Saturday, June 11, 2005

The August Mr. Bush

Global Eye

Blood Group
By Chris Floyd
June 10, 2005

The history of politics is the history of factions jostling for power, by methods seldom peaceful and rarely, if ever, honest. War is by far the preferred means of obtaining and augmenting domination of the political landscape and the enrichment of the ruling clique.

Sometimes this means violent civil strife within the state itself. At other times, the political tool of war is directed outwards, at some demonized enemy who poses a "threat" -- which is almost always exaggerated or illusory -- to national survival. Without fail, the warmongering faction's political opponents are identified with the enemy, either as direct agents or, more often, as unpatriotic abettors whose criticism of the rulers gives "aid and comfort" to the foe.

Blood is an excellent sealant for factional unity. Once lives have been taken in pursuit of the faction's interests, which are invariably dressed up in the rhetoric of moral purpose, it becomes much harder for the faction's members to question or quit the cause. To do so means confessing not just to error but to complicity in murder. Few are those who can face such a stark unmasking. Self-deception is vital coin in the economy of factional partisanship.

Of course, some factions are more venal, more violent and more ambitious than others. Many factions are content with a mere piece of the action, a cut of the spoils. Although occasionally they might win through to the top rank of power, they don't seek to eliminate all their rivals and establish permanent rule. But history provides many examples of ruthless factions whose thirst for control is unlimited. They seek and will accept no less than a profound transformation of state and society into the image of the faction itself, using any method to achieve this goal. They will begin with peaceful means but will not balk at bloodshed if required. And of course, to impose a narrow partisan vision on an entire society inevitably requires mass bloodletting in the end.

By no means are such towering ambitions always unsuccessful. This is one of the great unspoken truths of history: In many different places and times, empires, caliphates, dynasties and other systems of factional dominion have been established through enormous evil -- and then persisted in power for centuries, lauded as honorable, legitimate governments. In time, their domination comes to be seen as a fact of nature, the way things are. There is no other way to think, to operate, to exist outside the parameters imposed by the ruling worldview.

Western civilization is founded upon this kind of enduring factional triumph. Octavian, the teenage adventurer adopted by his distant kinsman Julius Caesar, parlayed the chaos of Rome's partisan strife into supreme power, using corruption, deceit, betrayal, murder, civil war and foreign conquest as his political instruments. With a bloody single-mindedness and a scope that would not be seen in Europe again until the 20th century, he subsumed the entire state into his faction, merging and equating the two, leaving nothing outside the new reality created by his violent success.

There was no ideological, moral or even genuine political content at the heart of his faction. Its only goal was power, Octavian's personal power, from which his adherents hoped to obtain offices, land, loot and prestige -- or protection from the ravages of other factions. Only later, on the razed ground of total victory, was this remorseless, murderous game mythologized into a selfless crusade for national security, for order, liberty, prosperity and, yes, for "family values." Only then, when the dead lay rotting by the hundreds of thousands, was the young man accorded the lofty title that carried him into history as a beacon of civilization: Augustus. The system he established so brutally was maintained -- with equal brutality for all who opposed it -- for more than 1,400 years.

At first glance, it might seem absurd to compare this grand figure of world history to the gang of apish, third-rate poltroons now camped out along the Potomac. But although Octavian's faction contained a handful of remarkably able figures, for the most part it was a collection of schemers, time-servers, cynical money-men, stunted ideologues, bootlickers, propagandists and thugs. Through bribes, threats and the reflected glory of Caesar's name, Octavian was able to augment his tawdry crew with the fearsome military power of many legions. Armed might -- and the willingness to use it without remorse or moral compunction -- is always the decisive factor in politics.

The brutal system of torture, corruption, lawlessness and war established in Washington by the faction of President George W. Bush is now backed by the greatest military power in history, able to wipe whole nations from the face of the earth in minutes. With the illegal invasion of Iraq and the illegal imprisonment of thousands of people in its global gulag, this faction has shown its willingness to use military force without remorse or moral compunction in pursuit of its openly-stated totalitarian vision: "full-spectrum dominance" over geopolitical affairs coupled with a radical "transformation" of domestic government into a centralized, militarized "instrument of national power" that breaks down "the old, rigid divisions between war, peace, diplomacy, conflict and reconstruction," as Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld outlined last month. This "instrument" is designed not for the people's benefit but to provide "maximum flexibility" for the commander-in-chief -- whose powers are not subject to U.S. or international law, says Bush's legal team.

Is such a faction, so steeped in blood and lies, so ravenous for domination, ever likely to resign its power voluntarily through free, unfixed elections? Or will it not seek to extend its rule, by any means necessary, into the years and centuries beyond?


The Roman Revolution
Ronald Syme, Oxford University Press

Remarks by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld to the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia
U.S. Department of Defense, May 25, 2005

What Are You Going to Do With That?
TomDispatch, May 30, 2005

Dark Passage: The PNAC Blueprint for Empire
Empire Burlesque, September 20, 2002

Pentagon Prepped Torture Defense, Said President Not Bound By Law
CBS News, June 7, 2004

Memo Regarding Presidential Executive Order on Interrogations
Federal Bureau of Investigation, May 22, 2004

The Secret World of US Jails
The Observer, June 13, 2004

The Torture Memos: A Legal Narrative
CounterPunch, Feb. 2, 2005

Secret Way to War
TomDispatch/The New York Review of Books, May 15, 2005

From the Gracchi to Nero: A History of Rome from 133 B.C. to A.D. 68
H.H. Scullard, Routledge

Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic
Tom Holland, Anchor Books

The Twelve Caesars
Suetonius/Robert Graves, Penguin Books

Coolest Observer

Mickey's a friend of Gorilla Radio and the Coolest Eye around. - {ape}

Viva las vegans
Mickey Z.
June 11, 2005

It was a billboard on a crosstown Manhattan bus that got me thinking. The rolling PSA said something like this: “1 in 500 Americans have AIDS. Only 1 in 250 know.” Instantly, my mind responded: 1 in 2 Americans will die of heart disease. And this: Every seven seconds, an American dies of cancer.

From there, the list grew to:

* Every 25 seconds an American has a heart attack

* Every 45 seconds, and American dies from a heart attack

* Risk of death by heart attack for average American male: 50%

* Risk of death by heart attack for average vegan: 4%

* Rise in blood cholesterol level from consuming one egg per day: 12%

* Associated rise in heart attack risk from consuming one egg per day: 24%

* $135 billion per year spent treating cardiovascular disease

* $70 billion per year spent treating cancer

* 40% of all cancers are diet related

* Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop said in 1988, “Eight out of the ten leading causes of death in America are what you are eating.”

There’s a self-induced health holocaust/mass suicide going on that dwarfs any other health crisis in America...and the fallout isn’t only affecting our bodies, it’s destroying our planet, funneling ever-more taxpayer dollars to multi-national corporations, and hijacking our humanity.

Posted by Mickey Z on 06/10 at 04:55 AM
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The King of Irony

Cheney Versus Journalism

John Nicols
The Nation
June 11, 2005

In addition to serving as the most powerful vice president in history, Dick Cheney also finds time to be the King of Irony.

In that latter role, Cheney is scheduled to present the Gerald Ford Journalism Awards during a closed-door luncheon on Monday, June 13, at the National Press Club in Washington. The Ford Awards honor what Cheney refers to as "distinguished reporting on the presidency and national defense" – which, considering the Washington press corps' stenographic coverage of the White House prior to the launch of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, is something of an oxymoron.

But there could be no greater oxymoron than the association of the name "Dick Cheney" with the craft of journalism. No wonder the organizers of the event felt it necessary to include four explanation marks on the notice that: "THIS EVENT IS FOR MEMBERS AND THEIR GUESTS ONLY!!!!"

The crowning irony of Cheney giving out journalism awards is that the vice president hates everything about journalism, unless, of course, it is the journalism of Rupert Murdoch.

Dick Cheney does not have a taste for media that might challenge his preconceived notions. And he has never approved of reporters who believe the White House has a duty to communicate critical information to the American people. Cheney is not joking when he says, "It's easy to complain about the press -- I've been doing it for a good part of my career."

A militant when it comes to White House secrecy, Cheney has a long history of punishing aides who cooperate with reporters -- before the 1991 Persian Gulf War, then-Secretary of Defense Cheney fired Air Force Chief of Staff General Michael J. Dugan for discussing general war planning with the Washington Post.

But, while Cheney can be rough on his subordinates, he is even rougher with the rare journalist who seeks to be anything more than a stenographer for the White House.

Cheney summed up his attitude when, during a campaign stop in Naperville, Illinois, in 2000, non-newspaper reader George W. Bush noted the presence of one of the few reporters he actually knew by name.

"There's Adam Clymer -- major-league asshole -- from the New York Times," grumbled Bush.

"Yeah, big time," said Cheney.

Clymer was not the first journalist to end up on Cheney's "big-time" asshole list. A quarter century before the 2000 incident, when Cheney was serving as the White House chief of staff in Gerald Ford's administration, he organized a West Wing discussion about how to launch a criminal investigation of journalist Seymour Hersh -- and the New York Times, for which Hersh was writing then. In May, 1975, Hersh had written an article exposing the fact that U.S. Navy submarines had intercepted high-level Soviet military communiques by tapping into underwater telecommunications cables. Only after learning that the Soviets were not surprised by the spying -- presumably, they expected it -- did Cheney back off from the discussion of how best to go after one of the nation's most respected investigative journalists. (Cheney's concern for protecting intelligence gathering operations is somewhat episodic. While he was coordinated the debate about how to go after Hersh in the 1970s, he convened no such discussion in 2003, when concerns were raised about the prospect that Cheney or a member of his staff had "outed" CIA agent Valarie Plame, the wife of former Ambassador Joe Wilson, who had exposed the dubious use of intelligence by a White House that was bent on making a "case" for war with Iraq.)

Hersh and Clymer need not feel particularly insulted. Throughout his career, Cheney has generally viewed journalists as the enemy. In April, 2004, shortly after the invasion of 2003, the vice president reacted to reports that U.S. troops had killed three journalists on the same day, after firing into the Iraq office of the al-Jazeera network and the Palestine Hotel, where many international reporters were staying, Cheney casually announced that this was "the sort of thing that happens in warfare." Cheney declared that "you'd have to be an idiot to believe that (the attacks were intentional)." But, around the world, leaders of journalist organizations, diplomats and prominent political figures expressed precisely that concern.

Cheney's disregard for the fourth estate is not universal, however. He has always had favorite journalists, some of whom are able chroniclers of the conservative cause (such as the Washington Post's Lou Cannon) but most of whom are the stenographers to power who peddle white House talking points as "news."

Cheney divides the journalistic community into two camps: "big-time" assholes and employees of Australian-born media mogul Rupert Murdoch far-flung empire on the other. Murdoch's ideological organ, the Weekly Standard, may not have many readers outside the narrow circle of neoconservatives who still think the war in Iraq was a good idea. But it enjoys high circulation inside the White House. Editor William Kristol likes to suggest that the journal of uninspired imperialism has "induced" Cheney and others to embrace his publication's faith that America is ideally suited to fill the void left by the decline of British Empire.

Editors always like to imagine influences that may or may not exist. But, in this case, Kristol can point to some might solid evidence of Cheney's devotion to the Standard vision. As he notes, "Dick Cheney does send someone to pick up 30 copies of the magazine every Monday."

Cheney is no elitist when it comes to Murdoch's products, however. A big viewer of the talk-television shows that clog cable systems with nightly conservative diatribes, Cheney delights in the programming on Murdoch's Fox News Channel. Indeed, he's a regular Fox aficionado. Cheney, who in March of 2004 proudly noted that "my last full-blown press conference was when I was Secretary of Defense in April of 1991, may not have much time for most media. But Murdoch's Fox News Channel, the court reporter of the Bush administration, can always count on an interview, a leak or, as happened in April of 2004, an official endorsement from the vice president.

"What I do is try to focus on the elements of the press that I think do an effective job and try to be accurate in their portrayal of events," Cheney told Republican activists who were griping about the media. "For example, I end up spending a lot of time watching Fox News, because they're more accurate in my experience, in those events that I'm personally involved in, than many of the other outlets."

Perhaps the greatest irony of all is that Cheney is, himself, something of a reporter. George Bush, who has made it clear that he does not read newspapers of pay much attention to broadcast news, says he relies on his aides to brief him on what is going on. And Cheney, in his position as prince regent for the boy president, is the primary briefer. So let's be clear about where the White House gets its "independent confirmation" of the news of the day. Bush does not read newspapers or watch the news, while Cheney reads the Weekly Standard and watches Fox. Come to think of it, maybe Cheney isn't really in charge. Maybe Rupert Murdoch is the boss.


John Nichols' book on Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President, was published by The New Press. Former White House counsel John Dean, the author of Worse Than Watergate, says, "This page-turner closes the case: Cheney is our de facto president."

Conquer and Divide: Iraq Exit Strategy


Exit strategy: Civil war
Pepe Escobar
Asia Times
June 10, 2005

"In reality, the electoral process was designed to legitimize the occupation, rather than ridding the country of the occupation ... Anyone who sees himself capable of bringing about political reform should go ahead and try, but my belief is that the occupiers won't allow him." - Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr

As Shi'ites and Kurds fought for three months to come up with an Iraqi cabinet, it is emerging from Baghdad that soon a broad front will emerge on the political scene composed of politicians, religious leaders, clan and tribal sheikhs - basically Sunni but with Shi'ite participation - with a single-minded agenda: the end of the US-led occupation.

This front will include, among others, what we have termed the Sinn Fein component of the resistance, the powerful Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS) and the Sadrists. It will refuse any kind of dialogue with new Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari and his government unless there's a definite timetable for the complete withdrawal of the occupation forces. Even the top Marine in Iraq, Major General Stephen Johnson, has admitted, "There will be no progress as long as the insurgents are not implicated in a political process."

But the proliferation of what many moderate Sunnis and Shi'ites suspect as being Pentagon-organized black ops is putting the emergence of this front in jeopardy. This is obvious when we see Harith al-Dhari - the AMS leader - blaming the Badr Brigades (the armed wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution - SCIRI - in Iraq, a major partner in the government) for the killing of Sunni Arab clerics.

Breaking up Iraq

Several Iranian websites have widely reported a plan to break up Iraq into three Shi'ite southern mini-states, two Kurdish mini-states and one Sunni mini-state - with Baghdad as the seat of a federal government. Each mini-state would be in charge of law and order and the economy within its own borders, with Baghdad in charge of foreign policy and military coordination. The plan was allegedly conceived by David Philip, a former White House adviser working for the American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC). The AFPC is financed by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which has also funded both the ultra-hawkish Project for a New American Century and American Enterprise Institute.

The plan would be "sold" under the admission that the recently elected, Shi'ite-dominated Jaafari government is incapable of controlling Iraq and bringing the Sunni Arab guerrillas to the negotiating table. More significantly, the plan is an exact replica of an extreme right-wing Israeli plan to balkanize Iraq - an essential part of the balkanization of the whole Middle East. Curiously, Henry Kissinger was selling the same idea even before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Once again this is classic divide and rule: the objective is the perpetuation of Arab disunity. Call it Iraqification; what it actually means is sectarian fever translated into civil war. Operation Lightning - the highly publicized counter-insurgency tour de force with its 40,000 mostly Shi'ite troops rounding up Sunni Arabs - can be read as the first salvo of the civil war. Vice President Dick Cheney all but admitted the whole plan on CNN, confidently predicting that "the fighting will end before the Bush administration leaves office".

But the destiny awaiting this counter-insurgency may be best evaluated by comparing it to Gillo Pontecorvo's 1966 classic, The Battle of Algiers - one of the most influential political films ever, and supposedly a "must see" at the Pentagon. The French in Algeria in the early 1960s did indeed break the back of the guerrillas - but in the end lost the Algerian war. Talking about Vietnamization - the precursor to Iraqification - the Vietcong's Tet offensive in 1968 was lethal, but the counter-insurgency - Operation Phoenix - was even more lethal. In the end, though, the US also lost the war.

There's no Operation Phoenix going on in Iraq. The US has little "humint" (human intelligence), so it is incapable of penetrating the complex resistance tribal net - and not only because of its cultural and linguistic shortcomings. Even a west Baghdad neighborhood such as Adhamiyah is essentially an independent guerrilla republic. The daily, dreadful car-bombing litany will persist: whatever intelligence it comes across, the Pentagon does not share it with the Iraqi police, and the Iraqi police for its part is not exactly the best.

The US also does not have sufficient troops - so it has to resort to doomed Iraqification, using Shi'ites and Kurds to fight Sunnis. And to top it all, the US is blocked in the political sphere, because the real intelligence victory would mean convincing Sunni Arabs of the legitimacy of the political process: it's not going to happen, with only two Sunni Arabs in the 55-member committee in charge of drafting the new Iraqi constitution, and with Shi'ite death squads killing Sunni Arabs.

Militia inferno

In Iraq's current militia inferno, some are more respectable than others. The 100,000-strong Kurdish pershmerga are not forced to disarm because they are American allies. The Sadrists' Mehdi Army on the other hand is regarded as a bunch of thugs because it responds to the maverick Muqtada al-Sadr - whom the Pentagon still considers an enemy. Iraq's Interior Ministry is infested by at least six separate militias - half of them responding to former prime minister Iyad Allawi's pals. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, is busy praising the pershmerga. Abdul-Salam al-Qubeisi, an AMS spokesman, doesn't skip a beat, saying that Talabani is following "US policies to prolong the struggle in Iraq and turn it into an Iraq-Iraq conflict". In other words: he unmasks Iraqification.

The Badr Brigades - renamed Badr Organization - for its part is accused by the AMS of giving intelligence to the notorious Wolf Brigade, still another militia (or, euphemistically, "elite commando unit") operating in the Interior Ministry but under a top SCIRI official.

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the SCIRI leader and eminence grise behind Jaafari, went on record vociferously defending the Badr. In a priceless linguistic stretch mixing Bushism with Arab nationalism, Hakim said that "forces of evil" are trying to "sully the reputation of nationalist movements like Badr so that they can achieve goals that do not serve the interests of the Iraqi people".

One wonders whether Pentagon black ops are also part of these "forces of evil". In October 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld invented a secret army - one of his pet projects. According to the Pentagon's Defense Science Board, the goal of Rumsfeld's army - the 100-member, US$100 million-a-year Proactive, Preemptive Operations Group (P2OG) - would carry out secret operations designed to "stimulate reactions" among "terrorist groups", thus exposing them to "counter-attack" by the P2OG. The stock in trade of Rumsfeld's army is assassinations, sabotage, deception, the whole arsenal of black ops. Iraq is the perfect lab for it. "Iraqification" means in fact "Salvadorization". No wonder old faces are back in the game. James Steele, leader of a Special Forces team in El Salvador in the early 1980s, is in Iraq. Steve Casteel, a former top official involved in the "drug wars" in Bolivia, Peru and Colombia, is also in Iraq. He is a senior adviser in - where else - the Interior Ministry, to which friendly militias are subordinated.

Guerrillas forever

For all their complex, interlocking strands, it is the Sunni Arab guerrillas who are now operating almost like a united front. Their full thrust is against what is denounced as a puppet government controlled by the US and its "foreign allies" - exiles, pro-Iranian Shi'ites and splittist Kurds. Guerrilla leaders admit the reality of superior American firepower, which should be fought with "the ideals of pure Islam" - courage, piety, abnegation, spirit of sacrifice. "Victory" is the struggle itself.

This essentially means, for most groups, the absence of any alternative political project - no possibility of guerrillas as a whole adhering to a Sunni-Shi'ite united political front. The military strategy of the guerrillas is to prevent any possibility of normalization: or, to put it another way, to force the Sunni Arab population to accept their methods. It may be impossible for the resistance to become an Iraqi nationalist movement; but it may rely on 5 million Sunni Arabs as a very strong base for a prolonged, successful guerrilla war. They certainly have the means to destabilize the country for decades, if they're up for it.

From an ideological point of view, the guerrilla leaders must have analyzed the degree of dependence of Jaafari's government, and concluded that the Americans will not go away. And even if the Americans did decide to leave, this would be a major problem because it would shatter the unity of so many guerrilla groups with different agendas, but with a common goal of ousting the occupiers.

Rival branches of the former Ba'ath Party now have the upper hand in the resistance - although they don't control it wholesale. Despite all the internal wrangling - from fervent pro-Syrians in the red corner to those in favor of political accommodation in the blue corner - they are united by the same objectives. They have a lot of money, stashed before the fall of Saddam Hussein; they have legions of former Republican Guard and Mukhabarat (intelligence) officers (the guerrillas have at least 40,000 active members, plus a supporting cast of 80,000); they have loads of weapons (at least 250,000 tons remaining); they can enjoy a non-stop flow of financing, especially from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf; and they can count on crucial tactical support by a few hundred Arab jihadis.

Who gets the oil?

Sunni Arabs and Kurds are virtually on the brink of civil war in northern Iraq: the daily situation in both Kirkuk and Mosul is explosive - ambushes, assassinations, car bombings - but scarce information filters south to Baghdad and to the outside world. Kirkuk is nominally under Kurd control. But what the Kurds want most of all is to control Northern Oil - part of the Iraqi National Oil Co, in charge of the oilfields west of Kirkuk. Sunni Arabs say "over our dead bodies". No wonder the key local battlefield is the oil pipeline crossing Kirkuk province: it was blown up again this Wednesday.

Mosul, a big city of almost 1.8 million people on the banks of the Tigris, is still controlled by Sunni Arabs (70% of the population) and remains the epicenter of Arab nationalism and a major guerrilla base. Kurds there maintain the lowest of profiles. Both the guerrillas and the police come from the very powerful Sunni Shammar tribe. The Pentagon favors the Kurds - helplessly, one might say: they are the only US allies. US intelligence in Mosul depends on Kurdish intelligence: one more recipe for civil war. As if this was not enough, most Shi'ites - 60% of Iraq's population - now firmly believe they are facing a Machiavellian plot by the US, the Kurds, the Sunni Arabs or all of the above to rob the Shi'ites of political power.

The national liberation front

The major Iraqi resistance groups are not in favor of targeting innocent Iraqi civilians. Many groups have political liaisons who try to tell the world's media what they are fighting for. Considering that American corporate media exclusively reproduce the Pentagon line, there's widespread suspicion - in the Middle East, Western Europe, Latin America, parts of Asia - of American media complicity in the occupation, incompetence, racism, or perhaps all of the above.

The antidote to the Iraqi militia inferno should be a united Sunni-Shi'ite political front. Former electricity minister Ayham al-Samarie told the Associated Press that at least two guerrilla groups - the Islamic Army in Iraq and the Army of Mujahideen - were ready to talk with the Jaafari government and eventually join the political process. The conditions though are explicit: a set date for the American withdrawal.

Against all odds, a national liberation front is emerging in Iraq. Washington hawks may see it coming, but they certainly don't want it. Many groups in this front have already met in Algiers. The front is opposed to the American occupation and permanent Pentagon military bases; opposed to the privatization and corporate looting of the Iraqi economy; and opposed to the federation of Iraq, ie balkanization. Members of the front clearly see through the plan of fueling sectarianism to provoke an atmosphere of civil war, thus legitimizing the American presence. The George W Bush administration's obsession in selling the notion that Iraqis - or "anti-Iraqi forces", or "foreign militants" - are trying to start a civil war in the eastern flank of the Arab nation is as ludicrous as the myth it sells of the resistance as just a lunatic bunch of former Ba'athists and Wahhabis.

The Bush administration though is pulling no punches with Iraqification. It's a Pandora's box: inside one will find the Battle of Algiers, Vietnam, El Salvador, Colombia. All point to the same destination: civil war. This deadly litany could easily go on until 2020 when, in a brave new world of China emerging as the top economy, Sunni Arabs would finally convince themselves to perhaps strike a deal with Shi'ites and Kurds so they can all profit together by selling billions of barrels of oil to the Chinese oil majors. If, of course, there is any semblance of Iraq left at that point.

Long Live Ridley Scott

Why Ridley Scott’s story of the Crusades
struck such a chord in a Lebanese cinema

by Robert Fisk
Saturday, 4th June 2005,
The Independent

Having lived in Lebanon 29 years,
I too found tears of laughter running down my face

Long live Ridley Scott. I never thought I’d say this. Gladiator had a screenplay that might have come from the Boy’s Own Paper. Black Hawk Down showed the Arabs of Somalia as generically violent animals. But when I left the cinema after seeing Scott’s extraordinary sand-and-sandals epic on the Crusades, Kingdom of Heaven, I was deeply moved - not so much by the film, but by the Muslim audience among whom I watched it in Beirut.

I know what the critics have said. The screenplay isn’t up for much and Orlando Bloom, playing the loss-of-faith crusader Balian of Ibelin, does indeed look - as The Independent cruelly observed - like a backpacker touring the Middle East in a gap year.

But there is an integrity about its portrayal of the Crusades which, while fitting neatly into our contemporary view of the Middle East - the moderate crusaders are overtaken by crazed neo-conservative barons while Saladin is taunted by a dangerously al-Qa’ida-like warrior - treats the Muslims as men of honour who can show generosity as well as ruthlessness to their enemies.

It was certainly a revelation to sit through Kingdom of Heaven not in London or New York but in Beirut, in the Middle East itself, among Muslims - most of them in their 20s - who were watching historical events that took place only a couple of hundred miles from us. How would the audience react when the Knights Templars went on their orgy of rape and head-chopping among the innocent Muslim villagers of the Holy Land, when they advanced, covered in gore, to murder Saladin’s beautiful, chadored sister? I must admit, I held my breath a few times.

I need not have bothered. When the leprous King of Jerusalem - his face covered in a steel mask to spare his followers the ordeal of looking at his decomposition - falls fatally ill after honourably preventing a battle between Crusaders and Saracens, Saladin, played by that wonderful Syrian actor Ghassan Massoud - and thank God the Arabs in the film are played by Arabs - tells his deputies to send his own doctors to look after the Christian king.

At this, there came from the Muslim audience a round of spontaneous applause. They admired this act of mercy from their warrior hero; they wanted to see his kindness to a Christian.

There are some things in the film which you have to be out here in the Middle East to appreciate. When Balian comes across a pile of crusader heads lying on the sand after the Christian defeat at the 1187 battle of Hittin, everyone in the cinema thought of Iraq; here is the nightmare I face each time I travel to report in Iraq. Here is the horror that the many Lebanese who work in Iraq have to confront. Yet there was a wonderful moment of self-deprecation among the audience when Saladin, reflecting on his life, says: "Somebody tried to kill me once in Lebanon."

The house came down. Everyone believed that Massoud must have inserted this line to make fun of the Lebanese ability to destroy themselves and - having lived in Lebanon 29 years and witnessed almost all its tragedy - I too founds tears of laughter running down my face.

I suppose that living in Lebanon, among those crusader castles, does also give an edge to Kingdom of Heaven. It’s said that Scott originally wanted to film in Lebanon (rather than Spain and Morocco) and to call his movie Tripoli after the great crusader keep I visited a few weeks ago. One of the big Christian political families in Lebanon, the Franjiehs, take their name from the "Franj", which is what the Arabs called the crusaders. The Douai family in Lebanon - with whom the Franjiehs fought a bitter battle, Knights Templar-style, in a church in 1957 - are the descendants of the French knights who came from the northern French city of Douai.

Yet it is ironic that this movie elicited so much cynical comment in the West. Here is a tale that - unlike any other recent film - has captured the admiration of Muslims. Yet we denigrated it. Because Orlando Bloom turns so improbably from blacksmith to crusader to hydraulic engineer? Or because we felt uncomfortable at the way the film portrayed "us", the crusaders?

But it didn’t duck Muslim vengeance. When Guy de Lusignan hands the cup of iced water given him by Saladin to the murderous knight who slaughtered Saladin’s daughter, the Muslim warrior says menacingly: "I did not give you the cup." And then he puts his sword through the knight’s throat. Which is, according to the archives, exactly what he did say and exactly what he did do.

Massoud, who is a popular local actor in Arab films - he is known in the Middle East as the Syrian Al Pacino - in reality believes that George Bush is to blame for much of the crisis between the Muslim and Western world. "George Bush is stupid and he loves blood more than the people and music," he said in a recent interview. "If Saladin were here he would have at least not allowed Bush to destroy the world, especially the feeling of humanity between people."

Massoud agreed to play Saladin because he trusted Scott to be fair with history. I had to turn to that fine Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf to discover whether Massoud was right. Maalouf it was who wrote the seminal The Crusades through Arab Eyes, researching for his work among Arab rather than Crusader archives. "Too fair," was his judgement on Kingdom of Heaven.

I see his point. But at the end of the film, after Balian has surrendered Jerusalem, Saladin enters the city and finds a crucifix lying on the floor of a church, knocked off the altar during the three-day siege. And he carefully picks up the cross and places it reverently back on the altar. And at this point the audience rose to their feet and clapped and shouted their appreciation. They loved that gesture of honour. They wanted Islam to be merciful as well as strong. And they roared their approval above the soundtrack of the film.

So I left the Dunes cinema in Beirut strangely uplifted by this extraordinary performance - of the audience as much as the film. See it if you haven’t. And if you do, remember how the Muslims of Beirut came to realise that even Hollywood can be fair. I came away realising why - despite the murder of Beirut’s bravest journalist on Friday - there probably will not be a civil war here again. So if you see Kingdom of Heaven, when Saladin sets the crucifix back on the altar, remember that deafening applause from the Muslims of Beirut.

Knowing War

War: Realities and Myths

by Chris Hedges
June 11, 2005

The vanquished know war. They see through the empty jingoism of those who use the abstract words of glory, honor, and patriotism to mask the cries of the wounded, the senseless killing, war profiteering, and chest-pounding grief. They know the lies the victors often do not acknowledge, the lies covered up in stately war memorials and mythic war narratives, filled with words of courage and comradeship. They know the lies that permeate the thick, self-important memoirs by amoral statesmen who make wars but do not know war.

The vanquished know the essence of war -- death. They grasp that war is necrophilia. They see that war is a state of almost pure sin with its goals of hatred and destruction. They know how war fosters alienation, leads inevitably to nihilism, and is a turning away from the sanctity and preservation of life. All other narratives about war too easily fall prey to the allure and seductiveness of violence, as well as the attraction of the godlike power that comes with the license to kill with impunity.

But the words of the vanquished come later, sometimes long after the war, when grown men and women unpack the suffering they endured as children, what it was like to see their mother or father killed or taken away, or what it was like to lose their homes, their community, their security, and be discarded as human refuse. But by then few listen. The truth about war comes out, but usually too late. We are assured by the war-makers that these stories have no bearing on the glorious violent enterprise the nation is about to inaugurate. And, lapping up the myth of war and its sense of empowerment, we prefer not to look.

We see the war in Iraq only through the distorted lens of the occupiers. The embedded reporters, dependent on the military for food and transportation as well as security, have a natural and understandable tendency, one I have myself felt, to protect those who are protecting them. They are not allowed to report outside of the unit and are, in effect, captives. They have no relationships with the occupied, essential to all balanced reporting of conflicts, but only with the Marines and soldiers who drive through desolate mud-walled towns and pump grenades and machine-gun bullets into houses, leaving scores of nameless dead and wounded in their wake. The reporters admire and laud these fighters for their physical courage. They feel protected as well by the jet fighters and heavy artillery and throaty rattle of machine guns. And the reporting, even among those who struggle to keep some distance, usually descends into a shameful cheerleading.

There is no more candor in Iraq or Afghanistan than there was in Vietnam, but in the age of live satellite feeds the military has perfected the appearance of candor. What we are fed is the myth of war. For the myth of war, the myth of glory and honor sells newspapers and boosts ratings, real war reporting does not. Ask the grieving parents of Pat Tillman. Nearly every embedded war correspondent sees his or her mission as sustaining civilian and army morale. This is what passes for coverage on FOX, MSNBC or CNN. In wartime, as Senator Hiram Johnson reminded us in 1917, "truth is the first casualty."

All our knowledge of the war in Iraq has to be viewed as lacking the sweep and depth that will come one day, perhaps years from now, when a small Iraqi boy or girl reaches adulthood and unfolds for us the sad and tragic story of the invasion and bloody occupation of their nation.

I have spent most of my adult life in war. I began two decades ago covering wars in Central America, where I spent five years, then the Middle East, where I spent seven, and the Balkans where I covered the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo. My life has been marred, let me say deformed, by the organized industrial violence that year after year was an intimate part of my existence. I have watched young men bleed to death on lonely Central American dirt roads and cobblestone squares in Sarajevo. I have looked into the eyes of mothers, kneeing over the lifeless and mutilated bodies of their children. I have stood in warehouses with rows of corpses, including children, and breathed death into my lungs. I carry within me the ghosts of those I worked with, my comrades, now gone.

I have felt the attraction of violence. I know its seductiveness, excitement and the powerful addictive narcotic it can become. The young soldiers, trained well enough to be disciplined but encouraged to maintain their naive adolescent belief in invulnerability, have in wartime more power at their fingertips than they will ever have again. They catapult from being minimum wage employees at places like Burger King, facing a life of dead-end jobs with little hope of health insurance and adequate benefits, to being part of, in the words of the Marines, "the greatest fighting force on the face of the earth."

The disparity between what they were and what they have become is breathtaking and intoxicating. This intoxication is only heightened in wartime when all taboos are broken. Murder goes unpunished and often rewarded. The thrill of destruction fills their days with wild adrenaline highs, strange grotesque landscapes that are hallucinogenic, all accompanied by a sense of purpose and comradeship, overpowers the alienation many left behind. They become accustomed to killing, carrying out acts of slaughter with no more forethought than they take to relieve themselves. And the abuses committed against the helpless prisoners in Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo are not aberrations but the real face of war.

In wartime all human beings become objects, objects either to gratify or destroy or both. And almost no one is immune. The contagion of the crowd sees to that.

"Force," Simon Weil wrote, "is as pitiless to the man who possess it, or thinks he does, as it is to his victim. The second it crushes; the first it intoxicates."

This myth, the lie, about war, about ourselves, is imploding our democracy. We shun introspection and self-criticism. We ignore truth, to embrace the strange, disquieting certitude and hubris offered by the radical Christian Right. These radical Christians draw almost exclusively from the book of Revelations, the only time in the Gospels where Jesus sanctions violence, peddling a vision of Christ as the head of a great and murderous army of heavenly avengers. They rarely speak about Christ's message of love, forgiveness and compassion. They relish the cataclysmic destruction that will befall unbelievers, including those such as myself, who they dismiss as "nominal Christians." They divide the world between good and evil, between those anointed to act as agents of God and those who act as agents of Satan. The cult of masculinity and esthetic of violence pervades their ideology.

Feminism and homosexuality are forces, believers are told, that have rendered the American male physically and spiritually impotent. Jesus, for the Christian Right, is a man of action, casting out demons, battling the Anti-Christ, attacking hypocrites and castigating the corrupt. The language is one not only of exclusion, hatred and fear, but a call for apocalyptic violence, in short the language of war.

As the war grinds forward, as we sink into a morass of our own creation, as our press and political opposition, and yes even our great research universities, remain complacent and passive, as we refuse to confront the forces that have crippled us outside our gates and are working to cripple us within, the ideology of the Christian Right, so intertwined with intolerance and force, will become the way we speak not only to others but among ourselves.

n war, we always deform ourselves, our essence. We give up individual conscience -- maybe even consciousness -- for contagion of the crowd, the rush of patriotism, the belief that we must stand together as nation in moments of extremity. To make a moral choice, to defy war's enticement, to find moral courage, can be self-destructive.

The attacks on the World Trade Center illustrate that those who oppose us, rather than coming from another moral universe, have been schooled well in modern warfare. The dramatic explosions, the fireballs, the victims plummeting to their deaths, the collapse of the towers in Manhattan, were straight out of Hollywood. Where else, but from the industrialized world, did the suicide bombers learn that huge explosions and death above a city skyline are a peculiar and effective form of communication?

They have mastered the language we have taught them. They understand that the use of indiscriminate violence against innocents is a way to make a statement. We leave the same calling cards. We delivered such incendiary messages in Vietnam, Serbia, Afghanistan and Iraq. It was Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara who in the summer of 1965 defined the bombing raids that would kill hundreds of thousands of civilians north of Saigon as a means of communication to the Communist regime in Hanoi.

The most powerful anti-war testaments, of war and what war does to us, are those that eschew images of combat. It is the suffering of the veteran whose body and mind are changed forever because he or she served a nation that sacrificed them, the suffering of families and children caught up in the unforgiving maw of war, which begin to tell the story of war. But we are not allowed to see dead bodies, at least of our own soldiers, nor do we see the wounds that forever mark a life, the wounds that leave faces and bodies horribly disfigured by burns or shrapnel. We never watch the agony of the dying. War is made palatable. It is sanitized.

We are allowed to taste war's perverse thrill, but spared from seeing war's consequences. The wounded and the dead are swiftly carted offstage. And for this I blame the press, which willingly hides from us the effects of bullets, roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades, which sat at the feet of those who lied to make this war possible and dutifully reported these lies and called it journalism.

War is always about this betrayal. It is about the betrayal of the young by the old, idealists by cynics and finally soldiers by politicians. Those who pay the price, those who are maimed forever by war, however, are crumpled up and thrown away. We do not see them. We do not hear them. They are doomed, like wandering spirits, to float around the edges of our consciousness, ignored, even reviled. The message they bring is too painful for us to hear. We prefer the myth of war, the myth of glory, honor, patriotism and heroism, words that in the terror and brutality of combat are empty, meaningless and obscene.

We are losing the war in Iraq. We are an isolated and reviled nation. We are pitiless to others weaker than ourselves. We have lost sight of our democratic ideals. Thucydides wrote of Athens expanding empire and how this empire led it to become a tyrant abroad and then a tyrant at home. The tyranny Athens imposed on others it finally imposed on itself. If we do not confront the lies and hubris told to justify the killing and mask the destruction carried out in our name in Iraq, if we do not grasp the moral corrosiveness of empire and occupation, if we continue to allow force and violence to be our primary form of communication, if we do not remove from power our flag waving, cross bearing versions of the Taliban, we will not so much defeat dictators such as Saddam Hussein as become them.

Chris Hedges
has been a war reporter for 15 years most recently for the New York Times. He is author of What Every person Should Know About War, a book that offers a critical lesson in the dangerous realities of war, and the critically acclaimed War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Zero Hour Bolivia

Zero Hour in Bolivia:
What to Watch for Today

Al Giordano
June 9, 2005

Pal cementerio se va
La vaca de mala leche
Pal cementerio se va
Ni dios le va a perdonar”
- Manu Chao

It is 4:30 in the morning somewhere in a country called América, the coffee percolates on a lucky stove where there is still gas: Authentic Journalism cannot sleep. A day of reckoning is upon us.

Today, the ghosts of Bolivia’s 180 years of simulated democracy will haunt the empty halls of the Bolivian Congress in La Paz at 10:30 a.m. as the Senators and Deputies of the disgraced official parties convene 740 kilometers away, in Sucre, to sign a death warrant on a nation’s hopes for authentic democracy.

By the dawn’s early light thousands of farmers, miners, students, teachers, manual laborers, maids, gardeners, elders and children, chewing coca leaf and carrying ancient memories and dreams of self-determination, are moving toward Sucre en masse...

The legislators had to be flown to Sucre in military airplanes to pull the underhanded maneuver that is on today’s docket: the installation of an unpopular, indeed reviled, politician and oligarch, Hormando Vaca Diez, as illegitimate president. The blockades that have shut down 120 points along the country’s roads and highways would not let these powerful men pass over by land.

And yet this morning, in the darkness, the barricades have lifted in each town and hamlet along the path so that the common people – the majority owners of Bolivia – could pass toward Sucre on roads where the corrupt politicians could not. To the roosters’ crow, the path opens.

The pro-democracy pilgrims are handed cooked potatoes, fried bananas, maybe some fried trout, salteñas or chicharrón for sustenance along the way by a population that supports their cause. They ride on the backs of pickup trucks over dirt and gravel roads past the oil fields they have occupied in recent days, the closed gas valves, the plugged water mains, the stranded tractor-trailers filled with rotting produce, and the US-funded military bases where poor, indigenous, young men worry about being sent to massacre their own in the coming days.

And once the caravan passes through, the locals recover the roads with rocks, toppled trees, barricades and banners. The battle has begun. There is no turning back.

Vaca Diez’s Doctrine of Authoritarian Government

The Monday night resignation of President Carlos Mesa – a well-intentioned sap who could not reconcile his knowledge of Bolivian history with his oligarch roots and privilege – is just one more step on this long, seemingly endless, march. Indecision has a first and last name in Bolivia, and it is Carlos Mesa. He tried to please everyone – the US Ambassador, the coca growers, the oil companies, the social movements, the official parties, the opposition, the oligarchs, the indigenous – and ended up pleasing nobody. He straddled that picket fence until his seat hurt so much that he had to jump off.

Next in line for executive power in Bolivia, if Congress, as expected, ratifies Mesa's resignation, is Senate President Hormando Vaca Diez, an agribusinessman from Santa Cruz who owns vast tracts of land that he does not work with his own hands while most of his fellow and sister citizens struggle to find and keep a home on a small plot that, in most cases, someone like Vaca Diez claims to own.

But Bolivia’s Congress could not meet on Tuesday nor on Wednesday. The men of wealth and power with legislative titles feared to tread in the administrative capital of La Paz this week because the masses had come down from the hills to put a stop to the simulation of democracy and to demand a real one. And so Vaca Diez convoked the military to swoop up the legislators and fly them to Sucre, where they will meet this morning.

According to a national public opinion poll taken this week by the daily La Razon in La Paz, 84-percent of the Bolivian people do not want Vaca Diez to assume the presidency. But within that remaining 16-percent is Mr. Vaca Diez himself: that’s why he has gone to such lengths to move Congress to a far-away location in order to ratify his coronation.

Vaca Diez is not an indecisive man. He knows what he wants: Power. And he knows how to get it: By any means necessary.

Vaca Diez, on the cusp of realizing his long presidential ambitions, revealed his doctrine of political power on Tuesday when he said: "The radicalism of the left leads to totalitarian governments.”

Vaca Diez also told reporters: “If one faction from the many social sectors chooses to set aside these principals (of national unity) and pushes toward confrontation and a blood bath, it will end in authoritarian government.” It sounded like he was talking about the protestors, but the words apply more to his own faction.

The word “faction,” after all, means “a small united group within a larger one, especially in politics” (Oxford American Dictionary).

The group that opposes Vaca Diez’s ascension to the throne is, according to the aforementioned poll, a large majority. It therefore cannot, by definition, be a “faction.”

That group also includes outgoing President Carlos Mesa, who took to the national airwaves on Tuesday night imploring Vaca Diez to stand down, to not assume the presidency, for the sake of that same “national unity” principle invoked by Vaca Diez. Mesa said: “Hormando, as a person, as a politician, as someone who's known you for a long time, I make a personal plea to you. Don't insist on going down a road that's impossible to follow.”

That group also includes, according this week’s survey data, the 55-percent of the Bolivian population that wants to see Supreme Court President Eduardo Rodríguez as their new president, who would call for new national elections within three months of taking office. Fifty-five percent does not constitute a “faction.” It is not “small.” It is a majority.

That group also includes, interestingly, the second man in line for succession to the presidency, Speaker of the House Mario Cossio, who according to the Bolivian correspondent for the Mexican daily El Universal, “said he was ready to renounce (becoming president) as long as there is ‘a guarantee that Eduardo Rodríguez will assume the presidency.’”

One of the reasons why a majority of Bolivians – including leaders of the opposition like Congressman and coca growers leader Evo Morales – favor the Supreme Court president’s ascension to the top office is that the Bolivian Constitution would then require the judge to call elections within three months.

The only people now standing in the way of that scenario – the one solution that unites the opposition, the current president, the speaker of the house, and a majority of Bolivian citizens – is the power-hungry Vaca Diez and the disgraced political power brokers of the official political parties in Congress.

Vaca Diez, if he rises to the presidency, will try at all costs to hold on to power through 2007, the end of a presidential term that began in 2001 with the Congressional appointment of exiled Gonzalez “Goni” Sanchez de Lozada, carried through his 2003 resignation and flight to Miami, the rise of then-vice president Carlos Mesa, and now Mesa’s resignation.

In other words, a Vaca Diez presidency will lack any legitimacy or public support from its first day – which seems to be today. It will block an electoral solution to the crisis. And that’s a very dangerous cocktail that ensures the “bloodbath” that he has virtually called for when stating his Doctrine of Authoritarian Government.

In Vaca Diez’s own words: “I am absolutely convinced that the armed forces will back us and will help guarantee that democracy does not die in Bolivia.”

Translation: He will send in the military to fight against his own people in order to keep a man most of them hate – himself – in power.

What to Look for Today

Vaca Diez’s errant belief that he can maintain a grip on the presidency is based on a cynical strategy. According to sources in Bolivia, he has a presidential decree already written, purportedly to “nationalize” the gas industry. That will be his first act.

And the first thing to watch is who believes him, and who does not.

Will Evo Morales (with his own presidential aspirations giving him motive to project an image of legality) and his Movement Toward Socialism party (MAS, in its Spanish initials) fall for this stunt? The coming hours will tell.

What will be the response from the Aymara indigenous masses in the hills surrounding La Paz and the city of El Alto, who have been, and remain, the spear of this movement that has shaken the earth from below Bolivia’s power structure?

And if the social movement remain firm, and continue to oppose the illegitimate presidency of Vaca Diez, redoubling forces for the blockades that have shut down so much of the country, will the Armed Forces obey his orders to go out and repress their own people?

There are signs of deep division within the military ranks. The soldiers themselves, poor and indigenous, are not thrilled with the prospect of massacring their own. Much of the military brass, as Narco News mentioned yesterday, has already told Vaca Diez that they will not obey such orders. Many of the military officials are from La Paz, from Cochabamba, and from other regions distrustful of the motives of the oligarchs of Vaca Diez’s state of Santa Cruz, with its dreams of secession and seizing control of the nation’s gas and oil fields.

According to sources in La Paz, the only branch of the military that has pledged its support to a wave of repression under Vaca Diez is the smallest branch: the Air Force. (And, after all, how could an Air Force stop road blockades without ruining the roads and thus keeping them blocked?)

So what is Vaca Diez thinking? Why does he think he will be able to govern where Goni and Mesa could not?

His first gambit will be his decree simulating the “nationalization” of gas.

His second gambit, according to well-placed sources, will be to announce that he will allow for a Constituent Assembly (a kind of Constitutional Convention), but one whose process stacks the deck in favor of his own political forces.

His third gambit will be to attempt to co-opt Evo Morales and the MAS party, isolating the Civil Society and indigenous movements that have led the revolts and blockades of recent weeks.

Then he will send in the troops, arrest certain scapegoats (primarily Aymara and labor leaders), and the civil war will begin.

On what power is Vaca Diez counting on to prop him up in a civil war scenario?

Kind readers: A little more than a week ago, a very important news item almost slipped under radar.

In late May, in the nearby country of Paraguay, that nation’s Congress was convened in secret, after midnight, according to a May 31 report by the Argentine correspondent for the Mexican daily La Jornada. The reason: to rush through a law “that will permit United States troops to enter this South American country for 18 months, with immunity for all personnel that participate in activities of training and advising, including civilian personnel.”

Remember, kind readers, that under U.S. law, the number of North American troops who can be in nearby Colombia is limited to the hundreds: and they’re busy enough there already with a fifty-year civil war.

What Vaca Diez is attempting is nothing less than creating the justification for the U.S. military to invade his own country of Bolivia, perhaps to protect strategic oil supplies, perhaps to “strenthen democracy,” as Condoleezza Rice and George W. Bush harped about on Tuesday in Florida at the Organization of American States meeting, or perhaps in the name of the “war on drugs” and eradicating the humble coca leaf once and for all.

From the State Department to Sucre, they’ve all gone mad with power, and any bestiality is possible when Vaca Diez seizes control with his Doctrine of Authoritarian Government that seeks to blame tyranny on its victims.

As I type, the sun is rising over Bolivia, where the workers, the indigenous, the poor, are descending on Sucre and strengthening the blockades they maintain at 120 strategic points in the national roads and highways system, where they’ve now seized 13-percent of the oil and gas fields, where Authentic Journalists are reporting the news to us all at great personal risk.

Despite all the darkness being shadowed upon this land by the powerful foreign and domestic interests, here comes the Bolivian majority. With enough sunlight shined upon the coming days in Bolivia from every corner of the earth, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, certainly not Washington’s cow named Vaca Diez, that can stop them.

It is zero hour in Bolivia

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Creeping Desperation: Beyond Vision

Earlier today Bush gave one of his infamous speeches under the conditions of a lockdown at the Organization of American States conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida (those not so thrilled about the One World Global Order of multinational corporations and international bankers were confined to a “free speech” cattle pen).

“An Americas linked by trade is less likely to be divided by resentment and false ideologies,” Bush declared during his speech, making an obvious reference to Hugo Chavez, who has actually turned some of Venezuela’s oil wealth into education and health care for that country’s teeming legion of poor people. Naturally, when leaders feed and clothe people, this is considered “resentment and false ideologies” because, as everybody knows, stinking rich loan sharks and profit-crazed CEOs and stockholders are entitled to steal.

Knight Ridder felt compelled to add:

Bush said the Americas face two dueling visions, one founded on representative governments and free markets, and another that “seeks to roll back the democratic progress of the past two decades by playing to fear, pitting neighbor against neighbor and blaming others for their own failures to provide for their people.”

In Bushzarro world, “representative governments” are those—such as Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil—that effectively crush popular political movements and “democratic progress” consists of murderous exploits such as “Operation Bandeirantes,” a paramilitary search and destroy mission funded by multinational corporations—Volkswagen, GM, Chrysler, Firestone, Philips and other freedom-loving companies—that abducted and tortured suspected militants and leftists in Brazil (see Bill Van Auken’s summary of the Brazilian daily O Globo’s investigation of such loathsome practices).

It is interesting Bush would make his comments a few days after the International Meeting against Terrorism and for Truth and Justice held at the Palace of Conventions in Havana, Cuba. Guest panelists on the Cuban TV and radio program, “The Round Table,” discussed “how the US government supported Operation Condor, a conspiracy undertaken by Latin American military dictatorships to eliminate all opposition to their rule during the 1970’s and 80’s,” reported Periodico26, the newspaper of Las Tunas province. “In 1976, six Latin America dictatorships in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay entered into a system for the joint monitoring and assassinating of refugees, known as Operation Condor. The bloody repression against progressive movements was organized and led by the US Central Intelligence Agency and left a trail of torture, deaths and tens of thousands of missing people.”

Predictably, the conference hosted in Cuba was not mentioned in the corporate U.S. media, even though a number of luminaries such as Hebe de Bonafini, president of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo Association, Brazilian poet Thiago de Mello and singer Beth Carvalho, film directors Jorge Sanjines (Bolivia) and Walter Salles (Brazil) were in attendance (as were Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega and Salvadoran Schafik Handal, head of Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), two personalities the far right Oort Cloud ideologues would have had a field day with).

Of course, Bush made his urgent bleatings mostly because of what is going on in Bolivia. “Bolivian President Carlos Mesa said on Monday he had submitted his resignation after weeks of crippling protests by indigenous leaders demanding that he nationalize the country’s energy resources,” reports Reuters. A massive demonstration earlier today—approximately coinciding with Bush’s “free trade” (i.e., unfettered multinational piracy) speech—overwhelmed the streets of La Paz. “The demonstration totally filled the central plazas San Francisco and the Heroes, overflowing into adjacent streets,” reports Prensa Latina. “The protest contradicted official and conservative statements on the sole involvement of radical minorities, including neighbors and unionists from El Alto Municipality, along with locals, peasants, miners, teachers, and the middle and high classes.”

Naturally, the events in Bolivia scare the heck out of Bush because they set a dangerous precedent—the vast majority of people from the most impoverished country in Latin America will soon take back their natural resources from the hated Bolivian political elite and their neoliberal co-conspirators. “From indigenous uprisings against Spanish rule, to the 1952 revolution when armed miners and factory workers marched on La Paz and defeated the Bolivian army in three days of open war, Bolivians have never given an inch to the rich white gangsters,” notes Jim Straub. So dire is the situation for the neolibs, even Pope Benedict XVI, the “Holy Father” and former Nazi youth member, called for “peace,” that is to say he would like to see an end to the “anti-government demonstrations” and avoid “social and political tensions” (besides, poverty makes for passive and obedient Catholics).

Then there is Ecuador where “mobs” (as Knight Ridder calls poor people) “forced Ecuador’s Congress to vote President Lucio Gutierrez, also a close ally of Washington, out of office.” Gutierrez was voted into office as a reformer but soon went crawling to the neolibs and the criminal loan shark operation, the IMF, and agreed to “adjustments,” i.e., a wage freeze until 2007, no right to strike in the public sector, an increase in the price of gas by 375%, privatization of electricity, oil, telecoms, water, etc.

Indeed, in Latin America (and of course Iraq) Bush has a lot to worry about. People are fed up with the neolibs and the vicious Strausscons and are increasingly resisting. Dubya the Destroyer has drawn a line in the sand with is “dueling visions” speech and now it is up to millions of people to cross the line and tell Bush and the mutlinats and carpetbaggers and the loan sharks to put their rhetoric where the sun doesn’t shine.

Spanish Judge Seeks Charges in Palestine Hotel Killings

Judge wants to question
U.S. troops on Iraq deaths


06/07/05 - - MADRID (Reuters)
- A Spanish judge wants to question three U.S. soldiers as suspects in the death of a Spanish cameraman who was killed when a U.S. tank fired on a hotel housing foreign journalists during the 2003 assault on Baghdad.

The Pentagon has found no fault with the soldiers, but High Court Judge Santiago Pedraz wants to question the three men who were in the tank, a court official said on Tuesday.

Telecinco cameraman Jose Couso and Reuters cameraman Taras Protsiuk died and several other people were injured by a shell fired on the Palestine Hotel in the Iraqi capital on April 8, 2003, in the U.S.-led war to topple Saddam Hussein.

The Spanish court would only have jurisdiction in the death of the Spanish citizen.

The soldiers would be questioned as suspects for murder and for crimes against the international community, which carry sentences of 15 to years in jail and 10 to 15 years respectively.

Pedraz on Tuesday agreed to send a request for U.S. cooperation in the investigation, but he is still only in the initial stages of the criminal investigation and several steps away from bringing charges.

Pedraz's investigation stems from a complaint brought by the Couso family.

Legal sources say the U.S. Army is unlikely to grant access to the soldiers, and if the case ever got far enough to warrant arrests the soldiers could only be arrested in Spain.

The judge is willing to travel to the United States to take their statements, the court official said.

A Pentagon report on the incident concluded U.S.-led forces bore "no fault or negligence."

The Pentagon released a brief summary of the report in August 2003, which ruled that American forces acted "in an appropriate manner" when they fired into the hotel, but the full report was classified.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists obtained the 52-page report under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act and said it strengthened its own finding that the hotel shelling could have been avoided.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman had no immediate comment.

© Reuters 2005. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Knives Come Out for Grewal

Stephen Harper announced today disgraced MP Gurmant Grewal has taken "stress leave." Grewal is at the centre of a growing scandal involving political intrigue, secret tapes, and questionable editing. Revelations of Grewal's "altered" tapes and insider testimony contradicting his account of meetings with Health Minister, Ujjal Dosanjh has now triggered investigations by the federal Ethics Commissioner and the RCMP. And, in a baffling side-bar, Air Canada has launched its own investigation. -{ape}

The Knives Come Out for Grewal
C. L. Cook
June 6, 2005

Well, it had to happen. Caught out as a lying, conniving tape-artist, unrestrained by truth, honour, or conscience, Tory MP Gurmant Grewal took his first tentative steps into the politcal wilderness today. In a tellling move, Tory leader Stephen Harper broke the news of Mr. Grewal's Ottawa departure.

In a statement posted on the Tory website, Harper cited "significant personal pressure" emanating from Grewal's constituents as the cause in his removal from parliament. Harper had defended Grewal's surreptitious tapes implicating on their face minister Dosanjh, but that was before Grewal's Clousseau-esqe production of the tapes became embarrassingly apparent; but not before a go-between in the Grewal-Dosanjh tryst contradicted Grewal's story that he was approached by the government, saying the opposite is the case.

"I have spoken with Gurmant," Harper said. "I have been aware that for some days now he has been feeling significant personal pressure...he and I agreed that he should take a temporary stress leave from his parliamentary responsibilities."

Temporary it may be, but with the house split down the middle, the loss of a voting member, no matter how venal and stupid, portends badly for Grewal's future and can't enhance his MP wife's credibility.

Things may be slowing down at the Newton-North Delta MP's office. Below Gurmant Grewal's smiling visage, his website still boasts the discredited tapes.

So eager in fact was he to share his handiwork with colleagues in Otttawa, Grewal tried to recruit Air Canada ticket agents to arrange to send a package unattended on a domestic flight out of Vancouver.

Forgetting perhaps the Air India disaster, Grewal now says he will deny Air Canada's charges he circumvented anti-terrorism safety precautions by recruiting a passenger to carry the tapes, contrary to Air Canada staff making him aware this was illegal.

Chris Cook hosts Gorilla Radio, a weekly public affairs program, broad/webcast from the University of Victoria, Canada. He also serves as a contributing editor to Check out the GR Blog here.

Behind the Gulags

Quran Splashed with Urine at Guantanamo
Juan Cole
June 6, 2005

The Pentagon released this news late Friday in order to defeat the US news cycle, which closes down for the American weekend. I deliberately kept it for Monday morning.

The Pentagon now admits that it found evidence in its files of the Quran being "mishandled" at Guantanamo. (Muslims would say "defiled.") All this after poor Newsweek was pilloried by the Bush administration. Moreover, I cannot for the life of me understand why the Pentagon thinks all the interrogation techniques used at Guantanamo were carefully recorded for posterity.

Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware has now called for Guantanamo to be closed down. Absolutely right.

The main reason is not that it is a continued scandal and creates a very poor image among Muslims worldwide of the United States. This allegation is true, and the US press has done a poor job of covering the continued fall-out of the Quran desecration story among Muslims world-wide. But it isn't the main reason the prison should be closed.

The main reason is that the Bush Administration established the prison at Guantanamo in hopes of gutting the Bill of Rights. They wanted the prisoners there to be beyond the law, outside the framework of judiciality. They would have no lawyers. They would be tried only if the administration wanted to try them. They would be held indefinitely. They would be outside the framework of US law and also of the Geneval Conventions-- though Rumsfeld keeps slipping and calling them prisoners of war.

Terrorists are dirty criminals who should be tried, and if found guilty, put away for life. Terrorists are criminals. They are not non-human, and any attempt to create a category of human beings to whom the protections of the law do not apply is an attempt to undermine the Republic. It is a return of the Bill of Attainder, a feature of absolute monarchy that the Founding Fathers stood against. It is something to which even Rehnquist is opposed.

Once it was established that these Muslims could be treated in this way, Bush would be a sort of absolute monarch over all such detainees (remember that some of them might be innocent for all we know) And then gradually others could be added to the category of the "rights-less." The Patriot Act II envisages stripping Americans of their citizenship for supporting terrorist organizations. Without citizenship, they would not be afforded the protections of the Constitution. And gradually, in this way, the American nationalist Right would be able to circumscribe that pesky Bill of Rights, which so interferes with Executive (i.e. Royal) Privilege. The legal minds on the American Right have clearly been annoyed with the Bill of Rights for some time and the speed with which they foisted the so-called PATRIOT Act (makes it kinda hard to oppose, calling it that, huh?) on an unwary Congress, which had no time to read it, suggests that they had a lot of these ideas on the shelf ready to go.

Guantanamo Prison should be closed because it was conceived as the beginning of the end of the American Republic.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Gorilla Radio: Just War

Gorilla Radio

Chris Cook hosts Gorilla Radio, airing live every Monday, 5-6pm Pacific Time. In Victoria at 101.9FM, 104.3 cable, and on the internet at: He also serves as a contributing editor at the progressive web news site:

Today is the 61st anniversary of the triumphant Allied invasion Nazi Germany’s Europe. The Second World War is remembered by most as a “just” war. The last “just” war. That supposed justice saw the death of millions and the near total destruction of the cradle of western civilization.

It has been painted in countless Hollywood motion pictures, books, and press reports, lauded in all of its aspects. But, the facts are: No war is just. In 2005, we westerners are again at war. It’s a war again painted, as Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and all the other lousy wars as “just.” For every instance of mobilization of the people to go forth on a murderous campaign, the underlying “truths” are later found to be manufactured. Nowhere else is this more evident than in the disaster that is Iraq today.

Last month, the criminals occupying the White House and congress of the United States of America summoned a British parliamentarian to a Senate committee to answer for his alleged personal enrichment through the United Nation’s ‘Oil for Food program.’ That same program credited with the destruction of upwards of a million souls. What the committee had not counted on was a witness like George Galloway, MP for Bethnel Green and Bow. Today on GR, the testimony to Senator Norm Coleman’s "Oil For Influence: How Saddam Used Oil to Reward Politicians and Terrorist Entities Under the United Nations Oil-for-Food Programme" hearings.

And; Janine Bandcroft will be here at the bottom of the hour to bring us up to speed with all that’s good to do in and around Victoria this week. But first, George Galloway tearing a new hole for the yet to be convicted war criminals in Washington, D.C.

Chris Cook hosts Gorilla Radio, airing live every Monday, 5-6pm Pacific Time. In Victoria at 101.9FM, 104.3 cable, and on the internet at: He also serves as a contributing editor at the progressive web news site:

You can check out the GR blog at: