Friday, March 9, 2007

Guantanamo Is Not a Prison

Tomgram: Karen Greenberg, Gitmo Decorum

Once upon a time, our offshore prison at Guantanamo was the sort of place where even an American National Guardsman, only pretending to be a recalcitrant prisoner "extracted" from a cell for training purposes, could be beaten almost senseless. This actually happened to 35 year-old "model soldier" Sean Baker, who had been in Gulf War I and signed on again immediately after the World Trade Center went down. His unit was assigned to Guantanamo and he volunteered to be just such a "prisoner," donning the requisite orange uniform on January 24, 2003. As a result of his "extraction" and brutal beating, he was left experiencing regular epileptic-style seizures ten to twelve times a day. (And remember the Immediate Reaction Force team of MPs that seized him, on finally realizing that he wasn't a genuine prisoner, broke off their assault before finishing the job.)

If you happened to be an actual prisoner -- putting aside the female interrogators who smeared red paint (meant to mimic menstrual blood) on Arab detainees as a form of humiliation -- you might end up like this:

"The A/C had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room probably well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night."

Or this:

''I saw another detainee sitting on the floor of the interview room with an Israeli flag draped around him, loud music being played, and a strobe light flashing."

Or this:

"On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18, 24 hours or more."

These were, in fact, descriptions provided by outraged FBI agents assigned to Guantanamo in 2004 in memos or emails to their bosses back on the mainland. They confirmed prisoner claims that "military personnel beat and kicked them while they had hoods on their heads and tight shackles on their legs, left them in freezing temperatures and stifling heat, subjected them to repeated, prolonged rectal exams and paraded them naked around the prison as military police snapped pictures," and so on.

Ah, but those were the good old days when Guantanamo was the real "24" -- the only problem being that there wasn't a "ticking bomb" prisoner in sight, just a former Australian professional kangaroo skinner, who had joined the Taliban before September 11, 2001 and never fired a shot at American forces, as well as a man who was supposedly Osama bin Laden's chauffeur. That was kind of top o' the line for the prisoners Guantanamo held until, last September, the real bad guys -- 14 of them – were transferred there from the CIA's secret prisons and torture chambers elsewhere on the planet.

Now, Karen Greenberg, Tomdispatch regular and co-editor of The Torture Papers, has visited the new Guantanamo and she offers us an up-to-date lesson in Gitmo decorum. Tom

Guantanamo Is Not a Prison

11 Ways to Report on Gitmo without Upsetting the Pentagon
By Karen J. Greenberg

Several weeks ago, I took the infamous media tour of the facilities at Guantanamo. From the moment I arrived on a dilapidated Air Sunshine plane to the time I boarded it heading home, I had no doubt that I was on a foreign planet or, at the very least, visiting an impeccably constructed movie set. Along with two European colleagues, I was treated to two-days-plus of a military-tour schedule packed with site visits and interviews (none with actual prisoners) designed to "make transparent" the base, its facilities, and its manifold contributions to our country's national security.

The multi-storied, maximum security complexes, rimmed in concertina wire, set off from the road by high wire-mesh fences, and the armed tower guards at Camp Delta, present a daunting sight. Even the less restrictive quarters for "compliant" inmates belied any notion that Guantanamo is merely a holding facility for those awaiting charges or possessing useful information.

In the course of my brief stay, thanks to my military handlers, I learned a great deal about Gitmo decorum, as the military would like us to practice it. My escorts told me how best to describe the goings-on at Guantanamo, regardless of what my own eyes and prior knowledge told me.

Here, in a nutshell, is what I picked up. Consider this a guide of sorts to what the officially sanctioned report on Guantanamo would look like, wrapped in the proper decorum and befitting the jewel-in-the-crown of American offshore prisons… or, to be Pentagon-accurate, "detention facilities."

1. Guantanamo is not a prison. According to the military handlers who accompanied us everywhere, Guantanamo is officially a "detention facility." Although the two most recently built complexes, Camps Five and Six, were actually modeled on maximum and medium security prisons in Indiana and Michigan respectively, and although the use of feeding tubes and the handling of prisoners now take into account the guidelines of the American Corrections Association (and increasingly those of the Bureau of Prisons as well), it is not acceptable to use the word "prison" while at Gitmo.

2. Consistent with not being a prison, Guantanamo has no prisoners, only enemies, specifically, "unlawful enemy combatants." One of my colleagues was even chastised for using the word "detainee." "Detained enemy combatants" or "unlawful enemy combatants," we learned, were the proper terms.

3. Guantanamo is not about guilt and innocence -- or, once an enemy combatant, always an enemy combatant. "Today, it is not about guilt or innocence. It's about unlawful enemy combatants," Rear Admiral Harry B. Harris, Jr.,the Commanding Officer of Guantanamo tells us. "And they are all unlawful enemy combatants." This, despite the existence of the official category "No Longer an Enemy Combatant" which does not come up in our discussions. Nor was the possibility that any of the detainees at Guantanamo might have been mistakenly detained ever discussed. As the administrator for the tribunals that are to determine the status of each detainee explained to us, the U.S. Government takes "a risk when we transfer" detainees out of Guantanamo.

4. No trustworthy lawyers come to Guantanamo. Our handlers use the term "habeas lawyers" as a seemingly derogatory catch-all for lawyers in general, both defense attorneys -- those who are defending their clients before the military commissions -- and habeas attorneys, those who seek to challenge in U.S. courts the government's right to detain their clients. The U.S. military and its Public Affairs Officers are convinced that the terrorists are transmitting information to their colleagues in the outside world via their lawyers. According to our escorts, "habeas lawyers" may be the unwitting pawns of terrorists. As a power-point presentation at the outset of our formal tour (and as subsequent remarks make clear to us), it is the belief of the American authorities that the detainees are using their lawyers in accordance with the directives outlined in the al-Qaeda training manual that was discovered in Manchester, England in 2000. This manual, they assure us, encourages terrorists to "take advantage of visits with habeas lawyers to communicate and exchange information with those outside."

5. Recently, at least, few if any reliable journalists have been reporting on Guantanamo; only potential betrayers are writing about it. "The media" arrive with ostensibly open eyes. Yet these guests, graciously hosted from morning to night, go home perversely refusing to be complimentary to their hosts. They suffer from "the chameleon effect," as I was told more than once by military public information office personnel, and "we just don't understand it." For our part, we visitors didn't understand why we were forbidden to walk anywhere -- even to the bathroom -- by ourselves, talk to anyone other than those we were introduced to (none actual prisoners), or even take a morning run up and down the street we were lodged on, although there was not a prisoner in sight.

6. After years of isolation, the detainees still possess valuable information -- especially today. When asked what kind of useful information the detainees could possibly have for interrogators, many already locked away in Gitmo for over five years, the answer was: "I believe that we are, in fact, getting good and useful and interesting intelligence -- even after five years." Right now, they are especially useful. This is because, Admiral Harris told us, "We have up-and-coming leadership in al-Qaeda and in the Taliban in Afghanistan [and] we don't know what they look like. There's never been a photograph taken of them or there's never been a photograph that US forces have of them. But their contemporaries… are quite often the same individuals that are in the camps here today. So we will work with law enforcement… and their sketch artists will work with these detainees, the compliant and cooperative detainees… And those pictures will be sent out to the forward fighting area." No one asked just how reliable our own memories would be after five years of isolated detention.

7. Guantanamo contains no individuals -- inside the wire or out. The prisoners are referred to not by name, but by number. The guards and others, even outside the confines of the prison camp, remove the Velcroed names which are on their uniforms, leaving blank strips on their chests where their identity would normally be, or they replace their names with their ranks. Either way, they strive to remain anonymous. They tell us that they fear retaliation against themselves and their families from a presumably all-seeing, all-reaching jihadi network. With the media, most follow the same rules. We, too, could evidently land them in trouble with al-Qaeda. Thus, many refuse to tell us their names, warning those we greet to be careful not to mistakenly call them by name in front of us.

8. Guantanamo's deep respect for Islam is unappreciated. All the food served in the prison is halal, prepared in a separate kitchen, constructed solely for the detainees. All cells, outdoor areas, and even the detainee waiting room in the courthouse where the Military Commissions will be held, have arrows pointing to Mecca. All compliant detainees have prayer rugs and prayer beads. All detainees, no matter how they behave, have Korans. The library includes books on Islamic history, Islamic philosophy, and on Mohammed and his followers. Our escorts are armored against our protests about the denial of legal rights to prisoners. The right to challenge their detention in court, actually being charged with a crime, or adhering to the basic rules of procedure and evidence that undergird American law -- none of this is important. They do not see that what's at stake is not building a mosque at Gitmo, any more than it is about serving gourmet food, or about the cushy, leather interrogation chairs we are shown. It is about extending the most basic of legal rights, including the presumption of innocence, to those detained here.

9. At Guantanamo, hard facts are scarce. This, we are told, is a security measure. "As the 342nd media group to come through here, you'll notice that we speak vaguely. We can't be specific. You will notice that we talk in approximate terms and estimates only. Those are operational security measures. We don't want to take away position" -- a phrase which I took as shorthand for revealing actual numbers, names, locations, dates, etc.

Typical examples of preserving Gitmo security through a refusal to give out specific facts:

"What is that building?" [I am referring to one directly in our view.]
"Which building?"

"How long has the lieutenant been here?"
"Since she got here."

"Where is Radio Range?" [This is the area on which the camps are built.]
"I never heard of it."

10. Guantanamo houses no contradictions. And if you notice any -- and they're hard to miss -- it's best to keep quiet about them, unless you want a sergeant without a name chastising you about the dangers posed by enemy combatants, or one of the officers without a name reprimanding your lower ranking escort for giving out "misinformation." Stories are regularly presented to portray a policy as particularly generous to the detainees; only later does someone mention that it might have been an answer to the needs of the guards themselves. A typical example:

"We allow two hours of recreation a day in order to comply with the Geneva Conventions," they tell us. But a guide at another moment leads us to believe that there is actually a more pressing reason for allowing the recreation. "We need them to go outside so that we can search their cells for weapons and contraband."

These sorts of contradictions leave me ultimately feeling sorry for our escorts. It is not their fault that they know so little about the place they are charged with explaining to us. Most of them arrived roughly eight months ago and were handed a defensive script. They are often quite sincere when they tell us that they don't know answers to our questions.

They actually don't know what went on before their arrival, or where things were located in earlier days, or if perchance abuses or outbursts, not to speak of torture, might have occurred at Gitmo, or even who was in charge as little as a year ago. Few, if any, from the old days are there to instruct or correct them.

Of course, if they wanted to, they could learn the details that many of us have picked up over the years simply by reading or by talking to those who spent time there. But this is not their task; they are but mouthpieces, nothing more, as they try to tell us time and again when we ask our questions. And, anyway, they themselves expect to leave relatively unscathed sometime this spring.

Finally, for those of us who want to write about Guantanamo and who are grateful for having been shown around and had the myths and realities of the Bush administration's most notorious detention facility laid out so clearly, a final lesson:

11. Those who fail to reproduce the official narrative are not welcome back. "Tell it the wrong way and you won't be back," one of our escorts warns me over lunch.

Only time will tell if I got it right.

Karen J. Greenberg is the Executive Director of the Center on Law and Security at the NYU School of Law and is the co-editor of The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib and editor of The Torture Debate in America.

Copyright 2007 Karen J. Greenberg

Homeland 'Security' Back in the 'Vast Privacy Violations' Business

Homeland Security revives supersnoop
By Audrey Hudson
Published March 8, 2007

Homeland Security officials are testing a supersnoop computer system that sifts through personal information on U.S. citizens to detect possible terrorist attacks, prompting concerns from lawmakers who have called for investigations.

The system uses the same data-mining process that was developed by the Pentagon's Total Information Awareness (TIA) project that was banned by Congress in 2003 because of vast privacy violations.

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation of the project called ADVISE -- Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight and Semantic Enhancement -- was requested by Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

The investigation focuses on whether the program violates privacy laws, and the findings will be released after completion of the Iraq war supplemental spending bill, possibly as early as this week, a panel aide said.

The ADVISE and TIA data-mining projects rely on personal data to track individual behavior and consumer transactions to develop computer algorithms that create a pattern that some behavioral scientists say can predict terrorist behavior.

Data can include credit-card purchases, telephone or Internet details, medical records, travel and banking information.

Privacy concerns prompted lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to introduce legislation in January to require that government agencies disclose data-mining practices in regular reports to Congress.

"A serious discussion on the implications of data-mining programs is long overdue," Sen. Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat and a sponsor of the bill, said yesterday. Sen. John E. Sununu, New Hampshire Republican, is also a bill sponsor.

"Many Americans are understandably concerned about the idea of secret government programs analyzing their personal information. Congress needs to know more about the operational aspects and privacy implications of data-mining programs before these programs are allowed to go forward," Mr. Feingold said.
A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security did not return a call for comment.

Congress also tucked language inside Homeland Security's spending bill in September requiring an investigation by the agency's inspector general, but allowed $40 million in funding to go forward in this year's budget.

"The ADVISE program is designed to extract relationships and correlations from large amounts of data to produce actionable intelligence on terrorists," the spending bill said. "A prototype is currently available to analysts in Intelligence and Analysis using departmental and other data, including some on U.S. citizens."

According to a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report in March 2003, TIA planned "to use data mining technologies to sift through personal transactions in electronic data to find patterns and associations connected to terrorist threats and activities."

"Recent increased awareness about the existence of the TIA project provoked expressions of concern about the potential for the invasion of privacy of law-abiding citizens by the government, and about the direction of the project by John Poindexter, a central figure in the Iran-Contra affair," the CRS report said.

"While the law enforcement and intelligence communities argue that more sophisticated information gathering techniques are essential to combat today's sophisticated terrorists, civil libertarians worry that the government's increased capability to assemble information will result in increased and unchecked government power, and the erosion of individual privacy," the report said.

ADVISE was initiated in 2003 following the demise of the TIA project.

The new system includes data-mining tools to digest "massive quantities of information from many different sources" to find "hidden relationships in the data," according to a 2004 report by Sandia National Laboratories and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on a Homeland Security workshop that outlined this and other technology under development.

The technology is expected to analyze more than 3 million "relationships" or connections per hour, says the report, which included an example of how friends, family members, locations and workplaces can be linked by pinging the data.

‘Iranian general defected with classified documents’

Editor's note: I am moving over to the other blog to post(also see new articles below).


Israel behind Iranian general's 'defection,' US official says; Israel denies

Israel has been gunning for Iran and Syria for a long time. They are forcing the issue. Create documents(like Bush's fake uranium documents that America bought into and went on to kill hundreds of thousands), kidnap the Iranian general and voila, a smoking gun pretext to attack.

‘Iranian general defected with classified documents’

Former colleague says Ali Rez Asgari left Turkey with documents, maps that shed light on Revolutionary Guards' links to Hizbullah, Islamic Jihad; defector was privy to confidential information regarding Iran’s plans in case of conflict with US, he adds

Roee Nahmias

Published: 03.09.07, 13:00

Former Iranian Deputy Defense Minister Ali Rez Asgari left Turkey for an undisclosed location in Europe with a false passport with the help of Western officials, the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper reported Friday.
Voluntary Disappearance

Israel behind Iranian general's 'defection,' US official says / Ynetnews

Washington Post quotes official as saying that Asgari's disappearance was voluntary, orchestrated by Israel. Another American official says former Iranian defense official is providing Western intelligence agencies with information on Hizbullah-Iran ties
Full Story

A former colleague told the newspaper that Asgari took with him documents and maps that shed light on Iran’s military and the Revolutionary Guards' links to Hizbullah, Islamic Jihad, the “Mahadi Army” and the “Badr Corps” (military forces of The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq).

The Iranian source said Asgari was also in possession of documents related to Iran’s ballistic missiles project and was privy to confidential information regarding the Islamic Republic’s plan in case of a conflict with the US.

A senior American official said on Thursday that Asgari is providing Western intelligence agencies with information on Hizbullah and Iran's ties to the organization.

Saudi newspaper Al-Watan recently reported the Iranian Revolutionary Guards are instilling changes in the defense systems protecting the country’s nuclear reactors for fear that Israeli and US intelligence agencies are now in possession of specific information that may threaten the facilities.

According to Asharq al-Awsat, Asgari informed an American official of his desire to defect a few weeks in advance, after which he was quickly transferred to a safe house in Turkey and given a false passport.

Democrats Get Tough: No More Nuts From the Mullahs

Dems Get Tough: No More Nuts From the Mullahs
Written by Chris Floyd
Thursday, 08 March 2007

Stopping the coming war with Iran is the imperative of our day. In addition to all the other horrors such a new war would bring, it would also prolong and intensify the nightmarish war crime in Iraq. Anyone concerned with the long-term interests of the United States -- its security, its prosperity, its constitutional liberties -- should be standing up right now in fierce and implacable resistance to the launching of another act of aggression.

So naturally, the national Democrats -- who were returned to power on a wave of public revulsion against the radical militarism of the Bush Regime -- are now trying to raise the war fever against Iran to the boiling point, in a bellicose bid to "outflank both the Bush administration and the United Nations with the toughest set of sanctions against Iran that have ever been proposed," as that right-wing calliope, the New York Sun, approvingly notes.

With legislation introduced by Rep. Tom Lantos, the Fightin' Dems propose to slap hars
h new sanctions on any and every firm and nation in the world that dares do business with Iran's energy sector, with no waivers allowed for anyone, not even close American allies. What's more, the Democratic measure would re-impose set of of minor sanctions lifted by the party's own Bill Clinton in 2000, in a feeble, half-hearted effort to throw a few crumbs to Iran's beleaguered reformist president, Mohammed Khatami. (As we've noted before, the bipartisan Clinton-Bush refusal to respond to Khatami's openings and initiatives helped doom his reformist movement, and paved the way for the hardline, Bush-like jackanapes, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to win the presidency.)

Thus, if Lantos and the Democrats have their way -- and the bill has already attracted a companion measure from the Republicans -- Americans will once more be protected from the importation of demonish rugs, caviar and pistachio nuts from the wily Persians. Don't you feel safer already?

The Lantos version of the latest Iran Provocation Act is being pitched as a partisan swipe at George W. Bush. (In their PR packaging, at least, the Democrats are being responsive to overwhelming public sentiment.) Lantos emphasizes that the bill would prohibit the president from granting waivers to any oil companies or countries that sign new energy deals with Iran. "If Dutch Shell moves forward with its proposed $10 billion deal with Iran, it will be sanctioned. If Malaysia moves forward with a similar deal, it too will be sanctioned. The same treatment will be accorded to China and India should they finalize deals with Iran," said Lantos. [And isn't it wonderfully democratic of this Democratic leader, telling other countries who they can and cannot trade with, and how? Oh well; if these rag-tag nations want to be part of our Greater Co-Propserity Sphere, they have to toe the line, right?]

Of course, all these draconian efforts to cripple the development of Iran's oil and gas industries will only make it more imperative for Tehran to develop its nuclear power program -- and therefore increase the likelihood that this program could one day be turned to the production of nuclear weapons. In other words, the bill is designed to exacerbate and accelerate the very danger -- nuclear proliferation -- that is the ostensible reason for keeping "all options on the table" against Iran.

But that's OK. We want Iran to keep developing its nuclear program, so we can use it as an excuse to bomg them. We want the people of Iran to suffer from crippling sanctions, as did the people of Iraq (while, as in Iraq, the leaders continue to live in luxury), because we want Iranian society to deteroriate to the point that its leaders feel compelled to take some action that we can seize upon as a casus belli and launch a "retaliatory" attack whose real aim is "regime change." Both the Democrats and Republicans have very publicly committed the United States to this course.

So the Lantos law has nothing to do with bashing George W. Bush for giving his oil buddies waivers to work in Iran. That's just cornball for the rubes back home. It has everything to do with the pursuit of "regime change" in Tehran and the implanation of a friendly client regime that won't stand in the way of the long-held, bipartisan Establishment dream of unchallenged American dominance over world affairs.

And it It has nothing to do with punishing Iran for allegedly helping kill American soldiers in Iraq. Neither the Democrats or the Republicans, with a few honorable exceptions, give a damn about the American soldiers in Iraq. If they did, the soldiers would already be coming home -- or never sent there in first place. If they did, they would also be passing sanctions against Saudi Arabia, from whence gushers of money, weapons and recruits are flowing into Iraq to support the Sunni insurgency that is actually killing most of the Americans in Iraq.

No, they don't care about the soldiers. They care about "regime change" and advancing the frontiers of dominance. In this, the American Dominationists have found common cause with the government of Israel, which also desperately wants regime change in Tehran. And here the other raison d'etre of the Lantos bill comes into play: kowtowing to the interests of the Israeli militarists, and thus securing the domestic support of the Israel Lobby in America. And the Democrats are not even trying to hide the influence of the Lobby on the bill. As the Sun notes: "The introduction of the new legislation comes as more than 5,500 members of America's largest pro-Israel lobby [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee] are set to arrive in Washington for their annual policy conference." Making their haj to this Mecca..House speaker Nancy Pelosi is scheduled to give her first major speech on Middle East policy as the House leader. Both the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate will make speeches at the event, which is also expected to draw presidential candidates such as Senators Clinton, Obama, Biden, and Brownback. Senator McCain is said to be likely to attend as well." Every one of these speakers will throw red meat to the crowd. Every single one of them will declare that "all options are on the table" against Iran. Every single one of them will wave the black flag of war.

Of course, most American Jews oppose the war in Iraq; So do most American WASPs -- although not in as great a number as American Jews, as several recent Gallup polls show. (The American religious group most opposed to the Iraq war is African-American Protestants, the surveys found.) Most Americans oppose launching a war on Iran. But neither the WASP Dominationists who control American policy nor the Jewish leaders of the Israeli Lobby give a damn about what Americans -- of all faiths and none -- want. These honchos serve only the interests of power. They may tell us -- they may even tell themselves -- that they are only pursuing, with unfortunate but unavoidable ruthlessness, the security of the American and Israeli people. But the record of the past decades gives overwhelming proof that these policies do not bring security; they bring only more death, more suffering, more fear -- and more money for war profiteers, and more authoritarian power for government officials to wield with increasingly weak or non-existent restraints.

That is the reality, for anyone who cares to see it. Anyone who expects the Democrats to stand up against the coming war against Iran will be bitterly disappointed. The Democrats, again with a few exceptions, are abetting the Bush Regime's drive toward war. With every step, they are bringing us closer and closer to the abyss.

I.R.S. Letting Tax Lawyers Write Rules

Exxon's tax lawyer will be right over.
March 9, 2007

The Internal Revenue Service is asking tax lawyers and accountants who create tax shelters and exploit loopholes to take the lead in writing some of its new tax rules.

The pilot project represents a further expansion of the increasingly common federal government practice of asking outsiders to do more of its work, prompting academics and other critics to complain that the government is going too far.

They worry that having private lawyers and accountants draft tax rules could allow them to subtly skew them in favor of their clients.

“It’s not the fox guarding the hen house; it’s the fox designing the hen house,” said Paul C. Light, a professor of political science at New York University, who studies the federal work force.



Israel behind Iranian general's 'defection,' US official says; Israel denies

' 'defection' translated: Kidnapped
Israel behind Iranian general's 'defection,' US official says

Washington Post quotes official as saying that Asgari's disappearance was voluntary, orchestrated by Israel. Another American official says former Iranian defense official is providing Western intelligence agencies with information on Hizbullah-Iran ties

A US official suggested Thursday that the disappearance of Iranian general Ali Rez Asgari was voluntary and orchestrated by Israel, according to a Washington Post report published Thursday.

The Post quoted another senior US official as saying that the former Iranian deputy defense minister, who once commanded the Revolutionary Guards, is providing Western intelligence agencies with information on Hizbullah and Iran's ties to the organization.
First Official Response
Peretz denies Israel involved in Iranian general's disappearance / Anat Bereshkovsky
In first Israeli official response to missing Iranian general disappearence, defense minister says Israel does not kidnap people
The senior US official told the newspaper that Asgari, who disappeared last month during a visit to Turkey, is willingly cooperating.

An Iranian official told the newspaper that Iranian intelligence is unsure of Asgari's whereabouts but that he may have been offered money, probably by Israel, to leave the country.

The Israeli government denied any connection to Asgari. "To my knowledge, Israel is not involved in any way in this disappearance," Mark Regev, the spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry, was quoted by the Post as saying.

He did not divulge Asgari's whereabouts, but the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper on Wednesday quoted an Iranian military official as saying that Asgari is staying in a northern European country, where he is receiving “excellent treatment.”

According to the Washington Post, Asgari's background as a top Iranian Defense Ministry official suggests that he would have deep knowledge of Iran's national security infrastructure, conventional weapons arsenal and ties to Hizbullah in south Lebanon.

'He held a very, very senior position'

The newspaper quoted former Mossad officers as saying that Asgari had been instrumental in the founding of Hizbullah in the 1980s, around the time of the bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut.

Former Mossad director Danny Yatom, who is now a member of Knesset, told the Washington Post he believes Asgari defected to the West.

"He is very high-caliber," Yatom was quoted as saying. "He held a very, very senior position for many long years in Lebanon. He was in effect commander of the Revolutionary Guards" there.

White House Bows on Attorney Reforms

Thursday March 8, 2007 11:01 PM


Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration, bowing to an uproar over its firing of eight federal prosecutors, won't oppose legislation changing the rules for replacing them, senators said Thursday.

``The administration would not object to the bill,'' said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., referring to legislation to remove the administration's power to fill the vacancies without Senate confirmation. He spoke with reporters after a meeting involving Judiciary Committee senators and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Schumer, Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, the panel's senior Republican, said Gonzales also agreed to let five of his top aides involved in the firings talk with the committee.

The committee was prepared to authorize subpoenas for the officials.

Six of the eight ousted prosecutors told House and Senate committees on Tuesday that they were dismissed without explanation. Some said the dismissals followed calls from members of Congress concerning sensitive political corruption investigations.

Others said they felt threatened that the Justice Department would retaliate against them for talking with reporters and providing lawmakers with information about their dismissals.

Noam Chomsky: A predator becomes more dangerous when wounded

Washington's escalation of threats against Iran is driven by a determination to secure control of the region's energy resources

Noam Chomsky
Friday March 9, 2007
The Guardian

In the energy-rich Middle East, only two countries have failed to subordinate themselves to Washington's basic demands: Iran and Syria. Accordingly both are enemies, Iran by far the more important. As was the norm during the cold war, resort to violence is regularly justified as a reaction to the malign influence of the main enemy, often on the flimsiest of pretexts. Unsurprisingly, as Bush sends more troops to Iraq, tales surface of Iranian interference in the internal affairs of Iraq - a country otherwise free from any foreign interference - on the tacit assumption that Washington rules the world.

In the cold war-like mentality in Washington, Tehran is portrayed as the pinnacle in the so-called Shia crescent that stretches from Iran to Hizbullah in Lebanon, through Shia southern Iraq and Syria. And again unsurprisingly, the "surge" in Iraq and escalation of threats and accusations against Iran is accompanied by grudging willingness to attend a conference of regional powers, with the agenda limited to Iraq.

Presumably this minimal gesture toward diplomacy is intended to allay the growing fears and anger elicited by Washington's heightened aggressiveness. These concerns are given new substance in a detailed study of "the Iraq effect" by terrorism experts Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank, revealing that the Iraq war "has increased terrorism sevenfold worldwide". An "Iran effect" could be even more severe.

For the US, the primary issue in the Middle East has been, and remains, effective control of its unparalleled energy resources. Access is a secondary matter. Once the oil is on the seas it goes anywhere. Control is understood to be an instrument of global dominance. Iranian influence in the "crescent" challenges US control. By an accident of geography, the world's major oil resources are in largely Shia areas of the Middle East: southern Iraq, adjacent regions of Saudi Arabia and Iran, with some of the major reserves of natural gas as well. Washington's worst nightmare would be a loose Shia alliance controlling most of the world's oil and independent of the US.

Such a bloc, if it emerges, might even join the Asian Energy Security Grid based in China. Iran could be a lynchpin. If the Bush planners bring that about, they will have seriously undermined the US position of power in the world.

To Washington, Tehran's principal offence has been its defiance, going back to the overthrow of the Shah in 1979 and the hostage crisis at the US embassy. In retribution, Washington turned to support Saddam Hussein's aggression against Iran, which left hundreds of thousands dead. Then came murderous sanctions and, under Bush, rejection of Iranian diplomatic efforts.

Last July, Israel invaded Lebanon, the fifth invasion since 1978. As before, US support was a critical factor, the pretexts quickly collapse on inspection, and the consequences for the people of Lebanon are severe. Among the reasons for the US-Israel invasion is that Hizbullah's rockets could be a deterrent to a US-Israeli attack on Iran. Despite the sabre-rattling it is, I suspect, unlikely that the Bush administration will attack Iran. Public opinion in the US and around the world is overwhelmingly opposed. It appears that the US military and intelligence community is also opposed. Iran cannot defend itself against US attack, but it can respond in other ways, among them by inciting even more havoc in Iraq. Some issue warnings that are far more grave, among them the British military historian Corelli Barnett, who writes that "an attack on Iran would effectively launch world war three".

Then again, a predator becomes even more dangerous, and less predictable, when wounded. In desperation to salvage something, the administration might risk even greater disasters. The Bush administration has created an unimaginable catastrophe in Iraq. It has been unable to establish a reliable client state within, and cannot withdraw without facing the possible loss of control of the Middle East's energy resources.

Meanwhile Washington may be seeking to destabilise Iran from within. The ethnic mix in Iran is complex; much of the population isn't Persian. There are secessionist tendencies and it is likely that Washington is trying to stir them up - in Khuzestan on the Gulf, for example, where Iran's oil is concentrated, a region that is largely Arab, not Persian.

Threat escalation also serves to pressure others to join US efforts to strangle Iran economically, with predictable success in Europe. Another predictable consequence, presumably intended, is to induce the Iranian leadership to be as repressive as possible, fomenting disorder while undermining reformers.

It is also necessary to demonise the leadership. In the west, any wild statement by President Ahmadinejad is circulated in headlines, dubiously translated. But Ahmadinejad has no control over foreign policy, which is in the hands of his superior, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The US media tend to ignore Khamenei's statements, especially if they are conciliatory. It's widely reported when Ahmadinejad says Israel shouldn't exist - but there is silence when Khamenei says that Iran supports the Arab League position on Israel-Palestine, calling for normalisation of relations with Israel if it accepts the international consensus of a two-state settlement.

The US invasion of Iraq virtually instructed Iran to develop a nuclear deterrent. The message was that the US attacks at will, as long as the target is defenceless. Now Iran is ringed by US forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey and the Persian Gulf, and close by are nuclear-armed Pakistan and Israel, the regional superpower, thanks to US support.

In 2003, Iran offered negotiations on all outstanding issues, including nuclear policies and Israel-Palestine relations. Washington's response was to censure the Swiss diplomat who brought the offer. The following year, the EU and Iran reached an agreement that Iran would suspend enriching uranium; in return the EU would provide "firm guarantees on security issues" - code for US-Israeli threats to bomb Iran.

Apparently under US pressure, Europe did not live up to the bargain. Iran then resumed uranium enrichment. A genuine interest in preventing the development of nuclear weapons in Iran would lead Washington to implement the EU bargain, agree to meaningful negotiations and join with others to move toward integrating Iran into the international economic system.

© Noam Chomsky, New York Times Syndicate

· Noam Chomsky is co-author, with Gilbert Achcar, of Perilous Power: The Middle East and US Foreign Policy

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Israel planned for Lebanon war in advance - PM: Olmert's leaked testimony contradicts earlier remarks

Israel planned for Lebanon war in advance - PM
Olmert's leaked testimony contradicts earlier remarks.

Department of Injustice: PAUL KRUGMAN


Department of Injustice

Published: March 9, 2007

The politicization of the Justice Department was a key component of the Bush administration’s attempt to create a permanent Republican lock on power.

For those of us living in the Garden State, the growing scandal over the firing of federal prosecutors immediately brought to mind the subpoenas that Chris Christie, the former Bush “Pioneer” who is now the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, issued two months before the 2006 election — and the way news of the subpoenas was quickly leaked to local news media.

The subpoenas were issued in connection with allegations of corruption on the part of Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat who seemed to be facing a close race at the time. Those allegations appeared, on their face, to be convoluted and unconvincing, and Mr. Menendez claimed that both the investigation and the leaks were politically motivated.

Mr. Christie’s actions might have been all aboveboard. But given what we’ve learned about the pressure placed on federal prosecutors to pursue dubious investigations of Democrats, Mr. Menendez’s claims of persecution now seem quite plausible.

In fact, it’s becoming clear that the politicization of the Justice Department was a key component of the Bush administration’s attempt to create a permanent Republican lock on power. Bear in mind that if Mr. Menendez had lost, the G.O.P. would still control the Senate.

For now, the nation’s focus is on the eight federal prosecutors fired by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. In January, Mr. Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee, under oath, that he “would never, ever make a change in a United States attorney for political reasons.” But it’s already clear that he did indeed dismiss all eight prosecutors for political reasons — some because they wouldn’t use their offices to provide electoral help to the G.O.P., and the others probably because they refused to soft-pedal investigations of corrupt Republicans.


Israel using Palestinian children as human shields: Guardian lead story

Video: Interview with child used as human shield by Israeli Army

Sameh Amira is escorted by heavily armed Israeli soldiers on a door-to-door sweep in Nablus, providing some of the strongest evidence to date that the Israeli army is still using Palestinian civilians as human shields. Photograph: Alaa Badarneh/EPA

Israel investigating whether its troops used two Palestinian children as human shields during a house search operation.

Israel accused of using Palestinian children as human shields

Conal Urquhart in Tel Aviv
Friday March 9, 2007
Guardian Unlimited

The Israeli army is investigating whether its troops used two Palestinian children as human shields during a house search operation in the West Bank following claims by the Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem.

The use of human shields to deter gunmen from opening fire on soldiers was banned by Israel's supreme court and forbidden by the army. However the practice, in which soldiers force Palestinians to approach, enter and search buildings where they believe gunmen may be hiding, remains common.

Israelis soldiers were filmed using Sameh Amira, 24, as a human shield on February 25, during a week-long raid into the West Bank city of Nablus. Mr Amira was made to search homes in the city's casbah, or old city, during a search for wanted men and bomb-making laboratories. The casbah in the centre of the city was placed under curfew for two days and a Palestinian man was shot dead when he went onto the roof of his home.

Mr Amira's cousin, 15-year-old Amid Amira, told B'Tselem that soldiers also forced him to search three houses, making him enter rooms, empty cupboards and open windows.

An 11-year-old girl, Jihan Dadush, told B'Tselem that soldiers took her from her home three days later, on February 28, forcing her to open the door of a neighboring apartment and enter ahead of them. The soldiers then took her home, she said.

In her testimony to B'Tselem, Jihan said that after the soldiers left, "I was shaking with fear. I was afraid they would kill me or put me in jail. The only thing I wanted to do was sleep. I am afraid that the soldiers will come back and take me".

B'Tselem said that it was clear from the testimonies that the soldiers believed the houses presented a risk and that they were therefore knowingly placing the Palestinians in danger.

Sarit Michaeli, a spokeswoman for B'Tselem said that the group had written to the judge advocate-general to demand a thorough investigation of the use of human shields. "The use of civilians especially a 11-year-old is very problematic and we want the army to investigate it properly using military police rather than an internal inquiry mechanism."

In August 2002, a 19-year-old Palestinian student, Nidal Daraghmeh, was killed when troops in the West Bank town of Tubas forced him to knock on the door of a neighbouring building where a Hamas fugitive was hiding. Gunfire erupted and Daraghmeh was killed.

Yesh Din, another Israeli human rights group, has reported that the Israeli army used peaceful Palestinian villages to carry out training exercises. The group said that the villagers were harassed and scared as two battalions of reservists acted out a battle in their midst for three hours. The exercises were carried out without warning in the early morning in the villages of Beit Lid and Safarin last month.

FBI underreported use of USA Patriot Act

By LARA JAKES JORDAN, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 11 minutes ago

The FBI underreported its use of the USA Patriot Act to force businesses to turn over customer information in suspected terrorism cases, according to a Justice Department audit.

One government official familiar with the report said shoddy bookkeeping and records management led to the problems. The FBI agents appeared to be overwhelmed by the volume of demands for information over a two-year period, the official said.

"They lost track," said the official who like others interviewed late Thursday spoke on condition of anonymity because the report was not being released until Friday.

The FBI in 2005 reported to Congress that its agents had delivered a total of 9,254 national security letters seeking e-mail, telephone or financial information on 3,501 U.S. citizens and legal residents over the previous two years.

Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine's report says that number was underreported by 20 percent, according to the officials.

Fine conducted the audit as required by Congress and over the objections of the Bush administration.

It was unclear late Thursday whether the omissions could be considered a criminal offense. One government official who read the report said it concluded the problems appeared to be unintentional and that FBI agents would probably face administrative sanctions instead of criminal charges.

The FBI has taken steps to correct some of the problems, the official said.

The Justice Department, already facing congressional criticism over its firing of eight U.S. attorneys, began notifying lawmakers of the audit's damning contents late Thursday. Spokesmen at the Justice Department and FBI declined to comment on the findings.

Sen. Charles Schumer (news, bio, voting record), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee that oversees the FBI, called the reported findings "a profoundly disturbing breach of public trust."

"Somebody has a lot of explaining to do," said Schumer, D-N.Y.

Fine's audit also says the FBI failed to send follow-up subpoenas to telecommunications companies that were told to expect them, the officials said.

Those cases involved so-called exigent letters to alert the companies that subpoenas would be issued shortly to gather more information, the officials said. But in many examples, the subpoenas were never sent, the officials said.

The FBI has since caught up with those omissions, either with national security letters or subpoenas, one official said.

National security letters have been the subject of legal battles in two federal courts because recipients were barred from telling anyone about them.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the Bush administration over what the ACLU described as the security letter's gag on free speech.

A federal appeals judge in New York warned in May that government's ability to force companies to turn over information about its customers and keep quiet about it was probably unconstitutional.

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