Friday, October 31, 2008

Fidel Castro: The Worst Variant

Reflections of Fidel | Granma, Oct 31, 2008

TODAY I read that the U.S. Federal Reserve had opened a new line of credit for the central banks of Mexico, Brazil, South Korea and Singapore.

The same report claimed that similar credits have been issued to the central banks of Australia, Canada, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland and the European Central Bank.

Based on these agreements, the central banks will receive funds in exchange for hard currency reserves from these countries, which have sustained considerable losses due to the financial and trade crisis.

This consolidates the economic power of the U.S. currency, a privilege granted at Bretton Woods.

The International Monetary Fund, which is the same dog with a different collar, has announced the injection of large sums of money into its Eastern European clients. Hungary will be receiving the equivalent of 20 billion euros, a large part of which are dollars from the United States. Their machines keep printing bills and the IMF keeps granting its leonine loans.

For its part, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) stated in Geneva yesterday that, at the current rate of spending, by the year 2030, humanity will need the resources of two planets to maintain its lifestyle.

The WWF is a serious institution. There is no need to be a University graduate in Mathematics, Economics or Political Science to understand what this means. It is the worst variant. Developed capitalism hopes to continue plundering the world as if the world were still able to sustain it.

Fidel Castro Ruz
October 30, 2008
8:05 p.m.

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US army considers 20,000 more troops for Afghanistan

* Commanders demand chopper units, intelligence teams, engineers, medical teams
* Pentagon says troops not ‘sitting at ready’

Daily Times, Oct 31, 2008

WASHINGTON: United States military planners now think they might need twice the number of extra troops initially believed needed to help fight the war in Afghanistan.

The build up in the increasingly violent campaign could amount to more than 20,000 troops rather than the originally planned 10,000, two senior defence officials said on Wednesday on condition of anonymity.

The latest calculations reflect growing requests from field commanders in recent weeks for aviation units, engineers and other skills to support the fighting units, they said.

Officials had been saying for months that they needed more people to train Afghan security forces and two more combat brigades – a total of around 10,000 people.

Commanders later increased that to the trainers and three combat brigades — or some 15,000, when extra support is included.

Support: Now, the planners say that the number may have to grow yet again by another 5,000 to 10,000 support troops. They said they would need helicopter units, intelligence teams, engineers to build more bases, medical teams and others to support the fight.

In Afghanistan, it is far more difficult for troops to operate in the undeveloped nation, which lacks roads, runways and facilities to support troops, and commanders in Afghanistan do not consider this a short-term surge in troops, but rather the number that will be needed over a longer period, an official said.

It is unclear whether the number will win approval. If a force that large is approved, it’s also unclear where the Pentagon would get that many extra troops for the Afghan campaign - and how quickly they could be sent.

The Defence Department has already approved the deployment of about 4,000 people — one additional Marine combat battalion and one army brigade to be sent by January..

The military shortfall in Afghanistan has been a common complaint from commanders, although, the number has grown from fewer than 21,000 two years ago to more than 31,000 today.

Pentagon: At a Defence Department press conference later on Wednesday, Press Secretary Geoff Morrell did not offer a number.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have them all sitting at the ready, waiting just for the beck and call and we can send them overnight,” Morrell said, adding officials must weigh needs in Afghanistan with global needs.


Expanding War, Contracting Meaning

The Next President and the Global War on Terror

Andrew J. Bacevich |, Oct 30, 2008

A week ago, I had a long conversation with a four-star U.S. military officer who, until his recent retirement, had played a central role in directing the global war on terror. I asked him: what exactly is the strategy that guides the Bush administration’s conduct of this war? His dismaying, if not exactly surprising, answer: there is none.

President Bush will bequeath to his successor the ultimate self-licking ice cream cone. To defense contractors, lobbyists, think-tankers, ambitious military officers, the hosts of Sunday morning talk shows, and the Douglas Feith-like creatures who maneuver to become players in the ultimate power game, the Global War on Terror is a boon, an enterprise redolent with opportunity and promising to extend decades into the future.

Yet, to a considerable extent, that very enterprise has become a fiction, a gimmicky phrase employed to lend an appearance of cohesion to a panoply of activities that, in reality, are contradictory, counterproductive, or at the very least beside the point. In this sense, the global war on terror relates to terrorism precisely as the war on drugs relates to drug abuse and dependence: declaring a state of permanent “war” sustains the pretense of actually dealing with a serious problem, even as policymakers pay lip-service to the problem’s actual sources. The war on drugs is a very expensive fraud. So, too, is the Global War on Terror.

Anyone intent on identifying some unifying idea that explains U.S. actions, military and otherwise, across the Greater Middle East is in for a disappointment. During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt laid down “Germany first” and then “unconditional surrender” as core principles. Early in the Cold War, the Truman administration devised the concept of containment, which for decades thereafter provided a conceptual framework to which policymakers adhered. Yet seven years into its Global War on Terror, the Bush administration is without a compass, wandering in the arid wilderness. To the extent that any inkling of a strategy once existed — the preposterous neoconservative vision of employing American power to “transform” the Islamic world — events have long since demolished the assumptions on which it was based.

Rather than one single war, the United States is presently engaged in several.

Ranking first in importance is the war for Bush’s legacy, better known as Iraq. The President himself will never back away from his insistence that here lies the “central front” of the conflict he initiated after 9/11. Hunkered down in their bunker, Bush and his few remaining supporters would have us believe that the “surge” has, at long last, brought victory in sight and with it some prospect of redeeming this otherwise misbegotten and mismanaged endeavor. If the President can leave office spouting assurances that light is finally visible somewhere at the far end of a very long, very dark Mesopotamian tunnel, he will claim at least partial vindication. And if actual developments subsequent to January 20 don’t turn out well, he can always blame the outcome on his successor.

Next comes the orphan war. This is Afghanistan, a conflict now in its eighth year with no signs of ending anytime soon. Given the attention lavished on Iraq, developments in Afghanistan have until recently attracted only intermittent notice. Lately, however, U.S. officials have awakened to the fact that things are going poorly, both politically and militarily. Al Qaeda persists. The Taliban is reasserting itself. Expectations that NATO might ride to the rescue have proven illusory. Apart from enabling Afghanistan to reclaim its status as the world’s number one producer of opium, U.S. efforts to pacify that nation and nudge it toward modernity have produced little.

The Pentagon calls its intervention in Afghanistan Operation Enduring Freedom. The emphasis was supposed to be on the noun. Unfortunately, the adjective conveys the campaign’s defining characteristic: enduring as in endless. Barring a radical re-definition of purpose, this is an enterprise which promises to continue, consuming lives and treasure, for a long, long time.

In neighboring Pakistan, meanwhile, there is the war-hidden-in-plain-sight. Reports of U.S. military action in Pakistan have now become everyday fare. Air strikes, typically launched from missile-carrying drones, are commonplace, and U.S. ground forces have also conducted at least one cross-border raid from inside Afghanistan. Although the White House doesn’t call this a war, it is — a gradually escalating war of attrition in which we are killing both terrorists and noncombatants. Unfortunately, we are killing too few of the former to make a difference and more than enough of the latter to facilitate the recruitment of new terrorists to replace those we eliminate.

Finally — skipping past the wars-in-waiting, which are Syria and Iran — there is Condi’s war. This clash, which does not directly involve U.S. forces, may actually be the most important of all. The war that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has made her own is the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Having for years dismissed the insistence of Muslims, Arabs and non-Arabs alike, that the plight of the Palestinians constitutes a problem of paramount importance, Rice now embraces that view. With the fervor of a convert, she has vowed to broker an end to that conflict prior to leaving office in January 2009.

Given that Rice brings little — perhaps nothing — to the effort in the way of fresh ideas, her prospects of making good as a peacemaker appear slight. Yet, as with Bush and Iraq, so too with Rice and the Palestinian problem: she has a lot riding on the effort. If she flops, history will remember her as America’s least effective secretary of state since Cordell Hull spent World War II being ignored, bypassed, and humiliated by Franklin Roosevelt. She will depart Foggy Bottom having accomplished nothing.

There’s nothing inherently wrong in fighting simultaneously on several fronts, as long as actions on front A are compatible with those on front B, and together contribute to overall success. Unfortunately, that is not the case with the Global War on Terror. We have instead an illustration of what Winston Churchill once referred to as a pudding without a theme: a war devoid of strategic purpose.

This absence of cohesion — by now a hallmark of the Bush administration — is both a disaster and an opportunity. It is a disaster in the sense that we have, over the past seven years, expended enormous resources, while gaining precious little in return.

Bush’s supporters beg to differ, of course. They credit the president with having averted a recurrence of 9/11, doubtless a commendable achievement but one primarily attributable to the fact that the United States no longer neglects airport security. To argue that, say, the invasion and occupation of Iraq have prevented terrorist attacks against the United States is the equivalent of contending that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank since in 1967 has prevented terrorist attacks against the state of Israel.

Yet the existing strategic vacuum is also an opportunity. When it comes to national security at least, the agenda of the next administration all but sets itself. There is no need to waste time arguing about which issues demand priority action.

First-order questions are begging for attention. How should we gauge the threat? What are the principles that should inform our response? What forms of power are most relevant to implementing that response? Are the means at hand adequate to the task? If not, how should national priorities be adjusted to provide the means required? Given the challenges ahead, how should the government organize itself? Who — both agencies and individuals — will lead?

To each and every one of these questions, the Bush administration devised answers that turned out to be dead wrong. The next administration needs to do better. The place to begin is with the candid recognition that the Global War on Terror has effectively ceased to exist. When it comes to national security strategy, we need to start over from scratch.

Andrew J. Bacevich is professor of history and international relations at Boston University. His bestselling new book is The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (The American Empire Project, Metropolitan Books). To listen to a podcast in which he discusses issues relevant to this article, click here.

CIA Can Hide Torture Allegations, Court Rules


The CIA can hide statements from imprisoned suspected terrorists that the agency tortured them in its set of secret prisons, a federal judge ruled Wednesday,

Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of the Washington D.C. Circuit Court declined to review the government’s assertions that the allegations of torture from men held in the CIA’s black site prisons — whether truthful or not — would put the nation at risk of grave danger if allowed to be made public.

“The Court, giving deference to the agency’s detailed, good-faith declaration, is disinclined to
second-guess the agency in its area of expertise through in camera review,” Lamberth wrote (.pdf), referring to a procedure where a judge looks at evidence in his chamber without showing it to the opposing side.

The ruling comes in a case where the ACLU filed a government sunshine suit to force the government to unredact allegations from statements from so-called High Value Detainees such as 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheihk Muhammed that the CIA kidnapped and tortured them.

The judge’s decision not to look at the blacked-out text to see if secrets are involved allows the Bush Administration to continue to hide its use of torture techniques, according to Ben Wizner, a staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project.

“The government has suppressed these detainees’ allegations of brutal torture not to protect any legitimate national security interests, but to protect itself from criticism and liability,” said Wizner. “It is unlawful for the government to withhold information on these grounds.”

Not surprisingly, the CIA disagreed — saying the enemy would be helped by knowing what kinds of torture and interrogation techniques it uses.

“Among the details that cannot be publicly released are the conditions of the detainees’ capture, the employment of alternative interrogation methods, and other operational details,” the CIA’s Wendy Hilton told the court in a sworn affidavit (.pdf). “Specifically, disclosure of such information is reasonably likely to degrade the CIA’s ability to effectively question terrorist detainees and elicit information necessary to protect the American people”

The CIA also successfully argued that it needed to redact statements about what countries were involved in the program, saying that such allegations could destroy relationships with countries that helped with the CIA’s controversial program of secretly kidnapping suspected terrorists and shuttling them to hidden prisons in Europe and Asia, where neither families nor the Red Cross knew of their detention.

Transcripts from each of the 14 detainee’s Combatant Status Review Tribunals in Guantanamo Bay were provided to the ACLU and posted to the Pentagon’s website in the summer of 2007. Six of those included some redactions.

The ACLU also requested other documents, which turned up written statements and lawyers notes used as evidence in the hearings. The CIA redacted information from three of five of these.

The CIA made a point of noting that some of the allegations of torture were untrue, but had to be redacted anyways, because blacking out the truth and allowing false statements would let a clever prisoner paint an inverse picture of CIA torture techniques.

Judge Lamberth deferred to that argument.

“Improbable though this might seem, it is conceivable,” Lamberth wrote.

The Bush Administration admits that it authorized the CIA to use torture techniques such as waterboarding and hide kidnapped persons from the Red Cross, but continues to use euphemisms such as “enhanced interrogatoin techniques” to describe its actions.

The fourteen prisoners, who are now all being held in the military’s Guantanamo Bay prison facility, are Abu Faraj al-Libi, Walid Bin Attash, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, Mohd Farik bin Amin (known as Zubair), Mustafa Al Hawsawi, Abd Al Rahim Hussein Mohammed (known as Al Nashiri), Bashir Bin Lap (known as Lillie), Ammar Al Baluchi, Riduan Bin Isomuddin (known as Hambali), and Zayn Al Abidin MuhammadGuleed Hassan Ahmed.

The CIA was forced to shutter its network of hidden prisons around the country after their existence and some of the site’s locations were exposed by journalists and plane spotters.

Judge Lamberth also served as the presiding judge of the nation’s secret spying court from 1995 to 2002. He was reportedly the first judge to learn that the Administration was spying on Americans without following the law, but says there’s nothing to worry about.

Poster: Mike Licht/Flickr

The Executions at Kafr Qassem

Message of Massacre Lives on for Palestinians

By Jonathan Cook| Counterpunch, Oct 30, 2008

In a conflict that has produced more than its share of suffering and tragedy, the name of Kafr Qassem lives on in infamy more than half a century after Israeli police gunned down 47 Palestinian civilians, including women and children, in the village.

This week Kafr Qassem’s inhabitants, joined by a handful of Israeli Jewish sympathisers, commemorated the anniversary of the deaths 52 years ago by marching to the cemetery where the victims were laid to rest.

They did so as the local media revisited the events, publishing testimonies from two former senior police officers who recalled the order from their commander to shoot all civilians breaking a last-minute curfew imposed on the village, which lies just inside Israel’s borders.

The two men, who were stationed at villages close to Kafr Qassem, suggested that, had they not personally disobeyed the order when confronted with Palestinians returning from work, the death toll would have been far higher.

Taking part in the annual march was one of the few survivors of the massacre. Saleh Khalil Issa is today 71, but back in 1956 he was an 18-year-old agricultural worker.

He remembered returning to the village on his bicycle, along with a dozen other workers, just after 5pm on 29 October 1956.

What he and the other villagers did not know was that earlier that day the Border Police, a special paramilitary unit that operates inside both Israel and the occupied territories, had agreed to set up checkpoints unannounced at the entrance to half a dozen Palestinian villages inside Israel.

The villages were selected because they lie close to the Green Line, the ceasefire line between Israel and Jordan, which was then occupying the West Bank, following the 1948 war.

At a briefing the commanding officer, Major Shmuel Malinki, ordered his men to shoot any civilian arriving home after 5pm.

Asked about the fate of women or children returning late, Malinki replied: “Without sentiment, the curfew applies to everyone.” Pressed on the point, he responded in Arabic: “Allah yarahmum [God have mercy on them]”, adding that this was the order from the brigade commander, Colonel Issachar Shadmi.

Mr Issa said that, when his group reached the village, they were stopped by three policemen. “They told us to get off our bikes and form a line. The commander asked where we were from. When we replied ‘Kafr Qassem’, he took three steps back and told his colleagues, ‘Cut them down!’”

Mr Issa, who was shot in the arm and leg, pretended to be dead among the bodies. He heard villagers’ cars arriving and the policemen ask the same question. Each new arrival was executed.

“Finally, I heard a bus arrive with female passengers, including young girls. I later learnt that there were 12 of them on board. They were forced to get out and shot too, though one survived like me.”

Mr Issa said the policemen checked to see if any of the victims were moving, and then fired more bullets at them. While the police officers were not watching, he crawled away and hid behind a tree. He was found the next morning and taken to a hospital in nearby Petah Tikva, along with 12 other injured.

Of the dead, seven were children and nine women, including one who was pregnant.

Mohammed Arabi, today 84, arrived at the same checkpoint later that evening. A tailor, he had spent the day in Tel Aviv buying materials and hitched a lift home in the back of a truck with 26 other villagers.

When the driver tried to drop 11 of them off just outside the village, they came under fire. The 11 jumped back into the truck, he said, and the driver sped up the hill towards the village.

“When we reached the entrance to the village, we saw bodies everywhere. The driver panicked, frightened to go back, but forced to drive over several corpses lying in the street to get away.”

A short distance ahead, however, a detachment of policemen stopped them. Mr Arabi overheard a debate between the policemen about whether to let them go home or take them to the eastern side of the village.

“I knew what was being suggested. The eastern side was the border with the West Bank. Palestinians were regularly shot on sight by the police for trying to cross into Israel. If we were killed there, it would look like we were infiltrators.”

The commander said he would follow behind the truck in his jeep and escort them to the village’s eastern entrance.

“We were saved by a shepherd who at that moment was driving a large flock of sheep into the village. The sheep separated us from the police, and the truck driver saw his chance. He drove off at top speed and escaped.

“He took us to his home and all 27 of us hid there for three days, too frightened to come out.”

Despite the appalling loss of life, Israel has been slow to come to terms with the massacre. Mr Issa and other villagers were repeatedly arrested in subsequent years as they tried to stage a commemoration.

On the insistence of the government, the plaque erected in the village square to commemorate the deaths refers to the event as a “tragedy” rather a “massacre”. No government official has ever attended the annual march.

Continued . . .

RIGHTS: Bush’s “Freedom Agenda” Stumbles in Syria

By Ali Gharib and Zainab Mineeia | Inter Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct 31 (IPS) - With media and diplomatic attention focused on the international incident ignited by a U.S. cross-border raid from Iraq into Syrian territory last weekend, the Syrian government quietly handed down 30-month prison terms to a group of democracy activists on Wednesday.

Few took notice, although Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to immediately overturn the convictions and order the release of prisoners arrested during a crackdown on the Damascus Declaration movement in late 2007 and early 2008.

Forty activists who participated in a Damascus Declaration forum had been detained, although most were later released. In a 20-minute sentencing session, the 12 who were prosecuted and convicted were given stiff prison terms for allegedly attempting to promote gradual political change in the country.

“In a transparent bid to silence its critics, the government is jailing democracy activists for simply attending a meeting,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW. “The trial was a mere cover to legitimise the government’s repression of opposition groups and peaceful critics.”

But the best cover for the Syrian regime may have come from the U.S., Syria expert and Oklahoma University professor Joshua Landis told IPS.

“The world is not concentrating on this; the world is concentrating on America’s violation of Syrian territory,” Landis told IPS, noting that even some of the U.S.’s allies have condemned the raid.

“America would normally be putting out a statement,” he said, “but no one cares about these guys because the world is focused on [the recent raid]. Everyone is focused on this international issue that America created.”

“These 12 democracy promoters are going to disappear into jail because there is chaos at the border. It punctuates the failure of the Freedom Agenda,” Landis added.

The activists were part of a coalition based around the Damascus Declaration, which formed the basis for a reform movement encouraging “internal support for peaceful, democratic change in Syria,” according to the HRW statement.

The Damascus Declaration, which was established in 2005, created a coalition comprised of opposition political parties and independent activists, including lawyers, doctors, writers and an artist.

The consolidation of Syria’s wildly varied opposition, represented by the Damascus Declaration, came at a time of relative weakness for the regime. Syria was part of U.S. President George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil,” and a neighbouring Axis member, Iraq, had just been subject to a U.S. invasion aimed at regime change.

That weakness and, says Landis, emboldened by encouraging press from the world’s democracy movements, led the opposition to seek to organise and unify — aims largely accomplished by the Damascus Declaration, albeit ephemerally.

Despite a long record of prosecuting political activists who peacefully express their opinions, the Assad regime did not initially act forcefully against the Damascus Declaration.

But in 2006, when the members of the coalition banded together with Lebanese intellectuals and activists to call for better relations between the countries, Syrian authorities cracked down.

In May of 2007, a Syrian court handed down sentences to four activists, including prominent writer Michel Kilo and political activist Mahmud Issa, for allegedly “weakening national sentiment”.

The regime in Syria, like Iraq under former president Saddam Hussein, is ruled by the Arab Socialist Resurrection Baath Party. Bashar al-Assad, who took the helm after his father’s death in 2000, was confirmed as president by an unopposed referendum in 2001. His late father had ruled Syria for 30 years prior to his death.

Syria’s government under the Assads has a history of abuses and heavily limits basic freedoms such as expression, association and assembly through different laws including 45 years of an ongoing state of emergency.

Removing the state of emergency is a major part of the Damascus Declaration’s platform. The prisoners in the latest round of crackdowns include movement president Fida al-Hurani, former parliament member Riyadh Seif, and author Ali al-Abdullah.

Syrian security forces initially held the activists incommunicado for as long as 40 days. Eight of the 12 convicted told the investigative judge that State Security officials beat them during their interrogation and forced them to sign false statements “confessing” that they planned to take money from foreign countries in order to divide the country.

Al-Abdullah suffered an injury to his ear as a result of the beating he endured, said the HRW statement, and the court did not order any independent investigation regarding the allegations of ill-treatment.

They were charged with “spreading false information” and “belonging to a secret organisation promoting sectarian strife,” charges that they deny, according to Freedom House, a U.S. government-funded human rights watchdog.

During the trial, the activists confessed that they were involved in the Damascus Declaration, but pleaded not guilty and denied the charges against them.

Another detainee, Walid al-Bunni, a physician, told the court during his defence that “getting into the details of my defence is useless, but I will ask: what is the basis of the accusations?”

One of the lawyers for the activists told HRW that the defence team will likely appeal the sentence within the required 30 days. He summarised the judgment by saying “membership in the Damascus Declaration is now criminalised.”

Families of the detainees expressed their grief over the sentence. “We don’t know what to feel anymore. I don’t care if the sentence is for 2.5 years or 10 years. My husband should not be in jail in the first place,” said the wife of one of the detainees, according to HRW.

The crackdown on the Damascus Declaration after the initial inaction in 2005, said Landis, was a result of Assad’s newfound ability to rally people against activists.

In 2005, the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq had not yet descended into widespread violence and chaos. As disorder in Iraq increased with the bungled occupation, says Landis, dictatorships suddenly had an example of what collusion with Western interests would look like — especially when Western involvement was couched in terms of democracy promotion, known as Bush’s Freedom Agenda.

“Every Middle Eastern society is so fearful of the chaos and insecurity that could be visited upon them with the collapse of their government that they cling to their dictatorial regimes,” Landis told IPS. “It’s relegitimised dictatorship.”

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Advocates for Gaza Challenge Blockade

By ISABEL KERSHNER | New York Times, Oct 30, 2008

JERUSALEM — A boatload of international campaigners challenged the Israeli blockade of Hamas-run Gaza on Wednesday and sailed into a small port there, the third such landing in two months.

Among the 27 activists and crew members of the vessel that sailed from Cyprus were Mairead Maguire, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who led a campaign against violence in Northern Ireland; Mustafa Barghouti, an independent Palestinian legislator from the West Bank; two Israeli citizens; and individuals from various countries including Britain, Italy and the United States.

The voyage, as was the last one, was organized under the auspices of the Free Gaza Movement, a Palestinian advocacy group based in El Cerrito, Calif.

In late August, the first two boats arrived together in Gaza despite Israeli threats to stop them. Israeli Foreign Ministry officials said at the time that there had been a last-minute decision to let the boats through to avoid a public relations debacle, and not to play into the hands of people they described as provocateurs.

This time, too, Israeli officials had stated that the boat would not be allowed to reach Gaza, yet it was allowed to proceed without hindrance.

“It was decided at the highest levels to allow them to enter,” said Yigal Palmor, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, without explanation.

Hamas, the Islamist group that took control of Gaza in June 2007, is classified as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union. Israel strictly limits the volume and type of goods entering the area by land, though the economic embargo has eased somewhat since a truce took effect in June.

Still, Israel maintains a policy of isolating the area. The authorities denied entry this week to 120 international academics and health professionals who had applied to attend a conference organized by the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, which offers a range of local services and is supported by the World Health Organization and other international bodies. The conference focused on the state of mental health in Gaza in light of the blockade.

The international experts participated by video conference from Ramallah, in the West Bank.

Before dawn on Wednesday, Israeli forces shot dead a Palestinian man in the village of Yamoun, near Jenin, in the northern West Bank. A spokesman for the Israeli military said that the man, Muhammad Abahreh, 67, had fired a hunting rifle at a force that was on a routine operation in the area, and that the soldiers had fired back.

Mr. Abahreh’s son, Taher, told news agencies that his father, a farmer, was guarding his livestock against rustlers in an enclosure just outside the village when he was shot in the dark.

India escalates state terrorism in Kashmir after Poll annoncement

Kashmir Watch

Srinagar, October 29: An extraordinary meeting was held at Muslim Conference head office Wazirbagh Srinagar today. The meeting was chaired by the acting chairman of Muslim conference Jahanager Gani Bhat along with other Hurriyat executives and senior leaders that include Bilal Gani Lone, Fazl Haq Querashi, Mukhtar Ahmad Waza, Musadiq Adil, Adv. Mohammad Ashraf Lone, Shabir Ahmad Dar, Abdul Rehman Bhat, Abdul Rashid Antoo and Gh. Mohammad Rather.

The leaders discussed the present situation of the Jammu Kashmir and said that “elections are no alternative to self-determination”.

In the meeting acting chairman Jammu Kashmir Peoples League Mukhtar Ahmad Waza has appealed the people of Kashmir to follow the programme of Hurriyat conference. He said that elections are nothing rather than a futile exercise and appealed to the world community and international human rights organizations to send their representatives to Kashmir to monitor Indian state terrorism which has escalated soon after the announcement of J&K polls. He said that world leaders should put pressure on India to resolve the core issue of Kashmir in accordance with aspirations of Kashmiris.

Hurriyet leaders while condemning the arrest of pro-movement leaders and activists termed it a reflection of Indian government’s nervousness and unconstitutional act.

Posted on 29 Oct 2008 by Webmaster

Witnesses Say Georgia Targeted Civilians in August War, Posted October 28, 2008

Ever since the Georgian shelling of Tskhinvali sparked its brief August war with Russia, both sides have claimed loudly and consistently that the other has committed war crimes. This has included over 3,000 complaints filed with the European Court of Human Rights regarding action in South Ossetia. The complaints have largely been shrugged off by the international community as politically motivated however.

Now the BBC has completed what it says is the “first unrestricted visit to South Ossetia by a foreign news organization since the conflict,” and has gathered considerable evidence of Georgian war crimes during the fighting. Among other things, Georgian tanks are accused of firing directly into apartment buildings and fleeing civilians were fired upon while trying to flee the fighting.

The deliberate targeting of civilians would violate the Geneva Conventions. The BBC also reports that the attacks inspired post-war “revenge” attacks against ethnic Georgian civilians in the region, many of whom have been chased from their homes by angry Ossetians.

The issue was raised with the Georgian government by UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband, and Georgian President Saakashvili strongly denied the charges, adding “there were certainly war crimes committed, certainly not by us.”

Perplexingly, President Saakashvili described the destruction of villages which “were not Georgian villages” populated by ethnic Ossetians. The statement is confusing as the president has repeatedly claimed that the breakaway enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia are part of Georgia while vowing to retake them to ensure the “unification of Georgia.”

Russia has recognized South Ossetia as independent and offered a guarantee to defend themvowed to use its position on the UN Security Council to ensure that South Ossetia is never seen as independent against future Georgian attacks. The United States has condemned Russia and in the eyes of the international community.

Related Stories

compiled by Jason Ditz [email the author]

UN again urges US to lift embargo against Cuba

Yahoo News

Massive UN vote in favor of lifting US embargo on Cuba AFP/File – The UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly for the 17th year in a row Wednesday to demand an end to …

UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a resolution on Wednesday urging the United States to repeal its 47-year-old trade embargo against Cuba, which the country’s foreign minister vowed would never bring the Cuban people “to their knees.”

It was the 17th straight year that the General Assembly called for the embargo to be repealed “as soon as possible.”

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said he hopes the next U.S. president will respond to the international appeal.

But he said whatever the eventual decision, “I would like to reiterate that they shall never be able to bring the Cuban people to their knees.”

U.S. diplomat Ronald Godard said every country has the right to restrict trade. He said the embargo is justified because the Cuban government is undemocratic and restricts political and economic freedom.

The vote in the 192-member world body was 185 to 3, with 2 abstentions. The U.S., Israel and Palau voted “no” while Micronesia and the Marshall Islands abstained.

That was one more “yes” vote than last year’s vote of 184 to 4 with 1 abstention, and when the final vote flashed on the screen in the General Assembly chamber, there was loud applause.

The United States has no diplomatic relations with Cuba, lists the country as a state sponsor of terror and has long sought to isolate it through travel restrictions and a trade embargo. The embargo, imposed in 1962, has been tightened during President Bush’s two terms.

Perez Roque blamed the sanctions for more than $93 billion in total economic damage over the decades.

But Godard told the General Assembly “the real reason the Cuban economy is in terrible condition and that so many Cubans remain mired in poverty is that Cuba’s regime continues to deny its people their basic human and economic rights.”

The American people, he said, remain the largest providers of humanitarian aid to the Cuban people, providing $240.5 million in private aid in 2007. The U.S. has increased assistance to non-governmental organizations to help address basic needs but Cuba rejected offers of U.S. aid following two devastating hurricanes, he said.

“We cannot accept alleged assistance from those who have intensified the blockade, sanctions and hostility against our people,” Perez Roque told the General Assembly.

The US Empire will Survive Bush

Two Parties, One Imperial Mission

By ARNO MAYER| Counterpunch, Oct 29, 2009

The United States may emerge from the Iraq fiasco almost unscathed. Though momentarily disconcerted, the American empire will continue on its way, under bipartisan direction and mega-corporate pressure, and with evangelical blessings.It is a defining characteristic of mature imperial states that they can afford costly blunders, paid for not by the elites but the lower orders. Predictions of the American empire’s imminent decline are exaggerated: without a real military rival, it will continue for some time as the world’s sole hyperpower.

But though they endure, overextended empires suffer injuries to their power and prestige. In such moments they tend to lash out, to avoid being taken for paper tigers. Given Washington’s predicament in Iraq, will the US escalate its intervention in Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Somalia or Venezuela? The US has the strongest army the world has ever known. Preponderant on sea, in the air and in space (including cyberspace), the US has an awesome capacity to project its power over enormous distances with speed, a self-appointed sheriff rushing to master or exploit real and putative crises anywhere on earth.

In the words of the former secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld: “No corner of the world is remote enough, no mountain high enough, no cave or bunker deep enough, no SUV fast enough to protect our enemies from our reach.” The US spends more than 20% of its annual budget on defense, nearly half of the spending of the rest of the world put together. It’s good for the big US corporate arms manufacturers and their export sales. The Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, purchase billions of dollars of state-of-the-art ordnance.

Instead of establishing classic territorial colonies, the US secures its hegemony through some 700 military, naval and air bases in over 100 countries, the latest being in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Poland, Rumania, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Ethiopia and Kenya. At least 16 intelligence agencies with stations the world over provide the ears and eyes of this borderless empire.

The US has 12 aircraft carriers. All but three are nuclear-powered, designed to carry 80 planes and helicopters, and marines, sailors and pilots. A task force centerd on a supercarrier includes cruisers, destroyers and submarines, many of them atomic-powered and equipped with offensive and defensive guided missiles. Pre-positioned in global bases and constantly patrolling vital sea lanes, the US navy provides the new model empire’s spinal cord and arteries. Ships are displacing planes as chief strategic and tactical suppliers of troops and equipment. The navy is now in the ascendant over the army and the air force in the Pentagon and Washington.

The US military presence in the Eastern Mediterranean, Red Sea, Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean from 2006 to 2008 shows how the US can flex its muscles half-way around the globe (and deliver humanitarian relief at gunpoint for political advantage). At least two carrier strike groups with landing craft, amphibious vehicles, and thousands of sailors and marines, along with Special Operations teams, operate out of Bahrain, Qatar and Djibouti. They serve notice that, in the words of the current defense secretary, Robert Gates, speaking in Kabul in January 2007, the US will continue to have “a strong presence in the Gulf for a long time into the future”.

Continued . . .

PAKISTAN: Quake Survivors Await Relief

By Beena Sarwar | Inter Press Service

KARACHI, Oct 29 (IPS) - Poor infrastructure and communications are making it difficult for rescue and relief teams to reach scattered hamlets in the mountainous plateau area affected by the 6.4 magnitude earthquake that struck Pakistan’s Balochistan province at dawn on Wednesday.

Relief efforts were repulsed by a second temblor, estimated at 6.2 on the Richter scale that struck the area barely 12 hours later at about 5 pm, followed by at least four significant aftershocks.

Lt. Gen. (retd) Farooq Ahmed Khan, chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said that the situation had been brought under control when the second earthquake struck.

“We had managed to find most of the bodies and provide relief to most of the survivors, including hospitalisation and first aid and tents and blankets. But because of the darkness as night fell soon after the second earthquake, it is hard to say what the situation is at this point,” he said in a late-night television show, talking to Kamran Khan of Geo TV.

At least 200 people are believed to be dead so far, a number expected to rise as many remain trapped under collapsed houses in scattered hamlets. The survivors have mostly taken refuge in the fruit orchards, braving the bitter cold of the mountain region, close to the Afghanistan border.

The army has provided six C-130 airplanes to convey relief materials including tents, blankets, food and drinking water to the affected areas, and put two army field hospitals on standby, said the NDMA chair.

The worst-hit area is the idyllic hill resort of Ziarat near the earthquake’s epicentre, some 70 km north-east of the provincial capital of Quetta. Ziarat is accessible by a single road that has been damaged by the earthquake, but the over a half dozen villages around Ziarat town are more difficult to reach.

Most of the houses in the area are reported to have collapsed, the main cause of death say reporters who reached Ziarat town. They also say there is an urgent need of tents, blankets, food items and drinking water.

Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province in terms of area, but is sparsely populated and poor in terms of development and social indicators. Although rich in natural mineral resources, and natural gas, most of the ten million or so inhabitants — a fraction of the country’s estimated 160 million — of this rugged, water-scarce plateau region are tribal, nomadic herders or fruit farmers.

Situated on a known fault-line, the province is no stranger to such destruction. The devastation caused by the 1935 earthquake is part of legend now, when some 35,000 people were killed in Quetta, wiping out half the city’s population.

However, successive governments have done little to take precautionary measures or enforce safety regulations that would reduce earthquake casualties in the country.

British colonial rulers, recognising the area’s proneness to quakes, introduced the Building Code Act of 1935, notes M. Ejaz Khan, a veteran reporter based in Quetta. The Act included the stipulation that no buildings in the earthquake-prone area would be higher than a single-storey.

“But many buildings in Quetta are four-storeys high,” Khan told IPS over the phone. “In Ziarat, there are mostly mud houses, but several government residences go up to two or three-storeys high.”

The international community has stepped forward with expressions of condolence and offers of aid, including Britain, China, India and the European Union. Germany has already committed 315,000 US dollars as well as tents, blankets and other essentials.

Officials said essential items included earthmovers for digging mass graves and shelter and blankets capable to protect the survivors from freezing temperatures as winter sets in.

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has announced Rs 300,000 (around 3,600 dollars) as compensation for each casualty and Rs 100,000 (1,200 dollars) for each injured survivor.

However, many families affected by the devastating earthquake in Kashmir in the north-west almost three years ago are yet to receive the compensation promised then. Over 80,000 people were killed then, with about as many injured and maimed.

“Some claimants gave up and made the tough decision to migrate to other areas, while others took loans for reconstruction. Yet others, generally the poorest, unable to pursue any of these options, continue to live in tents or other makeshift arrangements,” according to ‘Three Years On, The Realities of People’s Lives’, a report released by the Omar Asghar Khan Foundation on Oct. 8, the third anniversary of the 2005 earthquake.

Pakistan summons US ambassador to order halt to cross-border raids

US Air Force unmanned predator aerial vehicle with a hellfire missile attached

A US air force unmanned predator vehicle, the type of which is believed to be used to launch cross-border raids

Pakistan’s government summoned the US ambassador yesterday to demand an immediate halt to missile strikes on its territory in the latest sign of escalating tension between the supposed allies in the War on Terror.The Foreign Ministry said that it had called in Anne Patterson, the US envoy, following a sudden increase in attacks by unmanned American drones on suspected militant hideouts near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.

“A strong protest was lodged on the continued missile attacks by US drones inside Pakistani territory,” the ministry said in a statement.

“It was underscored to the ambassador that the government of Pakistan strongly condemns the missile attacks which resulted in the loss of precious lives and property.

“It was emphasised that such attacks were a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and should be stopped immediately.”

Pakistan is a key ally in the US-led War on Terror and has received more than $10 billion in US aid since 2001 in return for helping to fight Taleban and al-Qaeda militants sheltering in its northern tribal areas.

However, US military commanders complain that Pakistani forces have not done enough to combat the militants in the lawless and mountainous region, where they believe Osama bin Laden is also hiding.

So US forces have stepped up their own attacks on the Pakistani side of the border in the last few months, launching at least 15 missile strikes and one cross-border commando raid since August.

Their most recent missile attack, on Monday, killed about 20 people at the home of a Taliban commander in the region of South Waziristan.

American officials never officially confirm or deny attacking Pakistani soil, but say in private that they have been given clearance to do so by Pakistan’s powerful military.

Pakistani officials admit in private that they have allowed some missile attacks, but accuse the Americans of failing to given them prior notice, as required, and of causing unnecessary civilian casulaties.

Pakistan’s new President, Asif Ali Zardari, is now under pressure to respond, especially since lawmakers passed a resolution on Monday condemning the attacks and calling on the government to do more to stop them.

The Foreign Ministry said it gave a copy of the resolution to the US Ambassador. She was also summoned after the US commando raid on Pakistani territory on September 3.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Like, Socialism

Sudhan @22.:35 CET

By Hendrik Hertzberg | The New Yorker, Oct 29, 2008

Sometimes, when a political campaign has run out of ideas and senses that the prize is slipping through its fingers, it rolls up a sleeve and plunges an arm, shoulder deep, right down to the bottom of the barrel. The problem for John McCain, Sarah Palin, and the Republican Party is that the bottom was scraped clean long before it dropped out. Back when the polls were nip and tuck and the leaves had not yet begun to turn, Barack Obama had already been accused of betraying the troops, wanting to teach kindergartners all about sex, favoring infanticide, and being a friend of terrorists and terrorism. What was left? The anticlimactic answer came as the long Presidential march of 2008 staggered toward its final week: Senator Obama is a socialist.

“This campaign in the next couple of weeks is about one thing,” Todd Akin, a Republican congressman from Missouri, told a McCain rally outside St. Louis. “It’s a referendum on socialism.” “With all due respect,” Senator George Voinovich, Republican of Ohio, said, “the man is a socialist.” At an airport rally in Roswell, New Mexico, a well-known landing spot for space aliens, Governor Palin warned against Obama’s tax proposals. “Friends,” she said, “now is no time to experiment with socialism.” And McCain, discussing those proposals, agreed that they sounded “a lot like socialism.” There hasn’t been so much talk of socialism in an American election since 1920, when Eugene Victor Debs, candidate of the Socialist Party, made his fifth run for President from a cell in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, where he was serving a ten-year sentence for opposing the First World War. (Debs got a million votes and was freed the following year by the new Republican President, Warren G. Harding, who immediately invited him to the White House for a friendly visit.)

As a buzzword, “socialism” had mostly good connotations in most of the world for most of the twentieth century. That’s why the Nazis called themselves national socialists. That’s why the Bolsheviks called their regime the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, obliging the socialist and social democratic parties of Europe (and America, for what it was worth) to make rescuing the “good name” of socialism one of their central missions. Socialists—one thinks of men like George Orwell, Willy Brandt, and Aneurin Bevan—were among Communism’s most passionate and effective enemies.

The United States is a special case. There is a whole shelf of books on the question of why socialism never became a real mass movement here. For decades, the word served mainly as a cudgel with which conservative Republicans beat liberal Democrats about the head. When Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan accused John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson of socialism for advocating guaranteed health care for the aged and the poor, the implication was that Medicare and Medicaid would presage a Soviet America. Now that Communism has been defunct for nearly twenty years, though, the cry of socialism no longer packs its old punch. “At least in Europe, the socialist leaders who so admire my opponent are upfront about their objectives,” McCain said the other day—thereby suggesting that the dystopia he abhors is not some North Korean-style totalitarian ant heap but, rather, the gentle social democracies across the Atlantic, where, in return for higher taxes and without any diminution of civil liberty, people buy themselves excellent public education, anxiety-free health care, and decent public transportation.

The Republican argument of the moment seems to be that the difference between capitalism and socialism corresponds to the difference between a top marginal income-tax rate of 35 per cent and a top marginal income-tax rate of 39.6 per cent. The latter is what it would be under Obama’s proposal, what it was under President Clinton, and, for that matter, what it will be after 2010 if President Bush’s tax cuts expire on schedule. Obama would use some of the added revenue to give a break to pretty much everybody who nets less than a quarter of a million dollars a year. The total tax burden on the private economy would be somewhat lighter than it is now—a bit of elementary Keynesianism that renders doubly untrue the Republican claim that Obama “will raise your taxes.”

On October 12th, in conversation with a voter forever to be known as Joe the Plumber, Obama gave one of his fullest summaries of his tax plan. After explaining how Joe could benefit from it, whether or not he achieves his dream of owning his own plumbing business, Obama added casually, “I think that when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.” McCain and Palin have been quoting this remark ever since, offering it as prima-facie evidence of Obama’s unsuitability for office. Of course, all taxes are redistributive, in that they redistribute private resources for public purposes. But the federal income tax is (downwardly) redistributive as a matter of principle: however slightly, it softens the inequalities that are inevitable in a market economy, and it reflects the belief that the wealthy have a proportionately greater stake in the material aspects of the social order and, therefore, should give that order proportionately more material support. McCain himself probably shares this belief, and there was a time when he was willing to say so. During the 2000 campaign, on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” a young woman asked him why her father, a doctor, should be “penalized” by being “in a huge tax bracket.” McCain replied that “wealthy people can afford more” and that “the very wealthy, because they can afford tax lawyers and all kinds of loopholes, really don’t pay nearly as much as you think they do.” The exchange continued:

YOUNG WOMAN: Are we getting closer and closer to, like, socialism and stuff?. . .

MCCAIN: Here’s what I really believe: That when you reach a certain level of comfort, there’s nothing wrong with paying somewhat more.

For her part, Sarah Palin, who has lately taken to calling Obama “Barack the Wealth Spreader,” seems to be something of a suspect character herself. She is, at the very least, a fellow-traveller of what might be called socialism with an Alaskan face. The state that she governs has no income or sales tax. Instead, it imposes huge levies on the oil companies that lease its oil fields. The proceeds finance the government’s activities and enable it to issue a four-figure annual check to every man, woman, and child in the state. One of the reasons Palin has been a popular governor is that she added an extra twelve hundred dollars to this year’s check, bringing the per-person total to $3,269. A few weeks before she was nominated for Vice-President, she told a visiting journalist—Philip Gourevitch, of this magazine—that “we’re set up, unlike other states in the union, where it’s collectively Alaskans own the resources. So we share in the wealth when the development of these resources occurs.” Perhaps there is some meaningful distinction between spreading the wealth and sharing it (”collectively,” no less), but finding it would require the analytic skills of Karl the Marxist.

Posted in Commentary, John McCain, Sarah Palin | Tagged , , , , ,

Iraq demands all US troops out by 2011

Iraqi students demonstrate against the US presence in Iraq

(Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)

Students from Mustanseriyah University in Baghdad demonstrate against the presence of US troops in Iraq

Image :1 of 2

Iraq has demanded a clear commitment from the US that its forces will have left its soil by the end of 2011.The stance was revealed in a newly toughened-up version of a draft military pact that could eventually see the US presence forced to make their exit much sooner.

With time fast running out to seal the deal, the Iraqi Cabinet today gave Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister, approval to submit a series of proposed amendments to the US side for further negotiation.

The changes would eliminate any possibility of the US military staying in the country for more than another three years, according to the source. A previous draft linked the pullout with security conditions on the ground, raising the possibility of the US troop presence being extended.

“The maximum duration is three years. It cannot be extended beyond the three years but it can be reduced,” the source told The Times, explaining that under the suggested amendments either Baghdad or Washington would be able to accelerate the US withdrawal rate provided a 12-month notice period is given.Iraq has also changed the Arabic title of the document to make it more appealing for an Iraqi audience, many of whom oppose the US presence in their country.

It will now be known as the “agreement around the temporary presence of US forces in Iraq, its activities and its withdrawal timeline”, according to an Iraqi source close to the matter.

Further alterations have been made to clarify the immunity status of US soldiers on operation if they commit a crime punishable by Iraqi law. In addition, tighter restrictions would be placed on non-US military and civilian personnel entering and exiting Iraq on US military flights.

Mr Maliki informed a Cabinet meeting today that he had spoken to President Bush by telephone the previous day to let him know that Baghdad wanted to suggest changes to the status of forces agreement.

“He said Bush was welcoming and said: ‘Okay we are ready to look into what you propose’,” the source said.

Iraq and the United States must sign the accord before the end of the year, when a United Nations Security Council mandate, authorising the presence of foreign forces in Iraq, is due to expire.

Failure to do so would force Iraq to resort to what it calls “plan B”, asking the Security Council for an emergency extension of the mandate to buy more time.

Officials are already thinking about whether to begin preparing the ground to be ready in case this becomes the only option. Both sides say publicly that the UN route is not desirable, but there is speculation that some Iraqi politicians would prefer to cut the deal with the new US administration than the outgoing one.

The source said the proposed amendments to the pact were “not fundamental”. They largely comprised “grammatical changes in the way it is presented and fine tuning some of the sentences to be far more precise and black and white than they are currently worded,” the source said. “For example, the word ‘should’ we have changed to ‘must’.”

Washington, however, remains wary of making any alterations to a text drawn up after months of tough negotiations and compromises.

Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman, said today: “We have not received any changes from the Iraqis. We think this is a good agreement, therefore the bar will be high.”

The United States is applying pressure on Iraq to push the pact through its Parliament, spelling out the repercussions of failing to reach an accord.

Last week, officials presented a list of activities to the Iraqi side that would become impossible for the US military to perform from January 1.

The US ambassador to Iraq also told a US newspaper that the lack of a legal basis would mean “we do nothing - no security training, no logistical support, no border protection, no training, equipping, manning checkpoints, no nothing”.

Britain, which has just over 4,000 troops largely stationed in southern Iraq, would also be caught out by a failure to reach a deal. London hopes to base its status of forces agreement with Baghdad on the US-Iraq version.