Sunday, May 31, 2009

Christian Soldiers in Afghanistan

by Valerie Elverton Dixon |, May 30, 2009

William Faulkner once said: “The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.” We often think about time and history as a straight line leading from the past, running through the present, heading into the future. With this conceptualization, the past is past and gone. However, there is another way to think about time. Tree time. When we cut down a tree, the rings of the stump are concentric circles of time. The first year exists at the center and each succeeding year surrounds it.

So it is with the meeting of Christianity and Islam on the battle fields of Afghanistan and Iraq. The historical center of the present conflict is the history of the Crusades. Many in the Muslim world consider the U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan as another Crusade. The Crusades were wars between Christians and Muslims, Christians and Pagans, Christians and Christians over four centuries. It was a tragic time when armies of the state fought to promote a religious cause. Crusaders travelled far from home as warriors and pilgrims, warriors and penitents, warriors as walls to stall the spread of Islam. They won and lost battles. They destroyed and plundered and raped. They were sometimes brutally massacred when the Muslims won on a particular day.

This historical core has not passed from the consciousness of some observers. Enter the U.S. military. The military is full of Christians. Many of these men and women consider themselves as fundamentalist and evangelical. An important part of their religious commitment is to witness to Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and savior and to win souls to Christ. At the same time, the U.S. military has a strict rule against proselytizing. And so the warriors must walk a fine line between obligations to faith and country.

However, in my opinion, at least one soldier has been unfairly characterized in this discussion. From what I can tell from the four minute video of a group of Christian soldiers in Afghanistan, army chaplain Captain Emmitt Furner gave them sound advice. He reminded them of the army regulation and he reminded them that to witness to and for Jesus was more a walk than a talk. It is what we as Christians do that is important. He said: “You share the word in a smart manner: love, respect, consideration for their culture and their religion. That’s what a Christian does is appreciation for other human beings.” Another soldier in the group spoke of love and respect for the people they meet.

Some observers see Captain Furner’s advice as a sly way to spread the gospel, an element of a 21st century Crusade. In my opinion, this interpretation is incorrect. He gave his fellow soldiers the instruction to be living epistles that can be known and read by all (2 Corinthians 3:2). It is an instruction that we who are not on the front lines in Afghanistan and in Iraq can use.

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

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In Pakistan, an exodus that is beyond biblical

Locals sell all they have to help millions displaced by battles with the Taliban

By Andrew Buncombe | The Independent, UK, May 31, 2009

Saima is one of 37 refugees now sharing the house of a stranger. Their host, Rizwan Ali, 59, says: 'It would be easier to die than to ask displaced people to leave for the camps'
World Vision

Saima is one of 37 refugees now sharing the house of a stranger. Their host, Rizwan Ali, 59, says: ‘It would be easier to die than to ask displaced people to leave for the camps’

    US Violated Geneva Conventions, Bush Iraq Commander Says

    By John Byrne, AlterNet, Posted May 30, 2009.

    A stunning admission from General David Petraeus reveals that the US may have violated international law.

    The head of the US Central Command, General David Petraeus, said Friday that the US had violated the Geneva Conventions in a stunning admission from President Bush’s onetime top general in Iraq that the US may have violated international law.

    “When we have taken steps that have violated the Geneva Conventions we rightly have been criticized, so as we move forward I think it’s important to again live our values, to live the agreements that we have made in the international justice arena and to practice those,” Gen. Petraeus said on Fox News Friday afternoon.

    Petraeus made the comment in the context of being asked about the Bush administration’s so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The now-Central Command chief said he believed that banning the more extreme techniques had taken away “a tool” employed by “our enemies” as a moral argument against the United States.

    Petraeus didn’t say which parts of the Geneva Conventions he thought he and other administration officials had violated.

    Asked about a “ticking time bomb” scenario — which is often employed by torture’s defenders — Petraeus said that interrogation methods approved for use in the Army Field Manual were generally sufficient.

    “There might be an exception and that would require extraordinary but very rapid approval to deal with but for the vast majority of the cases our experience… is that the techniques that are in the Army Field Manual that lays out how we treat detainees, how we interrogate them, those techniques work, that’s our experience in this business,” he said.

    He also acknowledged that the US prison at Guantanamo Bay has inflamed anti-US hostility.

    “I do support is what has been termed the responsible closure of Gitmo,” Petraeus said. “Gitmo has caused us problems, there’s no question about it. I oversee a region in which the existence of Gitmo has been used by the enemy against us. We have not been without missteps or mistakes in our activity since 9/11 and again Gitmo is a lingering reminder for the use of some in that regard.”

    “I don’t think we should be afraid of our values we’re fighting for,” he added. “What we stand for and so indeed we need to embrace them and we need to ope rationalize them in how we carry out what it is we’re doing on the battle field and everywhere else. So one has to have some faith I think in the legal system. One has to have a degree of confidence that individuals that have conducted such extremist activity would indeed be found guilty in our courts of law.”

    This video is from Fox’s Live Desk, broadcast May 29, 2009.

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    Britain: The Depth Of Corruption

    John Pilger | ZNet, May 29, 2009

    John Pilger’s ZSpace Page

    The theft of public money by members of parliament, including government ministers, has given Britons a rare glimpse inside the tent of power and privilege. It is rare because not one political reporter or commentator, those who fill tombstones of column inches and dominate broadcast journalism, revealed a shred of this scandal. It was left to a public relations man to sell the “leak”. Why?

    The answer lies in a deeper corruption, which tales of tax evasion and phantom mortgages touch upon but also conceal. Since Margaret Thatcher, British parliamentary democracy has been progressively destroyed as the two main parties have converged into a single-ideology business state, each with almost identical social, economic and foreign policies. This “project” was completed by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, inspired by the political monoculture of the United States. That so many Labour and Tory politicians are now revealed as personally crooked is no more than a metaphor for the anti-democratic system they have forged together.

    Their accomplices have been those journalists who report Parliament as “lobby correspondents” and their editors, who have “played the game” wilfully, and have deluded the public (and sometimes themselves) that vital, democratic differences exist between the parties. Media-designed opinion polls based on absurdly small samplings, along with a tsunami of comment on personalities and their specious crises, have reduced the “national conversation” to a series of media events, in which the withdrawal of popular consent – as the historically low electoral turnouts under Blair demonstrated – has been abused as apathy.

    Having fixed the boundaries of political debate and possibility, self-important paladins, notably liberals, promoted the naked emperor Blair and championed his “values” that would allow “the mind [to] range in search of a better Britain”. And when the bloodstains showed, they ran for cover. All of it had been, as Larry David once described an erstwhile crony, “a babbling brook of bullshit”.

    How contrite their former heroes now seem. On 17 May, the Leader of the House of Commons, Harriet Harman, who is alleged to have spent £10,000 of taxpayers’ money on “media training”, called on MPs to “rebuild cross-party trust”. The unintended irony of her words recalls one of her first acts as social security secretary more than a decade ago – cutting the benefits of single mothers. This was spun and reported as if there was a “revolt” among Labour backbenchers, which was false. None of Blair’s new female MPs, who had been elected “to end male-dominated, Conservative policies”, spoke up against this attack on the poorest of poor women. All voted for it.

    The same was true of the lawless attack on Iraq in 2003, behind which the cross-party Establishment and the political media rallied. Andrew Marr stood in Downing Street and excitedly told BBC viewers that Blair had “said they would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating. And on both of those points he has been proved conclusively right.” When Blair’s army finally retreated from Basra in May, it left behind, according to scholarly estimates, more than a million people dead, a majority of stricken, sick children, a contaminated water supply, a crippled energy grid and four million refugees.

    As for the “celebrating” Iraqis, the vast majority, say Whitehall’s own surveys, want the invader out. And when Blair finally departed the House of Commons, MPs gave him a standing ovation – they who had refused to hold a vote on his criminal invasion or even to set up an inquiry into its lies, which almost three-quarters of the British population wanted.

    Such venality goes far beyond the greed of the uppity Hazel Blears.

    “Normalising the unthinkable”, Edward Herman’s phrase from his essay The Banality of Evil, about the division of labour in state crime, is applicable here. On 18 May, the Guardian devoted the top of one page to a report headlined, “Blair awarded $1m prize for international relations work”. This prize, announced in Israel soon after the Gaza massacre, was for his “cultural and social impact on the world”. You looked in vain for evidence of a spoof or some recognition of the truth. Instead, there was his “optimism about the chance of bringing peace” and his work “designed to forge peace”.

    This was the same Blair who committed the same crime – deliberately planning the invasion of a country, “the supreme international crime” – for which the Nazi foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop was hanged at Nuremberg after proof of his guilt was located in German cabinet documents. Last February, Britain’s “Justice” Secretary, Jack Straw, blocked publication of crucial cabinet minutes from March 2003 about the planning of the invasion of Iraq, even though the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, has ordered their release. For Blair, the unthinkable is both normalised and celebrated.

    “How our corrupt MPs are playing into the hands of extremists,” said the cover of last week’s New Statesman. But is not their support for the epic crime in Iraq already extremism? And for the murderous imperial adventure in Afghanistan? And for the government’s collusion with torture?

    It is as if our public language has finally become Orwellian. Using totalitarian laws approved by a majority of MPs, the police have set up secretive units to combat democratic dissent they call “extremism”. Their de facto partners are “security” journalists, a recent breed of state or “lobby” propagandist. On 9 April, the BBC’s Newsnight programme promoted the guilt of 12 “terrorists” arrested in a contrived media drama orchestrated by the Prime Minister himself. All were later released without charge.

    Something is changing in Britain that gives cause for optimism. The British people have probably never been more politically aware and prepared to clear out decrepit myths and other rubbish while stepping angrily over the babbling brook of bullshit.

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    The Destabilization of Pakistan

    The Main Result of the “War on Terror”

    By Gary Leupp | Counterpunch, May 29 – 31, 2009

    So far the principle result of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan following the events of 9-11 has been the destabilization of Pakistan. That breakdown is peaking with the events in what AP calls the “Swat town” of Mingora—actually a city of 375,000 from which all but 20,000 have fled as government forces moved in, strafing it with gunships. We’re talking urban guerrilla warfare, house-to-house fighting, not on the Afghan border but 50 miles away in the Swat Valley. We’re talking about Pakistani troops fighting to reclaim the nearby Malam Jabba ski resort from the Tehreek-e-Taliban, who since last year have been using it as a training center and logistics base. We’re talking about two million people fleeing the fighting in the valley and 160,000 in government refugee camps.

    And of course, “collateral damage”: As was reported in The News in Pakistan May 19:

    Several persons, including women and children, were killed and a number of others sustained injuries when families fleeing the military operation in Swat’s Matta town were shelled while crossing a mountainous path to reach Karo Darra in Dir Upper on Monday, eyewitnesses and official sources said. Eyewitnesses, who escaped the attack or were able to reach Wari town of Dir Upper in injured condition, said they were targeted by gunship helicopters. However, police officials said they might have been hit by a stray shell. Local people said they saw some 12 to 14 bodies on a mountain on the Swat side but could not go near to retrieve them or help the injured for fear of another aerial attack.

    What a nightmare scenario for Pakistan.

    We’re talking about the Pakistani Army sometimes fighting over the last year to retake towns from Taliban forces in the Buner region of the North-West Frontier Province that are closer to the capital of Islamabad than the Afghan border. And while the Talibs apparently lack popular support, even among the Pashtuns (who are 15 % of the Pakistani population—26 million and 42% of the Afghan population—14 million) they have been able to inflict embarrassing defeats on the army.

    Continued >>

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    Saturday, May 30, 2009

    If Iraq was a Mistake, Why are We Still There?

    by Camillo Bica |, May 29, 2009

    However one frames the debate, it is apparent to any fair minded and rational person that the invasion of Iraq, based as it was on misinformation at best, lies and deceptions at worst, was a mistake and should never have occurred. Certainly President Obama has made this claim on numerous occasions as well as many who had previously supported (and voted for) the war. After having acknowledged this fact, however, President Obama and others would have us forget the past as it serves, in their view, no practical purpose to rehash and moralize over things that cannot be undone. It will be the work of future historians, legal scholars, and philosophers, they argue, to untangle, interpret, and make judgments regarding the complex events and decisions that led to the invasion and characterize the occupation of Iraq. They warn that it is imperative at this crucial juncture that we deal with the matters at hand, that we act quickly and decisively in our national interest to ensure that our Country remains safe, that our goals in Iraq and Afghanistan are achieved, and that our sacrifice in blood and treasure is not for naught.

    What President Obama and others who advocate such a position fail to appreciate is that we live in a Nation that understands and accepts the importance of the Constitution and the rule of law, both moral and International. Accordingly, we determine our behavior, how we conduct ourselves as a Nation, not only by what is in our national interest but also by what is right, not only by what we CAN do, but also by what we OUGHT to do. This is what we stand for as a people, the values we hold sacred as a nation. Consequently, to focus exclusively on “practical considerations” – present conditions and problems – considered in isolation and apart from the causal chain of events that led to the situation as it exists today is morally and legally unacceptable and incoherent and counter to the principles and values we believe must guide and determine our future course of action not only in Iraq, but in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere in the world as well.

    By accepting that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was a mistake we must accept all that such an admission entails. According to Just War Theory and International Law, the illegal and immoral use of violence and deadly force against a sovereign nation and its citizenry, constitutes aggression. Aggression is morally wrong and a war crime under International Law. Aggressors violate the rights of the aggressed to life, self-determination, and to live in a nation that enjoys political sovereignty and territorial integrity – sometimes referred to as the “rights of nations.” Aggressors are Unjustifiable Combatants. The victims of aggression have the privilege to assert their rights – to act in self and national defense. As such, they are Justifiable Combatants. Consequently, our invasion and occupation of Iraq is aggression, members of our military are aggressors – Unjustifiable Combatants – and those that struggle against us, the “insurgents,” are Justifiable Combatants asserting their right of self and national defense.

    This is the reality of our involvement in Iraq, a reality entailed and implied by a recognition that our invasion was a mistake and should never have occurred. The “fact” that we may have had good intentions does not alter the moral and legal value of our involvement. “Mistaken” aggression is no less aggression, no less a war crime. “Mistaken” aggressors are no less liable to be resisted – warred against in self and national defense.

    Yet despite the realization that the invasion and occupation in Iraq is aggression and despite our economy bordering on collapse, President Obama, and many of our fellow citizens, argue that we cannot just stop the killing and destruction and walk away. One important reason, they offer, is national security. We must end the chaos created by our aggression and restore stability in Iraq to ensure that it does not become a training ground and sanctuary for terrorists who wish us harm. A second reason, interestingly enough, is a moral one. Paradoxically, we cannot stop the killing and destruction in Iraq because we recognize our moral culpability and responsibility for our aggression. That is, we cannot just abandon the Iraqi people to the endless civil war and sectarian violence that would “inevitably” occur in the power vacuum created by our departure. Consequently, we are morally obligated to continue the killing and the destruction in Iraq for at least a few more years, in order to save the Iraqis from themselves and so they may enjoy the gift of freedom and democracy as recompense for our aggression. While the initial use of violence and deadly force against the Iraqi people may have been aggression, now, however, we are on solid moral and legal ground, as the continued killing and destruction entailed by our remaining, is humanitarian intervention. (General George Casey, the Army Chief of Staff, by the way, said recently that his strategic planning envisions combat troops remaining in Iraq and Afghanistan for as long as ten years).

    This argument for the continued occupation of Iraq is clearly incoherent. It is as though our political leaders have accepted that the American public is incapable of rational thought and will accept any reason and justification for war as long as it is presented as furthering our national interest and feeds our national ego regarding our benevolence and moral superiority in the world.

    It is time, therefore, long past time, that we show President Obama and the Congress that we will be duped no longer, that we are not a nation of sheep, and that we possess the ability to reason and think critically. It is time, therefore, long past time, that we accept the reality of what we have done and continue to do in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere in the world. We must stop the killing and the destruction now, not later. We must understand that bringing stability to the region is not about escalating violence, increasing the number of troops, or dropping more and larger bombs. Nor is it about searching out and destroying al Qaeda or the Taliban, or even capturing or killing bin Laden. Rather, it is about inclusiveness, diplomacy, understanding and dialogue. It is about doing the difficult work of reconciliation and of addressing the grievances that nourish radicalism. Most important, I believe, should we at long last recognize that the days of US unilateralism and imperialism are over and realize the necessity of involving and soliciting the assistance of area powers such as Iran, Russia, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, China and India, not only will the world be a better and safer place, but perhaps for the first time in many years, we will begin to live according to the principles and values that we claim characterize our nation and of which we are so proud.

    Camillo “Mac” Bica, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He is a former Marine Corps Officer, Vietnam Veteran, long-time activist for peace and justice, and the Coordinator of the Long Island Chapter of Veterans for

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    Defending Israeli War Crimes

    by Stephen Zunes | Foreign Policy In Focus, May 30, 2009

    In response to a series of reports by human rights organizations and international legal scholars documenting serious large-scale violations of international humanitarian law by Israeli armed forces in its recent war on the Gaza Strip, 10 U.S. state attorneys general sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defending the Israeli action. It is virtually unprecedented for state attorneys general – whose mandates focus on enforcement of state law – to weigh in on questions regarding the laws of war, particularly in a conflict on the far side of the world. More significantly, their statement runs directly counter to a broad consensus of international legal opinion that recognizes that Israel, as well as Hamas, engaged in war crimes.

    The wording of the letter closely parallels arguments by Bush administration officials in support for Israel’s devastating offensive during their final days in office. Having been signed nearly 11 weeks after the end of the fighting and made public only late last month, it may have been part of an effort to undermine tentative efforts by the Obama administration to take a more balanced approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    A statement by state attorneys general putting forth a legal rationale for the large-scale killings of civilians is particularly distressing as concerns about civilian casualties from U.S. air and missile strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan has grown.

    The attorneys general signing on to the letter included Republicans Rob McKenna of Washington, Mike Cox of Michigan, John Suthers of Colorado, Bill McCollum of Florida, Jon Bruning of Nebraska, and Mark Shurtleff of Utah. Signatories also included such prominent Democrats as Richard Cordray of Ohio, Patrick Lynch of Rhode Island, Jack Conway of Kentucky, and Buddy Caldwell of Louisiana.

    Continued >>

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    Palestinians differ on US promises

    Al Jazeera, May 30, 2009

    Obama said he shared Abbas’ feelings that “time was of the essence” in the peace process with Israel [AFP]

    Palestinian Fatah has said it was “encouraged” by the meeting between Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and his US counterpart in the White House, while Hamas said the encounter would lead to nothing.

    “Palestinians are encouraged by the commitment President Obama and his administration have shown to Middle East peace,” Saeb Erakat, a Fatah member and the Palestinians’ top official said on Friday.

    Erekat said the establishment of a viable Palestinian state and a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem would make the region more secure and stable.

    But, he warned “the peace process lives on borrowed time,” saying it would not survive another round of failed negotiations.

    “Israel’s failure to implement its obligations under existing agreements has eroded its credibility, while its continued settlement activities are undermining the very viability of the two state solution,” Erakat said.

    Hamas reaction

    Hamas, however, called the meeting a continuation of Abbas’ “way of begging” to the US and the “Zionist entity.”

    Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, said the meeting would “accomplish nothing but more pressure on Abbas.”

    He said the US administration would fail to take “any action on the ground” to halt Israeli “aggressions” and realise Palestinian rights.

    In the meeting on Thursday Obama called for a stop to Israeli settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and emphasised the two-state solution.

    However, Benyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, refused to openly endorse the two-state solution during a meeting with Obama on May 18.

    He also rejected the US and Palestinian demand for an absolute freeze in settlement activity.

    Netanyahu promised not to build new settlements, but vowed to continue construction in existing ones to accommodate for “natural growth.”

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    UN chief knew Tamil civilian toll had reached 20,000

    The Times/UK, May 30, 2009

    Catherine Philp, Diplomatic Correspondent

    The top aide to the United Nations Secretary-General was told more than a week ago that at least 20,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the Sri Lankan Government’s final offensive against the Tamil Tiger rebels this month, The Times can reveal.

    UN officials told Vijar Nambiar, Ban Ki Moon’s chief of staff, that their figures indicated a likely final death toll of more than 20,000, during a briefing in preparation for Mr Ban’s visit to the region on May 23.

    Two staff present at the meeting confirmed the exchange to The Times but Mr Ban never mentioned the death toll during his tour of the battleground, which he described as the “most appalling scene” he had witnessed in his long international career.

    The casualty figure, revealed by The Times yesterday, triggered an international furore, with the Sri Lankan authorities denying the report and human rights groups demanding an investigation into possible war crimes.

    Lakshman Hulugalle, a Defence Ministry spokesman, said: “These figures are way out . . . What we think is that these images are also fake. We totally deny the allegation that 20,000 people were killed.”

    But, internationally, calls have been growing for an independent war crimes investigations on both sides and for access by humanitarian groups to the war zone and the 270,000 Tamil civilians who are still being detained.

    Amnesty International called on the UN to release the estimated figures to help to push for a war crimes inquiry. “The Timess investigation underscores the need for investigation and the UN should do everything it can to determine the truth about the ‘bloodbath’ that occurred in northeast Sri Lanka,” Sam Zarifi, the Asia-Pacific director of Amnesty International, said.

    “The Human Rights Council’s decision not to call for specific measures to protect Sri Lankans made a mockery of the council, but it does not mean the end of the international community’s responsibility to respond to this continuing crisis,” Mr Zarifi said.

    The International Committee of the Red Cross made a rare public plea yesterday for access to the no-fire zone and internment camps in the region. “We haven’t been able to access the areas where most of these people would have fled from since the ending of the most recent fighting,” Florian Westphal, the Red Cross spokesman, told a briefing in Geneva.

    The figure of 20,000 casualties was given to The Times by UN sources, who explained in detail how they arrived at that calculation.

    Before this month’s bombardment made the recording of each individual death impossible, the figures had been collated from deaths reported by priests and doctors and added to a count of the bodies brought to medical points.

    Of the total, the bodies collected accounted for only a fifth of all reported deaths. After the bombing intensified this month, the only numbers available were by a count of the bodies. The 20,000 figure is an extrapolation based on the actual body count.

    The 20,000 figure has also been obtained by Le Monde, the French daily newspaper, which quoted UN sources as saying that the figure had not been made public to avoid a diplomatic storm. The figure of 7,000 deaths until the end of April, which was based on individually documented deaths and not estimates, was leaked by UN sources in Sri Lanka this month after internal anger over the secrecy surrounding them. UN satellite images documenting the bombing of medical facilities were also leaked from New York.

    The UN Humanitarian Co-ordination Office said yesterday that the figures cited by The Times were based on “well-informed estimates” given in private briefings to member states to underscore its concern — including Britain and the United States.

    “You have seen the figures that are mentioned. Obviously, what we have are well-informed estimates and not precise, verifiable numbers,” said Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the humanitarian co-ordination office. “The point is the UN has not been shy about the scale of human suffering and civilian casualties. It has been ringing the alarm bells for a long time.”

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    Stop the US torture ship

    Morning Star Online, Friday 29 May 2009

    by Adrian Roberts

    The notorious USS Bataan, which has held prisoners including John Walker Lindh, David Hicks and Ibn Al-Sheikh Al-Libi, docking in Mallorca on Thursday morning.

    British human rights campaigners Reprieve have urged the Spanish authorities to board and search US torture ship USS Bataan after it moored at the Palma de Mallorca holiday resort.

    Reprieve said on Friday that the USS Bataan is one of the US government’s most infamous “floating prisons” and will remain at the island until Saturday.

    At least nine prisoners including John Walker Lindh, David Hicks and Ibn Al-Sheikh Al-Libi, who recently died in mysterious circumstances in Libyan custody, are confirmed to have been held aboard the USS Bataan.

    Reprieve pointed out that, in January 2002, Mr Al-Libi was flown to the ship, which was then cruising the northern Arabian Sea, before his interrogation began.

    From there, he was rendered to Egypt where he was forced under torture to confess that al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein were in league on weapons of mass destruction.

    Details regarding the operation of prison ships have emerged through a number of sources, including the US military and other administration officials, the Council of Europe, various parliamentary bodies and journalists, as well as the testimonies of prisoners themselves.

    Reprieve investigations also suggest that a further 15 ships have been used to hold prisoners beyond the rule of law since 2001. Prisoners are interrogated aboard the vessels and then rendered to other, often undisclosed, locations.

    A former prisoner told Reprieve: “One of my fellow prisoners in Guantanamo was at sea on an American ship before coming to Guantanamo. He was in the cage next to me. He told me that there were about 50 other prisoners on the ship.

    “They were all closed off in the bottom of the ship. The prisoner commented to me that it was like something you see on TV. The people held on the ship were beaten even more severely than in Guantanamo.”

    Reprieve investigator Clara Gutteridge said: “Ships have been used by the US to hold terror suspects illegally since the days of president Clinton, so it would be no surprise if this practice continues under Obama.

    “The US and Spanish governments, as well as the EU, must urgently reveal what this ship is doing on European territory.”

    Reprieve director Clive Stafford Smith added: “The arrival of USS Bataan should ring alarm bells in any law-abiding country. The Spanish authorities are duty-bound to board and search the ship for missing prisoners.”

    Mr Stafford Smith has also pointed out that the US chooses ships to try to keep their misconduct as far as possible from the prying eyes of the media and lawyers.

    “By its own admission, the US government is currently detaining at least 26,000 people without trial in secret prisons and information suggests up to 80,000 have been through the system since 2001,” he said.

    “The US government must show a commitment to rights and basic humanity by immediately revealing who these people are, where they are and what has been done to them.”

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    Friday, May 29, 2009

    US Army chief sees Iraq, Afghanistan occupations continuing for a decade

    By Bill Van Auken |, May 29, 2009

    The chief of staff of the US Army, Gen. George Casey, said this week that the American military is preparing to continue its interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan for at least another decade.

    In an invitation-only interview Tuesday with selected reporters and think tank representatives, Casey said that the protracted US occupation of the two countries was necessary in order to meet a “sustained US commitment to fighting extremism and terrorism in the Middle East,” the Associated Press reported.

    Casey’s remarks came amid mounting signs that the US attempts to pacify Iraq are coming unraveled, even as the Obama administration is carrying out new deployments that will double the number of troops in Afghanistan to 68,000.

    Two more US military personnel were killed this week, bringing the death toll in May to the highest level since September of last year. The total number of US troops killed since the Bush administration launched the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 has risen to 4,302.

    Meanwhile, for Iraqis, last month was the bloodiest in over a year, with more than 500 killed in a series of suicide bombings and sectarian killings.

    The latest attack claimed the lives of an American soldier and four Iraqi civilians Wednesday, when a roadside bomb was detonated as an American convoy drove through Abu Ghraib, the western district of Baghdad that was home to the US detention center where Iraqis were subjected to systematic torture and abuse. The facility has since been turned over the Iraqi security forces to run.

    The Pentagon also released the name of another member of the US military killed on Tuesday. Navy Cmdr. Duane Wolfe, 54, the head of the Army Corps of Engineers operations in Iraq’s Anbar province, was killed with two other individuals when a bomb exploded under his vehicle near the city of Fallujah.

    Meanwhile, there are growing indications that one of the principal props of the so-called surge launched by the Bush administration in 2007 is beginning to crumble. The “Awakening Movement,” or Sahwa, which consisted of largely Sunni militias, many drawn from former insurgents, was employed as a neighborhood security force, with members paid as much $300 a month by the US military.

    Last fall, Washington turned over responsibility for the militias to the predominantly Shiite Iraqi government, which has largely halted payments and reneged on its pledge to employ some 20 percent of the militiamen in the security forces and other government agencies.

    Moreover, Awakening Movement leaders have been targeted for arrest, and there have been clashes between their members and the security forces. On Thursday, the Iraqi army arrested another leader of one of the militia groups at his home in Baquba, northeast of Baghdad.

    “The Americans made the Sahwa militias to fight Al Qaeda, then they abandoned them,” another Awakening leader, Sheik Ali Hatem Sulaiman, told USA Today. “The heads of Sahwa are beginning to feel it would have been better to stay with Al Qaeda.”

    According to the AP, Casey stressed that his remarks Tuesday about US troops continuing to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan for another 10 years “were not meant to conflict with Obama administration policies.”

    But clearly the preparations that the Army’s top officer is discussing make a mockery of the so-called withdrawal plan put forward by the White House. Under the timetable announced by President Obama in February, US “combat troops” are supposed to leave Iraq by August of next year, with all US military forces out of the country by the end of 2011.

    This hardly comes as a surprise. Top military commanders have been hinting for months that conditions on the ground in Iraq may force a scrapping of the timetable.

    Already, US commanders have made it clear that the supposed deadline of June 30 for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraqi cities is more illusory than real. American units will continue combat operations in the northern city of Mosul, where simmering conflicts between Arabs and Kurds threaten to erupt into a new phase of civil war.

    Thousands of troops will continue operating in Baghdad as well as in Diyala province north of the capital. In other areas where troops are pulled back to bases, they will continue carrying out raids on Iraqi cities, while formally maintaining that such attacks must be approved by the Iraqi regime.

    As for the second phase, the withdrawal of “combat troops” in August 2010, Pentagon officials have indicated that they will merely reclassify units currently listed as combat troops, calling them support or training units in order to maintain a substantial occupation force within the country.

    Meanwhile, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called into question the 2011 final withdrawal deadline during an interview on the ABC News program “This Week” last Sunday. “We’ll have to see,” said Mullen. “The next 12 to 18 months are really critical in that regard.”

    Mullen went on to stress that Washington was forging a “long-term relationship” with Iraq and that “part of that is the possibility that forces could remain there longer—that’s up to the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government.”

    The withdrawal dates are written into the status of forces agreement signed by Washington and Baghdad. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has repeatedly insisted that these deadlines will be enforced. This is believed to be largely for public consumption in Iraq, however, where the population is overwhelmingly opposed to the US occupation. Behind the scenes, US and Iraqi officials are agreeing to override the timetable and keep American forces in place.

    Jane Arraf of the Christian Science Monitor reported last week that, as part of the attempt to maintain the fiction that the deadline for withdrawing from Iraqi cities is being observed, US occupation commanders and the Iraqi regime agreed to re-draw the map of Baghdad. It declared that Base Falcon in the Rasheed district of Baghdad was outside the city limits so that 3,000 US troops deployed there can continue patrolling the tense southern part of the capital.

    While openly declaring that his “reality scenario” is “10 Army and Marine units”—more than 50,000 troops—”deployed for a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he expressed concern that the military would not be able “to draw down in Iraq close to the schedule we have set.”

    “It would be very difficult to sustain the current levels of commitment here for very much longer,” the general said, referring to the 139,000 American soldiers and Marines now deployed in Iraq.

    With the Obama administration escalating the war in Afghanistan—Casey warned that “there’s going to be a big fight in the south”—and extending the intervention into Pakistan, the strain on the US military has never been greater. The Army chief said that with the buildup in Afghanistan, the military now has 10,000 more troops deployed in the two wars than it did under the Bush administration.

    An attempt to continue deployments at current levels, with back-to-back troop deployments, he warned would “bring the Army to its knees.”

    Among the starkest indications of the immense toll that nearly eight years of war and occupation in Afghanistan and more than six in Iraq are taking on the US military is a record suicide rate in the Army—more than double what it was in 2004—and the growing incidence of mental problems, with more than 13,000 cases of post-traumatic stress disorder being diagnosed by Army doctors last year. (See “US: Army base ordered on stand-down after multiple suicides”)

    In remarks delivered earlier this month, Casey pointed to the same stress upon the military, stating that there was a “thin red line,” which, if it were crossed, would “break” the Army. “You can fix this two ways,” he said, “increase the forces, or decrease the need.”

    It is evident that the need for cannon fodder will not decrease as Washington escalates its military interventions. Increasing the forces in a substantial way calls into question the viability of the “volunteer” military and raises the prospects of the reinstitution of military conscription.

    What is perhaps most remarkable about Casey’s matter-of-fact declaration that the US will be waging colonial-style warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan for at least another 10 years—and, as he indicated, carrying out new wars elsewhere on the planet—is its failure to arouse any serious coverage in the “mainstream” media, much less any hint of protest from within the political establishment.

    While Barack Obama owes his election to the presidency in large part to the deep-going antiwar sentiments in the American population, the move by his administration to escalate US militarism and increase the number of American troops sent into battle enjoys the support of America’s ruling elite and both of its major parties.

    The consensus behind the continuation and escalation of the US wars of aggression found unmistakable expression in the approval by an overwhelming 86-3 vote in the US Senate of more than $91 billion to continue funding the two wars through September.

    The absence of opposition raises the obvious question of why there was at least the pretense of dissent from the Bush administration’s war policy within the Democratic Party. Clearly, it was not a matter of opposition to wars of aggression or imperialist foreign policy. The Democrats no less than the Republicans remain committed to achieving the original aims of the two wars: countering American capitalism’s economic decline by using military means to assert US hegemony over geo-strategically vital, oil-rich regions of the planet

    What differences that existed were largely a matter of tactics, not strategy; style and not substance.

    While the ruling establishment uses the Obama administration to create an air of political consensus for American militarism within official Washington, the hostility to these wars is only deepening among broad masses of working people. More and more, this opposition will come together with struggles against the escalating attacks on jobs and living standards, creating the conditions for social and political explosions in the US itself.

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    Torture and the American Conscience

    By Paul Craig Roberts | Counterpunch, May 28, 2009

    Torture is a violation of US and international law. Yet, president George W. Bush and vice president Dick Cheney, on the basis of legally incompetent memos prepared by Justice Department officials, gave the OK to interrogators to violate US and international law.

    The new Obama administration shows no inclination to uphold the rule of law by prosecuting those who abused their offices and broke the law.

    Cheney claims, absurdly, that torture was necessary in order to save American cities from nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists. Many Americans have bought the argument that torture is morally justified in order to make terrorists reveal where ticking nuclear bombs are before they explode.

    However, there were no hidden ticking nuclear bombs. Hypothetical scenarios were used to justify torture for other purposes.

    We now know that the reason the Bush regime tortured its captives was to coerce false testimony that linked Iraq and Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda and September 11. Without this “evidence,” the US invasion of Iraq remains a war crime under the Nuremberg standard.

    Torture, then, was a second Bush regime crime used to produce an alibi for the illegal and unprovoked US invasion of Iraq.

    U.S. Representative Ron Paul (R,Tx) understands the danger to Americans of permitting government to violate the law. In “Torturing the Rule of Law”, he said that the US government’s use of torture to produce excuses for illegal actions is the most radicalizing force at work today. “The fact that our government engages in evil behavior under the auspices of the American people is what poses the greatest threat to the American people, and it must not be allowed to stand.”

    One might think that the American public’s toleration of torture reflects the breakdown of the country’s Christian faith. Alas, a recent poll released by the Pew Forum reveals that most white Christian evangelicals and white Catholics condone torture. In contrast, only a minority of those who seldom or never attend church services condone torture.

    It is a known fact that torture produces unreliable information. The only purpose of torture is to produce false confessions. The fact that a majority of American Christians condone torture enabled the Bush regime’s efforts to legalize torture.

    George Hunsinger, professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, has stepped into the Christian void with a powerful book, Torture is a Moral Issue. A collection of essays by thoughtful and moral people, including an American admiral and general, the book demonstrates the danger of torture to the human soul, to civil liberty, and to the morale and safety of soldiers.

    Condoning torture, Hunsinger writes, “marks a milestone in the disintegration of American democracy.” In his contribution, Hunsinger destroys the constructed hypothetical scenarios used to create a moral case for torture. He points out that no such real world cases ever exist. Once torture is normalized, it is used despite the absence of the hypothetical scenario.

    Hunsinger notes that “evidence” obtained by torture can have catastrophic consequences. In making the case against Iraq at the UN, former Secretary of State Colin Powell assured the countries of the world that his evidence rested on “facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.” Today Powell and his chief of staff, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, are ashamed that the “evidence” for Powell’s UN speech
    turned out to be nothing but the coerced false confession of Al-Libi, who was relentlessly tortured in Egypt in order to produce a justification for Bush’s illegal invasion of Iraq.

    Some Americans, unable to face the criminality and inhumanity of their own government, maintain that the government hasn’t tortured anyone, because water boarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques” are not torture. This is really grasping at straws. As Ron Paul points out, according to US precedent alone, water boarding has been considered to be torture since 1945, when the United States hanged Japanese military officers for water boarding captured Americans.

    If the Obama regime does not hold the Bush regime accountable for violating US and international law, then the Obama regime is complicit in the Bush regime’s crimes. If the American people permit Obama to look the other way in order “to move on,” the American people are also complicit in the crimes.

    Hunsinger, Paul and others are trying to save our souls, our humanity, our civil liberty and the rule of law. Obama can say that he forbids torture, but if those responsible are not held accountable, he has no way of enforcing his order. As perpetrators are discharged from the military and re-enter society, some will find employment as police officers and prison officials and guards, and the practice will spread. The dark side will take over America.

    Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.He can be reached at:

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    The hidden massacre: Sri Lanka’s final offensive against Tamil Tigers

    The Times, UK, May 29, 2009

    Catherine Philp in Colombo

    More than 20,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final throes of the Sri Lankan civil war, most as a result of government shelling, an investigation by The Times has revealed.

    The number of casualties is three times the official figure.

    The Sri Lankan authorities have insisted that their forces stopped using heavy weapons on April 27 and observed the no-fire zone where 100,000 Tamil men, women and children were sheltering. They have blamed all civilian casualties on Tamil Tiger rebels concealed among the civilians.

    Aerial photographs, official documents, witness accounts and expert testimony tell a different story. With the world’s media and aid organisations kept well away from the fighting, the army launched a fierce barrage that began at the end of April and lasted about three weeks. The offensive ended Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war with the Tamil Tigers, but innocent civilians paid the price.

    Confidential United Nations documents acquired by The Times record nearly 7,000 civilian deaths in the no-fire zone up to the end of April. UN sources said that the toll then surged, with an average of 1,000 civilians killed each day until May 19, the day after Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the Tamil Tigers, was killed. That figure concurs with the estimate made to The Times by Father Amalraj, a Roman Catholic priest who fled the no-fire zone on May 16 and is now interned with 200,000 other survivors in Manik Farm refugee camp. It would take the final toll above 20,000. “Higher,” a UN source told The Times. “Keep going.”

    Some of the victims can be seen in the photograph above, which shows the destruction of the flimsy refugee camp. In the bottom right-hand corner, sand mounds show makeshift burial grounds. Other pictures show a more orderly military cemetery, believed to be for hundreds of rebel fighters. One photograph shows rebel gun emplacements next to the refugee camp.

    Independent defence experts who analysed dozens of aerial photographs taken by The Times said that the arrangement of the army and rebel firing positions and the narrowness of the no-fire zone made it unlikely that Tiger mortar fire or artillery caused a significant number of deaths. “It looks more likely that the firing position has been located by the Sri Lankan Army and it has then been targeted with air-burst and ground-impact mortars,” said Charles Heyman, editor of the magazine Armed Forces of the UK.

    On Wednesday, Sri Lanka was cleared of any wrongdoing by the UN Human Rights Council after winning the backing of countries including China, Egypt, India and Cuba.

    A spokesman for the Sri Lankan High Commission in London said: “We reject all these allegations. Civilians have not been killed by government shelling at all. If civilians have been killed, then that is because of the actions of the LTTE [rebels] who were shooting and killing people when they tried to escape.”

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    Indian doctor Binayak Sen released from prison on bail

    Dr Binayak Sen

    Dr Binayak Sen

    © Private

    Amnesty International, 26 May 2009

    Dr Binayak Sen, who spent two years in an Indian prison as a Prisoner of Conscience, was released on Tuesday after being granted bail by the Supreme Court.

    Welcoming Dr Sen’s release on bail, Amnesty International believes that the charges against him are baseless and politically motivated. Amnesty International has repeated its call on the Indian authorities to immediately drop all the charges against Dr Sen.

    Dr Sen, who was held in Raipur prison in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, thanked Amnesty International and other human rights organizations that have been campaigning for his release. He said he would continue to defend human rights in Chhattisgarh despite possible threats to his life from “state and non-state actors”.

    The 59-year-old is a pioneer of health care to marginalized and indigenous communities in Chhattisgarh, where the state police and armed Maoists have been engaged in clashes over the last six years.

    He was arrested on 14 May 2007 on politically motivated charges, aimed at stopping his human rights work, after he met with an imprisoned leader of a banned Maoist organization.

    His earlier meetings with an imprisoned Maoist leader, on which some of the charges against him were based, had all been facilitated by the prison authorities.

    “Dr Sen’s prolonged imprisonment is a glaring example of how the Indian authorities misuse security legislation to target activists,” said Madhu Malhotra, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Programme.

    “These laws are open to abuse as they contain vague and sweeping definitions of ‘unlawful activities’. Under no circumstances should work that peacefully defends human rights be termed an ‘unlawful activity’.”

    Prior to his arrest, Dr Sen had criticized the state authorities for enacting special security legislation – the Chhattisgarh Special Public Safety Act, 2005 (CSPSA).

    He had also reported on unlawful killings of adivasis (Indigenous People) by the police and by Salwa Judum, a private militia widely held to be sponsored by the state authorities to fight the armed Maoists.

    The state authorities have so far failed to conduct effective and impartial investigations into these unlawful killings.

    Dr Sen was detained without proper charges for seven months, denied bail, and kept in solitary confinement for three weeks. Many of the charges against him stem from laws that contravene international standards. Repeated delays in the conduct of his trial have also heightened doubts about its fairness. Meanwhile, Dr Sen had asked for specialist medical treatment for his heart ailment.

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    UN praise for Sri Lanka criticised

    The United Nations was today accused by human rights groups of failing to hold the Sri Lankan government accountable for alleged abuses against civilians ­during the suppression of the Tamil Tiger insurgency.

    The accusations followed a resolution in the UN human rights council welcoming the Sri Lankan government victory, with no reference to human rights concerns over civilian casualties and the 300,000 Tamils made homeless, many of whom are interned in government camps.

    But criticism was also aimed at the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, who ­visited the biggest camp over the weekend and complimented the Sri Lankan government on its humanitarian role, and the security council for not speaking out officially about the human cost of the military victory.

    “The human rights council performed abysmally,” said Tom Porteous, London director of Human Rights Watch. “It’s there to monitor human rights and the laws of war, and it completely failed – and failed to register any concern over the situation.”

    The Sri Lankan government took the unusual step of submitting its own resolution to a council session in Geneva convened to examine its conduct in the conflict. Colombo won substantial support from friendly governments, derailing an attempt to launch an inquiry into war crimes allegations.

    “It was a deplorable result, a self-congratulatory resolution that Sri Lanka imposed on the council,” said Peter ­Splinter, Amnesty International’s representative in Geneva.

    Sen Kandiah, a Tamil community leader in Britain, said: “The Tamil diaspora feel the system is not working. We feel justice is not going to be done.”

    The Geneva resolution hailed “the liberation by the government of Sri Lanka of tens of thousands of its citizens that were kept by the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] against their will as hostages”. It won 29 votes, with six abstentions. Britain’s was one of 12 votes against it. A European diplomat admitted that if EU states had been more organised they might have put forward a more critical resolution that could have been accepted by the council.

    Sri Lanka’s foreign minister, Rohitha Bogollagama, todaysaid the government had been able to defeat countries that were “trying to undermine Sri Lanka’s efforts in countering terrorism”.

    Colombo was also buoyed by the remarks of Ban Ki-moon after his visit to Menik Farm internment camp, noting the government’s “tremendous efforts”. The comments infuriated aid workers. “It seems to me Ban … didn’t raise the really hard questions about human rights,” Porteous said.

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    Our Bombs Good, Their Bombs Bad

    by Christopher Cooper |, May 28, 2009

    I woke Monday morning to the sound of BBC radio hyperventilating over North Korea’s latest underground test of a nuclear bomb. This concern was extended and amplified as the day progressed: radio, television, Internet and newspaper reports and discussion settled on pretty much the same two points: This is bad. Very bad. And it will not stand unanswered.Well, Ok, fine. There is no good reason North Korea should test or build or own nuclear weapons. It is a foolishness as preposterous as to allow the public to carry loaded concealed weapons in our national parks. But of course the motivation is the same and explains the nukes as nicely as the Smith and Wessons: We are afraid. Very afraid.

    Oh, yes, and just a touch crazy, too, of course. Kim Jong Il and his dad Kim Il-sung before him (”Great Leader” and “Dear Leader” respectively) do not inspire the confidence we have come to expect from our conventionally coifed and suited Western presidents and prime ministers. We prefer the dull and somnolent, the plodding, cautious, reflective and slow-speaking. Donald Rumsfeld looked about right. And his calm assurances that we must and should bull ahead on the course he recommended was very reassuring. Wrong, of course. But comforting.

    So let’s just agree that there is more than one way to be a crazy player in the great game of geopolitics, shall we? But the Chairman of the National Defense Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (among several other titles) is often described as a “saber-rattler”, and to return to an earlier point, no good will come of such a man rattling nuclear missiles instead of old ceremonial swords.

    But what country should have nuclear weapons? Oh, yes, of course-we should. Because we do. We invented them. We have more of them than anybody else. We only keep the things around to deter other nations from using theirs. Such as Russia and other states once part of the Soviet Union, who have theirs, they say only to keep us from using ours. Not that we ever would. Use them, I mean. That would be unthinkable.

    My mother used to threaten to “tear off your arm and beat you over the head with the bloody stump”, a frightening enough prospect to a young boy and a grievous overreaction to my own undoubtedly bad behavior. (I argued of course that she was misrepresenting which part of the appendage she might strike me with, the “stump” being still attached to my body, a distinction that only further infuriated the woman.) But it was all talk, we both knew it, and it therefore had no deterrent value whatsoever. So it is with nuclear weapons. In any event mom never acted on her threat and I believe the practice has now been banned in all states except Texas.

    President Obama said “North Korea is directly and recklessly challenging the international community.” Yes. Precisely. With all the finesse of an eight-year-old amusing himself at mother’s expense, Kim seeks to provoke by his bad behavior. Shortly after the bomb test he lobbed another missile or two a hundred kilometers or so into the Sea of Japan, just to show he had a delivery system of a sort too. (A recent long-range missile test also went with the fishes, which should ease tensions somewhat in Seattle and San Francisco.}

    The United Nations Security Council “condemned” the test. It will now work on a “Resolution.” Well, I guess you have to do something. Or do you? If all our agitation changes nothing, why raise our own blood pressure so precipitously?

    Agreeing that we need to better understand what fears and instabilities and regional imbalances and personal nuttiness have set Great Leader on this course, and that every reasonable effort ought be made to convince him to redirect his energies toward peaceful and productive purposes, I still do not understand the high level of international agitation.

    North Korea, of course, was once a part of the boy president George W. Bush’s “Axis Of Evil”, but let’s not think any more about our own ludicrous and unbalanced leaders, shall we?

    Let’s just look for a moment at the history of nuclear weapons on planet Earth. There are thousands of them loose in our world. The United States has ten or eleven thousand, Russia a similar number. France and China own about four hundred each, Israel and England a couple hundred. Pakistan (now there’s a stable, solid, well-run nation for you-no axis of evil there) has raised a dozen or two. So, all together, more than twenty thousand atomic bombs. North Korea is testing some. Iran might well want a few. All for deterrent purposes only, of course.

    Of course. Agreed. Wouldn’t have it any other way. Only one nation has ever used a nuclear weapon in war. Twice. On civilians. You know-women, children, housepets, museums, churches, ginkgo trees and koi. Taught those Jap bastards quite a lesson, didn’t we? And how does that fact go down around the world? All is not always as it seems from the point of view put forth in our own newsreels and textbooks and history classes and churches.

    Last month a week to ten days was given over to beating the small news of the dreaded swine flu (quickly re-introduced as H1N1-2009 strain to make the pig-butchers happier). This week North Korea scares us half to death. At least there was plenty of gasoline available over the holiday weekend. Keep driving. See the USA in your Chevrolet (or Toyota or Hyundai.) Later or sooner the unraveling climate will come to the attention of the public and the news analysts perhaps, and we’ll see what a real problem looks like.

    Come back with me to 1965, and Tom Lehrer’s introduction to his song “Who’s Next?”: “One of the big news items of the past year concerned the fact that China, which we call “Red China,” exploded a nuclear bomb, which we called a device. Then Indonesia announced that it was going to have one soon, and proliferation became the word of the day. Here’s a song about that.” Get out your old vinyl LP.

    There’s more wisdom and proportion in the old math professor’s song than I’ve heard all week from Congress, the White House, the press or the troubled undercurrent of fear and ignorance that underlies most of what we think and what we have allowed ourselves to become.

    Tuesday morning the BBC people revealed that Twitter may be ruined by SPAM. Now there’s a bit of unalloyed good news at last-one blight destroying another.

    Regular readers will know that Mr. Cooper has no answers, no solutions to the issues that vex you and him. He has no faith, places no hope in any change promised by any major party politician, and he does not exhort anyone to write their legislators. All any of us can do is to live honest, decent lives, raise our children to be better than we are, and to speak and write bluntly and honestly in every forum available. To this end he abuses the space afforded him in The Wiscasset Newspaper. He fights the status quo and the annual blackfly plague in Alna, Maine, where he may be engaged at

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