Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Flunking Our Future: MAUREEN DOWD - The Basics in Iraq


The New York Times

Flunking Our Future

Published: December 20, 2006

Once our leaders get a grasp of the basics in Iraq, we can hit them with a truly hard question: What on earth do we do now?

The only sects that may be more savage than Shiites and Sunnis are the Democratic feminist lawmakers representing Northern and Southern California.

After Nancy Pelosi and Jane Harman had their final catfight about who would lead the House Intelligence Committee, aptly enough at the Four Seasons’ hair salon in Georgetown, the new speaker passed over the knowledgeable and camera-eager Ms. Harman and mystifyingly gave the consequential job to Sylvestre Reyes of Texas.

Mr. Reyes promptly tripped over the most critical theme in the field of intelligence. Jeff Stein, interviewing the incoming chairman for Congressional Quarterly, asked him whether Al Qaeda was Sunni or Shiite.

“Predominantly — probably Shiite,” the lawmaker guessed.

As Mr. Stein corrected him in the article: “Al Qaeda is profoundly Sunni. If a Shiite showed up at an Al Qaeda clubhouse, they’d slice off his head and use it for a soccer ball.”


British Military evade justice for rape in Kenya

Mon 18 December 2006

A three year investigation into the rape of hundreds of Kenyan women by British soldiers over three decades has ended in disarray after the Ministry of Defence claimed the rapes were fabricated.

The three million pound inquiry into the rape of approximately 600 Masai and Samburu women by British soldiers was concluded after the Royal Military Police (RMP) claimed “There is no reliable evidence to support any single allegation made which would stand up to the Crown Prosecution Service evidence test and lead to a prosecution against any named individual”. The officials from the RMP, who interviewed over two thousand women, accused the African women of being prostitutes and fabricating Police complaints.

Many of the women protested at a demonstration with their dual heritage African children as ‘evidence’ of the British rapes. Of the women that were raped, 69 children were born and are now aged between 3 and 41 years old. In a petition to the High Commissioner, the women highlight the social ostracism they and their children face as a result of the British rapes; "The stigma attached to us as women raped by white men is bad enough, but for our children, the situation is worse as a result of their (skin) colour. Our children stick out like sore thumbs...."

Human rights groups in Kenya are outraged. Johnson ole Kaunga, of the Impact human rights group challenged the decision in face of “concrete evidence," and remarked on the three years and millions wasted in “British taxpayers money” to subvert justice. Maina Kiai, the chairman of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, stated that an independent body like the United Nations or indeed, the Kenyan Government themselves should have conducted the investigation; He said "[i]t is not surprising that the British would find themselves innocent... It is like asking the police to police themselves.”

Kenyan women march to the British High Commission in 2003 to present a petition on behalf of the Masai and Samburu women raped by British soldiers
Kenyan women march to the British High Commission in 2003 to present a petition on behalf of the Masai and Samburu women raped by British soldiers

Evidence suggests guilt

In March 2003, the discovery of minutes of a three-hour meeting between Masai leaders, British Army officers and the Kenyan District Commissioner was reported in the Guardian newspaper and revealed how the Army knew about rape claims as far back as 1983. This was significant because the British Military was asserting that the women’s claims were a recent attempt to get on the ‘compensation bandwagon’ and the meeting demolishes this argument.

Other evidence from the 1970’s was recovered from police and hospital records detailing medical cards with admission details such as 'Raped by gang of white soldiers' from women suffering from severe bleeding to abdominal pains and collapse. One card recorded an abortion carried out on a woman four months pregnant 'due to mass rape by British soldiers'.

The survivors of the rape assaults have often described the humiliation of their assault which has not been compounded by the bizarre ruling by the BMP. In an article for Women against Rape, Karamas Walebutunui says "I saw the men coming and I started running away but then they started emerging from the bush. I tried to scream and cry but there was no one to help me. When they got hold of me, five men raped me. That's all I remember." During the investigation, the body of 16 year old Mantoi Kaunda, was also exhumed following her parents claim that she was raped by British soldiers and later died as a result of the attack.

Johnson ole Kaunga added "It is a sad day for women of Kenya, our mothers and daughters. The investigations were never about getting justice for the women but whitewashing the actions of the British Army. They were the accused, they investigated themselves and this is their report".

Many of the women are now planning to seek justice in local African courts.

Get Carter


[from the January 8, 2007 issue]

Jimmy Carter, by publishing his book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, walked straight into the buzz saw that is the Israel lobby. Among the vitriolic attacks on the former President was the claim by Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, that Carter is "outrageous" and "bigoted" and that his book raises "the old canard and conspiracy theory of Jewish control of the media, Congress, and the U.S. government." Many Democratic Party leaders, anxious to keep the Israel lobby's money and support, have hotfooted it out the door, with incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announcing that Carter "does not speak for the Democratic Party on Israel."

Carter's book exposes little about Israel. The enforced segregation, abject humiliation and spiraling Israeli violence against Palestinians have been detailed in the Israeli and European press and, with remarkable consistency, by all the major human rights organizations. The assault against Carter, rather, says more about the failings of the American media--which have largely let Israel hawks heap calumny on Carter's book. It exposes the indifference of the Bush Administration and the Democratic leadership to the rule of law and basic human rights, the timidity of our intellectual class and the moral bankruptcy of institutions that claim to speak for American Jews and the Jewish state.

The bleakness of life for Palestinians, especially in the Gaza Strip, is a mystery only to us. In the current Israeli campaign in Gaza, now sealed off from the outside world, almost 500 Palestinians, most unarmed, have been killed. Sanctions, demanded by Israel and imposed by the international community after the Hamas victory last January in what were universally acknowledged to be free and fair elections, have led to the collapse of civil society in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as widespread malnutrition. And Palestinians in the West Bank are being encased, in open violation of international law, in a series of podlike militarized ghettos with Israel's massive $2 billion project to build a "security barrier." This barrier will gobble up at least 10 percent of the West Bank, including most of the precious aquifers and at least 40,000 acres of Palestinian farmland. The project is being financed in large part through $9 billion in American loan guarantees, although when Congress approved the legislation in April 2003, Israel was told that the loans could be used "only to support activities in the geographic areas which were subject to the administration of the Government of Israel prior to June 5, 1967."

But it is in Gaza that conditions are currently reaching a full-blown humanitarian crisis. "Gaza is in its worst condition ever," Gideon Levy wrote recently in the Israeli paper Ha'aretz. "The Israel Defense Forces have been rampaging through Gaza--there's no other word to describe it--killing and demolishing, bombing and shelling, indiscriminately.... How contemptible all the sublime and nonsensical talk about 'the end of the occupation' and 'partitioning the land' now appears. Gaza is occupied, and with greater brutality than before.... This is disgraceful and shocking collective punishment."

And as Gaza descends into civil war, with Hamas and Fatah factions carrying out gun battles in the streets, Ha'aretz reporter Amira Hass bitterly notes, "The experiment was a success: The Palestinians are killing each other. They are behaving as expected at the end of the extended experiment called 'what happens when you imprison 1.3 million human beings in an enclosed space like battery hens.'"

In fact, if there is a failing in Carter's stance, it is that he is too kind to the Israelis, bending over backward to assert that he is only writing about the occupied territories. Israel itself, he says, is a democracy. This would come as a surprise to the 1.3 million Israeli Arabs who live as second-class citizens in the Jewish state. The poverty rate among Israeli Arabs is more than twice that of the Jewish population. Those Israeli Arabs who marry Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank are not permitted to get Israeli residency for their spouses. And Israeli Arabs, who do not serve in the military or the country's intelligence services and thus lack the important personal connections and job networks available to veterans, are systematically shut out of good jobs. Any Jew, who may speak no Hebrew or ever been to Israel, can step off a plane and become an Israeli citizen, while a Palestinian living abroad whose family's roots in Palestine may go back generations is denied citizenship.

The Israel lobby in the United States does not serve Israel or the Jewish community--it serves the interests of the Israeli extreme right wing. Most Israelis have come to understand that peace will be possible only when their country complies with international law and permits Palestinians to build a viable and sustainable state based on the 1967 borders, including, in some configuration, East Jerusalem.

This stark demarcation between Israeli pragmatists and the extreme right wing was apparent when I was in the Middle East for the New York Times during Yitzhak Rabin's 1992 campaign for prime minister. The majority of American Jewish organizations and neoconservative intellectuals made no pretense of neutrality. They had morphed into extensions of the right-wing Likud Party. These American groups, to Rabin's dismay, had gone on to build, with Likud, an alliance with right-wing Christian groups filled with real anti-Semites whose cultural and historical ignorance of the Middle East was breathtaking. This collection of messianic Jews and Christians, leavened with rabid American imperialists, believed they had been handed a divine or moral mandate to rule the Middle East, whether the Arabs liked it or not.

When Rabin, who had come to despise what the occupation was doing to the citizenry of his own country, was sworn in as prime minister, the leaders of these American Jewish organizations, along with their buffoonish supporters on the Christian right, were conspicuous by their absence. On one of Rabin's first visits to Washington after he assumed office, according to one of his aides, he was informed that a group of American Jewish leaders were available to meet him. The surly old general, whose gravelly cigarette voice seemed to rise up from below his feet, curtly refused. He told his entourage he did not have time to waste on "scumbags."

Bush developing illegal bioterror weapons

Bush developing illegal bioterror weapons for offensive use, book says
Sherwood Ross
Middle East Times
December 19, 2006

WASHINGTON -- In violation of the US Code and international law, the Bush administration is illegally developing offensive germ warfare capabilities on an unprecedented scale. In fact, it is spending more on such weapons (in inflation-adjusted dollars) than the $2 billion spent on the "Manhattan Project" that made the atomic bomb in World War II.

So says Francis Boyle, the professor of international law who drafted the Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989 enacted by Congress. He states the Pentagon "is now gearing up to fight and 'win' biological warfare" pursuant to two Bush national strategy directives adopted without "public knowledge and review" in 2002.

The Pentagon's Chemical and Biological Defense Program was revised in 2003 to implement those directives, endorsing "first-use" strike of chemical and biological weapons (CBW) in war, says Boyle, who teaches at the University of Illinois, Champaign.

Terming the action "the proverbial smoking gun," Boyle said the mission of the controversial CBW program "has been altered to permit development of offensive capability in chemical and biological weapons!"

The same directives, Boyle writes in his book Biowarfare and Terrorism, "unconstitutionally usurp and nullify the right and the power of the United States Congress to declare war in gross and blatant violation of Article 1, Section 8, Clause 11 of the United States Constitution."

For fiscal years 2001-04, the Federal government funded $14.5 billion "for ostensibly 'civilian' biowarfare-related work alone," a "truly staggering" sum, Boyle wrote. Another $5.6 billion was voted for "the deceptively-named 'Project BioShield,'" under which Homeland Security is stockpiling vaccines and drugs to fight anthrax, smallpox, and other bioterror agents, Boyle wrote. Protection of the civilian population is, he said, "one of the fundamental requirements for effectively waging biowarfare."

The Washington Post reported December 12 both houses of Congress this month passed legislation "considered by many to be an effort to salvage the two-year-old Project BioShield, which has been marked by delays and operational problems." When President Bush signs it, the law will allocate $1 billion more over three years for new research "to pump more money into the private sector sooner."

"The enormous amounts of money" purportedly dedicated to "civilian defense" that is now "dramatically and increasingly" being spent, Boyle writes, "betrays this administration's effort to be able to embark on offensive campaigns using biowarfare."

Boyle said Federal spending has co-opted and diverted the US biotech industry to biowarfare, pouring huge sums into university and private sector laboratories. According to Rutgers University molecular biologist Richard Ebright, over 300 scientific institutions and 12,000 individuals today have access to pathogens suitable for biowarfare and terrorism. At the same time, Ebright found, the number of grants by the National Institute of Health to research infectious diseases with biowarfare potential has shot up from 33 in the 1995 to 2000 period to 497.

Academic biowarfare participation involving the abuse of DNA genetic engineering since the late 1980s has become "patently obvious," Boyle said. "American universities have a long history of willingly permitting their research agendas, researchers, institutes, and laboratories to be co-opted, corrupted, and perverted by the Pentagon and the CIA."

He continued, "These despicable death-scientists were arming the Pentagon with the component units necessary to produce a massive array of DNA genetically engineered biological weapons."

In a forward to Boyle's book, Jonathan King, a professor of molecular biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wrote "the growing bioterror programs represent a significant emerging danger to our own population" and "threatens international relations among nations." King said that while such programs "are always called defensive," in fact, "with biological weapons, defensive, and offensive programs overlap almost completely."

The US is "in breach" of the Biological Weapons Convention, the Chemical Weapons Convention, and US domestic criminal law, Boyle writes. In February 2003, for example, the US granted itself a patent on an illegal long-range biological weapons grenade.

Boyle said other countries grasp the military implications of US germ warfare actions and will respond in kind. "The world will soon witness a de facto biological arms race among the major biotech states under the guise of 'defense,' and despite the requirements of the Biological Warfare Convention."

"The massive proliferation of biowarfare technology, facilities, as well as trained scientists and technicians all over the United States courtesy of the neocon Bush Jr. administration will render a catastrophic biowarfare or bioterrorist incident or accident a statistical certainty," Boyle warned.

Sherwood Ross is a Virginia-based freelance writer on political and military issues

Deal and no deal


U.S. threatens sanctions against Iran while signing nuclear deals with India and China

December 19, 2006

Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.
Albert Einstein

It should come as no surprise that President Bush has put one of the worst disasters in American history on the back burner. Having disregarded the Iraq Study Group findings, and mindless of the dead-count both at home and in Iraq, he is busy outdoing himself by making deals that would affect not only America, but effectively deprive world citizens of their trust and dependence in international institutions.

In December 2006, Congress overwhelmingly signed a controversial bill to expand the sale of civilian nuclear technology to India, a deal that Mr. Bush had proposed to India in exchange for its vote against Iran. Not only is this bill in violation of Article III of the non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) given that India is not a member state of the NPT, but the irony is that the catalyst for the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG)) in 1976 was India’s nuclear test. This group (first called the London Group) met to restrain the transfer of uranium-enrichment and plutonium-extraction equipment and technology.

Experts say India has already produced about 50 nuclear weapons and plans to reach up to 400 in a decade. Selling India U.S.-origin fuel for civilian energy use will free up New Delhi's indigenous uranium stocks for weapons. Regardless, upon Mr. Bush signing the bill into law, Nicholas Burns had the audacity to undermine the American public’s intelligence and mock the world by announcing that “after 30 years we have realized that the NPT is ineffective, therefore we are going to reward India for non-proliferation [*] . In response to a reporter who quizzed him about Iran, he said we plan to punish Iran for violating the NPT!” (CNN – Monday, December 18, 2006). The very NPT that he announced is effective and therefore inapplicable should be applied to punish Iran. Not only are the public being lied to since India has had dealings with Israel, but they are bluntly being told to be dim-witted.

Eager to play power-broker in Southeast Asia, China offered nuclear know-how to both India and Pakistan. Not only have these two rivals been engaged in conflict for decades, but the growing fundamentalism in Pakistan is alarming. The special relationship between the Taliban and Pakistan’s ISI pre 9/11, and the re-emergence of the Taliban along Pakistan’s border is fear-provoking. Vying for regional influences, China, in violation of the NPT, will provide nuclear technology to Pakistan, in violation of the NPT; the funding for these nukes will come from the generous aid of the US taxpayers.

The icing on the cake of all this, is the US-China deal.

In spite of sanctions imposed on several firms by the Bush administration, on December 16, 2006, a multi-billion dollar civilian nuclear deal was concluded with China. While the US-China deal may well be a sweetener to nudge China into signing the Iran-sanctions bill, much like the 800-page WTO agreement signed in Hanoi between Bush and Putin, one must wonder if the nuclear technology that the US will hand over to China will end up in the hands of the Taliban or Bin-Laden!

It is clear that Mr. Bush must heed Prime Minister Olmert’s wishes. How far will this administration go in bribing UN Security Council members in order to sanction Iran? More importantly, this morning it was announced on CNN that Pentagon has dispatched a second US vessel to the Persian Gulf as warning to Iran – Let us hope that this administration understands that naval blockade of Iran needs UN authorization and without a UN resolution, such an act will be recognized as an act of war by the [biased and impotent] UN.

Can the world sit by passively and accept the irrationality of the United States imposing sanctions on Iran citing the NPT while at the same time it calls the NPT ineffective in order to reward those states that do not abide by it? Can sanctions be imposed on firms or nations for the transfer of dual usage technology while the United States violates the NSG agreement? And can the United States justify its naval buildup in the Persian Gulf to ‘enforce sanctions on Iran’ and allegedly to stop the possible transfer of material for missiles and WMD to Iran while itself has invalidated both the NPT and the NSG?

Institutions and laws have been implemented to protect individuals and collectively the nation-state. Should the citizenry fail to place its trust in institutions, there will be chaos, destruction, and death. Mr. Bush has already demonstrated this in Iraq. It must be understood that under the law, all nations are equal regardless of their size or might. It is the right of the citizenry that I am defending. It is not only Iran that has been stripped of her right, but each one of us has been individually violated by desecrating the international laws set up to protect us. Nuclear armed, non-NPT states are rewarded with nuclear technology. Israel not only receives technology but $6 billion in annual aid for conducting the US foreign policy; whereas NPT states acting within the NPT framework are being punished.

No doubt insanity has prevailed for too long; its rule must come to an end. Lest we are ruled by law, believe in equality for everyone, we will live to regret our inaction and watch the demise of civilization; it is for the sake of civilization that we must all speak with one voice. As Mark Twain said: “The universal brotherhood of man is our most precious possession.”. The demand for the implementation of international law cannot be denied in the face of universal unity. Comment

Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich has lived and studied in Iran, the UK, France, and the US. She obtained her Bachelors Degree in International Relations from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. She is currently pursuing her education in Middle East studies. Soraya has done extensive research on US foreign policy towards Iran and Iran’s nuclear program.

[*] By the year 2000, Israel’s nuclear commerce with India reportedly reached $500 million per year – this is two non-NPT members trading in violation of international law, and proliferating – (Yossi Melman, "India's Visiting strongman Wants to Expand Nuclear Cooperation with Israel," Ha'aretz, June 16, 2000.)

The $2 Trillion Dollar War

A leading economist says the true cost of Iraq is far higher than President Bush claims -- and America will pay the price for decades to come.


When America invaded Iraq in 2003, the Bush administration predicted that the war would turn a profit, paying for itself with increased oil revenues. So far, though, Congress has spent more than $350 billion on the conflict, including the $50 billion appropriated for 2007.

But according to one of the world's leading economists, that is just a fraction of what Iraq will actually wind up costing American taxpayers. Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the Nobel Prize for economics, estimates the true cost of the war at$2.267 trillion. That includes the government's past and future spending for the war itself ($725 billion), health care and disability benefits for veterans ($127 billion), and hidden increases in defense spending ($160 billion). It also includes losses the economy will suffer from injured vets ($355 billion) and higher oil prices ($450 billion).

Stiglitz, a professor of economics at Columbia University, is just the guy to size up the war's financial consequences. He served as chief economist at the World Bank and chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under President Clinton, and his book Globalization and Its Discontents has sold more than a million copies. Stiglitz sat down with Rolling Stone in New York to discuss the costs of Bush's misadventure in Iraq.

What's wrong with dropping a lot of money on the Iraq War? Didn't World War II pull America out of the Great Depression?
War is a lousy form of economic stimulus. The bang you get for the buck is very low. If we hadn't had to fight during the Depression, we would have become a much richer country by investing the money we spent on the war. Think of the Nepalese contractors doing work in Iraq. They spend their money in Iraq or Nepal -- not in America.

Because the war drove up oil prices, we are also giving more money to Saudi Arabia, Iran and Venezuela. It follows that we are not investing that money. And instead of spending the money we have left on things that will make us wealthier, we are spending it in ways that have just the opposite effect. I don't want to reduce this to cold, hard economics, but when you educate young people for twelve to eighteen years, you're investing a lot of money in them. If you then have them killed, maimed and debilitated, you destroy capital.

How did you arrive at the $2 trillion figure?
There were three parts to the calculations that I made with Linda Bilmes, a professor of public finance at Harvard. The first part is based on actual expenditures -- the impact on the federal budget. But the budget doesn't include a lot of expenditures we will be making in the future as a result of the war today, like paying for the health care and disability benefits of all the people who have been injured. These are lifetime expenditures, but they aren't included in the $600 million a year the Defense Department expects to spend on Iraq. They're just talking about the hardware of war.

The second part of our calculations estimates future expenditures to replace what we lose in the war. The budget includes spending for new ammunition, but not the wear and tear on weapons systems. Eventually the weapons must be replaced, but the administration doesn't count that as part of the projected cost of the war.

A third important category is a little more hidden. The defense budget has gone way up, beyond the money earmarked for Iraq. You have to ask why. It's not like the Cold War has broken out again. We infer that they are hiding a lot of the Iraq expenditures in the defense budget. We only attribute a small fraction of the increase to Iraq, but it would be hard to explain them any other way than the war.

You also examine the cost beyond the impact on the federal budget.
Yes. We look at where the budget underestimates the social cost of the war. Take disability pay. If you're wounded, the government pays you only twenty percent of what you would have earned if you could work. The disability payment is a budget cost, but the economy misses the salary you would have been making now that you're not able to do anything.

At least they saved taxpayers money on body armor.
Not really. Rumsfeld made the defense budget a little lower in the short term by not providing the troops with adequate body armor. But the government now has to pay for the care of vets with disabling brain and spine injuries -- and society loses what their contribution would have been had they been gainfully employed. It's a good illustration of how looking at the short-run number leads you to think the war isn't costing all that much. It's costing the government more, our society more and our veterans enormously more.

Another example of Rumsfeld's budgeting is the huge bonuses we're paying to get soldiers to re-enlist. He wanted to lessen the impact of the war on the military, so he used private contractors, who are more expensive. What he didn't realize was that he was setting up a competition that has driven up the price of a soldier. If someone who has served his enlistment has a choice of working as a contractor for $100,000 or in the military for $25,000, what's he going to do? Wages and bonuses had to go up. Maybe that's a good thing -- the regular military was being cheated, in a way. But it's another cost of the war that isn't figured into the budget.

So Bush's budget for the war is as out of touch with reality as his justifications for invading Iraq in the first place.
The administration is trying to sell the notion that they have repealed the laws of economics. They want us to believe that we don't have to choose between guns and butter -- that we can have them both. The reality is, the money spent on the war could have been spent on other things.

Such as?
One quarter of the war budget would have fixed Social Security for the next seventy-five years. George Bush says that Social Security is a major economic problem. If you believe him -- although there are many reasons not to believe him -- the war is four times worse as an economic problem.

With $2 trillion, we could have funded the entire world's commitment to foreign aid to poor countries for the next twenty years. Or just think what we could have done to stop global warming if we had spent that two trillion developing cheaper photovoltaic cells to convert solar energy into electricity. With our technological advantages, we could have had some real breakthroughs. We have the resources -- we just need to redirect them from destroying another country.

Will average Americans notice any economic fallout from the war?
We'll have a lower living standard than we otherwise would have achieved. The median American income is going down. Most of us are worse off than we were five or six years ago. Why are we getting poorer? This big pot of money we spent on the war obviously has something to do with it. Americans have a hard time seeing it when the numbers come out in dribs and drabs. But when it's $2 trillion? Did we really want to spend it like this? It's hard to think how we could have spent it worse.

Has Bush responded to your calculations?
To my knowledge, nobody in the administration has challenged our numbers. All they've said is that we didn't include the benefits of the war, which is true. There is no way to assess the benefits. There are some little savings we subtracted out, such as the no-fly zone over Iraq: We don't have to pay to patrol it any more, because there is nothing to enforce with Saddam out of power. But the administration can't exactly claim that they have brought peace, stability and democracy to the Middle East.

They also argue that they didn't go to war on the basis of green-eyeshade calculations. That's true, but they did do a calculation of the cost. They were just off. Like every other aspect of their analysis of this war, they were either deliberately misleading or incompetent.

Paul Wolfowitz actually claimed that the war would pay for itself with oil revenue.
You have to wonder: What reward should he receive for such acumen? Bush made him president of the World Bank.

Posted Dec 15, 2006 11:32 AM

Video: Dialogue Session with President Bush


Why we stand for immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq

  • Ali Abunimah

  • Gilbert Achcar


    Clash of Barbarisms

  • Michael Albert


  • Tariq Ali


    Bush in Babylon

  • Anthony Arnove


    Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal

  • Noam Chomsky


    Hegemony or Survival

  • Kelly Dougherty

    Executive Director

    Iraq Veterans Against the War*

  • Eve Ensler


    The Vagina Monologues

  • Eduardo Galeano


    The Open Veins of Latin America

  • Rashid Khalidi

    Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies

    Columbia University

  • Camilo Mejía

    First Iraq War resister to refuse redeployment

  • Arundhati Roy


    God of Small Things

  • Howard Zinn


    A People's History of the United States

* for identification purposes only

THE U.S. occupation of Iraq has not liberated the Iraqi people, but has made life worse for most Iraqis.

Tens of thousands of U.S. service people have been killed or maimed, and hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis have lost their lives as a result of the U.S. invasion in 2003, the ongoing occupation, and the violence unleashed by them.

Iraq's infrastructure has been destroyed, and U.S. plans for reconstruction abandoned. There is less electricity, less clean drinking water, and more unemployment today than before the U.S. invasion.

All of the justifications initially provided by the U.S. for waging war on Iraq have been exposed as lies; the real reasons for the invasion — to control Iraq's oil reserves and to increase U.S. strategic influence in the region — now stand revealed.

The Bush administration has insisted again and again that stability, democracy, and prosperity are around the next bend in the road. But with each day that the U.S. stays, the violence and lack of security facing Iraqis worsen. The U.S. says that it cannot withdraw its military because Iraq will collapse into civil war if it does. But the U.S. has deliberately stoked sectarian divisions in its ongoing attempt to install a U.S.-friendly regime, thus driving Iraq towards civil war.

The November elections in the United States sent a clear message that voters reject the Iraq war, and opinion polls show that seven in 10 Iraqis want the U.S. to leave sooner rather than later. Even most U.S. military and political leaders agree that staying the course in Iraq is a policy that is bound to fail.

Yet all the various alternative plans for Iraq now being discussed in Washington, including those proposed by House and Senate Democrats, aren't about withdrawing the U.S. military from Iraq. Rather, these strategies are about continuing the pursuit of U.S. goals in Iraq and the larger Middle East using different means.

Even the proposal to redeploy U.S. troops outside of Iraq, a plan favored by many Democratic Party leaders, envisions continued U.S. intervention inside Iraq.

With former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger insisting that a military victory in Iraq is no longer possible and (Ret.) Lt. Gen. William Odom calling for "complete withdrawal" of all U.S. troops, the antiwar movement should demand no less than the immediate withdrawal of the U.S. military — as well as reparations to the Iraqi people, so they can rebuild their own society and genuinely determine their own future.

We call on the U.S. to get out of Iraq — not in six months, not in a year, but now.

Let It Come Down: Forcing the Constitutional Crisis of Liberty

by Chris Floyd

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast...
The order is rapidly fading
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'

Nat Hentoff, one of our great champions of civil liberties, uncovers the ugly truths behind the Bush Regime's plans for a Nuremberg-in-reverse at the American concentration camp in Guantanamo Bay: war crimes show trials being conducted by war criminals. Hentoff also cites the remarkable reports by the Seton Hall University School of Law which – drawing solely on official Pentagon documents – detail the shameful and criminal system that Bush and his lawless gang of legal perverts have established. As the Seton Hall reports note:

"Only 8 percent of the detainees were characterized as al Qaeda fighters. Of the remaining detainees, 40 percent have no definitive connection with al Qaeda at all and 18 percent have no definitive affiliation with either al Qaeda or the Taliban...."The Government has detained numerous persons based on mere affiliations with a large number of groups that are, in fact, not on the Department of Homeland Security terrorist watchlist . . . A large majority – 60 percent – are detained merely because they are 'associated with' a group or groups the Government asserts are terrorist organizations. (And members of almost 72 percent of those groups are allowed into the U.S.)....

"Only 5 percent of the detainees were captured by United States forces. Eighty-six percent of the detainees were arrested by either Pakistan or the Northern Alliance and turned over to United States custody. This 86 percent of the detainees captured by Pakistan or the Northern Alliance were handed over to the United States at a time when the United States offered large bounties for capture of suspected enemies."

Hentoff adds: "Remember, these findings are based entirely on Department of Defense records. (Robert Gates can fact-check them.)...Remember, too, that in the 2006 Military Commissions Act, Congress stripped from all these prisoners any meaningful right to utilize our federal courts, thereby defying our own Supreme Court."

(For more on the MCA and Bush's larger web of arbitrary rule, see Presidential Tyranny Untamed by Election Defeat and Fatal Vision: The Deeper Evil Behind the Detainee Bill.)

This issue must now be brought to the crisis. When the new Congress convenes, it should pass a law repealing the Military Commissions Act and firmly re-establishing Constitutional principles of jurisprudence and civil liberties. Then let Bush veto it if he will, so that it will be plain at last where we stand: Constitutionalists on one side, Authoritarians on the other. These poles are fast becoming the true political divide in this country, a split that runs through all parties. To echo George Washington, "Let us have [a government] by which our lives, liberties and properties will be secured; or let us know the worst at once."

It is folly to wait upon the Supreme Court to sort out the matter. There is little indication that the current Court will strike down the MCA; at best, it may seek to mitigate some of its most egregious excesses. But allowing the law to stand in any form represents an acceptance of the principle of unconstitutional presidential authority, of arbitrary action by the executive. And of course the MCA is not the sole building block of the vast edifice of tinpot tyranny that Bush and his anti-American minions have constructed over the years. That's why any move to repeal the Act must be accompanied by further legislation to roll back all of Bush's encroachments on our Constitutional system.

Will such a law be vetoed? Yes. But let it be so. Let it come down. Force all those who represent us in government declare which side they are on. Let all the pundits and opinion-slingers declare which side they are on. Let the people themselves see clearly and openly the choice that is before them: Do you want a republic of free citizens, or a bastardized autocracy?

Excerpts from Our Own Nuremberg Trials (Village Voice): During the mutual-admiration hearing before the Senate Committee on Armed Services – which led to the unanimous confirmation of former CIA chief Robert Gates to be Donald Rumsfeld's successor – no senator asked Gates if he approves of the Pentagon's "extreme . . . emergency" insistence on a $125 million appropriation to construct a permanent compound for a war-crimes court at Guantánamo. There, in 2007, war-crimes trials will be held for dozens of Guantánamo "detainees." The facilities will accommodate simultaneous proceedings.

Unlike the Nuremberg war-crimes trials of the Nazis, there will be no government officials in the dock, but rather – as detailed in my last column – prisoners against whom the United States has itself committed war crimes under the Geneva Conventions and our own War Crimes act. These crimes include their conditions of confinement and a total lack of the due process that the Supreme Court ordered in Rasul v. Bush (2004) and Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006).

Each of the defendants will have already been designated as an "enemy combatant" by previous "administrative" Combatant Status Review Tribunals at Guantánamo. At these sham hearings they were presumed guilty before any of the "evidence" against them (which they were not permitted to see) was aired. That means the presumption of guilt will continue at the war-crimes trials. The world will watch the total transmogrification of America's much self-praised "rule of law."

...The Seton Hall revelations have reached beyond the metropolitan press to, for example, the Anniston Star in Alabama. A December 1 editorial, "The Gitmo Games," quotes from the Seton Hall findings, and concludes:

"The military is holding something less than a kangaroo court that results in putting people away – without charging them with any specific wrongdoing – for an indefinite period of time . . . History will be very unkind to the rulers who constructed this very unjust, un-American system. Those un-American rulers, of course, include George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales, a coven of lawyers at the Defense Department and the White House, and Donald Rumsfeld. Will Robert Gates take his place among them?"

The Anniston Star's indictment-editorial ends: "[History] also will be unkind to people who tolerated [this un-American system.]" That means us.

December 20, 2006

Chris Floyd [send him mail] is the author of Empire Burlesque: The Secret History of the Bush Regime.

Copyright © 2006 Chris Floyd

O.K. from a declining America?

By Gideon Samet

Behind Ehud Olmert's fuzzy talk about hewing to the American opposition to negotiations with Syria hides a sorry pretext used by an agenda-free prime minister, but also one of the most important issues for the future of Israel.

Not only "bloated putzes in the media," as Olmert so rudely put it recently, are criticizing the prime minister for refusing to talk with Damascus and for waiting for the O.K. from Washington. Amos Oz, for example, joined them yesterday. And it is not true that Olmert has no agenda. He has a full agenda, stuffed to bursting with "no"s. No, to Syria, following his no to talking with the Palestinian leadership, no to removing outposts that laugh at the law, no to any measures that would reduce the suffering of the entire population in the Gaza Strip, no and no again to changing the prime minister's arrogant style.

Together with all these negatives is one big yes: Olmert, nodding in agreement with George Bush's no-no's. With Syria, Olmert grasps the pretext, because he will not admit the real reason: He does not want to come down from the Golan Heights. In one of his recent awkward declarations, Olmert stated that "as long as I'm prime minister, the Golan Heights will remain in our hands for eternity." We will find out soon enough just how eternal is Olmert's rule. In the meantime, he will avoid getting caught up in a political move that poses such danger to him, such as agreeing to evacuate tens of thousands of in the north and withdrawing to Lake Kinneret.

Yet, unlike Olmert, however, the U.S. is not what it once was, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion immediately to leave Sinai in 1957; when Secretary of State Henry Kissinger declared, in 1975, a "reassessment" of U.S. policy on Israel because of its refusal to agree to an interim arrangement in Sinai; when President Bill Clinton dragged Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization to Camp David. In the past decade, bookshelves and columns of top commentators have been filled with descriptions of the weakening of the American giant. It has become almost banal to talk about the decline of the Empire.

Discussing this historical process, illustrated pointedly by the abortive attempt to reeducate the Middle East, aimed at proving that the world's only superpower can no longer act unilaterally, because its power has waned too much. In his 2002 masterpiece, "The Paradox of American Power," Professor Joseph Nye, Dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, foresaw serious consequences for the U.S. internationally and domestically if it insisted on an "unrealistic imposition" of schedules and of forceful intervention.

As in Israel, despite the differences, critics of declining American imperialism point to an overly narrow focus on the national interest. This is also the claim of the Baker-Hamilton Report. The U.S. is still motivated by some sense of being divinely chosen, which is rooted in the moralistic thinking of the country's early history. There is opposition even within the national consensus to this impulse toward hegemony and a unipolar world that is leading the U.S. to disasters. Among other things, this impulse deepens the hatred of American culture. Some here might compare this by-product with the rise in anti-Semitism in the West as a result of the Israeli occupation.

I once suggested, in these pages, that the power-drunk behavior of the Bush era be termed the "Israelization of America." Now Olmert believes he will be doing a favor to Israel by means of its Americanization. It won't work. The "illusion of control" and the "end of the American epoch" - key terms to the critical discussion of the past several years in the West - require sensitive Israeli attention. Equally to be noted is the almost obsessive talk in the U.S. of the imminent end (again, as happened six and a half years ago) of the bull market on Wall Street.

Such sensitivity invites, at the very least, a reshaping and updating of Israeli politics in accordance with what appears to be an obvious Israeli interest: a rational agenda instead of a slothful slouching after a wandering and habitually goring American bull.

Behind Bush's "new way forward"

A battered group of neocons delivered the president his latest war plan, letting him reject the grave warnings of the Iraq Study Group and deny that we're losing the war.

By Sidney Blumenthal

Dec. 20, 2006 | "We're going to win," President Bush told a guest at a White House Christmas party. Another guest, ingratiating himself with his host, urged him to ignore the report of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by James Baker, the former secretary of state and his father's close associate, which described the crisis in Iraq as "grave and deteriorating," and offered 79 recommendations for diplomacy, transferring responsibility to the Iraqi government and withdrawing nearly all U.S. troops by 2008. "The president chuckled," according to an account in the neoconservative Weekly Standard, "and said he'd made his position clear when he appeared with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The report had never mentioned the possibility of American victory. Bush's goal in Iraq, he said at the photo op with Blair, is 'victory.'" Bush reasserted his belief that "victory in Iraq is achievable" at his Wednesday press conference.

Two members of the ISG were responsible for George W. Bush's becoming president. Baker had maneuvered through the thicket of the 2000 Florida contest, finally bringing Bush v. Gore before the Supreme Court, where Sandra Day O'Connor was the deciding vote. (Jeffrey Toobin of the New Yorker reported that she had complained before hearing the case that she wanted to retire but did not want a Democrat to appoint her replacement.) Through the Iraq Study Group Baker and O'Connor were attempting to salvage what they had made possible in Bush v. Gore. Upon Bush's receipt of the report, a White House spokesman told the press, "Jim Baker can go back to his day job."

The day after the report was submitted, on Dec. 8, Tony Blair appeared at the White House. He had testified before the Baker Commission, and supported its main proposals, but now stood beside Bush as the president tossed them aside, talking instead of "victory." "The president isn't standing alone," explained White House press secretary Tony Snow. Blair left to pursue a vain mission for Middle East peace, emphasizing by his presence the U.S. absence. His predetermined failure outlined the dimensions of the vacuum that only the U.S. could fill. On Dec. 18, Chatham House, the former Royal Institute of International Affairs, issued a report on Blair's foreign policy: "The root failure of Tony Blair's foreign policy has been its inability to influence the Bush administration in any significant way despite the sacrifice -- military, political and financial -- that the United Kingdom has made."

The day before the Chatham House report was released former Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared on CBS News' "Face the Nation" to announce his support for the rejected Iraq Study Group and declare, "We are not winning, we are losing." He made plain his opposition to any new "surge" of troops in Baghdad, a tactic he said had already been tried and failed. Powell added that Bush had not explained "the mission" and that "we are a little less safe."

The Chatham House report describes Blair and Powell as partners before the invasion of Iraq who had concluded that Bush was set on war and decided to lend their voices to its defense. "The British role was therefore to provide diplomatic cover," the report states. Powell, of course, delivered the most important speech of his career justifying the invasion before the United Nations Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003, which was later disclosed to have been a tissue of falsehoods and which he called a "blot" on his record. Since the time of the Reagan administration, when he was national security advisor, Powell had been aligned with Baker, the elder Bush and other foreign policy realists. But during his tenure as secretary of state he had suppressed his skepticism and obligations as a constitutional officer in favor of his loyalty as a "good soldier" to his commander in chief. Now, his reputation in tatters, he is trying to restore himself as a member of his original team and speaking for the unanimous opposition to Bush's new plans from the Joint Chiefs of Staff of which he was once chairman.

Bush's touted but unexplained "new way forward" (his version of the ISG's "the way forward") may be the first order of battle, complete with details of units, maps and timetables, ever posted on the Web site of a think tank. "I will not be rushed," said Bush. But apparently he has already accepted the latest neoconservative program, artfully titled with catchphrases appealing to his desperation -- "Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq" -- and available for reading on the site of the American Enterprise Institute.

The author of this plan is Frederick W. Kagan, a neoconservative at the AEI and the author of a new book, "Finding the Target: The Transformation of American Military Policy," replete with up-to-date neocon scorn of Bush as "simplistic," Donald Rumsfeld as "fatuous," and even erstwhile neocon icon Paul Wolfowitz, former deputy secretary of defense and currently president of the World Bank, as "self-serving." Among the others listed as "participants" in drawing up the plan are various marginal and obscure figures including, notably, Danielle Pletka, a former aide to Sen. Jesse Helms; Michael Rubin, an aide to the catastrophic Coalition Provisional Authority; and retired Maj. Gen. Jack Keane, the former deputy Army chief of staff.

This rump group of neocons is the battered remnant left of the phalanx that once conjured up grandiose visions of conquest and blowtorched ideological ground for Bush. Although neocons are still entrenched in the Vice President's Office and on the National Security Council, they mostly feel that their perfect ideas have been the victims of imperfect execution. Rather than accepting any responsibility for the ideas themselves, they blame Rumsfeld and Bush. Meyrav Wurmser, a research fellow at the neoconservative Hudson Institute, whose husband, David Wurmser, is a Middle East advisor on Dick Cheney's staff, recently vented the neocons' despair to an Israeli news outlet: "This administration is in its twilight days. Everyone is now looking for work, looking to make money ... We all feel beaten after the past five years." But they are not so crushed that they cannot summon one last ragged Team B to provide a manifesto for a cornered president.

"Choosing Victory" is a prophetic document, a bugle call for an additional 30,000 troops to fight a decisive Napoleonic battle for Baghdad. (Its author, Kagan, has written a book on Napoleon.) It assumes that through this turning point the Shiite militias will melt away, the Sunni insurgents will suffer defeat and from the solid base of Baghdad security will radiate throughout the country. The plan also assumes that additional combat teams that actually take considerable time to assemble and train are instantly available for deployment. And it dismisses every diplomatic initiative proposed by the Iraq Study Group as dangerously softheaded. Foremost among the plan's assertions is that there is still a military solution in Iraq -- "victory."

The strategic premise of the entire document rests on the incredulous disbelief that the U.S. cannot enforce its will through force. "Victory is still an option in Iraq," it states. "America, a country of 300 million people with a GDP of $12 trillion, and more than 1 million soldiers and marines can regain control of Iraq, a state the size of California with a population of 25 million and a GDP under $100 billion." By these gross metrics, France should never have lost in Algeria and Vietnam. The U.S. experience in Vietnam goes unmentioned.

Bush's rejection of the Iraq Study Group report was presaged by a post-election speech delivered on Dec. 4 by Karl Rove at the Churchill dinner held by Hillsdale College, a citadel of conservative crankdom. Here Rove conflated Winston Churchill and George W. Bush, Neville Chamberlain and James Baker, and the Battle of Britain and the Iraq war. "Why would we want to pursue a policy that our enemies want?" demanded Rove. "We will either win or we will lose … Winston Churchill showed us the way. And like Great Britain under its greatest leader, we in the United States will not waver, we will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail."

A week later, on Dec. 11, Bush met at the White House with Jack Keane, from the latest neocon Team B, and four other critics of the ISG. But even before, on Dec. 8, in a meeting with senators, he compared himself to an embattled Harry Truman, unpopular as he forged the early policies of the Cold War. When Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., offered that Truman had created the NATO alliance, worked through the U.N. and conducted diplomacy with enemies, and that Bush could follow his example by endorsing the recommendations of the ISG, Bush rejected Durbin's fine-tuning of the historical analogy and replied that he was "the commander in chief."

The opening section of the ISG report is a lengthy analysis of the dire situation in Iraq. But Bush has frantically brushed that analysis away just as he has rejected every objective assessment that had reached him before. He has assimilated no analysis whatsoever of what's gone wrong. For him, there's no past, especially his own. There's only the present. The war is detached from strategic purposes, the history of Iraq and the region, and political and social dynamics, and instead is grasped as a test of character. Ultimately, what's at stake is his willpower.

Repudiated in the midterm elections, Bush has elevated himself above politics, and repeatedly says, "I am the commander in chief." With the crash of Rove's game plan for using his presidency as an instrument to leverage a permanent Republican majority, Bush is abandoning the role of political leader. He can't disengage militarily from Iraq because that would abolish his identity as a military leader, his default identity and now his only one.

Unlike the political leader, the commander in chief doesn't require persuasion; he rules through orders, deference and the obedience of those beneath him. By discarding the ISG report, Bush has rejected doubt, introspection, ambivalence and responsibility. By embracing the AEI manifesto, he asserts the warrior virtues of will, perseverance and resolve. The contest in Iraq is a struggle between will and doubt. Every day his defiance proves his superiority over lesser mortals. Even the Joint Chiefs have betrayed the martial virtues that he presumes to embody. He views those lacking his will with rising disdain. The more he stands up against those who tell him to change, the more virtuous he becomes. His ability to realize those qualities surpasses anyone else's and passes the character test.

The mere suggestion of doubt is fatally compromising. Any admission of doubt means complete loss, impotence and disgrace. Bush cannot entertain doubt and still function. He cannot keep two ideas in his head at the same time. Powell misunderstood when he said that the current war strategy lacks a clear mission. The war is Bush's mission.

No matter the setback it's always temporary, and the campaign can always be started from scratch in an endless series of new beginnings and offensives -- "the new way forward" -- just as in his earlier life no failure was irredeemable through his father's intervention. Now he has rejected his father's intervention in preference for the clean slate of a new scenario that depends only on his willpower.

"We're not winning, we're not losing," Bush told the Washington Post on Tuesday, a direct rebuke of Powell's formulation, saying he was citing Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and adding, "We're going to win." Winning means not ending the war while he is president. Losing would mean coming to the end of the rope while he was still in office. In his mind, so long as the war goes on and he maintains his will he can win. Then only his successor can be a loser.

Bush's idea of himself as personifying martial virtues, however, is based on a vision that would be unrecognizable to all modern theorists of warfare. According to Carl von Clausewitz, war is the most uncertain of human enterprises, difficult to understand, hardest to control and demanding the highest degree of adaptability. It was Clausewitz who first applied the metaphor of "fog" to war. In his classic work, "On War," he warned, "We only wish to represent things as they are, and to expose the error of believing that a mere bravo without intellect can make himself distinguished in war."

Moving on to the next scandal...

By Uzi Benziman

A month ago, Haaretz ran a sensational story on its front page: Reporter Nadav Shragai gave a detailed description of the findings of a Peace Now report, which said that close to 40 percent of the land under the control of West Bank settlements is privately owned by Palestinians. The report was based on an official state database that Peace Now leaked.

Haaretz was the only Israeli media outlet that adequately covered the report. The Maariv daily gave a synopsis of the report on page six; Israel Radio announced it in its midday broadcast; and it stayed on various electronic news sites for about a day. The remaining media outlets, including Yedioth Ahronoth, the television stations and Army Radio, completely ignored it.

The media was not alone in underplaying the findings of the report and avoiding its implications (except for Haaretz, which ran follow-up analyses by Shragai, Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff). The key subjects of the report also adopted a tactic of minimizing it: No official government response was issued, the Civil Administration put out a statement saying, among other things, that "an initial review of the report shows that it suffers from serious inaccuracies," and the Yesha Council of settlements claimed that there was nothing new in the report and that Peace Now would use any means to fight Jewish settlement.

In contrast to the low-profile response to the report offered by the state and the Israeli media, it received a great deal of attention abroad: The New York Times published it as its lead story, and other large newspapers followed suit; and the report's authors, Dror Etkes and Hagit Ofran, were interviewed by dozens of radio and television stations throughout the world. Etkes and Ofran estimate that their findings were covered by hundreds of media outlets. Etkes was also interviewed by Israel Radio - along with Benny Kashriel, mayor of the Ma'aleh Adumim settlement - but only as a result of a report by the station's Washington correspondent, Yaron Dekel, about the buzz that the findings had produced in the United States.

What is more interesting than the extent of the coverage that the report received in Israel is the impression it left on Israeli public opinion: A day after the modest announcement of its findings, the report disappeared entirely from public discourse, except for one more announcement by the Yesha Council challenging its reliability. The parties on the left did not address it, the Knesset did not deliberate it, the press did not deal with it, the government ignored it, and the justice, defense and prime ministers were not asked to explain the findings that it exposed.

What the Peace Now researchers found is that state organs stole private lands from Palestinians living in the West Bank. The report found that state bodies broke the law, ignored Supreme Court decisions and behaved dishonestly, and certainly unethically. Peace Now claimed that 130 settlements were established, fully or partially, on private lands. Note: These are properties that the state recognized as private land, not private properties that were declared to be state land. This involved the systematic and blatant violation by state agencies of the property rights of thousands of Palestinians. This is the same repugnant, underhanded and apparently criminal modus operandi that attorney Talia Sasson detailed in the report she wrote on the establishment of the illegal outposts.

Israel's conscience is entirely black. Scandal follows scandal, and today's injustice wipes away yesterday's injustice in our consciousness. Israeli society's heart is so hard when it comes to Palestinians in the territories that it remains unmoved even when confronted with a scene of continuous injustice that strips individuals of their property.

The malice, deception and aggression embodied in the way the state took over lands belonging to private individuals, even if they are Palestinians, ought to stir up every honest person, even if he is a settler. This method has nothing to do with the ideological dispute over the establishment of the settlements: The issue at stake is that individuals have been stripped of their basic rights. The settlements could have been set up solely on state land. However, a society that is not shocked by the killing of innocent Palestinians will also not be moved even slightly by the sight of land stolen from any individual Palestinian.

NASD: Morgan Stanley hid trove of e-mail

NASD: Morgan Stanley hid trove of e-mail
Posted 12/20/2006 2:13 AM ET
Once again, an old e-mail issue is coming back to haunt Morgan Stanley. For the second time this year, a national regulator has accused Morgan Stanley (MS) of stonewalling requests for documents and withholding crucial e-mails from investigators.

The NASD claimed Tuesday that Morgan Stanley hid the existence of millions of e-mails from customers of its Dean Witter brokerage. According to an NASD complaint, executives at Morgan Stanley used the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as an alibi for their inability to produce a massive trove of e-mails sought by customers who felt they'd been burned by bad advice from Dean Witter brokers.

The firm's e-mail servers were, in fact, destroyed in those attacks, the NASD acknowledged. But by Sept. 17, 2001, the company was able to use emergency backup tapes to restore all e-email through Aug. 30, 2001, to the Morgan Stanley internal database.

Nevertheless, from October 2001 through March 2005, Morgan Stanley executives rebuffed requests from customers and regulators for internal e-mails predating the attacks, claiming they had been destroyed. The NASD alleged Morgan Stanley compounded that error by allowing the pre-Sept. 11 e-mails to be gradually overwritten on the company's internal system and lost forever.

The Securities and Exchange Commission settled a similar matter with Morgan Stanley in May, extracting a $15 million fine. But the SEC settlement only involved the firm's failure to provide documents to regulators. It didn't address the alleged harm done to customers who had filed arbitration claims against Dean Witter.

The NASD action specifically charges that Morgan Stanley hurt retail investors who filed arbitration claims against the brokerage firm. By denying those investors access to e-mails in the years leading up to September 2001, Morgan Stanley made it nearly impossible for its customers to present evidence on their own behalf.

In March 2005, during a civil trial brought against it in Florida, Morgan Stanley admitted the existence of the pre-Sept. 11 e-mails. Since then, the firm has pledged to cooperate with regulators.

But in a statement Tuesday, Morgan Stanley said it would fight the NASD's action. "Current management has made extensive efforts to reach a fair and appropriate settlement of this matter, but the NASD's disproportionate and unprecedented demands leave us no choice but to litigate. We look forward to having this issue heard by an impartial hearing panel."

Morgan Stanley reported fiscal 2006 earnings up 44% to $7.5 billion on Tuesday.

“Rebunking” the Lebanese ambulance story

December 20, 2006


On July 23, 2006, two Lebanese Red Cross ambulances were attacked by Israeli forces, causing injury to the ambulance crews and the patients aboard - one of the patients, Ahmad Fawaz lost his leg in the attack. The incident generated a fierce burst of media attention because the attack on a marked Red Cross vehicle was a clear violation of the Geneva Conventions.

This media attention generated a wave of citizen media “debunking” of the incident, making an argument that the attack on the ambulances had been staged by Hezbollah sympathizers to frame Israel for war crimes. The debunking was led by the author behind Zombietime, whose analysis was picked up by prominent right-wing blog, Powerline, and later by conservative commentator Oliver North. This claim was later repeated by Australia’s foreign minister Alexander Downer, who stated “it is beyond all serious dispute that this episode has all the makings of a hoax.”

Zombietime’s argument centered on published media photos of the damaged ambulances - commentators concluded that the vehicles had suffered minor damage, while a missle strike would have destroyed them, and that rust around the missle entry hole proved that the hole had existed well before the alleged attack.

Human Rights Watch has just issued a 25-page refutation of this analysis, based on visits to Lebanon, interviews with all three ambulance patients and four of the six ambulance crew. (The Zombietime analysis was based on analysis of the photographs - the debunker did not travel to Lebanon or interview eyewitnesses.) They conclude that the ambulances were both struck by missles, one of which removed Fawaz’s leg, but that the missles were likely Dense Inert Metal Explosives fired from an Israeli drone. Other attacks from Israeli drones caused substantial damage within vehicles without destroying them entirely - larger missles, fired from Israeli helicopters and airplanes tend to obliterate vehicles entirely, leaving large craters.

Human Rights Watch had a definite interest in clearing up uncertainty about the events of July 23. The illegal attack on the ambulances was one of the violations of international conventions that Human Rights Watch reported in their first report on the Lebanon/Israel war - once the attack had been characterized as a “hoax”, some commentators used this characterization to call into question HRW’s other accusations about Israeli conduct during the war. And HRW’s report does include a major correction - they no longer characterize the attack as coming from a manned Israeli aircraft, but now believe the attacks came from a remote-controlled drone.

I’m fascinated by the incident, the “debunking” and HRW’s response refutation of the debunking (a “rebunking”?) because it raises interesting questions about what citizen media can and can’t do. I’ll happily acknowledge that the debunking of the Bush National Guard memo was a high point for the idea of bloggers as fact checkers of the media, even though the incident was seen as a victory for right-wing bloggers. (I’d prefer to see it as a victory for the idea of blogs as an oversight mechanism for the media.) I think it’s very important that photographs which were digitally retouched to enhance smoke, making the destruction in Lebanon look more apocalyptic were debunked, and I note this even though the incident was very embarrasing to Reuters, which is a substantial sponsor of the main project I work on these days.

But this is a case where the armchair pundits apparently got it very, very wrong… and may not have gotten it wrong in especially good faith. The bombing of marked Red Cross vehicles is very damaging to the narrative embraced by the American right that the Israelis are standing up to “global terror” with the sort of care and restraint one would hope for from a democratic state. (Then again, as an American, I haven’t gotten a lot of care and restraint from my democratic government lately.) There’s a strong motivation for pundits supportive of Israel to analyze the photos closely and offer an explanation that absolves Israel of a major breach of the Geneva convention.

What’s disturbing to me about the situation is the timeframe. Zombietime and affiliated rightwing commentators got their story out very quickly, offering their analysis within days of the incident. HRW’s response is coming almost half a year later. This makes sense - HRW actually went to Lebanon and interviewed people who saw the incident, while Zombietime looked at press photos and offered theories. While HRW’s analysis is critical in determining what really happened on July 23rd and demanding accountability from the Israeli government, this report is hardly likely to call as much attention to the incident as it recieved when it was initially reported. Zombietime et. al. already accomplished their rhetorical goals - they gave an explanation that let some readers dismiss the reporting of the incident and cast doubt into the mind of other readers. It’s unlikely that many of those people will wrestle with the issues again as a result of HRW’s report, as much as I’d hope otherwise.

This raises an interesting question about the future of factual disputes in the age of citizen media: should we expect partisan refutation of all inconvenient facts? If this is the case, is it a victory for dispersed global fact-checking, or for rhetoric? Pro-Israel organizations like Honest Reporting are closely monitoring media for stories they consider critical. If they subject these stories to careful, factual analysis and reveal sloppy reporting, like that conducted by Dan Rather on the Bush memos, this is a good thing. But if they do their own sloppy reporting and the assertions they offer can’t be challenged until six months after the fact, we’re in for a very ugly chapter in the history of news media.

Organizations like HRW are going to have to get better at responding to situations like this one in a way that’s both fast and careful. HRW can’t respond as quickly as a blogger because they’ve got a long track record of offering careful research and analysis before publishing reports. But maybe they need to consider mobilizing their own affiliated bloggers - I am proud to be one - much earlier in the process, not just when they’ve finished their analysis.

Filed under: Media, Blogs and bloggers, Human Rights/Free Speech

Peace Process?


28 minutes

The first 25 of Mark Bruzonsky's Mid-East Realities Television programs have been uploaded to Google Video. Much more to come. Much more.

This is Mark Bruzonsky's second Mid-East Realities Television Program. I think it's the best of all his other shows, bar none, because in 1994 Mark explained why the "Peace Process" never had process or peace as an objective and we are seeing the results today of the so-called "Peace Process." Nothing has changed since then and Mark's is still the last word regarding the topology of the problem space as far as I am concerned.

There was another program before this, but terror-bytes blew up the transfer process when I tried to upload it.

I'm working with Mark on another blog which will make annotating and commenting on these programs easier. He has interviewed so many interesting people over the last 20 years there will certainly be no end of research in "Where are they now?" and "How did _THAT_ get into the Memory Hole?" I will provide complete transcripts for some of the high-impact programs so that the search engines will help future peace activists find the background they need to understand and participate in our global peace dialogue. I'll also be working with Mark to re-master some of the programs with his video editing software to lighten them in places and maybe update the intro, which gets quite annoying if you watch a couple of them. Maybe it's just me, because I watched _all_ of them. That's what the video thumb control is for.

Right now the other blog looks terrible - under construction. As soon as that blog is done, I'll publish the link and ask folks in the friends list to increment the global link counter which the search engines use to determine which content floats to the top of the search reports. You can also link directly to the Google Video pages themselves just by cutting and pasting the URL from your browser's address field. Google bombs are difficult things to coordinate with a small number of people but entirely doable with the exclusive content that Mark has produced. As the transcripts come out, you'll begin to see how it works in your favorite search engine. Please add to the Google Video comments key words you think have high value - such as named conflicts - agreements - breached agreements - etc. While it's impossible to embed a keyword tracker-logger on a google video, high value search words will float to the top of the logger in the new MERTV blog.

If you watch the vids on Google Video, please rate them and add comments if you are moved to do so. This is not new stuff for most of us who have been involved, but you may help someone along who is new to the subject by giving them additional information in the comments at Google Vid.

As anyone knows who has read here for a while, I have always dreaded having to edit blogger templates. I learned how to add things to the side bar but that's about it. Now I'm trying to figure out the new templates, and it's making my eyes bleed. So be patient.

I'll come up with an official post on how to embed these videos on your own blog. In the meantime, here's what I wrote when I stumbled on one of Mark's programs that someone else uploaded to Google Video.

Pressing Colin Powell about his Security Council speech

Hussein Kamel


Sam Husseini: Do you know that Hussein Kamel said that there were no WMDs? Did you know that?

Colin Powell: What’s that?

Husseini: You cited Hussein Kamel in your UN testimony. Did you know that he said that there were no WMDs, did you know that at the time?

Powell: I only knew what the intelligence community told me.

Husseini: But did you know that fact?

Powell: Of course not!

Husseini: You didn’t know that he said that, even though it was reported?

Powell: I -

Husseini: You didn’t know -

Powell: I’ve answered your question.

Husseini: You didn’t know that he said there were no WMDs.

In his famous February 4, 2003 speech to the United Nations Security Council, General Colin Powell said:

… It took years for Iraq to finally admit that it had produced four tons of the deadly nerve agent, VX. A single drop of VX on the skin will kill in minutes. Four tons.

The admission only came out after inspectors collected documentation as a result of the defection of Hussein Kamal, Saddam Hussein’s late son-in-law. …

Sam Husseini tried to follow-up some initial questions (see video below) with Powell today, as he left his Face The Nation appearance in Washington, D.C. Husseini pointed out that the man Powell cited in his speech, Hussein Kamel, also had said that there were no more weapons of mass destruction.

This story was first broken, according to FAIR, by Newsweek, in late February of 2003 (dated for early March) — before the open launch of the Iraq war and after Powell’s speech.

When Husseini pressed to see of Powell was aware of this evidence, he adamantly asserted “Of course not!”

In pressing again for a direct confirmation that he was not aware of evidence contradicting public assertions about alleged-Iraqi WMD, Powell’s only response was “I’ve answered your question.”


The General in his Labyrinth

LRB | Vol. 29 No. 1 dated 4 January 2007 | Tariq Ali

Tariq Ali

If there is a single consistent theme in Pervez Musharraf’s memoir, it is the familiar military dogma that Pakistan has fared better under its generals than under its politicians. The first batch of generals were the offspring of the departing colonial power. They had been taught to obey orders, respect the command structure of the army whatever the cost and uphold the traditions of the British Indian Army. The bureaucrats who ran Pakistan in its early days were the product of imperial selection procedures designed to turn out incorruptible civil servants wearing a mask of objectivity. The military chain of command is still respected, but the civil service now consists largely of ruthlessly corrupt time-servers. Once its members were loyal to the imperial state: today they cater to the needs of the army.

Pakistan’s first uniformed ruler, General Ayub Khan, a Sandhurst-trained colonial officer, seized power in October 1958 with strong encouragement from both Washington and London. They were fearful that the projected first general election might produce a coalition that would take Pakistan out of security pacts like Seato and towards a non-aligned foreign policy. Ayub banned all political parties, took over opposition newspapers and told the first meeting of his cabinet: ‘As far as you are concerned there is only one embassy that matters in this country: the American Embassy.’ In a radio broadcast to the nation he informed his bewildered ‘fellow countrymen’ that ‘we must understand that democracy cannot work in a hot climate. To have democracy we must have a cold climate like Britain.’

Perhaps remarks of this sort account for Ayub’s popularity in the West. He became a great favourite of the press in Britain and the US. His bluff exterior certainly charmed Christine Keeler (they splashed together in the pool at Cliveden during a Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference) and the saintly Kingsley Martin of the New Statesman published a grovelling interview. Meanwhile opposition voices were silenced and political prisoners tortured; Hasan Nasir, a Communist, died as a result. In 1962 – by now he had promoted himself to field-marshal – Ayub decided that the time had come to widen his appeal. He took off his uniform, put on native gear and addressed a public meeting (a forced gathering of peasants assembled by their landlords) at which he announced that there would soon be presidential elections and he hoped people would support him. The bureaucracy organised a political party – the Convention Muslim League – and careerists flocked to join it. The election took place in 1965 and the polls had to be rigged to ensure the field-marshal’s victory. His opponent, Fatima Jinnah (the sister of the country’s founder), fought a spirited campaign but to no avail. The handful of bureaucrats who had refused to help fix the election were offered early retirement.

Now that he had been formally elected, it was thought that Ayub would be further legitimised by the publication of his memoirs. Friends Not Masters: A Political Autobiography appeared from Oxford in 1967 to great acclaim in the Western press and was greeted with sycophantic hysteria in the government-controlled media at home. But Ayub’s information secretary, Altaf Gauhar, a crafty, cynical courtier, had ghosted a truly awful book: stodgy, crude, verbose and full of half-truths. It backfired badly in Pakistan and was soon being viciously satirised in clandestine pamphlets on university campuses. Ayub had suggested that Pakistanis ‘should study this book, understand and act upon it . . . it contains material which is for the good of the people.’ More than 70 per cent of the population was illiterate and of the rest only a tiny elite could read English. In October 1968, during lavish celebrations to commemorate the ten years of dictatorship as a ‘decade of development’, students in Rawalpindi demanded the restoration of democracy; soon Student Action Committees had spread across the country. The state responded with its usual brutality. There were mass arrests and orders to ‘kill rioters’. Several students died during the first few weeks. In the two months that followed workers, lawyers, small shopkeepers, prostitutes and government clerks joined the protests. Stray dogs with ‘Ayub’ painted on their backs became a special target for armed cops. In March 1969 Ayub passed control of the country to the whisky-soaked General Yahya Khan.

Yahya promised a free election within a year and kept his word. The 1970 general election (the first in Pakistan’s history) resulted in a sensational victory for the Awami League, Bengali nationalists from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). The Bengalis were disgruntled, and for good reason: East Pakistan, where a majority of the population lived, was treated as a colony and the Bengalis wanted a federal government. The military-political-economic elite came from West Pakistan, however, and all it could see in the Awami League’s victory was a threat to its privileges.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, which had triumphed in the western portion of the country, should have negotiated a settlement with the victors. Instead he sulked, told his party to boycott a meeting of the new assembly that had been called in Dhaka, the capital of East Pakistan, and thus provided the army with breathing space to prepare a military assault. Yahya prevented the leader of the Awami League, Mujibur Rahman, from forming a government and, in March 1971, sent in troops to occupy East Pakistan. ‘Thank God, Pakistan has been saved,’ Bhutto declared, aligning himself with what followed. Rahman was arrested and several hundred nationalist and left-wing intellectuals, activists and students were killed in a carefully organised massacre. The lists of victims had been prepared with the help of local Islamist vigilantes, whose party, the Jamaat-e-Islami, had lost badly in the elections. The killings were followed by a campaign of mass rape. Soldiers were told that Bengalis were relatively recent converts to Islam and hence not ‘proper Muslims’ – their genes needed improving.

The atrocities provoked an armed resistance and there were appeals for military aid from New Delhi, where the Awami League had established a government-in-exile. The Indians, fearful that Bengali refugees might destabilise the Indian province of West Bengal and no doubt sensing an opportunity, sent in their army, which was welcomed as a liberating force. Within a fortnight, the Pakistan troops were surrounded. Their commander, General ‘Tiger’ Niazi, chose surrender rather than martyrdom, for which his colleagues, a thousand miles from the battlefield, were never to forgive him. In December 1971, East Pakistan became Bangladesh and 90,000 West Pakistani soldiers ended up in Indian prisoner of war camps. Nixon, Kissinger and Mao had all ‘tilted towards Pakistan’ but to little effect. It was a total disaster for the Pakistan army: the first phase of military rule had led to the division of the country and the loss of a majority of its population.

Bhutto was left with a defeated army and a truncated state. He had been elected on a social-democratic programme that pledged food, clothing, education and shelter for all, major land reform and nationalisation. He was the only political leader Pakistan has ever produced who had the power, buttressed by mass support, to change the country and its institutions, including the army, for ever. But he failed on every front. The nationalisations merely replaced profit-hungry businessmen with corrupt cronies and tame bureaucrats. As landlords flocked to join his party, the radical reforms he had promised in the countryside were shelved. The poor felt instinctively that Bhutto was on their side (the elite never forgave him) but few measures were enacted to justify their confidence. His style of government was authoritarian; his personal vindictiveness was corrosive.

Bhutto attempted to fight the religious opposition by stealing their clothes: he banned the sale of alcohol, made Friday a public holiday and declared the Ahmediyya sect to be non-Muslims (a long-standing demand of the Jamaat-e-Islami that had, till then, been treated with contempt). These measures did not help him, but damaged the country by legitimising confessional politics. Despite his worries about the Islamist opposition, Bhutto would probably have won the 1977 elections without state interference, though with a reduced majority. But the manipulation was so blatant that the opposition came out on the streets and neither his sarcasm nor his wit was any help in the crisis.

Always a bad judge of character, he had made a junior general and small-minded zealot, Zia-ul-Haq, army chief of staff. As head of the Pakistani training mission to Jordan, Brigadier Zia had led the Black September assault on the Palestinians in 1970. In July 1977, to pre-empt an agreement between Bhutto and the opposition parties that would have entailed new elections, Zia struck. Bhutto was arrested, and held for a few weeks, and Zia promised that new elections would be held within six months, after which the military would return to barracks. A year later Bhutto, still popular and greeted by large crowds wherever he went, was again arrested, and this time charged with murder, tried and hanged in April 1979.

Over the next ten years the political culture of Pakistan was brutalised. As public floggings (of dissident journalists among others) and hangings became the norm, Zia himself was turned into a Cold War hero – thanks largely to events in Afghanistan. Religious affinity did nothing to mitigate the hostility of Afghan leaders to their neighbour. The main reason was the Durand Line, which was imposed on the Afghans in 1893 to mark the frontier between British India and Afghanistan and which divided the Pashtun population of the region. After a hundred years (the Hong Kong model) all of what became the North-Western Frontier Province of British India was supposed to revert to Afghanistan but no government in Kabul ever accepted the Durand Line any more than they accepted British, or, later, Pakistani control, over the territory.

In 1977, when Zia came to power, 90 per cent of men and 98 per cent of women in Afghanistan were illiterate; 5 per cent of landowners held 45 per cent of the cultivable land and the country had the lowest per capita income of any in Asia. The same year, the Parcham Communists, who had backed the 1973 military coup by Prince Daud after which a republic was proclaimed, withdrew their support from Daud, were reunited with other Communist groups to form the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), and began to agitate for a new government. The regimes in neighbouring countries became involved. The shah of Iran, acting as a conduit for Washington, recommended firm action – large-scale arrests, executions, torture – and put units from his torture agency at Daud’s disposal. The shah also told Daud that if he recognised the Durand Line as a permanent frontier the shah would give Afghanistan $3 billion and Pakistan would cease hostile actions. Meanwhile, Pakistani intelligence agencies were arming Afghan exiles while encouraging old-style tribal uprisings aimed at restoring the monarchy. Daud was inclined to accept the shah’s offer, but the Communists organised a pre-emptive coup and took power in April 1978. There was panic in Washington, which increased tenfold as it became clear that the shah too was about to be deposed. General Zia’s dictatorship thus became the lynchpin of US strategy in the region, which is why Washington green-lighted Bhutto’s execution and turned a blind eye to the country’s nuclear programme. The US wanted a stable Pakistan whatever the cost.

As we now know, plans (a ‘bear-trap’, in the words of the US national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski) were laid to destabilise the PDPA, in the hope that its Soviet protectors would be drawn in. Plans of this sort often go awry, but they succeeded in Afghanistan, primarily because of the weaknesses of the Afghan Communists themselves: they had come to power through a military coup which hadn’t involved any mobilisation outside Kabul, yet they pretended this was a national revolution; their Stalinist political formation made them allergic to any form of accountability and ideas such as drafting a charter of democratic rights or holding free elections to a constituent assembly never entered their heads. Ferocious factional struggles led, in September 1979, to a Mafia-style shoot-out at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, during which the prime minister, Hafizullah Amin, shot President Taraki dead. Amin, a nutty Stalinist, claimed that 98 per cent of the population supported his reforms but the 2 per cent who opposed them had to be liquidated. There were mutinies in the army and risings in a number of towns as a result, and this time they had nothing to do with the Americans or General Zia.

Finally, after two unanimous Politburo decisions against intervention, the Soviet Union changed its mind, saying that it had ‘new documentation’. This is still classified, but it would not surprise me in the least if the evidence consisted of forgeries suggesting that Amin was a CIA agent. Whatever it was, the Politburo, with Yuri Andropov voting against, now decided to send troops into Afghanistan. Its aim was to get rid of a discredited regime and replace it with a marginally less repulsive one. Sound familiar?

From 1979 until 1988, Afghanistan was the focal point of the Cold War. Millions of refugees crossed the Durand Line and settled in camps and cities in the NWFP. Weapons and money, as well as jihadis from Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Egypt, flooded into Pakistan. All the main Western intelligence agencies (including the Israelis’) had offices in Peshawar, near the frontier. The black-market and market rates for the dollar were exactly the same. Weapons, including Stinger missiles, were sold to the mujahedin by Pakistani officers who wanted to get rich quickly. The heroin trade flourished and the number of registered addicts in Pakistan grew from a few hundred in 1977 to a few million in 1987. (One of the banks through which the heroin mafia laundered money was the BCCI – whose main PR abroad was a retired civil servant called Altaf Gauhar.)

As for Pakistan and its people, they languished. During Zia’s period in power, the Jamaat-e-Islami, which had never won more than 5 per cent of the vote anywhere in the country, was patronised by the government; its cadres were sent to fight in Afghanistan, its armed student wing was encouraged to terrorise campuses in the name of Islam, its ideologues were ever present on TV. The Inter-Services Intelligence also encouraged the formation of other, more extreme jihadi groups, which carried out acts of terror at home and abroad and set up madrassahs all over the frontier provinces. Soon Zia, too, needed his own political party and the bureaucracy set one up: the Pakistan Muslim League.

With the elevation of Mikhail Gorbachev in March 1985 it became obvious that the Soviet Union would accept defeat in Afghanistan and withdraw its troops. It wanted some guarantees for the Afghans it was leaving behind and the United States – its mission successful – was prepared to play ball. General Zia, however, was not. The Afghan war had gone to his head (as it did to that of Osama bin Laden and his colleagues) and he wanted his own people in power there. As the Soviet withdrawal got closer, Zia and the ISI made plans for the postwar settlement.

And then Zia disappeared. On 17 August 1988, he took five generals to the trial of a new US Abrams M-1/A-1 tank at a military test range near Bahawalpur. Also present were a US general and the US ambassador, Arnold Raphael. The demonstration did not go well and everybody was grumpy. Zia offered the Americans a lift in his specially built C-130 aircraft, which had a sealed cabin to protect him from assassins. A few minutes after the plane took off, the pilots lost control and it crashed into the desert. All the passengers were killed. All that was left of Zia was his jawbone, which was duly buried in Islamabad (the chowk – roundabout – nearby became known to cabbies as ‘Jawbone Chowk’). The cause of the crash remains a mystery. The US National Archives contain 250 pages of documents, but they are still classified. Pakistani intelligence experts have told me informally that it was the Russians taking their revenge. Most Pakistanis blamed the CIA, as they always do. Zia’s son and widow whispered that it was ‘our own people’ in the army.

With Zia’s assassination, the second period of military rule in Pakistan came to an end. What followed was a longish civilian prologue to Musharraf’s reign. For ten years members of two political dynasties – the Bhutto and Sharif families – ran the country in turn. It was Benazir Bhutto’s minister of the interior, General Naseerullah Babar, who, with the ISI, devised the plan to set up the Taliban as a politico-military force that could penetrate Afghanistan, a move half-heartedly approved by the US Embassy. Washington had lost interest in Afghanistan and Pakistan once the Soviet Union had withdrawn its troops. The Taliban (‘students’) were children of Afghan refugees and poor Pathan families ‘educated’ in the madrassahs in the 1980s: they provided the shock troops, but were led by a handful of experienced mujahedin including Mullah Omar. Without Pakistan’s support they could never have taken Kabul, although Mullah Omar preferred to forget this. Omar’s faction was dominant, but the ISI never completely lost control of the organisation. Islamabad kept its cool even when Omar’s zealots asserted their independence by attacking the Pakistan Embassy in Kabul and his religious police interrupted a football match between the two countries because the Pakistan players sported long hair and shorts, caned the players before the stunned crowd and sent them back home.

After Benazir’s fall, the Sharif brothers returned to power. And once again, Shahbaz, the younger but shrewder sibling, accepted family discipline and Nawaz became the prime minister. In 1998 Sharif decided to make Pervez Musharraf army chief of staff in preference to the more senior General Ali Kuli Khan (who was at college with me in Lahore). Sharif’s reasoning may have been that Musharraf, from a middle-class, refugee background like himself, would be easier to manipulate than Ali Kuli, who came from a landed Pathan family in the NWFP. Whatever the reasoning, it turned out to be a mistake.

On Bill Clinton’s urging, Sharif pushed for a rapprochement with India. Travel and trade agreements were negotiated, land borders were opened, flights resumed, but before the next stage could be reached, the Pakistan army began to assemble in the Himalayan foothills. The ISI claimed that the Siachen glacier in Kashmir had been illegally occupied by the Indians and the Indians claimed the opposite. Neither side could claim victory after the fighting that followed, but casualties were high, particularly on the Indian side (Musharraf exaggerates Pakistan’s ‘triumph’). A ceasefire was agreed and each army returned to its side of the Line of Control.

Why did the war take place at all? In private the Sharif brothers told associates that the army was opposed to their policy of friendship with India and was determined to sabotage the process: the army had acted without receiving clearance from the government. In his memoir, Musharraf insists that the army had kept the prime minister informed in briefings in January and February 1999. Whatever the truth, Sharif told Washington that he had been bounced into a war he didn’t want, and not long after the war, the Sharif family decided to get rid of Musharraf. Constitutionally, the prime minister had the power to dismiss the chief of staff and appoint a new one, as Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had done in the 1970s, when he appointed Zia. But the army then was weak, divided and defeated; this was certainly not the case in 1999.

Sharif’s candidate to succeed Musharraf was General Ziauddin Butt, head of the ISI, who was widely seen as corrupt and incompetent. He was bundled off to Washington for vetting and while there is said to have pledged bin Laden’s head on a platter. If Sharif had just dismissed Musharraf he might have had a better chance of success but what he lacked in good sense his brother tried to make up for in guile. Were the Sharif brothers really so foolish as believe that the army was unaware of their intrigues or were they misled by their belief in US omnipotence? Clinton duly warned the army that Washington would not tolerate a military coup in Pakistan and I remember chuckling at the time that this was a first in US-Pakistan relations. Sharif relied too heavily on Clinton’s warning.

What followed was a tragi-comic episode that is well described in Musharraf’s book. He and his wife were flying back from Sri Lanka on a normal passenger flight when the pilot received instructions not to land. While the plane was still circling over Karachi, Nawaz Sharif summoned General Butt and in front of a TV crew swore him in as the new chief of staff. Meanwhile there was panic on Musharraf’s plane, by now low on fuel. He managed to establish contact with the commander of the Karachi garrison, the army took control of the airport and the plane landed safely. Simultaneously, military units surrounded the prime minister’s house in Islamabad and arrested Nawaz Sharif. General Zia had been assassinated on a military flight; Musharraf took power on board a passenger plane.

So began the third extended period of military rule in Pakistan, initially welcomed by all Nawaz Sharif’s political opponents and many of his colleagues. In the Line of Fire gives the official version of what has been happening in Pakistan over the last six years and is intended largely for Western eyes. Where Altaf Gauhar injected nonsense of every sort into Ayub’s memoirs, his son Humayun Gauhar, who edited this book, has avoided the more obvious pitfalls. The general’s raffish lifestyle is underplayed but there is enough in the book to suggest that he is not too easily swayed by religious or social obligations.

The score-settling with enemies at home is crude and for that reason the book has caused a commotion in Pakistan. A spirited controversy has erupted in the media, something that could never have happened during previous periods of military rule. Scathing criticism has come from ex-generals (Ali Kuli Khan’s rejoinder was published in most newspapers), opposition politicians and pundits of every sort. In fact, there was more state interference in the media during Nawaz Sharif’s tenure than there is under Musharraf and the level of debate is much higher than in India, where the middle-class obsession with shopping and celebrity has led to a trivialisation of TV and most of the print media.

When Musharraf seized power in 1999, he refused to move house, preferring his more homely, colonial bungalow in Rawalpindi to the kitsch comfort of the President’s House in Islamabad, with its gilt furniture and tasteless decor that owes more to Gulf State opulence than local tradition. The cities are close to each other, but far from identical. Islamabad, laid out in a grid pattern and overlooked by the Himalayan foothills, was built in the 1960s by General Ayub. He wanted a new capital remote from threatening crowds, but close to GHQ in Rawalpindi, which had been constructed by the British as a garrison town. After Partition, it became the obvious place to situate the military headquarters of the new Pakistan.

One of the 19th-century British colonial expeditions to conquer Afghanistan (they all ended in disaster) was planned in Rawalpindi. And it was also from there, a century and a half later, that the Washington-blessed jihad was launched against the hopeless Afghan Communists. And it was there too that the US demand to use Pakistan as a base for its operations in Afghanistan was discussed and agreed in September 2001. This was a crucial decision for the army chiefs because it meant the dismantling of their only foreign triumph: the placing of the Taliban in Kabul.

Heavy traffic often makes the ten-mile journey from Islamabad to Rawalpindi tortuous, unless you’re the president and the highway has been cleared by a security detail. Even then, as this book reveals in some detail, assassination attempts can play havoc with the schedule. The first happened on 14 December 2003. Moments after the general’s motorcade passed over a bridge, a powerful bomb exploded and badly damaged the bridge, although no one was hurt. The armoured limo, fitted with radar and an anti-bomb device, courtesy of the Pentagon, saved Musharraf’s life. His demeanour at the time surprised observers. He was said to have been calm and cheerful, making jocular allusions to living in perilous times. Unsurprisingly, security had been high – decoys, last-minute route changes etc – but this didn’t prevent another attempt a week later, on Christmas Day. This time two men driving cars loaded with explosives came close to success. The president’s car was damaged, guards in cars escorting him were killed, but Musharraf was unhurt. Since his exact route and the time of his departure from Islamabad were heavily guarded secrets the terrorists must have had inside information. If your security staff includes angry Islamists who see you as a traitor and want to blow you up, then, as the general states in his memoir, Allah alone can protect you. He has certainly been kind to Musharraf.

The culprits were discovered, and tortured till they revealed details of the plot. Some junior military officers were also implicated. The key plotters were tried in secret and hanged. The supposed mastermind, a jihadi extremist called Amjad Farooqi, was shot by security forces.

Two questions haunt both Washington and Musharraf’s colleagues: how many of those involved remain undetected and would the command structure of the army survive if a terrorist succeeded next time around? Musharraf doesn’t seem worried and adopts a jaunty, even boastful tone. Before 9/11 he was treated like a pariah abroad and beset by problems at home. How to fortify the will of a high command weakened by piety and corruption? How to deal with the corruption and embezzlement that had been a dominant feature of both the Sharif and Bhutto governments? Benazir Bhutto was already in self-exile in Dubai; the Sharif brothers had been arrested. Before they could be charged, however, Washington organised an offer of asylum from Saudi Arabia, a state whose ruling family has institutionalised the theft of public funds.

Musharraf’s unstinting support for the US after 9/11 prompted local wags to dub him ‘Busharraf’, and was the motive behind the attempts on his life. (In March 2005 Condoleezza Rice described the US-Pakistan relationship since 9/11 as ‘broad and deep’.) Had he not, after all, unravelled Pakistan’s one military victory in order to please Washington? General Mahmood Ahmed, who headed the ISI, was in Washington as a guest of the Pentagon, trying to convince the Defense Intelligence Agency that Mullah Omar was a good bloke and could be persuaded to disgorge Osama, when the attacks of 11 September took place. That his listeners were freaked out by this is hardly surprising. Musharraf tells us he agreed to become Washington’s surrogate because the State Department honcho, Richard Armitage, threatened to bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age if he didn’t. What really worried Islamabad, however, was a threat Musharraf doesn’t mention: if Pakistan refused, the US would have used Indian bases.

Musharraf was initially popular in Pakistan and if he had pushed through reforms aimed at providing an education (with English as a compulsory second language) for all children, instituted land reforms which would have ended the stranglehold of the gentry on large swathes of the countryside, tackled corruption in the armed forces and everywhere else, and ended the jihadi escapades in Kashmir and Pakistan as a prelude to a long-term deal with India, then he might have left a mark on the country. Instead, he has mimicked his military predecessors. Like them, he took off his uniform, went to a landlord-organised gathering in Sind and entered politics. His party? The evergreen, ever available Muslim League. His supporters? Chips off the same old corrupt block that he had denounced so vigorously and whose leaders he was prosecuting. His prime minister? Shaukat ‘Shortcut’ Aziz, formerly a senior executive of Citibank with close ties to the eighth richest man in the world, the Saudi prince Al-Walid bin Talal. As it became clear that nothing much was going to change a wave of cynicism engulfed the country.

Musharraf is better than Zia and Ayub in many ways, but human rights groups have noticed a sharp rise in the number of political activists who are being ‘disappeared’: four hundred this year alone, including Sindhi nationalists and a total of 1200 in the province of Baluchistan, where the army has become trigger-happy once again. The war on terror has provided many leaders with the chance to sort out their opponents, but that doesn’t make it any better.

In his book he expresses his detestation of religious extremists and his regrets over the murder of Daniel Pearl. He suggests that one of those responsible, the former LSE student Omar Saeed Sheikh, was an MI6 recruit who was sent to fight the Serbs in Bosnia. Al-Qaida fighters had also been sent there (with US approval) and Sheikh established contact with them and became a double agent. Now Sheikh sits in a death-cell in a Pakistani prison, chatting amiably to his guards and emailing newspaper editors in Pakistan to tell them that if he is executed papers he has left behind will be published exposing the complicity of others. Perhaps this is bluff, or perhaps he was a triple agent and was working for the ISI as well.

Next year there will be an election and rumours abound that Musharraf is offering Benazir Bhutto’s People’s Party a deal, but one that excludes her. A few years ago she could be spotted in Foggy Bottom, waiting forlornly to plead for US support from a State Department junior on the South Asia desk. All she wanted then was a cabinet position under Musharraf, so that she could remain a presence on the political scene. Musharraf is much weaker now and she may decide not to play ball with him, but to hang on for something better.

And then there is Afghanistan. Despite the fake optimism of Blair and his Nato colleagues everyone is aware that it is a total mess. A revived Taliban is winning popularity by resisting the occupation. Nato helicopters and soldiers are killing hundreds of civilians and describing them as ‘Taliban fighters’. Hamid Karzai, the man with the nice shawls, is seen as a hopeless puppet, totally dependent on Nato troops. He has antagonised both the Pashtuns, who are turning to the Taliban once again in large numbers, and the warlords of the Northern Alliance, who openly denounce him and suggest it’s time he was sent back to the States. In western Afghanistan, it is only the Iranian influence that has preserved a degree of stability. If Ahmedinejad was provoked into withdrawing his support, Karzai would not last more than a week. Islamabad waits and watches. Military strategists are convinced that the US has lost interest and Nato will soon leave. If that happens Pakistan is unlikely to permit the Northern Alliance to take Kabul. Its army will move in again. A Pakistan veteran of the Afghan wars joked with me: ‘Last time we sent in the beards, but times have changed. This time, inshallah, we’ll dress them all in Armani suits so it looks good on US television.’ The region remains fog-bound. Pakistan’s first military leader was seen off by a popular insurrection. The second was assassinated. What will happen to Musharraf?

Tariq Ali’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope, about Latin America, is out from Verso.