Thursday, March 25, 2010

Drone Wars, Without Any Rules

Dan Froomkin, The Huffington Post, March 24, 2010

The CIA’s extensive use of unmanned drones to kill alleged terrorists in Pakistan and elsewhere is arguably against international law and raises the possibility that top U.S. officials will someday be tried at the Hague for war crimes, a law professor told a congressional oversight panel on Tuesday.

Despite the rapidly increasing use of drones in warfare and anti-terrorism — and the legal and ethical issues their use raises — the U.S. government has never publicly advanced a legal justification for sending its drones on targeted killing runs overseas; up until Tuesday, Congress hadn’t even held a single hearing into the question.

Kenneth Anderson, an American University law professor, told the panel he believes there is legal justification for the U.S.’s use of drones, not just by the military but by the CIA, under the doctrine of self-defense.

But, he said, government lawyers “have not settled on what the rationales are, and I believe that at some point that ill serves an administration which is embracing this. Now, maybe the answer is: This is really terrible and illegal and anybody that does it should go off to the Hague. But if that’s the case, then we should not be having the president saying that this is the greatest thing since whatever. That seems like a bad idea.”

As HuffPost reported last week, the ACLU has filed a freedom of information lawsuit demanding that the government disclose the legal basis for its use of unmanned drones to conduct targeted killings overseas, as well as the ground rules regarding when, where and against whom drone strikes can be authorized, and the number of civilian casualties they have caused. The initial response from the government was that some public legal justification was, indeed, forthcoming.

But many questions about drones aren’t just unresolved, they’ve never even been asked. Rep. John F. Tierney (D-Mass.), chairman of the House oversight committee’s national security subcommittee, mentioned some of them in his opening statement:

[I]f the United States uses unmanned weapons systems, does that require an official declaration of war or an authorization for the use of force?Do the Geneva Conventions — written in 1949 — govern the prosecution of an unmanned war?

Who is considered a lawful combatant in unmanned war — the Air Force pilot flying a Predator from thousands of miles away in Nevada, or the civilian contractor servicing it in on an airstrip in Afghanistan?

Then there are questions about the civilian casualty rate; about how the U.S. maintains superiority in drone warfare; what happens when the bad guys get hold of them; and how do you defend against them.

Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) raised the concern that drones might make some of the Pentagon’s big-ticket purchases look less wise.

“What I’m worried about is, we’re at some point going to be asked to defend Taiwan, you know, with a set of aircraft carriers, and all of sudden, 10,000 Chinese-manufactured mass-produced drones will be coming at us,” Foster said. “And it’ll be game over. “

And just wait until they start thinking for themselves.

“If trends in computer science and robotics engineering continue, it is conceivable that autonomous systems could soon be developed that are capable of making life and death decisions without direct human intervention,” said John Edward Jackson, professor of unmanned systems at the U.S. Naval War College.

“Would a self-conscious and willful machine choose its own ends, and even be considered a person with rights?” asked Edward Barrett, director of research for the Stockdale Center, the U.S. Naval Academy’s ethics and military policy think tank.

The troubling questions and scenarios were coming from a panel that was, nevertheless, largely pro-drone — to the consternation of a handful of protesters in the audience.

The panel’s head cheerleader was Michael S. Fagan, who chairs the Advocacy Committee for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

Fagan said there is “much more” that drones can do to protect the nation. He urged the Federal Aviation Administration to allow drone-makers access to more airspace and spoke of “other useful applications of unmanned technology” such as “civil unrest”.

Peter W. Singer, director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution, noted the the U.S. government isn’t the only one using drones. American border vigilantes have used them, as did Hezbollah during Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon, and, most recently, a gang of thieves in Taiwan.

Barrett, the ethicist, worried that drones make war too easy. “Favorable alterations to pre-war proportionality calculations,” he said, could “reduce the rigor with which non-violent alternatives are pursued, and thus encourage unnecessary — and therefore unjust — wars,” he said.

He also said the homeland could be at risk if, on the battlefield, there’s “no one for the enemy to shoot at.” He explained: “You don’t want to go just to unmanned, or they’re coming here.”

Several clear distinctions emerged between the military’s use of drones and the CIA’s. One of those distinctions is that we know almost nothing about what the CIA is really doing, and how. “We do know about the military’s use of these systems, and they’ve shown… exceptional respect for the laws of war,” said Singer. “My concern is with the CIA strikes.”

Instead of trained military strategists, it’s intelligence analysts planning air-war campaigns, and CIA lawyers deciding on when to launch;. Or maybe it’s not even the CIA itself, but its contractors. Who knows?

Are there any limits? How many civilian casualties have there been? Does what they’re doing even make sense?

“We may be sucking ourselves into a game of whack-a-mole,” Singer said. “Are we unwittingly aiding their recruiting?”

© 2010 Huffington Post

Dan Froomkin is Washington Bureau Chief for the Huffington Post. Previously, he wrote the White House Watch column for the Washington Post’s website.

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Israeli Settlements: What Are They, Really?

Richard Greener, The Huffington Post, March 24, 2010

As citizens of the United States, whose government provides essential support to the State of Israel and also supports a two-state settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we must ask ourselves this important question: If we were Palestinians could we start our own nation in 2010 while 500,000 citizens of another country occupy our land and could we agree to watch helplessly as they grow in number to almost two million before the year 2050?

Americans know that the issue of Israeli settlements is an obstacle in the way of Middle East peace. But do we properly comprehend what Israeli settlements really are?

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Anti-Semitism – What is it?

By Jeff Gates, Information Clearing House, March 23, 2010

Several of us among the incurably curious asked ourselves a simple question: what is anti-Semitism? That it must be written with a capital “S” says a lot.

Then we realized it also morphs. To that feature I can attest. In November 2002, I met a “John Doe” in London who proposed a research challenge. While meeting that challenge, I encountered various versions of anti-Semitism.

A colleague advised against this challenge. First he fretted at the criminal nature of what the research has since confirmed. Then he inquired about my safety. That said a lot.

The colleague was M.I.T. Professor Noam Chomsky. For his criticism of Israeli policy, he was attacked as a self-hating Jew. Were he not Jewish, doubtless he would have been an anti-Semite. For critics of Israel, those are the only two options. He cautioned me:

You’ll get the same thing: anti-Semitic, Holocaust denier, want to kill all the Jews, etc. It doesn’t matter what the facts are. Bear in mind that you are dealing with intellectuals, that is, what we call ‘commissars’ and ‘apparatchiks’ in enemy states.

Is anti-Semitism a geopolitical strategy? If so, for what purpose? Character assassination?

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A stark truth: Israeli arms, U.S. dollars

By Glenn Greenwald,, March 23, 2010

One does not normally see this truth stated so starkly in places like Time Magazine — from Michael Scherer’s interesting article on AIPAC’s current strategy to “storm Congress”:

The third “ask” that AIPAC supporters will make of Congress on Tuesday is to once again pass the $3 billion in U.S. aid provided annually to Israel. “It’s a very tough ask this year,” [AIPAC lobbyist Steve] Aserkoff admitted, noting the U.S. domestic budgetary and economic challenges. Among other major purchases, the Israeli government has announced plans to replace its aging fleet of F-16 fighter jets with new, American-made F-35 fighters, a major cost that Israel hopes will be substantially born for [sic] by American taxpayers.

Those would be the same ”American taxpayers” who are now being told that they have to suffer cuts in Medicare and Social Security because of budgetary constraints, who are watching as the most basic social services (the hallmark of being a developed country) are being rapidly abolished (from the 12th Grade to basic care for children, the infirm and elderly), and are burdened with a national debt so large that America’s bond ratings are being degraded by the minute. Why should those same American taxpayers bear the enormous costs of Israel’s military purchases (as Israel enjoys booming economic growth)? Especially if the issue is presented as cleanly and honestly as Scherer did here, and especially if Israel continues to extend its proverbial middle finger to even the most basic U.S. requests that it cease activities that harm American interests, how much longer can this absurdity be sustained?

On a related note, a new Rasmussen Poll found that only 58% of Americans now view “Israel as an ally” – down from 70% just nine months ago. The same poll found that 49% of Americans believe Israel should be ”required” to stop building settlements, with only 22% disagreeing. That’s why the primary objective now of AIPAC and its bipartisan cast of Congressional servants is — as Scherer put it — “to pressure the Obama Administration to avoid airing disagreements publically [sic].” Indeed: you can’t have the American people knowing anything about the U.S./Israel relationship and the ways in which the interests of the two countries diverge.

Having these issues discussed openly and having the American citizenry be informed might shatter all sorts of vital myths, which is exactly what has happened over the last month, which has, in turn, led to this change in public opinion (that, along with the fact that the Israeli Government, by being viewed as the opponent of Obama, has incurred the wrath of large numbers of Democrats who are loyal to Obama and automatically dislike any of his critics or opponents). That’s why their overriding goal is to hide all these differences behind a wall of secrecy — “the Administration, to the extent that it has disagreements with Israel on policy matters, should find way[s] to do so in private,” demanded Democratic Rep. Steve Israel — because an open examination of this “special relationship,” how it really functions, and the costs and benefits it entails, is what they want most to avoid. It’s common in a democracy for government officials to openly air their differences with allies; why should this be any different?

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Saudi Arabia: Free Advocate for Shia Rights

Human Rights Watch, March 23, 2010

“Silencing Shia advocates will do nothing to hide the Saudi government’s record of harassment and discrimination against the group. But jailing a peaceful critic for months on end shows just how far Saudi officials will go to avoid criticism.”

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director

(New York) – Saudi Arabia’s domestic intelligence service should immediately release Munir Jassas, an advocate for Shia rights, who has been detained without charge for over five months, Human Rights Watch said today.

“Silencing Shia advocates will do nothing to hide the Saudi government’s record of harassment and discrimination against the group,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “But jailing a peaceful critic for months on end shows just how far Saudi officials will go to avoid criticism.”

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Trotsky the subject of cultural events in Russia

By Vladimir Volkov,, March 24, 2010

Luri Annenkov’s lithograph of Trotsky

In recent months Leon Trotsky has been the subject of two cultural events in Russia—an exhibition at the State Museum of Political History in Saint Petersburg and a documentary film aired on television. Each of these presentations contained interesting material and provided a more objective evaluation of Trotsky’s historical role than is typically found in Russia today. This is particularly true when considered against the backdrop of the rampant nationalism promoted by Vladimir Putin and his regime’s open efforts to rehabilitate Joseph Stalin. Nonetheless, both the museum exhibition and the film had definite limitations and provided a forum for the repetition of old lies and slanders about Trotsky and the October Revolution.

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The night a guru tried to kill me on TV

When Surender Sharma said he could kill me with magic, I had to put him to the test. The result was a triumph for rationalism

Sanal Edamaruku, The Guardian/UK, March 23, 2010

In different cultures, sense of humour varies. In the south Indian state of Kerala, from where I come, many people have great fun with this arguably shortest joke anywhere in circulation: A dog tried to open a coconut. And what happened? you may ask. Well, nothing; that’s the joke. It did not work, of course.

My encounter with Pandit Surender Sharma had something of a Kerala joke stretched out for hours. Nobody laughed, though, when he tried to kill me with tantric rituals on live TV. Except me, of course.

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Who is Killing Whom? Pounding Gaza

Sonja Karkar, Counterpunch, March 23, 2010

One man dead in Israel and the whole world knows. He actually was not Israeli, but an unfortunate immigrant worker from Thailand. We have been told who killed him too: not by name, but by some shadowy nom de guerre, used by jihadist groups some claim to be loosely affiliated with al-Qaeda in Iraq and elsewhere. The unknown group in Gaza, Ansar al-Sunna, claimed responsibility for the rocket fired into Israel that caused the man’s death by shrapnel.

The Hamas government has had its own problems with such groups, which have challenged its rule in Gaza. But, that is neither here nor there for Israel.

Israel has already said that its response will be strong. And sure enough, Israeli bombers have pounded the southern-most part of Gaza, so far killing and wounding some fourteen Palestinian civilians including children, three of them critically.

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Israel and American Aid

by Ralph Nader,, March 23, 2010

On July 10, 1996, at a Joint Session of the United States Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received a standing ovation for these words: “With America’s help, Israel has grown to be a powerful, modern state. …But I believe there can be no greater tribute to America’s long-standing economic aid to Israel than for us to be able to say: we are going to achieve economic independence. We are going to do it. In the next four years, we will begin the long-term process of gradually reducing the level of your generous economic assistance to Israel.”

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mercenary Soldiers on Sale… Who’s In Charge of These Hired Killers?

Eric S. Margolis, Khaleej Times Online, March 22, 2010

A fascinating scandal has erupted in Washington over the use of mercenaries (‘private contractors’ in US terminology) that is exposing the dark underbelly of America’s foreign wars. It has been that the Pentagon and other US intelligence agencies secretly fielded mercenaries in Afghanistan, Pakistan (aka “Af-Pak”), and Iraq to assassinate tribal militants.

US law forbids murder or using mercenaries. But, as the Roman jurist Cicero said, “laws are silent in times of war.”

A former senior Pentagon official specialising in clandestine operations, Mike Furlong, set up a shell company, International Media Ventures (IMV), to supposedly provide the US military with “cultural information” about Afghanistan’s Pashtun tribes. Two obscure Pentagon outfits, the “Cultural Engineering Group” in Florida, and “Counter-Narco-terrorism Technology Programme” of Virginia funded Furlong with $24.6 million. Furlong hired a bunch of former Special Forces types and assorted thugs. These rent-a-Rambos’s real mission was to assassinate Pashtun leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and target tribal compounds for strikes by US Predator drones. Welcome to the modern version of the Mafia’s infamous contract killers, “Murder Inc.”

Thickening this plot, retired CIA types, including the flamboyant Dewey Clarridge, whom I well recall from the 1980’s Afghan war, were involved. So were other would-be bounty-hunters, eager to cash in one the Pentagon’s cash bonanza. It is uncertain if Furlong’s Murder Inc had time to go operational. But its exposure is causing uproar. In best US government tradition, the Pentagon denied backing Furlong and cut him adrift. He is now under criminal investigation. Shades of former CIA agent Edwin Wilson, whose frightful case I long followed. Wilson was set up as a deniable “independent” by CIA to supply arms and explosives to Libya and Angola in the 1980’s. When this intrigue blew wide open, Wilson was kidnapped by US agents and buried alive in federal prison for 27 years.

The Furlong scandal comes at a time of growing criticism of the US government’s use of over 275,000 mercenaries in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. These hired gunmen and logistics personnel operate without any accountability, legal structure, or oversight. Lack of command and control of such free-lancers infuriates traditional military men, who detest US Special Forces and these hired gunmen as ‘cowboys.’

It certainly is no way to win over Muslim hearts and minds.

Private mercenary firms like Xe (formerly Blackwater) and DynCorp have raked in fortunes running private armies for the US. They are major donors to the far right of the Republican Party. Deeply worried civil libertarians call these private armies potential Brownshirts, after the Nazi Party’s private army in the late 1920’s.

Amazingly, US Special Forces in Af-Pak have not until this month been under the control of supreme commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. They apparently reported to his rival, Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus in Tampa, Florida.

To the Pentagons’s anger, CIA runs its own killer paramilitary units and drone assassination operations, 90 per cent of whose victims are civilians, according to Pakistani media investigations. CIA’s paramilitaries report only to HQ in Langley —which does not talk to the Pentagon. Pakistan’s feeble government is not even informed in advance of Predator strikes and assassinations on its own territory. How many of the 15 other US intelligence agencies and NATO forces are running their own little illegal private armies? US mercenaries are responsible for a growing number of civilian deaths. It’s only a matter of time before all these cowboys begin shooting at one another. Reliable sources in Pakistan report that US-paid mercenaries are staging bombings there and in Afghanistan in an attempt to incite popular anger against Islamic or tribal militants, and draw Pakistan’s army deep into the fray.

Washington brands all Al Qaeda and Taleban “illegal combatants,” denying them due process of law and the Geneva Convention’s prisoner protections. Murdering or torturing such “terrorists,” says Washington, is lawful. So what about all the US mercenary Rambos running amok, who wear no uniform, kill at will, and have no legal oversight and, as we saw in Iraq, get away with murder?

Eric Margolis is a veteran US journalist who reported from the Middle East and Asia for nearly two decades

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European Union Boosts Israel Ties, Ignores Illegal Settlements

By David Cronin, Inter Press Service News

BRUSSELS, Mar 22, 2010 (IPS) – Diplomats representing the European Union (EU) have drawn up a new plan for strengthening their relations with Israel despite the expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Spain, the current holder of the EU’s rotating presidency, is eager that work proceeds on formally upgrading the Union’s political and commercial ties with Israel over the next few months.

Although both the EU and Israel had agreed in 2008 to undertake steps designed to integrate Israel into the Union’s economy, work on this dossier has partly stalled because of the subsequent war in Gaza. But a confidential paper written by Spanish officials suggests that fresh discussions should soon be opened with Israel so that the upgrading process can regain its momentum.

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Seven Years of War in Iraq: Still Based on Cheney’s Torture and Lies

Andy Worthington, The Huffington Post, March 21, 2010

Friday marked the seventh anniversary of the illegal invasion of Iraq, but by now, it seems, the American people have become used to living in a state of perpetual war, even though that war was based on torture and lies. Protestors rallied across the country on Saturday, but the anti-war impetus of the Bush years has not been regained, as I discovered to my sorrow during a brief U.S. tour in November, when I showed the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (directed by Polly Nash and myself) in New York, Washington D.C., and the Bay Area.

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US drone raid kills five people in Pakistan

BBC News, March 22, 2010
US drone
US drone attacks are being stepped up along the Afghan-Pakistan border

Missiles fired by a suspected US drone have killed at least five people in north-western Pakistan, officials say.

The missiles hit a militant hideout in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan area near the Afghan border, officials said.

They said the identities of those killed were not known.

North and South Waziristan are known sanctuaries for al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters. The US has recently stepped up drone attacks in the region.

Hundreds of people, including a number of militants, have been killed in scores of drone strikes since August 2008.

Pakistan has publicly criticised drone attacks, saying they fuel support for militants, but observers say the authorities privately condone the strikes.

The American military does not routinely confirm drone operations, but analysts say the US is the only force capable of deploying such aircraft in the region.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

US ‘Victory’ in Settlements Row Short-Lived

Netanyahu Vows to Continue East Jerusalem Construction

by Jason Ditz,, March 21, 2010

Last week’s declaration of victory in the ongoing Israel row by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appears to have been a short-lived win, and media claims that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had “bowed” to US demands appear to be premature.

In his most recent public comments, Prime Minister Netanyahu reiterated that he would like to see the “indirect talks” with the Palestinian Authority resume, but that he absolutely would not ever agree to restrict construction in occupied East Jerusalem, the issue upon which the talks have stalled.

With Netanyahu on his way to the US for AIPAC’s policy conference, and expected to focus his visit on pressing President Obama for more advanced weapons with which to attack Iran, it was widely expected that the Netanyahu government would try to defuse the tensions over the East Jerusalem move, which US officials considered a public insult.

And indeed the tensions do seem to be dying down, though the only thing resembling a concession made by the Netanyahu government was to implement a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy wherein the Israeli government would continue to expand settlements in East Jerusalem with impunity but would stop publicizing them at inopportune times.

But even if US-Israeli relations return quickly to normalcy, there appears to be no rapprochement forthcoming with the PA. This may serve as a recipe for the Obama Administration to default back to chastising the Palestinians for “refusing” negotiations (just two weeks after they agreed to those negotiations, only to see them torpedoed by the most recent construction), but it seems unlikely that it will restart the peace talks.

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USA: Thousands rally on anniversary of invasion of Iraq

By MATTHEW BARAKAT (Associated Press Writer)

The Washington Post, March 21, 2010

WASHINGTON — Thousands of protesters – many directing their anger squarely at President Barack Obama – marched through the nation’s capital Saturday to urge immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

At least eight people, including activist Cindy Sheehan, were arrested by U.S. Park Police at the end of the march, after laying coffins at a fence outside the White House. Friday marked the seventh anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

“Arrest that war criminal!” Sheehan shouted outside the White House before her arrest, referring to Obama.

At a rally before the march, Sheehan asked whether “the honeymoon was over with that war criminal in the White House” – an apparent reference to Obama – prompting moderate applause.

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U.S. may expand use of its prison in Afghanistan

The White House is considering housing international terrorism suspects at Bagram air base, as is done at Guantanamo Bay.

U.S.  prison at Bagram air base

The U.S. military recently opened this new prison at Bagram air base, north of Kabul, but the facility remains controversial in Afghanistan because of cases of detainee abuse at the former prison there. (Saeed Shah / MCT / February 11, 2010)

By David S. Cloud and Julian E. Barnes
Los Angeles Times, March 21, 2010
Reporting from Washington

The White House is considering whether to detain international terrorism suspects at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan, senior U.S. officials said, an option that would lead to another prison with the same purpose as Guantanamo Bay, which it has promised to close.

The idea, which would require approval by President Obama, already has drawn resistance from within the government. Army Gen. Stanley A. McCrystal, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, and other senior officials strongly oppose it, fearing that expansion of the U.S. detention facility at Bagram air base could make the job of stabilizing the country even tougher.

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Tony Blair’s fight to keep his oil cash secret: Former PM’s deals are revealed as his earnings since 2007 reach £20million

By Jason Groves, Mail Online, March 19, 2010

Tony Blair waged an extraordinary two-year battle to keep secret a lucrative deal with a multinational oil giant which has extensive interests in Iraq.

The former Prime Minister tried to keep the public in the dark over his dealings with South Korean oil firm UI Energy Corporation.

Mr Blair – who has made at least £20million since leaving Downing Street in June 2007 – also went to great efforts to keep hidden a £1million deal advising the ruling royal family in Iraq’s neighbour Kuwait.

In an unprecedented move, he persuaded the committee which vets the jobs of former ministers to keep details of both deals from the public for 20 months, claiming it was commercially sensitive. The deals emerged yesterday when the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments finally lost patience with Mr Blair and decided to ignore his objections and publish the details.

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Anti-Semitism: Zionism’s Indispensable Alibi

Foreign Policy Journal, March 20, 2010

by Maidhc Ó Cathail

Although Zionism typically represents itself as the solution to anti-Semitism, the truth is less flattering. In fact, hostility toward Jews is indispensable to the cause of Jewish nationalism. If anti-Semitism didn’t exist, Zionists would have to invent it. And in many cases that is precisely what they have done.

Contrary to the widespread perception that Zionism opposes anti-Semitism, its adherents have occasionally revealed a more ambivalent attitude to Jew-hatred. In 1895, Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, prophetically wrote in his Diaries, “Anti-Semites will become our surest friends, anti-Semitic countries our allies.”

Even the suffering inflicted on European Jewry by the Nazi holocaust doesn’t seem to have unduly tempered such cynicism. In 1995, Jay Lefkowitz, an American government official, told the New York Times Magazine, “Deep down, I believe that a little anti-Semitism is a good thing for the Jews— reminds them who they are.”

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Don’t Stand By as the Wars ‘Drone’ On

by Ann Wright,, March 19, 2010

Seven years ago today I resigned from the U.S. government in opposition to the Bush administration’s war on Iraq.

I had worked for the State Department for sixteen years and had been in the Army and Army Reserves for 29 years. I was one of three U.S. diplomats who resigned over the Bush administration’s decision to invade and occupy Iraq and one of tens if not hundreds of thousands of government employees that knew the war on Iraq would jeopardize our national security, not improve it.

While I was in the process of making my decision to resign, millions of Americans and tens of millions of people from around the world took to the streets to protest the pending invasion and occupation of Iraq and the inevitable deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

Tomorrow I will be marching in Washington, DC and will join with hundreds of thousands of Americans all over our country to protest the continuation of Bush’s wars on Iraq and Afghanistan by the Obama administration.

Seven years in Afghanistan

Looking our country’s history of invasions and occupations, I guess I should not be surprised that seven years later, over 100,000 U.S. military and 100,000 U.S. contractors would remain in Iraq and that a new president, elected by many to end the wars, would be following lockstep the old president’s blueprint on the wars and on so many other issues.

President Obama, who professed to having been opposed to the Iraq war, has not speeded up the removal of U.S. military forces from Iraq. Bush’s plan for leaving a force of 50,000 U.S. military until the end of 2011 is being implemented with little variation by Obama. These “non-combat” 50,000 forces will actually be combat troops renamed as trainers and advisors to Iraqi security forces and quick reaction forces to continue to combat operations when needed.

No one of the Obama administration will state how many private security contractors will remain in Iraq. Private security contractors serve as extensions of combat military forces and, if any administration was honest about in counting U.S. combat power, should be added to the military numbers.

By the Bush-Obama timetable, all U.S. military troops are to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011, but whether the 100,000 U.S. contractors will remain is conveniently unclear.

If you thought this Iraq timetable was too long under Bush, then one would hope that you think it is too long under Obama also.

Eight and one-half years in Afghanistan

This month marks eight and one-half years the U.S. military has been an occupying force in Afghanistan. Nobel Peace Prize winner Obama has increased dramatically U.S. military operations in Afghanistan with an increase of 30,000 troops. Now over 100,000 U.S. military are in Afghanistan with the number of U.S. contractors topping 75,000 and scheduled to increase even further.

The Obama administration has increased enormously the use of assassination drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan with a major increase in civilian deaths from drone attacks. Large scale combat operations in sparsely populated areas of Afghanistan are underway. We are told the operations are for clearing Taliban, but in reality they seem to be consolidating power in the area for Afghan President Karzai’s brother Walid who is reported by many to be involved in Afghanistan’s huge drug trade and extending U.S. military occupation of greater regions of the country.

Show your concerns tomorrow and every day-jobs, schools, healthcare-not more war and other criminal acts by our own government!

There are many reasons to be on the streets tomorrow. Protesting wars of aggression, accountability for government officials violating our own laws as well as domestic laws, is another reason.

Despite claims that he would close Guantanamo within his first year, President Obama continues the imprisonment policies of Bush and looks like he will fold to right-wing Republican pressure to continue to use the tainted military commissions to try prisoners with “evidence” obtained by torture.

Ominously, the Obama administration is refusing to hold accountable key officials in the Bush administration who violated U.S. and international law which makes torture illegal. The names of these officials are well-known–John Yoo, Jay Bybee (now a federal court judge), Alberto Gonzalez, David Addington. And former Vice-President Cheney still makes public statements that torture is fine and that water boarding is appropriate and legal.

Many citizens believe that there must be accountability for the Bush administration otherwise future administrations, including the Obama administration, may attempt to conduct criminal action while in office with impunity. Today I join hundreds who will protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, John Yoo’s freedom while he sentenced thousands to be tortured by his legal opinions under as justification for torture by the Bush administration.

Greed from huge corporate war profits and from financial system profits that miraculously rebounded in record time with our tax bailout while millions of Americans are out of work, schools in America close and healthcare costs skyrocket should move millions of us to be visibly and vocally challenging both political parties who share the blame in the dangerous situation America is in.

After spending most of my adult life in either the U.S. military or the U.S. diplomatic corps, I strongly believe we must let our officials know of our displeasure and anger, and I hope you will join your friends and neighbors on the streets tomorrow, March 20, to challenge war and business as usual in America.

Ann Wright is a 29 year US Army/Army Reserves veteran who retired as a Colonel and a former US diplomat who resigned in March, 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq. She served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia. In December, 2001 she was on the small team that reopened the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. She is the co-author of the book “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.” (

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Obama, Israel Agree to ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Policy on East Jerusalem Settlements

Israel Pledges ‘Trust Building’ Moves Short of Actually Stopping Settlement Growth
by Jason Ditz,, March 18, 2010

After last week’s announced settlement expansion effectively torpedoed the indirect peace talks with the Palestinian Authority, the Israeli government is will to do almost anything to build “trust,” so long as it doesn’t involve the only thing the PA actually wants, abandoning that settlement expansion.

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The dark face of Jewish nationalism

By Dr Alan Sabrosky, Redress, March 12, 2010

Alan Sabrosky considers the characteristics that differentiate Jewish nationalism from other nationalisms, highlighting in particular its intrinsic extremism, its xenophobia, racism and militarism, its undermining of civic loyalty among its adherents in other countries and its propensity to hatred and racial exclusivity.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu once remarked to a Likud gathering that “Israel is not like other countries”. Oddly enough for him, that time he was telling the truth, and nowhere is that more evident than with Jewish nationalism, whether or not one pins the “Zionist” label on it.

“…whereas extremism in other nationalist movements is an aberration, extremism in Jewish nationalism is the norm, pitting Zionist Jews (secular or observant) against the goyim (everyone else)…”

Nationalism in most countries and cultures can have both positive and negative aspects, unifying a people and sometimes leading them against their neighbours. Extremism can emerge, and often has, at least in part in almost every nationalist/independence movement I can recall (e.g. the French nationalist movement had The Terror, Kenya’s had the Mau Mau, etc.).

But whereas extremism in other nationalist movements is an aberration, extremism in Jewish nationalism is the norm, pitting Zionist Jews (secular or observant) against the goyim (everyone else), who are either possible predator or certain prey, if not both sequentially. This does not mean that all Jews or all Israelis feel and act this way, by any means. But it does mean that Israel today is what it cannot avoid being, and what it would be under any electable government (a point I’ll develop in another article).

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Israel Is Boss

Margaret Kimberley, Black Agenda Report, March 19, 2010

bibi and hillary
Corporate media pretend U.S.-Israeli relations are in “crisis,” just as they have many times in the past. It’s all a charade, a play for national and international audiences. In real crises, relationships are called into question. But there has never been any question about who is in charge of this “partnership”: Israel. And don’t you dare forget it.

Freedom Rider: Israel Is Boss
by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley

The Obama administration, like every other presidential administration in the last sixty years, does what Israel wants it to do.”

The United States may invade and occupy Iraq, undermine elected presidents in Haiti and throw its weight around in numerous ways in numerous parts of the world. Yet there is one country it does not dare to confront. Of course, the nation in question is Israel.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Rupert Cornwell: Obama won’t restrain Israel – he can’t

Rupert Cornwell, The Independet/UK, March 18, 2010

All you can say is, we’ve been here before. “Who the **** does he think he is? Who’s the ******* superpower here?” Bill Clinton spluttered in fury to his aides back in 1996. The “he” in question was Benjamin Netanyahu, then as now the Prime Minister of Israel.

Barack Obama, a cooler character than the last Democrat to be president, may not have used quite such salty language about the behaviour of the current Netanyahu government that has so incensed the US. One thing though may safely be predicted. Mr Netanyahu will get away with it.

More than a week on, the in-your-face effrontery of the announcement that a new swathe of Israeli homes will be built in disputed East Jerusalem still amazes. Not only was it another pre-emptive strike on one of the toughest issues to be resolved in the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to which even Mr Netanyahu pays lip service. It came just 24 hours after painstaking diplomatic efforts by Washington had secured agreement on “proximity talks” in which both sides agreed to talk to each other, albeit indirectly. The fate of even these modest contacts are now in the balance.

And it came at the very moment that Vice-President Joe Biden – a true friend of Israel if ever there was one – was in the country promising America’s “absolute, total and unvarnished” commitment to Israel’s security. Mr Netanhayu maintains he was blindsided by the announcement. But close friends don’t treat a superpower protector like that.

Worse still, Mr Netanyahu raised his two fingers just when there was an opportunity to move the tectonic plates of the Middle East crisis. Israel and the moderate Arab states are united in their fear of a nuclear-armed Iran bestriding the region. Serious progress on the Palestinian dispute would not only remove the biggest obstacle dividing them; it would also blunt Iran’s most potent appeal to the region’s Islamic population, as the one champion Palestinian rights that dared stand up to the Israeli and American oppressors.

Now that opportunity has all but vanished. For the Palestinians and other Arabs, Israel’s move has confirmed what they suspected all along, that the Jewish state – at least under its present management – is concerned not with concessions, even symbolic ones, but with creating facts on the ground. Mr Netanyahu however believes he can call Mr Obama’s bluff and ride out the storm. The plan to build 1,600 settlements, he says, will go ahead, whatever Washington’s demands to the contrary. And on all counts, he’s probably right.

And the reasons for such confidence? The first is his calculation that for Washington, whatever its anger at Israel’s behaviour, the need for strategic co-operation with its closest ally in the Middle East against the Iranian nuclear threat will trump its concern for the Palestinians – even if the two issues are connected. The second is his confidence that the President will never ultimately defy the mighty pro-Israel lobby in Washington.

Beyond the shadow of a doubt, Mr Obama is more sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians than any recent president. In his Cairo speech last June, he spoke movingly of the daily humiliations faced by a people living under occupation: the situation for the Palestinian people, he said, was “intolerable.” He followed up by demanding a total freeze on settlements, as proof the Israelis were serious about a peace deal.

But Mr Netanyahu said no, and the Obama administration, essentially folded. It was forced to content itself with a limited and partial freeze, from which East Jerusalem was excluded. When Hillary Clinton praised this modest step as “unprecedented,” disappointed Palestinians and Arabs concluded that for all the fine words in Cairo, it was business as usual in Washington. When push came to shove, the proclaimed “honest broker” tilted invariably and irretrievably in favour of the Israelis.

Mr Obama’s defenders now say that if he misplayed his hand, it was because he had too much on his plate, obliged to corral up crucial healthcare votes one moment, plot the future of the US banking system the next, and then make a flawless move in the three-dimensional chess game that is Middle East policy. In fact, his greatest error was not to think through the clout of America’s pro-Israel lobby.

When the university professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt published The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy in 2007, some intitial reaction was scornful. Critics dismissed the book’s thesis as exaggeration at best, sheer fantasy at worst. There was no sinister lobby, only the instinctive collective sympathy felt towards Israel by ordinary Americans.

But power lies in the perception of power, and no organisation in Washington is perceived to wield more power than AIPAC, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee. For proof, look no further than January 2009, when most of the rest of the world was horrified at the Israeli offensive in Gaza. At that moment the US House of Representatives, by a vote of 390 to five, chose to blame the entire crisis on Hamas.

Now the lobby is working to defuse the present row, naturally on Israel’s terms. First AIPAC expressed its “serious concern” at events, reminding (or perhaps warning) of the “vast bipartisan support in Congress and the American people” for the US/Israeli relationship. Then the Israeli ambassador here issued a statement claiming he had been “flagrantly misquoted” in reports saying he had warned his staff of the worst crisis in 35 years between the two countries. By Tuesday evening Ms Clinton herself, who last week was accusing Mr Netanhayu of insulting the US, poured further oil on the already quietening waters: “I don’t buy the notion of a crisis.”

And there we have it. The settlements in East Jerusalem will go ahead whatever the US thinks. The proximity talks, even if they do proceed, are doomed in advance. And next week AIPAC holds here what it bills as the largest policy conference in its history. The Israeli Prime Minister will be in town to address it, so will Ms Clinton.

President Obama however will be about as far away as possible, on a long-planned visit to Indonesia and Australia. And probably just as well. Grovels, even the most elegant grovels, are not an edifying spectacle.


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Jerusalem Under the Fire of Death Squads

Kawther Salam, March 17, 2010

Today Wednesday, the Palestinian newspapers, especially the PA newspaper Al-Hayat Jadidah and Al-Quds in Jerusalem, came out with miserly and censored news about a day of bloody clashes between the Palestinians and Israeli occupation forces in occupied Jerusalem, which was otherwise described as “the hardest clashes between Palestinians and Israeli occupation forces in the years after the outbreak of the Aqsa Intifada”. The Palestinian Authority, under the orders of the corrupt minister of Salam Fayyad, issued censorship instructions to the media, telling them to not concentrate on the news about the daily confrontations between the Israeli occupation and the local Palestinians in East Jerusalem, citing as a pretext that allegedly the Hamas “illegal” government had issued a call to take part in the confrontation and demos.

Israeli soldiers and the so-called borderpolice chasing women in the streets.

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Tony Blair got cash for deal with South Korean oil firm

Watchdog orders publication of former prime minister’s payment by oil firm that was kept secret for 20 months

Solomon Hughes and David Leigh, The Guardian/UK, March 17, 2010

Tony Blair was paid by a South Korean oil firm for advice.

Tony Blair was paid by a South Korean oil firm for advice. Photograph: Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Tony Blair has received cash from a South Korean oil firm in a deal kept secret until the business appointments watchdog intervened, the Guardian has learned.

After 20 months of secrecy, the former prime minister has now been overruled by the chairman of the advisory committee on business appointments, the former Tory cabinet minister Ian Lang.

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Tony Blair got cash for deal with South Korean oil firm

Watchdog orders publication of former prime minister’s payment by oil firm that was kept secret for 20 months

Solomon Hughes and David Leigh, The Guardian/UK, March 17, 2010
Tony Blair was paid by a South Korean oil firm for advice.

Tony Blair was paid by a South Korean oil firm for advice. Photograph: Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Tony Blair has received cash from a South Korean oil firm in a deal kept secret until the business appointments watchdog intervened, the Guardian has learned.

After 20 months of secrecy, the former prime minister has now been overruled by the chairman of the advisory committee on business appointments, the former Tory cabinet minister Ian Lang.

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Elections Don’t Justify Iraq War

By Amitabh Pal, The Progressive, March 11, 2010

Years after the debate was seemingly settled on the folly of the Iraq War, some in the media are using the recent Iraqi parliamentary elections to excuse the invasion.

The Newsweek cover on the voting crows “Victory at Last.” Ex-Wall Street Journal alum (and, I’m embarrassed to admit, a fellow schoolmate of mine) Tunku Varadarajan asserts at the Daily Beast, “What Iraq has achieved in five years is a political wonder, and those who would deny that are being very, very dishonest.”

And the New York Times resident Middle East expert becomes all gooey on seeing a picture of an Iraqi mother having her son put her vote in the ballot box. “Former President George W. Bush’s gut instinct that this region craved and needed democracy was always right,” gushes Thomas Friedman. “Democracy was never going to have a virgin birth in a place like Iraq, which has never known any such thing.”

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Supporting Iranian prisoners of conscience

Amnesty International, March 16, 2010

Journalist Emadeddin Baghi was arrested on 28 December 2009 © Private

To mark the Persian spring holiday of Nowrouz, Amnesty International has launched a campaign to send messages of goodwill to prisoners of conscience in Iran.

The seven cases selected by Amnesty International mirror the “Haft Sin” (seven “s”s) traditionally placed on a Nowrouz table.

The 14 individuals in the seven cases have all been identified as being “at risk”. Many have been sentenced to long prison terms for their beliefs or peaceful activism and several are in poor health.

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