Monday, April 2, 2007

Washington hurting British bid to free crew

Editor's note: I am moving to post at the secondary blog(also see new articles below).
Tough words from U.S. highlight rift between White House and Downing Street


From Monday's Globe and Mail

Doug Saunders

LONDON — The Iranian prisoner crisis revealed a widening schism between Britain and the United States Sunday as U.S. leaders called for tough action and British officials confirmed that they are trying to free their 15 imprisoned sailors by quietly reaching a compromise with Tehran.

British officials believe that Iran is not seeking a prisoner exchange or other further bounty in exchange for the sailors, who have been imprisoned for 10 days, and they are hoping the crisis can be resolved peacefully in the next few days.

As two more British sailors were shown Sunday night in another Iranian broadcast reading confessions and a small crowd of radical students in Tehran threw rocks and firecrackers at the British embassy there, British diplomats exchanged letters with the Iranian foreign ministry seeking a conciliatory end to the standoff.

Officials in London said that they believe their “confidence-building” operations, in which they offer to guarantee the Iranian government that British vessels will not stray into Iranian waters, offer the best hope of winning the freedom of the sailors and marines who have been in custody since they were seized by Iran's Republican Guards on March 23. Iran says the sailors had strayed into Iranian waters. Britain says they remained in Iraqi waters, where they are allowed to operate in support of the war in Iraq.

“We are anxious that this matter be resolved as quickly as possible, and that it be resolved by diplomatic means, and we are bending every single effort to that. ... We are in direct bilateral communication with the Iranians,” British Defence Minister Des Browne told reporters Sunday.

But Britain's delicate diplomatic efforts were set back by U.S. President George W. Bush, who made a statement Saturday in which he characterized the imprisoned sailors as “hostages” — a phrase that Britain has been carefully avoiding to prevent the crisis from becoming a broader political or military conflict.

“The British hostages issue is a serious issue because the Iranians took these people out of Iraqi waters, and it's inexcusable behaviour,” Mr. Bush said in response to a reporter's question during a press conference at the Camp David retreat.

He had reportedly promised not to raise the issue of the sailors, as British officials worry that the entry of the United States into this crisis could cause it to escalate into an irreconcilable confrontation.

Other U.S. officials have been even less amenable to the British approach. John Bolton, who until recently was Mr. Bush's ambassador to the United Nations, has appeared on British TV describing the British approach as “pathetic.”

Mr. Bush stressed that the United States would not turn over Iranian officials it had arrested in Iraq earlier this year on accusations that they were supporting insurgents, saying he supported Prime Minister Tony Blair's view that “there were no quid pro quos. The Iranians must give back the hostages. They're innocent, they were doing nothing, and they were summarily plucked out of water.”

But British officials say that a prisoner exchange has never been offered or suggested by Iran, and that Mr. Bush's words could cause harm by putting the Iranians in a position from which they cannot back down if it becomes a major confrontation with their long-time enemy, the United States.

British negotiators believe the Iranians have already won all the rewards they have been seeking — mainly by using several of the hostages for propaganda purposes by broadcasting videos and letters in which they admit, possibly under duress, to trespassing on Iranian territory and demand that their government withdraw from Iraq.

British officials are said to believe that a hard-line group of Republican Guards has been controlling the prisoners, possibly with the backing of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but that the imprisonment lacks a political goal beyond the humiliation of Britain and its allies, and that more moderate parties, including Iran's “supreme leader,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, are not interested in a prolonged standoff, like the 444-day 1979 U.S. hostage crisis, that would isolate Iran.

Ayatollah Khamenei has not yet spoken publicly on this crisis, and there are some observers in Iran who believe that he has abandoned his support for Mr. Ahmadinejad over the way the President's radically anti-Western gestures have distanced Iran from the rest of the world and damaged the economy.

Iran's government is deeply divided into factions and parties, which often control their own police, justice systems and wings in the major prisons. British officials and many Iranian observers believe that Mr. Ahmadinejad's more radical supporters are unlikely to prevail in this dispute since it offers few opportunities for gain. Iranian media have reported that moderate factions, including some leaders in the Republican Guards, have advocated the release of the prisoners.

Many observers noted that most Iranians have been on their country's New Year's vacation since the crisis began. Newspapers have not been publishing there, more moderate Foreign Ministry officials have not been in their offices, and the Revolutionary Guards have had a monopoly on the issue in a holiday period that will end tomorrow.

“It's the Supreme Leader who has to make the ultimate decision,” said Mehrdad Khansari of London's Centre for Arab and Iranian Studies. “He has allowed each faction to air its grievances, present its positions. ... He has heard from the moderates — I mean, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards has expressed a desire for releasing these people — whereas other groups within the Revolutionary Guards have expressed a harder position.”

I'm gagged too, says Terry Hicks

By Verity Edwards
April 03, 2007 01:00am

DFAT gagged me, claims Mr Hicks
'This is Big Brother'

Mr Hicks's claims have been denied

THE father of admitted terrorist David Hicks claimed yesterday he had been gagged from revealing facts about his son's five-year incarceration in the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Terry Hicks said the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade had written to him outlining the 12-month gag order issued to his son as part of his plea bargain to serve only nine more months in jail, mostly in Australia.

Mr Hicks said the letter - outlining how his son could not be interviewed, write a book or make a film about his time as an enemy combatant - detailed the restrictions on what the Hicks family could reveal about their conversations with David.

"This is Big Brother and because the Americans and the Australian Government coalesce on David's charges, at this point in time we're ruled by them," Mr Hicks said from his Adelaide workplace yesterday.

"If David tells us something, we can't pass it on.

"But I could still talk about the signing of his charges, things like he hasn't been abused."

A DFAT spokesman "adamantly and vehemently" denied Mr Hicks's claims. "We have not written to Terry Hicks since the verdict," the spokesman said.

"We communicated via email to his sister and provided two publicly available documents."

It is understood DFAT emailed Mr Hicks's daughter Stephanie, providing a statement of facts and a copy of Hicks's pre-trial agreement.

Mr Hicks said his son's legal team was examining the contents of the letter.

Hicks's Adelaide-based lawyer, David McLeod, did not return calls.

Mr Hicks said he would continue to speak to the media but did not want to jeopardise the Australian jail term imposed on his son. He rejected suggestions that his son could pose a threat to national security when released in late December.

"David wouldn't hurt a bloody fly at the moment," he said. "David never did any harm to anyone when he was over there anyway. He wasn't armed, he hadn't fired a shot at any coalition forces.

"The only danger David is to anyone is to come back to Australia and probably have to go on the dole because he might find it hard to get a job."

The 31-year-old Australian pleaded guilty in a plea bargain with US authorities last Monday to providing material support to terrorists.

The federal Attorney-General's Department has notified the South Australian Correctional Services department that Hicks has applied to be transferred to Adelaide.

Under the International Transfer of Prisoners Act, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock must ask for supporting documents from US authorities before seeking approval from state Correctional Services Minister Carmel Zollo.

Mr Hicks is yet to hear whether the federal Government will apply for a control order to govern his son's release.

An Australian Federal Police spokesman said it would be inappropriate to comment "on someone who may or may not be subject to control orders".

The South Australian Liberal Party released plans yesterday to introduce a private member's bill to prevent convicted terrorists from profiting from their stories.

"David Hicks, who has admitted his guilt, has a right to tell his story and the media have every right to ask for it," Liberal frontbencher Martin Hamilton-Smith said.

"But if money is involved, the victims of terrorism should be the recipients, not Mr Hicks."

A spokesman for state Attorney-General Michael Atkinson said it was an issue for the federal Government to consider, not the state.

'Once Upon a Country'


'Once Upon a Country' by Sari Nusseibeh, with Anthony David

A Palestinian optimist in a pessimistic time

By Jeffrey Goldberg, Jeffrey Goldberg is the author of "Prisoners: A Muslim & a Jew Across the Middle East Divide" and is a staff writer at the New Yorker.

April 1, 2007

DURING the first Palestinian intifada, which began in 1987 and ended with the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, the Israeli occupation authorities committed any number of deeply stupid acts. Perhaps the stupidest was the arrest by the Shabak, the internal security police, of a Palestinian man named Attalah Mahmud Najar, who was charged in early 1991 with the crime of "distributing inflammatory poems" in the Golan Heights. Najar was editor of a monthly magazine published in East Jerusalem. His poems, to my recollection, weren't very good: What they possessed in nationalist ardor they lacked in literary merit. But that wasn't the point. Najar was not a terrorist poet or a suicide-bomber poet. He was simply a poet. And yet the state of Israel, which has given the world Amoz Oz and A.B. Yehoshua and Yehuda Amichai and Aharon Appelfeld, declared a poet to be an enemy of the state. It struck me at the time that Theodor Herzl, the journalist (and novelist) who founded modern Zionism, would not have been made proud by Najar's arrest.

A second deeply stupid act was the arrest of another writer, this one a figure of great consequence named Sari Nusseibeh, an aristocratic, enlightened nationalist who believed, then and now, that there is room enough between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea for two peoples to coexist peacefully, each in their own state, one Jewish, one Arab.

If the Israeli authorities at the time — among them Yitzhak Rabin — had been using their Jewish brains rather than their Jewish muscles, they would have seen that Nusseibeh was not their enemy but their salvation. Here was Palestinian nobility, the scion of an ancient Muslim family (the Nusseibehs came to Palestine in the 7th century with the Caliph Omar, a successor to the prophet Muhammad), who was committed to reaching a just arrangement with Israel and who believed — unlike, regrettably, most Palestinian leaders — in the moral value and practical effectiveness of nonviolent resistance.

But at the time, the Israelis believed they could arrest their way out of the problem. And so, on the night of Jan. 29, 1991, Nusseibeh, who was watching the film "A Fish Called Wanda" with his family, heard a knock on his door. An officer handed him an arrest order signed by the defense minister, Moshe Arens, who, with his prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, overemphasized the value of military force. Nusseibeh had been accused, without supporting evidence, of spying on behalf of Saddam Hussein, and he was placed in "administrative detention," which was once used by the British occupiers of Palestine to imprison members of the Jewish underground. Nusseibeh was carted away, but not before one of his children handed him a copy of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

"I couldn't figure out why they had arrested me," Nusseibeh writes in his new memoir, "Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life." "All I could come up with was that Shamir and his cronies in the security establishment believed that someone who still believes in peace should be put behind bars. Did they want to crush my morale? My sense of hope?"

If that was the goal, Shamir did not succeed. Nusseibeh, now the president of Al Quds University in Jerusalem and an erstwhile Palestine Liberation Organization official, may be the last optimist in the Middle East. "Once Upon a Country" is a big-hearted, admirable and exceptionally interesting account of Nusseibeh's struggle for an equitable peace in a conflict in which compromise is often interpreted as treason. This is a rare book, one written by a partisan in the struggle over Palestine who nevertheless recognizes — and bravely records — the moral and political failures of his own people.

This is not to say that Nusseibeh is a Zionist. For one thing, Zionists aren't in the habit of quoting — approvingly — Noam Chomsky, and Nusseibeh catalogs, sometimes at unwarranted length and in exaggerated form, the sins of Israel, particularly the sins of occupation and settlement. And the narrative he presents in this book is undeniably the one devised by Arab, and pro-Arab, historians. There is no doubt that the 1948 war, which erupted upon the establishment of the state of Israel, did not end the way his family hoped it would, and Nusseibeh unpersuasively argues that the Jews were the Goliath in the fight, rather than the David. But Nusseibeh seldom demonizes Israel, or Israelis, and states plainly a complicated truth about the conflict, one that has escaped another prominent commentator on Middle East affairs, former President Carter. A "Manichean view of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict," Nusseibeh writes, "with one side all light, the other all darkness, is impossible to take."

We are in a bleak time, of course, and so it is particularly stirring to read of Nusseibeh's first visit to Israel proper after the Six-Day War in 1967 erased the border on the West Bank. (He grew up in East Jerusalem, a few hundred yards across no-man's-land from Oz's childhood home.) He lived for a time on an Israeli kibbutz and found fine people there, not monsters at all. "At the deepest metaphysical levels, Jews and Arabs are 'allies,' " he writes.

Nusseibeh came to think this way in part because of his father, a onetime Jordanian-appointed governor of Jerusalem, who was a fierce opponent of Zionism but not of Judaism. The father, like the son, was also a realist about the permanency of Israel, and Nusseibeh recounts a conversation between his father and a PLO official named Yasser Amer that took place after the Israeli victory in 1967.

" 'Tell them,' Father told Amer, referring to the leaders of the PLO, 'to go straight for negotiations with Israel for a two-state solution.' Father assumed, perhaps correctly, that in the wake of Israel's victory over the Arab states, a peace offer from the PLO might just bear some fruit. 'And do it now. If you wait, the Israeli position will harden.' "

Nusseibeh reports laconically: "The PLO ignored the advice." As his story unfolds, we learn that it is something of a family tradition, to have its sound advice ignored by the PLO. "Once Upon a Country" is not, strictly speaking, a political memoir, because Nusseibeh is at best an unenthusiastic and imperfect politician, too idealistic (he is quite taken by Thomas Jefferson) and too high-born to fight it out in the muck of Palestinian politics. Early in his political career, shortly before the first uprising, Nusseibeh was set upon by a gang of Palestinian "activists" who attacked him outside his classroom at Birzeit University in the West Bank — he had just finished teaching a philosophy class — for the crime of meeting with an Israeli politician. "Five kaffiah-wearing attackers came right at me," he writes. "As they attacked me with fists, clubs, a broken bottle, and penknives, I tore myself away from them and ran into an open elevator." His students helped him escape but not before his attackers broke his arm.

The attack did not scare him away from engagement of the hardest sort — he made it his job to build a civil society in a hostile place, to carry the idea of democracy to his people. Even after his three-month imprisonment, he kept at his work, counseling Palestinians against hate and mythmaking.

Like many Palestinians and Israelis of goodwill, he saw the Oslo Accords — which grew in part from the Israeli acknowledgment that Palestinian desires were neither ephemeral nor extinguishable — as a kind of miracle, and he captures, beautifully and melancholically, the exaltation their announcement brought. "I stared down from my perch" — at Orient House, the PLO building in East Jerusalem — "at the singing throng with their nationalist songs, hardly believing that we had really done it. Peace. Liberation. No more politics! America! Monticello!"

It was not to be, of course. Israeli and Palestinian politicians and clerics conspired against the success of the accords, and Nusseibeh spares neither side, although he argues that Israel's decision to allow the continued expansion of West Bank settlements sealed the fate of the peace process. He is not entirely incorrect here: Rabin, the prime minister who famously learned from the stupidities of the first uprising, loathed the settlers, but he knew that his partnership with the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat placed his governing coalition on unstable ground, and politics demanded he acquiesce to at least some of the demands of the right. It was not enough for the settlers and their supporters, one of whom assassinated Rabin in 1995.

Nusseibeh writes about the peace process, its petty conflicts and many failures, at a level of detail that could prove wearisome to the general reader. But even in this overlong section, indispensable themes emerge. Because he is not an enemy of Jewish nationhood, his criticism of Israel's excesses has genuine credibility, and I hope it is heard in Jerusalem. And because he is a Palestinian whose sacrifices for the cause of his people are real, his criticism of Palestinian extremism — he courageously calls Hamas what it is, an anti-Semitic hate group — and of Arafat, whom, he argues, "blew" a chance for a deal at the Camp David peace talks in 2000, should be heard in Ramallah and Gaza.

Nusseibeh is at his most elegiac when he writes of Jerusalem. He has famously and controversially endorsed the Jewish historic claim to Jerusalem, even as he defends the Muslim claim. (It is awful, of course, to realize how newsworthy it is when a Palestinian leader states the obvious — that Jerusalem was a Jewish city before it was a Muslim one.) Nusseibeh yearns for the day when Islam and Judaism will again coexist easily in the holy city. He writes of a cousin who researched the history of Jerusalem and, to his surprise, discovered hope where he hadn't suspected any existed: "According to some of the Geniza records unearthed in an old Cairo synagogue, Jews had in fact welcomed Caliph Omar's entry into Jerusalem, because it brought an end to the centuries-old Byzantine ban on Jews entering the city."

There was no perfection in the ancient relationship between Muslims and Jews; it was not a relationship between equals, but between a ruler and an indulged minority. Still, Nusseibeh's message — that true Islam need not be hostile to the Jewish nation — is of extraordinary importance today. As is this sometimes maddening but often profound book. •


How Congress can end the war without hurting the troops

Sen. Reid and I are introducing a bill that would require President Bush to begin redeployment and effectively end our military mission in Iraq by March 31, 2008.

By Sen. Russ Feingold

Apr. 02, 2007 | Many Americans remember the tragic deaths of U.S. troops in Somalia in the early 1990s, vividly portrayed in the movie "Blackhawk Down." Those 18 service members died in a misguided, poorly defined military mission that had dragged on without an end date and without the support of the American people.

As Congress debates the war in Iraq, the congressional debate over Somalia 14 years ago has some surprising parallels. Without question, Somalia in 1993 differs in many ways from Iraq in 2007, from the scope of the mission to the reason for that mission in the first place. What hasn't changed, however, is Congress' constitutional power to end a military mission, and its ability to use that power without endangering the safety of our brave troops.

That is exactly what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and I propose to do with legislation we will introduce when the Senate reconvenes next week. Our bill would require the president to begin safely redeploying U.S. troops out of Iraq in 120 days, with redeployment to be completed by March 31, 2008. After March, funding for the war in Iraq would be cut off, with three narrow exceptions -- targeted counterterrorism operations, protection of U.S. personnel and infrastructure, and training and equipping Iraqi forces. In other words, the current military mission in Iraq would be effectively ended. Sen. Reid has said he will work to make sure the Senate votes on our bill by the end of May.

Since President Bush has made it painfully clear that he has no intention of fixing his failed Iraq policy, it is no longer a question of if Congress will end this war; it is a question of when. The Feingold-Reid bill may be attacked by those who support this misguided war. But for many members of Congress, what they say and do now about Iraq flies in the face of what they said and did in 1993 regarding Somalia.

Today, some supporters of the Iraq war suggest falsely that efforts to cut funding for the war are a threat to our troops in the field. But in 1993, senators overwhelmingly supported successful efforts to cut off funding for a flawed military mission. Defenders of the Iraq war pretend that cutting off funds for the war is the same as cutting off funds for the troops, and raise the specter of troops being left on the battlefield without the training, equipment and resources they need. Every member of Congress agrees that we must continue to support our troops and give them the resources and support they need. And every member of Congress should know that we can do that while at the same time ending funding for a failed military mission. That was clearly understood in October 1993, when 76 senators voted for an amendment, offered by Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, to end funding for the military mission in Somalia effective March 31, 1994, with limited exceptions.

None of those 76 senators, who include the current Republican leader and whip, acted to jeopardize the safety and security of U.S. troops in Somalia. All of them recognized that Congress had the power and the responsibility to bring our military operations in Somalia to a close, by establishing a date after which funds would be terminated.

The same day that the Senate voted on the Byrd amendment, 38 senators -- myself included -- supported an even stronger effort to end funding for Somalia operations. The amendment offered by Sen. John McCain on Oct. 15, 1993, would have eliminated funding for operations in Somalia immediately, except for funds for withdrawing troops or for continuing operations if any American POWs/MIAs were not accounted for. The mostly Republican senators who supported the McCain amendment were not disregarding the safety of our troops, or being indifferent to their need for guns, ammunition, food and clothing. They were supporting an appropriate, safe, responsible proposal to use Congress' power of the purse to bring an ill-conceived military mission to a close without in any way harming our troops.

Then as now, by setting a date after which funding for a military mission will be terminated, Congress can safely bring our troops out of harm's way. As Sen. Orrin Hatch said at the time, "The McCain amendment provides the president with the flexibility needed to bring our forces home with honor and without endangering the safety of American troops."

The debate about the Iraq war is the most important, and the most difficult, issue we face as a country. Any American, including any member of Congress, is entitled to support or oppose Congress' using its constitutional power to end our involvement in this disastrous war. But, in contrast to the 1993 debate about Somalia, today some wrongly suggest that ending funding for the Iraq war is tantamount to ending funding for the troops. That misleading argument makes it harder to have the thoughtful, responsible debate about the war that Congress and the American people so badly need.

Now is no time for phony arguments against ending funding for the Iraq war. There may be big differences between the military missions in Somalia and Iraq, but Congress' constitutional power to end a military mission hasn't changed, and neither has the fact that this power can be used without jeopardizing the safety of U.S. troops. As Congress debates Iraq -- and considers the new Feingold-Reid legislation -- we should remember Somalia, put false arguments aside, and have an open, honest debate about a war that drags on with no end in sight.

Chicago's top cop retires amid scandal

By MEGAN REICHGOTT, Associated Press Writer 9 minutes ago

Chicago's police superintendent announced Monday he was retiring early as his department tries to deal with two highly publicized videotaped beatings involving off-duty police officers.

Last month, prosecutors filed felony charges against one officer accused of beating a female bartender, and six other officers were removed from street duty after they were accused of assaulting four businessmen in a bar.

Superintendent Philip J. Cline, who took over as superintendent in November 2003 and had been expected to retire later this year, said at a news conference he would stay on until a replacement was found. He did not take questions from reporters.

"Mayor Daley has given me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lead the best police department in the country, and I thank him for that," said Cline, 57.

To the city's police officers, he said: "I encourage all of them to rise above any controversy and stay focused on the mission."

Mayor Richard M. Daley would not say whether he asked Cline to leave now; he said Cline had wanted to retire a year ago but stayed at Daley's request.

"The vast majority of Chicago police officers are dedicated, hard working professional men and women who perform their jobs diligently every day," Daley said. "Unfortunately, the actions of just a few officers," can tarnish the department's image.

The department was internationally vilified after the bar surveillance footage of an off-duty officer pummeling a female bartender half his size was broadcast worldwide through 24-hour news channels and on YouTube.

Police said the footage showed Anthony Abbate, a 12-year veteran of the force, punching, kicking and throwing 24-year-old bartender Karolina Obrycka to the floor after she reportedly refused to continue serving him drinks. Obrycka suffered bruises to her head, neck, back and lower body, according to her attorney, Terry Ekl.

Officials have been criticized for waiting a month to arrest Abbate and for initially charging him with a misdemeanor.

In his brief statement on Monday, Cline also alluded to the apparent effort by police officers to help Abbate enter and leave a court building without having to face the media outside. That caused an outcry in the media about the way police officers protect fellow officers accused of breaking the law.

Videotape of the other confrontation, on Dec. 15, has not been seen by the public. Police had been called to the bar that night, but a sergeant who was among the officers involved in the fight waved them off, Cline said. He announced last week that the six officers had been taken off street duty.

Cline didn't say Monday what role the beatings played in his announcement, only referring to them obliquely as "these times of challenge."

He has clearly been embarrassed, saying Abbate "tarnished our image worse than anybody else in the history of the department," and that he was "disgusted to witness this type of conduct" by officers.

After the beatings came to light, Cline said he would change the way the department responds to allegations of misconduct, including moving faster to get officers accused of misconduct off the street.

He stressed improvements Monday in the department of 13,500 officers and 3,000 civilians made under his leadership.

"Three and a half years ago, Chicago was the homicide capital of the country," he said. "Mayor Daley gave me a mandate as the new police superintendent to reduce homicides and shootings and to make Chicago the safest big city in America. Since that time the men and women of the police department have answered that call."

Cline was born in Chicago and began his police career in 1968. His first beat was the tough Cabrini-Green housing projects. He was named chief of detectives in 2001 and first deputy superintendent two years later.

Top US lender in Chapter 11 move

New Century Financial, one of the largest sub-prime lenders in the US, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

New Century sought protection from creditors after it was forced by its backers to repurchase billions of dollars worth of bad loans.

The company said it would immediately cut 3,200 jobs, more than half of its workforce, as a result of the move.

Sub-prime lenders, who target customers with poor credit histories, have suffered from a downturn in the market.

Shares in New Century were suspended in March on fears the company may be heading for bankruptcy, following a sharp rise in people defaulting on their loans.

We suspect the problem in the sub-prime area is just the tip of the iceberg for the mortgage market as a whole
David Shulman, University of California Anderson Report

New Century's creditors include investment bank Goldman Sachs and Britain's Barclays bank.

The company said it planned to sell its loan servicing operations to Carrington Capital Management for $139m (£70m), subject to bankruptcy approval.

Barclays deal

Leading US economists warned on Monday that the current tide of defaults in the sub-prime mortgage sector would continue to weigh on the US's slowing housing market.

"We suspect the problem in the sub-prime area is just the tip of the iceberg for the mortgage market as a whole," said senior economist David Shulman, in the University of California's quarterly Anderson Report.

"For all practical purposes, the sub-prime market is in the process of shutting down."

The slowing US housing market, coupled with rising US interest rates, has meant fewer sub-prime customers have been able to keep up with mortgage and loan repayments.

In a separate development, Barclays Bank said it was buying US sub-prime lender EquiFirst for $76m - substantially less than the $225m the UK firm first offered for the group.

Barclays, which is in merger talks with Dutch bank ABN Amro, said the lower price reflected growing problems in the US housing and sub-prime markets.

However, a spokesman for Barclays said: "We think EquiFirst is positioned for profitable growth."

Jews for Boycotting Israel: A New Initiative

J-BIG members believe that Israel's policies "constitute a betrayal of the best trends in Jewish ethical tradition" and operate a form of racism.

By Ruth Tenne

The latest report of the International Development Select Committee regarding the Occupied Palestinian Territories (31 January 2007) makes for very distressing reading. In its section on trade, it refers to the ongoing restrictions in movements and access faced by the OPT, citing an OXFAM report which points out "that transaction costs for Palestinians wishing to export products are up to 70% higher than for Israelis exporting the same product. This market benefit is also true of products produced by Israeli settlers in the West Bank who can get direct access to markets in or through Israel without the disruptive road blocks and back-to-back transfers faced by the Palestinians. In addition, Palestinians face a range of regulations which do not appear to be linked to security. Moreover, the Palestinians are obliged to rely on Israeli intermediaries to transport their goods and therefore, do not pay purchase taxes and customs to the Palestinian Authority, which creates further losses to the economy of 3% of the GDP a year. The report concludes that "the viability of a future Palestinian economy depends significantly on its trading opportunities."

In order to challenge the stronghold Israel has on Palestine and its fledgling economy, a group of Jewish and Israeli residents in Britain was set up as a subsection of the campaign undertaken by Boycott Israeli Goods – BIG ( . The new group, J-BIG, is an outcome of the deep frustration Jewish peace activists feel towards the inaction displayed by the Jewish community and its liberal wing with regard to Israel\'s repressive occupation of Palestinian land. J-BIG members believe that Israel\'s policies "constitute a betrayal of the best trends in Jewish ethical tradition" and operate a form of racism which is reminiscent of South African Apartheid - inflaming hatreds that render impossible the achievement of a just peace for both Israelis and Palestinians. Like ‘Enough!’ - the new coalition of trade unions, peace, faith and human right organisations in Britain- J-BIG believes that the British Government fails to stand up for the right of the Palestinian people and thus, calls for a consorted grass roots action. Along with the wider BIG campaign, members take part in direct action aiming to prevent the marketing and selling of goods and produce originating from the illegal settlements in the West Bank and from Israeli companies, especially those which are known to profit from the unlawful occupation. J-BIG’s strength is in the fact that being Jewish, we are unlikely to encounter charges of Anti-Semitism, made frequently by the Jewish community against those who criticise Israel\'s policies. At the same time, we hope that our stance will act as a "wake- up" call for the Jewish community in Britain and offer some symbolic support to the Palestinians who tend to regard the Jewish community as a keen champion of Israel’s policies. We hope that our actions will help attract greater publicity for the BIG campaign. Indeed, a recent picketing of Carmel- Agrexco, an Israeli marketing company, gained much publicity in the Jewish and Israeli press.

Carmel-Agrexco is a 50% Israeli state-owned export company which is responsible for exporting the majority of fruit and vegetables from illegal settlements in the West Bank to the UK. The UK forms a large part of the market for settlement produce, making up 60% of Agrexco\'s total exports. Agrexco profits from Israel\'s illegal occupation and entrenched system of racial apartheid in the occupied Palestinian territories. In the Jordan Valley of the West Bank, Agrexco set its farms on confiscated Palestinian land offering Palestinian farmers less than a living wage. Carmel-Agrexco can deliver fruits and vegetables to Europe in 24 hours while the produce of Palestinian farmers cannot get through the illegal Israeli military checkpoints and has to be left to rot in the field .

The picket of Carmel - Agrexco took place shortly before Valentine Day when the demand for Agrexco’s flowers is at its highest. Although the number of those picketing was just above 100, the attendance of J-BIG attracted special attention by the Israeli press. Interviewed by the Jerusalem Post, Deborah Fink - the convener of J-BIG, contended: "This is a grass roots action. It is a way the ordinary person can put pressure on Israel... It’s also to tell Jews that what Israel is doing is wrong. What Israel is doing is going against Jewish ethics. Uprooting olive trees is against Jewish law" Although the representative of Carmel -Agrexco UK dismissed the disruptive action, there is no doubt that such an action has a cumulative effect which help to turn consumers and the public against Israel, whose 2006 bombardment of Lebanon, "summer rain" shelling of Gaza and continued military incursions into the West Bank are etched in the public consciousness. Indeed, the results of a recent worldwide BBC’s poll of 28,000 people in 27 countries show that Israel is the most negatively viewed county. 56% of interviewees felt that Israel has a mostly negative influence on the world - a rating which is higher than any other country, including Iran and North Korea (Jewish News 8 March 2007).

J-BIG\'s campaign however, is not focused on one-off events. It is in the process of launching an ongoing campaign which will put pressure on supermarkets by informing them and their customers about Israel’s violation of human rights in the Occupied Territories, and of Israel\'s use of unethical and exploitative methods in marketing the produce of its illegal settlements in the West Bank - taking advantage of Palestinian labour and produce. In addition, J-BIG members will be requesting supermarkets to clearly label all goods which originate from the West Bank and Israel in order to help consumers make an ethical choice.

An additional aim of J-BIG is to promote Palestinian produce, especially extra virgin, organic, olive oil which is marketed by Zaytoun ( ) in accordance with the Fair Trade\'s code of practice. The olive oil comes directly from the West Bank and from Israeli Palestinian farmers who suffer from restrictions on their land ownership and use of water resources in Israel, (for a full account of the restrictions and discrimination suffered by Israeli Palestinians see Susan Nathan\'s book:The Other Side of Israel,2005). J-BIG members are promoting the sale of Zaytoun oil by giving it greater publicity through the media and by direct contact with potential vendors. They also aim to improve the market penetration of Zaytoun by selling the oil directly to friends, family relatives and members of the public. Palestine is the origin of the olive tree with some of the oldest olive groves in the world dating as far back as 1500 to 2000 years. This fact combined with the Mediterranean climate, rich fertile soil and the use of organic traditional farming methods makes Zaytoun\'s Palestinian olive oil a world beating product, with which Israeli olive oil that is produced mostly from younger olive trees, will find hard to compete.

On a political level, members of J-BIG have joined the wider campaign for abolishing the special trade and economic benefits granted to Israel as part of its trade agreement with the European Union. Indeed a significant number of British MPs appear to support this campaign. In February 2007 an Early Day Motion (EDM ) submitted to Parliament by Derek Wyatt notes that Israel "has routinely prevented the free movement of Palestinian goods and people and has withheld Palestinian funds from their people. ..... These and other grievous human rights abuses represent a clear breach of Article Two of the EU-Israel Association Agreement, which calls for adherence to human rights" . The EDM goes on to commend the International Development Select Committee\'s recommendation that "the UK should urge the EU to use the Association Agreement with Israel as a lever for change and to consider suspending the Agreement until there are further improvements in access arrangements".

J-BIG and other activists have been writing to their respective MPs and requesting them to support Wyatt\'s EDM. It appears that the number of British MPs who have been signing the EDM is indeed growing, and the campaign for bearing pressure on Israel is taking root.

Being an Israeli-born citizen I hope , like the rest of my colleagues, that our campaign of boycotting Israel\'s produce of repression and "fruits of injustice" will successfully spearhead a grass roots action within the Jewish community against a brutal occupation which seeks to stamp out the Palestinians\' legitimate aspirations for nationhood .

Editor' note: also see some of yesterday's articles

And more new articles below and coming up here.

The secondary blog.

Snipers back at Baghdad market after McCain visit

Have you thought of the US soldiers who had to sweep out the market area yesterday, endangering their lives just so that sumbitch McCain could get a photo op?
Mon Apr 2, 2007 12:18PM EDT

By Mussab Al-Khairalla

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The crack of shots fired by unseen snipers echoed on Monday through Baghdad's wholesale Shorja market, a day after U.S. Senator John McCain held up his visit there as one sign of improving security in Baghdad.

The Republican presidential hopeful said his hour-long tour of the sprawling market, where 71 people were killed by a huge car bomb in February, would have been unthinkable before the seven-week-old U.S.-Iraqi crackdown in the capital.

Shoppers and merchants agreed on Monday that security had improved since the start of the operation, when the market was blocked off to prevent further such bombings, but took issue with what they considered an overly upbeat assessment by McCain.

Many still do not dare venture into the northern half of the long street, beyond a overhead pedestrian bridge, and enter what is dubbed "The sniper zone", where people are picked off by gunmen on nearby rooftops.

Merchants said the snipers, whom they claim came from the neighboring Sunni Fadhl neighborhood, killed at least one person a day on average.

Despite the sniper threat, shoppers and merchants seemed unfazed when several shots rang out, as a Reuters reporter was interviewing them.

"Who said there was security?" asked carpet salesman Abu Ammar, 55, who said he sold McCain a $60 Turkish rug.

"I told him there were snipers who were really harming us," he said, sitting behind his large office desk. "I told him the plan had improved security but Shorja still wasn't fully safe."

McCain, a strong backer of the Baghdad crackdown, was part of a congressional delegation that was heavily protected by U.S. soldiers and helicopters during its visit to Shorja on Sunday. They drove in armored vehicles and wore body armor.

Afterwards McCain told reporters: "The American people are not getting the picture of all that is happening here. Things are better ... but I am not saying mission accomplished."


On Monday, the market was filled with young men pushing goods on wooden carts and merchants buying wholesale products. Near the exotic animal section of the market, Firas Mohammed, 27, was buying clothes for his nearby store.

"I feel more confident coming here now because I see a lot of people are still shopping here, but I only shop in the areas outside the sniper zone," he said, carrying a large plastic bag.

Another shopper, Najah Abdullah, said he had never been deterred from buying goods at the market despite the violence.

"I do feel a lot safer since the security plan was enforced but it's a shame these steps weren't taken earlier," he said as he loaded boxes of chocolate on to his moped.

The Baghdad security plan, dubbed Operation Imposing Law, has succeeded in reducing the murder rate, although car bombs continue to plague the capital and violence has surged in areas outside the city untouched by the crackdown.

McCain, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination for 2008, said on Sunday he believed the new U.S. strategy in Iraq was making progress. He has been a vocal critic of President George W. Bush's handling of the war in the past.

Shorja market merchant Abu Samir, 31, said McCain bought an Egyptian rug from him and told him through an interpreter: "I want to run for president. And, don't worry, because I'll handle the war better than Bush."

(Additional reporting by Wathiq Ibrahim)

I feared they'd shoot me, Hicks said before gag

Mark Coultan Herald Correspondent at Guantanamo Bay and AAP

April 3, 2007

DAVID HICKS feared he would be shot if he did not co-operate with US interrogators, the Australian prisoner says in an affidavit for an English court case.

And his Australian lawyer says he was tortured during his time at Guantanamo Bay, contradicting Hicks's plea bargain statement, in which he said he had not been mistreated by the US.

Hicks, who has spent five years in the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after he was captured in Afghanistan in late 2001, last week pleaded guilty to a charge of giving material support to terrorists.

In the plea bargain document, Hicks said: "I have never been illegally treated by any person or persons while in the custody of the United States."

But the ABC's Four Corners last night reported that Hicks had recently signed an affidavit for an English court setting out ill treatment.

"I realised that if I did not cooperate with US interrogators, I might be shot," the ABC quoted Hicks as saying.

In the affidavit Hicks also claims that he was slapped, kicked, punched and spat on in Afghanistan, the ABC reported.

He could hear other detainees screaming in pain, saw the marks of their beatings and had a shotgun trained on him during interrogation.

Hicks says in the affidavit that by early 2003, he "felt that I had to ensure that whatever I did pleased the interrogators to keep from being physically abused, placed in isolation and remaining at Guantanamo for the rest of my life", the ABC reported.

He also details twice being taken off a US warship, flown to an unknown location and physically abused by US personnel for a total of 16 hours, although two US investigations have found that claim unsubstantiated.

The allegations were made in a document which was to have been presented to an appeal in London against the British Government's refusal to grant him citizenship.

In this he says he had been repeatedly hit on the back of a head with a rifle, slapped on the head, spat on, kicked, stepped on by troops and punched in the temple. He also claims that a piece of plastic had been forced into his rectum "for no apparent reason".

Hicks's Australian lawyer, David McLeod, made the torture allegation when asked about further interrogations that Hicks has agreed to undergo before he left Guantanamo Bay.

As part of his plea bargain, Hicks signed a document saying he would co-operate "fully, completely and truthfully in post-trial briefings and interviews".

Asked on Sunday about these interviews, Mr McLeod said: "Steps were taken this morning to introduce David to the interrogators here at Guantanamo and there will be a process which will unfold before he leaves. He will be asked to co-operate in a number of issues, but we don't see any problems."

When asked if this would take the same format as his previous interrogations, Mr McLeod said: "Well, hopefully without the torture this time."

His statement was provocative, given that Hicks is still waiting to be transferred to Australia.

Mr McLeod was able to speak more freely than Hicks's American lawyers because he was not a signatory to the plea bargain. Only US lawyers are allowed to represent the detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

Supreme Court Rules Dictatorship Okay

Court Denies Appeal From Gitmo Detainees

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court rejected an appeal Monday from Guantanamo detainees who want to challenge their five-year-long confinement in court, a victory for the Bush administration's legal strategy in its fight against terrorism.

The victory may be only temporary, however. The high court twice previously has extended legal protections to prisoners at the U.S. naval base in Cuba. These individuals were seized as potential terrorists following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and only 10 have been charged with a crime.

Despite the earlier rulings, none of the roughly 385 detainees has yet had a hearing in a civilian court challenging his detention because the administration has moved aggressively to limit the legal rights of prisoners it has labeled as enemy combatants.

A federal appeals court in Washington in February upheld a key provision of a law enacted last year that strips federal courts of their ability to hear such challenges.

At issue is whether prisoners held at Guantanamo have a right to habeas corpus review, a basic tenet of the Constitution that protects people from unlawful imprisonment.

The detainees' core argument is that no matter where they are held by American authorities, they are entitled to access to U.S. courts. They want the court to strike down the new law as unconstitutional.

"This is a perfect example of justice delayed is justice denied," said Washington lawyer Tom Wilner, who has represented Guantanamo detainees since May 2002. "All these people ever wanted was a fair hearing." Wilner represents a group of 39 detainees who had asked the court to take the case.

"We're disappointed and for us this is a delay that is unconscionable," said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has led the fight to gain court access for the detainees.

Ratner said that in enacting the Detainee Treatment Act, Congress "rips out the heart" of court access "and now the court says 'let's wait.' That's another year of delay."

Former military officers, diplomats and federal judges joined the detainees in urging the court to take prompt action. The court "held in no uncertain terms that the Guantanamo detainees were entitled to habeas corpus review to challenge the lawfulness of their detention," they said in their supporting brief. "But since that decision in June 2004, the court's mandate has been frustrated and not a single detainee has had a habeas hearing in federal court."

But the administration said that because of changes in the law since 2004 there was no need for the justices to hurry. Congress has authorized military hearings to assess whether the prisoners are being properly detained as enemy combatants. Those decisions can be appealed in a limited fashion to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the same court that ruled in the administration's favor in February.

"There is no need for this court to assess the adequacy of before it has taken place," Solicitor General Paul Clement, the administration's top Supreme Court lawyer, wrote.

The court is likely to be faced with the same cases it rejected Monday once the appeals court begins conducting reviews.

Clement also argued that the appeals court was correct in holding that aliens outside the United States have no rights under the U.S. Constitution.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter voted to accept the appeals. "The questions presented are significant ones warranting our review," Breyer wrote. In addition, Breyer and Souter said they would have heard the case on a fast track, as the detainees requested.

And in a sign that the court has not had its final say on the matter, Justices Anthony Kennedy and John Paul Stevens made clear in a separate opinion that they were rejecting the appeals only on procedural grounds.

It takes four votes among the nine justices to accept a case.

Bipartisan proposals already have been introduced in the Democratic-led Congress to rewrite the 2006 law that swept away the detainees' access to U.S. courts. It was enacted by the then-GOP majority at the request of the White House.

The Supreme Court has twice thwarted the administration's efforts to keep the detainees out of the courts.

The Bush administration has reacted to each of the two previous rebuffs by undertaking remedial measures.

In 2004, the justices ruled that the courts can hear the detainees' cases, saying that prisoners under U.S. control have access to civilian courts, no matter where they are being held. remedial measures. "The courts of the United States have traditionally been open to nonresident aliens," Stevens wrote in Rasul V. Bush.

In 2006, the justices ruled that President Bush's plan for military war crimes trials, envisioned for a small number of Guantanamo Bay detainees, is illegal under U.S. and international law. The justices also said a law that Congress passed in 2005 to limit federal court lawsuits by Guantanamo detainees did not apply to pending cases.

After the Supreme Court ruling in 2004, the Pentagon set up panels that reviewed whether each of the detainees had been correctly categorized as an enemy combatant, and therefore not entitled to any legal rights.

After the justices' ruling in 2006, Congress at the urging of the White House enacted the law which blocked detainees from coming into U.S. courts and established new rules for the military trials.

The cases are Al Odah v. USA, 06-1196, and Boumediene v. Bush, 06-1195

Associated Press

Rand Corporation's new recipe to handle the Muslim World

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

Al-Jazeerah, April 2, 2007

The semi-official U.S. think tank, Rand Corporation, suggests creation of networks of the so-called moderate Muslims to promote US policy objectives in the Muslim World.

In its latest report, titled “Building Moderate Muslim Networks” the Rand Corp advocates that the building of moderate Muslim networks needs to become an explicit goal of the U.S. government policy, with an international database of partners and a well-designed plan.

Just as it fought the spread of Communism during the Cold War, the United States must do more to develop and support networks of moderate Muslims who are too often silenced by violent radical Islamists, according to the Rand Corporation report issued on March 26, 2007. Lead writer of the report Angel Rabasa says that the United States has a critical role to play in aiding moderate Muslims, and can learn much from the way it addressed the spread of Communism during the Cold War. “The efforts of the United States and its allies to build free and democratic networks and institutions provided an organizational and ideological counter force to Communist groups seeking to come to power through political groups, labor unions, youth and student organizations and other groups.”

The report defines a moderate as a Muslim who supports democracy, gender equality, freedom of worship and opposition to terrorism. This looks an amplification on its two previous reports - “Civil Democratic Islam: Partners, Resources, and Strategies” (March 2004) and “US strategy in the Muslim World after 9/11” (December 2004) - which also suggested supporting moderate Muslims and exploitation of inter-Muslim religious differences. Interestingly, a novelist turned research scholar, Cheryl Benard is the author of “Civil Democratic Islam” and co-author of Dec. 2004 and March 2007 reports.

In the December 2004 study Rabasa had suggested to exploit Sunni, Shiite and Arab, non-Arab divides to promote the US policy objectives in the Muslim world. Echoing this theme, the latest report recommends reaching out to Muslim activists, leaders and intellectuals in non-Arab countries such as Turkey as well as in Southeast Asia and Europe. The report recommends targeting five groups as potential building blocks for networks: liberal and secular Muslim academics and intellectuals; young moderate religious scholars; community activists; women’s groups engaged in gender equality campaigns; and moderate journalists and scholars.

The report warned that moderate groups can lose credibility – and therefore, effectiveness – if U.S. support is too obvious. Effective tactics that worked during the Cold War include having the groups led by credible individuals and having the United States maintain some distance from the organizations it supports. “This was done by not micro-managing the groups, but by giving them enough autonomy,” Rabasa said. “As long as certain guidelines were met, they were free to pursue their own activities.”

To help start this initiative, the report recommends working toward an international conference modeled in the Cold War-era Congress of Cultural Freedom, and then developing a standing organization to combat what it called radical Islamism.

The recent summit of "Secular Islam Conference" in St. Petersburg, Florida, almost coincided with the release of the latest Rand Report. A small group of self-proclaimed secular Muslims from North America and elsewhere gathered in St. Petersburg for what they billed as a new global movement to correct the assumed wrongs of Islam and call for an “Islamic Reformation.”

The St. Petersburg conference, held on the sideline of the Intelligence Summit, was carried live on (Islamophobe) Glenn Beck's CNN show. Some of the organizers and speakers at the convention were well known thanks to the media spotlight: Irshad Manji, author of "The Trouble With Islam," and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the former Dutch parliamentarian and author of "Infidel," were but a few there claiming to have suffered personally at the hands of "radical" Islam. One participant, Wafa Sultan, declared on Glenn Beck's show that she doesn't "see any difference between radical Islam and regular Islam." Other participants were the now public ex-Muslim Ibn Warraq and self-proclaimed ex-terrorist Tawfiq Hamid.

Surely, the “moderate” Muslim agenda is promoted because these ideas reflect a Western vision for the future of Islam. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, everyone from high-ranking officials in the Bush administration to anti-Islam authors have prescribed a preferred remedy for Islam: Reform the faith.

The Rand Reports about Islam appear to be part of a grand strategy to “change the face of Islam” as revealed by the US News and World Report on April 15, 2005. The report entitled - Hearts, Minds, and Dollars: In an Unseen Front in the War on Terrorism, America is Spending Millions...To Change the Very Face of Islam - reads: “From military psychological-operations teams and CIA covert operatives to openly funded media and think tanks, Washington is plowing tens of millions of dollars into a campaign to influence not only Muslim societies but Islam itself.”

According to the well planned leaks to the US News and World Report, this strategy for the first time stated that the United States has a national security interest in influencing what happens within Islam. The report also confirmed that it is, in fact, the US which has been funding an American version of Islam, called “Moderate Islam.”

The Rand reports try to create a fictitious vision of Muslims and of Islam, where it is antihuman, uncreative, authoritarian, and intrinsically against Western societies. It is an ethnocentric view of Islam that dominates current representations of Islam that are reductive, predominantly negative, and encouraging a culture of Islamophobia.

The complexities of the so-called fundamentalism and extremism in the past 100 years or so, whether it be Christian, Hindu, Jewish or Muslim, need to be understood in the context of modernization, the process of secularization, the changing nature of religious institutions, the post-colonial experience in developing countries, globalization, the divide between wealthy and poor, contesting political power, and the impact of totalitarian regimes on civil society.

What is not mentioned in the RAND reports is that the reason for the alienation of Muslims from the West, is the issue of "double standards" the West so brazenly practices when dealing with Muslim nations. America already has a very tarnished image in the Islamic world. It has already alienated a great majority of Muslims throughout the world through its misguided foreign policy. Who in the right mind will believe that this asinine assault on Islam and Muslims will win America friends in the Islamic world?

Now a word about the Washington-based semi-official think tank – the RAND Corporation. Among other government departments, the Rand Corp conducts studies for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Commands, the defense agencies, the Department of the Navy and the U.S. intelligence community. Obviously, writers of the three under discussion reports on Islam may be considered as neo-Orientalists with clear intention to belittle Islam.

When the European nations began their long campaign to colonize and conquer the rest of the world for their own benefit, they brought their academic and missionary resources to help them with their task. Orientalists and missionaries, whose ranks often overlapped, were the servants of an imperialist government who was using their services as a way to subdue or weaken an enemy. The academic study of the Oriental East by the Occidental West was often motivated and often co-operated hand-in-hand with the imperialistic aims of the European colonial powers. The foundations of Orientalism were in the maxim "Know thy enemy". This equally applies to the modern day Orientalists of such semi-official think tanks as the Rand Corporation.

Bush, AIPAC and Palestine

April 2, 2007

The Political Economy of a Disaster


On Monday, March 26, 2007 in Northern Gaza a river of raw sewage and debris overflowed from a collapsed earth embankment into a refugee camp driving 3,000 Palestinians from their homes. Five residents drowned, 25 were injured and scores of houses were destroyed.

The New York Times, Washington Post and the television media blamed shoddy infrastructure. The Daily Alert (the house organ of the Presidents of the Major American Jewish Organizations) blamed the Palestinians who they claimed were removing sand to sell to construction contractors thus undermining the earth embankment. The disaster at Umm Naser (the village in question) is emblematic of everything that is wrong with US-Israeli politics in the Middle East. The disaster in this isolated village has its roots first and foremost in Washington where AIPAC and its political allies have successfully secured US backing for Israel's financial and economic boycott of the Palestinian government subsequent to the democratic electoral victory of Hamas.

AIPAC's victory in Washington reverberated throughout Europe and beyond ñ as the European Union also applied sanctions shutting off financing of all new infrastructure projects and the maintenance of existing facilities. At the AIPAC conventions of 2005 through 2007, the leaders of both major American parties, congressional leaders and the White House pledged to re-enforce AIPAC's boycott and sanctions strategy. AIPAC celebrated its victory for Israeli policy and claimed authorship of the legislation. In addition to malnutrition, the policy undermined all public maintenance projects.

Equally central to the disaster, Israel's massive sustained bombing attack on Gaza in the summer of 2006, demolished roads, bridges, sewage treatment facilities, water purification and electrical power plants. Northern Gaza was one of its many targets, putting severe strain on already precarious infrastructure and government budgets ñ including the maintenance of sewage treatment plants and cesspools.

The Israeli economic blockade of Gaza increased unemployment, poverty and hunger to unprecedented levels. Out of work Gazans reached over 60% of the population ñ large families with young children were reduced to one meal a day. Family heads desperately looked for any way to earn funds to buy a pound of chickpeas, oil, rice and flour for bread. It is possible that forced by the AIPAC- induced US-EU boycott and Israeli bombing and blockade, that some desperate workers removed some sand around the cesspool. The pretext cited by the Presidents of the Major American Jewish Organizations (PMAJO) for blaming the Palestinian victims for their own suffering, and exonerating the Israelis, AIPAC and their congressional clients.

The PMAJO has justified thirty-nine years of Israeli occupation and criminal neglect of Gaza's basic sewage treatment facilities. Israel spends less than 2% on a per capita basis for basic services in the Occupied Territories that it is obligated under international law to provide responsibly than it spends in Israel. The United Nations and Israeli human rights groups have documented Israel's callous lack of responsibility toward the Palestinian civilians under its brutal occupation. It is not surprising that the Presidents of the Major American Jewish Organizations can think of nothing better than to blame the destitute Palestinians for the collapse of a primitive earth embankment and the horrific

To the extent that any Palestinian leader can be held responsible, the finger points to the US and Israeli-backed PLO and its titular head Abbas who receives whatever ëhumanitarian' aid flows into Palestine. The tens of millions of dollars of Palestinian import taxes held by Israeli banks were handed over to Mahmoud Abbas , to arm the anti-Hamas vigilantes. Over the past two decades the US-backed ëmoderate' PLO leaders and crony ëcapitalists' have diverted tens of millions of dollars and euros to their private overseas bank accounts, with the acquiescence of their European, US and Israeli patrons. What is a bit of Palestinian corruption if it means propping up an incompetent group of
pliant ëleaders'?

The plight of the Umm Naser villagers deluged by their own sewage was neither an act of fate nor a result of local negligence or theft: It was a direct consequence of all that is wrong in US-Middle East politics, the taking sides with a brutal colonial power and its powerful voices and organizations in Washington. Umm Naser is written large throughout Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon: Millions of Arab villagers suffer the consequences of pre-emptive wars to secure Greater Israel as both President Bush and Vice President have publicly stated in justifying their aggression.

James Petras, a former Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, owns a 50 year membership in the class struggle, is an adviser to the landless and jobless in brazil and argentina and is co-author of Globalization Unmasked (Zed). His new book with Henry Veltmeyer, Social Movements and the State: Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina, will be published in October 2005. He can be reached at:

Israel Hires Maxim For National PR Campaign: Come See Our Tits!

Israel is number one in sex slavery. Coinkydink?
Click on image to enlarge

Girls: Israel’s racy new PR strategy

Israel flirts with a racy new public-relations strategy.

By Kevin Peraino

April 9, 2007 issue - Jim Malucci has two tattoos, one on each bulging bicep. On the left one, the photographer for Maxim magazine has etched an image of a seductively dressed pinup; on the right, he has stenciled the words GO WITH GOD in Portuguese. He leans on his left arm and points his camera at a model in a bikini on the Tel Aviv beachfront. "That's hot, that's wicked," says Malucci, as the model shifts her hips and parts her lips. "I wanna see the curves. That's it, honey. On your knees, legs apart. Nice arch in your back—boom!" The flash flickers as the sun drops toward the Mediterranean. A Hassidic man in a black hat accidentally steps into the frame. "Love the guy with the hat!" Malucci says, chortling.

Taking in the scene, David Saranga can't help but grin. The Israeli consular official based in New York approached Maxim six months ago. His proposal: the government and other pro-Israeli groups would fly a camera crew across the Atlantic in an effort to remake the Jewish state's public image. Israel's reputation had suffered after last summer's war with Lebanon; in a recent BBC poll taken in 27 countries, 56 percent of respondents considered Israel a "negative influence" in the world, higher than both Iran and the United States. But Israel's real PR problem, according to Saranga, is that Americans—particularly men aged 18 to 35—either associate the country with war or holy relics, or don't think of it at all. "We have to find the right hook," he says. "And what's relevant to men under 35? Good-looking women."

Saranga's effort is the latest volley in a long-running battle over how to sell Israel to the world. Tourism is a nearly $2 billion-a-year industry in Israel, and the art of public relations is something of a national obsession. In Hebrew it's called hasbarah, which means "explaining." For a country that's always craved international acceptance, hasbarah was "the first growth industry of Israel," the American author Richard Ben Cramer wrote. "We almost have a psychological disorder when it comes to public image," adds Eytan Schwartz, the first winner of Israel's top-rated reality TV show, "The Ambassador." Schwartz's prize is proof of that: the winner of "The Ambassador" gets to become a public-relations flack.

Still, by definition, hasbarah is open to interpretation. One of the central dilemmas is which aspects of Israel's wildly diverse society to emphasize. Israelis disagree about which is more likely to appeal to Americans—Tel Aviv's freewheeling, secular charms, or Jerusalem's holy sites. Settler leader Benny Elon, a former tourism minister, says he considers ads touting Israel's beaches a waste of money. For Elon, it isn't only a cultural issue; it's also bad business. Tourists in search of sunshine will always favor the French Riviera or the Caribbean. Israel's "unique selling proposition" is its religious heritage, says Elon. "It's the only state where you can take the Bible as your tourism guide." A recent study by the consulting firm Ernst & Young recommends that the Jewish state target American evangelical Christian tourists—one of Elon's pet projects.

Yet trying too hard to lure Christian tourists could end up alienating secular liberals. "Benny Elon is just dead wrong," says Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz, author of "The Case for Israel." "It puts Israel in the camp of arch-conservative people." Already, a recent study by the New York marketing firm Wunderman has concluded that Israel's "brand" is perceived similarly to those of Philip Morris and the NRA. Ultimately evangelicals' support for Israeli tourism will evaporate, says Dershowitz; Christians will eventually become "disappointed" with the Jewish state as their interests diverge. But even Dershowitz thinks the idea of paying to fly a magazine crew across the Atlantic is a little over the top: "Completely not the way to go. I can see models anywhere."

Saranga insists his campaign is just smart niche marketing. "You have to match the message to the audience," the diplomat says. And his supporters argue that the Jewish state's diversity is one of its strongest selling points. Ultimately, says Dershowitz, "Israel is both countries ... a country where models pose at great holy sites." The tattoos on shooter Jim Malucci's biceps make the balance look easy to find. But marketing budgets are finite, and cultural rifts aren't so easily bridged. The reality of Israel is often having to choose: go with the girl, or go with God.

Where Conscience Meets Policy

April 2, 2007

By Jim Kirwan

We have arrived at that crossroads where we must choose which path we will take, if we are to reach tomorrow. America and the world are standing on the threshold to the open “Gates of Hell,” guarded by a new and different form of that mythical three-headed monster known as Cerberus. In this case only two represent war, and only one will be open to a resolution. The first stands for the Outlaws-fabrication of global power and control. The second represents the barbarity, the rage, the hate, the religious bigotry and the hypocrisy of “superior beings.” That third recognizes reason, logic, balance and the prosperity that can flow from these basic ingredients to improve the human condition, around the world.

To assist in making this choice clear, some facts need to be added to the dialogue.

First among them: Americans need to understand that there will “never be” a functioning Health Care National Program in the United States. The simple reason for this is that ‘health-care’ as opposed to ‘health insurance’ has always been one of the primary controlling factors in keeping the public both poor and worried, about something as critical as their own survival. In addition; this rogue government has made too many deals with the drug companies and the insurance industry, coupled with massive cost-increases throughout the entire medical establishment. Everyone involved in these fraudulent schemes has become addicted to obscene profits that are a direct result of these criminal-conspiracies that run the gambit from the Governor of California all the way through the congress to the Tarnished House!

Second there can never be a true financial re-alignment in this country so long as the markets, the banks, and the congress, in tandem with the FED and all ancillary interests that are supposed to oversee everything—yet they remain aligned with this corrupted administration that continues to maintain their criminal-controls over every aspect of monetary policy.

These are just two of the many reasons why this nation’s people remain so committed to their private world of “distractions & denial” that account for the unused portions of every single one of their days and nights. So many people have wondered why so many Americans have become so addicted, to their compartmentalized ‘little-worlds’: Worlds that simply do not permit the inclusion of any real facts about what this nation is doing in the real-world today.

For instance: for the retired, the elderly, and the sick cannot seem to care about how many of the now over one million Iraqi’s we have killed, so long as they cannot get help or any genuine-care for themselves from a now totally defunct system of medicine and treatment that serves them not, but rather expedites profits for the gargantuan giants of industry and commerce that control it all. And, since vast chunks of the national treasury have been ripped-off for the Wars, at the expense of so much that needs doing here and now, within the United States: ordinary people have chosen to just to “not know” how much, why, or for how long this will continue. Because knowledge once acquired can eat into that which is not being done by the individual—to maintain deniability Joe & Mary six-pack seem to have chosen ignorance over facts.

Compounding the above, ordinary life has become so incredibly complex: and time has taken on so much more importance than it had in any other period—that people have just pulled back into the safe-havens of their own little-worlds: Terrified by the fear and paranoia, whipped-up by those that are desperately trying to conclude the Revenge-of-the-Robber-Barons: by taking back all the power from the people that finally caught a break in the “New Deal,” under Roosevelt after the crash of 1929. The day after that the New Deal went into effect the Outlaws began to plan their counter-attack on society, on humanity, on education and health, as well as on intelligence, creativity and personal independence: not-to-mention a fair and sustainable wage for those who create the wealth and profits, that the global Corporatocracy is reaping, in unbelievable excess—Worldwide.

Further adding to the daily bombardments of crimes against everyone, except of course the actual individuals that are responsible for the implementation of all of the above: There are the very real dangers of a pending Third World War that hangs like a double-headed axe over virtually every nation now—because of horrific incompetence and failures throughout our foreign polices wherever the American boot-print has been placed.

In the capital, congress and the Decider are still locked in a struggle that sounds like the one that Newt Gingrich brought on when he and his thugs shut down the government, under his “Contract on America.” We don’t have the luxury of time to let this childish feud play out, surrounding either the outright lies of the current US Attorney General, or the Decider’s total failure to lead anything in the Wars-of-Conquest that he started in the Middle East.

Congress is ‘debating’ garbage that does not rise to the need for that level of hesitancy. The AG needs to be called in to testify in public and under oath. At the end of said testimony, if Gonzalez cannot clear himself he needs to be summarily fired—the president’s preferences do not trump the public’s need to have a truthful Attorney General. It would be naiveté to believe that the Decider should have an honest or truthful AG: but if Gonzalez is too stupid to be able to cover his criminality—then for the sake of effectiveness, if nothing else – Roberto Gonzales needs to go!

Similarly: the White House including George Bush and Dick Cheney, as well as anyone else that congress needs to call need—need to voluntarily go to congress and answer all the questions that have become so overwhelming diverse, in the administration of this administration. Beginning with Cheney’s Secret Government and ‘what-really-happened on 911.’

In the matter of “the Funding of the War V. Ending the Occupation of Iraq:” This too is riven with lies and distortions of the facts on the ground. First, if we do not withdraw immediately then we will be unceremoniously be kicked out—because this ‘war’ has already been lost.

The puppet administration inside Iraq was put there by the puppet-masters who control the Decider and all his minions. The Iraqi’s-in-charge in Iraq, are not representing the people of Iraq but are instead trying to hold things together until the rights to Iraqi oil have been given to foreign oil companies in perpetuity. Even if that happens – this can never be enforced inside that nation that will hate us until the end of time. Not – as the Decider said: “For our Freedom” but rather “For our Barbarity and for the murders of over a million of their people.”

In the matter of who should be in-charge of what happens in Iraq—between congress and the commander-in-chief: There are many fallacies that continue to skew this equation as well.

The Decider demands that the Commanders on the ground need to make all decisions about the war. By his own words The Decider has condemned himself, because he is supposed to be the Commander-in Chief, that makes him ultimately responsible for everything that the generals who serve under his command (at the discretion and the pleasure of the commander-in-chief) have done in the more than four years of abject and total failure (to obtain anything at all) by way of control over Iraq, or the infrastructure of a supposedly captive nation.

In addition, and in his own words, the decider should explain to the nation just why it is, that he and his military and the mercenaries that number almost as many, as the troops under his command—have not been able to do anything in Iraq except to imprison and torture hundreds of thousands of people for no reason, and to slaughter huge numbers of ordinary people, under the guise of being supposedly insurgents: When in fact most of those people were simply trying to live in their country, free from his illegal and unilateral invasion of their country.

Since the above is the case in Iraq: the congress not only has the right but the duty to pull the troops out—before they get tossed out. The Decider and his Jackals have gone on and on about “what message this will send to “the enemy.” Bush should have thought about “that” long before he dissed everyone that disagreed with him, and long before he unilaterally went into this war in the first place. So that ‘problem’ is also something that the Decider is directly responsible for. Bush & His Bandits cannot handle the truth: This is the main problem here.

The Congress for its part needs to stop pretending that they have no responsibility for this war. In fact it was the congress who gave away their constitutional powers to control the executive after 911 that got us into this nightmare in Afghanistan and Iraq in the first place. Pelosi, as current Speaker of the House, then further complicated this whole mess by removing a prohibition from the latest funding bill; that would have required the Decider to stay out of Iran without the specific approval of the congress.

The powers that were constitutionally awarded to congress cannot legally be given away. Because to do so is to create this exact situation in which the USA & the World now find themselves. Having illegally given away those powers of checks and balances and oversight—congress must now firmly revoke, what was given away illegally to the executive. And simultaneously they must cut off all funding for this mess that is not a war but just another illegal invasion of another nation—which in this case the congress is directly responsible for.(1)

And finally it is way past time for Americans to view what is being done to what were the people in Iraq. This is butt-ugly, but it’s that one truth that all Americans ought to have to witness for themselves—before making anymore dastardly decisions about sending anymore troops anywhere; and especially not into Iraq. We did what is linked to this article: and if you haven’t the stomach for it: then you have no business voting for anymore funds, or for any more of the criminals in this government who designed these polices that made these crimes the battle-order of the day – for the four long years that this treatment has been in effect. (2)

1) Open Letter to Congress

2) The Real Face of War

The American dimension: UK tells US to shut the neocons the f**k up

Saturday March 31, 2007
The Guardian

In one sense it is perhaps just as well that it was British, rather than American, sailors and marines who were taken prisoner. If they had been Americans, the rump of neoconservatives in the Bush administration, in particular Dick Cheney and Elliott Abrams, would have been saying: "We told you so." They have long argued that Iran is not susceptible to diplomatic pressure, that the European approach is doomed to failure and the only way to stop Iran acquiring a nuclear-weapons capability is a military strike on its nuclear facilities.

Even though the prisoners are British rather than Americans, neocons have been desperate to head for television studios. The only reason they have not done so yet is a request by the British government to the Bush administration to stay out of it. Word has also reached members of Congress. The British fear is that even a mild rebuke from President George Bush, or a neoconservative such as John Bolton, will be counterproductive, escalating the crisis and making it harder to get the 15 back.

Tony Blair is well aware of the battle lines in Washington and, hopefully, will keep this at the top of his mind during the crisis. He is in a hard place this weekend. He is, understandably, under pressure from the public and parliament to do something amid a sense of outrage that Iran not only captured the group, but denied them consular access and paraded them on television. To address these concerns Mr Blair has made the necessary strident noises.

But he has to resist more hysterial voices. Throughout his premiership the British government has consistently opted for negotiation with Iran to try to resolve the nuclear issue, not military action. And now, after years in which the US refused to participate, the British government has serious allies in Washington. The US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and the defence secretary, Robert Gates, are pursuing engagement and are prepared to talk to Tehran. The duo are in the ascendancy in Washington while the Cheney-Abrams alliance is temporarily relegated to the sidelines. Ms Rice and Mr Gates think their approach is working, that there are signs of anxiety in Tehran over sanctions and other economic measures, as well as the diplomatic pressure. They argue that Iran is not like North Korea, and that it does not want to be isolated.

How Mr Blair handles the present crisis could crucially impact on this internal Washington debate. Mr Blair has options. The prime minister, who has a genuine dislike of and concern about the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, could still ask Washington to set the drums beating. That would suit Mr Cheney and Mr Abrams. At this stage such an approach, thankfully, seems unlikely.

Alternatively Mr Blair could have opted for a quieter approach, choosing discreet, bilateral discussions, but was advised that this would not work. Instead he has opted for a middle route, internationalising the crisis, seeking the help of other countries to put pressure on Tehran. Countries in Europe and the Middle East have been helpful: the United Nations security council less so.

Servicemen taken by Iran in 2004 were quickly released. The background is tenser now. Iran's Revolutionary Guard, which is holding the 15, has suffered a series of setbacks in recent months, from the capture of six members of its Quds brigade in Iraq through to the defection of a senior commander to the west. British pressure applied through its allies may not have much impact on the Revolutionary Guard, but it will influence the foreign ministry and perhaps even Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

It could take a while for Britain to secure the release of the sailors and marines. In the meantime Mr Blair has to placate the British public. But he must also show patience and do nothing that will undermine Ms Rice and Mr Gates.

Spot the Irony

Tonight is the first night of Passover, when Jews across the world celebrate their ancestors' freedom from the yoke of slavery in ancient Egypt.
As the Jews in Israel and throughout the world celebrate Passover, the Festival of FREEDOM... the very thing that is celebrated is denied to an entire nation. Palesinians will be welcome to stay at home... or wander if they wish... but only within their own villages and only behind the wall that separates them from family and friends.

Pelosi vows to get israeli soldiers back

Posted Apr 2, 2007 09:08 AM PST
Category: ISRAEL

I guess $63,000 from the Israel Lobby can even buy the Speaker of the US House.

As a side note, the two Israeli soldiers she is so concerned about (wish she was as concerned about the tens of thousands of crippled US service people) were INSIDE LEBANON WHEN CAPTURED.

By Mike Rivero

U.S. colonel defends Iran's right to detain Britons

Mon, 02 Apr 2007 18:18:43

The anti-war activist Retired Colonel Ann Wright has defended Iran's detention of 15 British navy personnel as a legitimate right to protect its national sovereignty.

Ms. Wright made the remarks in an interview with FOX news channel's The Factor, hosted by anti-Iran presenter Bill O'Reilly who demanded she answer yes or no to the question whether she agrees with the UN assertion that Iran's "capture" of the Britons is an unprovoked act of aggression.

Wright, who taught the Geneva Conventions to troops at Fort Bragg, might just know what she's talking about, but O'Reilly did not like the direction of her comments and thus over-talked with increasing agitation, accusing her of blaming America.

She replied that there was still some question as to where the sailors had been when they were taken, with O'Reilly dismissing that by saying "it'll never be proven."

Wright continued that the main thing now is to not let this incident get ratcheted up, because the dangers of escalation are tremendous.

Not good enough for O'Reilly, he badgered her and demanded again a "yes or no" answer. She replied (essentially) that there is no war between Iran and Great Britain so the prisoner of war rules do not apply.

About the broadcasting of the footages of the detained Britons and whether it was acceptable, she said "we have done the same so we have given up the moral high ground." O'Reilly immediately misinterpreted her, saying "so this is our fault? This Iranian seizure is our fault?"

Wright replied "No, not at all, not at all, but the treatment of prisoners and detainees..." and O'Reilly cut her off, saying he wanted to stop the interview right there.

This happened as she refused to let him silence her by overtalking, twisting her words and accusing her of blaming America for the Iran-Britain situation going on now.

As she continued to speak to a dead mic, O'Reilly got the last word: he wanted viewers to see that - Not about Iran, not about seizure of the Brits... (dramatic pause and then he points to himself) "We're bad. That's the, and she's not alone. That's what you have."

The banner beneath the Colonel at the beginning read "U.S. Army (Ret.) Col. Ann Wright" changed to "Col. Ann Wright retired from State Dept. in opposition to Iraq war" and ended with "Anti-war activist Col. Ann Wright."

Elsewhere during the interview, Colonel Wright criticized the Bush administration for its violation of Geneva Conventions with mistreating the detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq, and especially Guantanamo Bay detention camps.

Her words were exactly the opposite of what Bill O'Reilly of FOX news wanted: to blatantly and unfoundedly accusing Tehran of violating Geneva Conventions despite all the evidence Iran had to prove its detention of the Britons was a legitimate right according to all international laws and regulations.