunami recovery, told the meeting.
It heard repeated concerns that countries where tens of thousands died had still not done enough to ensure the scientific information coming from ocean censors will reach people on their coastlines and prompt them to safer ground.
"One of the most burning issues now is to go the last mile, to ensure that the information gets to the local level," the chairwoman of the German Committee for Disaster Reduction, Irmgard Schwaetzer, told the closing session.
Briceno said a lack of communication and political commitment meant lives would again be at risk in countries like Indonesia, which recorded the most deaths, if another tsunami were to hit the Indian Ocean in the near future.
Clinton met here with government officials from the 11 countries affected in 2004 and told them to act faster to implement ways of warning their people to reach safe ground, UN sources said.
The conference saw calls for more funding for a global alert system, and a warning that natural disasters would occur more often as a result of global warming.
"The mega-events of the past 18 months have underlined that we need to think of the unthinkable. They will take place more frequently because of global weather changes and growing urbanisation," Schwaetzer said.
"Within the next 20 years, 80 percent of the world's population will live in urban settlements."
Experts who attended the meeting are due to draw up a checklist for countries to test how ready they are to react to warnings of impending disasters and limit death and damage.
They said improved science meant that tsunamis and earthquakes could be foretold to the minute, while droughts and locust plagues afflicting Africa in particular could be predicted increasingly accurately.
But the moderator of the meeting, British television reporter Sir Trevor McDonald, warned that governments needed to pay as much attention to psychology as to science to ensure that people listen to predictions.
"We have to understand how and why people respond or don't respond," he told some 800 delegates.
"Nobody will leave this conference without a doubt that we have a long way to go."
Though tsunami survivors in Indonesia have taken advice to resettle on safer ground, the same has not proven true in Mozambique which was swept by floods in 2000.
Eunice Mucache, Red Cross programme director for the southern African country, said one of her volunteers had even returned to the exact spot from which he was rescued by boat in raging floodwaters to rebuild his house and replant his crops.
"He said there will not be another flood like that for 100 years and then he will no longer be around."
Comment on this Article
Global Warming: Be Very Afraid
By Mark Anderson
02:00 AM Mar, 29, 2006
According to Oklahoma Sen. James M. Inhofe, the threat of global climate change is the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." Yet when Elizabeth Kolbert, a staff writer for The New Yorker, surveyed the world's leading climate scientists, she discovered an alarming unanimity to their message: The world needs to wake up, and fast.
Author of a three-part New Yorker series on climate change last year, Kolbert has collected her work in one slim volume. Published this month, Field Notes From a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change is already being compared favorably to landmark environmental tome Silent Spring.
Kolbert's reporting took her from the glaciers of Greenland to the Monteverde cloud forest of Costa Rica -- and into the labs and offices of climatologists, oceanographers and others studying the effects of billions of tons of human-generated carbon that now hangs overhead.
Wired News: Many people seem to think that climate change is an issue involving a few scientists, not society as a whole. But your book makes it clear that climate change is more than just a science story.
Elizabeth Kolbert: I really tried to impress upon people ... how we cannot wait. Even now, as global warming is starting to be made manifest in the world, we have determined the climate now for the next half-century. We will not see the full effects of what we have done for decades. (NASA climate scientist) James Hansen said, if we continue on this path, then by the end of this century, we will have committed ourselves to a world that is so warm as to be practically a different planet.
WN: Isn't part of the problem that people associate "warm" with comfortable?
Kolbert: People think, "I won't have to go to Florida anymore. Florida will come to me." People should realize that warmth doesn't mean Florida. It means New York is underwater. It may be that certain places like Siberia are more comfy, but it also means that they have no water. If people say, "Why should I be worried about global warming?" I think the answer is, "Do you like to eat?"
WN: You talk about David Rind's work -- predicting rampant drought conditions afflicting much of the continental United States within 50 years if greenhouse gas emissions continue at business-as-usual levels.
Kolbert: (In the book) he says that, "I wouldn't be surprised if by 2100 most things are destroyed." But he's certainly a very cool guy, not a hysterical person. He's a scientist, and he's just looking at the evidence.
WN: On the other hand, sometimes societal change can happen very quickly. Hit a social tipping point, and suddenly everything's different. And that could be a very good thing.
Kolbert: I think you do see out there in the world ... an increasing awareness. We here in the Northeast just barely had a winter. I think that anyone who has lived through the past winters certainly has been given pause. So we're starting to see the argument that "there's nothing going on" dissipating.
Then you get to the second question, and that's what are we going to do about it? If you want to be really brutally honest, this is not a problem that can be solved. The warming that we've seen so far is estimated to be only half of what (the CO2 already in the atmosphere will cause). It's a problem that you can only say, "In order to prevent this from becoming absolutely catastrophic, perhaps we can do this." But that (is) going to take a monumental effort.
WN: In Lester Brown's words, the world needs an "environmental Churchill."
Kolbert: George Bush could be that person if he had come out in his State of the Union (speech) and said we really need to address this issue -- as opposed to just throwing a bone to it. But you need a leader who people will follow. And you need really bold ideas and a sense of common purpose, and that's so much what we're lacking right now. We've got one planet, only one. You screw up, and that's it.
WN: Any other world leaders who you see showing promise?
Kolbert: The Europeans are way ahead of us, certainly in terms of rhetoric. If you read Tony Blair's speeches, he's very eloquent on the subject. But I don't see anyone on the world stage who has been able to galvanize people around this issue.
WN: In the United States, realistically, the solutions are probably going to be market-driven. What are the things that can be done to make the market sensitive to ecological factors?
Kolbert: Many economists have looked at this issue, and most have ... come to the same place. You have to shift the costs of carbon. Now we're all bearing the cost of carbon emissions in a non-monetary way. And you have to somehow convert that.
WN: So you're talking about a carbon tax.
Kolbert: Yes. Or a carbon emissions trading system.
WN: In other words, some kind of mechanism needs to be in place to monetize the notion of carbon emissions. Playing fantasy baseball, then, what would be a realistic and effective carbon tax in the United States?
Kolbert: People have given me the figure of $100 per ton. If you just run the numbers, people will tell you that's the level you need to make other things competitive and to incentivize the behavior that you're trying to achieve.
WN: And that works out to about $15 a month on a typical home utility bill?
WN: You also promote Robert Socolow's idea of "stabilization wedges."
Kolbert: What he said (is), you basically need to start stabilizing global emissions now. If we don't do anything, by the middle of the century, we will be at 14 billion tons of carbon per year. We're now at seven. So we basically take the difference between 14 and 7. That's a triangle. You take that triangle. Those are what we need to not emit over the next 50 years. Divide that into wedges: a billion tons per year per wedge at the end, by the time you're at 2050.
How do you get rid of a billion tons per year? He and his colleague came up with 15 ways that are practical. You choose seven of those, and you can achieve that goal. One wedge is a car wedge: Every car has to get twice as good mileage by 2050.... Another wedge he gets out of wind. He gets a wedge out of solar.... He gets a wedge out of nuclear. He gets a wedge out of heating and lighting, doing that more efficiently.
WN: You quote a Nature study predicting that 15 percent to 37 percent of the species on this planet will be extinct or committed to extinction in 50 years. That's an astonishing figure.
Kolbert: People much more expert than I will tell you that we are in the middle of what is probably a mass extinction. People will say that the evolution of large vertebrates, of which we are one, that's just over.
WN: Is there anything, then, that gives you hope for mitigating against catastrophic climate change?
Kolbert: The only thing that gives me hope is that we've survived this long. But I think people should appreciate that this (is) likely to be on the level of any catastrophe we've weathered before. Potentially worse. I'm sorry I can't be more upbeat. I don't want to say I despair, but I also don't want to say, "Not to worry."
Comment on this Article
Cyclone Glenda lashes Australia
Thursday, 30 March 2006, 14:59 GMT
A major cyclone has begun crossing Australia's north-west coast as thousands of residents ride it out.
The shore was being lashed by 130 km/h (80 mph) winds, the government weather authorities said, according to AP.
Onslow, a fishing town of more than 800 people in the remote Pilbara region, was expected to feel the worst of Cyclone Glenda, meteorologists said.
Australia's north-east is still recovering from Cyclone Larry, which hit the area two weeks ago.
That storm, which made landfall in the state of Queensland, caused no fatalities but left a damage bill which is expected to top A$1bn ($707m).
The Pilbara region, which has been put on red alert, is home to more than 12,000 people. Hundreds of residents have left the area or are sheltering in local rescue centres.
"It's not a nice thing to go through but people seem to grin and bear it, get it together in these times," local resident Colin Walker said.
"Once it's all over we'll go back in and assess the situation and if everything is safe we'll go back to work."
Evacuee John Lugg said: "I hate to think - look at the wind, look at the rain, look at the gutters just pouring now, it's going to be horrendous."
Tides and floods
The storm made landfall at about 1600 (0800 GMT) and the Bureau of Meteorology warned of the potential for a dangerous storm tide as the centre of the cyclone crosses the coast.
"Tides are likely to rise significantly above the normal high tide mark with very dangerous flooding and damaging waves," bureau manager Grahame Reader told AP.
In February 1995, seven fishermen died when two trawlers sunk off Onslow as a cyclone of similar strength passed close by.
Emergency workers feared Cyclone Glenda could be as dangerous as Larry, or Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the US city of New Orleans in August.
"This does have the potential to do what happened in the eastern states and what happened in America," State Emergency Services official Steve Cable told Australian television.
Global mining giant Rio Tinto halted its huge iron ore shipping operation in the region ahead of Glenda's arrival.
Oil firms have also moved their floating rigs out of the path of the cyclone.
Comment on this Article
Moderate earthquake jolts northern Japan; no reports of casualties, damage
03.29.2006, 07:17 AM
TOKYO (AFX) - An earthquake measuring 5.0 on the Richter scale has hit northern Japan, marking the third straight day that a sizeable tremor has shaken the country, officials said.
The quake occurred at 7.28 pm (1028 GMT) in the northern prefectures of Miyagi and Fukushima, 300 kilometers north of Tokyo, the meteorological agency said.
There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties, police said. There was also no risk of tsunami waves, the meteorological agency said.
Comment on this Article
Rolling on the River: It will be 10 more years before New Orleans is safe
by Jane Stillwater
March 29, 2006
I'm back from my incredible journey through the bayous of Louisiana with the American Indian Movement's Sacred Run. We did a lot of walking, a lot of running and a lot of roofing. Roofing? Yep.
There are still thousands of soggy roofs in the Mississippi delta area. New Orleans' Ninth Ward alone is a roofer's dream. This area is the only place I know where the phrase "I'm going to give you shingles" causes people's faces to light up.
Today our intrepid little band of walkers and runners set off from the Superdome, heading east toward Poplarville, MS via New Orleans' tragic Ninth Ward. Me and my son Joe had driven through the Ninth Ward yesterday and we knew what they would see. Our walkers will be trudging through acre after acre, block after block and mile after mile of "abandoned" homes. There are NO people there. It looks like a ghost town.
Meanwhile I trudged off to the Louis Armstrong International Airport, sitting in the boarding lounge eating leftover muffaletas and reading the Times Picayune. Seven months after Katrina, the newspaper's top headlines still dealt with the aftermath of that storm.
"Drainage improvement and upgrades in blocking [future storm surges] -- such as hurricane gates at the mouths of drainage canals in Orleans Parish -- are part of the [new floodplain plan]...."
I sat next to a floodplain expert on my flight home. He said, "It will be another ten years before the Mississippi floodplain will be under control. Sure, people can build on it but for the NEXT TEN YEARS, they will be taking a risk." That's dangerous.
George Bush just spent over 400 billion dollars on reducing a mythological danger to America alledgedly coming from Iraq. On the other hand, this levee catastrophe is a real danger that effects the safety of MILLIONS of Americans. We shoulda spent our $400,000,000,000 on that!
Then the person sitting on the other side of me on my flight home jumped into the conversation. "Speaking of flood gates, they had flood gates for Katrina."
"Really? I didn't know that."
"Yeah. When the water started rising, they blew a hole in the levee so it would flood the Ninth Ward instead of somewhere else." Ah. An improvised flood gate. I'd heard that people had heard explosions before the levee failed but I hadn't realized that that was the reason they blew it. I wonder who got to decide who was to live and who was to die?
Then the guy in the seat behind us chimed in. "Mississippi got hit even harder than New Orleans. I just got done doing some roofing in Waveland."
If Abraham Lincoln or George Washington were our President today, they wouldn't be out adventuring in some hell-hole half-way across the world. They'd be down on the bayous, trying to get the roofs fixed.
Comment on this Article
Science and Quirks
Smart Kids' Brains May Mature Later
By MALCOLM RITTER
Wed Mar 29, 7:29 PM ET
NEW YORK - Very smart children may seem advanced in many ways, but a new study shows they actually lag behind other kids in development of the "thinking" part of the brain.
The brain's outer mantle, or cortex, gets thicker and then thins during childhood and the teen years. The study found that in kids with superior intelligence, the cortex reaches its thickest stage a few years later than in other children.
Nobody knows what causes that or how it relates to superior intelligence. But researchers said the finding does not rule out a role for environment - such as intellectual stimulation - in affecting a child's level of intelligence.
In fact, the delay may promote higher intelligence because it means a child is older, and processing more complex experiences, while the cortex is building up, said study co-author Dr. Judith Rapoport.
Rapoport, with researcher Dr. Philip Shaw and others at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md., followed development of the cortex in 307 children. They used repeated magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans from childhood to the latter teens.
Results appear in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.
The findings are especially strong for cortex development in the front part of the brain and in a strip over the top of the head, areas where complex mental tasks are done, Shaw said.
One analysis found the cortex in kids with the highest IQs - 121 to 149 - didn't reach maximum thickness until age 11. Children who were just slightly less bright reached that point at age 9, and those with average intelligence at around 6. In all cases, the cortex later thinned as the children matured.
Nobody knows what's happening within the cortex to make it get thicker or thinner, Shaw said, so it's impossible to say why those changes would be related to intelligence. Brain development is influenced by intellectual stimulation, so that probably plays a role, he said.
The study findings are "certainly not a recipe for how to change intelligence," he said. Nor do they suggest that MRI scans can reveal how intelligent an individual child is, he said.
Elizabeth Sowell of the University of California, Los Angeles, who has studied cortex thickness in children, said she found the results convincing.
While the findings show that the pattern of cortex development is related to high intelligence, they can't show which is causing the other, she said.
She also said that by tracing out patterns of normal development, such studies help scientists understand what goes wrong in children with brain disorders.
Comment on this Article
Crazy Cat Terrorizes Connecticut Town
Wed Mar 29, 7:24 AM ET
FAIRFIELD, Conn. - Residents of the neighborhood of Sunset Circle say they have been terrorized by a crazy cat named Lewis. Lewis for his part has been uniquely cited, personally issued a restraining order by the town's animal control officer.
"He looks like Felix the Cat and has six toes on each foot, each with a long claw," Janet Kettman, a neighbor said Monday. "They are formidable weapons."
The neighbors said those weapons, along with catlike stealth, have allowed Lewis to attack at least a half dozen people and ambush the Avon lady as she was getting out of her car.
Some of those who were bitten and scratched ended up seeking treatment at area hospitals.
Animal Control Officer Rachel Solveira placed a restraining order on him. It was the first time such an action was taken against a cat in Fairfield.
In effect, Lewis is under house arrest, forbidden to leave his home.
Solveira also arrested the cat's owner, Ruth Cisero, charging her with failing to comply with the restraining order and reckless endangerment.
Comment on this Article
Ark's Quantum Quirks
Signs of the Times
March 30, 2006
Comment on this Article
Remember, we need your help to collect information on what is going on in your part of the world!
Send your article suggestions to: sott(at)signs-of-the-times.org