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"Special Relationship"

This is not the way to tackle anti-Semitism
February 8, 2005
Maher Mughrabi

Daniel Pipes is a rhetorical bomb-maker, and last weekend he struck in Melbourne. Combining his audience's horrific memories of the Holocaust with present fears of Iranian weapons programs, he stood back and waited for a publicity explosion.

At Monash University's conference on anti-Semitism, the American academic and commentator warned that preparations were under way for a "second Holocaust". The Muslim world had Israel in its sights, and to prove it Pipes picked a 2001 remark by a former Iranian president. But it is worth providing the former president's quote in full:

Comment: Indeed, a second Holocaust is coming. Only it certainly won't be ushered in by the Muslim population who, like most other people in the world, only desire to live their lives in relative peace. No, this second Holocaust looming on the horizon will likely be brought about by the same anti-semitic Zionist cabal who collaborated with the Nazi's in WWII.

"If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in its possession, the strategy of colonialism would face a stalemate because application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world."

Does this sound like a man threatening a second Holocaust, or one pointing out the obvious, which is that Muslim acquisition of nuclear weapons would change the strategic balance in the region? Is "stalemate" really another word for "mass murder"?

Comment: Only in the warped mind of someone like Pipes could this "stalemate" comment be interpreted as meaning "mass murder". As the article correctly points out, these words by the former Iranian President allude only to achieving a balance of power in the Middle east by allowing Muslims the freedom to protect themselves from Israel's vast stockpile of nuclear weapons.

Anti-Semitism is a serious and enduring problem, which must be tackled through education and exchange at every level of society. It may be that Pipes has something to teach us about its range and character today. But I wonder about placing him front and centre at an anti-Semitism conference, for a number of reasons.

That he still commands audiences might surprise those who remember that in 1987 he urged the United States to supply Saddam Hussein with better weapons and intelligence, on the basis that the Baathist leadership was an important force for moderation and US security in the region. That Saddam was the aggressor did not seem to matter; what was important was that Iran should be utterly defeated.

Pipes' stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict also hinges on the need for a complete military defeat of one side. Believing that "what war had achieved for Israel, diplomacy has undone", he has long opposed a two-state solution of the kind proposed by George Bush and the international community and to which even Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon now pays lip service.

Comment: Any "two-state solution" proposed by George Bush is mere window dressing designed for consumption by the public. George is merely playing "good cop" to Sharon's "bad cop" knowing full well that any peaceful agreement proposed by Washington will inevitable be scuttled by a convenient suicide bombing or retaliation to deliberate Israeli aggression. Extremists like Pipe merely mouth off from time to time to give the world the impression that hawks like Sharon are somehow moderate.

"To think that two states can stably and peacefully coexist in the small territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is to be either naive or duplicitous," Pipes has written. How, in its hour of victory, the Israel envisioned by Pipes might accommodate as equal citizens the millions of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and yet maintain its Zionist character is not clear.

Comment: That's precisely the point of his one-state advocation. Pipes does not envision the citizens of Palestine as being "equal" in any way, shape or form. To a rabid Zionist like Pipes, the Palestinian people are seen as less than human and thus in his world view deserve to be treated as animals.

Most worrying of all was his recent article on kidnappings in Iraq, which was published on this page under the headline "Hit me and I will hit back" (September 15, 2004). In it Pipes contrasted reactions in France and Nepal to the abduction of their citizens, lamenting the French Government's use of diplomatic channels as appeasement and pointing to riots in Kathmandu that targeted innocent Nepalese Muslims as showing "an instinct for self-preservation - hit me and I will hit you back . . . (which) made a repetition of atrocities against themselves less likely".

A number of points might be made here, but surely the most important is that the Nepalese rioters did not "hit you back", unless the "you" in question was not the kidnappers in particular but Muslims in general. Indeed, someone who is familiar with the history of anti-Semitic violence should recognise the Kathmandu riots for what they were: a pogrom, in which people were targeted on the basis of shared faith rather than shared culpability.

We live in an era when alarm at the genuine threat of Islamist terror is allowing some states to waive the civil rights of their Muslim citizens. In this atmosphere, one might expect a scholar of anti-Semitism to insist that the principles of innocence and guilt deserve especial attention when it comes to Muslims.

Instead, Pipes has said that "all Muslims, unfortunately, are suspect" and has advocated monitoring of American Muslims on the basis that "if searching for rapists, one looks only at the male population . . . if searching for Islamists, one looks at the Muslim population". Yet in America, I am not aware of a program requiring men to register their whereabouts on the basis that they are all rape suspects.

Pipes has also gone on Australian television to express the view that "easily half" of the world's Muslims believed the terrorist atrocities of September 11, 2001, were "a great thing". To stigmatise more than half a billion people in this way is surely not the act of someone who has studied the way in which anti-Semites of the 1920s and '30s stigmatised East European Jews as carriers of Bolshevism. And when Pipes notes that "all immigrants bring exotic customs and attitudes, but Muslim customs are more troublesome than most", one wonders if he recalls that less than a century ago an American newspaper could argue that "the innate racial characteristics of Jews so conflict with Christian customs and prejudices that happy marriages are impossible".

Comment: It's possible that Pipes is well aware of the parallels between his anti-Muslim rhetoric of today and the anti-Jewish rhetoric of the past, as he represents the same group who was responsible for it then. The targeting and marginalizing of semitic peoples by those is power is nothing new, and if a bigot like Pipes was alive back then, odds are he would have been wearing an an SS armband, and rounding up those "troublesome Jewish Communists" who were to blame for all of society's ills, proclaiming his devout patriotism in the name of God and country.

As someone who has always rejected anti-Semitism in its myriad guises, and who knows and respects several people who spoke at the Monash conference, I fear that the choice of Daniel Pipes as a keynote speaker was misguided, unless we would simply replace one repellent brand of faith-based stigmatisation and violence with another.

Comment: The mere fact that an obvious anti-semite like Daniel Pipes was invited to speak at a conference of anti-semitism is perhaps the strangest irony of all, and goes to show how sadly out of touch with reality most people are when it comes to understanding what anti-semitism truly means. A veritable Sign of the Times.

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Israeli officer cleared in shooting of schoolgirl: lawyer
07 February 2005 1703 hrs

JERUSALEM : The case against an Israeli army officer on trial for allegedly pumping bullets into the dead body of a Palestinian schoolgirl at a checkpoint has crumbled after key witnesses retracted their statements, his lawyer said.

Interviewed on Israeli public radio, lawyer Yoav Manni said his client had been effectively cleared of the incident, which occurred on October 5 last year in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah, because two witnesses at his military trial had admitted to having deliberately lied.

He added that the two witnesses had sought to mount a vendetta against his client, identified only as "Captain R."

The officer, said to be a member of Israeli's Druze minority, was accused by fellow soldiers of having emptied the magazine of his rifle into the body of 13-year-old Iman al-Hams after she had already been shot dead by soldiers who suspected her of having explosives inside her school satchel.

A statement from the Israeli military confirmed that the officer had been released from detention by the southern command military court after one of the soldiers admitted that he had given false testimony.

"In his testimony the soldier retreated from statements he had previously made to the investigating military police," it said.

"Additionally, the court saw a conflict between versions of two testimonies, and declared that the conflict was sufficient to reduce the strength of the prosecution evidence and to justify the officer's release from detention."

The statement said the decision to release him "did not in any way suggest an opinion as the guilt or innocence of the officer."

However reports said he had already had his gun returned to him and would be assigned to a new position shorlty.

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Profile: Anatoly (Natan) Sharansky
Israel's great dissembler
By Redress Information & Analysis

Natan Sharansky, fighter for human rights in the Soviet Union.

Natan Sharansky, fighter against human rights in this country [Israel].

Natan Sharansky, Bush's mentor in his speeches about "global democracy".

Natan Sharansky, father of the infamous [Israeli] government decision to rob the property of thousands of Palestinians in East Jerusalem.

(Israeli peace bloc Gush Shalom, 4 February 2005)

A one time self-styled "symbol of the struggle for human rights", Sharansky is in fact a bigot and a hypocrite who does not believe that human rights are applicable to all human beings everywhere and irrespective of their race, colour or religion.

We have chosen to profile Anatoly Sharansky, the Israeli minister of social and diaspora affairs and leader of Yisra'el Ba'aliyah, the Russian immigrants' party in Israel, because he encapsulates the paradox of the Jewish inhabitants of Israel, a paradox that is the hallmark of Zionists throughout the world. That is, how can a people that has suffered so much over the ages, from pogroms in Europe to Nazi genocide, emulate their historical oppressors and be so lacking in empathy with their victims, the Palestinian Arabs? (We salute the tiny minority of Jews in Israel and elsewhere who have risked opprobrium by consistently speaking out for Palestinian rights.)

Anatoly Sharansky (we shall call him by his birth name, Anatoly, rather than Natan, the name given to him by the Israeli ambassador to West Germany upon his release from prison) was born in Ukraine and educated in Russia as a mathematician. In 1973 he applied for an exit visa to Israel, but, like all Soviet citizens who had worked in the military-industrial complex, he was refused on security grounds. He then became involved in an Israeli-sponsored worldwide campaign to put pressure on the Kremlin to give special treatment to Soviet Jewish citizens by allowing them to emigrate to Israel, irrespective of whether or not they had worked in the defence sector. In 1977 he was arrested on suspicion of spying for the US, and in the following year he was found guilty as charged and sentenced to 13 years imprisonment. He was released in 1986 in a US-Soviet spy exchange.

Prior to his emigration to Israel, Sharansky liked to portray himself as a symbol of the struggle for human rights, and since then he has made much of his status as a former "victim of totalitarian oppression". However, his belief in human rights, nurtured at the height of the Cold War, appears to have been heavily tainted with the culture of the Soviet-American power struggle, which justified the cynical use of practically anything as ammunition in the superpower rivalry for global dominance.

Unlike most of us, Sharansky apparently does not believe that human rights are universal and indivisible, that is, applicable to all human beings everywhere and irrespective of their race, colour or creed. Not only does he oppose any Israeli concessions that may eventually lead to the realization of the Palestinians' right to self determination, but he advocates policies that could only mean the dispossession of more Palestinians living in Israel, and the illegally occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. No wonder that he was one of the very few people to have amicable relations with the former ultra right-wing prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.

Sharansky began his political career in Israel by becoming head of the Zionist Forum, an organization dedicated to lobbying on behalf of Soviet immigrants. However, not content with being a mere "welfare worker", in 1995 he founded the Yisra'el Ba'aliyah party, with the immediate aim of bringing in another million Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union and of encouraging a further million Jewish citizens of the United States and the European countries to immigrate to Israel. For him, the value of peace with the Palestinians is measured solely by the extent to which it would work towards achieving the overriding goal of encouraging Jewish citizens of other states to immigrate to Israel. Thus, addressing the founding congress of Yisra'el Ba'aliyah in June 1995, he said: "Without the hope for peace, you cannot convince people to come here."

That the "ingathering of the Jews", that is, the bringing into Israel and the occupied territories of millions of foreign Jews who, like Sharansky himself, had no link whatsoever to those lands, could only mean the dispossession of more Palestinians from the land of their ancestors is a fact that could hardly have escaped our human rights hero. Or perhaps, having been brought up in a society where ideology and the class struggle dictated one's view of life and where all conflicts were seen as a zero-sum game, with victors and vanquished, be they a class or a superpower, he was blinded by his own ideology, Zionism. For almost in the same breath as reiterating his commitment to the "ingathering" of millions of foreign Jews, Sharansky is perfectly at ease with publicly objecting to any hint of allowing Palestinians to take up residence in the territories administered by the Palestinian National Authority or to the right of refugees to return to those territories, even if they had families living there.

Indeed, the impact of the Soviet system on Sharansky's mind appears to have gone much deeper. Thus, like the Soviet habit of remoulding the history books to suit themselves, our human rights hero insists that any Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories should be made contingent on, among other things, the Palestinians rewriting their school books "to remove all language that denies the legitimacy of Israel and Zionism". In other words, Palestinian children should be taught that their uprooting from the land of their forefathers by foreigners from the former Soviet Union, Europe and the United States was perfectly legitimate.

Sharansky resigned as Israeli interior minister in former Prime Minister Ehud Barak's government over rumours that Barak was contemplating some trivial "concessions" over Jerusalem, territory and the refugees at the Camp David talks with Palestinian leaders in July 2000. But, judging by the unpopularity among Israelis of making any concessions to the people they had uprooted, and given his solid support among the Russian immigrants, Sharansky must have his vision firmly fixed on the position of Israeli prime minister.

In the meantime, it would do him well to learn from the history of his Slav cousins in the Balkans. For while the Zionists have the dubious honour of being the twentieth century's first ethnic cleansers, Sharansky's kith and kin in the Balkans (let us not forget that our human rights hero is a Russian, albeit of the Jewish religion), have taken that tradition to its logical conclusion, with tragic consequences for themselves and their victims. His blind ambition aside, Sharansky has a responsibility to his compatriots and co-religionists in Israel because, as in the Balkans, the burden of history weighs heavily on the shoulders of the indigenous people of Palestine whose continuing misfortunes are unlikely to let them forget the architects of their plight. As a Russian, Sharansky should know more than anyone else that great powers, even nuclear ones, come and go and that the fall can be sudden and cruel. But, with his contradictions and double standards, our human rights hero is unlikely to learn anything. Rather, when the time comes to write his obituary Anatoly Sharansky will most probably be remembered as Israel's great Russian dissembler, with his years as a so-called "human rights campaigner" not warranting even a footnote.

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Israel to 'pray for failure'

06/02/2005 12:47 - (SA)

Jerusalem - Israeli rabbis were planning on Sunday to hold special sessions in 100 synagogues to pray for the failure of this week's summit between prime minister Ariel Sharon and new Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas.

The prayer sessions on Monday will also call for divine intervention against Sharon's plan to pull settlers out of the Gaza Strip and small parts of the northern West Bank later this year.

Rabbi Yitzhak Batzri, one the organisers, told army radio that "the objective is to prevent the prime minister from committing the error of giving up parts of Eretz Israel (Biblical Israel) which belongs to the Jewish people".

Another of the driving forces behind the initiative is the former chief rabbi Mordechai Elihyau who is known for his hardline nationalist stance.

Sharon and Abbas will meet at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Tuesday as part of growing international efforts to revive the peace process.

Comment: There is no need for these extremists to pray for the failure of the "peace process". There is no "peace process". The summit today was purely for the purpose of creating an impression that Israel is dedicated to peace, when in fact it is determined to foment war.

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Rice snubs Arafat by bypassing tomb
By Andrea Stone, USA TODAY
Posted 2/7/2005 9:33 PM 

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's motorcade drove past Yasser Arafat's glass-enclosed tomb Monday, one more snub to the late Palestinian leader who had been largely ignored by the Bush administration.

Rice paid the first visit by a U.S. secretary of State to the Palestinian government headquarters here since 2002, meeting with Arafat's successor, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Rice and her entourage met with Abbas inside the same ruined compound building where then-secretary of State Colin Powell visited a besieged Arafat in April 2002 during Israel's incursion into the West Bank. Rice passed within 200 yards of Arafat's resting place.

For two years prior to Arafat's death, President Bush had refused to talk to the Palestinian leader. The White House had made clear that it held Arafat responsible for terrorism against Israelis and said a clampdown was a prerequisite for peace negotiations. Arafat's death Nov. 11 did little to change his status. When Powell made his last official trip to the West Bank after Arafat's death in November, he visited Jericho instead of Ramallah.

Other leaders have come, however. Since his riotous funeral here, Arafat's burial site, which includes his signature black and white checked kaffiyeh and is protected by an honor guard, has been visited by former president Jimmy Carter. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and British Foreign Minister Jack Straw have laid wreaths.

Even British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a staunch U.S. ally who considered Arafat a terrorist, paid his respects in December, in a way. Blair paused outside the tomb's glass covering, nodded and briefly stood silent.

Rice's decision will be viewed "as a slap in the face for all the Palestinians," said Fawaz Gerges, a Middle East expert at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. "In Arab political culture, one must show respect and dignity to fallen enemies."

"The people of Palestine will be unhappy about this," said Ali Sawafta, a journalist with WAFA, the Palestinian news agency. "They want the respect for the president, who was our leader for more than 50 years."

Arafat had dreamed of spending eternity on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. But Israel refused permission. Instead, Palestinians used backhoes to clear away crushed cars and mangled debris left as a reminder of the 2002 Israeli raid on Arafat's headquarters and broke through the asphalt in the compound's parking lot.

Arafat's coffin was laid inside a concrete tomb that Palestinians hope will someday be moved to Jerusalem, which they also consider the capital of a future state. Soil from Jerusalem's Temple Mount lines the grave.

Shibley Telhami, a Middle East expert at the University of Maryland, said Rice's snub demonstrated that the "post-Arafat era" has begun. "In the end, people are looking more for real change ... than for simple gestures."

Rice couldn't completely avoid Arafat. As she answered questions during a news conference with Abbas, a portrait of the late leader smiled over her shoulder.

Comment: As the saying goes... "nothing in politics happens by accident". So you can bet that this apparent snub of Yasser Arafat in his tomb by the new Secretary of State that will be seen as a "slap in the face" by the Palestinian people, was orchestrated that way on purpose. Probably a subtle message by Bush administration, that for all it's nicely contrived words of peace and reconciliation in the region, it's alliances will remain with Israel until the bitter end.

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US threatens Syria with 'isolation'
Tue Feb 8, 7:10 AM ET

ROME - US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Syria that if it wants to avoid being "isolated" it must end support for Islamic militants intent on wrecking the Middle East peace process.

"It is time for Syria to demonstrate that it does not want to be isolated, that it does not want to have bad relations with the United States," Rice said after talks here with Italy's Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini.

In a joint press conference dominated by the Middle East as Israeli and Palestinian leaders met in Egypt to discuss a ceasefire, the US official had harsh words for Syria, saying it has been "unhelpful" by supporting Islamic militants intent on wrecking the process.

"I can't say it strongly enough. You can't say on one hand that you want a process of peace and on the other hand support the people who are determined to blow it up."

"Syria has been unhelpful in a number of ways" including support for terrorists and militants operating out of South Lebanon, she said.

"There's a long list and while we sometimes make what I call minimal progress, it is by no means the kind of progress we need to make," said Rice, making her first foreign tour since succeeding Colin Powell as President George W. Bush's top envoy last month.

She said the Islamic militants opposed to a Middle East peace "cannot be allowed to continue to try to orchestrate the process".

Washington has imposed trade and investment sanctions against Syria under the Syrian Accountability Act passed at the end of 2003 but US officials acknowledge they have nothing new in the pipeline beyond the latest sanctions imposed last May.

"The ties of Syria or Iran to these terrorist organisations really need to be the subject of more discussion not just by the Israelis and Palestinians but of course the Europeans and we as well," said Rice.

Fini, who has recently returned from Moscow, said Russia could be asked to use its influence over Damascus to rein in Syria. For instance, he said, "Moscow can ask Damascus to control the border between Syria and Iraq" and to persuade states in the region to adopt a more "coherent" behaviour to allow Israel enjoy its right to security.

Rice, speaking before heading for Paris on the latest leg of a tour of Europe and the Middle East, also made a strong appeal to Arab states to back the Middle East process.

She said "regional actors" must follow the lead of Egypt and Jordan in supporting the talks, and called on Gulf states to provide the funding that has been pledged to underwrite the effort.

The US official said that if they all lent their support "then we really would have a chance this time for not just a peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but a comprehensive peace for all the people of the Middle East".

Rice later held discussions with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano, before flying to Paris. A planned audience with Pope John Paul II was cancelled because of the pontiff's illness.

Nor did she meet as expected with staunch Bush ally Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, who has been suffering from flu since the weekend.

Comment: Note the severe lack of any actual evidence or proof of Syria's alleged misdeeds. Syria has been unhelpful in a number of ways, Syria has supported terrorists, Syria is producing WMD's... Same song, different verse.

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Rumsfeld to Discourage NATO Interference
Associated Press Writer
Mon Feb 7, 5:32 PM ET

WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, traveling to France this week, will press NATO countries to reduce political interference in the alliance's operations, an issue that U.S. officials contend has hampered NATO efforts in Kosovo and Iraq.

In some cases, the political leadership of individual NATO countries have ordered their officers and soldiers, assigned to NATO units and headquarters, not to take part in operations carried out by NATO as a whole.

Rumsfeld will make his case to eliminate these "national caveats" on the use of alliance forces at a NATO defense minister's meeting in Nice, a senior U.S. defense official said Monday, discussing the upcoming conference only on the condition of anonymity.

Five NATO members have told their military personnel assigned to NATO staff positions to either not go to Iraq or not take part in any work involving the NATO mission in Iraq, set up to assist in training Iraqi security forces, the official said. The official did not identify the countries, Germany, France, Belgium, Greece and Spain, who have previously announced they will not take part in the mission.

NATO has about 80 soldiers in Baghdad for the mission, a number that is expected to grow to 300 or more. Several members have offered soldiers at the meeting of foreign ministers, including Poland, Hungary and the Netherlands. Other countries have offered equipment or money, or to run training programs outside of Iraq.

Another example of national interference in NATO, according to the official: in March, some countries did not allow their troops, serving as NATO peacekeepers in Kosovo, to move into certain areas to help in riot control. The violence, the worst since the end of the 1998-99 war, came as mobs of ethnic Albanians targeted Serbs and other minorities in a two-day rampage in mid-March, triggered by the deaths of two children allegedly chased into a river by Serbs.

The violence left 19 people dead and 900 injured, and 4,000 people, mostly Serbs, were displaced, and at least 600 homes and Orthodox Christian churches were burned.

Some 18,000 NATO-led peacekeepers are in the province working alongside some 10,000 U.N. and local police officers.

The senior defense official said some fixes had already been implemented should violence flare up again in Kosovo.

In Nice, Rumsfeld and his foreign counterparts will also discuss the alliance's efforts in Afghanistan, where 8,300 NATO troops are taking part in peacekeeping and reconstruction there. France is to hand over leadership of the force to Turkey this month.

The defense secretary will also meet with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who will be in Nice for parallel Russia-NATO meetings.

It remains unclear whether Rumsfeld will also travel to Germany later in the week for the annual European security conference in Munich.

Comment: How appropriate that a man who hesitates to travel to Germany for fear of being arrested for war crimes is the one trying to force other NATO countries to participate in operations he supports and promotes. That pesky "political interference" really bothers Rummy.

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Gunmen elude police at Spanish consulate in Bern
08 February 2005 0844 hrs
BERN : Three armed men entered the Spanish consulate in Bern, injuring a guard and briefly holding two people hostage, but escaped before Swiss police mounted a massive security cordon around the building.

Thinking that the trio were still inside the consulate, police surrounded the premises for seven hours before discovering that it was empty.

"We believe the three left the building before 8:00 o'clock (0700 GMT) and (then) the police arrived," the head of Bern's municipal police, Peter Theilkas, told a news conference.

Earlier, two staff members who had been held in a room of the building were allowed to leave the villa in central Bern's Kirchenfeld district. Another employee was stabbed in the head with a knife when he arrived at the scene, but he managed to escape and alert the police.

Police said they were not yet certain whether the men intended to rob the consulate or were seeking hostages to ransom.

"The motive from our point of view is not clear: it ranges from burglary to classic hostage-taking," said Theilkas, although police believe the trio were not politically motivated.

Consulate staff quoted by Switzerland's French-language Radio Suisse Romande said the intruders wanted to snatch passports or visa stamps which are sold on the black market for between 6,000 and 8,000 Swiss francs (4,000 to 6,000 euros, 5,000 dollars to 7,700 dollars).

The consulate had been the target of several break-in attempts, staff said. [...]

Comment: Hmm...now who else was it that was covertly attempting to steal passports recently...

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Demonizing Iran: Another US salvo
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

TEHRAN - In his State of the Union address, US President George W Bush once again demonized Iran as "the world's primary state sponsor of terror", accusing it of pursuing nuclear weapons, abusing human rights and being led by a few unelected leaders. He also had a message for the Iranian people, "As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you."

Two cheers for the "great crusader" for America's new manifest destiny - to spread the fruits of liberty and freedom in all four corners of the world, to topple the world's tyrants and deliver their subjects from modern political serfdom. Among others heartened by his stern anti-Iran message there must have been many members of US Congress, presently working overtime to pass a new bill titled the "Iran Freedom Support Act", which puts the US government squarely on the side of the opposition groups contesting the Islamic regime.

The pending bill not only recycles the pre-existing sanctions against Iran, by lumping conventional weapons with weapons of mass destruction, it actually tightens the sanction regime by calling for punishment of any foreign government or company that trades such goods and material with Iran. Also, the bill calls for a substantial increase in US financial support of the TV and radio programs opposed to Iran beamed inside the country.

For a country boasting of democracy, there is ironically not a minimum required debate on this important bill, which, if passed, would pretty much box the Bush administration in a head-on collision course with Tehran. The combined forces of Iran's dissidents abroad, composed mostly of monarchists and supporters of the armed opposition group, the People's Mujahideen, and the neo-conservatives and friends and allies of the state of Israel have for all practical purposes shut down the deliberative process on Iran policy in Washington, making it impossible for anyone to dare voice even slight criticism of the unbounded, unreconstructed and ultimately unproductive and even dangerous course of action cooked up in various committees and sub-committees in both chambers of US Congress.

But, hypothetically speaking, we can imagine an opponent of this bill, counseling a vastly different course of action vis-a-vis Iran, presenting the following arguments: Iran has proven a valuable ally against the Taliban, and its constructive role in Afghanistan since its liberation deserves recognition in Washington.

While Iran for all the known national security reasons has meddled in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq to some extent, it is wrong to perceive this as purely a negative influence, given the powerful presence of pro-Iran Shi'ite groups in the interim Iraqi government and Iran's leaders steering the Shi'ites along the electoral road to power.

Iran has signed security agreements with its Persian Gulf Arab neighbors, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar, and has invited Iraq to sign a similar agreement which calls for regional cooperation.

Iran, through the regional organization, the Economic Cooperation Organization, has been a key promoter of regional cooperation and, as a result, has established cordial relations with, among others, Turkey and Azerbaijan (whose leader visited Iran recently).

Iran has fully cooperated with the United Nations' atomic agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), whose inspectors have spent more than 1,000 days in Iran over the past few years, notwithstanding the last IAEA meeting in November, when Iran's nuclear dossier was largely "normalized" after Tehran's suspension of its nuclear fuel cycle, an initiative which Bush himself "welcomed" as a positive step forward.

Iran has been receptive toward the post-Yasser Arafat leadership and many official and semi-official voices in Iran, including newspaper editorials, evince a rethinking of Iran's policy toward the Palestinian issue, making it feasible to think that if the current trend continues, Iran can be counted on to pressure Hamas and other Islamist groups to give non-violence a chance.

Now, of course, all of the above is foreign music to the ears of Washington policymakers, who would rather cling to their caricature of Iran as an integral aspect of the "axis of evil" warranting even military action following the "pre-emptive" warfare doctrine of the Bush administration, as if that doctrine has not already caused enough havoc on the international system. In fact, the anti-Iran climate in the US is presently so polluted, so poisoned, by the Manichean imagery of the Islamic republic, as evil pure and simple, that it precludes a rational discourse pertaining to an important Middle East country that has proven unwilling to bow before the mighty "New Rome" and, instead, clinging ever so stubbornly to its notion of independence and political integrity uncontaminated by the American power.

This is not to absolve the Iranian regime of many of its shortcomings, above all the human-rights situation, calling for drastic improvements, but comparatively speaking, Iran's rights situation is much better than is the case in Saudi Arabia and other pro-US countries in the region. After all, Iranian women constitute more than half the student population and many important positions in society are occupied by women, a fact acknowledged even by Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel Peace recipient.

But, alas, a lone superpower left with a US$4 trillion military-industrial complex and hardly anyone to fight needs functional enemies, and who better than Iran to fulfill the role of evil (sub) empire, notwithstanding the recent remark of a US State Department official that Iranians as a "nation" still think about empire-building. Doubtless, the same official would react negatively if, God forbid, anyone accused the US of illusions of world empire.

This aside, the sad, and one might say even tragic, aspect of this whole situation is that the Bush administration and US Congress are gearing up for a new and more energetic anti-Iran offensive precisely at a time when the pool of shared or parallel interests between Iran and the US has expanded considerably, perhaps more than ever before, calling for a serious reconsideration of the present belligerent approach by Washington in the direction of conciliation and negotiation.

There is still time and opportunity left for a serious breakthrough in the diplomatic deadlock and perhaps even achieve a rapprochement, should both sides reflect deeply on their overall relations and the misperceptions handicapping a sound reciprocal policy. Yet, misperceptions bred and cultivated by deliberate propaganda, culminating in outright demonization, have now become Washington's new orthodoxy with regard to Iran, and one can only hope that the unhappy lessons of war in Iraq can act as a timely catalyst in casting question marks on this foreign policy orthodoxy.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and "Iran's Foreign Policy Since 9/11", Brown's Journal of World Affairs, co-authored with former deputy foreign minister Abbas Maleki, No 2, 2003. He teaches political science at Tehran University.

Comment: It doesn't make a difference to the Bush administration if Iran has been compliant with IAEA arms inspectors, as Iraq was also compliant with the weapon inspection teams. Look what happened to them...

It doesn't matter if Iran played a constructive role in Afghanistan or publicly calls for a non-violent solution to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, or if women are treated as equals and hold many positions of power in Iranian society. Nor does it matter if Iran has signed security agreements with neighbouring states or spearheaded economic cooperation in the region.

All that matters is that Iran has been pegged as the next "rogue state" by the spin doctors in the mainstream media at the behest of their secret government masters as a preamble to attack or invasion by the U.S. or Israel. The Neocon/Zionist alliance want war with Iran under any pretext in order to establish a greater foothold in the region in preparation for establishing the state of "greater Israel".

All it will take is some kind of spectacular terrorist attack or false-flag operation that is conveniently blamed on Iranian interests, and the war will be on. And there is nothing that Iran or the rest of the world can do to stop it.

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Fallujans welcome security, await electricity

By Scott Peterson

The former insurgent stronghold had one of the best voter turnouts in the Sunni triangle.

Comment: Firstly, Fallujah was not formerly an "insurgent stronghold". It was formerly a thriving city of 300,000 people which was reduced to rubble by the brutality of the US military.

Welcome back to Fallujah! Bring your own water, electricity and house.

FALLUJAH, IRAQ – Amid the ruins of Fallujah, white flags are emerging - alerting US and Iraqi forces to the presence of Iraqi families moving back home, clearing the rubble, and trying to renew hope.

Residents say that the insurgents who made the city a virtual no-go zone are gone. They were violently cut out of this former stronghold by US forces during a monthlong battle in November - the toughest urban combat for US forces since Vietnam - that pulverized this city of some 300,000.

But now, the US Marines and the Iraqi government face a new challenge: convincing Fallujans that the insurgency here is over and that their ravaged homes can and will be rebuilt.

Comment: Wrong again. The real challenge is to convince Fallujans that the US is anything other than an imperial force of occupation. Obviously, it is an impossible task.

"This is probably the safest city in the country," says US Marine Lt. Col. Keil Gentry, executive officer of Regiment Combat Team 1 (RCT1), that controls Fallujah. "Is it blooming everywhere? No. But it's like the beginning of spring, with signs of green emerging here and there."

Comment: Yes indeed, Fallujah is the safest city in Iraq. Why? Because it is a virtual ghost own with perhaps 50% of its buildings reduced to rubble.

An unexpected measure of success came on election day last week. Nearly 8,000 people here defied insurgent threats and voted, according to US military officials. That figure accounts for 44 percent of all votes cast in Anbar Province, which includes the Sunni triangle, where antielection feeling was so strong that less than 7 percent voted at all.

Comment: Woohoo! Success! Go into a city of 300,000 people, kill hundreds of them and force most of the rest to flee, then claim that when 8,000 people vote in your sham election that it is great "success". What kind of horse hockey is this?

New sense of security

Iraqis say the result shows how secure Fallujahns are beginning to feel, and note with added surprise that more than a few said their ballot was for Iyad Allawi, the US-backed interim prime minister who ordered the Fallujah invasion.

Comment: Aww! Isn't that nice? The CIA puppet Prime Minister who ordered the US military to attack Fallujah and kill hundreds of its residents is getting some votes from "more than a few" Fallujans . "More than a few" being 4.

After destroying his home and business, the Americans gave this Fallujan boy a fold up desk and 4 empty breakfast cereal cartons as part of their "restarting commerce in Iraq" initiative.

"It's better that the Americans are here," says Abdulrahab Abdulrahman, a teacher who carries a folder containing a compensation claim for the damage to his house. "I have the freedom to be a student, or whatever I want to be."

Comment: All she needs now is a house and a school. $200 should cover it.

The mujahideen "are gone," he says, clearly pleased, standing on a street strewn with rubble. "They are finished."

Comment: Fallujah is "finished" also, and there won't be any money to rebuild. You see, Halliburton's executives needed extra large bonuses this year, on account of the trauma they experienced having to "rebuild" Iraq's infrastructure.

Children wave at the marines, and accept candy that the men keep in cargo pockets, alongside stun grenades and extra rifle magazines. Many adults wave, too, though some look sullenly past.

Comment: "Many adults" wave compared to "some" who look sullen. Could we get a run down on the exact numbers here?

But even as many Fallujans shift from anger to accommodation, there are complaints. There is little electricity and less running water. When Mr. Abdulrahman sees a marine pointing his rifle at pedestrians far down the street to get a better look through his rifle scope, the Iraqi scolds: "Don't do that. You could shoot a child."

Comment: Silly Iraqi. Doesn't he realise that children are fair game?

Among the sullen is Abdulwahid, a teacher who acknowledges that Fallujah is safer - perhaps even one of the safest places in Iraq - though he detests the US presence. "We don't fear anything now, but I'll feel safer when the Americans end their occupation," he says in English. He returned three weeks ago to a house with little damage, but won't bring eight remaining family members until it is easier to enter, and the curfews ease.

Was the invasion the right choice? "I ask you the opposite question," says Abdulwahid, who would not give his last name. "If you are in America, and some foreign army comes in your country, are you happy? Can any citizen in the world support an attack on their city?"

Comment: No point in asking that kind of question Abdulwahid. Americans have no idea what it is like to live under occupation, they just support the lies of their government and tune in to Fox News for all the "facts".

Inside the sealed city

The city remains sealed to all but residents. Draconian rules that include biometric identity cards for some, a curfew, no weapons, and a zero-tolerance policy for anyone who incites violence are paying off, say US officers, and reassures those who have decided to return.

Comment: Yes indeed, Iraqis are really getting to grips with this democracy stuff? Feeling a little irate because your house was destroyed and your brother shot in cold blood? Well, don't try getting violent or coming out after curfew, you might share your brother's fate.

Marines are receiving more local tips about suspects and ordnance; one led to the discovery last Friday of a hidden cache of mortar rounds, rockets, and 2,000 blasting caps - essential to making roadside bombs.

US military officials are quick to acknowledge that not everyone welcomes their presence. "There is a lot of stoicism - I've had some hard stares," says Colonel Gentry, from Carlsbad, Calif. But the Marines are trying to soften the blow by creating jobs, and stepping in when local officials are overwhelmed.

Comment: "Hard stares" is about as far as freedom of expression for Fallujans goes. It's kind of hard to wreak bloody revenge on American soldiers when they are the ones with the guns, tanks and bombers.

In one example, bureaucratic hurdles stymied Iraqi officials from immediately fulfilling a promise to pay every household $200 to tide them over until actual compensation packages - up to $10,000 to rebuild a house - could be worked out.

Invade a country, demolish a city, then rehire the population of that city to clean up the mess you made and pay them $6 a day. Good god! Bush wasn't lying! He really is spreading American democracy to Iraq!

Recognizing the need to infuse cash into an economy, the Marines took over in mid-January, handing out $6.4 million to 32,219 heads of households over six days. In north of the city, the Marines also employ up to 120 people, who work for $6 per day, to sweep streets and clear rubble.

Comment: How lucky Fallujans must feel themselves to be. A whole $1998.64 in return for having their lives utterly shattered. What a bargain!

Iraqi ministries are slowly working to reconnect electricity lines and water. Iraqi officials hand out staple foods - though US forces still control distribution of water from 21 large tanks - because of the importance of a steady supply.

"That's it, smile and wave lady, and I won't shoot you."

"We thought when people came in, they would be [ready to] riot, because of the destruction," says Capt. Paul Batty, of the 3rd Battalion 5th Marines. "This whole evolution [from invasion to rebuilding] has gone better than we ever imagined." One reason, he says, is since civilians were first allowed to return on Dec. 23, marines have shown their only military target to be insurgents trying to get back into the city.

Comment: "It's amazing" said the young US Captain. "We just tell them that if they do what we say, we won't shoot them, and they comply!"

Marines estimate that they have found 98 percent of the weapons caches in Fallujah. After the invasion, insurgents created new ratlines; radio traffic showed attempts to get people in, and weapons caches began to appear in places marines had already cleared.

"Insurgents were sending the message: 'You haven't taken Fallujah; we can still get in,' " says Captain Batty, from Park City, Utah. "But the cost for them to do it was too high. We would identify the ratlines, put out snipers, and we would hunt them."

Comment: "Join the Marines! Hunt rats!"

Lessons learned

Officers acknowledge that the learning curve for bringing a wrecked city empty of both civilians and insurgents to any kind of normalcy has been steep. Election day turnout was a first step. "We were shocked," says Batty. "We nearly ran out of ballot papers. We were not prepared for that many people."

"My children can sleep easier," says Malik Abbas Ali, a father of eight, whose wife stands half hidden at the metal door of their house, a section of white sheet hanging as a flag. "But there is no danger anymore. It is all finished. I am concerned that we still have soldiers around."

Seeing a marine interpreter, another Iraqi comes into the conversation. "Americans are sleeping [in a base] near our house - it's a problem," he says. "When will they leave?"

"You've just elected a new government," replies Capt. Tom Noel, commander of the 3/5 Weapons Company from Lenexa, Kan. "When they ask for US troops to leave, we will leave."

Comment: Eh, yeah, there's a slight problem with that. You see, if the US government controls the "new Iraqi government" then there is no chance of US troops EVER leaving.

"We're keeping the insurgents out," Captain Noel says later. "[Residents] don't have to worry that someone will break into the house in the middle of the night and shoot them in the back of the head, or drag them off to one of their [insurgent] murder houses."

Comment: Silly! The insurgents weren't targeting their own families! They were targeting American soldiers. So please, stop with the ridiculous propaganda.

For some in Fallujah, the rigor of the new security measures, and even the destruction of much of the city, are more bearable than the suffocation they felt when insurgents controlled the city. "My water, OK. No electricity. Sleep is good, American army is good," explains Ali Kadhem, whose three children step out of the front gate behind him, to wave to passing marines. He speaks with a smile, then holds up his hands. "Money for building? No."

Comment: You bet'cha Ali, and no amount of saying "Americans good" is gonna make them that way.

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Car bombs target police across Iraq
Monday 07 February 2005, 18:18 Makka Time, 15:18 GMT

Two car bombs have exploded in Iraq, killing 26 people and injuring 20, police say.

A car bomb explosion in the Iraqi city of Mosul on Monday killed 12 policemen as they queued to receive their monthly pay, police said.
The blast took place near the city's main hospital.
"Eleven policemen were killed and six others wounded in the explosion. They had gathered to receive their pay near the hospital," police Captain Qasim Muhammad said.

 Hasan Tahsin al-Ubaidi, director of Mosul's al-Jumhuri hospital, told Aljazeera a man had arrived at the hospital and asked all policemen there to gather for military statistics purposes. The man then blew himself up killing the assembled policemen.
The explosion created a large crater in the road and destroyed at least five cars.

Baquba bomb
The second car bombing took place outside the police headquarters in the town of Baquba, north of Baghdad, leaving 14 dead and another 14 wounded, police said.
"A car bomb exploded in front of one of the entrances to Diyala police headquarters slightly before 11am (0800 GMT)," Muhammad Hasan said.

"Fourteen people were wounded," fellow policeman Ali Mahmud said.
Husain al-Mujamaai, an Iraqi journalist, told Aljazeera that volunteers had gathered near the Diyala police directorate, which also serves as the headquarters of the US military police.
Although the building is surrounded by protective material,the driver of the booby-trapped car managed to reach the volunteers, near one of the building's gates. 
Al-Mujamaai said a large number of policemen had quit the police force over the last few months because of security concerns.
Baquba, 60km northeast of Baghdad, is the capital of Diyala province.
Reports said ambulances had arrived at the scene to tend to the victims.
Fighters trying to overthrow Iraq's US-backed interim government have mounted frequent attacks on Iraqi security forces.
Al-Qaida link? 

Meanwhile, an al-Qaida wing in Iraq has said one of its fighters killed at least 11 Iraqis in Mosul, according to an internet statement.
"A lion in the Martyrs' Brigades of al-Qaida Organisation for Holy War in Iraq attacked a gathering of apostates seeking to return to the apostate police force in Mosul near the hospital," a statement carried on an website said. The origin of the website could not be confirmed.
"The martyr was wearing an explosives belt and blew himself up after he entered the crowd," the group said, vowing to carry out more attacks on "apostates and their masters".
Monday's blast in Mosul was the deadliest attack since last week's elections.

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With America at war, Hollywood follows
By César G. Soriano and Ann Oldenburg
2/8/2005 10:14 AM
Hollywood has gone to war.

In a reflection of America's conflict in Iraq, a proliferation of TV and film projects is focusing on the U.S. military, the war or both.

Big-screen ventures in the works range from dramas (No True Glory: The Battle for Fallujah, set to star Harrison Ford; and Jarhead, about the Gulf War and starring Jamie Foxx and Jake Gyllenhaal, opening Nov. 11) to comedies (The Tiger and the Snow, starring Roberto Benigni) and documentaries (Gunner Palace, opening March 4).

Television is even more emboldened:

Three cable channels are solely devoted to all things military.

• Award-winning producer Steven Bochco is creating Over There, a drama series about an Army unit serving in Iraq, set to air this summer on FX.

• Even NBC soap opera Days of Our Lives has a plotline about a Marine who is deployed in the war on terror.

Not since World War II has Hollywood so embraced an ongoing conflict. It took years for pop culture to tackle the Korean and Vietnam wars, and it took time before the country was ready to be entertained by those politically charged conflicts.

With Iraq, however, and after 9/11, "all bets are off," says film historian Leonard Maltin. "Whatever happens in real life inspires and affects our storytellers."

With no resolution in sight, Iraq remains a timely backdrop. Audiences are hungry for glimpses of history in the making. March 19 is the war's second anniversary.

But not any and every angle of war is being depicted. One aspect is glaringly absent from most projects: negativity. The U.S. soldier is the hero; his cause is just. Storylines featuring the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal or war protests are no-nos.

"That gets you into arenas of policy," says Bochco, who has written four episodes of Over There, which is filming in Santa Clarita, Calif. "We'll be telling the story about young people's experience in war. I've always tried to stay off a soap box. I don't think proselytizing is good storytelling."

Comment: Audiences are hungry for glimpses of history in the making, so they turn to fictional, propagandized television shows and movies...?

The show will focus on the men and women in uniform and the families who are left behind. The opening scene of the pilot: Bo Rider, a 20-year-old soldier, and his wife, Terry, in a tract house somewhere in California, are "having sex and loving it," as the script puts it, before he ships out.

"Our aim is to humanize soldiers and their families and to tell stories about the trials and tribulations," Bochco says.

Comment: Of course. The other aim is to dehumanize the "enemy"...

And because it is on cable, there will be no glossing over of gory images or expletives.

FX's John Landgraf, who came up with the idea of setting a show in Iraq, says it's surprising there haven't been more projects about recent military conflicts.

"The best purpose of television and film is to tell stories that are truthful and of the moment and dig into the human experience," Landgraf says. The Iraq war "is such a grand natural human drama." [...]

Comment: And yet we have already been told that the shows will not be truthful, since they won't show any of the "negativity" that is the reality in Iraq.

"The films coming out now are pro-soldier. I think it genuinely says that Americans across the political spectrum have a strong degree of admiration for the military" despite how they might feel about the war in Iraq, West says. [...]

Hollywood needs the military

That makes the Pentagon brass happy.

"These days, there is an unwillingness to criticize individual servicemen and women, which was quite common in the Vietnam era," says Phil Strub, who heads the Pentagon's film liaison office. "Americans are very disinclined to do that now, and we're very glad this attitude tends to pervade all entertainment."

Hollywood always has relied on the U.S. military for assistance. That includes access to tanks, aircraft carriers, helicopters and troops that would be too expensive to re-create. The Pentagon, in return, gets to approve the script to ensure the military is portrayed in a positive light (though many of the current projects aren't being made under Pentagon rules, creators say).

That relationship is blinding Hollywood into whitewashing the Iraq conflict, says David Robb, author of the 2004 book Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies.

"In many ways, Hollywood is embedded with the military," Robb says. The military "know that when positive images are portrayed in movies and television shows, they see huge spikes in recruitment. The military is really pressing to get into these pictures. ... These films (that receive Pentagon assistance) should have a disclaimer: 'This film has been shaped and censored by the military to meet recruiting goals.'"

Viewers are either unaware of the relationship or don't mind. Military culture is hotter than ever.

"It's always been a popular genre for our viewers," says David Karp, general manager for the Military Channel, which launched in January. Previously called Discovery Wings, the channel is one of three competing for military enthusiasts. The others are the Pentagon Channel and the Military History Channel — a spinoff of A&E's History Channel, which has used the military as a staple for years.

"The fact there's front-page news daily about military matters and events heightens interest right now, but military subjects are timeless and universal," Karp says. One of the show's biggest specials in January was Delta Company, in which cameras were with Marines of Delta Company 1st Tank Battalion on their push to Baghdad during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

War games — literally

Video games have jumped on board, too. Today's combat games, among the top sellers in the $10 billion-a-year video game industry, are akin to interactive movies. In them, gamers often take the role of soldiers, including:

• A sergeant coordinating realistic squad-based missions in a fictional Middle East urban war zone (Full Spectrum Warrior).

• A contracted professional soldier acting covertly in North Korea (Mercenaries).

• A soldier in battle during World War II (Battlefield 1942 and Call of Duty: Finest Hour) or Vietnam (VietcongPurple Haze and Men of Valor: Vietnam).

"They have increased in realism dramatically and militarily. You work together with your team, you set up lines of fire so you're not injuring your troops," says Douglas Gentile, assistant professor of psychology at Iowa State University and director of research for the National Institute on Media and the Family. [...]

On the anti-war side

In the middle of the entertainment industry's obsession with military culture, a few anti-war projects can be found.

Why We Fight, director Eugene Jarecki's critical study of the American military-industrial complex, won the American Documentary Grand Jury Prize at January's Sundance Film Festival.

Embedded, a satire on the madness of the war, premieres on the Sundance Channel March 20. It is written by and stars Tim Robbins, who is well known for his anti-war stance, and was first performed in July 2003 on stage in Los Angeles.

Still, Robbins says, "about the only thing we don't poke fun of is soldiers."

Iranian filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi's Turtles Can Fly, the first movie made in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, is a tragic look at the lives of Kurdish Iraqi children during wartime. He believes that the film's anti-war message is the reason TurtlesCan Fly was not nominated for a foreign-language Oscar.

"In Hollywood, politics and the moviemaking industry are so intertwined that it's difficult for (filmmakers) to see the realities," Ghobadi says. The film opens Feb. 18 in New York and Los Angeles.

For documentary filmmaker Mike Tucker, who co-directed Gunner Palace with wife Petra Epperlein, the experience of capturing the war on camera was intense.

"If I had an opinion when the war started, it has mutated into total confusion," Tucker says. The documentary follows an Army artillery unit based in a palace that belonged to Uday Hussein, Saddam's son. Four soldiers from the unit were killed.

"Unless you've actually been there — people are just so detached from it — you don't understand what the reality is," says Tucker, an Army veteran. "There will always be a fascination with war, but who is going to define that experience? Hollywood's tendency is to sugarcoat it."

In his film, a poignant scene features Army Spc. Richmond Shaw, a young soldier and poet. Standing in the bombed-out remains of Gunner Palace, a stoic Shaw locks-and-loads his rifle, looks straight into the camera and raps: "For y'all, this is just a show, but we live in this movie."

Comment: Note especially the comment about how war movies and television shows that portray the military in a "positive light" result in huge increases in recruitment. It's funny how right when the military is facing troop shortages and missing recruitment goals, Hollywood steps in with bleached portrayals of the war on terror and military life. Plus, the programming is being kicked into high gear right as the economy starts to teeter on the brink...

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Judge Rejects 'Stop Loss' Suit Vs. Army
Mon Feb 7, 6:58 PM ET

WASHINGTON - A federal judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit challenging the Army's right to force soldiers to serve past the dates of their enlistments, the so-called "stop loss" policy that can keep men and women in uniform during war or national emergencies.

Spc. David Qualls had sought a preliminary injunction to prevent the Army from forcing him to remain on active duty, claiming his enlistment contract was misleading. He signed up for a one-year stint in the Arkansas National Guard in July 2003 but was later told he would remain on active duty in Iraq until 2005.

U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth for the District of Columbia said the enlistment contract does notify those who sign up that the government could extend their terms of service. While acknowledging minimal harm to the Army if he ordered Qualls released, Lamberth said similar claims could lead to substantial disruption and diversion of military resources.

The enlistments of an estimated 7,000 active-duty soldiers have been extended under the policy, which the Army says is needed to provide experienced soldiers for battle. As many as 40,000 reserve soldiers could be ordered to stay longer.

Qualls and seven other soldiers serving in Iraq or en route to Iraq had asked the judge to order the Army to release them from service immediately. They contended the enlistment contracts make no explicit reference to the stop loss policy.

The government maintained that the enlistment contract provided that soldiers may be involuntarily ordered to active duty in case of war, national emergency or any other condition required by law, which the government contended would include extensions of existing contracts.

Qualls was ordered in December to return to Iraq while Lamberth reviewed his lawsuit. In January, Qualls volunteered for another six-year stint in the Guard.

Comment: In other words, if they let one soldier out, the other 6,999 might get the same idea - and the US armed forces are already facing a cannon fodder shortage.

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CIA renditions of terror suspects are 'out of control:' report

Sunday February 06, 2005

The Central Intelligence Agency's 'rendition' of suspected terrorists has spiralled 'out of control' according to a former FBI agent, cited in a report which examined how CIA detainees are spirited to states suspected of using torture.

Michael Scheuer a former CIA counterterrorism agent told The New Yorker magazine "all we've done is create a nightmare," with regard to the top secret practice of renditions.

In an article titled 'Outsourcing Torture' due to hit newsstands this week, the magazine claims suspects, sometimes picked up by the CIA, are often flown to Egypt Egypt, Morocco, Syria Syria and Jordan Jordan, "each of which is known to use torture in interrogations."

The report said suspects are given few, if any, legal protections.

Despite US laws that ban America from expelling or extraditing individuals to countries where torture occurs, Scott Horton -- an expert on international law who has examined CIA renditions -- estimates that 150 people have been picked up in the CIA dragnet since 2001.

The New Yorker report said that suspects in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East "have been abducted by hooded or masked American agents" and then sometimes forced onto a white Gulfstream V jet.

The jet -- marked on its tail by the code N379P which has recently been changed to N8068V -- "has been registered to a series of dummy American corporations ... (and) has clearance to land at US military bases," it said.

Maher Arar was arrested in 2002 by US officials at John F. Kennedy airport and then claims he was put on a "executive jet" which flew him to Amman, Jordan Jordan, before he was driven to Syria Syria.

Arar says he was tortured in Syria Syria and told his interrogators anything they wanted due to the beatings He was released without charge in 2003 and is suing the US government for his mistreatment.

He claims that the crew onboard the Gulfstream identified themselves as "the Special Removal Unit" during radio communications on his flight to Jordan Jordan.

"The most common destinations for rendered suspects are Egypt Egypt, Morocco, Syria Syria and Jordan Jordan, all of which have been cited for human rights violations by the (US) State Department," the report said.

By holding detainees without counsel or charges of wrongdoing, the administration of US President George W. Bush "has jeopardized its chances of convicting hundreds of suspected terrorists, or even of using them as witnesses in almost any court in the world," the report said.

The article cited Dan Coleman, an ex Federal Bureau of Investigation counterterrorism expert who retired in July 2003.

Coleman told The New Yorker that torture "has become bureaucratized," by the Bush administration, and that the practice of renditions is "out of control."

Scheuer said there had been a legal process underlying early renditions, but as more suspects were rounded up following the September 11, 2001, attacks, "all we've done is create a nightmare."

Abductees are effectively classified as "illegal enemy combatants," by the US government, which is how it also classifies the estimated 550 'war on terror' detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba Cuba.

Such a classifiction, the US argues, exempts such detainees from the protections of the Geneva Conventions, part of which govern the treatment of prisoners.

The report also cited the former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, as saying Washington Washington has accepted intelligence from Uzkbekistan that was "largely rubbish."

The ambassador claims to know of at least three individuals rendered to Uzbekistan Uzbekistan by the United States, where cases of the authorities boiling prisoners' body parts have been documented.

Washington Washington has admitted it is holding some suspects, including top Al-Qaeda operative Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, but it does not say where he is detained.

Mohammed has reportedly been "water boarded" during interrogations: So called 'water boarding' refers to a practice whereby a detainee is bound and immersed in water until he nearly drowns.

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Clue on RAF crash missile

THE RAF Hercules transport plane that crashed in Iraq killing Australian Paul Pardoel was hit by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile that insurgents obtained from Iran.

Military accident investigators believe the Special Forces plane was hit when at least six heatseeking SA-18 missiles were fired at it.

The multiple firing of the one metre long missiles that travel twice the speed of sound would have confused the plane's defences.

The defences would normally have been able to fire hundreds of small
flares to confuse incoming missiles, according to the Mail on Sunday.

Britain's Ministry of Defence last night was unwilling to talk about what caused the deaths of nine RAF men and a specialist army signaller when the Hercules was shot down on Sunday last week near the town of Taki, 30km northwest of Baghdad.

But first indications from investigators suggest that a new variant of the Russian-made SA-18, a shoulder-launched missile with a range of 6km, was used.

A suggestion that a faulty anti-tank shell exploded on board was being discounted by military sources last night.

A spokesman said: "A board of inquiry has started into the full circumstances of the crash."

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U.S. official threatens China with sanctions for arms deals with Iran
11:03 PM EST Feb 07

WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. administration lashed out at China before an international audience Monday for not stopping its munitions companies from selling missile technology to Iran and other countries.

Speaking to a conference in Tokyo sponsored by Japan, U.S. undersecretary of state John Bolton said President George W. Bush's administration would move aggressively to suspend business with companies that provide sensitive weapons technology to Iran and other countries seeking to build weapons of mass destruction.

The speech by the U.S. administration's top arms-control official appeared to mark a shift in tactics. Sanctions have usually been applied quietly against offending firms. But Bolton spoke forcefully and publicly about meting out punishment and held the Chinese government directly accountable.

In the speech, Bolton also renewed the administration's opposition to plans by European countries to resume arms sales to China by ending an Embargo imposed after China's crackdown on anti-government demonstrators in 1989.

"The Embargo on arms sales to China is not outmoded," Bolton said.
"It is just as important to champion human rights today as it was in 1989."

A second reason to maintain the Embargo, Bolton said, is to protect Japan and other East Asian countries, while also not permitting China to "significantly improve its coercive capability" against Taiwan.

In some ways, Bolton praised China, such as for its joint effort with the United States, Japan, South Korea and Russia to negotiate an end North Korea's development of nuclear weapons.

"Our co-operation on mutually shared interests, however, does not mean that the United States will shy away from highlighting areas of disagreement and concern," Bolton said.

Last year, he said, Chinese companies were cited for having provided ballistic-missile technology to Iran, Pakistan, North Korea and Libya.

"On numerous occasions, we have expressed our concern about these entities to the Chinese government and have asked Beijing to subject exports by these serial proliferators to persistent and close scrutiny," Bolton said.

"Unfortunately," he said, "we continue to see transfers by these serious proliferators of missile-related items to rogue states and outposts of tyranny such as Iran."

For example, Bolton said, the Bush administration has alerted the Chinese government for some time to concerns about the activities of the China North Industries Corp. And yet, he said, "we are not aware that the Chinese government has taken any action to halt NORINCO's proliferant behaviour."

Comment: Unlike the U.S. military's first two foray's into waging aggressive war in Iraq and Afghanistan, where most of the major powers in the world were content to sit back and let the U.S. and it's dubious "coalition" go it alone, this next war planned against Iran may serve to embroil other powerful countries in the conflict.

With all the rhetoric aimed against China and Russia, along with Iran these days, it seems like the Neocon hawks are deliberately trying to goad these two Asian superpowers into becoming directly involved in their Middle East war, as if that was their plan all along.

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Senate panel will vote on DHS pick:
Feb. 7/05

WASHINGTON, : A Senate committee is expected to approve the nomination of Michael Chertoff as homeland security secretary.

The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, chaired by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said in a statement it would hold a vote on the nomination Monday evening.

Only one member of the committee has said they might oppose the nomination -- Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., who is angry about homeland security funding for Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Once voted out by the committee, the nomination will move to the Senate floor later this week where it is expected to pass.

When Chertoff was confirmed as a federal judge in 2003, only one senator opposed him -- Sen. Hilary Clinton, D-N.Y.

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Criminal World
Global Eye
By Chris Floyd
Published: February 4, 2005

Another day, another accomplice in the construction of the Bush Regime's torture chambers revealed. Nothing new there; the perp walk of top Bushists colluding in torture could stretch a mile. But the remarkable thing about the latest case is that it exposes an even greater depth of official criminality than hitherto suspected -- no mean feat, given the rap sheet of this crew.

The new man on the hot seat is Judge Michael Chertoff, nominated to head the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Chertoff was hip-deep in creating -- and covering up -- the infamous White House "torture memos": carefully detailed guidelines from the desk of President George W. Bush that instigated a global system of documented torture, rape and murder.

Before Bush elevated him to the federal bench, Chertoff headed the Justice Department's criminal division, where he was frequently consulted by the CIA and the White House on ways to weasel around the very clear U.S. laws against torture, The New York Times reports. Bush and his legal staff, then headed by Attorney General-designate Alberto Gonzales, were openly concerned with "avoiding prosecution for war crimes" under some future administration that might lack the Bushists' finely nuanced view of ramming phosphorous lightsticks up a kidnapped detainee's rectum, or other enlightened methods employed in the administration's crusade to defend civilization from barbarity.

Throughout 2002 and 2003, the CIA sent Chertoff urgent questions asking whether various "interrogation protocols" could get their agents sent to the hoosegow. The questions themselves are revelatory of the tainted mindset at CIA headquarters -- officially known as the George H.W. Bush Center for Intelligence. Beyond methods we already know were used -- such as "water-boarding" and "rendering" detainees to foreign torturers -- the Bush Center boys sought legal cover for such additional refinements as "death threats against family members" and "mind-altering drugs or psychological procedures designed to profoundly disrupt a detainee's personality."

However, the Justice Department could only offer advice; final approval of interrogation techniques -- including the Bush Center's requests -- rested solely with the Bush White House. As one senior intelligence official told The New York Times: "Nothing that was done was not explicitly authorized" by the Oval Office. Thus the chain of responsibility is clearly established for the reams of evidence on torture, rape and murder in the Bush gulag -- cases documented by the FBI and the Pentagon's own investigators, as well as the Red Cross, Amnesty International, the Red Crescent, Human Rights Watch and others.

But Chertoff's involvement in Bush's chamber of horrors goes beyond an advisory capacity. He was also instrumental in the earliest cover-up of Bush's torture system: the trial of John Walker Lindh, the "American Taliban" captured in Afghanistan, the Nation reports. In June 2002, Lindh was due to testify about the methods used to extract his confession of terrorist collusion: days of beating, drugging, denial of medical treatment, and other abuses. These were of course standard procedures used -- by presidential order -- from the very beginning of the "war on terror." To stop Lindh from exposing this wide-ranging criminal regimen, Chertoff, overseeing the prosecution, suddenly offered Lindh a deal: The feds would drop all the most serious charges in exchange for a lighter sentence -- and a gag order preventing Lindh from telling anyone about his brutal treatment. Lindh, facing life imprisonment or execution, took the deal. Once again, Bush skirts were kept clean. And the torture system was kept safe for its expansion into Iraq, where thousands of innocent people fell into its maw.

This memo was crafted by Jay Bybee, a long-time Bush Family factotum who originally served as White House aide to George Bush Senior. There, Bybee played a key role in quashing the investigation into BNL, the shady bank used by George I to send millions of secret dollars to Saddam Hussein for weapons purchases, including WMD materials supplied by Bush-backed arms merchants. When the scandal broke, Bush I appointed lawyers from these same arms dealers to top Justice Department posts, where they supervised the "investigation" into their former companies. Meanwhile, Bybee pressured local prosecutors to restrict their probe of the bank's dirty dealings to -- you guessed it -- a few low-ranking "bad apples." Once again, Bush skirts were kept clean -- while Bush blood money kept flowing to Saddam. For his faithful family services, Bybee, like Chertoff, was made a federal judge by Bush II.

The Bush-Bybee torture authorization was in force until January 2005, when it was ostentatiously replaced by a somewhat broader definition of torture just before Gonzales' confirmation hearings in the U.S. Senate. But another Bybee-penned memo, detailing specific, Bush-approved "coercive methods," remains classified. Is it still in force? Nobody knows.

In any event, the Bushists' PR shuffle on torture is meaningless. Gonzales has already declared to the Senate that interrogators in the CIA's secret gulag aren't bound by the new "restrictions" anyway. What's more, he's also asserted -- again openly, to the Senate -- that Bush has the right to break any law or restriction he pleases "while acting in his capacity as commander-in-chief." Thus whatever the Leader orders -- even torture and murder -- cannot be a crime.

This is no hypothetical case, as Gonzales pretended to the Senate. In a series of executive orders beginning in October 2001, Bush has declared his peremptory right to capture, imprison, indefinitely detain or even assassinate anyone in the world whom he arbitrarily and secretly designates an "enemy" -- without any legal process at all, the Washington Post reports. Thousands of such "enemies" have been plunged into the CIA's unrestricted prisons, The Guardian reports; and as Bush himself bragged in his 2003 State of the Union speech, "many others have met a different fate. Let's put it this way: They are no longer a problem." They were simply killed, in secret, at Bush's order.

This is thug law, a death-cult of blood and domination -- the true religion of the Bushists and their mirror-image crimelords in al-Qaida.

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Sharansky's take on war and peace wins Bush's ear
By Megan Goldin in Jerusalem
February 4, 2005

It has been a long and lonely road for the former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, who has for years been ridiculed for his political theories of spreading democracy across the globe to obtain world peace.

But the former labour camp prisoner, who is now an Israeli cabinet minister, no longer walks alone.

His companion in his campaign to democratise the world is no less than the US President, George Bush.

To have the ear of the most powerful leader in the world after decades of having his political ideology dismissed as naive and eccentric is a pleasant change for the diminutive Ukrainian-born mathematician.

"I am sorry that there are so few people who believe in these ideas but it's nice to think that one of these very few people is the President of the United States," 57-year-old Mr Sharansky said.

Not only did Mr Bush read Mr Sharansky's new book, The Case for Democracy, with avid interest days after it was published, but he gave a copy to his top adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and said he bought a copy for the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

"This is a book that ... summarises how I feel. I would urge people to read it," Mr Bush told CNN. The book depicts a clear moral universe divided into "free societies", which promote peace, and "fear societies", which foster war.

Mr Bush was so taken with the book that he summoned Mr Sharansky to the White House in November. The President spent an hour in the Oval Office discussing Mr Sharansky's ideology based on his years as a dissident and prisoner in the Soviet Union.

"I told him [MrBush]: 'You are the real dissident. Politicians look at polls - what is popular, what is not popular. A dissident believes in an idea and goes ahead with it ... even when there are so many people who disagree,' " Mr Sharansky said.

Mr Sharansky developed his ideas, which have influenced Mr Bush's inauguration and State of the Union addresses, after years of battling the Soviet system and observing Israel's negotiations with the Palestinians.

The gist of his view is that the "free world" should encourage countries to democratise by linking international standing and aid to their record on human rights and freedom of speech.

It was such linkage through the 1975 Helsinki Agreements that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, he said.

He has spoken out against the cult of stability in international affairs, the cynicism of backing dictators, and the refusal to apply moral judgements to allies or enemies.

Mr Sharansky was an aide to the Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov in the 1970s and spent eight years in a Siberian jail after the Soviet authorities convicted him as a spy and traitor.

He has opposed territorial compromise with the Palestinian Authority until it keeps its commitments, democratises and stops inculcating children with hatred of Israel and of Jews. He has opposed Mr Sharon's plan to pull out of the Gaza Strip.

He has criticised what he considered the Clinton Administration's pandering to Yasser Arafat while ignoring his involvement in terrorism.
But he resents being pigeonholed as a "right-winger".

"Today I am called a right-wing extremist. Tomorrow I will be called a left-wing extremist."

What he is, he says, "is a refusenik", a perpetual idealistic dissident from the messy realities of any current order.

When he was freed, in an exchange of prisoners with the United States, Mr Sharansky walked to freedom alone across the Glienicke bridge, from East Germany to the West. He was ordered to walk straight across; a refusenik to the end, he zigzagged. He is zigzagging still.

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16 killed in southern Philippines gunbattle
07 February 2005 1426 hrs
MANILA: Fourteen communist guerrillas and two soldiers were killed in an intense gunbattle in the southern Philippines over the weekend, the military said.

Troops ran into some 100 New People's Army (NPA) rebels in a remote village in the province of Compostela Valley, triggering the gunbattle Saturday.

Two soldiers and 14 rebels were killed in the fighting, which lasted for two and a half hours, said Army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Buenaventura Pascual. Five soldiers were also wounded.

"The wounded government soldiers were evacuated by helicopters to the Panacan Hospital where they are recuperating from gunshot wounds," he said.

The 8,000-strong NPA s the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), considered a terrorist organization by the Philippines and the United States.

Troops have been on alert because the group will mark its 36th anniversary on March 29, in one of Asia's longest running communist insurgencies.

Peace talks between the government and the insurgents have been suspended after the rebels withdrew from the negotiating table last year, accusing Manila of not doing enough to influence the US government to strike it off its terrorist list.

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Gold Near 4-Month Lows on Dollar, IMF
February 8, 2005

LONDON - Gold hovered near its lowest levels in almost four months in Europe on Tuesday, battered by dollar strength and concerns over possible sales of IMF gold, dealers said.

The market has been on edge since a Group of Seven meeting at the weekend asked the IMF to examine ways of using its huge gold reserves to help alleviate Third World debt.

IMF sales would weigh heavily on a gold market that started 2005 weakly after a three-year bull run that saw prices scale a 16-1/2-year peak at $456.75 in December.

Spot gold stood at $411.00/411.80 by 1528 GMT, compared with $413.80/415.60 late in New York on Monday. The market earlier hit a low of $410.50 -- last seen on October 13.

"Gold is still looking a bit thin and weak really -- I would say that if we see further dollar strength then $410 support is on the cards. Some people think these levels are a good buying opportunity but the IMF talk is hanging over the market," one dealer said.

Safe-haven interest was also seen subsiding as Israeli and Palestinian leaders declared a cease-fire at a summit in Egypt aimed at ending more than four years of bloodshed.

The dollar stayed near a three-month peak versus the euro as the market cheered U.S. efforts to narrow its yawning fiscal deficit.

Comment: Efforts? What efforts? See yesterday's Signs page for more information that indicates there is good reason to be far less bullish on the US economy...

Dollar strength makes gold less attractive for non-U.S. investors.

The U.S. fiscal, trade and current account deficits have dogged the currency for the past three years -- and boosted gold -- due to its inverse relationship with the dollar.

Bullion market analysts said the market could see further drops although they believed any prospect of IMF sales would be squashed by the United States with its majority voting rights.

"In reality, the talk about the IMF gold sales or revaluation proposal has simply focused attention on the downward trend that gold has been following since the dollar recovery began since the start of the year," Barclays Capital said in a report.

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Dollar Climbs as Deficit Fears Ebb
By John Parry
Mon Feb 7, 4:48 PM ET

NEW YORK - The dollar climbed on Monday as proposed sweeping cuts in the U.S. federal budget contributed to a growing view among market analysts that the worst of the U.S. "twin" budget and trade deficits may have passed, at least for now.

Against the rising dollar, the euro suffered its steepest single-day decline since the first week of January, slipping through several key chart levels and falling to a three-month low of around $1.2731, according to Reuters data. The euro has fallen about 6 percent against the dollar since the start of the year.

"There's a buzz in the air that the trade deficit is going to work out somehow and the fiscal deficit is going to work out somehow," said Steven Englander, chief North American foreign exchange strategist with Barclays Capital in New York.

"The specter of the twin deficits that has been hanging over the U.S. economy is not going to be so much as resolved but mitigated as a dollar negative," he added.

Englander said some U.S. exporters are now hedging against the falling euro. Only a few months ago, European businesses were rushing to hedge against the falling dollar. [...]

Comment: Yes sir, it's all going to just magically sort itself out! There's absolutely nothing to worry about! Literally overnight, everyone loves the dollar again! That whole threatening China with tariffs thing will be cheerfully accepted by the Asian nation and all will be right with the world...

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Texas Couple Accused of Abusing Infant
Associated Press Writer
Tue Feb 8,12:56 AM ET

HOUSTON - A young couple are accused of critically injuring their 6-month-old baby, who police say was sexually assaulted, suffered broken bones from head to toe, and had her tongue nearly severed.

Donna Marie Norman, 19, and her common-law husband, Ivan Castaneda, 21, were jailed without bail on charges of causing injury to a child.

The infant lay in critical condition Monday at a hospital. She was transferred there last week after her parents brought her to another hospital, saying she was suffering from congestion.

Child Protective Services spokeswoman Estella Olguin said the baby had been sexually abused, had two broken legs, a broken arm, a fractured skull, a fractured vertebrae and a broken rib.

"Just about every vital organ in this child's body has damage to it," said Houston police Sgt. Randall Upton. "This child endured probably some of the most incredible amount of pain that one could imagine."

Olguin said that if the little girl survives she could be blind or paralyzed.

Norman told doctors the infant's tongue was severed when she tried to remove a quarter from the baby's mouth that had been placed there by her 15-month-old sister, prosecutor Kari Allen said

"Obviously, that is a bit far-fetched," Allen told a judge at a hearing Monday.

The 6-month-old and her sister, who also had a fractured skull and ribs, were taken into state custody.

Norman was "obviously upset about the situation that has happened to her family and to herself and to her children," her attorney Jerald Graber said. He said he had not yet talked to Norman about the facts of the case.

Castaneda asked for additional time to hire an attorney.

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Dunedin flooded in 20min downpour
08.02.05 7.35am

Flash flooding which ripped through Dunedin last evening left retailers and emergency services mopping up through the night.

The damage bill is expected to climb into the millions of dollars.

Scores of businesses and homes were flooded as up to 34mm of rain was dumped on the city in just 20 minutes.

The violent storm hit just before 6pm, and within 15 minutes shops and roads were under knee-deep water and fire brigades were struggling to respond.

By 7.30pm the flooding calls had reached 52, and by 9.30pm firefighters were working their way through a backlog of more than 100 calls.

Most of the flooding had receded within an hour of the storm, leaving people to mop up their shops, homes, clubs and roads.

Such was the ferocity of the water, roads were ripped in the central city and shop doors were burst open by its force. [...]

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Cyclone heads for land

Severe tropical Cyclone Harvey was heading for the Australian coast and intensifying, with high winds of up to 190 km/h lashing the southern Gulf of Carpentaria.

Harvey was rated a category three cyclone on a scale of one to five.

Late yesterday it was about 100km north of Wollogorang in the Northern Territory and 130km north-west of Mornington Island in Queensland.

Harvey was expected to make its landfall in a largely unpopulated area and would miss Mornington Island.

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Strong quake off Papua New Guinea
08 February 2005 0647 hrs
SYDNEY : A strong earthquake measuring 6.1 on the Richter scale struck off the coast of Papua New Guinea, Geoscience Australia reported.

The quake occurred shortly after 6:00 am in PNG (2000 GMT) and was centered under the ocean near the islands of New Ireland and New Britain, duty seismologist Cvetan Sinadinovski said.

"The earthquake measured 6.1, which is probably not capable of producing large tsunamis but could cause damage in nearby population centers," Sinadinovski told AFP.

He said there had not yet been any reports of damage or injuries, but Geoscience Australia was still awaiting news from the area.

Officials at the PNG National Disaster Center in the capital Port Moresby were not immediately available to comment on the quake.

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Earthquake Shakes Tokyo Area; No Damage Reported

By Tomomi Sekioka

Feb. 8 (Bloomberg) -- An earthquake of magnitude 4.8 in Japan's southern Ibaraki Prefecture at 11:29 a.m. local time shook buildings in the Tokyo area.

There was no threat of tsunami waves, Japan's Meteorological Agency said on its Web site. Japan's semi-public broadcaster, NHK, said there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

The quake shook buildings in central Tokyo, where it registered a 2 on the seven-level Japanese scale. Seven is the highest level.

Japan, one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries, is located in a zone where the Eurasian, Pacific and Philippine tectonic plates meet and occasionally shift, causing quakes.

Quakes of magnitude 5 and more can cause considerable damage.

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Northwestern University Sumatra earthquake three times larger than originally thought

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University seismologists have determined that the Dec. 26 Sumatra earthquake that set off a deadly tsunami throughout the Indian Ocean was three times larger than originally thought, making it the second largest earthquake ever instrumentally recorded and explaining why the tsunami was so destructive.

By analyzing seismograms from the earthquake, Seth Stein and Emile Okal, both professors of geological sciences in Northwestern's Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, calculated that the earthquake's magnitude measured 9.3, not 9.0, and thus was three times larger. These results have implications for why Sri Lanka suffered such a great impact and also indicate that the chances of similar large tsumanis occurring in the same area are reduced.

"The rupture zone was much larger than previously thought," said Stein. "The initial calculations that it was a 9.0 earthquake did not take into account what we call slow slip, where the fault, delineated by aftershocks, shifted more slowly. The additional energy released by slow slip along the 1,200-kilometer long fault played a key role in generating the devastating tsunami."

The large tsunami amplitudes that occurred in Sri Lanka and India, said tsunami expert Okal, result from rupture on the northern, north-trending segment of the fault -- the area of slow slip -- because tsunami amplitudes are largest perpendicular to the fault.

Because the entire rupture zone slipped (both fast and slow slip fault areas), strain accumulated from subduction of the Indian plate beneath the Burma microplate has been released, leaving no immediate danger of a comparable ocean-wide tsunami being generated on this segment of the plate boundary. However, the danger of a local tsunami due to a powerful aftershock or a large tsunami resulting from a great earthquake on segments to the south remains.

The analysis technique used by Stein and Okal to extract these data from the earth's longest period vibrations (normal modes) relied on results developed by them and colleague Robert Geller (now at the University of Tokyo) in their graduate studies almost 30 years ago. However, because such gigantic earthquakes are rare, these methods had been essentially unused until records of the Sumatra earthquake on modern seismometers became available.

The largest earthquake ever recorded, which measured 9.5, was in Chile on May 22, 1960.

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Periodic tremors at volcano Mt Wrangell in Arctic region:
[India News]:

Mumbai, Feb 7 : The great earthquake of December 26 in Sumatra and Andaman Nicobar islands has periodically triggered off earthquakes at Mount Wrangell (volcano) in South Central Alaska in the Arctic region, volcanologists and seismologists have said.

The data provided by the Alaska Volcano Observatory and the Alaska Earthquake Information Center said, following the quake in Sumatra and Andaman Islands, Mt. Wrangell, one of the largest 'andesite shield' volcanoes in the world had a 'swarm' of seismic events. "This is remarkable since Mt. Wrangell is nearly 11,000 km from the epicentre," they said.

"It exhibits fumerolic (gaseous) activity and occasional steam plumes. Because of its volcanic and seismic activity, a network of short period seismometers is operated at Wrangell by the Alaska Volcano Observatory," the scientists said.

"Following the quake in Sumatra and Andaman Islands on December 26, 2004, Mt. Wrangell had a swarm of seismic events ranging in magnitude from -0.3 to 1.9. These events occurred as the large amplitude surface waves from the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake crossed the region," they said.

While swarms are not uncommon at Wrangell, the events in this swarm occur at intervals of 20-30 seconds in-phase with the teleseismic ground motion and the tremors continuing, they said. "This suggests that the events were triggered by individual pulses within the teleseismic wavetrain," scientists said. [...]

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Ontario Issues First Winter Smog Alert
Mon Feb 7, 3:46 PM ET

TORONTO - Coal-fire generating stations and diesel-spewing vehicles combined with a lack of wind in Ontario has led to the first winter smog watch in the Canadian province's history, the Ontario Ministry of Environment said on Monday.

The ministry issued the alert on Friday after smog blanketed southern Ontario and parts of western Quebec.

"We are normally under the influence of a northwestern air shed, which is clean but cold," said John Steele, spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of the Environment.

"For the last few days, we've had a front...that has moved some fine particulate from the U.S. and we add to it from our own coal-fire generating stations and our own vehicles that use diesel fuel. So from a lack of air movement, it's remained here and there's been very little dispersion."

Smog is a combination of airborne pollutants from vehicles and other gasoline or diesel-powered machinery, factories, chemical sprays, and oil-based paints.

It causes the air quality to fall below acceptable standards and can cause eye, nose and throat irritation, coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. It can also lower resistance to infection and can exacerbate heart and lung conditions.

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Dolly Scientist Gets Human Cloning License
Feb 8, 8:25 AM (ET)

LONDON - The British government on Tuesday gave the creator of Dolly the Sheep a human cloning license for medical research.

It is the second such license approved since Britain became the first country to legalize research cloning in 2001.

The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, which regulates such research, approved the license for Ian Wilmut, who led the team that created Dolly at Scotland's Roslin Institute in 1996.

He applied in September to Britain's fertility authority for a human cloning license to study how nerve cells go awry to cause motor neuron disease.

The first license was granted in August to a team at Newcastle University that hopes to use cloning to create insulin-producing cells that could be transplanted into diabetics.

Such work, called therapeutic cloning because it does not result in a baby, is opposed by abortion foes and other biological conservatives because researchers must destroy human embryos to harvest the cells.

Wilmut and motor neuron expert Christopher Shaw of the Institute of Psychiatry in London plan to clone cells from patients with the incurable muscle-wasting disease, derive blank-slate stem cells from the cloned embryo, make them develop into nerve cells and compare their development with nerve cells derived from healthy embryos.

The mechanism behind motor neuron disease is poorly understood because the nerves are inaccessible in the brain and central nervous system and cannot be removed from patients.

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