Saturday, March 3, 2007

US expert on Russian intelligence shot in Washington

1 hour, 41 minutes ago

US authorities were Saturday investigating the shooting of a US expert on Russian intelligence who was shot outside his house in a Washington suburb, an FBI spokeswoman said.

Paul Joyal, 53, was hit several times as he returned home on Thursday evening, FBI spokeswoman Michelle Crnkovich told AFP.

The shooting came four days after Joyal alleged in a a major television network interview that the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin was involved in the radiation poisoning of a former KGB agent in London.

US media reported that Joyal was in a critical condition, but Crnkovich said she could not confirm his state of health although he was still alive.

"The Prince George's County Police Department is doing the investigation and the Baltimore FBI is just available to assist them if they need us to," she said, adding the case was so far being treated as an ordinary crime.

Joyal told NBC's Dateline program that he had struck up a friendship with former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko during trips to London.

Litvinenko died in a London hospital on November 23 and was found to have high levels of the radioactive isotope polonium 210 in his body.

He and his associates have accused Russia of carrying out the poisoning because of his fierce opposition to Putin.

Joyal repeated the accusations in his interview saying: "A message has been communicated to anyone who wants to speak out against the Kremlin: 'If you do, no matter who you are, where you are, we will find you and we will silence you -- in the most horrible way possible.'"

A former police officer, Joyal set up a consultancy in the 1990s specializing in intelligence information for companies wishing to invest in the former Soviet republics. He is often interviewed by US media as an expert on the region.

Don't Start Another War

March 2, 2007

by William A. Niskanen

William A. Niskanen is chairman of the Cato Institute and was a former member and acting chairman of President Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers.

President Bush continues to rattle the saber with Iran, declaring openly that Iranian weapons are killing U.S. troops in Iraq, and appearing to establish a pretext for possible military action. But a few blocks east, Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton have asserted that Bush does not have the authority to broaden the war beyond Iraq's borders.

President Bush wisely warned us that the early withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq might lead to a larger regional war, and we should take steps to avoid that. So why does he seem to be preparing for a war with Iran, and maybe Syria? In January, Bush accused the Iranians of "allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq," and "providing material support for attacks on American troops," but the administration revealed no evidence of the latter until a military press conference in Baghdad a month later. And as Gen. Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has said, there is still no evidence that Iran's senior leadership approved the deployment of these weapons to Iraq.

It looks as though the administration is setting Iran up as a bogeyman in much the same fashion it did with Iraq in 2002. Three recent developments strengthen the credibility of Bush's threat to Iran:

Contrary to the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton commission, the Bush administration conspicuously omitted Iran and Syria from the list of Middle Eastern governments with which it will use "... America's full diplomatic resources to rally support for Iraq."

Second, Bush announced that he had ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike force and Patriot missile defense systems to the region. BBC news recently reported that Central Command has already prepared a plan for an extensive U.S. air strike on Iran.

And third, U.S. forces have detained Iranian nationals in Iraq, without the approval of the Iraqi government. In December, U.S. troops arrested two senior Iranian officers, both of whom claimed they had diplomatic status and were later released. Later, U.S. forces detained five Iranian officials who claimed they were establishing a consulate in Kurdistan.

Both Defense Secretary Robert Gates and White House press secretary Tony Snow denied that the administration was preparing an air strike on Iran, but the announced deployment of an additional aircraft carrier task force and Patriot missiles to the region suggests otherwise.

U.S. forces completely control the airspace in Iraq, and there are few suitable targets for air strikes there, so another carrier is wholly unnecessary to that mission.

The Patriots will be deployed in Gulf states, Bush tells us, "to reassure our friends and allies." But to reassure them against what? The only nations in the region that have medium-range missiles that would threaten these states are Iran and Syria. And in unusually blunt language last year, Iran warned the Gulf states that it would retaliate against them if the U.S. attacked Iran from bases in these states. The deployment of the additional carrier strike force and the Patriot missiles makes sense only if the administration is preparing to do so.

One tragic side-effect of U.S. air strikes against Iran is that they would almost surely lead to the defeat of our mission in Iraq. U.S. ground forces are already stressed to sustain current deployments, and Iran can threaten American interests in Iraq and around the region.

Following recent Iranian military exercises in the Persian Gulf, including the test-firing of a medium-range anti-ship missile, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that "if the United States were to attack Iran, the country would respond by striking U.S. interests all over the world." The U.S. mission in Iraq has sought to create a unified, effective, democratic and independent government there, and though that objective may always have been a fantasy, it would surely be sacrificed by broadening the war.

More fundamentally, the October 2002 war resolution provides authority for the use of U.S. military forces only to "defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq," a narrowly defined mission that was accomplished in the first few weeks of the U.S. invasion in the spring of 2003.

No other nation is mentioned in this resolution, and it would take an exceptionally tortured interpretation to sanction war with any nation other than Iraq. So the President has no authority for a broader war.

Congress and the press would serve us well if they questioned the administration forcefully about its reasons for deploying additional military forces to the region, and whether they think they need additional authority for strikes beyond Iraq's borders.

This article appeared in the Sacramento Bee on February 23, 2007.

Iran War: Don't Think It Can Happen? Think Again

Jon Soltz

Please take a moment to look at the introductory video blog below that StopIranWar has done, featuring me and Wes Clark. We'll be doing more of these in the weeks ahead, which look at different aspects of the planned attack on Iran and what it would mean.

There have been growing reports in the last week which lend credence to the idea that the US has a plan together for a war with Iran, which would include nuclear weapons.

Seymour Hersh, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, published what is probably the most in-depth reporting on the matter. I know others have written about it, but if you haven't taken a look yet, please do, and pass it on.

The White House did announce that it would take part in a round table discussion organized by the Iraqis, which would include representatives from Iran and Syria. What remains to be seen is whether the administration is really committed to diplomacy, or whether they are merely going through the motions, like they did before going to war with Iraq.

That's why it is absolutely critical that you make your voice heard. Go to to send a letter to your representatives and senators, the White House, and your local papers, demanding an escalation... of diplomacy.


Jon Soltz, the Co-Founder and Chairman of, is a powerful leader in the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans community and is originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. From May to September 2003, Soltz served as a Captain during Operation Iraqi Freedom, deploying logistics convoys with the 1st Armored Division. During 2005 Captain Soltz was mobilized for 365 days at Fort Dix New Jersey, training soldiers for combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. He also served his country with distinction in the Kosovo Campaign as a Tank Platoon Leader between June and December 2000. Soltz is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College with dual degree in Political Science and History.

He has completed graduate work at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. He also served as the Veterans for John Kerry Pennsylvania State Coordinator. He was a lead spokesman for IAVA (then Operation Truth) and has been interviewed by the Associated Press, Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Associated Press and the LA Times. He has made numerous media appearances including Jim Lehrer’s Newshour on PBS, CNN’s Inside Politics, National Public Radio and the Alan Colmes show.

I Am For Terrorism…

I Am For Terrorism…
By Nizar Kabbani

--> Thanks to MWC News to have published my images to illustrate this beautiful poem by Nizar Qabbani.

The Twilight Zone / Victims of the fence

By Gideon Levy

A still-life image: a building covered with Jerusalem stone, a large memorial poster hanging high up on one of the floors, and below, a sign in broken English over the "Paradise Cafe." Second image: a makeshift soccer field, empty, on which a huge puddle formed on Sunday of this week. Across the road a barbed-wire fence encircles the abandoned airfield of Atarot, once touted as "Jerusalem's international airport." Along the fence runs a ditch - into which the boy fell and, according to witnesses, bled for a long time until he died. He was struck by a bullet in the leg and lay there, dying in agony.

Was he only playing soccer? Did he just run to get the ball, which had fallen into the ditch along the fence, as his friends say? Or did he sabotage the fence and try to take the metal for his family's livelihood, as the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said the next day?

What difference does it make? What does make a difference is the appalling question of what prompted a soldier, or a Border Policeman, to open fire from a long way off at the boy and then to leave him bleeding on the ground until he died. What goes through the mind of the shooter, in the moments before and after he takes the life of an adolescent, who was in no way putting anyone at risk - even if he touched a fence that must not be touched? Three fences surround the abandoned airport, and last Sunday we saw no hole in any of them, three days after the unnecessary, criminal shooting.


In this terrible place the children of Qalandiyah and its surroundings are killed like flies. At least eight have been killed here in the past few years, along the death fence. In this space we wrote about 11-year-old Yasser and his brother, Samar, 15, the two children of Sami Kosba, who were killed at the fence a month apart, in February, 2002; about Omar Matar, 14, killed in April, 2003; and about Ahmed Abu Latifi, 13, in September, 2003. And there was Fares Abed al-Kader, 14, killed in December, 2003. Now there is also Taha Aljawi, February, 2007.

It's said that he was a good boy, the kind of boy who goes with his father to pray in the morning and evening. And he was Jerusalem-born, the bearer of a blue ID card, like us. Taha Aljawi, a nice kid from Jerusalem, not yet 17 at his death.

The Hamas memorial poster shows dripping blood. In the Fatah poster the photograph is more recent: Taha looks a little older and has the shadow of a mustache. The Al-Aqsa Mosque appears in both posters - a rare instance of Palestinian national unity these days, in the paradisical cafe in Kafr Aqab, a Jerusalem neighborhood whose residents carry blue ID cards and pay municipal taxes, but which has nevertheless been fated to be on the other side of the separation fence, north of the capital, on the way to Ramallah.

The men sit in the big space of the cafe, which has been transformed into a mourning room, and eat lamb with rice in yogurt, as is the custom. Two weeks ago we were offered the same fare in nearby Anata, on the occasion of the killing of an 11-year-old girl, Abir Aramin, by the Border Police.

Taha's bereaved father, Mahmoud Aljawi, worked for the Jerusalem Municipality part-time for 11 years as a school janitor, until he was forced to take early retirement a few months ago. He is 48 and the father of six children, including the dead Taha, who was the second child. To supplement his income, Mahmoud also made leather garments in the Old City, and had a kiosk that sold sweets at the Qalandiyah checkpoint. He learned basic Hebrew at a beginners' course at the Gerard Behar cultural center on Bezalel Street in Jerusalem. Until three years ago the family lived in the Old City, but because of the overcrowding moved to Kafr Aqab. Their rented apartment is above the Paradise Cafe.

Last Thursday, Mahmoud went to the offices of the National Insurance Institute (NII) in Jerusalem, to arrange for his unemployment insurance. Taha had a free morning: In the past few weeks the authorities lengthened the school hours on the first four days of the week and canceled classes on Thursdays. He was a 10th-grader at the school for orphans in the Old City, opposite Al-Aqsa, an educational institution for the children of poor families. He got up at 5 every morning and went with his father and his two brothers, Mohammed, 18, and Suleiman, 8, to the adjacent mosque to pray, and then at about 7:30 left for school via the checkpoints. It was 40 minutes each way, if there were no problems.

Taha wanted to learn the printing profession. He was weak in English and also got into problems with the teacher. Not long ago his father had a talk with him and explained that if he wanted to work in the print industry, he would have to be articulate in both English and Hebrew. Taha was thinking about enrolling in Hebrew lessons at a center near the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem.

Last Thursday Taha returned from the mosque at 7 A.M., after his last prayer, as it turned out. Mahmoud made breakfast for his son and at 7:30 his friends came by and asked him to play soccer with them on the field on the other side of the Ramallah road. The word "road" is a bit misleading: It's actually an intercity route peppered with potholes and puddles, flanked by garbage on both sides, on which traffic moves slowly.

According to the testimonies of Taha's friends, as related to the grieving father, shortly after the game started, the ball flew over another road that abuts the improvised playing field. Taha ran to retrieve the ball and then the kids heard a few shots. They say they ran in panic, but saw Taha slump into the ditch. No one knows for sure what happened after that. The children told Mahmoud that the shots had come from the direction of the skeleton of a tall building, which is under construction next to the soccer field. They say that the soldiers hid high up in the building and that they opened fire at Taha. Usually, they said, there are no soldiers in that building - only on that particular day.

The bullet slammed into Taha's left leg, above the knee. At the time, his father was near the government compound in East Jerusalem, on the way to the NII. Mahmoud's brother, Kamal, phoned him to say that Taha had been wounded. The two brothers rushed to Kafr Aqab. They tried to call Taha on his mobile phone - Mahmoud says he got his son a phone so he would always know where he was - but the boy didn't answer. Next to the house, people had already gathered; they related that Taha had been taken to the hospital in Ramallah. Kamal set out for Ramallah, while the distraught Mahmoud said he felt he had to stay with the mother and other children to calm them.

At the hospital, Kamal was told that Taha had been dead on arrival. He saw his nephew's body - with one bullet hole above the knee. In most cases, a bullet in the leg will kill you only if it causes a massive loss of blood. Taha apparently lay in the ditch for a long time: The children told Mahmoud that at least an hour went by before the soldiers arrived to collect their victim and take him to the Qalandiyah checkpoint. From there a Palestinian ambulance was summoned - even though Taha was Israeli - to take him to Ramallah. Kamal called his brother and told him to come to the hospital to identity his son's body. Taha was buried that evening in the cemetery on Saladin Street in East Jerusalem, next to the post office.

"I always made sure that my children were with me. I watched over them, like over my eyes," Mahmoud says. "On Fridays I would walk with them to pray at Al-Aqsa, go by the grandparents' place, have a bite to eat, always staying close together. Everyone who knows me knows how I watched over them. I hear a lot from people: You have good children - they pray, they are getting a good education, they have no problems, quiet children. Sometimes people would ask: Who is Taha's father? Good for you, having a well-educated boy like that. In the winter he went to play computer games, in the summer he went to the Casablanca Pool in Ramallah, and other than that he was with me. Maybe 18 hours a day with me. We are a family that respects its children and the children respect their father.

"How can we know what he was doing there, next to the fence? It's not important. A boy of that age, he didn't endanger the soldiers - a shy boy, not violent, quiet. I didn't see what he was doing next to the fence. I didn't see, but what if he even cut the fence? And why should he cut the fence? He has a blue ID card. I always taught him to keep away from things like that."

The response of the IDF Spokesperson's Office: "On February 1 during the morning an IDF force spotted four suspicious youths next to the Qalandiyah refugee camp south of Ramallah, while they were still engaged in sabotaging the security fence and trying to breach it. The force fired at the lower body of one of the youths and hit his leg. Minutes later an IDF medical team arrived, which worked to stabilize the wounded person's condition, but without success."

We go out to the killing field. Mahmoud hasn't been there since his son fell by the fence. It's empty, even though people live all around it. We stop at the road, looking at the fence from a distance and at the ditch where Taha bled to death. Within seconds a Border Police Jeep barrels out of the abandoned airport terminal - a long way from us - and we scatter, in panic.

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Apartheid in Israel

Jordan Times - 01/03/2007

(MENAFN - Jordan Times) Michael Jansen

The latest report published by the UN rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories compares Israel's policies there to those of South Africa during the apartheid era.

John Dugard, a South African law professor and former anti-apartheid campaigner, called upon the international community to give "serious consideration" to his recommendation that the International Court of Justice in The Hague issue an advisory opinion on Israel's policies and actions.

In the 24-page document, posted on the council's website, Dugard states: "The international community, speaking through the United Nations, has identified three regimes as inimical to human rights — colonialism, apartheid and foreign occupation" and accuses Israel of practising all three.

Of the three, Israel is most incensed by being accused of instituting apartheid in the occupied and colonised Palestinian territories.

Dugard says that Israel's policies "certainly resemble aspects of apartheid". He points out that Israel is committing many violations of the 1973 Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid and cites Israel's restriction of Palestinian movement, construction of walls and fences to separate Israelis and Palestinians, building of Israeli settler only cities, towns and roads, and demolition of Palestinian houses built without Israeli permits. He compares Israel's lists of security risks — 180,000 names long — who may not pass through the hundreds of checkpoints to South Africa's notorious "pass laws" which obstructed the free movement of black Africans.

Dugard challenges Israel's contention that West Bank checkpoints, barriers and blockades are intended to protect Israelis from attacks by Palestinian fighters and suicide bombers. He states: "It has become abundantly clear that the wall and checkpoints are principally aimed at advancing the safety, convenience and comfort of [Israel's 430,000] settlers" who live in the West Bank in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Dugard singles out the example of the wall being constructed in East Jerusalem, characterising it as an "instrument of social engineering designed to achieve the Judaisation of Jerusalem by reducing the number of Palestinians in the city". As proof, he states: "The wall is being built through Palestinian neighbourhoods, separating Palestinians from Palestinians, in a manner that cannot conceivably be justified on security grounds."

He asks: "Can it seriously be denied that the purpose of such action is to establish and maintain domination by one racial group — Jews — over another racial group — Palestinians — and systematically oppress them?" He observes: "Such an intention or purpose may be inferred from the actions described in this report."

Israel and its apologists angrily reject the apartheid accusation, charge those who make it with being anti-Semites and call upon Israel's friends to refute the charge. Amongst those whom Israel has tried to censure or smear are former US president Jimmy Carter and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu, former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town and head of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Other figures making the charge include Arun Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma Gandhi; Winnie Mandela, former wife of South African leader Nelson Mandela; Michael Ben Yair, who served as Israel's attorney general from 1993-96; Ami Ayalon, a former admiral in Israel's navy and head of Shin Bet, the country's internal security agency; Tommy Lapid, head of Israel's Shinui Party; and Meron Benvenisti, former deputy mayor of Jerusalem.

Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, warned that if a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was not found, the two communities would be forced to dwell separately, with one living comfortably and the other in poverty. Brzezinski's prediction has come true.

According to the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation, nearly half of the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza have no food security. In a report issued this week, these two agencies say that Israel's closures and blockades and the Western financial boycott of the Palestinian Authority are depriving Palestinians of essential nutrition.

Forty-six per cent of Palestinians are food insecure or vulnerable, in comparison to 35 per cent in 2004, even though during 2006, the WFP increased food aid by 25 per cent, providing for 260,000 non-refugees in Gaza and 400,000 in the West Bank. Meanwhile, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees expanded its rolls of refugees entitled to food aid to meet the needs of those who had been self-sufficient as far as food was concerned.

It is important for Israel to silence or smear anyone who compares Israel to apartheid South Africa. On the one hand, Israel argues that the Jewish state has a moral basis for existence: recompensing the Jews for centuries of Western persecution. While Israel's founding fathers admitted that the creation of Israel involved the commission of injustices against the Palestinians, they argued that the Israeli option was the "line of least injustice", a contention which Palestinians could never accept. To maintain the notion that it is a moral entity, Israel must prevent the international community from accepting the contention that Israel, like South Africa, has adopted apartheid to deal with its native population.

On the other hand, Israel seeks to evade punishment through sanctions for practising racial discrimination to the same extent as the apartheid South African regime. Many critics of Israel's policies call for sanctions to be imposed on Israel until it ends its occupation of the territories conquered in 1967, halts settlement activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and reverses the apartheid measures it has adopted. Amongst the prime movers on the sanctions front have been mainstream Protestant churches in the US. They have called for divestment in US and other companies providing Israel with bulldozers to build settlements and destroy Palestinian houses and orchards.

Some have suggested divesting from US and other Western organisations — like local pension funds — which have links to Israeli public institutions.

These attempts to punish Israel have raised a storm of protest from Israel and its friends and forced the churches to reconsider their positions. If divestment becomes widespread, Israel will be under considerable public pressure to end the occupation and its colonisation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan, and renounce apartheid. Oddly, Israel's occupation and colonisation of Palestinian land, which is far more damaging than separation to Palestinian interests and threatens to deprive Palestinians of self-determination, does not raise the sort of emotional objections apartheid does even though apartheid is, in this case, an ineluctable consequence of occupation and colonisation.

Folly Of War With Iran

Stanley Heller

Published on 3/3/2007 in

The papers are reporting that Israel is arranging safe passage for its jets to bomb Iran. A Kuwaiti paper says that Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates have given their permission for the planes to overfly those countries. The British paper The Telegraph quotes a senior unnamed Israeli defense official who says Israel is bargaining with the U.S. for an “air corridor” over Iraq. A U.S. carrier strike group sits off the coast of Iran with another one approaching. The administration continues to ratchet up the rhetoric. It now blames Iran for the Iraq insurgency. Another war could be weeks away.

Will Americans be fooled again? We went through this before. Three presidents and Congress said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and were a threat “to the world.” He had VX and smallpox. He had a nuclear program. He was in league with al-Qaida. The United States launched 10 years of sanctions and four years of all-out war, yet none of the charges were true.

The regime in Tehran is repulsive. Its “Holocaust Conference” was a sick joke. But Iran hasn't started a war in 200 years and there's no evidence it's suicidally planning a war against the United States or Israel. Yet the drumbeats for another shock-and-awe assault are getting louder.

Iran's activities monitored

Iran is indeed enriching uranium, but it's all under the eye of the International Atomic Energy Agency and there hasn't been any report that any of the material has been engineered to the point where it could be used in a bomb. Scott Ritter, the former Marine intelligence officer and U.N. arms inspector, who got it right about Iraq's lack of WMD, has been saying for years that Iran has no nuclear weapons program, only a nuclear energy program.

It was started by the late Shah of Iran with United States approval. Seymour Hersh, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning New Yorker journalist, spoke at Yale on Jan. 31. He said the CIA has informed the administration that it can find “no evidence of a parallel program” in Iran to secretly make nuclear bombs.Yet even if Ritter and Hersh are wrong and Iran makes some nuclear bombs, how is that a serious threat to the United States or to Israel? Both countries could reduce Iran to a radioactive cinder in a few hours.

The charge that Iran is fueling the insurgency in Iraq is ludicrous. Iran is Shia.The Shia in Iraq have not fought the US troops except in two battles in 2004. The Iraqi government is dominated by the Shia pro-Iran parties. They are collaborating, not fighting the United States. The supposedly new high-tech “shaped charge” weapons have been used for decades and are well-known to Iraqi army veterans.

Nuclear attack against Iran?

Incredibly, it's quite possible that a United States-Israeli attack on Iran could involve nuclear weapons. Last month the Times of London reported that Israel is practicing bombing runs simulating attacks using “tactical” nuclear weapons. Its ultra-right wing government is spreading hysteria.The Israeli media trumpets stories from politicians and historians saying that Iran is planning a new Holocaust. It's whipping up the public to approve an atomic attack. U.S. politicians make no criticism, explaining that this “option” must be left on the table.

That an unprovoked attack on Iran would be a grave violation of international law is of no consequence to the administration, but consider what the effect of an attack would be on the U.S. and on our troops. Iran could suspend its oil sales. It could rocket the oil sheikdoms that gave Israel safe passage. It might be able to block oil transport through the Straits of Hormuz. Are we ready for $100 barrel oil? Are we ready to have our troops in Iraq become sitting ducks for Iranian missiles? And what if the Iraqi Shia do start to mount their own insurgency?

There is some hope of avoiding this disaster. The politicians are pathetic. None of them has come out forthrightly saying there's no need for war with Iran. According to the London Times, some U.S. generals are prepared to quit if Bush gives an order for an attack on Iran, but that would come too late. The people have to speak out angrily and massively and denounce the folly of an attack on Iran. They have to do it now.

Stanley Heller is chairman of the Middle East Crisis Committee, based in Woodbridge. He lives in West Haven

Bagram Ghosts

By Roger Morris , Green Institute Senior Fellow

“I heard a loud boom,” Vice President Dick Cheney remembered of the suicide bomb at Bagram air base outside Kabul where he stopped over this week. Said to be aimed at Cheney himself, the attack left him untouched while killing twenty-one Afghan workers and two Americans—still more casualties in Afghanistan’s thirty-year, million-and-a-half-dead civil war.

In that setting, one hopes Cheney heard symbolically more than a “boom.” Bagram thunders with relevant ghosts, many of them American.

In the fourth century B.C. it was a fort in one of the first of so many ill-fated attempts to subdue the Afghans. Even Alexander’s campaign-hardened Macedonians were shocked when the local insurgents left battlefield dead to devouring wild dogs. For ancient Afghans it was religious practice, but for invaders a telling mark of a people capable at once of tender poetry and chivalrous hospitality along with the most ferocious, indomitable resistance to conquest.

Bagram was a mocking ruin as Britain came and went in the nineteenth century to parry imperial Russia in the Great Game. The English killed, tortured, bribed, and subverted the Afghans, and in the end, like Alexander’s legions, left their bones to bleach at Gandamak and on the stony plain of Maiwand west of Kandahar. They left, too, the Durand Line dividing Afghanistan from the subcontinent. Cut for colonial convenience through the heart of Pashtun tribal lands, the fateful boundary with its separatist ambitions and fears still makes Pakistan the furtive nemesis of Afghan stability, and the inconsolable frontier now a sanctuary for the resurgent Taliban.

Cold War brought Bagram back to life in the mid-1950s as an air base of the old Afghan royal regime. Having begged in vain for U.S. help—Washington at the time thought the Hindu Kush of no strategic value and preferred as clients the crisp military dictators in Pakistan—the Afghans turned to Russia to modernize their antique armed forces.

As Bagram hummed with Soviet advisors and MIGs, America took up the competition, albeit on the cheap. Over a quarter century U.S. aid to Afghanistan would be only a fraction of Moscow’s. All the while, the Great Game continued. Whatever the visible policy, the CIA relentlessly used Afghanistan to spy on Soviet Central Asia, feeding perennial Russian fears and the inevitable counter intrigues.

Intent on each other, both superpower rivals dispensed their foreign aid wares—and a corrupt Kabul oligarchy took them—heedless of the impact. As aid spawned an educated class without jobs, as the army grew better armed but no better paid, as grinding poverty only worsened, the turmoil built that would plunge Afghanistan into unimaginable disaster, and haunt the world into the next century.

Bagram was always emblematic. The neutrality of its officers allowed strongman Mohammad Daoud to overthrow the venal monarchy of King Zahir in 1973. It was from Bagram five years later that a leftist commander launched his jet fighters with withering effect on Daoud’s presidential palace in the 1978 communist coup neither Russia nor the U.S. expected—and Moscow soon regretted more than Washington.

Into Bagram then poured Soviet advisors and materiel in the Kremlin’s vain attempt to shore up a weak, divided communist rule in Kabul that remained typically Afghan, and thus fiercely independent of its patrons. The regime’s reforms were now crudely anti-religious and culturally insensitive, now laudably democratic in land reform and the education of women. Change in any case ignited a reactionary Islamic revolt which the U.S., Pakistan, China, and briefly the tottering Shah of Iran quickly moved to foment with covert arms and training.

Results were horrific. When a CIA- and Iranian-instigated Islamic uprising in Herat massacred hundreds of Russian aid workers and their families in March 1979—the bloodiest episode in the history of foreign aid—sorties from Bagram indiscriminately bombed monuments, homes and schools of the ancient capital even after rebels had left, killing as many as 20,000.

In the face of a deliberate U.S. policy to provoke an invasion of Afghanistan—“giving to the USSR its Vietnam War,” as National Security Advisor Zbigniev Brzezinski told President Jimmy Carter—we know from the post-Soviet release of Politburo minutes the Kremlin warily resisted what some knew would be a disaster.

When that trap was sprung by self-deception and fear on all sides, it was Bagram that saw the elite KGB unit who killed Afghan President Hafizullah Amin in a December 1979 coup to replace his regime with a more agreeable puppet. It was Bagram’s runways that took wave after wave of Soviet invasion forces whose masters expected a victorious, low-casualty show of force lasting only months. It was Bagram that saw the last Russian troops more than nine years later after some of the most savage warfare in history and twice as many casualties as the Kremlin admitted.

Over a decade of carnage the base was a center of war and portent. Trained by the Americans and Pakistanis with the latest explosive devices and eventually Stinger missiles, the Mujahideen, as the Islamic radicals were known, constantly stalked Bagram. Tuesday’s attack was in a tradition begun by U.S.-directed car-bombing squads sent to terrorize not only Soviet or Afghan military, but also civilians, including Kabul’s intelligentsia and university professors at sites like movie theaters and cultural events.

After the fall of the USSR and the Kabul communist regime, the base was a shifting prize between Mujahideen factions abandoned to the chaos of further civil war and then the bloody Pakistani-sponsored rise of the Taliban. With the U.S. occupation in 2002, Bagram was expanded as never before as a hub of the NATO war, including conversion of one of its cavernous hangers into most notorious prison in Afghanistan, eclipsing even the infamous Pul-i-Charki outside Kabul where the Mujahideen, and the communists, Daoud regime and monarchy before them, jailed and tortured thousands.

Did Cheney hear any of it? In the 1970s as Afghanistan slid to calamity, he was a rising young aide to Don Rumsfeld in the Nixon and Ford Administrations. In 1978 as the communists seized power and the U.S. began its covert intervention, he was maneuvering for a Wyoming congressional seat. In 1979 as Washington provoked and Moscow invaded, he was finishing his first year in the House, positioning for the leadership he gained a decade later. In the 1980s as the Mujahideen attacked Bagram, he ardently supported the Reagan Administration’s covert wars in Afghanistan, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Iran, though he took no interest in places or issues—like his colleagues, looking the other way amid questions about the drug trade, atrocities, terrorism..

It was all there at Bagram—the consummate folly of corrupt clients, the false valor of historical ignorance, and the presumption once again to conquer the unconquerable in what the Greeks called the “land of the bones.” A “loud boom” indeed.

Roger Morris

Roger Morris writes regularly for the Green Institute. Read his bio.

Bush v Blair - Weakest Link

The President goes head to head with the Prime Minister on The Weakest Link



See Hillary Run (from Her Husband's Past on Iraq)

It's not enough for Hillary Clinton to apologize for her Iraq vote in 2002: She was witness to years of President Bill Clinton's deception and lying about Saddam Husseins's weapons programs to justify attacks on Iraq.

By Scott Ritter, AlterNet
Posted on March 3, 2007

Senator Hillary Clinton wants to become President Hillary Clinton. "I'm in, and I'm in to win," she said, announcing her plans to run for the Democratic nomination for the 2008 Presidential election.

Let there be no doubt that Hillary Clinton is about as slippery a species of politician that exists, one who has demonstrated an ability to morph facts into a nebulous blob which blurs the record and distorts the truth. While she has demonstrated this less than flattering ability on a number of issues, nowhere is it so blatant as when dealing with the issue of the ongoing war in Iraq and Hillary Clinton's vote in favor of this war.

This issue won't be resolved even if Hillary Clinton apologizes for her Iraq vote, as other politicians have done, blaming their decision on faulty intelligence on Iraq's WMD capabilities. This is because, like many other Washington politicians at the time, including those now running for president, she had been witness to lies about Iraq's weapons programs to justify attacks on that country by her husband President Bill Clinton and his administration.

"While there is no perfect approach to this thorny dilemma, and while people of good faith and high intelligence can reach diametrically opposed conclusions, I believe the best course is to go to the UN for a strong resolution that scraps the 1998 restrictions on inspections and calls for complete, unlimited inspections with cooperation expected and demanded from Iraq," Senator Clinton said at the time of her vote, in a carefully crafted speech designed to demonstrate her range of knowledge and ability to consider all options. "I know that the Administration wants more, including an explicit authorization to use force, but we may not be able to secure that now, perhaps even later. But if we get a clear requirement for unfettered inspections, I believe the authority to use force to enforce that mandate is inherent in the original 1991 UN resolution, as President Clinton recognized when he launched Operation Desert Fox in 1998."

Hillary would have done well to leave out that last part, the one where her husband, the former President of the United States, used military force as part of a 72-hour bombing campaign ostensibly deemed as a punitive strike in defense of disarmament, but in actuality proved to be a blatant attempt at regime change which used the hyped-up threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction as an excuse for action. Sound familiar? While many Americans today condemn the Bush administration for misleading them with false claims of unsubstantiated threats which resulted in the ongoing debacle we face today in Iraq (count Hillary among this crowd), few have reflected back on the day when the man from Hope, Arkansas sat in the Oval Office and initiated the policies of economic sanctions-based containment and regime change which President Bush later brought to fruition when he ordered the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

"My vote," Hillary said with great sanctimony, "is not, however, a vote for any new doctrine of pre-emption, or for unilateralism, or for the arrogance of American power or purpose -- all of which carry grave dangers for our nation, for the rule of international law and for the peace and security of people throughout the world." But by citing the policies of her husband, there can be no doubt that this was exactly what her vote was about.

I should know. From January 1993 until my resignation from the United Nations in August 1998, I witnessed first hand the duplicitous Iraq policies of the administration of Bill Clinton, the implementation of which saw a President lie to the American people about a threat he knew was hyped, lie to Congress about his support of a disarmament process his administration wanted nothing to do with, and lie to the world about American intent, which turned its back on the very multilateral embrace of diplomacy as reflected in the resolutions of the Security Council Hillary Clinton so piously refers to in her speech, and instead pursued a policy defined by the unilateral interests of the Clinton administration to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

I personally witnessed the Director of the CIA under Bill Clinton, James Woolsey, fabricate a case for the continued existence of Iraqi ballistic missiles in November 1993 after I had provided a detailed briefing which articulated the UN inspector's findings that Iraq's missile program had been fundamentally disarmed. I led the UN inspector's investigation into the defection of Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, Hussein Kamal, in August 1995, and saw how the Clinton administration twisted his words to make a case for the continued existence of a nuclear program the weapons inspectors knew to be nothing more than scrap and old paper. I was in Baghdad at the head of an inspection team in the summer of 1996 as the Clinton administration used the inspection process as a vehicle for a covert action program run by the CIA intending to assassinate Saddam Hussein.

I twice traveled to the White House to brief the National Security Council in the confines of the White House Situation Room on the plans of the inspectors to pursue the possibility of concealed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, only to have the Clinton national security team betray the inspectors by failing to deliver the promised support, and when the inspections failed to deliver any evidence of Iraqi wrong-doing, attempt to blame the inspectors while denying any wrong doing on their part.

This last fact hits very close to home. As a former Marine Corps officer, and as a Chief Inspector responsible for the welfare of the personnel entrusted to my command, I take the act of official betrayal very seriously. "I want the men and women in our Armed Forces to know," Senator Clinton said during her speech defending her vote for war, "that if they should be called upon to act against Iraq, our country will stand resolutely behind them." I am left to wonder if, in citing the record of her husband when he was President, if Hillary would stand behind the troops with the same duplicitous 'vigor' that her husband displayed when betraying the UN weapons inspectors?

In February 1998 the Clinton administration backed a diplomatic effort undertaken by then-Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, to help get the weapons inspection process back on track (inspections had been stalled since January 1998, when a team I led was prevented by the Iraqis from carrying out its mission because, as the Iraqis maintained, there were too many Americans and British on the team implementing the unilateral policy of regime change instead of the mandated task of disarmament). Hillary stated that she wanted a strong UN resolution designed to promote viable weapons inspections, and specifically singled out the compromises brokered by Kofi Annan to get inspectors back into Iraq as a failed effort which weakened the inspection process. What she fails to mention is that her husband initially supported the Annan mission, not so much because it paved a path towards disarmament, but rather because it provided a cover for legitimizing regime change.

I sat in the office of then US Ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson, as the United States cut a deal with then-United Nations Special Commission Executive Chairman Richard Butler, where the timing and actions of an inspection team led my myself (a decision which was personally approved by Bill Clinton) would be closely linked to a massive US aerial bombardment of Iraq triggered by my inspection. I was supposed to facilitate a war by prompting Iraqi non-compliance. Instead, I did my job and facilitated an inspection that pushed the world closer to a recognition that Iraq was complying with its disarmament obligation. As a reward, I was shunned form the inspection process by the Clinton administration.

In April 1998 Bill Clinton promised Congress that his administration would provide all support necessary to the UN inspectors. In May 1998 his National Security Team implemented a new policy which turned its back on the inspectors, seeking to avoid supporting a disarmament process which undermined the policies of regime change so strongly embraced by Bill Clinton and his administration. When I resigned in August 1998 in protest over the duplicitous policies of Bill Clinton's administration, I was personally attacked by the Clinton administration in an effort to divert attention away from the truth about what they were doing regarding Iraq. Four months later Bill Clinton ordered the bombing of Iraq, Operation Desert Fox, referred to in glowing terms by Hillary Clinton as she endorsed the policies of deception that led our nation down the path towards war.

"So it is with conviction," Hillary said at the moment of her vote, "that I support this resolution as being in the best interests of our Nation. A vote for it is not a vote to rush to war; it is a vote that puts awesome responsibility in the hands of our President and we say to him -- use these powers wisely and as a last resort. And it is a vote that says clearly to Saddam Hussein -- this is your last chance -- disarm or be disarmed."

It turned out Saddam was in fact already disarmed. And it turned out that Hillary's husband, President Bill Clinton, knew this when he ordered the bombing of Iraq in 1998. Hillary can try to twist and turn the facts as she defends the words she spoke when casting her fateful vote in favor of a war with Iraq. But no amount of re-writing history can shield her from the failed policies of her very own husband, policies she embraced willingly and whole heartedly when endorsing war.

Run, Hillary, run. But your race towards the White House will never outpace the hypocrisy and duplicity inherent in your decision to vote for war in Iraq.

Scott Ritter served as a former Marine Corps officer from 1984 until 1991, and as a UN weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 until 1998. He is the author of several books, including "Iraq Confidential" (Nation Books, 2005) and "Target Iran" (Nation Books, 2006).

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.

Global Infrastructure of Mass Surveillance

Intenational Campaign Against Mass Surveillance (CAMS) - Mar 3, 2007 - Full Story
Global security and the "war on terror" now dominate the global political agenda. Driven largely by the United States, a growing web of anti-terrorism and security measures are being adopted by nations around the world. This new "security" paradigm is being used to roll back freedom and increase police powers in order to exercise increasing control over individuals and populations

Independent reporting drew Army coverup, secrecy, delays

SHOWCASE | March 02, 2007

Officials in the U.S. military, from the Pentagon on down, tried to thwart reporters for the L.A. Times who uncovered deaths and possible torture of detainees in Afghanistan.

By Craig Pyes

Last year, the Los Angeles Times decided to undertake something quite unusual: The newspaper would conduct a parallel investigation to the one being undertaken by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command (CID) into how a small U.S. Special Forces detachment in Afghanistan could be tied to two detainee deaths and two apparent cover-ups in less than two weeks.

The Army’s investigations had been launched initially in September 2004 after the Times and the Crimes of War Project, a Washington-based nonprofit educational organization, had revealed that a young Afghan soldier had died in the custody of the Special Forces team after allegations that he had been tortured. The Pentagon said it had no record of the death.

The Times’s disclosures remain one of the rare instances since American troops went to Afghanistan in the fall of 2001 in which independent reporting has uncovered potential war crimes by U.S. servicemen that had apparently been covered up, not only from the public, but from the military itself. The Times’s 2004 story was published just two months after the Army’s inspector general had issued a detailed report on detainee abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq. Its conclusion: that it had found “no incidents of abuse that had not been reported through command channels.”

And while the Times’s story led to the Army launching two criminal probes, human rights organizations at the same time were raising questions about the relatively low number of successful military prosecutions in criminal homicide and prisoner abuse cases and whether the military is capable of policing itself in times of war.

The CID spent more than two years investigating the allegations raised by the initial article that I reported and wrote with Mark Mazzetti, then with the Los Angeles Times. This January, military investigators concluded their probes—apparently having spent the better part of the time deconstructing the cases they’d initially assembled. CID’s recommendations to prosecutors cascaded from the most serious charges that could be brought (murder, in one case) to the weakest possible sanctions: recommendations for assault and dereliction charges that brought administrative letters of reprimand, or what a Special Forces officer called a “high-level slap on the wrist,” against two soldiers on the Special Forces team.

[Click here for Parts 1 and 2 of the LA Times articles.]

In previous investigations of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan, CID’s investigations have been called into question and their findings revised. We, too, would discover that the military examiners had made some significant errors, including their initial failure to identify the victims. They also grossly misidentified dates of crucial events and persistently failed to interview key people and locate supporting documents. Public accountability was scarce.

Dean Baquet, then the Times’s editor, was intrigued by the idea of conducting a parallel investigation. Though he knew the paper’s reporting budget was tight and success was far from certain, he paired me with Times reporter Kevin Sack and told us to get to work on the story. While the September 2004 article uncovered the death and torture allegations, we knew next to nothing about the American soldiers involved, other than they were stationed in Gardez, a provincial capital south of Kabul. At the time of the incident, the 20th Special Forces Group, a National Guard outfit based in Birmingham, Alabama, was in charge of the Special Forces mission throughout Afghanistan.

Prior to CID getting involved, an agent remarked that Gardez had the reputation as “the worst facility” in the country. “The Special Forces guys there,” he added, “were a bunch of fucking cowboys.” He was uncertain about who was running the base because units are transferred in and out. “There are no records,” this agent said. “The reporting system is broke across the board.”

Obstacles to Reporting

Press investigations into detainee abuse have an inherent reporting problem. As a matter of policy, the military refuses to discuss detainee operations and individual cases. In this case, there were no court papers to be had, and it was unlikely that investigative files would leak from such a tightly guarded investigation that was being closely observed by those at CID headquarters and possibly by those above. In this case, too, not even the victims of the abuse—originally nine Afghan soldiers—wanted to cooperate. They were mostly uncouth militiamen and thugs. (One was holding a young boy as a sex slave when apprehended, according to U.S. military reports.)

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), from which the initial information leaked about the case, also was not helpful. It turned out that UNAMA, too, had not reported the incident, even though the organization had been given overarching responsibilities under the December 2001 Bonn agreement for the protection of human rights in Afghanistan.

But an even greater obstacle was how we would report on Special Forces activities at remote firebases, where most of the prisoners sent from Afghanistan to the prison facility at Guantanamo were first captured and held. The bases are highly classified and have not only avoided scrutiny from journalists and the public, but are opaque to congressional staffers with security clearances, to the military’s own investigators and, sometimes, even to the Special Forces Command itself. The Red Cross does not have access to these outposts, and even the names of the soldiers are treated like state secrets. Several times, irate Green Berets responded to our inquiries with: “How did you get my name? It’s classified.”

When we went through official channels, the United States Army and all of its relevant subordinate commands declined requests for comment. But their posture was not always passive. The U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (USACAPOC), a part of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC), sent out hundreds of e-mails instructing its members to refer any inquiries that might come from us to their public affairs office and to alert their chain of command of the contacts. The guidance began:

“Situation: Reporters Kevin Sack and Craig Pyes, LA Times, have been gathering information from USACAPOC troops about missions undertaken by other SOF elements in Bamian and Gardez, Afghanistan ….

“Facts: Mr. Sack and Mr. Pyes have been asking questions along two lines: 1.) Detainees Abuses 2.) The ‘alleged’ misconduct of another Soldier at the above mentioned locations. Our Soldiers continue to engage regularly with these two reporters without approval from USACAPOC/USASOC Public Affairs channels.”

To fend off rear-guard fact-finding reporting like ours, the USACAPOC public affairs official offered to schedule “media engagement training” for soldiers and “family readiness groups” or to give personal guidance if we should call. She concluded this memo with the words “I look forward to blazing this path with all of you together as our great men and women of USACAPOC support our nation at war.”

Situation: The Public Affairs Office was basically a dead-letter box.

Facts: Both Mr. Sack and Mr. Pyes were dubious that going through the public affairs channel would greatly aid the war effort, although both reporters were grateful to the great men and women of USACAPOC for leaking the e-mail.

And so it went.

Yet despite the Army’s intransigence, we were able to review thousands of confidential documents, including the following:

  • Internal correspondence of the Special Forces
  • U.S. military intelligence reports
  • Previously undisclosed rules on interrogation techniques approved for Afghanistan
  • Highly sensitive internal reports from the International Committee of the Red Cross, UNAMA, and the prosecutor’s office of the Afghan military.

We also interviewed more than 100 people in the United States and in Afghanistan. Those we spoke with included current and past members of the 20th Special Forces Group, USACAPOC, intelligence officers, and senior diplomats. And while we never expected that this story into allegations of torture and criminal homicide by U.S. soldiers would come packaged from the Army’s public affairs channel, we were still surprised by the active resistance we encountered along the way.

Dealing With Military Public Affairs

Donald H. Rumsfeld labored six years as defense secretary to build a lighter, faster military for high tech warfare. What he left behind is a public affairs apparatus—at the Pentagon level and at military bases and headquarters—that refuses to shed its siege mentality. Part of the problem is that the people who work in these positions don’t regard their job as responding to journalists’ questions. Their work is “to transmit the policy and message of the United States,” as a sign in the Public Affairs Office at Camp Eggers, Kabul, reminds its staff. Journalists often are perceived to have their own agendas.

In Afghanistan, among Special Forces who are in the field, “media engagement training” can be pretty basic. After Green Berets confiscated some videotape from CBS News in December 2002, the top Special Forces commander issued a directive to his men saying that they did not have authorization to kill journalists “for the sole purpose of recovering film or videotape” unless it was in self-defense.

Back at the Pentagon, one might expect a bit more of a sophisticated understanding of how press and public affairs operations interact. Near the tail end of our investigation, I contacted the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology to ask about the procedures used by Special Forces to report a detainee death at one of their bases. My questions could have been cleared by Army brass within 24 to 48 hours and answered definitively in 20 minutes without violating Department of Defense guidelines or weakening our national defense. Instead it took more than two months of e-mails and telephone calls for the Army’s medical branch to give us an incomplete reply. Some of the information they did dispense was inaccurate.

We were trying to solve whether the commander of the Gardez Special Forces team, known as ODA 2021, had any justification for not reporting the death of an 18-year-old Afghan militiaman named Jamal Naseer, who died while being interrogated at his base in March 2003. The principal focus of our inquiry was to learn the general procedures that should be followed. We were not asking about the discreet facts in this particular case, other than whether the pathology institute had received a death certificate.

The circumstances of Naseer’s death were troubling. Of the nine Afghan soldiers arrested, the seven who continued to be detained and held told an official of the United Nations and Afghan military investigators that they had been continuously beaten for more than a week by the Americans using karate, cables and sticks, and that one member—the brother of the deceased—had a toenail pried off. They also claimed that during the interrogations, melted snow water was poured over them, and they were left outside in subfreezing weather and forced to assume stress positions.

Some of these allegations appeared to be backed up by notes and testimony from local doctors who had treated the men after they were released to Afghan police custody. The materials included a statement from the hospital employee who prepared Naseer’s body for burial. His corpse was described as being black and green and swollen. His mother’s words said “the entire body was full of injuries.”

However, as our reporting continued, we learned that there may have been another scenario presented to investigators. Right after the boy’s death, ODA 2021 held a meeting at which team members were told that the young militiaman died of complications from a urinary tract infection, an American present at the base told us. He went on to let us know that the purpose of the meeting was to make sure that everyone was on the same page in case there was an investigation.

Attributing Naseer’s death solely to natural causes cut against everything we’d learned in our reporting thus far. A prominent forensic pathologist confirmed that the descriptions of the body obtained by the Times indicated the cause of death was blunt force trauma, not organ failure. Although there was a hospital 10 minutes away, the team apparently did not summon a doctor as Naseer’s condition deteriorated. Most important, the team commander concealed Naseer’s death from his chain of command, who said they did not learn of it until revealed by the Times 18 months later. None of the other team members or their associates broke their silence, either, not even to inform the Red Cross.

Our reporting also had uncovered that within days of Naseer’s death, an ODA 2021 team member had shot in the face and killed Wakil Mohammed, an unarmed woodcutter who had been rounded-up for questioning after a firefight in the nearby village of Wazi. The team commander concealed the circumstances of that death from his superiors, as well.

In 2004, when we had contacted the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, which keeps track of detainee deaths, a spokesman said they had no record of Jamal Naseer. Now, late in our second round of reporting two years later, we were hearing intimations that CID might be considering the team’s explanation as the cause for Naseer’s death. We wondered if there might be a death certificate, which is something we were never able to confirm. Forensic evidence in the case was scant, because the family, for religious reasons, refused to allow the body to be disinterred.

So once again I contacted the pathology institute’s Public Affairs Office. But now the institute refused to answer any question I asked on the grounds that there was an ongoing investigation. Among the questions refused were:

  • “Does the pathology institute conduct forensic investigations of detainee deaths?”
  • “Did they still regard the information they gave us previously to be accurate?”
  • “And what is the procedure for reporting deaths through the medical chain of command?”

Seeking Information About Naseer’s Death

For journalists, the military’s investigative and judicial components—such as the Staff Judge Advocate, the Criminal Investigation Command, and the Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner—can offer more neutral guidance that can serve to reduce public skepticism about closed-door decision-making. But in this case—and this pattern seems increasingly common throughout the Bush administration—the Pentagon was refusing to disclose any information as a way to avoid providing the analytic framework necessary to assess the issue.

When I complained to the pathology institute that it was practicing excessive secrecy, the public affairs officer denied it vigorously. When I kicked my questions up to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs and identified myself as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, the voice on the phone refused to reveal either the name or the telephone number of the person who handles media affairs. Someone would call me back.

Indeed, I was called back promptly by a contractor, a former colonel, who responded to my questions about medical reporting procedures in Afghanistan in March 2003 by reading me Rumsfeld’s guidance from 2005. He did not identify the document and said I couldn’t quote him, which I found out later had to do with him being a contractor. He would not name the company he worked for, but insisted that his response was authoritative. In fact, it turned out to be wrong because procedures had changed. This happened several times as other public affairs personnel replied to my questions by citing a set of rules that was not in force during the period I was examining.

Eventually I was granted an interview with the Army’s Medical Examiner, sent the correct operating procedures for reporting deaths, received confirmation that the pathology institute still had no record of Naseer’s death, and was given officious and opaque responses to some of my questions. But to do so took two months. And it required me to leapfrog the public affairs channel and call medical branch people at their homes and to threaten, cajole and plead with them for information that should have been given out crisply and professionally.

In January, CID closed its investigation into the two deaths and abuse allegations after more than two years of inquiry. They found insufficient probable cause to bring charges for either of the two deaths, even though a year earlier they had recommended murder charges against a Special Forces soldier in the killing at Wazi. Two soldiers were given noncriminal administrative letters of reprimand for “slapping” prisoners at the Gardez facility and for failing to report the death of Jamal Naseer.

During the entire course of the CID investigation, the commander of ODA 2021 at the time of both deaths continued to work full-time at the 20th Group headquarters in Birmingham, Alabama and redeployed last winter to East Africa.

Will Evans, who is with CIR, contributed reporting to this article.

What A Way To Go: Life At The End Of Empire

March 01, 2007

A REVIEW OF THE DOCUMENTARY "What A Way To Go: Life At The End Of Empire", by Tim Bennett and Sally Erickson

I didn’t say it would be easy; I just said it would be the truth.

Morpheus, from “The Matrix”

If anything is not easy to watch but absolutely the truth down to one’s toenails, it is Tim Bennett’s and Sally Erickson’s doggedly transparent documentary, “What A Way To Go: Life At The End Of Empire.” Nothing less than a 123-minute cat scan of the planet and its twenty-first century human and non-human condition, this documentary is indeed, “in your face” but with reverence, poignancy and solemnity yet sending world-class denial artists running to re-watch “Little Miss Sunshine” another one hundred times. While viewing it, I could see in my mind Carl Jung puffing on his pipe and pensively whispering under his breath, “Human beings can only handle so much truth.”

Divided into four parts, Waking On The Train, The Train And The Tracks, Locomotive Power, and Walkabout, the film begins with Tim Bennett’s personal saga of awakening in the eighties from lifelong slumber. Recounting the realities he has subsequently discovered is a tedious litany of human and planetary horrors that only those ready to awaken with him are likely to endure. To their credit, Bennett and Erickson offer no “happy ending chapter” at the end—no list of quick and painless fixes. Nothing about the world humans have created in the past several thousand years is painless, and nothing they might contemplate doing to remediate it could ever be quick. “What A Way To Go” is nothing less than two physicians presenting a diagnosis of terminal cancer to a patient who currently feels and looks “just fine”. Still another metaphor might be the one that Bennett and Erickson present in the documentary’s first chapter, namely, that of a suicidal individual standing on a ledge at the top of a very tall building, contemplating jumping to his death. It is an image to which the filmmakers return several times as the film progresses.

The issue of denial is addressed head-on as the documentary’s numerous interviewees name it and its consequences. Those individuals include: Thomas Berry, Richard Manning, Stuart Pimm, Ran Prieur, Paul Roberts, William Schlesinger, Richard Heinberg, Chellis Glendinning, Derrick Jensen, Jerry Mander, and Sally Erickson. Specifically, Derrick Jensen speaks of the energy that it takes to remain in denial, and how humans who stop clinging to it discover that as a result, an enormous amount of energy is freed up to do whatever work the planet’s terminal state calls them to do.

“What A Way To Go” names Peak Oil, climate change, mass extinction, and population overshoot, as the four pivotal and daunting challenges that humans must address and resolve if any species are to remain on planet earth. Equally terrifying, in my opinion, are two symptomatic offshoots of these four: nuclear holocaust and global economic meltdown.

So how do humans—that species which unlike all the others, is in the process of rendering earth uninhabitable—reverse the nightmare we have created? While for many of us, it may seem like a no-brainer, Bennett and Erickson emphasize that unless the issues are unveiled and talked about, no hope for solution exists. Given the documentary’s unrelenting reminders of the lethal trajectory to which the human race has committed itself, the filmmakers’ insistence on breaking one’s own denial system is a crucial first step to all others.

As an historian I particularly appreciate Sally Erickson’s assertion in the film that in order to begin addressing the issues, we must develop a historical perspective and understand how we arrived at this point in human history. This is exactly what I have attempted to do in my recently-published book U.S. HISTORY UNCENSORED: What Your High School Textbook Didn’t Tell You. Americans in particular are loath to investigate causes and prefer to hastily “move on” to solutions; however, without understanding causes, it is impossible to construct viable solutions.

Especially validating for me was the perspective this documentary lends to the issue of Peak Oil in relation to climate chaos. While experts on hydrocarbon energy such as Richard Heinberg leave no doubt in the viewer’s mind that Peak Oil is a frightening reality, those same experts, including Heinberg, acknowledge the gargantuan climate change monster that could surpass Peak Oil not only in its consequences but how quickly those consequences manifest the collapse of civilization and make the planet uninhabitable.

As for the tiresome “technofix” argument—you know, the one that says that because humans are the superior specie and have created such highly sophisticated civilizations, we will ultimately invent technology that will adequately reverse the “Big Four” pivotal challenges, Daniel Quinn, author of Ishmael and The Tales Of Adam, compares humans living in developed countries to people living in very tall brick buildings who every day go to the bottom of their building and remove 200 bricks and bring them to the top of the building. Obviously, such ludicrous behavior is unsustainable and will inevitably result in the demise of the building’s foundation and its collapse.

Ultimately, “What A Way To Go” meanders into the root causes of our planetary nightmare: our disconnection from ourselves, each other, and the earth; the cultural stories that have been forgotten and replaced with newer, self-destructive ones about growth, domination, and hubris; the systems we have created and the addictions that feed those systems, and of course, our denial.

In Part Four, “Walkabout”, we are given not hope, but the challenge of creating options, the first being, the decision to grow up, forsake our denial, and become adults. Richard Heinberg reminds us that, “We have been so infantilized by civilization that we can no longer survive without it. As all of this starts to shift and change and disintegrate and collapse there’s the opportunity, in fact, to come back to ourselves. To grow up, fundamentally, as people and as a culture.”

Both Erickson and Bennett have incorporated their own children into the documentary with brief comments from Erickson’s daughter and Bennett’s son. Erickson herself states that in terms of future generations, “I think they’re going to look back and shake their heads and say, ‘What happened to those people? How did they lose sight of such basic things.’?”

Earlier I used the analogy of two physicians announcing to a patient that she/he has terminal cancer, and it is appropriate here to ponder what cancer actually is, namely, the growth of cells out of control, thus the more archaic reference to a cancer as a “growth.” Growth has become for Western civilization a cancer that is destroying its inhabitants, the ecosystems, all other forms of life on earth and the planet itself. Or as the author, William Kotke notes, “Civilization is a mental/material world of culturally transmitted illusion. Growth must cease, and it will cease, whether we choose to participate in that process or whether we don’t. Civilization will collapse, and that collapse offers opportunity as well as crisis. It may occur suddenly, or it may transpire as the economies and infrastructures of developed nations are hollowed out over time.

Appropriately, Bennett and Erickson have chosen the subtitle, “Life At The End Of Empire.” In his recent book Nemesis, historian Chalmers Johnson notes that an empire and a democratic republic are inimical to each other. Where one exists, the other cannot. If a nation chooses empire, its democratic republic will dissolve and ultimately perish. Should it choose to retain democratic republic, it must forsake empire; it cannot have both. The United States has chosen empire, and its citizens are allowing the shredding of its Bill of Rights and the evisceration of its civil liberties. All empires inevitably collapse, and everyone reading these words is living that collapse in this moment.

At this writing, world financial markets are reeling from yesterday’s sell-off bloodbath in China and Europe. The day before, a U.S. government auditor warned that U.S. debt to other nations is spiraling out of control. Virtually every project of Western civilization is unsustainable, especially its debt. An equally frightening but enormously important documentary that every thinking American must see is “In Debt We Trust” which illumines another locomotive out of control, imminently headed for a bottomless chasm. While I don’t wish to prognosticate that this week’s plunge of financial markets is the beginning of that economic train wreck, I know that the centralized financial systems which manage the United States government are behaving like the individuals mentioned above who carry the bricks from the bottom of their building to the top of it, leaving the foundation in peril of collapse. The fundamental difference is that when the American people behave in such a manner, they remain in the building and will be victimized by the collapse, whereas members of centralized financial systems have helicopters waiting at the top of their buildings which allow them to abscond with the bricks, turn them into gold, and deposit them offshore.

While no one wishes to jump off the ledge like the one on which the man at the beginning of “What A Way To Go” has perched himself, there is a sense in which all of us must either jump or have something far more momentous than our physical existence annihilated. The documentary quotes Andre Gide:

One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.

In the final moments of the documentary, Bennett offers an invitation to the viewer: “Let’s jump off the train and build a boat…a lifeboat, an ark, a galleon of adventure and imagination destined for unknown lands. Build it now. The ice is melting. The waters are rising. We’re going to have to let go of the shore.”

Bennett concludes the documentary by stating that he doesn’t know if he will survive the collapse but that he is committed to showing up in the world and telling his truth. It’s almost as if his physical survival is much less urgent than that commitment—in which case, I must concur with his and Erickson’s message: What a way to go!


National ID Card Rules Unveiled

By Ryan Singel
14:00 PM Mar, 01, 2007

Homeland Security officials released long-delayed guidelines that turn state-issued identification cards into de facto internal passports Thursday, estimating the changes will cost states and individuals $23 billion over 10 years.

The move prompted a new round of protest from civil libertarians and security experts, who called on Congress to repeal the 2005 law known as the Real ID Act that mandates the changes.

Critics, such as American Civil Liberties Union attorney Tim Sparapani, charge that the bill increases government access to data on Americans and amplifies the risk of identity theft, without providing significant security benefits.

"Real ID creates the largest single database about U.S. people that has ever been created," Sparapani said. "This is the people who brought you long lines at the DMV marrying the people at DHS who brought us Katrina. It's a marriage we need to break up."

Homeland Security officials point to the 9/11 hijackers' ability to get driver's licenses in Virginia using false information as justification for the sweeping changes.

"Raising the security standards on driver's licenses establishes another layer of protection to prevent terrorists from obtaining and using fake documents to plan or carry out an attack," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in a press release.

The 162 pages of proposed rules (.pdf) require:

Applicants must present a valid passport, certified birth certificate, green card or other valid visa documents to get a license and states must check all other states' databases to ensure the person doesn't have a license from another state.
States must use a card stock that glows under ultraviolet light, and check digits, hologramlike images and secret markers.
Identity documents must expire before eight years and must include legal name, date of birth, gender, digital photo, home address and a signature. States can propose ways to let judges, police officers and victims of domestic violence keep their addresses off the cards. There are no religious exemptions for veils or scarves for photos.
States must keep copies of all documents, such as birth certificates, Social Security cards and utility bills, for seven to 10 years.
However, many difficult questions, such as how state databases will be linked or how homeless people can get identity documents, were left unanswered by the proposed rules. Citizens of states that don't abide by the guidelines will not be able to enter federal courthouses or use their identity cards to board a commercial flight.

Sophia Cope, a staff attorney at the centrist Center for Democracy and Technology, says the rules only mention privacy once.

"The Real ID Act does not include language that lets DHS prescribe privacy requirements, so there are no privacy regulations related to exchange of personal information between the states, none about skimming of the data on the magnetic stripe, and no limits on use of information by the feds," Cope said.

The Real ID Act, slipped into an emergency federal funding bill without hearings, originally required states to begin issuing the ID documents by May 2008. The proposed rules allow states to ask for an extension until Jan. 1, 2010.

Cope wants Congress to step in and rewrite the rules. The ACLU and Jim Harper, a libertarian policy analyst at the Cato Institute who specializes in identity and homeland security issues, agree.

"With five-plus years behind us, now is the time to be looking at what works and what doesn't work," Harper said. "Students of identification know that a national ID does not help with security."

Maine has already declared it will not follow the rules, and other states are close to joining that rebellion. In Congress, a bipartisan coalition is forming around bills that would repeal portions of the Real ID Act, but it is unclear if today's rules will slow or accelerate these efforts.