Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Syria played role in resolving U.K.-Iran dispute, officials say

AP 2 hours, 3 minutes ago

Syria: We helped in Iran-Britain dispute

Syria played a key role in resolving the standoff over the 15 British sailors and marines held by Iran, two government officials said Wednesday.

"Syrian efforts and the Iranian willingness culminated with the release of the British sailors," said Information Minister Mohsen Bilal.

He said Syria had been asked "to help positively in the issue of British" crew members since their March 23 seizure by Iran in the Persian Gulf.

He did not elaborate.

Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem told reporters that "Syria exercised a sort of quiet diplomacy to solve this problem and encourage dialogue" between Britain and Iran.

Al-Moallem, who also did not give any details on the Syrian mediation, spoke at Damascus international airport before the departure of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (news, bio, voting record) for Saudi Arabia.

A Foreign Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said Iran's decision to release the Britons was "right," and that Syria "sees it as an example of the positive results for adopting dialogue and diplomacy among states."

Syria has long been the Arab country with the closest ties to Iran, a non-Arab state. The two have moved toward each other as they were shunned by the United States and the European Union for their alleged interference in Iraq and Lebanon, and their support of Palestinian militant groups regarded as terrorist in the West.

Roseanne Barr Blasts Zionism And Israel

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

On being a jew and not supporting israel...

I think the zionists made a huge mistake when they factioned the left in germany. They ended up trading jewish lives for land, instead of standing together with the socialist factions that opposed hitler. Zionism was the last nail in the casket of European jewry. The arab's protection is the only reason any holy site remains in israel. The jews line up to stone women who try to access those sites. I saw it with my own eyes. The arabs do not invade other countries. The israelis do. I am sick of israel and I am sick of zionists. They are propped up by evangelical christians who cannot wait for the arabs to kill them so that their genocidal war god whom they misname jesus can come back.

In their twisted logic, the jews call that support for israel. In the christian's form of suicidal insanity, all the jews need to die in israel so that "/peace/" can be attained there.

The koran is the exact same book as the torah and Mohammed is just like Paul of tarses.

The jews are raised to be suicide bombers too, and that abusive cult-programming that is done to jewish children, beginning with genital torture, remains strong even after the religion itself is abandoned. There is no israel really, and there will soon be no jews, I fear, unless the promise of the covenant comes to pass.. the covenant states that free thought will allow the jews to abandon their need for separatism, their obsolete and archaic woman hating religion and join the struggle for human rights first, before any other cult indoctrinated group, because the jews will have had access to higher learning and science and therefore give birth to the rational mind therefore transforming religion by re translating the torah into science.

Project Hamad

Get involved at

Social Fear and the Commodification of Terrorism

The post-September 11 economy of the United States has become a fear-infested and sober landscape. National security and security-related corporations are providing the major visible economic growth.

Joe Lockard

Don't Worry, Keep Rolling!The post-September 11 economy of the United States has become a fear-infested and sober landscape. National security and security-related corporations are providing the major visible economic growth. Corporate sectors without any discernable claim on security products nonetheless work to integrate a national security consciousness into their corporate images. Grim, determined, and upbeat patriotism is being used to sell any product that needs selling.

Ad campaigns experiment on how to function within this economic sobriety, as evidenced in those quite successful "Keep America Rolling" auto ads that General Motors rolled out. George Bush tells the country "Let's roll!" and revoices the words of an airline passenger who fought back, while at the same time echoing a General Motors logo. National security fears and durable goods, statesmanship and salesmanship, have been woven together by a fluid consumption-oriented language. To be behind the wheel is to control national fate in the face of international terrorism.

Corporations with central positions in the U.S. economy, like the airlines, have dealt with the situation by lining up for billions in federal support and stuffing "free market — no government interference" rhetorical claims in their back pockets. Since the function of capitalism is to protect capital, not labor, unemployed workers do not get generous Congressional handouts. Social expenditures go to alleviate corporate fears, but the fears of private citizens remain private business.

This fear-intensive economy elides a central truth of economic life: social fears are a constant source of profit. Without fear and insecurity, capitalism would not have the economic sanctions that make it profitable. Progressive politics since the nineteenth century have undertaken the task of alleviating social insecurity and replacing fear with social security, either with or absent first-letter capitalization. Post-'60s normative Western capitalism has continued to pursue the basic intellectual outline of Friedmanian economics, which emphasizes the market utility of holding down social expenditures and imposing sanctions on labor. A "liberalizing" IMF-oriented economy, as with those in eastern Europe and other regions, cuts back on pre-existing social protections in the name of economic efficiency and competition, thus raising the prevalence of social fear.

Yet if economic fear is a persuasive mode of social coercion, it can also function as a mode of consumption. Preventative consumption is a fear response that seeks to avoid the consequences of unpreparedness or inaction. Consumption itself becomes a defense against fears, rational or irrational. Since September 11, the spectre of Islamic terrorism has generated a market for products that can locate themselves within this conceptual framework of preventative consumption. A product's precise relation to the political phenomenon is irrelevant. Rather, marketability in the fear market relies on associative links. Risk, ever-present in the economic calculus, suddenly has an attributable face. Preventative consumption takes those social risks caused by foreign, alien hatreds, and reduces them into the manageable features of known products.

Fear itself has become a consumption item, and fear-dependent corporations feed off a public paranoia created by terror attacks. From health insurance to financial services ads that emphasize "security," the media has filled with appeals to prevent what is almost impossible to prevent and to do so through product consumption. Islamic terrorism has become an invisible brand name that joins disparate products anew. The fear of Allah-bonded men with death wishes and distant mullahs is the covert unmentionable that enables insurance companies and Florsheim Shoes to employ the Statue of Liberty as their new-old advertising flack, or Ralph Lauren to merge Polo shirts with the flag. All reaffirm freedom as consumer freedom. Images of American shrines and commercial invocations of "E Pluribus Unum" nationalize consumer purchasing power. To buy American is to meet the enemy.

As we buy on, we roll on.

Entrepreneurship of FearIt is the small-time profiteers of fear who speak messages that more socially restrained and polite major corporate advertising cannot voice directly. These are not the predictable Internet fraudsters who are hawking multivitamins against anthrax. Rather, outside the world of brand-name privilege and close to populist political roots, an entrepreneurship of fear has emerged to calm and consolidate fear as socially useful consumption activity. The small-time contractors who built backyard fallout shelters fifty years ago have their contemporary followers in bio-war rubber suit suppliers and survival school instructors.

Still, these are opportunists with a product or service, not ideological articulations in their own right. For that deeper level, the expensive and glossy Terrorism Survival Guide is a magazine that suits the times like the Whole Earth Catalog suited the '60s. Stocked with Ruger ads and shooting school addresses, it is the second number of an Operation Enduring Freedom series being published by Pantheon International. The cover features a crowd of subtitles, ranging from the informative "The Common Sense Guide to Staying Safe" to the alarming "Dangers We Face Now! What You Can Do to Meet the Threats!"

It is a home-front magazine, with men in white rubber suits and another subtitle reading "Anthrax and Bio-Terror: Facts vs. Fear! Reality vs. Rumor!" Beautiful Homes and Gardens goes to bio-war. The Terrorism Survival Guide reformulates economic activity as motivated survival; its pages map out how to consume to survive. Homeland security and household security have merged into one.

The Terrorism Survival Guide testifies eloquently to how fear, in itself, is a domestic commodity. Its extensive guns and survival book advertising rely on reader fear of social threats and general social chaos to promote sales. These are home safety products that render home as a place impregnable against fear of terrorism. In a couple of photographs, a middle-aged blonde woman displays home defense techniques. In one photograph of the new suburban hospitality, this well-prepared matron crouches to open the front door holding a pistol at the ready for any unexpected guest. Another posed photo has the same woman peering off a second-floor balcony, showing how to cover the front driveway with a sniper rifle. An article on post-September 11 child psychology features the graphic accompaniment of a full-page photo of a toothy little girl in a clear plastic gas mask with face mike, carrying a Barbie doll dressed up with another gas mask. The essays identify sources of fear, and the advertising provides home-front solutions.

If the home is a prime target that must be rendered defensible, the neighborhood is equally a vulnerable target. In this world of fresh domestic threat, explains one writer, the local infrastructure is a prime target. "For example, before all this craziness, you may not have noticed that vehicle parked inappropriately near the county electric station. Make note of it now and report it. Before September 11 you might not have thought twice about people acting strangely around the local reservoir. You had better think twice now." George Bush made these same sentiments sound presidential when he asked citizens to watch for people "acting suspiciously" around chemical plants.

Because the sources of supply into homes are at risk, homeowners need to prepare their regional lines of defense. There is an emphatic demand for explanation of the unknown, together with suspicion of those outside the norm or those who ask questions about the world. "Beware of anyone asking untoward questions regarding schedules, conveyance methods, social gatherings," advises Basic Anti-Terrorism Tip #3, followed by Tip #5's caution, "Be wary of individuals whose movements and actions are not logically motivated." Discrepant cultural logics, according to this hometown anti-terrorism philosophy, require fear, investigation, and action.

According to every essay and ad in this journal, the answer to these insecurities is: buy a gun! Although a gun will be useless in the face of the chemical, biological, and nuclear threats that the Terrorism Survival Guide details, poor logic never seems to burden the magazine editors. Rather, a firearm becomes a palpable defense even if it offers no protection. Buying a gun is simply the opposite of submission. The journal's editor, Michael Bane, frames this as a moral choice. "Like many Americans, I reached a moral and ethical crossroads after The Attack. I believe that although, in the real world, there are times when we must submit, as a culture and a nation, we have come to see submission as the preferred option."

In the Guide, a refusal to acknowledge a need to own personal weapons equates with capitulation and an acceptance of victimization. The notion that other means of self-defense may be more appropriate and effective never arises in this journal. Like so much else that passes for anti-terrorism self-defense here, personal firearms ownership represents no more than symbolic purchasing. That need for a physical symbol of resistance, a new Remington stashed under the bed as a defense against inchoate foreign threats, is the same operative social mechanism that moves consumers who buy durable goods as a response to terrorism. Panic buying is a crisis response to violence, a means of managing excess social fear. Social fear never lacks for profit opportunities.

Homeland InsecuritySince ideology provides the conditions of consumption, the articles of the Terrorism Survival Guide establish an ideology that redirects readers into security-oriented consumption. Michael Bane provides an article entitled "Ten Ways Our Lives Have Changed" that posits a new sense of American national connectedness. The purpose of this new social interconnection, he suggests, lies in a national rediscovery of the American warrior self. The anti-gun lobby has led those who adopted a defeatist embrace of submission that swept the country in recent decades. Bravery and honor are emerging from a broad popular rejection of submission, and the nation now takes its bearings from a new social compass based on absolute virtues. "We bury our dead with the sure and certain knowledge that great good, and great evil, do, in fact, exist, and that our measure as individuals and as a people will be where we stand in that epic battle."

To fine words like these, Jack London once answered, "[T]he magic of your phrases leads you to believe that you are patriotic. Your desire for profits, which is sheer selfishness, you metamorphose into altruistic solicitude for suffering humanity."

In this New America, which wakes each morning full of renewed patriotism, moral absolutism has disposed of relativism and self-questioning in a distant and dishonorable grave. What has triumphed is a national unity where social problems are no more than minor family problems, like a scramble for an extra piece of dessert. Deep-rooted historical social differences disappear in such an ideological scenario; instead, these differences are no more than an exuberant individualism that all share. In the end, "We are the warrior tribe who did the impossible — create an enduring government that celebrated, and continues to celebrate, our very contentious individualism."

This is the classic delusion of nationalism, the belief that a mystical nation-tribe has gathered its spirits to rise. In this delusion, racial, gender and class divisions happen only "occasionally," fairly ignoring the contradiction of Bane's simultaneous argument that the divisions created by submission have prevailed for years. So history-writing serves to mythify and unite, not to document, analyze, and explain. The function of the nation-state is to translate the warrior-spirit into an operations plan. Yet what Bane provides is a classic marketing device: make consumers feel happy about what you suggest they are becoming. Here is resurgent America, a nation-product worth fighting for — and here too are the tools with which to fight and partake of the warrior-spirit. This is a call to a revived faith in tribalism, one where a sharing of warrior-kin replaces petty social in-fighting. Or, as one writer phrases the necessary change, "We need to adopt the Israeli mindset that everyone is a partner in protecting the country."
Fear operates both as obstacle and enabler in this ideological scheme. Bane provided several articles for the Terrorism Survival Guide, and one of them addresses fear. He presents fear as another tactical tool, as an emotion whose correct management produces continuous situation evaluation reports and fluid responses. To qualify as fear, there must be a specific and immediately identifiable stimulus; a "formless" fear is mere intuition, he argues, forgetting the logic of inference. There has been a cultural over-use of fear and its language, Bane asserts, leading to an inability to distinguish real warning signals and detracting from threat-readiness.
The proliferation of fears, however, is endemic to a well-functioning capitalist economy. Fear is the marketing device for goods and services, and then at a social level, for the nation-product. The greatest fear and best marketing device is an assault on the American collectivity itself.
Towards Unlearning FearIn 1927, in the context of the Whitney free-speech case, Louis Brandeis wrote "Those who won our independence [knew] that fear breeds repression; that repression breeds hate; that hate menaces stable governmenté" What Brandeis distinguishes is the social cycle that the spread of public fear initiates, a cycle where oppressive government and violent opposition boil together in the same pot. Brandeis voices the classic Enlightenment fear of a state gone wrong, of government illiberality giving rise to hatred and street riots. Civil liberties were thus a venting mechanism, a means of ensuring that repression did not metamorphose into much worse consequences.

John Ashcroft's illiberality and vitiation of civil liberties, however, will create no street riots. Like the worst attorney general in U.S. history, A. Mitchell Palmer, Ashcroft emerges from a narrow-minded fear of the world's variety, a McGuffy-esque provincialism of neat picket fences and nineteenth-century American virtues. Although the mentalities of Palmer's Red Scare and Ashcroft's Moslem Scare are similar, the political landscape of the intervening eighty years has been revolutionized through the mass media and a global visual culture. Unlike the early twentieth century, where fears might inform state policy or market products, in late modernity fear has become a streamlined public-private commodity. What government announces, television news anchors interpret and expostulate.

In this media-driven economic regime, the consequences of social fear no longer lie primarily in an assault on civil liberties. The commodification and marketing of fear, fear-products, and nation-products has far outstripped the creation and defense of civil rights. America consumes its civil liberties, and consumption is its leading civil liberty.

An insidious ideology lies within this marketing and consumption of social fear, one that arises from a xenophobic variant of national identity politics. In this paranoia of threat-belief, all manifestations of difference become sources of risk. A world turns inward, into its fears, and shelters behind the luxurious walls of the U.S. economy, weapons pointed outward. Foreign policy has become a defense of this triumphal hegemonic identity and a demand for other nations to manifest their allegiance to such U.S. global primacy. An identity of national self-preservation emerges, one whose economic existence becomes preoccupied with hunting down existential threats and affixing "Wanted Dead or Alive" to threat sources. Ethnic identity politics goes onto a national war footing, one where the available identities have been stripped down to visible good and invisible evil. American self-identification with prosperity is the only good identity, and the only one that counts.

Walter Benn Michaels argues that capitalism supplies both objects of fear and desire, and the subjects to consume either. He writes "the logic of capitalism produces objects of desire only insofar as it produces subjects, since what makes the objects desirable is only the constitutive trace of subjectivity those objects bear." Today that American subjectivity characterizes itself through fear, and the objects of desire are those that purchase protection against fear. The Terrorism Survival Guide represents a stark synthesis of this transformation of fear into a simultaneous commodity and subjectivity, a synthesis whose ideological features are more easily visible for the magazine's extremism, which masquerades as commonsense self-defense. Such manichean extremism in the putative defense of freedom requires an over-the-horizon evil, one that resists critical thought and remains an irreducible evil that needs no explanation. Commodifications of fear ultimately rely on manipulation through nostrums and ignorance.
There is, though, a real front-line of homeland defense: teachers who refuse to mouth official dichotomies of good and evil, students who refuse to accept an uncritical perspective, and parents who refuse to barricade their homes against foreign ideas and people. A radical rejection of social alienage is at the heart of this homeland defense. It is an expanded concept of homeland defense which recognizes that contemporary American social fear derives ultimately from fear of the global poor and dispossessed, those with causes for anger. Western economies have privileged capital over labor, and have exported the social fears of capitalism — unemployment, impoverishment, inadequate health care and education — to obtain Western prosperity.

A homeland defense that refuses to recognize global fears and anger is no defense at all. Fear neither begins nor ends at the U.S. national borders: it was globalized long ago.

Joe Lockard is a Bad Subjects Collective editor and teaches English at University of California — Davis. He thanks Joel Schalit, Aaron Shuman, and Jonathan Sterne for comments.

Issue #59, February 2002
Created by geoff
Last modified 2004-10-05 10:06 PM
Copyright © 2002 by Joe Lockard. All rights reserved.

N.J. Pension Fund Endangered by Diverted Billions

April 4, 2007

In 2005, New Jersey put either $551 million, $56 million or nothing into its pension fund for teachers. All three figures appeared in various state documents — though the state now says that the actual amount was zero.

The phantom contribution is just one indication that New Jersey has been diverting billions of dollars from its pension fund for state and local workers into other government purposes over the last 15 years, using a variety of unorthodox transactions authorized by the Legislature and by governors from both political parties.


The Jewish People are not my People

My People are Hashem and his Family from Bil`in.

Beni Tziper
2 April 2007
Hebrew original:
Translated by Rann Bar-On

There is nothing festive in this posting. Passover, shmassover, I hate the holidays because while we celebrate, while us Jews babble slogans about freedom, and fantasize that we are a miserable enslaved nation, we are in fact busy enslaving the Palestinian people. It`s become banal and boring to repeat this a thousand times, but in my eyes, the hypocrisy cries out to the heavens. [The Passover prayer] `Oh bread of poverty` is no longer the bread of poverty of Jews but of numerous Palestinian families in the Occupied Territories, who live off thirty or forty shekels the head of the household manages to scrounge together doing temporary jobs once every few days.

I got to know one such family this past Friday. I joined my daughter, Talila, at a demonstration against the Wall in Bil`in. The protocol involves gathering at Tel-Aviv`s Northern railway station and from there somehow organizing ourselves into Arab minibuses and private cars, and driving to those Palestinian villages whose income has been affected by the Wall. That is, the Wall separates between the villagers and their fields. My daughter is well-accustomed to these demonstrations. For me, this was the fist time. This is how I met Dr. Ilan Shalif, the living spirit of the the demonstrations and organizer of rides.

Shalif is a psychologist and an anarchist, who surely has better things to do with his time than to busy himself organizing taxis. This is what it means to be an idealist: to do things for altruistic reasons. He comes equipped with special large glasses to protect against the sting of tear gas the border police will throw at him. What encouraged me was that not all the demonstrators were youngsters, some were more-or-less my age, like Yisrael and Dvorah (Dvorah Ferdel-Zilberstein) who in the end volunteered to drive us in her red Vauxhall to Bil`in.

We agree on a cover story in case we get stopped at the checkpoint after the turnoff from Road 443. We were to say that we were on our way to a circumcision ceremony at one of the settlements. But as it turned out no one stopped us at the checkpoint, nor did they stop the cars behind us. And so we climbed hills and descended into valleys between quiet and beautiful villages, between olive groves and fields of flowers, until we arrived at Bil`in.

In the interest of calm and sanity, it is best not to look at the new settlements that are popping up on the way to Bil`in. All sort of ugly piles of cement that destroys the beautiful vistas of this land in the name of some fake `love of Israel`. When I stare at this colossal ugliness, designed to house all sort of orthodox parasites from abroad whose only job is to hate the non-Jew, I understand that what is called the `Jewish nation` is not my nation at all, and that I feel far more sympathetic and empathetic towards Palestinian residents of the Occupied Territories like the family from
Bil`in who accommodated myself and my daughter after I was (lightly) injured during the demonstration by an exploding stun grenade.

The father of the family is called Hashem. His wife is named Zahara. They have two married daughters living nearby, and they have lovely little children. I felt at home immediately. Hashem brought me herbs from the garden, which were supposed to help alleviate the effects of the gas thrown at me by the soldiers. Zahara hurried to bring us a tray filled with fresh vegetables, pita bread, olive oil and za`atar. Their house was small, pleasant and brightly lit. Hashem works occasionally as a gardener
in the houses of rich people in Ramallah. Luckily, his brother owns the only supermarket in the village and sells him good on credit. This is how they manage to survive.

As I was walking with the demonstrators - some villagers, some from Ramallah, and some Israeli and international activists - towards the gate in the Wall that is protected by armed border policemen, my daughter told me that one border police unit occupied Hashem`s roof and fired at the house next door, where stones were supposedly thrown from. My daughter shouted at the soldiers that the house they were firing at had elderly and disabled residents in it, but they ignored her.

In the mean time, I stood facing the soldiers guarding the gate in the Wall and watched them. They put on tough-looking faces, but to me they appeared to be just a group of cute kids. I thought to myself that any one of them could have been my son. The only ones who looked agitated were those who stood behind them, with the badge of the army spokesperson`s office on their shoulders, filming the events.

The main attraction of the demonstration was a elderly Palestinian, who had Parkinson`s, who came in a black suit and a Palestinian keffiyeh and threw himself on the soldiers` shields. They pushed him back, though they did try to be gentle, not because they are gentle by nature, but rather because they knew foreign television crews were filming them from the adjacent hilltop.

Once in a while the commander of the unit, who seemed slick and devious to me, one of those who will declare at a party a few years down the line that he`s really a leftist, instructed with a nod of his head the use of a water cannon to disperse us. Then the stun grenades began flying. What a disgusting man! How could I say that I belong to the same nation as this commander, who orders stun grenades to be thrown at me, while seemingly unable to wipe a vile smile from his lips. It`s clear to him that I am non-violent, and I will not lift a finger to his soldiers, nor I nor the elderly people I was with, much less the villagers who were even less violent than I was. All they wanted was to demonstrate a symbolic presence near the Wall. One day I will bump into this commander when he is back to civilian life and I will spit in his face(symbolically, of course, not really, because I am not violent like he is).

This is how the Occupation functions. On the front line are good, innocent
youth, who could have been my children, about whom I could never say that they are oppressive occupiers. Behind them stands a commander who looks like a marketing executive who cannot harm a fly. And behind him stand all sort of slick-looking youths from the army spokesperson`s office who look like future cinema directors and authors. And even further back behind them stands a water cannon for dispersal of demonstrations. And what`s the big deal about a water cannon - water doesn`t kill. Nor do stun grenades. The whole thing looks like child`s play, and despite all this there is an Occupation, despite all this Hashem lives in a cage, much worse-off than black slaves in the US in their time. All the people of Bil`in can do is go to Ramallah, where the world they can travel freely in stops. All this misery is created by people who look like dorky marketing managers.

So on the night of the Seder, while listening to the dull text of the Hagadah, I will think about Hashem and his family from Bil`in, who fed me a sparse meal, and yet I, even if I wanted to fulfill the commandment telling me to share my food and my home with the needy will not be able to, because of those fences and walls of Occupation separating between us, disguising themselves as elements in an `enlightened` Occupation. And I will think that they are truly my people, not the disgusting officers who look like marketing executives, who destroy my beautiful land with fortified cement.

Upon them will I pour my scorn, as is commanded to do upon non-Jews in the


Israeli soldier with cancer denied medical treatment, sent to jail

Last update - 10:52 04/04/2007

IDF soldier with cancer denied medical treatment, sent to jail

By Haaretz Service

An Israel Defense Forces soldier suffering from testicular cancer was denied medical treatment and was sent to a military prison before finally being admitted to hospital, Israel Radio reported on Wednesday.

The soldier, who is now undergoing radiology treatment for his illness, suffered severe pain during his basic training but was repeatedly refused thorough medical examinations by his superiors and by army doctors.

The soldier sought help from the boot camp doctor after his testicles had become swollen and he suffered from acute pain. The doctor, however, sent him back to serve, telling him he was entirely fit and that he might suffer from a reaction to bad food he may have eaten. The soldier was not even offered a physiological examination by the doctor.

The affair took a radical turn three months into his basic training, after the soldier's commander refused to release him to a scheduled doctor's appointment. According to the radio, the officer yelled at the soldier to return back to his company in ten seconds, but he refused to leave the office. The soldier insisted on remaining in the office after his superior imposed yet harsher penalties on him, telling him he would not be allowed to complete his basic training.

In his despair, the soldier left his superior's office indignant only to return with his rifle several minutes later, threatening the officer with the weapon in order to be allowed to undergo thorough medical checkups.

At the trial, the soldier's attorney did not bring the fact that his client's behavior stemmed from his deteriorated health and the pain he was in to the court's attention.

The court sentenced the soldier to ten months in an army prison, where the jail doctor declared him fit to serve his term. In prison, the soldier's condition continued to worsen.

The much longed-for help finally came after another doctor in prison referred the soldier to ultrasound examinations at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, diagnosing him with hydrocele. At the hospital, doctors immediately identified a malignant tumor in his testicles and sent him for a partial orchiectomy.

Being still a prisoner, the army assigned a watch on the soldier's hospital room during his treatment, and he is still under watch.

The soldier's mother told Israel Radio that she was "shocked, how a soldier is sent to prison and a doctor examines him and declares him fit to serve his term."

"He told me he was in pain, but what can I, his mother, do in the face of the military establishment?" she said.

The IDF said in response that the soldier had not complained of pain or swollen testicles, and that he was sentenced to ten months for illegal use of his weapon. Once his condition became clear, the army said, a recommendation was issued beyond the letter of the law to shorten his jail term.

Colombia seeks Israelis accused of training death squads

Last update - 22:58 03/04/2007

By The Associated Press

Interpol issued an international arrest warrant Tuesday for three Israelis accused of training private armies of Colombian drug cartels and right-wing death squads.

Yair Klein, Melnik Ferri and Tzedaka Abraham were being sought on charges of criminal conspiracy and instruction in terrorism and face nearly 11 years in prison if convicted, a spokesman for Colombia's domestic intelligence agency said, speaking on the condition that he not be identified.

The men are accused of helping set up training camps to teach private armies working for drug lords Pablo Escobar and Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha about explosives, car bombs and high-profile killings. The armies later morphed into Colombia's right-wing death squads.

Klein, a former lieutenant colonel in the Israeli army, appeared in a 1998 video used to train far-right squads. In 1991, he was convicted and fined US$13,400 (10,030) by an Israeli court for selling arms to Colombia's illegal groups.

Klein also spent 16 months in a Sierra Leon prison for his role in a guns for blood diamonds deal.

In an interview with Caracol television conducted in Israel and broadcast in March, Klein denied ever working with the cocaine cartels, but confirmed that he did instruct the far-right death squads in how to eliminate the leftist insurgency.

He said he was originally hired - with the Colombian Ministry of Defense's blessing - to organize security for the banana industry in the northern region of Uraba.

Many of his students went on to carry out some of Colombia's most brutal massacres.

Klein said, however, that, They were not trained to kill, only trained to defend themselves. Headed by Escobar, the Medellin cartel pioneered the use of unrestrained violence in its dealings with enemies and allies alike.

As Escobar fought against the threat of extradition, he declared war on Colombia, bringing down air planes, blowing up police headquarters and offering his army of assassins a set rate for the killing of policemen.

Escobar was finally shot down by police in his hometown of Medellin in 1993. Rodriguez Gacha was killed by police in 1989.

U.S. could strike Iran but not win: Russian general

Tue Apr 3, 6:17 AM ET

The United States cannot inflict a military defeat on Iran and any attack would be a huge political mistake, Russia's top general said on Tuesday.

"It is possible to damage Iran's military and industrial potential, but it is impossible to win," Russian news agencies quoted General Yuri Baluyevsky, head of the Russian general staff, as saying.

"The United States has a contingent in the region capable of launching a strike on Iranian territory.

"However, such possible strikes would be a huge political mistake. Shockwaves from this attack could be felt around the world."

Washington and its Western allies accuse Iran of wanting to build nuclear bombs, a charge Tehran denies. Tensions have been further aggravated by Iran's capture of 15 British sailors and marines in the northern Gulf on March 23.

Russia sells weapons to the Iranian military and is helping Tehran build a nuclear power station on the Gulf although work there is on hold over a payment dispute.

Russian media late last month quoted unnamed sources in Russian military intelligence as saying the United States could launch a strike on Iran as early as April 6.

RIA news agency quoted a Russian security source as saying Moscow has military intelligence reports that the U.S. has already approved a list of Iranian targets for bomb and missile strikes. The source said a land operation could follow.

U.S. President George W. Bush has said he will pursue diplomatic means to persuade Iran to drop its uranium enrichment plan but he has refused to rule out the use of force.

Baluyevsky said military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan showed the United States would face a fiasco if it took on Iran as well.

"The Americans must think twice (about attacking Iran)," he said. "They have already got stuck in Afghanistan and Iraq."

Iran sanctions boost civil nuclear disaster risk, report says

Another Chernobyl anyone? Do Americans know winds carry dust from Iran over the US?
By Harvey Morris

Published: April 2 2007 03:00 | Last updated: April 2 2007 03:00

International sanctions to starve Iran's nuclear programme have heightened the risk of a radiological disaster that could spread across the Gulf, according to a new British report.

John Large of Large and Associates, UK nuclear consultants, writes that once the Bushehr civilian reactor in southern Iran goes into operation this year, a safety failure - a radioactive leak - could threaten Gulf shipping lanes and Arab Gulf states.

"The United Nations Security Council sanctions are aimed at halting, or at least impeding, the transfer of knowledge, information and equipment relating to Iran's uranium enrichment and heavy water related undertakings," the report, commissioned by the United Arab Emirates' Centre for Strategic Studies and Research, states.

"The irony here is that perhaps the culture essential to maintaining nuclear safety for Iran's separate civil nuclear power programme will be left wanting."

The Bushehr civilian power plant, nearing start-up with Russian assistance, was excluded from United Nations sanctions imposed last December and strengthened this week in an attempt to halt a nuclear programme that experts believe is geared to producing a bomb.

Although Russia would be responsible for overseeing safety and taking charge of spent fuel at the Bushehr plant, Mr Large expressed concern that Iran's isolation from the international nuclear science community would compromise safety at it and other plants.

The report leaves little doubt that the Iran's overall programme would provide it with dual civilian-military capabilities.

The plant at Bushehr "would not, on its own, provide sufficient demand to commercially justify the sheer scale of Iran's ventures into the uranium enrichment and nuclear fuel manufacturing fields."

But Mr Large believes the Iranians have run into problems in perfecting centrifuge uranium enrichment technology at a plant at Natanz and have therefore boosted a heavy water project to produce plutonium at Arak in eastern Iran.

"Reading between the lines suggests that Iran has encountered considerable technical and logistical difficulties and setbacks in its endeavours to establish itself as a nuclear power in the region," the report says.

However, the Arak project "would enable Iran to venture along the route of acquiring a plutonium-cored nuclear weapons arsenal, like North Korea."

Assessing the radiological risks of accident or military strike against Iran's widely dispersed nuclear facilities, Mr Large says little or no contamination would spread from Arak until the plant was up and running.

The Arak facilities would be safe at least until the start-up of the plutonium breeding reactor. Damage to underground facilities at Natanz would pose a radiological threat but it would be confined to the workforce and local population.

However, "the radiological aftermath of an extreme radioactive release at Bushehr, either as a result of a military strike or a severely damaging accident . . . could require rapid implementation of population protection measures," Mr Large writes.

A radioactive plume would potentially contaminate the southern Gulf, including the territory of the UAE.

The report says a punitive strike on Bushehr would have little significance to an Iranian military programme. But after it went into operation, accidental or deliberate damage "might result in an untoward release of radioactivity accompanied by intolerable health and economic impacts across the region."

NIH sidelines contractor in conflict inquiry

The company worked for chemical makers while also analyzing their compounds for health risks.

By Marla Cone, Times Staff Writer

April 4, 2007

The National Institutes of Health has temporarily suspended a federal contractor that had been reviewing the health dangers of chemicals for the government while also working for the chemical industry.

In addition, the NIH will convene a new advisory panel to investigate all toxicology program contracts for conflicts of interest and report back by July 1.

For eight years, Sciences International, an Alexandria, Va., consulting firm, played a major management and scientific role at the federal Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction, which is responsible for deciding which chemicals harm human reproduction. The company prepared the center's preliminary reports on the risks of about 20 chemicals.

After the company's financial ties to more than 50 chemical companies and groups were reported in a Los Angeles Times article last month, the NIH told Sciences International to conduct its own internal investigation. In response, company president Herman Gibb reported in a March 19 letter that Sciences International was paid by three industry associations to perform consulting work on three chemicals that it also reviewed for the government reproductive health center.

Sciences International prepared the federal health center's review of the risks of styrene — used in plastics — and worked for a styrene industry trade group, Gibb said in the letter. The company also prepared the government review of ethylene glycol, used in automobile antifreeze and plastics, and worked on the chemical for the American Chemistry Council. It also was funded by the United Soybean Board and reviewed the health risks of soy formula for the federal center.

Gibb defended his company's work in the letter, saying that "no conflicts existed that impaired judgments or objectivity." He said employees who conduct the government reviews "have historically been insulated" from the firm's other work and were unaware that other employees were working for the industry associations. He also outlined steps the firm would take to find and report potential conflicts.

Sciences International also in recent years worked for BASF and Dow Chemical, two manufacturers of bisphenol A. The company wrote the health center's draft report on the chemical, which is found in polycarbonate plastic baby bottles and other containers. Bisphenol A mimics estrogen and has been linked in animal studies to prostate and breast cancer and reduced fertility.

Some scientists who study bisphenol A say that the review prepared by Sciences International downplays its risks and omits some findings.

But Gibb wrote that there was no conflict because his company didn't work on bisphenol A issues for Dow or BASF. The review was done "with no outside influence from industry. The summary was objective and the integrity of the science was never compromised," Gibb wrote.

The company's three-page letter — obtained Monday by the Times through a Freedom of Information Act request — did not include a client list and did not detail the firm's industry work.

Richard Wiles, executive director of the advocacy organization Environmental Working Group, called the company's self-audit superficial and said he was concerned that many public health decisions had been influenced by the company.

"What this really revealed is a broader need for an independent investigation," Wiles said.

The company's report is not very credible, said Carl Cranor, a UC Riverside philosophy professor who specializes in legal and ethical issues related to environmental risks.

"They focus on narrow conceptions of conflict of interest and say they didn't violate them," he said. Sciences International is "supposed to be an independent arbiter of what the science shows, but it also works for industry and I think it's very difficult to do both of those tasks credibly," he said.

Sciences International said in promotional material for clients in 1999 that its role as a federal contractor would be beneficial to regulated industries.

"As far as I am concerned, such an implication is inappropriate," said David Schwartz, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, in a letter sent last week to Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

NIH spokeswoman Robin Mackar said Tuesday that no decision had been made yet about whether to remove the stop-work order on Sciences International's $5-million contract, which runs through June 2008. She said the company's performance was still being evaluated.

New York dinner raises $18 Million for Israeli Military

The Jerusalem Post Internet Edition

New York dinner raises $18m. for IDF

The Friends of the Israel Defense Forces raised a record $18 million at its annual gala dinner held last week in New York City.

Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz addressed more than 1,300 attendees and remarked on the key security challenges facing Israel. The former defense minister and army chief warned that Iran intended to carry out its threats to destroy Israel.

"Teheran's intentions are crystal clear. The day Iran's capabilities allow it to fully act on its intentions is the day those intentions will be carried out. And that day must never come," Mofaz said, adding: "When it comes to Iran let me assure you we will also know how to protect ourselves."

Mofaz also told attendees that UN resolution 1701, the basis for the cease-fire ending the war in Lebanon, was not being fully implemented.

He said Israel is seeing Hizbullah "rearm and return to southern Lebanon" and he added that the Lebanese army was not doing what was necessary to disarm them.

On the Palestinian front, Mofaz said the unity government formed last month was in reality a "Hamas government operating with Hamas ideology." He said that Hamas plans to overtake the Palestinian Authority and he called on the international community not to be fooled as they extend "one hand in peace while the other is deeply involved in terror."

"At this very moment Hamas is strengthening its military forces and preparing for terror attacks and armed conflict against Israel," he said.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert delivered a recorded message to the attendees during which he thanked them for their continuing support.

Both Olmert and Mofaz said that Israel would not compromise on security and they will not rest until the three kidnapped Israeli soldiers are released.

This year the association honored the soldiers who fought in Lebanon and Gaza last summer, delivering the message to the soldiers that "You will never stand alone." During the event the group also presented its 2006 achievements which included raising $46m. for Israeli soldiers.

Leading the contributions this year was Israeli-American media mogul Haim Saban who pledged $3.2m. Guests at the event included Executive Vice President of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Malcolm Hoenlein, AIPAC President Howard Friedman, President and CEO of Israel Bonds Yehoshua Matza, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel, renowned Israeli performer Dudu Fisher, and American businessman Donald Trump who contributed $250,000. Israel's Consul General in New York Arye Mekel as well as Israel's defense attache to the US Major General Dan Harel were among representatives of the Israeli government at the affair.

As in the past eight years, the dinner chairman was Benny Shabtai, president of Raymond Weil, and the master of ceremony was author and nationally syndicated radio host Monica Crawly.

Bush, Iran & Selective Outrage

One of the least endearing features of Washington’s political/media hierarchy is its propensity for selective outrage, like what is now coming from George W. Bush about the “inexcusable behavior” of the Iranian government in holding 15 British sailors whom Bush has labeled “hostages.”

This is the same President Bush who often mocks the very idea that international law should apply to him; he’s fond of the punch line: “International law? I better call my lawyer.” But Bush becomes a pious defender of international law when it suits his geopolitical interests.

The major U.S. news media predictably follows along, getting into an arms-crossed harrumph over foreigners trampling on the inviolate principles of international law, the same rules that should never constrain U.S. actions.

So, when British sailors were captured on March 23 after they may or may not have crossed over an ill-defined demarcation between Iraqi and Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf, the assumption in the U.S. media was that Iran must be wrong. After all, Bush has listed Iran as a charter member of the “axis of evil”; its leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a notorious hothead; and everyone knows the Brits always play by the rules.

Of course, left outside this narrow frame of reference was the gross violation of international law – the bloody invasion of Iraq in 2003 – that put the Brits there in the first place.

Back then, international law was deemed little more than a nuisance getting in the way of what President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair wanted to do, i.e. conquer Iraq, install a compliant government, "privatize" its resources, and threaten other countries in the region to get in line.

Bush regarded the United Nations Charter and its ban on aggressive war as some goofy experiment in multilateralism. Blair actually knew better. Though he recognized that the Iraq invasion would violate this fundamental tenet of international law, Blair went along anyway.

From a longer-range historical context, there were other facts that would need forgetting if one wanted to get worked up into a moral frenzy. These include British colonial domination of both Iraq and Iran, and the CIA’s role in overthrowing Iran’s elected government in 1953 and reinstalling the brutal Shah of Iran on the Peacock Throne.

The combined interventions by the United Kingdom and the United States may have cost the lives of hundreds of thousands – possibly millions – of Iraqis and Iranians over the past century, but somehow Blair and Bush have positioned themselves as the innocent victims – at least as far as the Western press corps is concerned.

Iranian Detentions

So, in December and January, when Bush ordered raids against Iranian government offices inside Iraq and had five Iranian military officials detained indefinitely, there was barely a peep in the Western news media about violations of international law. Though the Iranians weren’t formally charged, their plight elicited little sympathy.

There were expectations that the Iranians might be released on March 21, the start of the Iranian new year. After that date passed, some observers believe Iran may have opted for a tit-for-tat response in seizing the 15 British sailors.

If that is the case, the Iranians apparently don’t understand the rules of the game: that President Bush has the unilateral right to do whatever he wants in the world and any reaction is unjustified, if not an invitation to an American military retaliation.

Escalating the war of words with Iran during a press conference at Camp David on March 31, Bush dismissed out of hand any possible “quid pro quos,” such as a swap of the two sets of detainees.

“The Iranians must give back the hostages,” Bush declared. “It’s inexcusable behavior.”

Regarding the captured British sailors, Blair and other U.K. officials have taken particular umbrage over videos released by Iran showing the sailors eating or being interviewed. This complaint references the principle of the Geneva Conventions against subjecting captured soldiers to public humiliation.

This same Geneva provision also was an issue – and another example of Western double standards – in the early days of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

In the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriya, five American soldiers were captured and their images were broadcast on Iraqi TV. Bush administration officials immediately denounced the brief televised interviews as a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

"It's illegal to do things to POWs that are humiliating to those prisoners," declared Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld’s charge was repeated over and over by U.S. television networks as the American people were agitated to a fever pitch. But American TV reporters stayed silent about the obvious inconsistency between the outrage over the footage of the American soldiers and the earlier U.S. broadcasts of Iraqi prisoners of war.

The Iraqi POWs had been paraded before U.S. cameras as "proof" that Iraqi resistance was crumbling – and no U.S. journalist working for a major news outlet raised any question about a Geneva violation. Some Iraqi POWs were shown forced at gunpoint to kneel with their hands behind their heads as they were patted down by U.S. soldiers. Other Iraqis were bound by plastic handcuffs and shown with bags over their heads.

Beyond the hypocrisy implicit in the double standards, CNN and other U.S. cable networks apparently saw no irony in the fact that they presented these scenes of kneeling and bound Iraqis over the title, “Operation: Iraqi Freedom.”

Guantanamo Bay

In protesting alleged Geneva violations by Iraq in March 2003, the U.S. news media also was silent about the fact that Bush had drawn worldwide condemnation for his decision to strip many POWs captured in Afghanistan of their Geneva Convention rights.

Bush ordered hundreds of these captives to be put in tiny outdoor cages at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The prisoners were shaved bald and forced to kneel with their eyes, ears and mouths covered to deprive them of their senses.

The shackled prisoners were filmed shuffling about in leg irons or being carried on stretchers to interrogation sessions. Their humiliation was broadcast widely.

In early 2002, U.S. allies, including some British officials, objected to the treatment of these prisoners and to Bush's unilateral assertion that they were "unlawful combatants" outside the protection of international law.

Legal experts noted that "unlawful combatant" was not even a category recognized by international law. The Geneva Conventions also required that detainees whose status was in any doubt must be accorded all enumerated rights until a "competent tribunal" was established to determine each individual prisoner's legal status.

Instead, Bush insisted that he had the sole right to declare which prisoners were POWs (with protections under the Geneva Conventions) and which ones were to be considered "unlawful combatants" (with no protections under the Geneva Conventions). Even Bush-designated POWs only received the Geneva rights that Bush saw fit to grant.

Human rights groups charged, too, that the U.S. treatment of some prisoners crossed the line into torture, which also is forbidden by international law. According to a variety of public accounts, prisoners have been subjected to water-boarding, a practice that simulates drowning, and to painful stress positions for long periods of time.

For its part, however, the Bush administration has denied engaging in torture and insists that all prisoners have been treated humanely.

Though these controversies about Bush’s disdain for international law are well known to the U.S. news media, the context disappeared again when press interest turned to the captured British sailors in late March 2007.

Suddenly, it was a new day with Bush and Blair fully committed to international law. Even a relatively minor Geneva transgression, such as filming captives eating, became a justification for unrestrained outrage.

Without any acknowledgement about their own abrogation of international law, the British and U.S. governments lifted these principles from the gutter, dusted them off and put them on a pedestal. The grand human rights defender, George W. Bush, lectured other countries about “inexcusable behavior” – and no prominent Western journalist called him to account for his contradictions.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

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Israel: Gaza is no longer occupied, but it still exerts much control

By: GAZA GOODS - Associated Press

RAFAH, Gaza Strip -- Raouf Ziara's love life is in Israel's hands.

When Ziara, a 36-year-old officer in the Palestinian security forces, crossed from Gaza to Egypt in late March to visit his Egyptian wife, he had spent more than a month repeatedly trying to get through a border station that Israel only rarely allows to open.

Now in Cairo, Ziara doesn't know when he'll be able to return. But he knows he'll be doing it alone since Israel has frozen immigration to Gaza, which is why his wife is stuck in Egypt and can't join him.

Despite its withdrawal from Gaza in September 2005, Israel still exerts considerable control over the lives of the 1.4 million Palestinians there by controlling access.

The movement of crops crucial to farmers' livelihoods, the decision on when residents of the coastal strip can leave and when they can come back, permission for a foreign-born spouse to move to Gaza -- it's all still up to Israel.

Yet Israel says it no longer occupies Gaza because it pulled out its soldiers and settlers. Under international law, Israel argues, it has no obligations to Gaza's residents but on its own initiative will try to keep supplies flowing to the crowded, poverty-stricken territory to avert a humanitarian crisis.

"We are no longer an occupying power," said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev. "The legal responsibilities defined by being an occupying power no longer apply."

For Gaza's residents, a brief period of relatively free movement followed Israel's withdrawal.

But despite those gains, Palestinian militants inside Gaza continued to fire rockets at towns inside Israel, and Israel tightened the borders again. It clamped down further when militants linked to the Islamic movement Hamas tunneled into Israel in June 2006 and abducted a soldier.

Israel says it's now turning the crossings with Gaza into international border points, formalizing its farewell from the territory it captured in the 1967 Six Day War.

It has built a high-tech passenger terminal at the main crossing at Erez -- with signs declaring it a "border control point." From behind bulletproof glass, inspectors issue orders over loudspeakers to travelers making their way through a maze of metal detectors, remote-controlled gates and passport control.

But the United Nations says Gaza remains occupied, arguing that Israel retains control over the crossings and that Gaza and the West Bank constitute one unit. Since the West Bank is still occupied, the U.N. says, so is the rest.

Gisha, an Israeli human rights group, accuses the international community of failing to hold Israel to its responsibilities as an occupier, such as ensuring passage of people and goods from the narrow strip where more than half the people live in poverty and unemployment is 36 percent.

"Israel's failure to uphold those obligations has contributed to a humanitarian crisis in Gaza that is unprecedented in 40 years of occupation," said Gisha director, Sari Bashi.

Despite an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, brokered by the U.S. in November 2005, movement through the crossing points is far below capacity.

Younis Abu Shabana, who grows chili peppers and tomatoes for export to Europe, said he was able to ship just 250 tons of his 4,000 tons of produce last season. He said he threw away 750 tons that had already been packed, and let the rest rot in the fields.

Israel says it restricts Palestinian movement mainly because of the rocket attacks and the kidnapping of the soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit. After the abduction, Israeli troops unleashed a weeks-long military offensive and bombed Gaza's power plant, severely disrupting the electricity supply.

Israel determines who can visit or settle in Gaza through its control over the population registry. Only those on the list get Israeli-issued ID cards crucial for travel in and out of the strip, including through the Gaza-Egypt border that in theory is under Palestinian control.

At Israel's insistence, the 2005 agreement stipulated that only legal Gaza residents can cross that border, along with a limited number of foreigners.

Israel has frozen immigration since the Palestinian uprising erupted in 2000, meaning that foreign-born relatives or spouses such as Ziara's Egyptian wife cannot move to the territory. More than 50,000 Palestinians who came on visitors' permits in the 1990s, following interim peace agreements with Israel, don't have residency rights. If they leave, they won't be allowed back.

In February, the Palestinian Authority began issuing its own ID cards, but Israel doesn't recognize them.

In Gaza City, Issam Helmi, 36, recently waited at the Palestinian Interior Ministry to apply for the local ID for his Ukrainian-born wife, Olga. She came in 1996 as a visitor but wasn't granted residency by Israel. Having overstayed her visa, she took a risk last June by leaving to visit Ukraine. Now she can't come back.

Soon after Israel's pullout, the Palestinians were thrilled to gain control over Gaza's border with Egypt. Passage through the Rafah crossing was relatively easy then, giving Gazans a lifeline to the rest of the world for the first time in decades.

But Israel's policy changed after the Palestinians elected a government led by Hamas, which is responsible for dozens of suicide bombings and remains committed to Israel's destruction. Since Shalit's capture, Israel has allowed the border to open only one-fifth of the time.

Though Israeli inspectors no longer staff the border terminal, Israel controls whether European monitors assigned to Rafah under the crossings agreement can report to work. If the monitors don't show up, the terminal remains closed.

The Israeli Defense Ministry says the crossing has been exploited for smuggling weapons and money to Gaza, and that Israel allows it to open periodically on humanitarian grounds. Regev, the Israeli spokesman, said Israel is acting in line with the crossings agreement.

However, Gisha published a transcript of an August meeting of Israeli security officials in which some participants said closing Rafah should be used as a pressure tactic to try to free Shalit.

The head of the European monitors, Italian Lt. Gen. Pietro Pistolese, has warned that frequently shutting the crossing "only encourages more people to resort to extremism and terror."

Israel notifies Palestinian border officials of a planned opening the night before, and the news is then broadcast on Palestinian TV and radio, usually causing a crush of thousands of people desperate to cross. The terminal can only handle 1,200 people in each direction on any day.

Ziara, the security officer, tries to visit Cairo every three months to see his wife, whom his Egyptian mother selected for him eight years ago.

During the month he spent trying to cross, Ziara left his packed suitcase at a cousin's house a mile from the terminal to try to get in line quickly. One night, he slept in a car at the border hoping to get across, but a thousand others had done the same thing.

"People were paying bribes to pass through before us and there was no order -- it was all chaos," Ziara said. "So I left the car and I crossed the first gate, but the second gate -- I tried to jump over it. Many people were doing the same thing. The (Palestinian) soldiers there fired at us and we all ran away. So I didn't make it."

Like the movement of people, the movement of goods and produce is restricted, with cargo trucks allowed into Israel only through the Karni crossing.

In an attempt to boost exports while addressing Israeli safety concerns, the U.S. has endorsed a plan for the Palestinians' elite Presidential Guard to run their side of Karni and for scanners to speed up security checks.

But the scanners and the guards' barracks still aren't in place. Congress is considering a Bush administration request for $16 million to help with the upgrades.

About 1,200 trucks leave Gaza every month, up from 400 in the fall but still far below the 400 a day envisioned by the U.S.

Mounds of scrap metal along Gaza's main road are one sign of the export squeeze and reflect the poverty of Palestinians, who collect bits and pieces for extra cash.

Trader Ibrahim Barakeh, 32, said he used to export large amounts of the metal, crushed into neat blocks, but new restrictions mean he can get only 100 tons through Karni every year. The backlog sits in large piles on a nearby lot, costing him $1,000 a year for storage.

"We depend on the Israelis," he said. "They have the power in their hands."

US/IRAN: Duel for Leverage Fuels Conflict, Not Diplomacy

Analysis by Trita Parsi*

WASHINGTON, Mar 30 (IPS) - As the dispute over Iran's seizure of British sailors continues to twist and turn, what may have been an isolated incident at the outset is quickly developing into yet another move in the geopolitical chess game between the West and Iran.

The incident took place on Mar. 23 in a disputed waterway between Iraq and Iran. Fifteen British sailors were detained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and after a few short days of quiet diplomacy, both the British and Iranian governments resorted to fighting their case in public -- a move that significantly reduces the chance of a quick and smooth resolution to the dispute.

>From the outset, the British authorities have insisted in stark categorical terms that the sailors were in Iraqi and not Iranian waters. On Wednesday, the British produced GPS coordinates to support their claim, even though the coordinates were from a helicopter that London says hovered over the Indian ship that the sailors had inspected, and not the GPS coordinates of the sailors themselves.

Iran was quick to produce its own evidence. The GPS unit of one of the British sailors, confiscated by the Iranian authorities, shows that the British were not only in Iranian waters at the time of the incident, but that they had crossed over into Iranian waters on five earlier occasions as well, according to Tehran.

Whether the British were in Iranian waters or not -- and whether the Iranians believe the British were in Iranian waters or not -- Tehran seems to be using the incident to regain leverage over the West in the confrontation over its nuclear programme and its rising power and influence in the Middle East.

Much indicates that both Iran and the U.S. have come to recognise that it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid some sort of diplomatic confrontation between them. This is particularly problematic for the George W. Bush administration, which for several years has adamantly opposed the idea of talking to Tehran.

The sudden realisation of the near-impossibility to avoid real diplomacy caused much anxiety in the Bush administration earlier this year. Washington had no shortage of contingency war plans with Iran -- but no contingency plans for diplomacy, and consequently no preparation for such negotiations.

So when the Iraq Study Group and Congress pushed the White House to recognise the need for diplomacy with Iraq's neighbours, including Iran, the Bush administration balked. It lacked leverage to negotiate with Iran, it said.

"Frankly, right at this moment there's really nothing the Iranians want from us and so in any negotiation right now we would be the supplicant," Secretary of Defence Robert Gates explained. "The only reason to talk to us would be to extract a price, and that's not diplomacy, that's extortion."

If the U.S. lacked leverage over Iran, the answer lied in gaining that leverage. Instead of accepting the Iraq Study Group's recommendation to open talks with Iran, the Bush White House sought to increase the pressure on Iran to gain leverage -- in any way possible.

On Dec. 24, U.S. troops arrested several Iranian officials in Iraq -- of which at least two were diplomats. A few weeks later, an office the Iranians say was a consulate in Iraqi Kurdistan was raided. Another five Iranians were detained there. They are still held by the U.S. and Tehran has had no access to them.

In addition, Ali Reza Asgari, a senior Iranian official who served in the cabinet of former President Mohammad Khatami, went missing in Turkey in February. His family and authorities in Tehran say he was kidnapped by the Israelis. The U.S. says he defected.

Whether the arrested Iranians were diplomats or not and whether Asgari defected or was kidnapped, in two short months, the detentions of the Iranians, the imposition of financial sanctions on Iran and the passing of two Security Council Resolutions has seemingly provided the U.S. with the leverage it was seeking. Washington is suddenly feeling confident and is hinting a vague willingness to talk to Tehran from its perceived position of strength.

In this context, Iran's holding of the British sailors may serve as a signal to Washington that if seizing personnel from the other side is fair game for the sake of gaining leverage, then Iran can also play that game.

Rather than an act of desperation resulting from the onslaught of Western pressure, as some in Washington have interpreted Iran's actions, the arrest of the British sailors may have been a calculated measure to fight fire with fire -- but without targeting the U.S. directly (which surely would have caused things to escalate out of control.)

The revelation of what Tehran says is the second letter by the sole female sailor among the Brits, Faye Turney, seems to support this interpretation. The letter concludes with a call by Turney for British troops to leave Iraq. "Isn't it time for us to start withdrawing our forces from Iraq and let them determine their own future?" it said.

The letter's linking of the seizure of the sailors with the larger political disputes in the region lends support to the interpretation that Iran is -- at least at this stage of the dispute -- seeking to regain the leverage it lost when the U.S. began targeting Iranian officials in Iraq.

Iran may feel justified in responding to Washington's pressure tactics by targeting British troops in the narrow waterways between Iraq and Iran. But it's difficult to see an end to this duel for leverage. If Iran gets the upper hand, Washington may further raise the stakes and embark on a new set of provocative actions. And if Washington regains the edge over Iran, chances are that Tehran will respond in kind.

As each side increases the stakes in an effort to gain the upper hand in a potential future negotiation, tensions in the region increase, as does the risk for an uncontrollable escalation. Rather than improving their negotiation positions, both sides are closing the diplomatic window through this risky game of one-upmanship.

*Dr. Trita Parsi is the author of "Treacherous Alliances -- The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the United States" (Yale University Press, 2007). He is also president of the National Iranian American Council (

Fitch in fresh mortgage warning

By Saskia Scholtes in New York Tue Apr 3, 1:55 PM ET

This year's crop of commercial property mortgages could face sharply higher defaults than in previous years amid pervasive loose lending practices and overconfidence in the sector, according to Fitch Ratings.

The warning echoes the turmoil in the risky US subprime home loan market, where lax underwriting and a sharp slowdown in the housing market have resulted in a steep increase in mortgage payment problems in recent months.

Unlike the residential market, commercial property values are still rising. But Fitch said the recent downturn in the market for subprime residential mortgages "should caution investors about the dangers of mixing aggressive underwriting with reliance on continued price appreciation".

The agency said defaults on commercial mortgages originated this year could be up to 15 per cent higher than in recent years. Bonds backed by commercial property loans have become popular in recent years as investors have sought to diversify holdings and tap into rising US commercial property prices.

The phenomenon has granted borrowers easy access to capital and prompted the development of new, more highly leveraged debt structures.

Fitch said properties were also increasingly financed with no money down or even with loans for more than 100 per cent of a property's value as owners borrowed greater amounts upfront to pay interest costs, betting that cash flows would improve quickly enough for the property to be self-sustaining.

"Real estate professionals are structuring loans today with the expectation that cash flow will continue to rise in a commercial real estate market that has already experienced dramatic upward trends," said Eric Rothfeld, senior director at Fitch.

"Fitch is seeing the market financing the higher value prematurely, based on the expectation that it will occur, but well before it does or does not come to exist," he added.

For instance, the rating agency said it had seen underwriting on numerous office properties where the existing cash flows were adjusted to reflect continued long-term growth in property values and rents, even when properties were vacant or leases were not due for renewal within the life of the loan.

Fitch warned that, in some parts of the commercial mortgage market, there were signs that such aggressive lending practices were already causing problems.

US agents visit Ethiopian secret jails

Anthony Mitchell | Nairobi, Kenya

04 April 2007 09:10

CIA and FBI agents hunting for al-Qaeda militants in the Horn of Africa have been interrogating terrorism suspects from 19 countries held at secret prisons in Ethiopia, which is notorious for torture and abuse, according to an investigation by the Associated Press (AP).

Human rights groups, lawyers and several Western diplomats assert hundreds of prisoners, who include women and children, have been transferred secretly and illegally in recent months from Kenya and Somalia to Ethiopia, where they are kept without charge or access to lawyers and families.

The detainees include at least one United States citizen and some are from Canada, Sweden and France, according to a list compiled by a Kenyan Muslim rights group and flight manifests obtained by AP.

Some were swept up by Ethiopian troops that drove a radical Islamist government out of neighbouring Somalia late last year.

Others have been deported from Kenya, where many Somalis have fled the continuing violence in their homeland.

Ethiopia, which denies holding secret prisoners, is a country with a long history of human rights abuses. In recent years, it has also been a key US ally in the fight against al-Qaeda, which has been trying to sink roots among Muslims in the Horn of Africa.

US government officials contacted by AP acknowledged questioning prisoners in Ethiopia. But they said American agents were following the law and were fully justified in their actions because they are investigating past attacks and current threats of terrorism.

The prisoners were never in US custody, said an FBI spokesperson, Richard Kolko, who denied the agency would support or be party to illegal arrests. He said US agents were allowed limited access by governments in the Horn of Africa to question prisoners as part of the FBI's counterterrorism work.

Western security officials, who insisted on anonymity because the issue related to security matters, told AP that among those held were well-known suspects with strong links to al-Qaeda.

But some US allies have expressed consternation at the transfers to the prisons. One Western diplomat in Nairobi, who agreed to speak to AP only if not quoted to avoid angering US officials, said he sees the US as playing a guiding role in the operation.

John Sifton, a Human Rights Watch expert on counterterrorism, went further. He said in an email that the United States has acted as "ringleader" in what he labelled a "decentralised, outsourced Guantánamo."

Details of the arrests, transfers and interrogations slowly emerged as AP and human rights groups investigated the disappearances, diplomats tracked their missing citizens and the first detainees to be released told their stories.

One investigator from an international human rights group, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authourised to speak to the media, said Ethiopia had secret jails at three locations: Addis Ababa, the capital; an Ethiopian air base 59km east of the capital; and the far eastern desert close to the Somali border.

More than 100 of the detainees were originally arrested in Kenya in January, after almost all of them fled Somalia because of the intervention by Ethiopian troops accompanied by US special forces advisers, according to Kenyan police reports and US military officials.

Those people were then deported in clandestine pre-dawn flights to Somalia, according to the Kenya Muslim Human Rights Forum and airline documents. At least 19 were women and 15 were children.

In Somalia, they were handed over to Ethiopian intelligence officers and secretly flown to Ethiopia, where they are now in detention, the New York-based Human Rights Watch says.

A further 200 people, also captured in Somalia, were mainly Ethiopian rebels who backed the Somali Islamist movement, according to one rights group and a Somali government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not want to jeopardise his job. Those prisoners also were taken to Ethiopia, human rights groups say.

Kenya continues to arrest hundreds of people for illegally crossing over from Somalia. But it is not clear if deportations continue.

The Pentagon announced last week that one Kenyan al-Qaeda suspect who fled Somalia, Mohamed Abul Malik, was arrested and flown to the US detention centre at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

When contacted by AP, Ethiopian officials denied that they held secret prisoners or that any detainees were questioned by US officials.

"No such kind of secret prisons exist in Ethiopia," said Bereket Simon, special adviser to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. He declined to comment further.

A former prisoner and the families of current and former captives tell a different story.

"It was a nightmare from start to finish," Kamilya Mohammedi Tuweni, a 42-year-old mother of three who has a passport from the United Arab Emirates, told AP in her first comments after her release in Addis Ababa on March 24 from what she said was two-and-a-half months months in detention without charge.

She is the only released prisoner who has spoken publicly. She was freed a month after being interviewed, fingerprinted and photographed by a US agent, she said. Tuweni, an Arabic-Swahili translator, said she was arrested while on a business trip to Kenya and had never been to Somalia or had any links to that country.

She said she was arrested January 10. Tuweni said she was beaten in Kenya, then forced to sleep on a stone floor while held in Somalia in a single room with 22 other women and children for 10 days before being flown to Ethiopia on a military plane.

Finally, she said, she was taken blindfolded from prison to a private villa in the Ethiopian capital. There, she said, she was interrogated with other women by a male US intelligence agent. He assured her that she would not be harmed but urged her to cooperate, she said.

In a telephone conversation with AP, Tuweni said the man identified himself as a US official, but not from the FBI. A CIA official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said on Tuesday that the agency had no contact with Tuweni.

"We cried the whole time because we did not know what would happen. The whole thing was very scary," said Tuweni, who flew back to her family in Dubai a day after her release.

Tuweni's version of her transfer out of Kenya is corroborated by the manifest of the African Express Airways flight 5Y AXF. It shows she was taken to Mogadishu, Somalia, with 31 other people on an unscheduled flight chartered by the Kenyan government.

The family of a Swedish detainee, 17-year-old Safia Benaouda, said she was freed from Ethiopia on March 27 and arrived home the following day. Benaouda had travelled to Somalia with her fianc é but fled to Kenya during the Ethiopian military intervention, her mother said.

"She is exhausted, her face is yellow and she's lost about 10kg," her mother, Helena Benaouda, a 47-year-old Muslim convert who heads the Swedish Muslim Council, wrote on a website she set up to help secure her daughter's release.

"She was beaten with a stick when she demanded to go to the toilet."

The mother spoke briefly by telephone with AP, saying any information she had was being posted on the website. She declined to make her daughter available for an interview.

According to the website, a US specialist visited the location where Benaouda was being held and took DNA samples and fingerprints of detainees. It said the teenager was never charged or allowed access to lawyers.

The teen was also concerned about a seven-month-old baby that was in detention with her, the website said.

The transfer from Kenya to Somalia, and eventually to Ethiopia, of a 24-year-old US citizen, Amir Mohamed Meshal, raised disquiet among FBI officers and the State Department. He is the only American known to be among the detainees in Ethiopia.

US diplomats on February 27 formally protested to Kenyan authorities about Meshal's transfer and then spent three weeks trying to gain access to him in Ethiopia, said Tom Casey, deputy spokesperson for the State Department.

He confirmed Meshal was still in Ethiopian custody pending a hearing on his status.

An FBI memo read to AP by a US official in Washington, who insisted on anonymity, quoted an agent who interrogated Meshal as saying the agent was "disgusted" by Meshal's deportation to Somalia by Kenya. The unidentified agent said he was told by US consular staff that the deportation was illegal.

"My personal opinion was that he may have been a jihadi a-hole, but the precedent of 'deporting' US citizens to dangerous situations when there is no reason to do so was a bad one," the official quoted the memo as saying.

Like Benaouda, Meshal was arrested fleeing Somalia. A Kenyan police report of Meshal's arrest obtained by AP says he was carrying an assault rifle and had crossed into Kenyan with armed Arab men who were trying to avoid capture.

Meshal's parents insist he is innocent and called on the US government to win his release.

"My son's only crime is that he's a Muslim, an American Muslim," his father, Mohamed Meshal, said from the family's two-storey home on a cul-de-sac in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, where he lives with his wife, Fifi.

"Clearly the US government interrogated him, and threatened him with torture according to the accounts that we've seen," said Jonathan Hafetz, a lawyer at the Brennan Centre for Justice at the New York University School of Law who has been assisting the family.

Representative Rush Holt, a Democrat from New Jersey, wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday to demand Meshal's immediate release. "Our government cannot allow an American citizen to continue to be held by the Ethiopian government in violation of international law and our own due process," he said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, the guardian of the Geneva Conventions that protect victims of war, is seeking access to the Ethiopian detainees, said a diplomat from a country whose citizens are being held. He insisted on speaking anonymously because he is working for their release.

US officials, who agreed to discuss the detentions only if not quoted by name because of the information's sensitivity, said Ethiopia had allowed access to US agencies, including the CIA and FBI, but the agencies played no role in arrests, transport or deportation.

One official said it would have been irresponsible to pass up an opportunity to learn more about terrorist operations.

Kolko, the FBI spokesperson, also said the detainees were never in FBI or US government custody.

"While in custody of the foreign government, the FBI was granted limited access to interview certain individuals of interest," he told AP.

"We do not support or participate in any system that illegally detains foreign fighters or terror suspects, including women and children."

Paul Gimigliano, a CIA spokesperson, declined to discuss details of any such interviews. He said, however: "To fight terror, CIA acts boldly and lawfully, alone and with partners, just as the American people expect us to."

One of the US officials said the FBI has had access in Ethiopia to several dozen individuals -- fewer than 100 -- as part of its investigations.

The official said the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania that killed hundreds are a major focus of the agents' work. Law enforcement officials have long believed the bombings were carried out by members of Osama bin Laden's terrorist network who were later given safe haven in Somalia.

The official said FBI agents would not be witness or party to any questioning that involved abuse.

It wasn't clear how many people the CIA interviewed or whether the agency's officers were working jointly with the FBI.

The CIA began an aggressive program in 2002 to interrogate suspected terrorists at an unknown number of secret locations from South-East Asia to Europe.

Prisoners were frequently picked up in one country and transferred to a prison in another, where they were held incommunicado by a cooperative intelligence service. But President George Bush announced in September that all the detainees had been moved to military custody at Guantánamo Bay.

One Western diplomat, who refused to be quoted by name for fear of hurting relations with the countries involved, would not rule out that additional suspects in Ethiopia could be sent to Guantánamo.

Kenyan government spokesperson Alfred Mutua insisted no laws were broken and said his government was not aware that anyone would be
transferred from Somalia to Ethiopia.

Lawyers and human rights groups argue the covert transfers to Ethiopia violated international law.

"Each of these governments has played a shameful role in mistreating people fleeing a war zone," said Georgette Gagnon, deputy Africa director of Human Rights Watch. "Kenya has secretly expelled people, the Ethiopians have caused dozens to disappear, and US security agents have routinely interrogated people held incommunicado." – Sapa-AP

Overselling capitalism

Why today's markets are headed for disaster unless there is a shift in focus.

By Benjamin R. Barber, BENJAMIN R. BARBER is a professor at the University of Maryland and is the author of many books, including "Jihad vs. McWorld." His latest book is "Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize

April 4, 2007

THE CRISIS IN subprime mortgages betrays a deeper predicament facing consumer capitalism triumphant: The "Protestant ethos" of hard work and deferred gratification has been replaced by an infantilist ethos of easy credit and impulsive consumption that puts democracy and the market system at risk.

Capitalism's core virtue is that it marries altruism and self-interest. In producing goods and services that answer real consumer needs, it secures a profit for producers. Doing good for others turns out to entail doing well for yourself.

Capitalism's success, however, has meant that core wants in the developed world are now mostly met and that too many goods are now chasing too few needs. Yet capitalism requires us to "need" all that it produces in order to survive. So it busies itself manufacturing needs for the wealthy while ignoring the wants of the truly needy. Global inequality means that while the wealthy have too few needs, the needy have too little wealth.

Capitalism is stymied, courting long-term disaster. We still work hard, but only so that we can pay and play. In order to turn reluctant consumers with few unsatisfied core needs into permanent shoppers, producers must dumb down consumers, shape their wants, take over their life worlds, encourage impulse buying, cultivate shopoholism and invent new needs. At the same time, they empower kids as shoppers by legitimizing their unformed tastes and mercurial wants and detaching them from their gatekeeper mothers and fathers and teachers and pastors. The kids include toddlers who recognize brand logos before they can talk and commodity-minded baby Einsteins who learn to shop before they can walk.

Consumerism needs this infantilist ethos because it favors laxity and leisure over discipline and denial, values childish impetuosity and juvenile narcissism over adult order and enlightened self-interest, and prefers consumption-directed play to spontaneous recreation. The ethos feeds a private-market logic ("What I want is what society needs!") and combats the public logic fashioned by democracy ("What society needs is what I want to want!").

This is capitalism's all-too-logical way of solving the problem of too many goods chasing too few needs. It makes consuming ubiquitous and omnipresent, turning shopping into an addiction facilitated by easy credit.

Compare any traditional town square with a modern suburban mall. In the square, you'll find a school, town hall, library, general store, park, movie house, church, art gallery and homes — a true neighborhood exhibiting our human diversity as beings who do more than simply consume. But our new town malls are all shopping, all the time.

When we see politics permeate every sector of life, we call it totalitarianism. When religion rules all, we call it theocracy. But when commerce dominates everything, we call it liberty. Can we redirect capitalism to its proper end: the satisfaction of real human needs? Well, why not?

The world teems with elemental wants and is peopled by billions who are needy. They do not need iPods, but they do need potable water, not colas but inexpensive medicines, not MTV but their ABCs. They need mortgages they can afford, not funny-money easy credit.

To serve such needs, however, capitalism must once again learn to defer profits and empower the needy as customers. Entrepreneurs wanted! With micro-credit, villagers can construct hand pumps and water filters from the clay under their feet. Pharmaceutical companies ought to be thinking about how to sell inexpensive retro-virals to Africans with HIV instead of pushing Botox to the "forever young" customers they are trying to manufacture here. And parents can refuse to relinquish their gatekeeping roles and let marketers know they won't allow their kids to be targeted anymore.

To do this, we will require the assistance of democratic institutions and an adult ethos. Public citizens must be restored to their proper place as masters of their private choices. To sustain itself, capitalism will once again have to respond to real needs instead of trying to fabricate synthetic ones — or risk consuming itself.