Friday, March 11, 2005                                               The Daily Battle Against Subjectivity
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"Arab Terrorist" With Star of David Tattoo
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The Meaning of March 11
SOTT Editorial

March 11, 2005 marks the first anniversary of the Madrid bombing as well as forty-two months since the false flag operation carried out by the neocons and Israel against the people of the United States and the world.

One year ago, the Spanish people were days from an election which saw the government of José María Aznar thrown out of office by Spaniards who were dead set against his government's cooperation with George W. Bush. Aznar quickly blamed the Basque ETA group for the bombings. The Spanish people thought the bombings were tied to Spanish support for the war in Iraq and decided that Aznar was lying to protect his relationship with US war criminals.

We have heard two different theories given to explain the bombings. The first suggests that Mossad had a hand in it. The argument here is that bringing the bombing home to Spain, so to speak, would convince the Spanish people that the war on terror was an immediate threat to them, and, scared of further attacks, they would rush to re-elect Aznar in order to buttress the Coalition of the Willing against the Axis of Evil. In this explanation, the bombing was a black ops operation gone bad.

The second theory suggests that the bombs were the work of rogue elements of a French intelligence service who wished to stir up the anti-war feelings of the Spanish to vote out Aznar's government. If this theory is correct, the operation was a success -- which opens a whole other can of worms.

We do not know which explanation of the two is correct, or whether there is a third or fourth theory that comes closer to the truth. Regardless of who was responsible, we are horrified to find ourselves living in a world where all sides appear to condone such activity, where violence is a generally accepted aspect of life, and where citizens must live in fear both of their enemies and their friends, which is to say that, when one gets to the root of things, we have no friends. We are alone. There are no good guys, no knight on a white horse who will ride to our rescue.

If good guys there are ever to be,
it is left, then, to you and to me
and to those who are able to see,
facing horrors that others will flee.

Not long after the Madrid bombings, it was pointed out that there were 911 days between the attacks on September 11, 2001 and on March 11, 2004. For those who seek to read the signs, the clues offered to us by the universe to understand the workings behind the veil of illusion, this fact is suggestive. As is the following:

And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him? And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months. [Rev. 13:4-5]

Readers of this page are aware that if we quote Revelations, we do so for different reasons than do the Christian supporters of George W. Bush. The Bible and other sacred texts are not for us the ideological or dogmatic foundations of a particular creed. Nor are they simply the rantings of madman who can be discounted and dismissed in our epoch of rational thought and materialist science. They are books that contain the germ of an ancient science, the teaching of our ancestors left to us as a message in a bottle, warnings to their descendants that the world is not what it seems. If one takes seriously the possibilities described scientifically by modern physics, such things as wormholes and time loops, that is, if it is possible that history repeats itself in a far more profound sense than we usually interpret these words, then a close reading of these ancient texts might well help us to understand events long in the past, events that might well be replaying themselves out in the here and now, a replay of battles between archetypes of which each of us is a projection.

A reading on a different level completely is also possible. Bush has a strong following of evangelical Christians who believe that the tribulation is on its way, the period described in Revelations. Although you, dear reader, are aware that 9/11 was a false flag operation, those who follow Bush do not. They will be blaming the fall of the twin towers on Islamic heathen, so they, too, may be looking to the period of forty-two months from 9/11 for another sign. And the puppet masters who pull Bush's strings, knowing what his base expects, may well take it into their hands to grant them their wishes. In such a case, Revelations becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy made real because so many people wish it to become real in an environment where others seek to profit from their gullibility and are in a position to do so. In a strange and twisted reflection of the reality in which we suffer, the truth of the prophecy might come about through the actions of cynical and manipulative non-believers.

Four and two are symbolic in another sense as they bookend our 3D world. In some sense, life in our reality is a struggle between the path towards something higher and something lower, between the four and the two. Do each of us as individuals align ourselves with Creation and seek the path towards truth, rising towards our eternal, divine nature, or do we accept the lies of the Bush gang, the lies that material life can satisfy our deepest needs, that our highest desires are our primal desires of food, sex, and survival and thereby align ourselves with Entropy and sink into material being?

The choice is ours each day, in every choice we make or allow to be made for us.

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Just Another Bush Lie?
Saddam's Capture
March 11, 2005
The account of American troops capturing Saddam and pulling him from his subterranean hovel has turned out to be just another Bush lie.

Sergeant Nadim Abou Rabeh, who participated in the operation that netted Saddam, was quoted in the Saudi newspaper "Al-Medina" saying that the Iraqi leader was actually captured the day before and that "the public version of his capture was fabricated." The entire event was apparently choreographed by a Pentagon public relations team.

"I was among the 20 man unitwho searched for Saddam for 3 days in the area of Dour near Tikrit, and we found him in a modest home in a small village and not in a hole as announced," Rabeh admitted. (UPI )

"Not in a hole"? You mean Saddam actually stood up and faced American Marines?


Uh, oh. This could be trouble. After all, the American version presented Saddam as trembling coward cringing in his spider-hole afraid to face the American warriors. Now, Rabeh is saying that he stood and fought "like a man". This is not the image that the Washington spin-meisters wanted to convey. They wanted to humiliate the deposed tyrant by showing him recoiling from the American ubermenschen. That way they could show the virtuousness of the invasion and bolster the importance of the White House chicken-hawks who follow the campaign from their bunkers on the Potomac.

Unfortunately, the entire story turned out to be bogus. Saddam may be a genocidal maniac, but anyone who knows the details of his personal history, knows he's no coward. He scaled the ranks of the Ba'ath party through audacity, coercion and treachery. No one gets to the top spot on the Ba'ath food chain through squeamishness. The portrayal of Saddam as disoriented and fearful is pure performance-art; just like the suggestion that he was living underground is probably just a sham. (That part always seemed fishy) Most likely, he was drugged and dumped in the "spider-hole" to meet the requirements of (Bush's) Hollywood production team. In fact, members of the Kurdish Peshmerga, who were operating in the vicinity at the time, disputed the administration's sketchy narrative from the get-go. Their story was much more consistent with Sergeant Rabeh's.

So, we can add another fairytale to the Bush chronicle of deception. The Saddam capture will feature prominently along with the other wartime fictions like Pat Tillman, Jessica Lynch, the phantom WMDs, and the toppling of Saddam's statue in Fidros Square. Every one of these was skillfully fashioned by a Bush PR team trying to maximize public approval by creating a storybook narrative. It's 100% baloney.

The whole incident smacks of Rumsfeld's "Strategic Information" program; a new department entirely devoted to stage-managing events like Saddam's arrest. Apparently, the War Dept wants to downplay the daily carnage by orchestrating phony "docu-dramas" for the folks at home. Well, they'd better turn it up a notch. Bush's clumsy vaudeville may be designed to draw more support for the war, but box-office flops like this can really take a chunk out of one's credibility.

Comment: What the author fails to point out is that the man in US custody is not Saddam Hussein. It is one of Saddam's doubles. This information comes from none other than Saddam's wife who, when she met the prisoner on a visit, said it wasn't her husband. SO wa have a fake Saddam in a faked capture in a fake liberation in an all too real occupation and tragedy.

Somehow, that seems to sum up life under Bush.

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Rumsfeld cleared in prison abuse scandal; activists decry finding

Friday, March 11, 2005 Page A12

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon's top brass were exonerated yesterday of accusations that they ordered, or turned a blind eye to, the brutal torture and humiliation of detainees at Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib prison.

But although Vice-Admiral Albert Church reported no blood on the hands of the U.S. high command, his findings failed to persuade many of those who believe President George W. Bush has set a permissive and extralegal tone for the war on terrorism.

The unclassified 21-page summary of a 400-page secret report confirms that at least six detainees have died in more than 70 proven cases of abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq, and reveals that the U.S. military was holding an estimated 50,000 detainees in shadowy circumstances as of last September.

Otherwise, however, it sheds little new light on the prison horrors.

"This looks like another whitewash. Almost a year after the Abu Ghraib pictures, we still haven't had an independent investigation into the widespread prison abuse by someone not appointed by or subordinate to Secretary Rumsfeld," said Reed Brody, a special counsel for the New York-based group Human Rights Watch.

U.S. courts dealt another setback to the administration's handling of detainees on Monday, when a federal judge rejected a government effort to indefinitely imprison a U.S. citizen without charge by claiming that he is an enemy combatant.

The move would be a "betrayal of this nation's commitment to the separation of powers that safeguards our democratic values and individual liberties," U.S. District Judge Henry Floyd ruled. He gave the government 45 days to charge or release Jose Padilla, who is alleged to have plotted to detonate a so-called dirty bomb to spread radioactive debris. [...]

Some of Mr. Bush's staunchest supporters appeared to be in denial about Abu Ghraib, a year after the horrific pictures of abuse and sexual humiliation emerged.

"I don't need an investigation to tell me that there was no comprehensive or systematic use of inhumane tactics by the American military, because those guys and gals just wouldn't do it," said Senator Jim Talent, a Republican from Missouri. "Everything about the culture and the training in the military and at home works against that. That's why the terrorists are attacking us -- because we're not the kind of society that would do that."

Mr. Talent seemed to come close to endorsing physical abuse of detainees.

"Speaking for myself, if our guys want to poke somebody in the chest to get the name of a bomb maker so that they can save the lives of Americans, I'm for it," he said. [...]

Comment: If anyone is surprised at this ruling, they haven't been reading very closely. It is always the grunts that take the blame, be it for the torture or for the so-called bad intelligence prior to the invasion of Iraq. The last time any leaders were brought to justice were the Nuremberg trials, which, in looking back, seem designed to promote the absurd idea that the US is the world's defender of democracy and purveyor of freedom.

Senator Talent's remarks show the kind of talent to be found in Congress these days. He starts off by telling us that "everything in the culture and the training in the military and at home works against" them "guys and gals" performing torture, and then he turns around and gives us an example of precisely such a culture with his statement about "poking somebody in the chest".

The culture of contradiction.

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Former Intel Officer: The US Considered Guiliana a Military Target
Former US Air Force Intelligence officer

The top U.S. general in Iraq, Army gen. George Casey, has stated that the US had no indication that Italian officials gave advance notice of the route of the vehicle in which Giuliana Sgrena and slain officer Nicola Calipari were riding. As a former Air Force intelligence officer, I would argue that this statement is absolutely ludicrous. Based upon intelligence collection capabilities of even 3 decades ago, it is reasonable to assume that the US intercepted all phone communication between Italian agents in Iraq and Rome, monitored such traffic in real time and knew precisely where Sgrena's vehicle was at all times, without advanced notice being provided by Italian officials.

During the early 1970s, it was my job to monitor intelligence collected on the Korean peninsula. It was my responsibility to report serious anomalies to the White House by means of a secure phone.

At that time, satellite photographic collection capability was in its infancy; however, the joke, often told at briefings, was that while "we can identify a golf ball anywhere on planet earth, we cannot tell you the brand." In addition to satellite photography, I would assume, as in Korea, that there would be numerous other sources of photography from "manned" and "unmanned" aircraft that are regularly positioned over key areas, such as the airport in Baghdad, which are capable of providing real time imagery of vehicle traffic.

Work was also being conducted to monitor voice conversation, in real time, by detecting the vibrations that the human voice creates in window panes in a particular room or more easily, in an automobile. But most important, the US, by 1974, had the capability to intercept any and all ground to air phone conversations. It is inconceivable to me that the US would not be monitoring all conversations between Italian agents and Rome, particularly cell phone conversations in a hostile environment where cell phone communications are used to trigger explosives. Are we to believe that in an area near the airport, an area that is intensely hostile according to the US, that they would not be monitoring cell phone signals? Even if such conversations were electronically "scrambled," the position of such signals would be of enormous intelligence value.

One can only assume that the intelligence capability of the US during the past 28 years has improved significantly. Thus, the wrong questions are being asked. It is reasonable to assume that 1) satellite and aircraft intelligence (photographic and electronic) intelligence was being collected in real time and 2) that my contemporary counterpart in Iraq was monitoring this intelligence and vehicular traffic (and possibly the conversations within such vehicles) within a radius of several kilometers around the airport if not the entire city. Anomalies would be reported immediately to those in command. The question, then, becomes what communication occurred between those in command and those who fired upon Sgrena's vehicle.

I also believe that a clear motivation for preventing Sgrena from telling her story is quite evident. Let us recall that the first target in the second attack upon the city of Fallujah was al-Fallujah General Hospital. Why? It was the reporting of enormous civilian casualties from this hospital that compelled the US to halt its attack. In other words, the control of information from Fallujah as to consequences of the US assault, particularly with regard to civilians, became a critical element in the military operation.

Now, in a report by Iraq's health ministry we are learning that the US used mustard, nerve gas and napalm ­ in the manner of Saddam ­ against the civilian population of Fallujah. Sgrena, herself, has provided photographic evidence of the use of cluster bombs and the wounding of children there. I have searched in vain to find these reports in any major corporate media. The American population, for the most part, is ignorant of what its military is doing in their name and must remain so in order for the US to wage its war against the Iraqi people.

Information, based upon intelligence or the reporting of brave journalists, may be the most important weapon in the war in Iraq. From this point of view, the vehicle in which Nicola and Giuliana were riding wasn't simply a vehicle carrying a hostage to freedom. It is quite reasonable to assume, given the immorality of war and of this war in particular, that it was considered a military target.

Jerry Fresia is a former US Air Force intelligence officer. He now lives in Italy.

Comment: In 1967, the US was able to locate Che Guevara in the Bolivian jungle by intercepting his radio communications, which makes us wonder why they weren't able to locate Osama. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

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The BBC does a ‘Photoshop’ job on the news
by William Bowles • 9 March 2005

I have been following BBC coverage on both the World Service and BBC Radio 4 as well as the BBC Website over the past few days of the shooting death of the Italian secret serviceman and the wounding of the freed Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena. The discrepancy between eyewitness accounts of the event and the BBC’s reportage is, to put it mildly, glaring, not only by virtue of what is not reported but the manner in which the story has been covered.

According to Pier Scolari, Sgrena’s companion in the car, in an Agence France Presse story

“The Americans and Italians knew about (her) car coming,” Scolari said. “They were 700 meters (yards) from the airport, which means that they had passed all checkpoints. Giuliana had information, and the US military did not want her to survive.”

Other reports mention 400 bullets fired at the car. The BBC news this morning (7/3/05) talked of Sgrena suffering from “a shrapnel wound” but according a news report

Sgrena … was hospitalized with serious wounds to her left shoulder and lung…

But this is the least of the problems with the BBC’s failure to adequately cover events. In a report on the BBC’s Website it referred to the shooting as follows

Accounts of what happened on the road to the airport in Baghdad differ but Ms Sgrena has said she cannot accept US troops accidentally fired on her car.

In an interview with the BBC Ms Sgrena said

We had no signal. We were just on the way to the airport. They started to shoot at us without any light or signal. There was no block, there was nothing. It was so immediate. I didn’t know how I was alive after all that attack.

But this not what listeners to BBC World Service or BBC Radio 4 heard (8/3/05). Instead, the report was perfunctory in the extreme. BBC Radio 4 News at 8am reduced the story to its essentials, merely stating that

“Accounts … differ radically … with [her] companion suggesting [the attack] may have been deliberate” following that with the US account that the car “was travelling at high speed [and] failed to stop”

The bulk of the report was given over to the funeral of the murdered Italian secret service agent. BBC World Service news was even more terse, stating that

“Her claim that her car was deliberately attacked has increased tensions [between Italy and the US]”.

End of story.

An earlier World Service story told the listener even less, reducing the tragedy to a single sentence with the report that “accounts … differed radically”. Period.

No mention of the eyewitness report carried by AFP of where the car actually was (past the checkpoints), nor of the warning they had been given by her kidnappers that the US would try to kill her because

“Everyone knows that the Americans do not like negotiations to free hostages, and because of this I don’t see why I should exclude the possibility of me having been the target,” she said.

And writing in her left-wing Il Manifesto newspaper, she said upon her release her kidnappers warned her to be careful ‘because there are Americans who don’t want you to go back’.”

The contrast between what can be found on the BBC’s Website and what the radio news carried is also startling to say the least pointing to a deliberate attempt to suppress eyewitness accounts of what actually happened.

The latest BBC News Website story (at the time of writing this 8/3/05) omits all reference to earlier reports of what actually happened reducing the facts of the case to the following ‘account’

Accounts of what happened on the road to the airport in Baghdad differ but Ms Sgrena has said she cannot accept US troops accidentally fired on her car.

She told the BBC that Americans guarding Baghdad airport might not have been informed about her arrival, but their actions could not be excused.

The US military, who said troops fired on the speeding car after it failed to stop, has opened a full investigation.

So why didn’t the BBC radio news not carry what one would have thought was highly pertinent information concerning how the secret service agent died, or don’t the BBC regard eyewitness accounts as news? And by today, (9/3/05), the story has disappeared entirely from BBC news coverage but the point here is not how many stories the BBC runs on the event but the nature of its coverage and just how radically different it is from stories that support the prevailing government orthodoxy.

The BBC’s news coverage follows a tediously predicable line with anything that contradicts the comfortable relationship between the BBC and the British state’s relationship to the US being simply ignored with its stock phrase of eg “accounts differ radically”, with the bulk of its radio and online coverage being of the funeral in Rome.

But then consider the almost total lack of coverage by the BBC of the deaths of at least a dozen journalists in Iraq and what is clearly a deliberate policy on the part of the US government to target journalists who are not ‘embedded’, in other words, independent, uncensored coverage. Can it be an accident that Sgrena had covered events in Fallujah that were highly critical of how the US acted? Reports that we never heard on the BBC as the BBC relied entirely on its ‘embedded’ ie censored news stories, though neglecting to mention that in fact its stories were censored, merely telling the listener (on occasion, when it got reminded) that its reporters were ‘embedded’.

Search Me?

A search for stories on the BBC Website concerning journalists who have died in Iraq is frustrating to say the least. After finally locating one story concerning the death of a journalist in Iraq and selecting the ‘search for similar’ option, instead of retrieving similar stories, I got thousands of stories that were anything but similar and eventually gave up.

Clearly, the BBC needs to spend a few quid of that £70 million ($130 million) a year it spends on its Web presence on a decent Boolean search engine, not a cutting edge endeavour, there are any number of Perl-based scripts available that do a more than an adequate job of narrowing down search parameters, especially when you consider that it has complete control over its own archive as opposed to trying to do a general search of the Web’s 7 billion pages.

And obviously, the BBC doesn’t spend much time doing its own research on the deaths of journalists in Iraq. Three reports by independent journalist Steve Weissman as well as the report by Reporters Without Borders ‘Two Murders and a Lie’, point to the fact that the US is deliberately targeting independent journalists in Iraq.

The Palestine Hotel

On April 8 2003, two journalists were killed by tank fire in the Palestine Hotel. The Reporters Without Borders enquiry shows

… there was lying, as well as three levels of responsibility.

Supposed legitimate self-defence in response to shooting from the hotel – the excuse offered right from the beginning and re-stated and maintained at the highest level of the US government – was pushed in an effort to dominate the media and political discourse. This first version of events became the official version and was a lie by the authorities.

Despite the evidence, it took four months for the US Army to come up with its report, in which “direct firing” was replaced by an “enemy hunter/killer team” to justify legitimate self-defense. The new explanation is also a lie, by omission.

By focusing debate on technical military problems, the US government ignores the key to the tragedy – that the soldiers in the field were never told that a large number of journalists were in the Palestine Hotel. If they had known, they would never have fired. When they did know, they gave and received instructions and took precautions to ensure the hotel was not fired on again. The firing of a tank shell at the hotel was not therefore a deliberate attack on journalists or the media.

The report is exhaustive and includes references to nine other journalists who have died in Iraq that includes the following

9 Other Journalists Killed

The deaths of other journalists killed by US forces during and after the war in Iraq have not been seriously investigated.

22 March: Terry Lloyd, veteran war reporter with the British TV station ITN (ITV News), was killed when his convoy crossed into Iraq from Kuwait and was caught in shooting between Iraqi forces and US Marines. US firing probably killed him. The Pentagon has never produced the results of an enquiry into the incident or fully cooperated with British Army efforts to find out what happened to French cameraman Frédéric Nérac and Lebanese interpreter Hussein Osman, both in the convoy, who disappeared at the same time.

8 April: US forces bombed the offices in Baghdad of the Arab TV stations Al-Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV. Al-Jazeera special correspondent Tarek Ayoub was killed but no officials appear to have investigated his death.

17 August: Reuters cameraman Mazen Dana, 41, was killed by a US soldier while filming (with permission) a prison guarded by the Americans in a Baghdad suburb. A month later, the Pentagon said his death was “regrettable” but that troops had “acted within the rules of engagement. “

Enquiry into the Death of Patrick Bourrat

Patrick Bourrat, an experienced war reporter and special correspondent of the French TV station TF1, died on 22 December 2002 during US manoeuvres in Kuwait, the day after being hit by an Abrams tank as he warned his cameraman to get out of the vehicle’s way, according to the French embassy. He was the first journalist to die because of the impending Iraqi war.

A US military spokesman, Maj. Denton Knapp, said: “We did everything we could to keep him safe” but he “made a mistake and it was a tragic one. “ The message was that it was Bourrat’s own fault that he died.

The facts seem more complicated. We have not been able to see the full medical record but evidence we have suggests there were irregularities in his treatment that included serious medical errors. He may not have simply died as a result of the tank accident.

In another story, Weissman deals with the death of veteran Palestinian journalist Mazen Dana, killed by a US soldier in a tank not 50 metres from him. [...]

Weissman also gives an account of the horrific treatment of four Iraqi journalists three of whom worked for Reuters, the fourth a stringer for NBC. All were investigating the shoot down of a US Kiowa helicopter

According to the three Iraqis, the Americans approached them in the general area of the crash sites. The three shouted “Reuters, Reuters, journalist, journalist.” The soldiers looked in the car and saw the TV cameras and photographic equipment.

The four were then taken to an American base where

… the soldiers kept them for 72 hours, much of the time in a cold room where they were not allowed to sleep. According to the Iraqis, the Americans forced them to assume stress positions, beat them, and threatened them with rape.

“They took me to a kind of caravan where there was one Lebanese and two Americans for interrogation,” recalled Sattar. They took his clothes and made him kneel on his knees with his hands in the air.

“Are you a woman?” the Lebanese translator asked.

“He asked me to pick up a shoe, took it and beat me on the face with it. Then he made me take the shoe in my mouth. He made me put my finger in my anus then he made me smell my hand and put it in my nose.”

Ahmad told a similar story: “They told me to stick my middle finger in my anus and then lick it.”

Defending the detention of the three Iraqis, the Army claimed with that “enemy personnel posing as media” had fired on U.S. forces. The Army offered no evidence…

What is clear is that it’s US government policies that encourage a laissez faire attitude toward human life rather than the deliberate targeting by individual US troops on the ground of journalists.

But not once have the BBC challenged the statements made by the US government or it’s clearly documented lying and coverup of evidence, preferring rather to take at face value US statements about “tragic accidents”, or “Iraq is a dangerous place”, yes but for whom?

What is evident is that the BBC is failing completely in its statutory obligations to cover events by even its own so-called objective standards. How else does one explain the vast discrepancy between its coverage of events so that subjects that are on the government’s ‘hit list’ get the ‘treatment’ that is, aggressive and negative coverage but subjects such as the death of the Italian secret serviceman or of journalists get soft-peddled, downplayed or simply ignored?

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Bush sees Lebanon changes as move to free Middle East
Julian Borger in Washington
Wednesday March 9, 2005
The Guardian

President George Bush yesterday portrayed the anti-Syrian protests in Beirut as a decisive moment for the spread of freedom across the Middle East, and one in which the international community had high stakes.

He rejected Syria's troop redeployment in Lebanon as "delaying tactics and half measures" and repeated his demand for a total withdrawal before Lebanese elections in May. Without such a move, Syria would become even more isolated, he said.

Mr Bush told an audience of military scholars at the National Defence University in Washington: "Today I have a message for the people of Lebanon: All the world is witnessing your great movement of conscience. Lebanon's future belongs in your hands.

"The American people are on your side. Millions across the Earth are on your side. The momentum of freedom is on your side. And freedom will prevail in Lebanon." [...]

Comment: Inspiring words, there is only one problem however. The anti-Syrian protests were more than likely stage managed by US representatives and, in any case, the 25,000 people that allegedly took to the streets to protest Syrian intervention in Lebanon were mostly pro-Israel Christians and therefore could hardly be refered to as "the people of Lebanon". It was a few days after this protest that the real voice of the people of Lebanon was heard, when at least 500,000 (some estimates say 1.5 million) Lebanese took to the streets in SUPPORT of Syria and its presence in Lebanon.

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Huge Pro-Syria Rally in Beirut
Tuesday 08 March 2005

The rally dwarfed previous anti-Syria protests

Hundreds of thousands of flag-waving Lebanese have flooded central Beirut for a pro-Syrian rally called by Hizb Allah.

The protest on Tuesday dwarfed previous protests demanding that Syrian troops quit Lebanon.

Hizb Allah chief Shaikh Hasan Nasr Allah urged the Lebanese opposition to join a national unity government and reject a UN demand for the Syrians to leave and his own militia to disarm.

Nasr Allah said no one in Lebanon feared the United States, whose troops left Beirut in 1984, a few months after a bomber killed 241 marines at their headquarters in the capital.

"We have defeated them in the past and if they come again we will defeat them again," he said, drawing chants of "Death to America" from the sea of demonstrators.

As the mainly Shia Muslim crowds thronged Riad al-Sulh Square, Syrian forces began moving eastwards under a phased withdrawal plan announced on Monday, the Lebanese army said. [...]

Comment: Most Arab Lebanese are well aware of the fact that the Syrian forces in Lebanon act as a buffer against US and Israeli intervention and act as a stabilising influence in a Lebanese society that can easily be provoked to civil war. Due to the presence of Syrian troops Israel is also likely to think twice before staging a reenactment of the 1882 invasion of Lebanon which lead to the Sabra and Shatila massacres of Palestinian refugees. Regardless of their differences, both Sunni and Shiite Lebanese Muslims are only too aware of the slathering Israeli wolf at the door and, if pushes, will naturally unite in opposition to Bush's calls for a Syrian withdrawal. Indeed, without a Syrian presence, it will be all to easy for Israeli and US covert operatives to create the right conditions for civil war, in much the same way as they are currently doing in Iraq.

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From Syria's Retreat to Civil War?
Robert Fisk – The Independent March 8, 2005

Lebanon confronts nightmare today. As the Syrian army begins its withdrawal from the country this morning, after mounting pressure from President George Bush--whose anger at the Syrians has been provoked by the insurgency against American troops in Iraq--there are growing signs that the Syrian retreat is reopening the sectarian divisions of the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war.

The first Syrian units are expected to cross the Lebanese-Syrian border at Masnaa before midday and their military redeployment should be completed by Wednesday.

To the outside world, this may seem a victory devoutly to be wished: just two weeks after the murder of the former prime minister Rafik Hariri--a prominent opponent of the Syrian presence in Lebanon--the army of Damascus is pulling out of the country it has dominated for 29 long years. At last, free elections might be held in Lebanon, further proof that--thanks to Mr Bush--democracy is breaking out across the Arab world. Iraq held elections, Saudi Arabia held local elections, President Hosni Mubarak promises a contended election for the presidency of Egypt. So why shouldn't Lebanon be happy?

Have we forgotten 150,000 dead? Have we forgotten the Western hostages? Have we forgotten the 241 Americans who died in the suicide bombing of 23 October 1983? This democracy, if it comes, will be drenched with blood--but the blood will be that of the Lebanese who live here, not that of the foreigners who wish to bestow freedom upon them.

Alas, this is a dark corner of the former Ottoman empire--whose First World War defeat allowed the French to create Lebanon out of part of Syria--which rests precariously upon an understanding between its Christian, Sunni, Shia and Druze inhabitants. All factions came together to mourn Hariri. But now, at night, most--though by no means all--the demonstrators in Martyrs' Square who have demanded a Syrian withdrawal are Christian Maronites. And yesterday, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the chairman of the Hizbollah Shia guerrilla movement, a loyal if somewhat unwilling Syrian ally which drove the Israelis out of Lebanon in 2000, called for a massive demonstration close to Martyrs' Square on Tuesday--to support the "unity and independence" of Lebanon, but also to thank the Syrians for their "protection" of Lebanon in bygone years. Nasrallah invited Christians and every other religious group to join their demonstration. But most of those present are bound to be Shias--who, like their co-religionists in Iraq--are the largest community in the country.

And of course, thousands of Lebanese now fear that when the Syrians do leave, they may be asked to pay a price for this: that in the absence of these "sisterly" Syrian soldiers, civil conflict might suddenly--mysteriously--return to Lebanon.

On Saturday night, a few dozen members of the Lebanese Baath Party turned up in the Christian Sassine Square area of Beirut and two shots were fired in the air. The Lebanese army quickly suppressed this apparently pro-Syrian demonstration (no arrests were made). Was this because their leader happens to be the Lebanese--and equally pro-Syrian--minister of Labour?

How swiftly a Middle Eastern country which had become a bedrock of financial stability and security--even for thousands of new Western tourists--can fall into the abyss. Within 24 hours of Hariri's murder, hundreds of Saudi landowners were closing down their properties in Lebanon--after paying their condolences to Hariri.

The Central Bank has announced that the Lebanese pound is secure; but it has spent almost $2bn (repeat: billion) to support the pound, at 1,500 Lebanese pounds to the US dollar, in the past fortnight--and Lebanon has a $ 32bn public debt which only Hariri's international reputation might have salvaged. Then there came Syrian President Bashar Assad's speech to the parliament in Damascus on Saturday evening in which he referred to those Lebanese who were loyal to Syria and those who were on "shifting sands".

Did the latter include Walid Jumblatt, the Druze leader and erstwhile Syrian ally, who suddenly departed for Kuwait and Saudi Arabia on Saturday, and who personally told me that he was probably next on Syria's hit list after Hariri?

A UN team is investigating Hariri's death--Hizbollah's Nasrallah gave them his full support yesterday--and the Lebanese government insist it has searched every nook and cranny for evidence of the culprits. Problem: three more bodies have been discovered at the scene of the bombing in the two weeks since the attack. Hungry cats and the stench of death revealed two of them; which doesn't say much for the detective work of the government authorities so keen to solve the murder.

President Assad said that 63 per cent of Syria's army in Lebanon had been withdrawn since the year 2000 and that the "international media" had paid no attention to this. He was right. Nasrallah, in his press conference in Beirut yesterday, said that American demands for the withdrawal of the Syrians and the disarmament of the Hizbollah itself were "a photocopy" of Israel's plans for Lebanon. He, too, was right.

For 30 years, America has tolerated--even supported--Syria's military presence in Lebanon. In 1976, both the Israelis and the Americans wanted Syrian troops in Lebanon--because they would be able to "control" the 300,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon--but now Mr Bush's real concern is Syria's supposed support for the insurgency in Iraq.

The irony is extraordinary: 140,000 American troops occupy Iraq--we shall leave the Israeli occupation forces in Palestinian lands out of this equation--while their President demands the withdrawal of 14,000 Syrian troops from Lebanon.

Democracy indeed!

Comment: For those readers who doubt our claims that both US and particularly Israeli undercover operatives are capable of carrying ouy attacks to destabilise Arab countries and making it look like some Arab group, consider the following quote from

Of the 2,200 arrests Israelis made in the West Bank last year, about 1,500 were conducted by special operation forces (SOF), including 366 by a special Arab impersonation unit, [Lt. Col. Erez Wiener, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) division operations chief for the West Bank region] explained. These specially selected and trained personnel have demonstrated the ability to completely blend into the opposing population for intelligence and operational purpose

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It is not democracy that's on the march in the Middle East
Seumas Milne
Thursday March 10, 2005
The Guardian

Managed elections are the latest device to prop up pro-western regimes

For weeks a western chorus has been celebrating a new dawn of Middle Eastern freedom, allegedly triggered by the Iraq war. Tony Blair hailed a "ripple of change", encouraged by the US and Britain, that was bringing democracy to benighted Muslim lands.

First the Palestinians, then the Iraqis have finally had a chance to choose their leaders, it is said, courtesy of western intervention, while dictatorships such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia are democratising under American pressure. And then in Lebanon, as if on cue, last month's assassination of the former prime minister triggered a wave of street protests against Syria's military presence that brought down the pro-Damascus government in short order.

At last there was a democratic "cedar revolution" to match the US-backed Ukrainian "orange revolution" and a photogenic display of people power to bolster George Bush's insistence that the region is with him. "Freedom will prevail in Lebanon", Bush declared this week, promising anti-Syrian protesters that the US is "on your side". The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, is expected to join the cheerleaders for Arab democracy in a speech today and warn the left not to defend the status quo because of anti-Americanism.

The first decisive rebuff to this fairy tale of spin was delivered in Beirut on Tuesday, when at least 500,000 - some reports said it was more like a million - demonstrators took to the streets to show solidarity with embattled Syria and reject US and European interference in Lebanon. Mobilised by Hizbullah, the Shia Islamist movement, their numbers dwarfed the nearby anti-Syrian protesters by perhaps 10 to one; and while the well-heeled Beiruti jeunesse dorée have dominated the "people power" jamboree, most of Tuesday's demonstrators came from the Shia slums and the impoverished south. Bush's response was to ignore them completely. Whatever their numbers, they were, it seems, the wrong kind of people.

But the Hizbullah rally did more than demolish the claims of national unity behind the demand for immediate Syrian withdrawal. It also exposed the rottenness at the core of what calls itself a "pro-democracy" movement in Lebanon. The anti-Syrian protests, dominated by the Christian and Druze minorities, are not in fact calling for a genuine democracy at all, but for elections under the long-established corrupt confessional carve-up, which gives the traditionally privileged Christians half the seats in parliament and means no Muslim can ever be president. As if to emphasise the point, one politician championing the anti-Syrian protests, Pierre Gemayel of the rightwing Christian Phalange party (whose militiamen famously massacred 2,000 Palestinian refugees under Israeli floodlights in Sabra and Shatila in 1982), recently complained that voting wasn't just a matter of majorities, but of the "quality" of the voters. If there were a real democratic election, Gemayel and his friends could expect to be swept aside by a Hizbullah-led government.

The neutralisation of Hizbullah, whose success in driving Israel out of Lebanon in 2000 won it enormous prestige in the Arab world, is certainly one aim of the US campaign to push Syria out of Lebanon.The US brands Hizbullah, the largest party in the Lebanese parliament and leading force among the Shia, Lebanon's largest religious group, as a terrorist organisation without serious justification. But the pressure on Syria has plenty of other motivations: its withdrawal stands to weaken one of the last independent Arab regimes, however sclerotic, open the way for a return of western and Israeli influence in Lebanon, and reduce Iran's leverage.

Ironically, Syria's original intervention in Lebanon was encouraged by the US during the civil war in 1976 partly to prevent the democratisation of the country at the expense of the Christian minority's power. Syria's presence and highhandedness has long caused resentment, even if it is not regarded as a foreign occupation by many Lebanese. But withdrawal will create a vacuum with huge potential dangers for the country's fragile peace.

What the US campaign is clearly not about is the promotion of democracy in either Lebanon or Syria, where the most plausible alternative to the Assad regime are radical Islamists. In a pronouncement which defies satire, Bush insisted on Tuesday that Syria must withdraw from Lebanon before elections due in May "for those elections to be free and fair". Why the same point does not apply to elections held in occupied Iraq - where the US has 140,000 troops patrolling the streets, compared with 14,000 Syrian soldiers in the Lebanon mountains - or in occupied Palestine, for that matter, is unexplained. And why a UN resolution calling for Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon has to be complied with immediately, while those demanding an Israeli pullout from Palestinian and Syrian territory can be safely ignored for 38 years, is apparently unworthy of comment.

The claim that democracy is on the march in the Middle East is a fraud. It is not democracy, but the US military, that is on the march. The Palestinian elections in January took place because of the death of Yasser Arafat - they would have taken place earlier if the US and Israel hadn't known that Arafat was certain to win them - and followed a 1996 precedent. The Iraqi elections may have looked good on TV and allowed Kurdish and Shia parties to improve their bargaining power, but millions of Iraqis were unable or unwilling to vote, key political forces were excluded, candidates' names were secret, alleged fraud widespread, the entire system designed to maintain US control and Iraqis unable to vote to end the occupation. They have no more brought democracy to Iraq than US-orchestrated elections did to south Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s. As for the cosmetic adjustments by regimes such as Egypt's and Saudi Arabia's, there is not the slightest sign that they will lead to free elections, which would be expected to bring anti-western governments to power.

What has actually taken place since 9/11 and the Iraq war is a relentless expansion of US control of the Middle East, of which the threats to Syria are a part. The Americans now have a military presence in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar - and in not one of those countries did an elected government invite them in. Of course Arabs want an end to tyrannical regimes, most of which have been supported over the years by the US, Britain and France: that is the source of much anti-western Muslim anger. The dictators remain in place by US licence, which can be revoked at any time - and managed elections are being used as another mechanism for maintaining pro-western regimes rather than spreading democracy.

Jack Straw is right about one thing: there's no happy future in the regional status quo. His government could play a crucial role in helping to promote a real programme for liberty and democracy in the Middle East: it would need to include a commitment to allow independent media such as al-Jazeera to flourish; an end to military and financial support for despots; and a withdrawal of all foreign forces from the region. Now that would herald a real dawn of freedom.

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US denies shift on Hizb Allah
Friday 11 March 2005, 13:10 Makka Time, 10:10 GMT

The United States has said it was not softening its stance on Hizb Allah, despite its strong political influence in Lebanon, and still considers it a "terrorist" group.

The New York Times had reported that the United States was grudgingly moving into line with efforts by France and the United Nations to get the group into the Lebanese political mainstream.

"The report suggests that our view has changed on Hizb Allah, and it has not," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters on Thursday. "It's wrong."

Hizb Allah, a resistance movement representing Shia Muslims, flexed its muscle this week by bringing hundreds of thousands of people into the streets of Beirut for a demonstration praising Syria's military presence in Lebanon.

The Lebanese opposition, which opposes Syria's presence, has been trying to persuade Hizb Allah to remain neutral in the country's political crisis.

American view

The United States had long designated Hizb Allah a "terrorist" organisation. The group had been linked to attacks on Americans and US installations, including a truck bombing that killed more than 200 US Marines in Beirut in 1983.

McClellan on Thursday did not repeat Washington's accusation that it was a "terrorist" organisation. "Our view on Hizb Allah has not changed," he said.

"Our focus remains on working with the international community to make sure that Syria gets out of Lebanon, so that the parliamentary elections in May can proceed forward in a free and fair way," said McClellan.

The New York Times said that the United States had basically accepted a French view, echoed by others in Europe, that with Hizb Allah emerging as a powerful force in Lebanon, it was dangerous to antagonise it and wiser to encourage the party to run candidates in Lebanese elections.

"The American view of Hizb Allah has not changed," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reiterated to reporters while travelling to Mexico City.

Rice called the Syrian presence an "artificial actor in Lebanese politics".

'Spreading democracy'

On whether the United States may have to accept Hizb Allah as an influential force in a democratic Lebanon, Rice said freedom was a key weapon in the "war on terror."

"The goal of spreading democracy or encouraging those who want to engage in democratic processes is completely harmonious with the war on terror because it's the only answer ultimately to those who would use violence and use wanton violence against civilians to try to make some kind of statement or to spread their ideologies of hatred," she said.

"So the long-term victory in the war on terror is only going to be won by the spread of liberty," she added.

A US State Department official stressed that Washington would not have anything to do with Hizb Allah in any way until it "renounced terrorism".

"We are not going to deal with Hizb Allah. We also make the point when we deal with the Europeans and others we are not going to change the point we make - this is the organisation that is linked to terrorism, and this is something you should recognize," the official said.

He said that "for Hizb Allah to be really credible in the international scene, they need to get out of the terrorism game."

Comment: So, a popular political organisation capable of rallying between 500,000 and 1.5 million people in the streets of Beirut is a "terrorist" organisation according to the White House. Sounds more like a popular movement than a terrorist organisation, but, then again, how many people attended Bush's beatification in January?

Hizb Allah has a militia that protected Lebanon from the Israeli invasion. Its only military target has been Israel. It has never carried out actions against any other country. It was fighting against Israel when Israel was bombarding, invading, and occupying Hizb Allah's country, Lebanon. Were an invading army occupy the United States, would Americans who took up arms to fight be "terrorists"?

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Reading the tea leaves in Beirut
By Ahmed Amr
There was Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, arrogantly threatening to 'hold Syria's feet to the fire' if they didn't immediately withdraw from Lebanon. Condoleezza Rice was offering to dispatch American troops to Beirut. The American Ambassador in Beirut was making his weight felt and laying down the law for Syria.

By the next morning, Bush and his merry band of amateurs had toned down their message to "would the Syrians please leave Lebanon by the end of May to allow for free and fair elections" - something Damascus had already agreed to do.

What happened in the span of twenty-four hours? Well, it seems that half a million Lebanese simply don't like McClellan's manners and were willing to take to the streets of Beirut to give him a lesson in etiquette. The demonstrators were waving the same Lebanese flags seen at the earlier 'anti-Syrian' demonstrations and they were singing the same Lebanese national anthem. Except that in the sea of red and white flags there were also signs denouncing American intervention. A few of them caught my eye. "All our disasters are made in America", "No to 1559" and "No to foreign intervention". But the one that McClellan should have noticed was a huge banner that simply read "SURPRISE".

The distraught and befuddled American pundits played down the whole event as nothing more than a little afternoon picnic by the disaffected militants of Hezbollah. But The Druze of the Arsalan clan came down from the mountains and the Maronites of the Franjieh clan made their way down from Tripoli. It is hard to keep all the various Lebanese groups straight - but some thirty different parties were represented in the march. The pan-Arab Nasserites stood shoulder to shoulder with Pan-Syrian and leftist groups. Tribal factions from virtually every corner of Lebanon sent their contingents to join the crowds gathered in Riad El Solh Square.

First came the national anthem and resistance songs. Then came the warm up slogans. "Beirut Horra Horra - Amerika Etlaay Barra" which roughly translates into "Beirut is free and America should mind its own business". It's a pity they don't teach colloquial Lebanese at the State Department. Because there was this ominous zinger addressed to the American ambassador "Ya safir el Amrikan - ekhla eidak aan Lebnan" - a clear warning to keep his hands out of Lebanese affairs.

All the speeches sounded pretty much the same. They demanded a quick and independent investigation to determine who murdered Rafiq Hariri. They too wanted independence and sovereignty - but they were not willing to see American marines and French Legionnaires land on the shores of Beirut. Syria was applauded for accomplishing its mission to stabilize Lebanon. The speakers unanimously supported the Taif agreement, which calls for Syrian withdrawal and voiced their rejection of UN resolution 1559 - which outlaws the Lebanese resistance and serves to strip the Palestinians of their 'right to return'. All speakers called for national unity, civil peace and dialogue and vowed to never return to the old civil war barricades. They denounced Israeli interference in Lebanese affairs and pointed the finger at Washington for using the 1559 resolution to further Sharon's old ambitions to turn Lebanon into a satellite state.

The highlight of the event was the speech by Hassan Nasrallah and it is worth paying attention to what he said. He pointedly reminded the crowd that they were standing in the middle of a city that had been bombed to rubble by Israeli planes and artillery in the summer of 1982. And he warned against those who would resurrect the "May 17th agreement" of 1984. That date might not mean anything to most Americans but it refers to a humiliating treaty designed by George Schultz and signed by President Amin Gemayel while Sharon's tanks surrounded Beirut. It would have converted Lebanon into a servile Vichy state beholden to Tel Aviv. Subsequent events forced Gemayel to renounce the short-lived treaty. Nasrallah's reference to that agreement was a direct challenge to the neo-cons in the Bush administration to abandon their Likudnik fantasies. It was also a clear warning to any members of the Lebanese opposition who might be inclined to collaborate with the Israelis and their operatives in Washington.

After trashing George Bush, Nasrallah addressed himself to France. "President Chirac, we know that you love Lebanon. We urge you to reevaluate your policies. You say that you support democracy in Lebanon. Will the Lebanese gathered here today be part of that democracy." It should be noted that Chirac and the European Union have resisted considerable American pressure to defame the Lebanese resistance as 'terrorists'.

Nasrallah then proceeded to lay down a challenge for the opposition. They could choose to have the Syrians withdraw in dignity under the Taif agreement or in humiliation under UN resolution 1559. If they insisted on the latter - which would also mean disarming the Lebanese resistance - then they should consider scraping all the other provisions of the Taif agreement, which was brokered by none other than Rafiq al Hariri.

Nasrallah might have sounded like a lawyer making a minor legalistic fine point. But he was making a threat.

This is what Nasrallah was saying to the opposition: "You want the Syrians out. So do we. But let's not forget that - for all their errors - they should be credited with allowing Lebanon to emerge from the chaos of civil war. Even though they overstayed their welcome, before we bid them good bye - we should send them a thank you note. This is no time to forget our Lebanese manners. We want the Syrians to leave with their dignity intact. Once they are gone, we want to maintain warm and fraternal relations with our Arab brothers in Damascus. Let no Israeli entertain the thought that we have sent them an invitation to devour Lebanon. In any case, It is now obvious to all that the Syrians are going to leave. But 1559 is another matter. It is not just targeted at the Syrians - it is designed to foment civil war and sectarian strife. The American Likudniks have placed those Lebanese who resisted Israeli occupation on the same black list as Al Qaeda. That's simply unacceptable. Fully implementing the Taif agreement is one thing. Fully implementing the 1559 agreement means scrapping the Taif agreement."

So what would scrapping the Taif agreement entail for the Lebanese opposition? Like 1559, one of the provisions of the Taif agreement dealt with the eventual full withdrawal of Syrian forces. But the Taif agreement - which ended fifteen years of sectarian strife - had other provisions. Like the 1943 Accords, it put into place a confessional system that allowed Maronite Christians and Sunni Muslims to retain certain privileges - including the powerful Presidency and the office of Prime Minister. No small concession in a country where Shiites are by far the largest ethnic group.

In effect, Nasrallah was giving the opposition a choice. They could go along with the neo-con inspired 1559 or they could retain the political dominance of the Maronite and Sunni elite. They couldn't have both.

Of course, the Israelis and their slavish neo-con brigades in Washington would have no problem re-igniting civil strife in Lebanon. But for Lebanon, rehashing the wounds of the past and fighting over who gets what slice of the political pie would lead to complete chaos. To keep Lebanon whole, the Taif agreement must be kept whole.

In the unlikely event that irredentist tribal factions are tempted to scrap the Taif agreement, all bets are off. If another civil war breaks out, there will never be another Rafiq Hariri to put Beirut back together again.

Nasrallah's threat is a warning sign of how quickly things can deteriorate if caution is not exercised. Before George Bush cashes in on some cheap domestic mileage from grandstanding in Beirut, he is well advised to pay a little serious attention. His administration and their mass media barkers insist on portraying the events in Lebanon as an early dividend resulting from the quagmire in Iraq. But the winds might very well blow in the opposite direction. If Lebanon starts disintegrating, the Shiites in Iraq - who have long standing ties to Iran - might very well react in unexpected ways. Bush needs to reconsider his crusade to criminalize Hezbollah - a movement that is applauded by the vast majority of Lebanese and Arabs for leading the resistance against Israeli aggression. Nasrallah is not Bin Laden and Hezbollah is not the Taliban.

It is now certain that the Syrians are leaving. Once they go, the issue of disarming the Hezbollah becomes an internal Lebanese affair. Chirac needs to impress on the Americans that the shortest path to achieve that goal is to de-criminalize the Lebanese resistance, end the Israeli occupation of Sheba Farms and obtain iron-clad guarantees that Tel Aviv will never again invade Lebanon. It would also help if America reduced its profile and concentrated on cleaning up the Mess on Potamia before undertaking any new ventures to destabilize Lebanon and Syria.

The Lebanese need to keep the peace and tone down the rhetoric. The Syrian withdrawal looks like a done deal. It goes without saying that those who brutally murdered Rafiq al-Hariri must be tracked down and held accountable for their crimes and soon. Somebody out there has the answer. This was not a one-man plot. A substantial reward and an offer of clemency together with an internationally supervised investigation will go a long way to heal the wounds in a newly sovereign and independent Lebanon.

The differences between the Lebanese opposition and the crowds who gathered in Riad el Solh Square do not deserve this level of discord. In fact, many Lebanese probably marched in both demonstrations. The passions stirred by the brutal assassination of Hariri should not be harnessed to ignite civil strife. Were he alive today, Hariri would have spared no effort to reach common ground. Now that the Syrians are on their way out, the only major point of contention is the immediate resignation of certain individuals in the Lebanese security agencies who might or might not have been derelict in protecting Hariri and have shown no progress in their investigations. Why exactly are they waiting to be fired? Couldn't they just resign and make room for more competent individuals.

If the neo-cons and Israelis are discounted, all parties - including the Americans - have everything to gain and nothing to lose by ushering the Lebanese to common grounds. The Syrians get to leave with their heads held high. The Lebanese get a chance to deliver on Hariri's dream of building a cosmopolitan country in which the diverse sects of Lebanon can live in harmony. Chirac gets credit for safely navigating the treacherous ethnic divides in the Levant and brokering a lasting peace. As for Bush, he gets to avoid another quagmire that can only add to the substantial amount of quick sand he already claims in Iraq.

Reading the tea leaves in Beirut is not a task for amateurs. However, it does help if all parties are reading from the same cup. To defuse the current crisis, Nasrallah needs to withdraw his threat to scrap the Taif agreement and Walid Jumblatt needs to reconsider his call for foreign intervention. For the sake of peace, Aoun should consider extending his retirement in Paris and Amin Gemayel needs to publicly denounce the May 17th Accord and withdraw to the back benches. As for the foreign actors in this drama, the Syrians must complete the withdrawal of their army and intelligence units on schedule, France must impress a few reality checks on Washington and Bush needs to ignore his neo-con Praetorian guards and start paying attention to Chirac. In the meantime, Scott McClellan should mind his manners and get used to a few more Lebanese 'surprises'.

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Syria, Hezbollah, Iran, Palestinians
Middle East Review

MER reported the following two years ago about the Top Neocon President Bush this week nominated to be Ambassador to the United Nations: "U.S. Undersec'y of State John Bolton: Syria and Iran are next he told Israelis on 17 Feb 2003."

MIDDLEEAST.ORG - MER - Washington - 11 March: Last weekend, before the unprecedented massive anti-U.S. anti-Israeli demonstration in Beirut, before the Egyptian Foreign Minister lashed out at the Americans, before the former Lebanese Prime Minister was reappointed, and before the public signs that both the U.S. and the U.N. are backtracking about Hezbollah, the Israeli Foreign Minster made a few public comments about his visit to Washington this week.

Silvan Shalom's comments were rather short and succinct as reported briefly in The Washington Times in the article below. But even so they were quite revealing. Indeed the Israelis take quite a pride in occassionally telegraphing, albeit obliquely, what they are doing -- though of course one has to examine and extrapolate very carefully between-the-lines.

Back more than twenty years ago in fact, when today's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon first starting talking in public about a Palestinian State, he didn't have in mind the one most other people did and certainly not one the Palestinians would find palatable. Rather, even back then, Sharon's goal was always a mini and everywhere surrounded, controlled and crippled Palestinian Statelet; and indeed today it appears he and his Foreign Minister have concluded fulfilling Sharon's Plan with George Bush's assistance is now within grasp.

Current Israei goals, now more in tandem with the Americans than ever as the 'War on Terrorism' keeps expanding and becoming more consuming, can be summarized as follows:

* Pry Syria and Lebanon apart to weaken opposition to Israeli designs on the northern front;
* Weaken and isolate Lebanon's major anti-Israel force, Hezbollah, in anticipation of possible future attacks;
* At the same time isolate Iran and weaken Iran as well as Iranian links to Syria and Lebanon in anticipation of strikes against Iran's growing military capabilities;
* Push the VIP Palestinians still in control of the reborn and refunded Palestinian Authority II (but for how much longer?) to more fully police the Palestinian reservations; and keep trying to corner them into accepting some kind of 'provisional' Palestinian State with 'temporary' borders -- even as Israel further consolidates the Apartheid arrangements long personally championed by Ariel Sharon.

The Israelis have other options as well, strategies that are rarely, even obliquely, discussed in any public forum; nor is the corporate media going to deal with such complicated, controversional, and hard to explain and to substantiate matters of this kind.

If the Israelis can't get their way with the Palestinians -- and to a lesser extent because their capabilities are more limited with the Syrians, the Lebanese, and the Iranians -- they will push still further policies with a growing likelihood of bringing about civil wars. Fomenting civil war in Palestine and Lebanon are policies the Israelis have actually pursued for some time; and either doing the same in Iran or bringing about some kind of regime-change coup in Tehran remains a major priority.

Oh by the way, Ambassador John Bolton, the senior neocon the Americans are sending to the United Nations, an organization he is on record many times wanting to see either destroyed or disregarded, is also on record telegraphing important policies. Back in February of 2003 as the U.S. invasion/occupation he and his Israeli friends had been so helpful in bringing about was beginning, MER reported the following: "U.S. Undersec'y of State John Bolton: Syria and Iran are next he told Israelis on 17 Feb 2003."

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Round 3 for Marines in Iraq
By Mike Dorning
Chicago Tribune
Thu Mar 10, 9:40 AM ET

Lance Cpl. Nicholas Renkosik spent his 21st birthday battling to take a bridge on the outskirts of Baghdad. On his 22nd, he was hit in the jaw by shrapnel from a roadside bomb that detonated near his vehicle in western Iraq.

Next month, the gangly, 6-foot-2 Marine from Davenport, Iowa, turns 23. And once again he is in Iraq--on his third tour of duty. [...]

The unit is once again part of a signature moment: In January, it became the first Marine battalion to return to Iraq for a third deployment, according to a Marine Corps spokesman. More are to follow. [...]

On the first deployment, Lance Cpl. Dusty Lansdorf's family was anxious but supportive. On the second, they were incredulous that he had to return, said Lansdorf, 22, of Oroville, Calif.

Their reaction this time: "Don't go. You're rolling the dice too many times."

The unit's tough schedule is testament to the heavy burden America's ground forces have shouldered in a fight that has gone on much longer than the Pentagon planned, against more tenacious resistance than expected. [...]

Though the third deployment came as no surprise, its timing did. The Marines' Christmas leaves were cut by half as the battalion was rushed to Iraq nearly two months ahead of schedule because of concerns that the January elections would be disrupted.

Many resigned to more tours

Many in the unit said they are resigned to the likelihood that the battalion will be called to Iraq a fourth and fifth time.

Many said they want no part of it.

"How do we get through a third deployment?" asked Cpl. John Woodham, 22, of Dothan, Ala. "This will be the last time we do this. When we get back, we're done--out of the Marine Corps."

Despite a re-enlistment bonus of $18,000 for corporals and $21,000 for sergeants, Marines up for re-enlistment in the next year overwhelmingly say they plan to leave, said Staff Sgt. Michael Hunt, the battalion's retention specialist.

In many cases, Marines with months of service remaining have lined up civilian job offers or early acceptance at colleges. Often, parents anxious about their sons' safety have found jobs for them when they get out. It is something Hunt had rarely seen.

"From the colonel on down to the company and platoon commanders, everybody is concerned about who's going to be around for the next deployment, who's going to train the young Marines for the next time," Hunt said. [...]

'My wife has put me on notice'

"I have 13 years in the Marine Corps, and my wife has put me on notice: If we have another deployment, I have to choose between the Marine Corps and my wife," said Lt. Brian Sitko, 33, the battalion's adjutant, who was commissioned an officer after service in the enlisted ranks. [...]

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US to embrace EU policy on Iran
Friday 11 March 2005, 9:41 Makka Time, 6:41 GMT

The Bush administration, in a major shift, will adopt a European proposal to offer Iran economic incentives to abandon its nuclear ambitions, US and European officials said on Thursday.

On Friday the United States is expected to allow Iran to join the World Trade Organization and buy aircraft spare parts and, in return, Britain, France and Germany have agreed to refer Iran to the UN Security Council if it fails to give up its suspected nuclear weapons program, the officials said.

The united US-European approach, expected to be announced in coordinated, separate statements, would mark a milestone in efforts to curb what Washington thinks are Iran's attempts to develop nuclear arms.

A US decision to embrace economic incentives is a reversal from Washington's previous refusal to reward Iran for what it regards as bad behaviour.

The Europeans, in turn, would shift gears by pledging that if their negotiations with Iran collapse or if Tehran reneges on a promise to suspend nuclear enrichment activities, they will join Washington in bringing the issue to the UN Security Council, which could impose sanctions. [...]

Comment: Sounds like a set-up. The US has no intent to negotiate, but they may have realised they needed to make a tactical retreat. They'll settle into subversion behind the scenes, making certain that any attempt to arrive at a settlement with Iran is scuttled in such a way as to place the blame on the Iranians. Then, Bush will announce that time has run out and force the Europeans to go to the Security Council.

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N.Y. Attorneys Get Firsthand Look at Guantanamo Conditions
Mark Fass, New York Law Journal
Monday February 28, 3:01 am ET

On a recent Friday, Sarah Havens, a second-year associate in the New York office of British firm Allen & Overy, spent the morning in her Sixth Avenue office negotiating the final details of a European telecommunications financing project.

A few days later, she found herself in an approximately 10-by-15-foot cell in Guantanamo Bay, interviewing an enemy combatant.

It was "nerve-wracking at first," she said. "You read about the things they've been exposed to, so you don't know what to expect."

Havens and three of her colleagues from Allen & Overy are among the dozen or so New York attorneys who have flown to Cuba in the last few months to gather information for the habeas corpus petitions their firms have filed on behalf of Guantanamo Bay detainees. [...]

Allen & Overy represents 14 of the approximately 550 men being detained at Camp Delta, the newly built, long-term detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Their clients, like the other prisoners, were picked up mainly in and around Afghanistan and Pakistan beginning in January 2002. [...]

In all, more than 25 firms, as well as professors from Georgetown University and Seton Hall law schools, have filed petitions, according to Tina Foster, a fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

The petitions assert that no legal basis supports the petitioners' imprisonment, and ask for their immediate release. They request, among other relief, an order that prisoners are being held in violation of the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of due process. [...]


Upon arriving, the base felt ominous, according to Stewart, a fifth-year corporate associate. The attorneys debated which adjective fit best, "Orwellian" or "Kafka-esque."

"Everything was upside-down or backwards," he added. "We have access to classified information that we can't share with our clients, because they don't have security authorization. It makes it hard to advocate on their behalf."

The attorneys and their two translators broke into two teams of three, each team meeting with one client per day for three days, in cells designated specifically for interviews and interrogations. [...]

The detainees' feet were shackled to a hook in the floor. An agreement barred government representatives from sitting in on the meetings, but the military videotaped the sessions for the lawyers' security. [...]

The attorneys had preconceptions about the men they would meet. Because the prisoners come from cultures where interactions with women are rare, and with female attorneys practically nonexistent, the lawyers said they worried the men would not speak openly. They said they feared their clients might have grown too jaded to talk, that they would think the attorneys were undercover agents.

Indeed, "one client, after seeing our business cards, wanted to see our passports as well," said Fels.

The attorneys were advised that the men could be dangerous.

"You've been told, 'They chewed through chains to take down a 767,' but they're just kids," said Havens, referring to the U.S. general who suggested that prisoners on their way to the island might chew through hydraulic cables. "They were all polite. They were all nice. They weren't intimidating." [...]

"Their spirits were higher than I would have expected," though they did "realize that there's a certain American ideal of justice, and they're not getting it," she added. [...]

The attorneys also continue to travel to a secure facility outside of Washington, D.C., to work on the petitions. Classified material can be reviewed only at the facility, and all writing must be done on its computers. Each case has its own safe. [...]

Though she acknowledges that she may be representing men who have fought against the United States, Havens said she felt no ambivalence about the cause.

"If these guys are guilty, the government needs to show they're guilty," she said. "We're not asking that the government sets every single one free. We're just asking for some semblance of due process, so that the guilty can be distinguished from the innocent." [...]

Comment: It appears that Bush and the clan are fed up with ordinary law abiding folks meddling in official federal affairs...

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U.S. Plans to Reduce Guantanamo Inmates -- NY Times
March 11, 2005

NEW YORK - The Pentagon is seeking to cut by more than half the number of detainees at its prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the United States has been accused of abusing and torturing inmates, The New York Times reported on Friday.

The Pentagon aims to transfer hundreds of detainees to prisons in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Yemen and is seeking support from other federal agencies to facilitate the planned moves the newspaper said, citing senior administration officials.

A Pentagon spokeswoman had no immediate comment.

The United States has faced international criticism for its treatment of the Guantanamo prisoners. FBI memos made public recently accused Pentagon interrogators of using "torture techniques." The U.S. military in January launched an internal investigation into allegations that Guantanamo inmates had been abused and tortured.

The Guantanamo Bay prison camp holds about 540 suspected al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners. That numbers includes more than 100 each from Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, a senior administration official was cited as saying.

The Pentagon said on March 7 that 211 prisoners had left the prison.

Nearly all of the detainees are being held without charges and some have been imprisoned there for more than three years. The United States has designated them "enemy combatants" and denied them prisoner of war status, which brings certain rights under international law.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in a Feb. 5 memorandum, called for broader interagency support of prisoner transfers as part of a proposal to reduce the Guantanamo Bay prison camp population, the newspaper reported.

The New York Times quoted administration officials as saying that the transfers would be similar to the CIA transfers of captives to other countries, but were subject to stricter approval within the government.

The officials said the Pentagon plan could face opposition from the CIA, the State Department and the Justice Department, according to the report. [...]

Comment: Well, let's see: The CIA has been sending "terrorists" to other countries to be tortured for quite some time, so they shouldn't object. The State Department is now run by Condi Rice, so no problem there. As for the Justice Department, it is now under the direction of Alberto "The Geneva Convention is obsolete" Gonzales.

According to the newspaper, Defense Department officials conceded that a series of adverse court rulings on detainee rights was a factor in their proposal to reduce the number of inmates at Guantanamo in part by persuading other countries to take some of them. [...]

Comment: In other words, Rummy and the gang will not be held back by the pesky legal system and judges that refuse to play ball.

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Israel showcases latest ultra high-tech military inventions
Wed Mar 9, 2:19 PM ET

TEL AVIV - Israel paraded its latest high-tech military inventions at a Tel Aviv weapons fair, wowing the crowds with James Bond-style gadgets nicknamed "Eye Ball", "Mosquito and "FireBall."

Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) proudly presented its new 120/121mm smart mortar bomb, commonly referred to as "FireBall", with pinpoint accuracy guided by GPS and laser-homing modes for a single-shot target kill in urban warfare.

Another star was the state-of-the-art "Eye Ball R1" -- a high-tech camera packaged into a hand-held impervious ball, which can be thrown into any building, tunnel or cave to enable remote observation from relative safety.

Weighing little more than 500 grammes (18 ounces), the system designed by ODF Optronics has a 360-degree rotating sensor able to relay video and audio transmission to a remote and mobile display video screen.

For closer combat, voyeurs also drooled over the Corner Shot, which allows police, security officers and soldiers to view targets "around the corner" through a mini video camera attached to the barrel of a shot gun.

Israeli soldiers have maximised use of the technology since the Palestinian uprising broke out in September 2000, during closed, urban warfare.

Back to IAI, the company's stand devoted to drones, gliders and micro UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) was a major attraction at the fair, which closed Wednesday, pulling in military delegates from more than 30 countries.

Secretive, silent and deadly accurate for the real-time data they can transmit via video-link, such weapons have been employed to devastating effect by the Israeli military in targeted assassinations of militant leaders.

Today the Mosquito is one of the smallest of these UAV systems, measuring 30 centimetres (12 inches) and 34 centimetres (14 inches) wide.

Weighing 500 grammes complete with silent motor, batteries and camera, it offers real-time high-quality video for up to 60 minutes of flying time at 300 feet (90 metres). [...]

Comment: "Wowing the crowds", "James Bond-style gadgets", "voyeurs also drooled over the Corner Shot"... It sounds like the fair showcasing technologies of death and destruction ranks right up there with Disneyland. Shooting little schoolgirls in the head from a few hundred meters away is nothing - now Israeli soldiers can blow away "terrorists" with a shotgun that shoots around corners and laser-guided mortar shells! The fact that weapons of war and oppression are so glorified is a sad commentary on the current state of the world and its human inhabitants.

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Geriatric hospital suspected of illegal human experiments
By Ran Reznick
Fri., March 11, 2005

ISRAEL - The Health Ministry is probing suspicions that two elderly patients died last year at Gedera's Hartzfeld Geriatric Hospital after undergoing an illegal invasive medical experiment.

The patients allegedly died from a severe urinary tract infection caused by the extraction of urine by puncturing their bodies.

One of the two died of the infection in February. The experiment allegedly was conducted about two weeks after she had undergone surgery for removing part of her small intestine. After her death, hospital management allegedly advised its doctors not to recruit any more patients for the experiment.

The Health Ministry suspects that at least two types of experiments were illegally conducted at the hospital in 2003-2004 on dozens of patients aged 70 to 90. One experiment was invasive, consisting of urine extraction by puncturing the patient's stomach. The other involved administering iron to hospital in-patients.

The ministry suspects that both experiments were conducted without obtaining the patients' full consent, and without providing them with all the pertinent information and advising them of the risks involved, as required by law.

At least four geriatric doctors from the hospital are implicated in the affair.

Owned by the Clalit Health Maintenance Organization (HMO), Hartzfeld contains 300 beds and is one of the country's largest public geriatric hospitals. In 2003, some 4,000 patients were hospitalized at Hartzfeld, with 826 having died there. The hospital is a division of Rehovot's Kaplan Hospital, whose management, headed by Dr. Yossi Barel, is responsible for it.

The Health Ministry also is looking into further suspicions of attempts to conceal information and disrupt the inquiry. Numerous documents regarding the experiments have disappeared, and hospital personnel are suspected of trying to destroy or hide evidence tying some of the doctors to illegal acts. [...]

The inquiry was triggered by the State Comptroller's probe of allegations of experiments on human beings at Israeli hospitals, as Haaretz recently reported.

The comptroller's office is investigating suspicions that doctors conducted experiments in violation of the law and ministry directives, and that deaths during experiments had not been reported or investigated, as required by law. It is also looking into alleged experiments on elderly people, mentally ill people, and children, without obtaining all requisite permits or the full consent of all subjects.

The comptroller's office is conducting the investigation both in general and psychiatric hospitals.

Comment: This incident is not the first involving a hospital owned by the Clalit Health Maintenance Organization...

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Doctors say their names falsified
By Ran Reznick
Sun., February 20, 2005

Eight senior physicians at the Obstetrics and Gynecology department at the Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tikva whose names and signatures appear on documentation of an experimental surgical procedure performed by Prof. Dov Dicker, claim they never signed the documents and knew nothing about the experiment, which allegedly was performed in their department. The hospital is currently investigating the possibility that the experiment and documentation were entirely fabricated, and that Dicker, when acting as chair of the panel for experiments on humans, may have fabricated signatures of management, doctors and patients, as well as Health Ministry authorizations of the experiment.

The information was revealed in a probe by Haaretz about the alleged experiment carried out by Prof. Dicker, one of Israel's leading gynecologists, at Beilinson Hospital. The results of the experiment were described in an article submitted in 2004 for publication to three international medical journals, but it was rejected. [...]

Haaretz reported on Friday that in wake of the preliminary results of the hospital's probe, Prof. Dicker resigned from his position at the Clalit Health Maintenance Organization, which is one of the owners of the Rabin Medical Center, and thus resigned all his responsibilities at the associated hospitals Beilinson and Hasharon. Prof. Dicker continues to receive patients at his private clinic at the Herzliya Medical Center. During the investigation, Prof. Dicker denied the claims against him, saying they were unfounded and tendentious.

In the article Dicker wrote with three other senior physicians in his department, he presents an experiment allegedly carried out in his department in which a new hydro-laparoscopic technique was tried on patients to treat ovarian torsion. The procedure allegedly reduced the length of the intervention and reduced bleeding.

In the beginning of 2004 the article was submitted for publication to three leading medical journals but was rejected by their referees because of suspicions of falsified data. The role of the other physicians whose names appear in the article will also be investigated by the hospital administration.

Two weeks ago Prof. Dicker was given a list of question about every stage of the experiment allegedly performed at Beilinson and about the article based on the results; however, he did not respond to the questions. On Friday Prof. Dicker communicated his response: "It is clear to me who the interested parties are behind the publication of the newspaper report, and who fed the reporter with biased information. I have no intention of playing into the hands of these parties." Prof. Dicker wrote that he received authorization from the Helsinki committee to perform the experiments and that "all the data described in the article is true and accurate." [...]

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Vietnamese suit over Agent Orange dismissed
Last Updated Thu, 10 Mar 2005 18:43:44 EST
CBC News
NEW YORK - A judge dismissed a lawsuit on Thursday that accused chemical companies of committing war crimes by supplying the U.S. military with Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.

The class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of about four million Vietnamese, who said they had suffered illnesses and their land had been poisoned by Agent Orange and other herbicides sprayed by U.S. aircraft.

The suit named more than 30 companies, including Dow Chemical Co. and Monsanto Co.

U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein ruled that the defoliant and similar products could not be considered poisons banned under international rules of war – even if they had similar effects.

"There is no basis for any of the claims of plaintiffs under the domestic law of any nation or state or under any form of international law," the federal judge wrote in a 233-page ruling.

Link between illnesses, chemical not proven: judge

The suit marked the first time that Vietnamese plaintiffs had sought compensation for the effects of Agent Orange.

U.S. aircraft dropped more than 80 million litres of the chemical on the Southeast Asian country from 1962 to 1971, trying to ruin the crops and to kill the foliage that the Communist forces were using as cover.

Agent Orange contains dioxin, a highly toxic chemical that has been linked to cancer, diabetes, birth defects, organ dysfunctions and other health problems.

Thousands of U.S. war veterans receive disability benefits related to Agent Orange.

However, the judge ruled that the plaintiffs couldn't prove the herbicide caused their illnesses, noting that there hadn't been sufficient research to draw the link.

Case seen as test of president's powers

Monsanto, Dow Chemical and other companies had argued that they shouldn't be punished for producing the chemical because they were essentially under orders from the country's commander-in-chief.

The U.S. government had watched the decision closely because it was seen as a test of the president's power to authorize the use of hazardous materials during war.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs said they planned to appeal.

Agent Orange got its name because of the coloured stripes on the containers.

The toxins from it persist in soil and water in parts of the southern half of Vietnam. Tree cover has regrown in many places but the chemicals have made their way into the tissues of fish and fowl eaten by the people who live there.

Comment: So US soldiers received compensation, but the direct victims, the Vietnamese people, cannot because there isn't enough evidence. Here we see the inherent racism of US society rise its ugly head yet again. The double standard. Of course, times have changed and the US soldiers who have been victims of the use of depleted uranium in Iraq have not received compensation either. We live in petty, spiteful times where the rich do not even have to provide a cover of justice. They can flaunt their power because no one will hold them to account. The justice system is in the hands of the corporations; the Congress and elected bodies are in the hands of the corporations; the executive is in the hands of the corporations.

The argument that there is not enough evidence is a favourite of the elite. It is used when it comes to global warming, and in a different context, in Mike Ruppert's refusal to discuss what happened at the Pentagon on 9/11 prior to hijacking those who want the truth about the attacks to the "peak oil" issue.

The ruling is a green light to US war criminals to continue posioning their enemies.

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US plans to deploy troops in East Europe 2005-03-11 19:20:59
SOFIA, March 11 (Xinhua) -- The United States will form an EastEurope Brigade to be based in Bulgaria and Romania, a Bulgarian newspaper reported on Friday.

Gen. James Jones, the top commander of US and NATO forces in Europe, have told the US House of Representatives that the new brigade would be made up of 5,000 troops and several logistic teams, the Bulgarian newspaper 24 Chasa said.

Jones said he had discussed the issue of military bases with Bulgaria and Romania and had inspected possible sites during his visit to the two countries in January.

The newspaper said that the general was interested in renting an army base, two air bases, a missile launching base and a naval base from Bulgaria.

Romania and Bulgaria, which joined NATO last April, are considered particularly suited for US forces to be based because of their proximity to volatile regions in the Balkans, Caucasus and Middle East.

They also have Soviet-era facilities that could be adapted for American use, and both countries are keen to host US troops.

Bulgaria, a staunch ally of the United States in the Iraq war, sent troops to Iraq as well as to Afghanistan and Bosnia.

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January Trade Gap Higher-Than-Expected
March 11, 2005

WASHINGTON - A surge in imports of consumer goods pushed the U.S. trade deficit to a wider-than-expected $58.3 billion in January, the second biggest on record, the government said on Friday.

The Commerce Department said U.S. exports rose 0.4 percent to a record $100.8 billion, but a 1.9 percent jump in imports, which also hit a record at $159.1 billion, swamped the export gain.

Wall Street economists had expected the trade gap to widen slightly to $56.5 billion from December's originally reported $56.4 billion shortfall. December's deficit was revised to $55.7 billion. [...]

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U.S. cattle ban expected to last a year
Last Updated Thu, 10 Mar 2005 19:05:05 EST
CBC News
CALGARY - Beef industry officials in Canada say they don't expect the U.S. border to reopen until 2006, three years after a ban was put in place.

The border was expected to reopen on March 7 to live Canadian cattle under the age of 30 months but a Montana-based ranchers' group obtained a preliminary injunction blocking the move and is seeking a broad ban on Canadian beef.

Comment: US retaliation for Canada's public announcement of a refusal to participate in the missile defence program continues -- who knows what the truth is behind the scenes. The great and holy US of A speaks loudly about free trade, but when it comes down to the practical implementation, they are the first to raise duties or ban foreign products. Free trade means, in fact, the right of US capital to invest where it wills without any encroachment from local laws.

The only law in our world is "Might makes right". To live by another, you have to go elsewhere. Trouble is, to get there, you have to live by that new rule while still caught in this world.

For truth to exist in our world, each of us must live it day by day.

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Rape defendant kills judge, two others in Atlanta courtroom
March 11, 2005

ATLANTA, United States - A man on trial for rape grabbed a deputy's gun and shot dead a judge and two other officials in an Atlanta courtroom before seizing a car at gunpoint to flee, witnesses and reports said.

Police launched a huge manhunt in the Georgia city for Brian Nichols, 34, after the shooting. A large area of downtown Atlanta was cordoned off and schools were shut down.

The 1.86-meter (6-foot-1), 95-kilo (210-pound) Nichols allegedly wrestled a gun from a sheriffs deputy in the courtroom, and shot Fulton County Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes as well as a court reporter, witnesses said.

Local television reported that one of two deputies wounded in the shooting died in hospital. [...]

The suspected gunmen was said to have pistol-whipped a reporter for the Atlanta Journal Constitution to steal his car. The reporter was injured.

After the shooting, the suspect fled the eighth floor courtroom, seized the reporter's vehicle and drove off. Police indicated he may have later taken another car at gunpoint. [...]

Barnes had been clearing up some minor civil cases and was due to conduct a hearing in Nichols' rape case before the shooting started. [...]

Barnes, 64, was one of the most senior judges in Atlanta, handling high profile and controversial cases. [...]

Barnes also made national headlines when he ordered a woman accused of killing one of her seven children to undergo sterlization to prevent her from having more children. [...]

The shooting followed the execution-style slaying in Chicago of a federal judge's husband and mother earlier this month. [...]

Concern has been raised about security for judges across the country. The topic is to be discussed at a high level meeting of federal judges next week. At least three federal judges have been murdered since 1979.

Comment: "At least three" federal judges have been murdered in the past twenty-six years. Compared to the number of law enforcement officers who have died in that time, three people is an incredibly low number. The recent murders of two federal judges will no doubt be used to beef up security in an increasingly fearful America.

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Earthquake jolts Bali
11/03/2005 12:13 - (SA)
Indonesia - An earthquake measuring 5.4 on the Richter scale rattled Indonesia's resort island of Bali on Friday, but no damage or casualties were reported, seismologists said.

The undersea earthquake occurred at 05:29 GMT with its epicentre in the Indian Ocean some 25 kilometres south of the Bali capital Denpasar, the Metereology and Geophysics Agency said.

The centre was some 100 kilometre under the ocean floor, the agency said.

More than 200 000 people are believed to have died in Indonesia's Aceh province when a magnitude-9.0 earthquake unleashed a tsunami that devastated the coastline in December.

Indonesia is regularly jolted by earthquakes, caused by massive friction between tectonic plates shifting deep below the archipelago.

Comment: The tag line that Indonesia, or anywhere else in the ring of fire, is "regularly jolted by earthquakes" is meant to calm people into believing that the disasters they experience or watch on the news are to be expected. It is tectonic plate shifting as usual, nothing to get worried about. Unfortunately, the earth has been a bit more uppity than usual recently, and the 200,000 dead in Aceh province alone should be a warning that from time to time, some unusual events can arrive.

The line of official science is that disasters such as the recent tsunami are freak occurences, once every -- fill in a large number, several hundred or thousand depending upon the case -- years. Trouble is, for those who aren't asleep at the wheel, the frequency of these once in long, long time events is increasing: think of the hot summers and cold winters, the flooding in Asia, the earthquakes in Japan, the awakening volcanoes in the Pacific, five hurricanes in one year in the Carribbean and Florida, the floods in the Saguenay in Quebec and the ice storm in Montreal in the late nineties, the mud slides on the west coast of North America, and on and on.

In looking at chaotic systems, the appearance of an anomalous event such as a large earthquake doesn't mean that the chances of another such event decrease. On the contrary, such turmoil may well mean that the system is entering a phase transition, a period of greater and greater chaos prior to the jump to a new level of order.

What we are seeing in the continuous flow of reports of anomalous weather and geological events from every region of the globe may well be signs that we have entered such a period of phase transition. And the nature and specifics of the chaos that we will face while we make the shift?

Time will tell.

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Fifteen dead, 10 missing in China snowstorms
BEIJING (AFP) Mar 11, 2005
Heavy snow and rain in southwest China's Yunnan province has left at least 15 people dead and 10 missing, state media reported Friday.

Blizzards and rainstorms have ravaged the Lisu Autonomous Prefecture since the weekend, with snow falls in mountain areas of up to one metre (3.3 feet) deep, Xinhua news agency said.

Communication and power lines have been cut and houses and farmland ruined.

The local government has rushed tons of food and other relief supplies to disaster-affected people, the agency said.

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Home State of Rainy Seattle Declares Drought
March 11, 2005

SEATTLE - With snowpacks at a quarter of normal levels and sunny, warm days well ahead of the summer months, the home state of the "rainy city" of Seattle declared a drought emergency on Thursday.

Washington state Gov. Christine Gregoire authorized the statewide drought emergency, the first since 2001, after unusually low winter snowfalls in the Cascades left rivers on both sides of the mountain range flowing at record-low levels.

Gregoire said in a statement it was "very likely that all areas of our state will experience at least some level of drought this year."

She also told the state's National Guard to get ready to fight wildfires, and will ask the legislature to approve an additional $8.2 million to deal with the drought.

Officials from the state's Department of Ecology said this year's drought could be worst since 1977, the driest year on record.

Similar conditions were affecting other northwestern states, including Idaho, Montana and Oregon.

Although Seattle is known as the "rainy city" with its image of gray skies and Gore-tex wearers, official records put the city's annual average rainfall at 37 inches, below New York City's 47 inches (1,200 mm), according to official records.

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'Last Supper' Fashion Poster Banned in Paris
March 11, 2005

PARIS - A French fashion poster showing women imitating Jesus Christ and his apostles in the Leonardo da Vinci painting "The Last Supper" has been banned in Paris, the second time in a month it has been outlawed.

The Italian city of Milan banned the same poster early in February as a parody of a key event in Christian history. The Last Supper depicts Christ's farewell to his disciples. [...]

The poster shows women in chic casual clothes seated at a table in postures mimicking da Vinci's famous painting, which he finished in 1497 in a Milan convent. To the right of the Christ figure in the poster, a woman embraces a shirtless man in jeans.

The French complaint against the poster was brought by an association called Beliefs and Freedoms, which was created by the French bishops' conference in 1996.

The Catholic daily La Croix quoted the association's lawyer as saying the poster did "great injury to Catholics because it represents the Last Supper in denigrating conditions."

Defense lawyers argued the poster was based on a painting and not on the Bible, and asked why the Church took legal action against it while doing nothing against the best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code by U.S. author Dan Brown.

The international best-seller, set mostly in Paris, argues -- against Christian teaching -- that Jesus was married to his follower Mary Magdelene and the Church had conspired for centuries to hide this. [...]

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UFO captured on film hovering high in city sky
Thursday, 10 March 2005

"A black triangular object that made a number of movements and then speared off out of sight behind the trees."

That's how police have described footage claimed to be of an unidentified flying object (UFO) that was reported to police, and shot on a video camera, by a Dubbo family last Sunday night.

"I've never seen anything like it," Suzanne Fuller said.

"It was hovering there for five hours, and it was completely silent."

The police arrived to the scene at 8pm, viewed the videotape, and filed an official report to Air Services Australia (ASA), a federal airways monitoring bureau.

"It looked like a bird, but much larger, the size of a car, with a flat top and a deeper shape at the bottom."

Mrs Fuller also put a call into the UFO Researchers Independent Network, and described what they had seen to Moira McGhee.

"They said it looked about 40 to 50 miles away to the south-east," she said.

She said the family saw something between 7pm and 8.15pm. At first a male family member saw what he described to Ms McGhee as something "that looked like a stationary chopper".

"Now remember, it was still daylight at 7pm," she said.

Mrs Fuller said that together with her husband, and three daughters, they continued watching until after 11pm.

"Once the sun set, there was a light like from a lighthouse flashing on and off, every couple of seconds," she said.

"The police were here, and they said they had never seen anything like it before."

"Every now and then, it would move to the left again, and then back to the same spot again."

Duty Officer Inspector Alan Cusack commended the family for reporting the incident.

"We take these calls on their merit," he said.

"The family were genuine in their concern, they called the police and they did the right thing.

"We have proceeded in investigating the matter by referring the incident to the ASA and sending them the videotape for inspection."

Inspector Cusack said the ASA told police that there were "numerous reports of objects flying in the southern regions of Australia".

The sighting is not the first one in Dubbo. In 2002 a woman reported seeing an object "as large as a house" hovering in the sky about 500 metres off the ground, and allegedly moving and changing colours.

Ms McGhee said another sighting 10 years ago had a number of people in Dubbo report seeing an object "as big as a supermarket" in the sky.

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Humanoids With Attitude

Japan Embraces New Generation of Robots
By Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, March 11, 2005; Page A01

TOKYO -- Ms. Saya, a perky receptionist in a smart canary-yellow suit, beamed a smile from behind the "May I Help You?" sign on her desk, offering greetings and answering questions posed by visitors at a local university. But when she failed to welcome a workman who had just walked by, a professor stormed up to Saya and dished out a harsh reprimand.

"You're so stupid!" said the professor, Hiroshi Kobayashi, towering over her desk.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi with a robotic baby harp seal, developed with government grants. The device, which responds to sound and touch, is being used to comfort nursing home residents.

"Eh?" she responded, her face wrinkling into a scowl. "I tell you, I am not stupid!"

Truth is, Saya isn't even human. But in a country where robots are changing the way people live, work, play and even love, that doesn't stop Saya the cyber-receptionist from defending herself from men who are out of line. With voice recognition technology allowing 700 verbal responses and an almost infinite number of facial expressions from joy to despair, surprise to rage, Saya may not be biological -- but she is nobody's fool. [...]

Though perhaps years away in the United States, this long-awaited, as-seen-on-TV world -- think "The Jetsons" or "Blade Runner" -- is already unfolding in Japan, with robots now used as receptionists, night watchmen, hospital workers, guides, pets and more. [...]

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Pay Your Taxes, Pa-Rum-Pum-Pum-Pum...
Fri Mar 11, 8:34 AM ET

HYDERABAD, India - Tax defaulters in southern India are being forced to face the music after city authorities hired drummers to play non-stop outside their homes until they pay up.

After many residents ignored repeated demands to settle overdue property taxes, authorities in a city in Andhra Pradesh state have sent 20 groups of drummers to play outside offenders' houses for the past week.

"They put up a spectacle outside the houses of defaulters, draw them out and explain their dues to them and the need to clear it at the earliest," said T.S.R. Anjaneyulu, municipal commissioner of Rajahmundry city.

"They don't stop until people agree to clear the dues."

The city, owed a total of 50 million rupees ($1.15 million), had been at its wits' end after sops like waiving interest and penalties had failed to recover the arrears.

The new method seems to be working, though. One week of incessant drumming has cleared 18 percent of the backlog.

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