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Fundamentalist Christianity and Torture: A Long and 'FruitFul' Relationship

In U.S. Report, Brutal Details of 2 Afghan Inmates' Deaths
NY Times

Even as the young Afghan man was dying before them, his American jailers continued to torment him.

The prisoner, a slight, 22-year-old taxi driver known only as Dilawar, was hauled from his cell at the detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, at around 2 a.m. to answer questions about a rocket attack on an American base. When he arrived in the interrogation room, an interpreter who was present said, his legs were bouncing uncontrollably in the plastic chair and his hands were numb. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days.

Mr. Dilawar asked for a drink of water, and one of the two interrogators, Specialist Joshua R. Claus, 21, picked up a large plastic bottle. But first he punched a hole in the bottom, the interpreter said, so as the prisoner fumbled weakly with the cap, the water poured out over his orange prison scrubs. The soldier then grabbed the bottle back and began squirting the water forcefully into Mr. Dilawar's face.

"Come on, drink!" the interpreter said Specialist Claus had shouted, as the prisoner gagged on the spray. "Drink!"

At the interrogators' behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.

"Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying.

Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen. It would be many months before Army investigators learned a final horrific detail: Most of the interrogators had believed Mr. Dilawar was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time.

The story of Mr. Dilawar's brutal death at the Bagram Collection Point - and that of another detainee, Habibullah, who died there six days earlier in December 2002 - emerge from a nearly 2,000-page confidential file of the Army's criminal investigation into the case, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times.

Like a narrative counterpart to the digital images from Abu Ghraib, the Bagram file depicts young, poorly trained soldiers in repeated incidents of abuse. The harsh treatment, which has resulted in criminal charges against seven soldiers, went well beyond the two deaths.

In some instances, testimony shows, it was directed or carried out by interrogators to extract information. In others, it was punishment meted out by military police guards. Sometimes, the torment seems to have been driven by little more than boredom or cruelty, or both.

In sworn statements to Army investigators, soldiers describe one female interrogator with a taste for humiliation stepping on the neck of one prostrate detainee and kicking another in the genitals. They tell of a shackled prisoner being forced to roll back and forth on the floor of a cell, kissing the boots of his two interrogators as he went. Yet another prisoner is made to pick plastic bottle caps out of a drum mixed with excrement and water as part of a strategy to soften him up for questioning.

The Times obtained a copy of the file from a person involved in the investigation who was critical of the methods used at Bagram and the military's response to the deaths.

Although incidents of prisoner abuse at Bagram in 2002, including some details of the two men's deaths, have been previously reported, American officials have characterized them as isolated problems that were thoroughly investigated. And many of the officers and soldiers interviewed in the Dilawar investigation said the large majority of detainees at Bagram were compliant and reasonably well treated.

"What we have learned through the course of all these investigations is that there were people who clearly violated anyone's standard for humane treatment," said the Pentagon's chief spokesman, Larry Di Rita. "We're finding some cases that were not close calls."

Yet the Bagram file includes ample testimony that harsh treatment by some interrogators was routine and that guards could strike shackled detainees with virtual impunity. Prisoners considered important or troublesome were also handcuffed and chained to the ceilings and doors of their cells, sometimes for long periods, an action Army prosecutors recently classified as criminal assault.

Some of the mistreatment was quite obvious, the file suggests. Senior officers frequently toured the detention center, and several of them acknowledged seeing prisoners chained up for punishment or to deprive them of sleep. Shortly before the two deaths, observers from the International Committee of the Red Cross specifically complained to the military authorities at Bagram about the shackling of prisoners in "fixed positions," documents show.

Even though military investigators learned soon after Mr. Dilawar's death that he had been abused by at least two interrogators, the Army's criminal inquiry moved slowly. Meanwhile, many of the Bagram interrogators, led by the same operations officer, Capt. Carolyn A. Wood, were redeployed to Iraq and in July 2003 took charge of interrogations at the Abu Ghraib prison. According to a high-level Army inquiry last year, Captain Wood applied techniques there that were "remarkably similar" to those used at Bagram.

Last October, the Army's Criminal Investigation Command concluded that there was probable cause to charge 27 officers and enlisted personnel with criminal offenses in the Dilawar case ranging from dereliction of duty to maiming and involuntary manslaughter. Fifteen of the same soldiers were also cited for probable criminal responsibility in the Habibullah case.

So far, only the seven soldiers have been charged, including four last week. No one has been convicted in either death. Two Army interrogators were also reprimanded, a military spokesman said. Most of those who could still face legal action have denied wrongdoing, either in statements to investigators or in comments to a reporter.

"The whole situation is unfair," Sgt. Selena M. Salcedo, a former Bagram interrogator who was charged with assaulting Mr. Dilawar, dereliction of duty and lying to investigators, said in a telephone interview. "It's all going to come out when everything is said and done."

With most of the legal action pending, the story of abuses at Bagram remains incomplete. But documents and interviews reveal a striking disparity between the findings of Army investigators and what military officials said in the aftermath of the deaths.

Military spokesmen maintained that both men had died of natural causes, even after military coroners had ruled the deaths homicides. Two months after those autopsies, the American commander in Afghanistan, then-Lt. Gen. Daniel K. McNeill, said he had no indication that abuse by soldiers had contributed to the two deaths. The methods used at Bagram, he said, were "in accordance with what is generally accepted as interrogation techniques."

The Interrogators

In the summer of 2002, the military detention center at Bagram, about 40 miles north of Kabul, stood as a hulking reminder of the Americans' improvised hold over Afghanistan.

Built by the Soviets as an aircraft machine shop for the operations base they established after their intervention in the country in 1979, the building had survived the ensuing wars as a battered relic - a long, squat, concrete block with rusted metal sheets where the windows had once been.

Retrofitted with five large wire pens and a half dozen plywood isolation cells, the building became the Bagram Collection Point, a clearinghouse for prisoners captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The B.C.P., as soldiers called it, typically held between 40 and 80 detainees while they were interrogated and screened for possible shipment to the Pentagon's longer-term detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The new interrogation unit that arrived in July 2002 had been improvised as well. Captain Wood, then a 32-year-old lieutenant, came with 13 soldiers from the 525th Military Intelligence Brigade at Fort Bragg, N.C.; six Arabic-speaking reservists were added from the Utah National Guard.

Part of the new group, which was consolidated under Company A of the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion, was made up of counterintelligence specialists with no background in interrogation. Only two of the soldiers had ever questioned actual prisoners.

What specialized training the unit received came on the job, in sessions with two interrogators who had worked in the prison for a few months. "There was nothing that prepared us for running an interrogation operation" like the one at Bagram, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the interrogators, Staff Sgt. Steven W. Loring, later told investigators.

Nor were the rules of engagement very clear. The platoon had the standard interrogations guide, Army Field Manual 34-52, and an order from the secretary of defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld, to treat prisoners "humanely," and when possible, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. But with President Bush's final determination in February 2002 that the Conventions did not apply to the conflict with Al Qaeda and that Taliban fighters would not be accorded the rights of prisoners of war, the interrogators believed they "could deviate slightly from the rules," said one of the Utah reservists, Sgt. James A. Leahy. [...]

Comment: Support our troops! Yes indeed. America's sons and daughters, raping and torturing Iraqi children, beating innocent Iraqi and Afghani men and women to death, forced and abusive rectal examinations, ordering innocent prisoners to dig for hours in human feces, hanging innocents to ceilings and administering electric shocks to their genitals, tying a weak and frail 22 year old Afghan taxi driver to the ceiling of his cell and periodically beating him until he dies - and all of it sanctioned, or rather ordered, by the Commander in Chief himself. This is the nature of America, one nation under "god" indeed.

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One Nation Under God

I pledge allegiance to the flag, of the United States of America and the Republic for which it stands. ONE NATION UNDER GOD, indivisible with liberty and justice for all!

~ Pledge of Allegiance

"One nation under God". Contained in this oft-repeated, slavishy-hypnotizing and semantically-loaded phrase are two of the most pervasive and insidious programs that infect the minds of most American citizens, as well as pretty much every other person around the globe, since the day we were born.

Nationality and Religion; the currency of politicians, priests and psychopaths; the shackles which mentally bind us to limiting and divisive belief systems. They are conditioned programs, largely responsible for the madness and chaos which has become the reality of our world.

"For God and Country". That which separates"us" from "them". That which creates the "other", our enemies, lesser, sub-human, expendable. These ideas which drive us to maim, rape, torture and kill. Filled with the self-righteousness of our own delusional narcissism, we inflict unspeakable horrors upon our brethren, because we only see differences based on illusions and lies. We are blind to the truth.

The cycle continues, passed on from generation to generation. The blood of our ancestors that once stained the battlefield now flows in our veins. And above it all, the power-brokers lord over us, unafflicted by reason, empathy and conscience. They gleefully plant these ideas of God and Country in our minds, our hearts, our culture. There is no escape from the lies of this world.

Each of us has a choice to make.

To continue to believe in the lies of Nationality and Religion, to believe that we are somehow "special" because we were born in a certain place, or that our God's skin is a different colour than our enemies' God's skin. To continue to participate in the horrors of this third density reality with it's physical trappings of fear, sex and hunger.

Or to stop. To SEE what is real. That our enemy lives within us, inside our minds, in our programs and belief systems. This is the choice that we all must make, the choice that separates the wheat from the chaff. The choice to throw off the chains of illusion and see what's real.

To continue to act as if we are somehow special or "chosen" by virtue of where we live or what we believe is to propagate the lies of nationality and religion and ultimately add to the horror and chaos so prevalent in the world today.

To sit on the fence is no choice at all.

So, which side are you on?

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The Scourge of Nationalism
Howard Zinn

I cannot get out of my mind the recent news photos of ordinary Americans sitting on chairs, guns on laps, standing unofficial guard on the Arizona border, to make sure no Mexicans cross over into the United States. There was something horrifying in the realization that, in this twenty-first century of what we call "civilization," we have carved up what we claim is one world into 200 artificially created entities we call "nations" and armed to apprehend or kill anyone who crosses a boundary.

Is not nationalism--that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder--one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred? These ways of thinking--cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on--have been useful to those in power, and deadly for those out of power.

National spirit can be benign in a country that is small and lacking both in military power and a hunger for expansion (Switzerland, Norway, Costa Rica, and many more). But in a nation like ours--huge, possessing thousands of weapons of mass destruction--what might have been harmless pride becomes an arrogant nationalism dangerous to others and to ourselves.

Our citizenry has been brought up to see our nation as different from others, an exception in the world, uniquely moral, expanding into other lands in order to bring civilization, liberty, democracy.

That self-deception started early. When the first English settlers moved into Indian land in Massachusetts Bay and were resisted, the violence escalated into war with the Pequot Indians. The killing of Indians was seen as approved by God, the taking of land as commanded by the Bible. The Puritans cited one of the Psalms, which says: "Ask of me, and I shall give thee, the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the Earth for thy possession."

When the English set fire to a Pequot village and massacred men, women, and children, the Puritan theologian Cotton Mather said: "It was supposed that no less than 600 Pequot souls were brought down to hell that day."

It was our "Manifest Destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence," an American journalist declared on the eve of the Mexican War. After the invasion of Mexico began, the New York Herald announced: "We believe it is a part of our destiny to civilize that beautiful country."

It was always supposedly for benign purposes that our country went to war. We invaded Cuba in 1898 to liberate the Cubans, and went to war in the Philippines shortly after, as President McKinley put it, "to civilize and Christianize" the Filipino people.

As our armies were committing massacres in the Philippines (at least 600,000 Filipinos died in a few years of conflict), Elihu Root, our Secretary of War, was saying: "The American soldier is different from all other soldiers of all other countries since the war began. He is the advance guard of liberty and justice, of law and order, and of peace and happiness."

Nationalism is given a special virulence when it is blessed by Providence. Today we have a President, invading two countries in four years, who believes he gets messages from God. Our culture is permeated by a Christian fundamentalism as poisonous as that of Cotton Mather. It permits the mass murder of "the other" with the same confidence as it accepts the death penalty for individuals convicted of crimes. A Supreme Court justice, Antonin Scalia, told an audience at the University of Chicago Divinity School, speaking of capital punishment: "For the believing Christian, death is no big deal."

How many times have we heard Bush and Rumsfeld talk to the troops in Iraq, victims themselves, but also perpetrators of the deaths of thousands of Iraqis, telling them that if they die, if they return without arms or legs, or blinded, it is for "liberty," for "democracy"?

Nationalist super-patriotism is not confined to Republicans. When Richard Hofstadter analyzed American presidents in his book The American Political Tradition, he found that Democratic leaders as well as Republicans, liberals as well as conservatives, invaded other countries, sought to expand U.S. power across the globe.

Liberal imperialists have been among the most fervent of expansionists, more effective in their claim to moral rectitude precisely because they are liberal on issues other than foreign policy. Theodore Roosevelt, a lover of war, and an enthusiastic supporter of the war in Spain and the conquest of the Philippines, is still seen as a Progressive because he supported certain domestic reforms and was concerned with the national environment. Indeed, he ran as President on the Progressive ticket in 1912.

Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, was the epitome of the liberal apologist for violent actions abroad. In April of 1914, he ordered the bombardment of the Mexican coast, and the occupation of the city of Vera Cruz, in retaliation for the arrest of several U.S. sailors. He sent Marines into Haiti in 1915, killing thousands of Haitians who resisted, beginning a long military occupation of that tiny country. He sent Marines to occupy the Dominican Republic in 1916. And, after running in 1916 on a platform of peace, he brought the nation into the slaughter that was taking place in Europe in World War I, saying it was a war to "make the world safe for democracy."

In our time, it was the liberal Bill Clinton who sent bombers over Baghdad as soon as he came into office, who first raised the specter of "weapons of mass destruction" as a justification for a series of bombing attacks on Iraq. Liberals today criticize George Bush's unilateralism. But it was Clinton's Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who told the United Nations Security Council that the U.S. would act "multilaterally when we can, unilaterally when we must."

One of the effects of nationalist thinking is a loss of a sense of proportion. The killing of 2,300 people at Pearl Harbor becomes the justification for killing 240,000 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The killing of 3,000 people on September 11 becomes the justification for killing tens of thousands of people in Afghanistan and Iraq.

What makes our nation immune from the normal standards of human decency?

Surely, we must renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed.

We need to assert our allegiance to the human race, and not to any one nation. We need to refute the idea that our nation is different from, morally superior to, the other imperial powers of world history.
The poets and artists among us seem to have a clearer understanding of the limits of nationalism.

Langston Hughes (no wonder he was called before the Committee on Un-American Activities) addressed his country as follows:

You really haven't been a virgin for so long
It's ludicrous to keep up the pretext . . .
You've slept with all the big powers
In military uniforms
And you've taken the sweet life
Of all the little brown fellows . . .
Being one of the world's big vampires
Why don't you come out and say so
Like Japan, and England, and France
And all the other nymphomaniacs of power.

Henry David Thoreau, provoked by the war in Mexico and the nationalist fervor it produced, wrote: "Nations! What are nations? . . . Like insects, they swarm. The historian strives in vain to make them memorable." In our time, Kurt Vonnegut (Cat's Cradle) places nations among those unnatural abstractions he calls granfalloons, which he defines as "a proud and meaningless association of human beings."

There have always been men and women in this country who have insisted that universal standards of decent human conduct apply to our nation as to others. That insistence continues today and reaches out to people all over the world. It lets them know, like the balloons sent over the countryside by the Paris Commune in 1871, that "our interests are the same."

Comment: Howard's Zinn's bestselling novel "A People's History of the United States" is one of many titles available for loan on our Cassiopaea Library.

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Red Cross told U.S. of Koran incidents
By Cam Simpson and Mark Silva
Washington Bureau
Published May 19, 2005

WASHINGTON -- The International Committee of the Red Cross documented what it called credible information about U.S. personnel disrespecting or mishandling Korans at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and pointed it out to the Pentagon in confidential reports during 2002 and early 2003, an ICRC spokesman said Wednesday.

Representatives of the ICRC, who have played a key role in investigating abuse allegations at the facility in Cuba and other U.S. military prisons, never witnessed such incidents firsthand during on-site visits, said Simon Schorno, an ICRC spokesman in Washington.

But ICRC delegates, who have been granted access to the secretive camp since January 2002, gathered and corroborated enough similar, independent reports from detainees to raise the issue multiple times with Guantanamo commanders and with Pentagon officials, Schorno said in an interview Wednesday.

Following the ICRC's reports, the Defense Department command in Guantanamo issued almost three pages of detailed, written guidelines for treatment of Korans. Schorno said ICRC representatives did not receive any other complaints or document similar incidents following the issuance of the guidelines on Jan. 19, 2003.

The issue of how Korans are handled by American personnel guarding Muslim detainees moved into the spotlight after protests in Muslim nations, including deadly riots in Afghanistan, that followed a now-retracted report in Newsweek magazine. That story said U.S. investigators had confirmed that interrogators had flushed a Koran down a toilet.

The Koran is Islam's holiest book, and mistreating it is seen as an offense against God.

Following the firestorm over the report and the riots, the ICRC declined Wednesday to discuss what kind of alleged incidents were involved, how many there were or how often it reported them to American officials prior to the release of the 2003 Koran guidelines.

"We don't want to comment specifically on specific instances of desecration, only on the general level of how the Koran was disrespected," Schorno said.

Schorno did say, however, that there were "multiple" instances involved and that the ICRC made confidential reports about such incidents "multiple" times to Guantanamo and Pentagon officials.

In addition to the retracted Newsweek story, senior Bush administration officials have repeatedly downplayed other reports regarding alleged abuses of the Koran at Guantanamo, largely dismissing them because they came from current or former detainees.

Pentagon confirms reports

Asked about the ICRC's confidential reports Wednesday night, Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, confirmed their existence but sought to downplay the seriousness of their content. He said they were forwarded "on rare occasions" and called them "detainee allegations which they [the ICRC] could not corroborate."

But that is not how Schorno, the ICRC spokesman, portrayed the reports.

"All information we received were corroborated allegations," he said, adding, "We certainly corroborated mentions of the events by detainees themselves."

`Not just one person'

Schorno also said: "Obviously, it is not just one person telling us something happened and we just fire up. We take it very seriously, and very carefully, and document everything in our confidential reports."

It was not clear whether the ICRC's corroboration went beyond statements made independently by detainees. [...]

Comment: "Multiple instances" of mistreatment of the sacred Koran by soldiers in Guantanamo Bay reported to the Pentagon brass "multiple times" - further proof that the degradation and dehumanisation of Muslim prisoners by American interrogators is deliberate, systematic and ongoing. The so-called "retraction" by Newsweek was likely offered as damage control for consumption by the sleeping American populace. As the photos of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and reports like the next story show, the reality is that humiliating Muslim detainees is standard operating procedure for the American military.

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HRW: US Islam abuse genuine
Thursday 19 May 2005, 16:06 Makka Time, 13:06 GMT - Reuters

The row over a retracted Newsweek story that US interrogators at Guantanamo Bay desecrated the Quran is overshadowing genuine incidents of religious humiliation, according to Human Rights Watch. "Around the world, the United States has been humiliating Muslim detainees by offending their religious beliefs," said Reed Brody, special counsel for the New York-based watchdog on Wednesday.

Newsweek on Monday retracted an article quoting an unidentified US official as saying that a probe into allegations of prisoner abuse at Guantanamo found that interrogators had thrown a Quran into a toilet to rattle Muslim prisoners.

The weekly magazine said the sole anonymous source had "backed away" from the account.

Brody said condemnation of the Newsweek article, which sparked anti-US protests in Afghanistan and other countries that left at least 14 dead, had been so vocal as to drown out documented complaints of similar mistreatment.

Wrong investigation?

He said Human Rights Watch (HRW) had heard allegations that US interrogators disrespected the Quran from several former detainees, including three Briton and a Russian.

And Erik Saar, a former Army translator at Guantanamo, has said that guards routinely tossed the Quran on the ground, Brody said. Saar also described a female interrogator wiping a detainee with what the prisoner was made to believe was menstrual blood.

HRW argued that the Newsweek story would not have resonated had it not been for "extensive" US abuse of Muslim detainees and the government's failure to fully investigate all of those implicated.

"If the United States is to repair the public relations damage caused by its mistreatment of detainees, it needs to investigate those who ordered or condoned this abuse, not attack those who have tried to report on it," said Brody.

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Woman Says Quran Came in Mail Desecrated
Associated Press Writer
Published May 18, 2005, 10:05 PM CDT

LOS ANGELES -- A Muslim woman who said she ordered a Quran through only to find profanity and religious slurs written inside asked Wednesday for an apology and a full investigation by the online retailer.

Azza Basarudin, 30, said she received the Quran by mail on May 5 after ordering it through a used books division of that allows customers to order directly from third-party sellers approved by the company.

When she opened the Quaran, Basarudin said she found profanity and the phrase "Death to all Muslims" written in thick black marker on the otherwise-blank first page.

"I dropped the book because I didn't know what to do," she said at a news conference at the Islamic Center of Southern California.

Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said his organization wants a public apology and investigation from, as well as the firing of those responsible for mailing the desecrated book.

Patty Smith, a spokeswoman for the Seattle-based book retailer, said the Quran was purchased directly from Bellwether Books, a small book resale company in McKeesport, Pa., through the "Marketplace" section of Amazon's Web site.

"This was not our inventory, it was nowhere in our order or fulfillment process," she said. "It was a used book purchased through a third party."

Richard Roberts, owner of Bellwether, said he doubts the book was defaced by his employees. The company buys used books at bargain prices from individuals, other book stores and libraries and then resells them through and other outlets.

He said before this incident, his six employees gave each book a cursory check before shipping and didn't look inside the pages.

Roberts said Bellwether has since instituted a more stringent quality control check. Bellwether is also suspended indefinitely from selling Qurans through, Smith said.

Bellwether apologized to Basarudin by e-mail and offered to replace the book. also apologized, reimbursed her for the Quran's cost and mailed Basarudin a gift certificate, Smith said.

Comment: The sad truth about such incidents of blind sectarianism is that, when questioned about their motivations, the perpetrator(s) is generally unable to give a coherent answer, other than to enunciate some crude stereotype or generalisation that has little or no basis in reality. Such indiscriminate acts of hatred are generated by a visceral sense of fear that has been instilled in many Americans as a direct result of Bush's bogus "war on terrorism". Make no mistake about it: while members of the Bush administration may publicly condemn such acts, in reality they are one of the foreseen 'benefits' of the grand deception that was 9/11 and the grand lie that is the ongoing "war on terror". For a fascist government like that in the US, perhaps their most important goal is to control the minds of the population. Left to their own devices, there exists the distinct possibility that ordinary Americans would begin to see through their government. An independent mind is a dangerous thing from the point of view of a regime like the one currently installed in the White House. The logical solution, then, is for the regime to find some way to shepherd the thoughts of the American citizenry. To this end, nothing works better than fear, particularly fear that is manufactured. In such a case, there is no limit to the number and level or longevity of the threats that one can conjure.

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Environmental, animal-protection extremists top U.S. terror threat: FBI
May 18, 2005

WASHINGTON (AP) - Environmental and animal-protection activists who have turned to arson and explosives are the top U.S. domestic terrorism threat, an FBI official told a Senate committee.

Some of the activists also target companies abroad with whose policies they disagree. Groups such as the Animal Liberation Front, the Earth Liberation Front and the Britain-based SHAC, or Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, are "way out in front" in terms of damage and number of crimes, said John Lewis, the FBI's deputy assistant director for counter-terrorism.

"There is nothing else going on in this country over the last several years that is racking up the high number of violent crimes and terrorist actions," Lewis said.

Animal Liberation Front said on its website its small, autonomous groups of people take "direct action" against animal abuse by rescuing animals and causing financial loss to animal exploiters, usually through damage and destruction of property. Earth Liberation Front is an underground movement with no public leadership, membership or spokesperson.

SHAC describes itself as a worldwide campaign that began in 1999 to rescue animals from research labs and shut down the businesses that rely on their use. It said it "does not encourage or incite illegal activity."

Lewis said the FBI made its conclusions after analyzing all types of cases and comparing the groups with "right-wing extremists, KKK, anti-abortion groups and the like."

He said most animal-Protection and eco-extremists so far have refrained from violence targeting human life.

"The FBI has observed troubling signs that this is changing. We have seen an escalation in violent rhetoric and tactics," he told the Senate environment and public works committee.

"Attacks are also growing in frequency and size."

Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the panel's chairman, said he hoped to examine more closely how the groups raise money and communications support from "mainstream activists," not directly blamed for the violence, who are affiliated with tax-exempt organizations.

"Just like al-Qaida or any other terrorist organization, ELF and ALF cannot accomplish their goals without money, membership and the media," Inhofe said.

The FBI said 35 of its offices have 150 open investigations and activists are claiming responsibility for 1,200 crimes between 1990 and mid-2004.

Investigators cite examples of people using arson, bombings, theft, release of animals, vandalism, telephone harassment, letters rigged with razor blades and office takeovers.

Such tactics have been used in what officials call "direct action" campaigns to disrupt university research labs, restaurants, fur farms and logging operations. Newer targets include SUV dealerships and new home developments as signs of urban sprawl.

Officials said the incidents have caused more than $110 million in damage. The biggest so far was an arson fire at a five-storey condominium under construction in San Diego, Calif., in August 2003 that caused $50 million in damage.

Comment: By identifying environmental and animal-rights activists as the top terrorist threat in the U.S., the government is bringing its war on terror back home to American soil. Anyone remotely critical of government policies can now be falsely associated with radical groups like PETA, ELF and SHAC, and can expect to bear the full brunt of the newly expanded Patriot Act. Ordinary, freedom-loving American citizens would be wise to follow how "enemy combatants" from foreign countries are treated, for soon the same treatment will be meted out to them. Don't forget that the precedent has already been set by the Bush administration with the detention of US citizens like Jose Padilla.

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The Secret Raids of Alberto Gonzales
Operation Falcon: 10,000 Swept Up
May 18, 2005

There's only one way to make sure that the machinery of state-terror is operating at maximum efficiency; flip on the switch and let er rip. That was thinking behind last month's massive roundup of 10,000 American citizens in what was aptly-christened Operation Falcon.

Operation Falcon was a massive clandestine dragnet that involved hundreds of state, federal and local law-enforcement agencies during the week of April 4 to April 10, 2005. It was the largest criminal-sweep in the nation's history and was brainchild of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and his counterpart in the US Marshal's office, (Director) Ben Reyna.

The secret-raids "produced the largest number of arrests ever recorded during a single initiative," Reyna boasted.

The details are mind-boggling. Over 960 agencies (state, local and federal) were directly involved acting on 13,800 felony warrants and spending nearly $900,000 on the operation. As the conservative Washington Times noted, "The sweep was a virtual clearinghouse for warrants on drug, gang, gun and sex-offender suspects nationwide."

It's clear that the Marshal's office knew where the vast majority of the suspects were or they never would have had such stunning success rounding them up; which, of course, begs the question, "Why did they wait to apprehend alleged' murderers, when they already knew where they were hiding?"

According to the press releases, which celebrated the dazzling display of law enforcement, the raids netted "162 accused or convicted of murder, 638 wanted for armed robbery, 553 wanted for rape or sexual assault, 154 gang members and 106 unregistered sex offenders." (CNN)

Okay, that's roughly 1,000 criminals; what about the other 9,000? Traffic tickets, late child-support payments, jay-walking???

"We're really amazed. We had no idea we'd apprehend more than 10,000 bad guys," said one federal law enforcement official who asked not to be identified. "We didn't know what to expect, but the response from law enforcement personnel everywhere was truly amazing." (CNN)

The media's approbation does little to disguise the real purpose of Operation Falcon. (which is an acronym for "Federal and Local Cops Organized Nationally.")

The Bush administration is sharpening its talons for the inevitable difficulties it expects to face as a result of its disastrous policies. With each regressive initiative, the governing cabal seems to get increasingly paranoid, anticipating an outburst of public rage. Now, they're orchestrating massive round-ups of minor crooks to make sure that every cog and gear in the apparatus of state repression is lubricated and ready to go.

Rest assured that Attorney General Gonzales has absolutely no interest in the petty offenders that were netted in this extraordinary crackdown. His action is just another indication that the noose is tightening around the neck of the American public and that the Bush team is fully prepared for any unpleasant eventualities. They want to make sure that everyone knows that they're ready when its time to thin out the ranks of mutinous citizens.

(Note: to date, the US Marshall's office has issued no public statement to the press as to whether the 10,000 people arrested in operation Falcon have been processed or released.)

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Plan Would Broaden F.B.I.'s Terror Role
Published: May 19, 2005

WASHINGTON, May 18 - The Bush administration and Senate Republican leaders are pushing a plan that would significantly expand the F.B.I.'s power to demand business records in terror investigations without obtaining approval from a judge, officials said on Wednesday.

The proposal, which is likely to be considered next week in a closed session of the Senate intelligence committee, would allow federal investigators to subpoena records from businesses and other institutions without a judge's sign-off if they declared that the material was needed as part of a foreign intelligence investigation.

The proposal, part of a broader plan to extend antiterrorism powers under the law known as the USA Patriot Act, was concluded in recent days by Republican leaders on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in consultation with the Bush administration, Congressional officials said.

Administration and Congressional officials who support the idea said the proposal would give the F.B.I. a much-needed tool to track leads in terrorism and espionage investigations that would be quicker and less cumbersome than existing methods. They pointed out that the administrative subpoena power being sought for the F.B.I. in terror cases was already in use in more than 300 other types of crimes, including health care fraud, child exploitation, racketeering and drug trafficking.

"Why not provide that same tool to national security investigators as well?" asked an aide to the intelligence committee who was involved in the proposal, speaking on condition of anonymity because the issue will be discussed at a closed meeting scheduled for May 26. "There wasn't really a whole lot of cogent argument against it."

But word of the proposal on Wednesday generated immediate protests from civil rights advocates, who said that it would give the F.B.I. virtually unchecked authority in terror investigations, and the plan is likely to intensify the growing debate in Congress over the balance between fighting terrorism and protecting privacy rights.

"This is a dramatic expansion of the federal government's power," said Lisa Graves, senior counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington. "It's really a power grab by the administration for the F.B.I. to secretly demand medical records, tax records, gun purchase records and all sorts of other material if they deem it relevant to an intelligence investigation."

Kevin Madden, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said department officials welcomed the intelligence committee's efforts "to support provisions that enhance law enforcement's ability to combat terrorism effectively and are particularly heartened by their support for the USA Patriot Act." [...]

One provision of the law that has generated perhaps more criticism than any other is Section 215, derided by critics as the "library records" provision. It allows the F.B.I. to go to a secret intelligence court to demand access to material from businesses and other institutions as part of intelligence investigations.

The Justice Department said in a newly declassified report last month that it had used the power 35 times since late 2003 to gain information on apartment leasing, driver's licenses, financial records and other data in intelligence investigations. But it stressed that it had not used the authority to date to demand records from libraries or bookstores or to get information related to medical or gun records - all areas of concern to critics. [...]

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House committee approves funding restoration of WWII camps
Associated Press
Wed, May. 18, 2005

WASHINGTON - The House Resources Committee on Wednesday approved spending $38 million to restore and preserve internment camps used to hold Japanese-Americans during World War II.

The legislation by Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Bakersfield, was approved on a voice vote and now goes to the full House. It faces opposition from the Bush administration, which objects to the expenditures because the National Park Service faces a tight budget and maintenance backlogs at parks.

Thomas' bill would authorize spending for the 10 internment camps that were established throughout the country, including two in California, Tule Lake and Manzanar. The money could also go for other sites where people were assembled.

The internment happened after President Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order in 1942 authorizing removal of over 120,000 Japanese-Americans and others of Japanese ancestry, including many living in California, to "assembly centers" and then to the camps.

The camps were closed in 1945 and 1946, and President Ronald Reagan and Congress formally apologized in 1988 for the treatment of the people held there.

"The clock is ticking," Thomas said in a statement. "As we move further in time from the period in which over 120,000 Japanese-Americans were forced from their homes to internment camps, we are increasingly losing not only the infrastructure of the camps, but more importantly, those people who were detained."

Thomas' support for the measure stems in part from a longtime friendship with former Democratic state legislator Fred Mori, past president of the Japanese American Citizens League based in San Francisco.

Comment: Coming at this particular time, as America descends ever further into a totalitarian regime, this report is more than a little unsettling in its symbolism.

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Our entire way of life is at stake
May 17, 2005

And now the ''nuclear option.'' Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist vows to blow up the Senate by getting the Republican majority to outlaw any filibuster against President Bush's judicial nominees. Democrats have approved 208 of Bush's 218 nominees, but are blocking 10 as too extreme. That is unacceptable to Frist.

Bush might sensibly have defused the situation in the hope of moving forward on the business of the American people, but instead he threw gasoline on the fire. In a direct insult to his opposition, he renominated the same handful of extremists previously blocked. Now he demands an up-or-down vote on them -- essentially ordering Frist to blow up the Senate. As in the run-up to the war in Iraq, he's intent on winning, with little sense of the costs and consequences of what he's driving the country into.

Outside groups on both sides are mobilizing. The right of the Republican Party has called blocking a handful of Bush's nominees an assault on ''people of faith.'' (The president apparently is so infallible that to question even 10 of more than 200 nominees is to risk eternal damnation.) Liberals have started touting the filibuster as the bedrock of democracy.

But this debate isn't about freedom of religion. And it isn't about the filibuster. It's about the judges and the direction of the country.

Bush's mantra is that he simply wants judges who will follow the law, not legislate their own will from the bench. He wants judicial restraint, not judicial activism. But that is simply nonsense, and the president knows it. Bush isn't nominating conservative judges as his father did; he's nominating radicals, vetted by the right-wing Federalist Society, and dedicated to advancing the movement's agenda through the courts. He's naming judges who will overturn precedents that the conservative movement doesn't like -- from Roe vs. Wade that gave women the right of choice, to Brown vs. Board of Education that outlawed segregation, to the core jurisprudence of the New Deal.

This is central to the right's battle to remake America in its image. Whenever a movement pushes for dramatic social change, it naturally runs up against the status quo bias of the courts. The New Deal movement ran headlong into the free market doctrines that conservative judges had implanted into the Constitution. Those doctrines made labor unions an illegal restraint of trade. They deemed the 40-hour workweek, or health-and-safety regulations, to be unconstitutional infringements on the market. For Roosevelt and the New Deal to wrench America into the modern age, new doctrine was needed. The result: a brutal struggle over the courts.

When the civil rights movement challenged apartheid in America, it ran into the racist doctrines that segregationist judges had implanted into the Constitution. Once more, those doctrines -- separate but equal -- had to be overturned. And a Republican chief justice of the Supreme Court, Earl Warren, led the court in doing so -- and the courts came under vicious attack. ''Impeach Earl Warren'' signs went up across the South. And a right-wing backlash against the courts began.

What does the right-wing movement want from judges? It wants judges who will overturn the precedent set by Roe and outlaw abortion. It wants an end to affirmative action, with many saying the Brown ruling that outlawed segregation was wrongly decided.

But it wants much more than this. The Federalist Society is dominated by an obscure sect that believes in the ''Constitution in exile.'' Essentially, adherents argue for a return to the 19th century jurisprudence of the Gilded Age -- calling on judges to overturn the New Deal jurisprudence that empowered Congress to regulate the economy, defend workers, protect the environment and consumers, and hold corporations accountable. No, I'm not kidding, and neither are they.

Will the right be able to use a current Republican majority in the Senate to ensconce zealots on the bench to enforce their agenda over the next decades? This answer will say much about what kind of country we will become. No one should be on the sidelines in this one.

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Resisting the Latest Version of "European Construction"
Vive La France?
May 18, 2005

When I went off to work as a teacher-researcher in the United States in 1978, the contrast with Europe was striking. An educational system generally of very poor quality and glaring inequality, a constant invasion of daily life by advertising and commercialisation, a strongly anti-intellectual culture, a population profoundly alienated politically (two parties monopolizing public life, pursuing the same policies and with limited ability to mobilize the electorate), an omnipresent militarism and scandalous social disparities (notably in terms of security, housing and access to health care). And all that was upheld ideologically by a perfect self-satisfaction and by the idea that the American model should be imposed, like it or not, on the rest of the world.

In those days, Europe was largely social democratic and peaceful; there was a strong system of social protection, unemployment existed but was not structural, education was being democratized and modernized but continued to transmit knowledge, television was free of advertising, it was possible to walk safely in the streets, there was no far right to be seen, there was no talk of fundamentalism or separate ethnic communities, and the idea of taxing the rich was not shocking to anyone (except to the rich themselves, of course). Having been defeated in its colonial conflicts, Europe had abandoned its imperial ambitions and its citizens were tired of war. All was far from perfect, but, compared to the present-day outlook, it was a "socialist paradise" that managed to be both democratic and real. On the other hand, from the viewpoint of the European privileged classes, it was, if not hell (their privileges being far from abolished), at least purgatory.

Fortunately for them, the eighties and nineties were the time of neo-liberal and neo-militarist follies. Europe came around to imitating the United States, even if, at the same time, the United States was getting worse. This at least maintained the gap between the two, obscured the extent of the upheavals underway, and allowed the European elites to complain ceaselessly that "Europe was falling behind". One of the preferred methods of catching up is called "European construction", whose latest manifestation is the treaty for establishing a European Constitution.

The method is simplicity itself. It consists in isolating political processes from the influence of the citizenry, by entrusting a maximum of decisions to a non-elected bureaucracy which is not answerable to any parliament, but which is open to the influence of every possible private pressure group (including certain NGOs). European construction boils down to transferring State power to a super-privileged bureaucracy which preaches to others the purest economic liberalism. Elections can go on being held, but they are of no importance, because no serious political alternative can be proposed, no "New Deal", no "structural reform", no "common programme of the left", no "Italian way to socialism". Competition and the free market are the only prospects on the horizon now and forever. And, as in the United States, people vote more and more with their feet by avoiding the ballot box, or else vote for whoever seems to be most hated by those in power (Le Pen for instance).

The results of the policies accompanying this "European construction" are catastrophic: whereas the urgent need, after the rapid growth of the fifties and sixties, was for disarmament, cooperation with the third world and ecological development, on the contrary everything was done to encourage waste, endanger people's very existence, exacerbate antagonisms between North and South and give free rein to every possible particularism and fundamentalism. Jeremy Rifkin's recent book speaks of the "European dream" and provides a long list of Europe's advantages in the fields of security, health, education and even scientific research. But all that is precisely the effect of our "falling behind" the model our "advanced Europeans" are desperately trying to catch up with. Of course, there has been economic progress. But there was also economic progress -- more of it, in fact -- during the preceding period of social democracy and sovereign States. But for the past twenty years, how many social advances have there been? What progress has been made in workers' control over their work? How many major collective decisions have been taken to improve living conditions? It is no doubt better not to ask such questions.

In the discussions on the constitution, at least on the left, there are in general two types of argument: those who refer to the texts, who are for voting "no", and those who refer to Auschwitz and Le Pen, who are for voting "yes". To hear the latter, one would think that rejection of the constitution would lead us into war, if not genocide. This argument, which considers that peace depends on eliminating sovereignty, fails to note that there is more than one kind of sovereignty. Europe is seeking to create its own sovereignty, imitating that of the United States which has strong borders and troops deployed to the four corners of the earth. This creates the danger of endless war, as sooner or later people do not welcome armed missionaries. On the other hand, Switzerland is without doubt the most sovereign country in Europe, but it has never sent its troops abroad, never committed genocide nor started a war.

A referendum has its disadvantages in comparison to an election: those who win an election can always end up doing the opposite of what they promised. The clarity of a referendum prevents such manipulations, and that may be why the procedure is often denounced as dangerous and "populist". On the other hand, there is no way to prevent people giving the same answer to a question for different reasons, which means that there is sure to be left-wing "no", a right-wing "no" and a far right "no". But so what? It is rather odd that those who have supported the policies creating the social conditions that giver rise to the far right now turn around and try to use its existence against those who are precisely seeking to break with those policies.

European construction also enables ecological and socialist leaders to protect themselves from their own principles, or rather from those of their supporters. Every capitulation to the right can always be justified by "Europe". Indeed -- but who wants and who has constructed that Europe? It is easier to evoke Auschwitz than to explain how a social, democratic and ecological Europe can be based on a "highly competitive" deregulated economy. To cite only one simple example, how is it possible to pursue an ecological policy if public transport has to be profitable?

The most dishonest argument of the "yes" camp is without doubt the one about a strong Europe standing up to the United States. For one thing, it is enough to read the American press or to listen to U.S. leaders, who wholeheartedly support the "yes" (while complaining that the most popular argument is precisely the one about standing up to the United States), to realize how shaky that argument is. For another, a Europe whose educational system is sacrified on the altar of short-term profit will be simply a second USA, not an alternative to it. The rest of the world already has enough problems with a single ignorant, aggressive and arrogant superpower. Preferring peace to war and security to competition means opposing the United States, or at least what it represents, but also opposing "European construction".

There is at least one argument used by the "yes' camp that is partly correct: the debate goes beyond the narrow bounds of the treaty's text to become largely symbolic. It fundamentally pits against each other partisans and adversaries of the neo-liberal order, those who want to pursue the policy begun in the 1980s and those who want to change it. A victory of the "no" would provoke a political shock wave, principally by awakening, throughout Europe, the social and popular aspirations which have for so long been repressed and defeated. With Bush in Washington, Sharon in Tel Aviv, Wolfowitz at the World Bank and Ratzinger in the Vatican, one might conclude that reactionary forces have got their way worldwide. But with Chavez in Caracas, the "no" which is growing in Paris and the U.S. army bogged down in Iraq, hope may be changing sides and this is what gives a profound meaning to this campaign. Even if the "yes" wins (and in light of the disproportion of the means at the disposal of the two sides, it would be a miracle if if didn't), the mobilization for the "no" shows that the times are changing and that the days of TINA (There Is No Alternative to unbridled capitalism) are no doubt counted. After all, the grassroots movement for "no" was launched primarily (on the left) by ATTAC and by the CGT base, which in themselves are far from representing a majority of French people. The echo of that movement throughout French society is an immense sign of encouragement and shows that if the genuine left is at once bold and intelligent, it can rally practically a majority of French people around specific objectives.

Moreover, as in the case of Venezuela's referendum, or the anti-war mobilization in 2003, a victory of the "no" would show that the media are not invincible, that they don't yet exercise total brain control and that Internet is a formidable weapon against their propaganda.

In 2003, the former leader of the Algerian FLN, Ahmed Ben Bella, so many of whose companions were killed and tortured by the French army, went so far as to exclaim, "Vive la France!" He would not have been able to exclaim "vive l'Europe", given how subservient its bureaucracy is to the United States. But France, far from being a "black sheep", at that moment of its history was a sign of hope and rallying for the whole of the Arab world about to be plunged once more into the horror of colonialism and, as a result, of a war of national liberation (which is far from being over in Iraq, or for that matter in Palestine). By the same token, the Venezuela of Chavez and Cuba are not "isolated" in Latin America -- they embody the ideals and hopes of the masses of the people.

The left-wing elites have for a long time shamed France by reducing her past to Vichy and (for the far left) to the Algerian war. But France is also the first democratic revolution on the European continent (and the most radical of all), the Paris Commune, the denunciation of anti-semitism at the time of the Dreyfus case, the Popular Front, the biggest of all general strikes (in May-June 1968) and the model for secularism throughout the world. With the campaign for "no" to the European constitution, after the official "no" in 2003 to American imperial policy, France once again arouses surprise and admiration in much of the world and gives a fresh impetus to a movement, stalled for decades but more necessary than ever, in favor of peace and social progress.

Jean Bricmont lives in Brussels.

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G8 protesters face police stun-guns

POLICE dealing with civil unrest during the G8 summit in Scotland will have in their armoury controversial weapons that have been blamed for the deaths of 104 civilians in the United States and Canada.

Powerful Taser stun-guns will be available to specially trained armed response officers for the first time in Scotland from late next month, The Scotsman has learned.

The weapons, which fire electric wires from compressed nitrogen cartridges and deliver 50,000-volt shocks to their targets, could be used in the event of serious disorder during the conference at Gleneagles Hotel or if street protests in the likes of Edinburgh turn violent, as they have at past G8 events.

But while Taser training programmes continue in police forces throughout Scotland, some US states are reviewing their use after a series of deaths during the pursuit of suspects.

Members of the Police Federation of England and Wales this week joined forces with their colleagues north of the Border by giving unanimous backing to calls for Tasers to be supplied to all officers, not only armed response units, called on to deal with serious incidents. An overwhelming 95 per cent of delegates at their annual conference approved the motion.

Yesterday, the Association of Chief Police Officers said it had put the Home Office "on notice" that it wants more officers to be trained to use the weapon. Mike Tonge, the chief constable of Gwent, said: "We want to make it more available and possibly extend it to more officers, beyond firearms officers."

Last week, a survey revealed that eight out of ten officers in Scotland were in favour of frontline police carrying the stun-guns. The Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS) said every Scots force now had, or was in the process of procuring, Tasers for armed response units, and firearms police officers were being trained to use them.

A spokeswoman said: "Scotland's major constabularies are all in the process of procuring the weapons after both ACPOS and the former home secretary, David Blunkett, gave their full backing to the introduction of the weapons last year.

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Former aide 'claims Iraq offered Pasqua oil bribe'
May 18, 2005

PARIS - Iraq tried to compensate former French interior minister Charles Pasqua in the late 1990s with millions of barrels of oil for his helpful attitude toward Baghdad, Le Monde newspaper reported Wednesday.

The French daily said a former aide to Pasqua who is under investigation in France in connection with the UN oil-for-food programme in Iraq, Bernard Guillet, told an examining magistrate that Pasqua had been offered oil allocations.

Guillet reportedly said former Iraqi deputy prime minister Tareq Aziz had told him "that Iraq wanted to thank Pasqua for the role he played in 1993 when he organized the first visit for a high-level official in

Aziz then allegedly told Guillet that Saddam Hussein wanted to thank Pasqua with oil allocations, Le Monde reported.

But a source close to the investigation said it was still unclear whether the 78-year-old Pasqua - now a French senator - had actually received the oil, as alleged by a US Senate probe.

Last week, a US Senate panel accused Pasqua, along with the controversial British lawmaker George Galloway, of taking massive oil allocations as kickbacks in the 1990s from Saddam's regime under the UN oil-for-food programme.

The USD 64 billion UN scheme, which ran from 1996 to 2003, allowed Baghdad, which was under international sanctions, to sell limited quantities of oil so it could buy food and medicines for the Iraqi people.

The US Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations based its report on what it said were Iraqi oil ministry documents and the testimony of senior officials in Saddam's regime, ousted in the US-led invasion in March 2003.

Both Pasqua and Galloway have vehemently denied the allegations.

Guillet denied ever receiving any oil allocations himself, and contested charges that he had "served as an intermediary so that Charles Pasqua could receive such allocations".

But he did admit to French magistrate Philippe Courroye that he had met with Iraqi officials tasked with the commercialization of Iraqi oil.

Last month, Guillet, 59, was placed under judicial investigation in France - one step shy of formal charges - as part of a corruption probe connected with the UN oil-for-food programme.

French investigators believe Guillet received commissions from a middleman who brokered the resale of Iraqi oil.

But when questioned on April 28 by Courroye, Guillet said the documents the French judge was using for his probe were suspect, adding: "I think the Americans created false documents."

The French probe is largely based on information gathered by the independent commission of inquiry into the oil-for-food programme led by former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker.

Pasqua served twice as France's interior minister - from 1986 to 1998 and again from 1993 to 1995. He is best known for pushing through a series of anti-immigration laws.

The US panel said in its report that Pasqua sought to conceal his involvement because he "feared political scandals".

Pasqua said Monday he had been targeted by the US Senate as a way to discredit French President Jacques Chirac, with whom the former minister was once close.

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Bird flu virus mutating, posing bigger threat-WHO
Thu May 19, 2005

HONG KONG (Reuters) - The spate of human bird flu cases in Vietnam this year suggests the deadly virus may be mutating in ways that are making it more capable of being passed between humans, according to a World Health Organization report.

The finding points to the greatest fear of health experts that the H5N1 virus could unleash a pandemic and kill millions around the globe if ever it gained the ability to be transmitted among humans efficiently.

While investigators could not prove human-to-human transmission had occurred, the report said that "the pattern of disease appeared to have changed in a manner consistent with this possibility."

"They (findings) demonstrate that the viruses are continuing to evolve and pose a continuing and potentially growing pandemic threat," the report said.

Klaus Stohr, WHO's global influenza program coordinator, told a news briefing in Geneva: "We don't know whether the pandemic will occur next week or next year...We should continue very intensively with pandemic preparations."

H5N1 made its first known jump to humans in Hong Kong in 1997 and experts have always established that the mode of transmission was through direct contact with birds.

But the virus has mutated since, raising fears among experts that it may one day adapt in humans and become easily passed between them, setting off a pandemic.

In the six-page report, produced after an expert meeting in Manila from May 6-7, the WHO said at least 92 adults and children in Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia had become ill after being infected with H5N1 since late 2003, and 52 of them had died. Stohr said the toll had risen to 97 cases with 53 deaths.

More clusters of infections involving household members have occurred, opening the possibility that "person-to-person transmission" may have taken place, the WHO said.

Eight such clusters were observed in north Vietnam this year alone, with recent cases spanning over a longer period.

"What we are seeing so far is a slight increase in clusters which could indicate more transmission...," Stohr said.

There was "circumstantial evidence" for such transmission -- which could not be proved -- but based on belief that a person became sick after being exposed only to an infected person and not to a sick chicken or duck, according to the expert.

"Then you can talk about very strong evidence for human to human transmission. That has happened in three clusters, two in Vietnam and one in Thailand...," Stohr added.

Comment: This is a worrying development indeed - but hardly unexpected. Read our Signs Flu Supplement for the inside scoop on who has been making strenuous efforts in recent years - with great success - to revive a deadly form of the flu.

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Former KGB Operative Reveals Secrets of Global War for Germs and Viruses

Dozens of biodefence laboratories in North America, Britain, France, Germany and Israel were - and may still be - prime targets for Russian spies out to win the global war for deadly germs and viruses, a newly published book by former KGB operative, Alexander Kouzminov, reveals.

Kouzminov, who now lives with his wife in New Zealand, worked at the highly secretive Department 12 of Directorate S - the special operations branch of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service and its forerunner, the Soviet KGB - for about 10 years.

He says its primary tasks were biological espionage, planning acts of terrorism and sabotage, preparing for biological warfare with the West, and supporting the Soviet, and later the Russian, biological weapons program.

He estimates that about 60 people, including the so-called ’illegals’ (spies who worked secretly under assumed names and “well-documented cover stories”), special agents and friendly sources, carried out Department 12’s tasks overseas in the 1990s, “and possibly as many still do today.”

Department 12 was interested in many types of facilities in all NATO countries, including high-level containment labs dealing with dangerous pathogens, infectious diseases and means to combat biological and toxin warfare, the former spy claims.

His book says that by the end of the 1980s it became apparent the West did not have a genuine offensive biological warfare program, unlike the Soviet Union, which had begun the mass production and storage of “highly effective” weapons.

“We discovered that, at the time, western countries were absolutely unprepared to face our weapons if the Soviet Union (or, later, Russia) had started a biological war against the main enemy, the U.S.A. and the NATO countries.”

Meanwhile, Department 12 was still collecting samples of biological materials and secret documents obtained by illegals and special agents.

Sometimes these were delivered to Moscow by means of an urgent channel codenamed VOLNA, or wave, via an international flight of the Soviet Aeroflot airline. Active and often deadly biological materials, including micro-organisms, pathogens and biotoxins, were stashed in the pilots’ cabin.

Even at the beginning of the 1990s, when Russia’s relationship with the West changed for the better, Directorate S carried on its work. “For us that meant: while favorable circumstances exist it is essential to utilize the respite to deploy to the West as many illegals as possible and to cultivate and recruit more special agents,” Kouzminov writes.

The former spy left Russia in late 1994, and now works as an adviser to New Zealand’s Health Ministry. He says he decided to reveal the details of his work following the 9/11 terrorist attacks “and the subsequent potential and quite serious threat of biological terrorism and sabotage around the world.”

Comment: While we have no doubt that Russia is involved in biological weapons research, our own research suggests that Israel has been at the forefront of the development of such Ethnic Specific Weapons.

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South African crisis only getting worse
Linked to 44% of all deaths in 2004: Study

AIDS numbers 'shattering'
May 19, 2005. 06:44 AM

Forty-four per cent of deaths in South Africa last year were caused by HIV/AIDS, according to projections from the country's Medical Research Council.

"South Africa is in the grip of an HIV/AIDS epidemic of shattering proportions," the council says in introducing recent research on causes of death in the country.

Estimates of death from AIDS-related diseases have risen catastrophically in recent years.

In a 2001 report, the council put the rate in the late 1990s at 25 per cent of all deaths, countrywide.

More recent estimates put the rate at 30 per cent - nearly one in three people who died in South Africa in 2000 died of HIV/AIDS, the council says. It was the top killer in all provinces save Western Cape, it adds.

And the situation is worsening dramatically, according to the researchers' projections.

In the conclusion to its National Burden of Disease Study 2000, the council warns ominously: "The ... model projects that in 2004, the total number of deaths from all causes will be over 700,000 and that 44 per cent of them will be due to HIV/AIDS."

That's nearly 310,000 deaths.

It goes on to recommend urgent adoption of recent government initiatives in treatment, blocking the spread of the disease and support for infected persons.

The South African government refused to comment yesterday.

"The report has not been released officially, which means the minister and the director-general haven't seen it yet," health department spokesperson Solly Mabotha told the South African Press Association. "We therefore cannot comment."

Mark Heywood, spokesperson for the Treatment Action Campaign, told Johannesburg newspaper The Star: "These figures are just going to get worse and worse."

And the National Association of People Living with HIV and AIDS said the appalling death rates come as no surprise.

"For a long time we have been seeing parents burying their children, not the other way around - even as people were not saying that it was AIDS their children were dying from," spokesperson Thanduxolo Doro told The Star.

The research council's analysis of deaths up to year 2000 broke causes down by province.

In KwaZulu-Natal province, 41.5 per cent of deaths are attributable to AIDS, followed by Mpumalanga with 40.7 per cent, the report says.

In Gauteng, South Africa's economic heartland, AIDS accounts for 32.5 per cent of deaths, it says.

The national average was 30 per cent and only in Western Cape was the proportion of AIDS deaths less than 10 per cent of the total.

Because South Africa is still updating cause-of-death reporting standards, the researchers admit some gaps in data had to be filled in with estimates, but said they stand by the results because they used a series of criteria to ensure accuracy.

"There is some uncertainty, because we don't have the truth at hand to compare it against," lead researcher Dr. Debbie Bradshaw told the South African Press Association.

"But we don't think we are over- or understating the picture. These are the best estimates we can come up with," Bradshaw said.

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Suffield biological lab eyed by spies

OTTAWA (CP) - An Alberta biodefence laboratory was - and may still be - a prime target of Russian spies out to win the global war for deadly germs and viruses, a newly published book reveals.

In his memoir Biological Espionage, former operative Alexander Kouzminov singles out the Defence Department's Suffield research facility in Ralston, Alta., as one of the "main targets" of Russian intelligence.

Kouzminov, who now lives with his wife in New Zealand, toiled for almost 10 years in the highly secretive Department 12 of Directorate S - the special operations branch of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service and its forerunner, the Soviet KGB.

Kouzminov says the primary tasks of Department 12 were biological espionage, planning acts of terrorism and sabotage, preparing for biological warfare with the West, and supporting the Soviet, later the Russian, biological weapons program.

The goals were pursued with the help of "Illegals" - Russian spies sent to the West who worked secretly under assumed names and "well-documented cover stories."

Kouzminov warns that during the early 1990s, when Russia's relationship with the West became less frosty, Directorate S never took the thaw to heart.

"For us that meant: while favourable circumstances exist it is essential to utilize the respite to deploy to the West as many Illegals as possible and to cultivate and recruit more special agents."

He estimates that about 60 people, including Illegals, special agents and friendly sources, carried out Department 12's tasks overseas in the 1990s, "and possibly as many still do today."

Defence Research and Development Canada's facility at Suffield, Alta., which dates from the Second World War era, is a leader in exploring means of defending against chemical and biological warfare agents.

It is listed by Kouzminov among dozens of "main targets" in North America, Britain, France, Germany and Israel.

Though the Suffield centre is the only Canadian organization mentioned by name, the former spy notes Department 12 was interested in other types of facilities in all NATO countries, including high-level containment labs dealing with dangerous pathogens, infectious diseases and means to combat biological and toxin warfare.

A spokesman for the Suffield facility did not return a phone call Wednesday.

The book says by the end of the 1980s it became apparent the West did not have a genuine offensive biological warfare program, unlike the Soviet Union, which had begun the mass production and storage of "highly effective" weapons.

"We discovered that, at the time, western countries were absolutely unprepared to face our weapons if the Soviet Union (or, later, Russia) had started a biological war against the main enemy, the U.S.A. and the NATO countries."

Meanwhile, Department 12 was busy collecting samples of biological materials and secret documents obtained by Illegals and special agents.

Sometimes these were delivered to Moscow by means of a urgent channel codenamed VOLNA, or wave, via an international flight of the Soviet Aeroflot airline.

Active and often deadly biological materials, including micro-organisms, pathogens and biotoxins, were stashed in the the pilots' cabin.

Kouzminov, who left Russia in late 1994, says he decided to break his silence about the clandestine work following the 9/11 terrorist attacks "and the subsequent potential and quite serious threat of biological terrorism and sabotage around the world."

A new International Biological Security Agency, under the auspices of the United Nations, is needed to control the problem, argues Kouzminov, who works as an adviser to New Zealand's health ministry.

"Having been, so to speak, a poacher, I am now a gamekeeper," he writes.

"It seems unbelievable to me that I am working in an organization in a western country that my former Department 12 colleagues would regard as a worthy espionage target."

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Fourth case of hantavirus in Alberta
Last Updated Wed, 18 May 2005 15:57:27 EDT
CBC News

EDMONTON - Health authorities in Alberta are looking for help from Health Canada to deal with a small outbreak of the hantavirus, a potentially fatal disease.

Officials have confirmed a fourth case after one woman died last week and another adult and child from the same family in central Alberta became ill. They say a man from Hobbema, south of Edmonton, has come down with the infection.

Dr. Karen Grimsrud, deputy provincial health officer, says the latest case is not related to the first, but that makes it a bigger concern.

"I think it leaves us with a question that we had last week and that is, there's something unusual going on here, how can we explain this cluster?"

Hantavirus is a respiratory illness spread by infected deer mice through their droppings, their urine or their saliva. It's most common in the spring, when people are outdoors or doing spring cleaning and breathing in air-borne particles.

Grimsrud says the province has asked for Health Canada's assistance to determine whether there is a higher percentage of mice infected in the area.

She also noted there's a higher than usual mouse population in Alberta this year.

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Taiwan police hunt for suspect who laced bottled drinks with cyanide
19 May 2005 1822 hrs
By Channel NewsAsia's Taiwan Bureau Chief Young Ming

YAIPEI : A manhunt is on in Taiwan for a suspect who added poison to bottles of a popular energy drink, killing one person.

Three other victims are in hospital, two of them reportedly in critical condition.

Police believe the drinks were laced with cyanide.

Bottles of the energy drink 'Bullwild' sold in Taichung City had a small note stuck on them.

It read: "I am poisonous, don't drink me."

Unfortunately, four buyers did not notice the warning.

They purchased the popular drink at separate convenient stores located near each other.

And one man, Chou Yee-Gui, collapsed and died after drinking it. Two others are in critical condition. [...]

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Canada refuses visa to GM foods expert
Last Updated Thu, 19 May 2005 19:01:03 EDT
CBC News

OTTAWA - Africa's leading expert on genetically modified foods has been refused a visa to attend a meeting next week in Montreal at the Secretariat for the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

Ethiopia's chief scientist, Dr. Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, is critical of genetically modified foods, and his opinions often run counter to those of the Canadian government. He has been to Canada many times to attend meetings on biodiversity.

He is Africa's chief negotiator for the Cartagena Protocol and he was scheduled to attend meetings about the protocol, the United Nations treaty that governs the international movement of genetically modified organisms.

According to an NGO that has been in contact with Tewolde, the Canadian Embassy refused his entry visa and asked him Thursday to answer questions about his political involvement over the past 35 years.

But Pat Mooney of Etcetera Group, a non-profit organization that's trying to help Tewolde get into Canada, said Thursday it's probably Tewolde's views on genetically modified foods that has the government concerned.

Mooney said Tewolde is an outspoken critic of the "terminator seeds" that are engineered to be sterile, requiring farmers to buy new seeds each growing season. Mooney also said Tewolde was planning to call for the labelling of all genetically modified foods.

"Put these two things together, and the rather remarkable position of the embassy in blocking his visa, and we have to raise the question: is there another agenda here? Is there something going on that's blocking him from attending the negotiations?" Mooney told CBC.

He said refusing entry to the Ethiopian scientist may spark an international incident.

"We've heard today from some governments in Africa that if he's not there, if he's barred from attending, there could well be a boycott or a protest in Montreal next week. He is so much the leader that his absence would almost make it difficult to carry on any negotiations," said Mooney.

In 1995, the United Nations decided to locate the Secretariat for the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in Montreal. But one of the requirements for hosting a UN agency is easy access for foreign experts to attend intergovernmental discussions.

"In barring Dr. Tewolde from participating in the Montreal meetings, Canada is jeopardizing Montreal's future as a United Nations city," Eric Darier, a campaigner with Greenpeace, said in a news release.

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13 die in military plane crash
From correspondents in Lusaka, Zambia
May 19, 2005 - AFP

A ZAMBIAN air force plane today crashed in the west of the country, killing all 13 officers on board, an official said.

The crash occurred at the town of Mangu, about 500km west of the capital city of Lusaka.

"The plane crashed three minutes after take-off. We think the plane developed a fault after take off," said Clemence Siame, the permanent secretary of Western province where Mangu is located.

"There were 13 officers on the plane, including a woman officer and all of them died," he said.

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51 missing in northern China coal mine explosion
19 May 2005 1320 hrs

BEIJING : Fifty-one miners are missing and feared dead after a gas explosion ripped through the Huanerhe coal mine near Chengde city in northern China's Hebei province. "At around 3 am on May 19 a gas explosion accident at the Huanerhe mining company (state-owned local mine) in Hebei province's Chengde city occurred," the State Administration of Mine Safety said on its website.

"Fifty-one mine workers were in the mine shaft and it is not clear if they are alive."

Local and provincial leaders have rushed to the state-owned mine to oversee rescue operations, while a group of experts had also been dispatched to investigated the cause, the administration said.

Local officials contacted by AFP refused to immediately comment on the explosion or the rescue efforts. [...]

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Snow storm traps Chilean battalion
May 19, 2005

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) - Five Chilean soldiers died and 95 others were missing after a snow storm trapped an army battalion in the Andes mountains, an army commander said Thursday.

The battalion was returning from a mountain drill Wednesday when the storm hit, reducing visibility to near zero with driving snow, Gen. Emilio Cheyre said.

By early Thursday, 333 members of the 433-soldier battalion were safe at military installations in the area, some 500 kilometres south of Santiago, Cheyre told Radio Cooperativa.

The five soldiers who died were victims of hypothermia, the army said. [...]

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Hurricane Adrian Rips Into Central America Coast
May 19, 2005

The first storm of the Pacific hurricane season spiraled toward Central America's Pacific coast on Thursday, killing two and forcing thousands of others from their homes as it gashed the terrain and soaked the region with rain. The National Hurricane Center upgraded "Adrian" from a tropical storm to a Hurricane on Thursday afternoon.

Guatemalan officials declared a "maximum alert" ahead of Adrian and Salvadoran officials closed schools and began evacuations Thursday as the hurricane began to threaten the impoverished Central American nation and its neighbor Guatemala. Many schools and offices were closed on Thursday, and some stores were crowded with people stocking up on water and food.

Both countries declared emergencies as the storm gained strength, carrying heavy rains that forecasters warned would likely cause flooding.

A Category I hurricane, Adrian was expected to pick up pace and the eye of the storm was expected to hit land late Thursday or early Friday along El Salvador's northern coast, near the country's capital, San Salvador.

At last report Adrian was about 120 miles southwest of San Salvador with winds approaching 75 mph with higher gusts, the National Hurricane Center in Miami reported. The hurricane center notes that "The biggest threat from Adrian is the potential for torrential rainfall, which will likely produce flash flooding and potentially devastating mud slides over the mountainous terrain of Central America." [...]

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Wednesday tornado touchdowns: Iowa, Minnesota
Published May 19, 2005

Powerful thunderstorms had unleashed ten twisters in Iowa and Minnesota by late Wednesday. Three of the ten were in Minnesota, where debris was reported by two law enforcement officials on Highway 29 near Benson in the west-central section of the state.Farther south, a tornado was on the ground at least 10 minutes in western Iowa near Fort Dodge. [...]

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Drought Strikes Hard in Southern China
CHINA: May 19, 2005

QINGYUAN - It's rice-planting season in China's southern province of Guangdong, but despite the landscape of flooded fields dotted with green seedlings, Lian is worried."There is not enough water. There's rain now, but it's still not enough. There's not enough water in the reservoir," she says squatting by the edge of a field, her trousers rolled to the knee and a broad straw hat hiding her eyes.

The province is recovering from its worst drought in 50 years, allowing farmers to begin sowing.

The drought in southern China has affected everything from crops and livelihoods to hydropower.

"Throughout history droughts have happened, but the frequency and level of severity are increasing because of climate change," said Yang Ailun, a Greenpeace climate and energy specialist based in the provincial capital of Guangzhou.

Even as the rainfall diminishes, consumption is growing ever higher.
A few kilometres (miles) outside of Guangzhou, smokestacks give way to fields and stylish city people are replaced by barefoot farmers.

But the lack of water is affecting both.

Crops are dying and fish farms drying up, while grid overloads last year forced factories to tap power only overnight, and led the government to ask restaurants and hotels to limit use of electric lights.

"In this part of Guangdong and the Pearl River Delta area, the population is increasing very fast. Through the 1990s, the economic boom has also driven up water consumption," said Ma Jun, an environmentalist and the author of "China's Water Crisis".

"The water consumption rise is staggering," he said. [...]

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Lake disappears, baffling villagers
Thu May 19 2005

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian village was left baffled Thursday after its lake disappeared overnight.

NTV television showed pictures of a giant muddy hole bathed in summer sun, while fishermen from the village of Bolotnikovo looked on disconsolately.

"It is very dangerous. If a person had been in this disaster, he would have had almost no chance of survival. The trees flew downwards, under the ground," said Dmitry Zaitsev, a local Emergencies Ministry official interviewed by the channel.

Officials in Nizhegorodskaya region, on the Volga river east of Moscow, said water in the lake might have been sucked down into an underground water-course or cave system, but some villagers had more sinister explanations.

"I am thinking, well, America has finally got to us," said one old woman, as she sat on the ground outside her house.

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US States Sue EPA over Mercury Trading Rules
USA: May 19, 2005

WASHINGTON - Eleven states sued the Bush administration on Wednesday to block new rules allowing coal-burning utilities to trade rights to emit toxic mercury, adding to a flurry of lawsuits challenging the regulations.The core issue in all the lawsuits is whether the Environmental Protection Agency went far enough with its March regulations to protect public health. Mercury contaminates fish and water and has been linked to neurological disorders in young children.

The EPA regulations rolled out in March ordered US utilities to cut their emissions of mercury by 70 percent by 2018 through a cap-and-trade system.

On Wednesday, New Jersey and 10 other states filed a federal lawsuit in Washington, D.C., saying the cap-and-trade rules will lead to "hot spots" with concentrated mercury levels near power plants. That's because polluting utilities will be able to buy rights to emit the toxin rather than reduce levels outright.

"These laws are deeply flawed and contrary both to science and law," said New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey.

EPA officials have downplayed the possibility of hot spots and the agency said it will "vigorously defend" the rules against court challenges from states and environmental groups.

The other states in the lawsuit are California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

The nation's 1,100 coal-burning power plants emit about 48 tons of mercury each year, the largest unregulated US source. [...]

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Marshes Tell Story Of Medieval Drought, Little Ice Age, And European Settlers Near NYC

Aside from views of cattails and blackbirds, the marshes in the lower Hudson Valley near New York City offer an amazingly detailed history of the area's climate. Sediment layers from a tidal marsh in the Hudson River Estuary have preserved pollen from plants, seeds, and other materials. These past remnants allowed researchers from Columbia University, New York, N.Y. and NASA to see evidence of a 500 year drought from 800 A.D. to 1300 A.D., the passing of the Little Ice Age and the impacts of European settlers.

Plants provide an indicator of climate because the well-being of a species is controlled by the temperature and moisture of a region, and whether those conditions suit a type of plant. That's why if you draw latitudinal or horizontal lines around the world you'll find very similar species growing along those lines, like tropical plants around the equator, or tundra and northern or boreal forest species in a circumference south of the North Pole.

From the pollen record found in sediments in Piermont Marsh of the lower Hudson Valley, a Medieval Warm period was evident from 800 to 1300 A.D. Researchers know this from the striking increases in both charcoal, a sign of dry vegetation and fires, and pollen from pine and hickory trees. Prior to this warming spell, there were more oaks, which prefer a wetter climate. [...]

During this drought period, a core drilled into the marsh bed showed large influxes of inorganic soil particles, a sign of erosion. Plant roots hold soil in place, but with drought and plant deaths, more erosion occurs.

Droughts like this also make the bay saltier, and evidence of this was found by an increase in salty marsh plants, like saltmarsh cordgrass. The changing salinity of the marshes and estuaries could present future water quality issues in the event of a drought. For example, heading north up the Hudson River, the city of Poughkeepsie draws its municipal water directly from the river. Because the salinity of the river changes with drought, causing saltier water to move further north, salinity changes have the potential to affect the water supply of the city.

During the Little Ice Age from the early 1400s to late 1800s, the vegetation changed again to plants that favored cooler and wetter climates. The core records revealed increases in spruce and hemlock that prefer cooler and wetter climates.

Similarly, when Europeans settled the area they cleared the forests for agriculture. The pollen record reflects this with a vast decline in tree pollen and an increase in pollen from weedy plants like ragweed, plantain, sorrel and dock. Inorganic soil particles also went up following European settlement.

Peteet points out that researchers could use these methods to similarly learn about climate in other parts of the world.

Comment: While the article above shows evidence of a "Little Ice Age" from the early 1400s to late 1800s, it does not go into any detail as to why this ice age may have occurred. Laura Knight Jadczyk's research, explicated in her book The Secret History of the World suggests that the period know as "the dark ages" may have been caused by the occurrence of cyclical cometary showers that regularly bombard the earth.

One reasonable theory postulates that impacts of such celestial objects onto the surface of the planet would raise enormous amounts of dust into the air, thus blocking out the sun's rays for many years causing a significant decrease in overall global temperature, or "little ice age".

What the government seems well aware and scientists aren't saying is that the recent appearance of many similar meteor sightings all over the world could be the beginning of another such cycle in present times which will make the so-called "dark ages" seem like a stroll through Disneyland.

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Astronaut Asks Congress to Investigate Threatening Asteroid
By Leonard David
Senior Space Writer
posted: 19 May 2005

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A former NASA astronaut will call on the U.S. Congress to evaluate an asteroid with a small chance of hitting Earth in 2036 and suggest lawmakers consider a space mission to monitor the object, has learned.

Russell Schweickart arrives here today to make his case. He'll also ask Congress to assign to a government agency the responsibility of protecting the public from space rocks.

The call to action stems from an orbiting hunk of stone that for a few days around Christmas had scientists on the edges of their seats.

The asteroid, named 2004 MN4, was found last year. It orbits the Sun but crosses the path of Earth. In December, preliminary observations showed it might strike in 2029, according to NASA scientists. It briefly had the highest odds ever assigned to a possible collision. Further investigation ruled out the 2029 impact scenario, but scientists cannot yet rule out an impact in 2036.

The odds of a collision in 2036 are about 1-in-10,000, Schweickart says.

In fact, there are several scenarios between 2034 and 2065 in which 2004 MN4 has even smaller odds of striking. Schweickart and other scientists stress, however, that future observations are likely to reduce all these odds to zero.

Time to act

Meanwhile, Schweickart thinks the time to act is now. was provided a copy of the paper Schweickart will present. In it, he carries out an informal analysis of the situation. He notes that the asteroid will be mostly out of view from 2006 to 2012. When it re-emerges, fresh observation will likely reduce the 2036 impact chance to zero, he said.

"However, there is a slim chance that we will not be able to draw this conclusion and that an impact will still be possible," he writes.

"One of the first things I’m calling for is validation and checking of the analysis I’ve gone through and the conclusions that fall out of my work," Schweickart told

Schweickart heads up the B612 Foundation, which since 2003 has advocated for more research and action to protect Earth from stray asteroids.

Call to action

Should his analysis prove correct after formal study, Schweickart says serious consideration should be given to first placing a radio transponder on the asteroid in order to better track its whereabouts.

The former Apollo astronaut will take his message to Congressional lawmakers and detail his concerns at the International Space Development Conference being held here this week by the National Space Society, a space advocacy organization.

Astronomers agree that sooner or later Earth will be struck by a damaging asteroid. While one could sneak up on us any day, the overwhelming odds are that any potential significant impact will be known years in advance.

NASA has been charged by Congress with finding potentially hazardous space rocks. Yet only last year, after a separate brief scare, did officials formalize lines of communication between NASA's top brass and the astronomers who find and monitor space rocks.

Still, there are no formal lines of communication between NASA and the White House to handle an imminent threat. And there is no U.S. agency to which the issue of protection of the public and property from the impact of near-Earth asteroids is assigned, Schweickart points out. Who would decide on whether and how to deflect an incoming threat? What agencies would be mobilized to deal with an impact?

The U.S. Congress should take action and assign that responsibility, he said. [...]

Comment: Based on an accurate reading of the earth's history, it seems very likely that there are an enormous number of space rocks headed our way right now. So, if it's true that any kind of major impact will be known years in advance, then it seems some people in highly placed positions of power are well aware of this fact, and are working overtime to make sure this information does not reach the ears of the general public.

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