Monday, August 31, 2009

Investigate Top Officials, not Just CIA Interrogators

Doug Bandow, The Huffington Post, Aug 24, 2009

Buzz up!

Attorney General Eric Holder is appointing a special prosecutor to review CIA interrogations of terrorist suspects. However, the investigation shouldn’t stop at the agency. No one should be above the law, especially top policymakers.

Investigating Bush administration policies and officials is bound to be controversial. President George W. Bush and his aides undoubtedly did what they thought was right. However, much of it was wrong. The Iraq war was foolish and unnecessary.

And there was no need to sacrifice the Constitution and civil liberties to protect the American people from terrorism. As Barack Obama observed in his inaugural address: “we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.”

Those ideals require an impartial investigation of any Bush administration officials who may have violated the law.

At issue are not policy disagreements, no matter how great. Liberal democracy requires that political conflict remain bounded. Arrest and prison are appropriate only when those in authority break the basic rules of the game.

Already under investigation as possible obstruction of justice is the destruction of the CIA interrogation session tapes. To this Holder has added the torture of prisoners.

The arguments against torture are obvious. First, many, if not most, interrogators believe other techniques are more effective and doubt torture yields accurate information. FBI Director Robert Mueller said that he didn’t “believe it to be the case” that any terrorist attacks had been thwarted by the Bush administration’s use of torture.

Torture has stained America’s reputation, undercutting Washington’s moral claims and discouraging cooperation by allied governments. Perhaps most important, torture undermines what it is to be America. Argued Charles Fried of Harvard Law School, President Ronald Reagan’s Solicitor General: “we cannot authorize indecency without jeopardizing our survival as a decent society.”

The Bush administration claimed that it did not torture, but the evidence is otherwise. Retired Lt. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba and Reagan White House attorney Robert Turner both spoke of “war crimes.” Susan Crawford, a retired (Republican) judge sent to Guantanamo Bay by the Defense Department, concluded that torture had occurred. As head of President Bush’s Office of Legal Counsel Jack Goldsmith revoked two legal opinions which had authorized torture.

Policymakers bear the principal responsibility. The issue was debated at the upper reaches of the White House. The Senate Armed Services Committee concluded that “senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.”

An investigation also is needed into Bush administration violations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The administration made a number of extravagant claims to justify ignoring FISA. First, the president had quasi-monarchical powers, at least in war-time. Second, the Authorization for Use of Military Force repealed every law thought by the president to impede his war powers. Third, as military commander-in-chief the president has authority to ignore an express congressional enactment.

Being commander-in-chief naturally gives the president extensive discretion when it comes to operational issues. However, the Constitution tasks Congress to create the broad legal and administrative frameworks within which military and intelligence operations occur.

Indeed, the Constitution gives Congress almost all war powers other than operational command. The legislature raises the military, declares war, and is to “To define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations,” “make rules concerning captures on land and water,” “make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces,” and “to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers.”

In the war-related surveillance area, constitutional authority appears to be concurrent. If Congress does not legislate, the president may act. However, if Congress chooses to require warrants before the executive is allowed to spy on Americans, the president has responsibility to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

If President Bush and those around him thought the Congressionally-prescribed procedures to be inadequate, they should have requested additional legal authority from Congress. The legislature consistently gave the president whatever he wanted when it came to fighting terrorism; even the Democratic Congress elected in 2006 acquiesced to administration pressure in amending FISA.

The Obama administration has been nervous about prosecuting Bush officials, lest it be accused of conducting a partisan witch hunt. But President Obama has a legal obligation to uphold the law, and that includes holding accountable government officials who broke the law.

At the very least executive law-breaking requires investigation. The people should know what was done in their name. Moreover, policies and procedures should be adopted to make it harder for future officials to follow suit. It is hard to develop safeguards that will work in the presence of a determined executive and pusillanimous legislature, but the effort must be made.

Finally, prosecution must be considered. If high government officials can violate the law simply by claiming to believe that their actions are legal, then the law is meaningless. The U.S. government has prosecuted foreign officials and soldiers for war crimes, including torture. It must hold its own citizens to the same standard. To survive a democratic republic requires public accountability.

In his opening address at Nuremberg Robert Jackson said that the law must “not stop with the punishment of petty crimes by little people. It must also reach men who possess themselves of great power.” So, too, must it do so in America today.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Cheney Says He May Not Cooperate With Torture Probe if Asked

By Jason Leopold
The Public Record, Aug 30th, 2009

vice president dick cheney named in court suit by cia valarie plame 2007 News White House com

Dick Cheney, in a defiant half-hour interview Sunday on Fox New, launched into a blistering attack on the Obama administration, saying the decision by Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a federal prosecutor to conduct a “preliminary review” of about a dozen cases of torture “offends the hell out of me.”

Cheney added he may not cooperate with the investigation if asked to do so by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham, a statement that underscored the former vice president’s deep disdain for the Obama administration and its overhaul of certain Bush era policies related to national security.

Continues >>

Tags: , , , , , ,

US Army Chief: We’ll Always Stand by Israel’s Side

Senior American officials attend farewell party for Israel’s military attaché Major-General Benny Gantz, who will assume IDF deputy chief post in October

By Yitzhak Benhorin, August 28, 2009, Israel News, Aug 27, 2009

Washington — The US will always stand by Israel’s side, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said overnight Thursday during a farewell party for Israel’s military attaché in Washington Major-General Benny Gantz, who will be retuning to Israel following his appointment as IDF deputy chief of staff.

The event, which was held at the home of Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, was attended by a number of senior American officials, including Dan Shapiro, who heads the Middle East desk at the National Security Council, and Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy.

The military attachés of Egypt and Morocco were also on hand.

Mullen said the attendance of top US military officials was a sign of the strong ties between the US and Israel.

Gantz, who is scheduled to return to Israel on Thursday, will be briefed on the responsibilities of his new position by outgoing Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Dan Harel on Sunday.

Gantz will officially assume the post of deputy IDF chief on October 1. He will be replaced in Washington by outgoing IDF Central Command chief Maj. Gen. Gadi Shamni.

Tags: , , ,

Strong reactions in India over a book on Jinnah

Al Jazeerah, Aug 31, 2009

Interview: Jaswant Singh

Singh’s book has provoked a storm of reaction in his own country [EPA]

Jaswant Singh, a former leader with India’s main opposition party, has sparked controversy in his own country with a book on Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) expelled Singh over his book Jinnah: India-Partition Independence, which offered a sympathetic portrayal of Jinnah by an Indian writer.

The local government in Gujarat, a state controlled by the BJP, even moved to ban the book, saying it ran counter to public and national interests.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Singh, a former finance and foreign minister, gave his thoughts on the controversy sparked by his book, as well as on his former political party.

Al Jazeera: When you say that perhaps we need controversy to educate people, that seems to imply that there is some problem for India and Pakistan confronting that history.

Jaswant Singh: We have been manufacturing history, inventing history.

For example, India has demonised Mohammad Ali Jinnah just as Pakistan has demonised Mahatma Gandhi, or [Jawaharlal] Nehru or [Sardar Vallabhbhai] Patel.

They were all Indian. All of them were great Indians. Gandhi and Jinnah were really contemporaries … and Gandhi himself called Jinnah a great Indian.

In terms of the book that you have written, what is more important – that discussion takes place in India about that history or that Jinnah is viewed differently?

The book has sparked controversy in India over its portrayal of Mohammed Ali Jinnah

Once the full book is read, [and] the narrative is grasped, then you understand the enormity of the tragedy and the fruitlessness of the partition, certainly to me.This is not to question the reality of Pakistan, of Bangladesh, but we have to find an answer to the problems of that period.

We created a partition to end peace. There is no peace in Pakistan (inside it), there is no peace in India and there is no peace in Bangladesh. There is no peace between the countries.

You say in the book that “Pakistan is doubtless Muslim but theocentrically it’s not a theocratic state”. I mean, that’s quite a loaded statement to make.

Not at all. “Theocentricism”, where society is centred on Islam – this is in line whether Pakistan, India or Bangladesh, where faith is of paramount importance.

Pakistan is not theocratic in the sense it is not the Mullah that is governing Pakistan … but Pakistan society is governed by Islam. That is the difference. It is a very vital and important difference that has to be understood by the West about Islam.

Should Pakistan be governed in a secular fashion though?

Pakistan should be governed as they determine for themselves … I can wish that it would be better that they were governed as Jinnah had dreamt that they ought to be governed, but it’s for Pakistan to decide.

You say in the book that the modern mind just cannot comprehend Islam precisely because it is a totality. It makes it very difficult for Pakistan to govern in anything that might resemble a secular fashion.

The Western mind cannot grasp the enormity and subtlety of Islam.

India has more Muslims living in it as citizens of India today than Pakistan has. We have lived with Islam for centuries. Islam has been absorbed by the ethos of India.

I think India understands Islam much better than the West does. You see it as an adversary. We see it as part of the Indian vividity. The real renaissance of Islam would have taken place in undivided India if there had not been a partition.

I’m asking you a very personal and direct question because you’ve been such an integral part of the BJP. Do you take any responsibility for the state of affairs? Do you think that the BJP, not just for the country but for the good of itself, needs to reform?

Of course I take responsibility for everything that the party has done up till the moment of my exit. Until the day, I am a member of the party [and] I am responsible for everything the party has had to do or done.

As it is, the political parties that exist in the country are really functioning like private limited companies or family concerns … congress of course is purely and unashamedly a family concern and they don’t make any bones about it, but the same problems seem to have afflicted my former political party. It has become sycophantic, full of time-servers.

These are not the ideals with which we began. The purpose of the party was the service of the nation.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Obama’s AfPak war intensifies on both sides of border

By James Cogan,, August 29, 2009

As low voter turnout in Afghanistan’s presidential election last week provided further evidence of broad hostility to the US-led occupation, the armed insurgency has continued to escalate. The number of US and NATO troops killed in the country during 2009 reached 301 yesterday—already the highest annual toll of the eight-year occupation.

Continues >>

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Revealed: Docs Describe in Extraordinary Detail Process of ‘Rendition,’ Torture

outlawed_rendition_torture_and_disappearance_detailAmong the treasure trove of documents released Monday related to the CIA’s detention and torture program is a 20-page background paper that for the first time describes in extraordinary detail the process of “rendition” and the torture prisoners are then subjected to when they are flown to “black site” prisons.

The document was turned over to the ACLU in response to the civil liberties group’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the government late Monday evening along with numerous others, including previously undisclosed Justice Department legal opinions.

The background paper clearly illustrates that the torture of detainees was systematic and micromanaged by the top officials at the CIA, the Justice Department, medical professionals, and likely the White House. Previously, the CIA has refused to disclose any details of its rendition program citing state secrets.

That the torture was overseen by medical professionals is a violation of international laws and treaties, and additionally, a breach of numerous professional ethical codes, including the United Nations Principles of Medical Ethics and the Declaration of Toyko.

The background paper says the use of torture at the CIA’s “black site” prisons “is essential to the creation of an interrogation environment conducive to intelligence collection.”

High-value detainees “are well-trained, often battle-hardened terrorist operatives, and highly committed to jihad. They are intelligent and resourceful leaders and able to resist standard interrogation approaches.”

The background paper reads as an instructional manual for interrogators on how and when to implement the “combined use of interrogation techniques” after a terror suspect is captured and “renditioned” to a “black site” prison in another country.

“However, there is no template or script that states with certainty when and how these techniques will be used in combination during interrogation,” the background paper states. “The interrogators’ objective is to transition the HVD to a point where he is participating in a predictable, reliable, and sustainable manner. Interrogation techniques may still be applied as required, but become less frequent.

“This transition period lasts from several days to several weeks based on the HVDs response and actions. The entire interrogation process outlined above, including transition may last for thirty days.”

The Dec. 30, 2004 document was prepared by the CIA for Dan Levin in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. The background paper includes an unsigned note on the fax cover sheet that says, “Dan, A generic description of the process. Thank you.”

“The background paper is a profoundly disturbing document that illustrates, as well as anything could, how far the CIA strayed from the law and from values that are integral to our democracy,” said Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU National Security Project. “That the barbaric methods outlined in the paper were approved by the country’s senior-most officials is particularly appalling.”

“The purpose of interrogation is to persuade High-Value Detainees (HVD) to provide threat information and terrorist intelligence in a timely manner, to allow the US Government to identify and disrupt terrorist plots and to collect critical intelligence on al-Qa’ida,” the background paper says. “In support of information previously sent to the Department of Justice, this paper provides additional background on how interrogation techniques are used, in combination and separately, to achieve interrogation objectives.”

The background paper then describes what happens after a terror suspect is captured and turned over to the CIA. The background paper describes this as “rendition.”

“The HVD is flown to a Black Site…A medical examination is conducted prior to the flight,” according to the background paper. “During the flight, the detainee is securely shackled and is deprived of sight and sound through the use of blindfolds, earmuffs, and hoods. There is no interaction with the HVD during this rendition movement except for periodic, discreet assessments by the on-board medical officer. Upon arrival at the destination airfield, the HVD is moved to the Black Site under the same conditions and using appropriate security procedures.”

The so-called “Reception at Black Site” that follows involves a medical assessment and “administrative procedures.” Detainees’ head and faces are then shaved and they are photographed while nude to “document the physical conduction of the HVD.”

“The medical officer also determines if there any contraindications to the use of interrogation techniques.”

Contraindications is defined as a pre-existing condition or other factors that would increase the risk of either using a specific drug, carrying out a medical procedure, or engaging in a particular activity.

Detainees are then interviewed by psychologists who prepare a report about the detainees’ mental state and if there are any “contraindications to the use of interrogation techniques.”

At this point, interrogators begin to question a detainee–”in a relatively benign environment”– to gain an understanding of the prisoner’s “resistance posture” and if he would be willing to cooperate in providing CIA interrogators with immediate information about terrorist plots against the United States.

“The standard on participation is set very high during the Initial Interview,” the background report says. “The HVD would have to willingly provide information on actionable threats and location information on High-Value Targets at large—not lower level information—for interrogators to continue with the neutral approach.”

The interrogation process, according to the background paper, is broken down into three categories: conditioning techniques, corrective techniques and coercive techniques.

The background report the describes the detention conditions detainees are subjected to and states that while that is not considered an interrogation techniques the conditions of their confinement will have an impact when they are interrogated.

The next phase is referred to as “conditioning techniques” where a detainee is reduced to a “baseline, dependent state” as a result of a combination of tactics that leaves the detainee feeling he has no control over basic human needs. The “baseline state” is crucial, according to the background report, because it is supposed to make the detainee feel that his welfare is more important than the “information he is protecting.”

The combination of interrogation techniques, approved in Justice Department legal memoranda, to reduce a detainee to a dependent state includes nudity, sleep deprivation, and dietary manipulation.

The paper notes that merely introducing these techniques alone won’t bring immediate results. Rather, it’s the repeated use of these techniques and using their combined use “which achieves interrogation objectives.”

Clinical descriptions of how to effectively administer these methods is then described. The background says that high-value detainees remain nude for an indefinite period of time. Detainees then are deprived of sleep and are placed in the “vertical shackling position to begin sleep deprivation.”

“Other shackling procedures may be used during interrogations,” the report says. “The detainee is diapered for sanitary purposes, although the diaper is not used at all times.”

Dietary manipulation then follows whereby a detainee is fed Ensure Plus “or other food at regular intervals.” Detainees receive a “target” of 1,500 calories a day based on guidelines from the CIA’s Office of Medical Services.

A high-value detainee who, presumably is uncooperative, then goes through the “corrective techniques” phase, which involves the “insult slap,” “abdominal slap,” “facial hold,” and “attention grasp.” The report says these methods are not administered simultaneously during an interrogation, rather they are interchangeable.

The insult slap “is often the first physical technique used with an HVD once an interrogation begins.”

“As noted, the HVD may already be nude, in sleep deprivation and subject to dietary manipulation, even though the detainee will likely feel little effect from these techniques early in the interrogation,” the report says. “The insult slap is used sparingly but periodically throughout the interrogation process when the interrogator needs to immediately correct the detainee or provide a consequence to a detainee’s response or non-response.

“The interrogator will continually assess the effectiveness of the insult slap and continue to employ it so long as it has the desired effect on the detainee. Because of the physical dynamics of the various techniques, the insult slap can be used in combination with water dousing or kneeling stress positions. Other combinations are possible but may not be practical.”

The same methods are employed when an interrogator uses the abdominal slap, the attention grasp and the facial hold. The next phase involves what the report calls “coercive techniques,” some of which were first disclosed in Justice Department legal opinions released in April. Those methods include, walling, water dousing, stress positions.

Cramped confinement, according to the report and the CIA’s Office of Medical Services, calls for placing a detainee in a large box no more than eight hours at a time for “no more than 18 hours a day.” The report also said interrogators can use a small box no more than two hours at a time and no more than 18 hours per day.

Because of the “unique” aspects of “cramped confinement” it cannot be combined with other torture methods.

The process that follows next is a sort of checklist for interrogators, or as the report says it, “a day-to-day look” at the interrogation process.

Here’s what the report says:

A hooded high-value detainee is taken to the interrogation room and, under the direction of interrogators, is stripped, placed into shackles and positioned with his back to the “walling wall.” Interrogators approach the detainee, place the walling collar over his head and around his neck and stand in front of him.

The detainee’s hood is then removed and the interrogator explains to the prisoner that he will do “whatever it takes to get important information” from him. If the detainee begins to resist he is immediately slapped across his cheek. If that doesn’t work, the prisoner is then slapped on his stomach.

Once it became clear to interrogators that a detainee was “lying, withholding information, or using other resistance techniques,” the interrogator would repeatedly slam the prisoner head first into a wall. Then the detainee would be placed in the center of the interrogation room—nude– diapered, and shackled and deprived of sleep. White noise not exceeding 79 decibels would then be played to as a tool to keep the detainee awake.

“This first interrogation session may last from 30 minutes to several hours based on the interrogators’ assessment of the HVD’s resistance posture,” the background paper says.

Another torture session follows and the time lapse could be as short as one hour or as long as a day. Between the first and second sessions, medical and psychological personnel observing the torture must advise “there are no contraindications to another interrogation session.”

The second round of torture follows the exact same pattern as the first; the detainee is placed in front of the “walling wall” and asked a series of questions and depending on the answers is slammed into the wall, slapped on his face and stomach. Except during this session, a detainee who fails to respond in a satisfactory manner is doused with water for several minutes. Stress positions and wall standing are also integrated.

Sleep deprivation and dietary manipulation and white noise are repeated again if a detainee does not provide information his interrogators believe he has. The detainee is nude at all times.

And then the process is repeated for a third time with the methods and line of questioning becoming more intense. For example, slamming a detainee into a wall would be repeated multiple times. Or, if a detainee placed in a stress position and fails to remain in that position he would be slammed into the wall. The only way for a detainee to stop this brutal treatment, the background paper notes, is by “cooperating with interrogators.”

Interrogators can then decide, after the third round of torture ends, to put a detainee in either a large or small box if it will have “the appropriate effect.”

Sleep deprivation can then continue for five days straight, “or possibly beyond for the hardest resisters,” but it cannot exceed 180 consecutive hours.

“Sleep deprivation will end sooner if the medical or psychologist observer finds” it necessary,” the background paper notes. “On average, the actual use of interrogation techniques can vary upwards to fifteen days based on the resilience of the HVD.”

If interrogators need to exceed a 30-day pre-approved period, the interrogation team would need to submit a new interrogation plan to CIA headquarters in Langley.

Earlier this week, the Obama administration announced that it will continue to render suspected terrorists to other countries, but it will monitor each case to ensure the detainees are not tortured.

Jennifer Turner, a researcher with the ACLU Human Rights Program, said that pledge doesn’t go far enough.

“Any transfer of detainees in U.S. custody to other countries must fully comply with domestic and international human rights law,” she said. “Examining the Bush administration rendition program and holding accountable those who broke the law will help to ensure that the same mistakes aren’t repeated by the Obama administration.”

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Gen. McChrystal Seeks 20,000 More Troops for Afghanistan

Plan Will Test War-Weary Public, Over-Stretched Military

by Jason Ditz,, August 28, 2009

According to a report in the Saturday edition of the Independent, top US commander in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal will request another 20,000 troops for the war effort in Afghanistan, on top of the escalation already provided by President Obama, when he issues his new “plan” for the nation.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal

Shortly after taking office President Obama approved the addition of another 17,000 to the war effort as part of an attempt to turn around the sagging war effort. He added another further 4,000 troops in March as part of his new “comprehensive strategy” at the time.

Needless to say, the strategy did not work, and the situation in Afghanistan has continued to worsen. Gen. McKiernan was ousted in May, and Gen. McChrystal was put in place to attempt yet another new strategy. The release of that strategy has been delayed, but has long been assumed to be another escalation, which the administration seems only too eager to oblige.

Continues >>

Tags: , , , , ,

Gaza: Fighting for the Right to Walk

Foreign Policy Journal, August 28, 2009
by Ramzy Baroud


Gaza’s troubles have somehow been relegated, if not completely dropped from the mainstream media’s radar, and subsequently from the world’s conscience and consciousness. Weaning the public from the sadness there conveys the false impression that things are improving and that people are starting to move on and rebuild their lives.

But nothing could be further from the truth. Since the conclusion of Israel’s war last year, the Palestinian Ministry of Health declared that 344 Gaza patients have reportedly been added to the swelling number of casualties.

Continues >>

Tags: , , , , , ,

Death of a Myth: Israel’s Support of a Two-State Solution

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Page 7

Special Report

By Rachelle Marshall

ISRAEL’S actions from the beginning have directly contradicted the image it projects to the West. The founding of a country that was to be “a light among nations” required the forcible expulsion of most of its original inhabitants. The “Middle East’s only democracy” became the brutal oppressor of three million Palestinians. The nationhood that was to endow the Jewish people with “normality” gave them instead a garrison state in which military strength is the dominant value.

  • On the day of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s White House meeting with President Barack Obama, a Palestinian woman in the occupied city of Hebron stares at an Israeli soldier standing guard near a wall spraypainted by settlers with obscenities and the Star of David. Ultranationalist Israeli Knesset members were visiting the city to protest Netanyahu’s promotion of the easing of restrictions on Palestinians (AFP photo/Menahem Kahana).

The most enduring myth of all is that Israel would welcome peace with the Palestinians and the Arab nations if they agreed to recognize Israel’s legitimacy as a state. In 1955 then-Prime Minister Moshe Sharett recorded in his diary a statement by Israel Defense Minister Moshe Dayan that revealed Israel’s true policy: preserving the unity of an immigrant population by discouraging peace efforts and maintaining a sense of permanent beleaguerment.

Continues >>

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Friday, August 28, 2009

Netanyahu’s peace is a cynical evasion


Financial Times, August 25 2009

When Barack Obama told Israel that “part of being a good friend is being honest”, the country’s political elites got an inkling that decades of double-talk on the conflict with the Palestinians were over. In his June 4 speech at Cairo University he spelled it out: “Just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s.”

The US president could have been addressing Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, who refuses to rein in colonisation of Palestinian land or push a two-state solution to the conflict. Yet, however much Mr Obama tries to change the conversation, in and on the Middle East, Mr Netanyahu keeps trying to change the subject.

Mr Obama has chosen as his battleground the Jewish settlements on occupied Arab land, all of them illegal under international law. “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements,” the president said. Washington has called for a total freeze, including on the so-called “natural growth” that has enabled the settlements to expand exponentially. Mr Netanyahu, in London and due to see George Mitchell, the president’s special representative, wants to talk economics. This is a cynical evasion.

It is important to remember that Mr Netanyahu has always argued that the Palestinians cannot expect a nation, only some sort of supra-municipal government. His utterance of the word “state” in the June 14 policy speech he made in reply to Mr Obama does not change this in any substantive way. Beyond the Jewish religious claim to the Israel of the Bible, Eretz Israel, Netanyahu believes Israeli security requires a buffer of occupied land – including most of the West Bank – to insulate it from its Arab neighbours. The whole Arab-Israeli equation is, for him, a zero sum game. That rules out land-for-peace: the United Nations Security Council-mandated approach ever since the 1967 Six Day War.

During his 1996-99 premiership, instead of land-for-peace he offered peace-for-peace; now he obfuscates about an “economic peace”.

Economics, and the prospect of a job, are of course, powerful agents of change. The remarkable success of Israel in nation-building and economic development rightly stands as a daily accusation against its Arab neighbours, weakened and stunted by introspective autocracies. Yet Mr Netanyahu’s pitch, that Israel can help the Arabs embrace globalisation and turn the region into one happy family, has a bit of recent history to explain.

While it is true that Arab leaders use the stalemate of “no war, no peace” to justify their monopolies on power and resources, it is also true they (and their citizens) feel swindled by the experience of Oslo.

In 1992-96, at the height of the peace process, Israel alone reaped a peace dividend, without having to conclude a peace. Diplomatic recognition of Israel doubled, from 85 to 161 countries, leading to doubled exports and a sixfold increase in foreign investment. During the same period, per capita income in the occupied territories fell by 37 per cent while the number of settlers increased by 50 per cent. Economic development deals in facts; Mr Netanyahu deals in cosmetics.

With an economic peace, he argues, barriers to growth would be removed and the Palestinian economy would be refloated. But Israel can and should remove most of those barriers anyway. According to the UN, last month there were 614 checkpoints inside the West Bank – an area the size of Lincolnshire or Delaware – compared with 613 in June. The recent removal of, say, the choke-points into Nablus, has led to a pick-up in business. But what this shows is how Israel’s carve-up of the West Bank is stifling all activity.

Mr Netanyahu’s emotive insistence on “natural” settlement growth is equally bogus. With vast subsidies, these colonies are growing at more than three times the rate of population in Israel proper. The municipal boundaries of the settlements extend far beyond the built-up areas. Combined with the security wall built on West Bank land, the settler-only roads and the military zones, the Palestinians are penned into shrinking and discontiguous Bantustans.

Any economy needs, among other things, territory and freedom of movement. The prostrate Palestinian economy is no different. Mr Netanyahu knows it, and the Obama administration has made clear to him it knows he knows it.

In his last administration, Mr Netanyahu turned the drive for peace into pure process: piling up unresolved disputes to be parked in “final status” negotiations he never intended to begin. Under US pressure he has changed tactics – but the aim is exactly the same.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Sri Lankan troops shot Tamil prisoners of war

Morning Star Online, Thursday 27 August 2009

by Paddy McGuffin

Graphic footage which appears to show Sri Lankan forces summarily executing Tamil prisoners during or after the recent bloody conflict has been handed to the British media.

The footage, captured on a mobile phone, was supplied to the media on Wednesday by Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka.

It shows uniformed troops dragging naked and bound prisoners into a clearing and shooting them in the back of the head.

Continues >>

Tags: , , , , , , ,

American public: We don’t want to rule the world

The US public largely opposes America’s foreign wars and economic meddling. They need a voice in US foreign policy

Mark Weisbrot | The Guradian/UK, Aug 27, 2009

Americans are famous for not paying much attention to the rest of the world, and it is often said that foreign wars are the way that we learn geography. But most often it is not the people who have little direct experience outside their own country that are the problem, but rather the experts.

The latest polling data is making this clear once again, as a majority of Americans now oppose the war in Afghanistan, but the Obama administration is escalating the war, and his military commanders may ask for even more troops than the increase to 68,000 that the adminstration is planning by the end of this year.

Continues >>

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

The Afghanistan Gap: Press vs. Public

by Norman Solomon |, Aug 28, 2009

This month, a lot of media stories have compared President Johnson’s war in Vietnam and President Obama’s war in Afghanistan. The comparisons are often valid, but a key parallel rarely gets mentioned — the media’s insistent support for the war even after most of the public has turned against it.

This omission relies on the mythology that the U.S. news media functioned as tough critics of the Vietnam War in real time, a fairy tale so widespread that it routinely masquerades as truth. In fact, overall, the default position of the corporate media is to bond with war policymakers in Washington — insisting for the longest time that the war must go on.

Continues >>

Tags: , , , , , , ,

CIA detention programme: Criminal investigations long overdue

US Attorney General Eric Holder, June 2009

US Attorney General Eric Holder, June 2009

© APGraphicsBank

Amnesty Internaional, 27 August 2009

US Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement on Tuesday that he has ordered a “preliminary review” into some interrogations of some detainees in the secret detention programme operated by the CIA after the attacks of 11 September 2001, while a welcome first step, does not go far enough, Amnesty International said.

“The USA needs to ensure that every case of torture is submitted for prosecution, whether or not perpetrators claim to have been following orders, and those who authorized or ordered the commission of torture or other criminal abuse of detainees must also be brought to justice,” said Rob Freer, Amnesty International’s researcher on the USA. “The USA should also establish an independent commission of inquiry to investigate all aspects of the USA’s detention practices in what the previous administration called the ‘war on terror’”, he said.

Continues >>

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Right-wing mad militarist and his mindless murdering drones

By Laura Flanders
Online Journal Guest Writer

Online Journal
, Aug 27, 2009,
Email this article
Printer friendly page

A US drone firing missiles into a village in northern Pakistan killed at least 19 people over the weekend. The targets were militants, said the US military. The victims included six dead children, said a local tribal elder.

“Suspected US Drone Kills Suspected Taliban Commander.” That’s becoming the stuff of very suspect news stories. The reporting is so weak there’s almost nothing confirmed except that the killer operator is far away in front of a computer screen.

Suspected killing of suspected people covered by unsuspicious media? It would be sci-fi if it weren’t so here-now, and it’s only going to get more so.

The Democratic administration just made a big deal of cutting the cumbersome F-22 fighter jet. “We don’t need it anymore,” said the president. What he didn’t say is that the defense department is seeking $3.5 billion for unmanned aerial vehicles, a.k.a., “drones.” Funding is expected to increase to $55 billion by 2020. The air force is currently training more drone operators than fighter and bomber pilots.

Drones have been around since the US-led NATO war on the former Yugoslavia. Since ’06, drones have launched hundred of missiles along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border killing as many as 700 civilians, according to Pakistani officials.

Forbes magazine’s “king of the armed drone makers” is a little known company called General Atomics, whose founder, James Neal Blue, came up with the drone as a way of defeating Soviet-backed Sandinistas by blowing up oil pipelines in Nicaragua. He’s a fervent anti-communist and quite possibly the next Erik Prince — only his mercenaries aren’t Blackwater’s flesh and blood killers, but conveniently bloodless machines.

General Atomics is small by defense industry standards, but it has a lot of friends in Washington. Between 2000 and 2005, GA was the top corporate sponsor of privately funded congressional travel. So perhaps it’s no surprise, there’s little resistance to more drones in the US arsenal.

Drones are not cheap — between $10 million and $12 million apiece per GA “Reaper.” Their success rate is widely disputed. They kill civilians and even General David Petraeus admits, they make people hate us. But cynical political calculus is on General Atomics’ side.

President Obama has a problem. Every American military commander wants more troops, but resistance among foot soldiers is growing and maybe, someday — someday — the president’s antiwar base will make itself heard.

How to heed the commanders and quiet the critics simultaneously? Welcome to the super drone bonanza. The pilotless drone is the military’s version of cash for very clunky policy.

The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, and online at and Follow GRITtv or GritLaura on

Tags: , , , , ,

Afghanistan’s election debacle

Lee Sustar reports on the fraud and violence that swept Afghanistan during the August 20 presidential elections.

Socialist Worker, August 26, 2009

NATO soldiers on the scene of a bomb attack before elections in Afghanistan (Shah Marai | AFP)NATO soldiers on the scene of a bomb attack before elections in Afghanistan (Shah Marai | AFP)

AN ELECTION intended to showcase Afghanistan’s “emerging democracy” has instead exposed astonishing corruption, fraud and violence on the part of the U.S.-backed government.

Incumbent President Hamid Karzai and challenger Abdullah Abdullah are each claming victory amid allegations of vote-rigging and fraud on both sides, with Abdullah’s supporters even hinting that his forces will take up arms if the election is stolen by Karzai.

Continues >>

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Cleric calls Iran leaders despotic

Al Jazeera, Aug 27, 2009

Montazeri has criticised the ruling system under Ayatollah Khamenei, pictured, as ‘despotic’ [AFP]

A senior Iranian religious cleric has sharply criticised the country’s supreme leader, saying the country is being ruled by a dictatorship following the disputed June presidential election.

Grand Ayatollah Hossein Montazeri said on Wednesday that the ruling system under Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has misused Islam in its crackdown against opposition supporters.

He said Iranian authorities also showed their true nature with the violent suppression of hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who filled the streets of the capital, Tehran, to protest against the results of the June 12 vote.

Continues >>

Tags: , , , ,

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Why Israel will thwart Obama on settlements

For the Jewish state, the settlements are eminently sensible and their growth is almost certain to continue, either openly or stealthily.

By Walter Rodgers | The Christian Science Monitor

from the August 25, 2009 edition

The idea that the Obama administration can advance the Middle East peace process by having Israel freeze its construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank stretches credulity.

Does any serious observer of the region believe that Israel’s appetite for land – owned and occupied for generations by Palestinians – is going to abate?

The Israeli land grab has continued for four decades, in defiance of international law and most US presidents. US Middle East envoy George Mitchell has been trying to secure a halt, but his efforts follow a well-worn path that typically ends in charade.

Just weeks ago, the Israeli government evicted two extended Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem, clearing the way for more houses for Jews in traditionally Palestinian neighborhoods.

Israeli settlements have become a kind of concrete kudzu to Palestinians. The Fatah party recently renewed its commitment to resisting them, holding that “the Palestinians have the right to resist the Israeli occupation by all possible means.”

But for the Jewish state, the settlements are eminently sensible and their growth is almost certain to continue, either openly or stealthily. As Interior Minister Eli Yishai put it Aug. 10, expanding settlements near Jerusalem is vital for “security, national interests, and is just and necessary.”

Every new Jewish apartment complex enlarges and deepens the Jewish footprint on occupied land. The California-style townhouses atop the hills of ancient Samaria and Judea are seen as security buffers for an Israeli island in a hostile Islamic sea. Israel’s feeling of vulnerability is intensified by the growing Arab population already within its borders.

The settlements have become affordable suburbs for Israelis otherwise priced out of the metropolitan markets. More than 300,000 Jewish settlers now call the West Bank home.

Further, religious and ultrareligious Jewish settlers insist they have divinely bestowed title to the land. Few passages in the Bible are more frightening to Arabs than Deuteronomy 11:24:

“Every place whereon the soles of your feet shall tread shall be yours: from the wilderness and Lebanon, from the river, the river Euphrates, even unto the uttermost sea shall your coast be.”

Palestinian Arabs are too weak to legally or militarily challenge the Jewish state’s internal expansion. An Israeli court recently ruled that Israel can now confiscate land belonging to Palestinians who once resided in an area but are now refugees pending final settlement.

Having lived in Jerusalem for five years during the salad days of the peace process in the 1990s, I watched settlement builders nibble away at what were once Palestinian homes, villages, and pastures.

From Jerusalem southward, the construction of the Har Homa settlement crabs outward to the doorsteps of Palestinian Bethlehem. From the air, these settlements appear a terrestrial octopus, extending out to ultimately link up with the more militant Jewish settlements farther south in Hebron, another city with a large Palestinian majority.

Settlement building resembles military flanking and encirclement maneuvers, isolating Palestinian population centers. In Jerusalem, there are at least half a dozen Arab neighborhoods, including the Mount of Olives, threatened by Israel’s voracious hunger for land. Quoted in the newspaper Haaretz, Sarah Kreimer of Ir Amim, a group specializing in Israeli-Palestinian relations, says, “In each of these places, plans are being advanced for construction whose ultimate purpose is to disconnect the Old City from Palestinian Jerusalem.”

Israelis have brilliantly created a sense of inevitability to all this. Yet, the moral difficulties of moving indigenous peoples off the land by subterfuge or force are obvious. When in the past I’ve raised the ethical implications of these land appropriations, Israelis have dismissed me, saying, “Hey, you Americans did it to the Indians.”

American presidents have often quietly nudged Israel to freeze the settlements, but their actual leverage has been minimal. Israelis have elected both doves and hawks as prime minister, but virtually all Israeli governments supported settlement expansion in varying degrees.

Jewish political clout in America ought not be underestimated. A former chairman of the American Israel Political Action Committee once boasted to me, “We got [Sen.] Chuck Percy [an Illinois Republican who was narrowly defeated in 1984] when he crossed us on the Palestinians.” President Obama will face a similar threat at election time if he defies Israel’s expansionist instincts.

US presidents have so frequently pledged unshakable support for Israel that it’s created the illusion that US and Israeli interests are identical. It might be useful for Mr. Obama and his Middle East team to publicly point to serious differences with Israel when they arise. If the US can have public disagreements with its allies, including Britain, why should Israel be exempted from what could be a healthy debate?

Jewish settlement construction may temporarily downshift into neutral. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton may hail “a building freeze.” But if the past is prologue, the first time Obama is distracted by another domestic or international crisis, and Washington isn’t looking, the Israeli bulldozers will be back at work.

Walter Rodgers served as the CNN bureau chief in Jerusalem for 5-1/2 years. He writes a biweekly column for the Monitor’s weekly edition.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Feingold to Obama: Announce Withdrawal Timetable from Afghanistan

ABC News, August 24, 2009

Chalian ABC News’ David Chalian Reports:

The Obama administration has been keenly aware of discontent among many in its liberal base with regard to its Afghanistan policy and an expected request for additional troops following General McChrystal’s upcoming assessment of the situation there.

That liberal base just got a high-profile voice to lead its charge.

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-WI, called on President Obama to announce a timetable for withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. “This is a strategy that is not likely to succeed,” Sen. Feingold said about the troop buildup in Afghanistan.

Continues >>

Tags: , , , , ,

Ex-CIA official John Helgerson says agents lost control after torture go-ahead

Times Online/UK, August 26, 2009

Tim Reid in Washington

The author of a scathing report on CIA interrogations during the Bush era has claimed that certain operatives lost control once they had been authorised to use “enhanced” interrogation techniques such as waterboarding.

John Helgerson, the former inspector-general of the CIA, also told The Times that the Obama Administration had cut key passages of his report out of the released version, a decision he found “puzzling”.

Mr Helgerson told The Times that the CIA had given assurances to the Justice Department that although the techniques would be used more than once, repetition would “not be substantial”.

Continues >>

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Wave of protest greets Israeli PM

Morning Star Online, Tuesday 25 August 2009

by Daniel Coysh
Gordon Brown meets Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu for talks

Gordon Brown meets Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu for talks

Hundreds of peace and solidarity campaigners have gathered at Downing Street to protest at Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s cosy meeting with far-right Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu.

Protesters from the Stop the War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the British Muslim Initiative converged on Downing Street at lunchtime, demanding an end to Israel’s violations of international law, with its refusal to dismantle the illegal settlements on the West Bank, the “ethnic cleansing” of east Jerusalem and its ongoing siege of Gaza.

Continues >>

Tags: , , , , ,