Saturday, April 14, 2007

New and Improved

Blood in the Water for Wolfie at WB

World Bank Staff Seek
Wolfowitz's Ouster

by Emad Mekay

WASHINGTON, Apr 12 (IPS) - The World Bank's Staff Association, which represents 10,000 employees, asked Bank President Paul Wolfowitz to step down Thursday amid charges that he gave his girlfriend, a Bank employee, improper pay raises and attempted to cover it up.

The association made the call during an informal press conference inside the Bank at which dozens of employees showed up, the first time anyone inside the Washington-headquartered institution has demanded his ouster.

The gathering became dramatic when Wolfowitz himself appeared uninvited and sought to defend his actions.

"The president must acknowledge that his conduct has compromised the integrity and effectiveness of the World Bank Group and has destroyed the staff's trust in his leadership," said a statement from the Staff Association signed by its chairwoman Alison Cave. "He must act honourably and resign."

The call came less than an hour after Wolfowitz issued his own statement. "I made a mistake, for which I am sorry," said the 64-year-old World Bank president.

The Staff Association said it decided to call for his resignation even though the Bank's Board, which runs the institution's day to day affairs, announced that it is prepared to officially investigate the allegations that Wolfowitz used his position to enrich Shaha Riza, a Bank employee with whom he had a personal relationship, through large pay hikes that violated Bank protocols.

The association said it feared that the Board may not act quickly enough, and called for the release of all relevant documents, including a memorandum from Wolfowitz to the human resources vice president instructing him to second Riza to the U.S. State Department on a generous package that brought her salary to 193,000 dollars a year -- 7,000 dollars more than that earned by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Wolfowitz defended himself on Thursday, saying that he had already sought the advice of the Ethics Committee at the Bank and that he acted "in good faith".

He also said he was trying to ward off a possible legal problem for the Bank. He did not elaborate on whether Riza had threatened to sue the Bank if she was involuntarily assigned to the State Department -- a necessary move since Bank employees who are personally involved may not work together.

"This was an involuntary reassignment and I believed there was a legal risk if this was not resolved by mutual agreement," he said. "I take full responsibility for the details."

But Wolfowitz's statement did not allay concerns among staff that he may have placed his girlfriend's interests before the institution's.

The Staff Association says, for example, that there was no representation by the Bank's legal counsel during negotiations of the new contract for Riza, although her own attorney was present.

Wolfowitz has taken several hits over the past week, the last of which came from Ad Melkert, former chairman of the ethics committee, who denied that the committee directed or agreed to Riza's contract terms, as the Bank president alleged.

The Staff Association also says that the former general counsel of the Bank, Roberto Danino, rejected the terms for Riza's reassignment, leading to his exclusion by Wolfowitz from the actual contract negotiations.

The association said the affair is taking a toll on morale inside the Bank. "It therefore seems impossible for the institution to move forward with any sense of purpose under the present leadership, especially in our endeavor to assist governments and their people in improving their own governance," it said.

The controversy has been particularly embarrassing for Wolfowitz and the Bank because since he came to office in 2005, Wolfowitz has sought to make an anti-corruption crusade the signature of his tenure.

Last year, he announced a "long-term strategy" for using the Bank's funds and expertise to help developing countries rid their governments of bribe-taking and other dishonest practices.

But even as he assumed responsibility for decisions related to Riza, Wolfowitz went on the offensive, implying that the staff's reaction may have been motivated by displeasure with his role in the Pentagon as a main architect of the U.S. invasion and later occupation or Iraq, now in its fifth year and exacting huge human and financial costs.

"For those people who disagree with the things that they associate me with in my previous job, I'm not in my previous job," Wolfowitz said in a statement. "I'm not working for the U.S. government; I'm working for this institution and its 185 shareholders."

Wolfowitz came to the World Bank in mid-2005 from his post as the U.S. deputy secretary of defence.

His appointment to the World Bank sent ripples through many at the institution and within development circles who feared that his neo-conservative credentials and close association with the carnage caused by the Iraq war could undermine the Bank's image as one of the world's leading development agencies.

But the controversy over Riza's salary increases has mostly skirted his role in the Iraq war -- with Wolfowitz himself bringing it up.


Friday, April 13, 2007

Iran: The Greatest Crisis of Modern Times?

Iran May Be the
Crisis of Modern Times
by John Pilger

April 12, 2007

The Israeli journalist Amira Hass describes the moment her mother, Hannah, was marched from a cattle train to the Nazi concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen. “They were sick and some were dying,” she says. “Then my mother saw these German women looking at the prisoners, just looking. This image became very formative in my upbringing, this despicable ‘looking from the side’.”

It is time we in Britain and other Western countries stopped looking from the side. We are being led towards perhaps the most serious crisis in modern history as the Bush-Cheney-Blair “long war” edges closer to Iran for no reason other than that nation's independence from rapacious America. The safe delivery of the 15 British sailors into the hands of Rupert Murdoch and his rivals (with tales of their “ordeal” almost certainly authored by the Ministry of Defence -- until it got the wind up) is both a farce and a distraction. The Bush administration, in secret connivance with Blair, has spent four years preparing for “Operation Iranian Freedom.” Forty-five cruise missiles are primed to strike. According to Russia's leading strategic thinker General Leonid Ivashov: “Nuclear facilities will be secondary targets . . . at least 20 such facilities need to be destroyed. Combat nuclear weapons may be used. This will result in the radioactive contamination of all the Iranian territory, and beyond.”

And yet there is a surreal silence, save for the noise of “news” in which our powerful broadcasters gesture cryptically at the obvious but dare not make sense of it, lest the one-way moral screen erected between us and the consequences of an imperial foreign policy collapse and the truth be revealed. John Bolton, formerly Bush's man at the United Nations, recently spelled out the truth: that the Bush-Cheney-Blair plan for the Middle East is "an agenda to maintain division and ethnic tension". In other words, bloodshed and chaos equals control. He was referring to Iraq, but he also meant Iran.

One million Iraqis fill the streets of Najaf demanding that Bush and Blair get out of their homeland -- that is the real news: not our nabbed sailor-spies, nor the political dance macabre of the pretenders to Blair's Duce delusions. Whether it is treasurer Gordon Brown, the paymaster of the Iraq bloodbath, or John Reid, who sent British troops to pointless deaths in Afghanistan, or any of the others who sat through cabinet meetings knowing that Blair and his acolytes were lying through their teeth, only mutual distrust separates them now. They knew about Blair's plotting with Bush. They knew about the fake 45-minute “warning”. They knew about the fitting up of Iran as the next “enemy”.

Declared Brown to the Daily Mail: “The days of Britain having to apologise for its colonial history are over. We should celebrate much of our past rather than apologise for it.” In Late Victorian Holocausts, the historian Mike Davis documents that as many as 21 million Indians died unnecessarily in famines criminally imposed by British colonial policies. Moreover, since the formal demise of that glorious imperium, declassified files make it clear that British governments have borne “significant responsibility” for the direct or indirect deaths of between 8.6 million and 13.5 million people throughout the world from military interventions and at the hands of regimes strongly supported by Britain. The historian Mark Curtis calls these victims “unpeople”. Rejoice! said Margaret Thatcher. Celebrate! says Brown. Spot the difference.

Brown is no different from Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and the other warmongering Democrats he admires and who support an unprovoked attack on Iran and the subjugation of the Middle East to "our interests" -- and Israel's, of course. Nothing has changed since the US and Britain destroyed Iran's democratic government in 1953 and installed Reza Shah Pahlavi, whose regime had "the highest rate of death penalties in the world, no valid system of civilian courts and a history of torture" that was "beyond belief" (Amnesty).

Look behind the one-way moral screen and you will distinguish the Blairite elite by its loathing of the humane principles that mark a real democracy. They used to be discreet about this, but no more. Two examples spring to mind. In 2004, Blair used the secretive "royal prerogative" to overturn a high court judgment that had restored the very principle of human rights set out in Magna Carta to the people of the Chagos Islands, a British colony in the Indian Ocean. There was no debate. As ruthless as any dictator, Blair dealt his coup de grâce with the lawless expulsion of the islanders from their homeland, now a US military base, from which Bush has bombed Iraq and Afghanistan and will bomb Iran.

In the second example, only the degree of suffering is different. Last October, the Lancet published research by Johns Hopkins University in the US and al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, which calculated that 655,000 Iraqis had died as a direct result of the Anglo-American invasion. Downing Street officials derided the study as “flawed”. They were lying. They knew that the chief scientific adviser to the Ministry of Defence, Sir Roy Anderson, had backed the survey, describing its methods as “robust” and “close to best practice,” and other government officials had secretly approved the “tried and tested way of measuring mortality in conflict zones”. The figure for Iraqi deaths is now estimated at close to a million -- carnage equivalent to that caused by the Anglo-American economic siege of Iraq in the 1990s, which produced the deaths of half a million infants under the age of five, verified by UNICEF. That, too, was dismissed contemptuously by Blair.

“This Labour government, which includes Gordon Brown as much as it does Tony Blair,” wrote Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet, “is party to a war crime of monstrous proportions. Yet our political consensus prevents any judicial or civil society response. Britain is paralysed by its own indifference.”

Such is the scale of the crime and of our “looking from the side.” According to the Observer of 8 April, the voters’ “damning verdict” on the Blair regime is expressed by a majority who have “lost faith” in their government. No surprise there. Polls have long shown a widespread revulsion to Blair, demonstrated at the last general election, which produced the second lowest turnout since the franchise. No mention was made of the Observer's own contribution to this national loss of faith. Once celebrated as a bastion of liberalism that stood against Anthony Eden's lawless attack on Egypt in 1956, the new right-wing, lifestyle Observer enthusiastically backed Blair's lawless attack on Iraq, having helped lay the ground with major articles falsely linking Iraq with the 9/11 attacks -- claims now regarded even by the Pentagon as fake.

As hysteria is again fabricated, for Iraq, read Iran. According to the former US treasury secretary Paul O'Neill, the Bush cabal decided to attack Iraq on “day one” of Bush's administration, long before 11 September 2001. The main reason was oil. O'Neill was shown a Pentagon document entitled “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts,” which outlined the carve-up of Iraq's oil wealth among the major Anglo-American companies. Under a law written by US and British officials, the Iraqi puppet regime is about to hand over the extraction of the largest concentration of oil on earth to Anglo-American companies.

Nothing like this piracy has happened before in the modern Middle East, where Opec has ensured that oil business is conducted between states. Across the Shatt al-Arab waterway is another prize: Iran's vast oilfields. Just as non-existent weapons of mass destruction or facile concerns for democracy had nothing to do with the invasion of Iraq, so non-existent nuclear weapons have nothing to do with the coming American onslaught on Iran. Unlike Israel and the United States, Iran has abided by the rules of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, of which it was an original signatory, and has allowed routine inspections under its legal obligations. The International Atomic Energy Agency has never cited Iran for diverting its civilian program to military use. For the past three years, IAEA inspectors have said they have been allowed to “go anywhere.” The recent UN Security Council sanctions against Iran are the result of Washington's bribery.

Until recently, the British were unaware that their government was one of the world's most consistent abusers of human rights and backers of state terrorism. Few Britons knew that the Muslim Brotherhood, the forerunner of al-Qaeda, was sponsored by British intelligence as a means of systematically destroying secular Arab nationalism, or that MI6 recruited young British Muslims in the 1980s as part of a $4bn Anglo-American-backed jihad against the Soviet Union known as “Operation Cyclone.” In 2001, few Britons knew that 3,000 innocent Afghan civilians were bombed to death as revenge for the attacks of 11 September. No Afghans brought down the twin towers. Thanks to Bush and Blair, awareness in Britain and all over the world has risen as never before. When homegrown terrorists struck London in July 2005, few doubted that the attack on Iraq had provoked the atrocity and that the bombs that killed 52 Londoners were, in effect, Blair's bombs.

In my experience, most people do not indulge the absurdity and cruelty of the “rules” of rampant power. They do not contort their morality and intellect to comply with double standards and the notion of approved evil, of worthy and unworthy victims. They would, if they knew, grieve for all the lives, families, careers, hopes and dreams destroyed by Blair and Bush. The sure evidence is the British public's wholehearted response to the 2004 tsunami, shaming that of the government.

Certainly, they would agree wholeheartedly with Robert H Jackson, chief of counsel for the United States at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders at the end of the Second World War. “Crimes are crimes,” he said, "whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct which we would not be willing to have invoked against us."

As with Henry Kissinger and Donald Rumsfeld, who dare not travel to certain countries for fear of being prosecuted as war criminals, Blair as a private citizen may no longer be untouchable. On 20 March, Baltasar Garzón, the tenacious Spanish judge who pursued Augusto Pinochet, called for indictments against those responsible for “one of the most sordid and unjustifiable episodes in recent human history” -- Iraq. Five days later, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, to which Britain is a signatory, said that Blair could one day face war-crimes charges.

These are critical changes in the way the sane world thinks -- again, thanks to the Reich of Blair and Bush. However, we live in the most dangerous of times. On 6 April, Blair accused “elements of the Iranian regime” of “backing, financing, arming and supporting terrorism in Iraq.” He offered no evidence, and the Ministry of Defence has none. This is the same Goebbels-like refrain with which he and his coterie, Gordon Brown included, brought an epic bloodletting to Iraq. How long will the rest of us continue looking from the side?

John Pilger is an internationally renowned investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker. His newest book is Freedom Next Time (Bantam Press, June 2006). Visit John Pilger's website:

Nixon's Ghost Rising

Shades of Richard Nixon! The Justice Department federal attorney scandal just deepened, as the White House announces that many e-mail messages -- potentially incriminating -- have been 'lost' inadvertently. The Senate Judiciary Committee isn't buying that.

U.S. Attorney Scandal Broadens with
White House E-Mail Scandal

by John Nichols

The U.S. Attorneys scandal seems to be turning an important new page every day. And April 12, it turned what can best be referred to as the "Rose Mary Woods" page.

Rose Mary Woods was the longtime secretary to Richard Nixon who as a fiercely loyal employee of the president in the waning days of the Watergate crisis claimed in grand jury testimony that she had inadvertently created at least part of an 18 1/2 minute gap a White House audio tape that had become central to the investigation of presidential wrongdoing.

"The Rose Mary Woods Defense" proved to be a tough sell in 1974, failing to close off congressional inquiries that would eventually lead to votes by the House Judiciary Committee in favor of articles of impeachment against Nixon.

But that has not stopped the Bush White House from mounting a "Rose Mary Woods Defense" in its attempt to prevent the House and Senate judiciary committees from examining the full scope of the scandal that arose after the White House fired eight U.S. Attorneys who, apparently, did not want to politicize their offices in a manner that would benefit Republican electoral prospects.

In response to demands from the Senate Judiciary Committee for records of political communications by Bush aides, the White House is claiming emails that could shed light on the role political czar Karl Rove and as many as 21 other presidential appointees may have played in pressuring U.S. Attorneys are "potentially lost."

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel had acknowledged that 22 White House aides have e-mail accounts sponsored by the Republican National Committee. Those accounts have become a focus of the rapidly-expanding U.S. Attorneys inquiry, as it is assumed that they would have been the avenue by which state party officials sent memos asking key players in the White House to pressure the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorneys to advance so-called "voter fraud" cases, to prosecute Democrats or to back off prosecutions of Republicans.

Stanzel says e-mails sent and received on those accounts can't be found.

Senate Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, is not taking those claims seriously.

"They say they have not been preserved. I don't believe that!" Leahy declared in what for him was an exceptionally passionate speech on the Senate floor Thursday. "You can't erase e-mails, not today. They've gone through too many servers. Those e-mails are there, they just don't want to produce them. We'll subpoena them if necessary."

Stanzel insists that the White House, which has repeatedly attempted to thwart congressional inquiries into matters relating to the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys who fell afoul of the Bush administration for what appear to have been political reasons, now says that there is no effort to conceal emails that could reveal information about contacts regarding the eight fired U.S. Attorneys or about pressures on the 85 U.S. Attorneys who were no fired.

On April 10, Leahy and five other senators demanded documents regarding a botched prosecution in Wisconsin by a U.S. Attorney who was not fired. That prosecution paralleled the 2006 election cycle and was exploited by Republicans in a television ad campaign against Democratic Governor Jim Doyle. The Senate's interest in the Wisconsin case indicates that the inquiry is expanding to examine not just White House pressures on fired prosecutors but on those who were retained.

Stanzel says the White House counsel's office is conducting a "review" into the missing emails. "The purpose of our review is to make every reasonable effort to recover potentially lost e-mails, and that is why we've been in contact with forensic experts," says the Bush aide.

But Leahy bluntly responds, "E-mails don't get lost. These are just e-mails they don't want to bring forward."

It looks like the "Rose Mary Woods Defense" is not going over any better in 2007 than it did in 1974. To his credit, the usually cautious Leahy says he is prepared to subpoena the emails and related documents. He won't be satisfied with "dog-ate-my-homework" excuses. And rightly so.

These emails are definitely not missing, but they may well be incriminating.

John Nichols is Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine.

Copyright © 2007 The Nation

Released: 13 April 2007
Word Count: 681

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Feith in Action: Return of Irangate

The deceptive acts of the Bush administration, pushing the country to war against Iraq, have been revealed in a recent report by the US Defence Department Inspector General. How Bush went to war against Iraq can be best compared to the Irangate scandal of the Reagan administration.

Iraq War Pushers' Deception Exposed

by Patrick Seale

A shadowy Pentagon unit -- the Office of Special Plans, headed by Douglas Feith, former U.S. Under Secretary of Defence for Policy -- deliberately fabricated intelligence linking Saddam Hussein’s regime to al-Qaida in order to incite the United States to make war on Iraq.

This conclusion, long suspected by most observers of the Middle East, has now been confirmed by Thomas F. Gimble, Inspector General of the U.S. Defence Department, in a declassified report, released on April 5, at the request of Senator Carl M. Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Together with his boss, Paul Wolfowitz, then Deputy Defence Secretary, Douglas Feith was one of an influential group of pro-Israeli neo-conservatives in the Bush administration who exploited the 11 September 2001 terrorist attack on the U.S. to campaign and intrigue for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

According to the Inspector General’s report, Feith produced intelligence assessments which claimed that there was a "mature, symbiotic relationship [between Iraq and al-Qaida]" in no fewer than ten specific areas, including training, financing and logistics. To bolster his case, Feith made much of an alleged meeting in Prague in April 2001 between Muhammad Atta, one of the Al-Qaida hijackers, and an Iraqi intelligence officer, Ahmad al-Ani.

To mobilize the American public for an attack on Iraq, Feith leaked his fraudulent conclusions to the Weekly Standard, the neo-con magazine which, under its editor William Kristol, had been stridently calling for "regime change" in Iraq since the late 1990s -- and which has now turned its attention to calling for war against Iran.

After a thorough examination of the evidence, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) both concluded that Feith was wrong. They found "no conclusive signs" of a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida and no evidence of "direct cooperation."

But Feith was not deterred. Instead, he did his best to discredit the CIA and DIA findings and, bypassing the intelligence community, he presented his phoney evidence as fact to another prominent neo-con, I. Lewis Libby, Vice-President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, and to Deputy National Security Director Steven Hadley. In due course, by means of complicities in the Administration, Feith’s dubious material was passed up to President Bush and Vice-President Cheney who used it in speeches preparing the public for war in March 2003. The intrigue was successful.

Senator Carl Levin said in a written statement last week that the Defence Department’s report fully demonstrated why the Inspector General had concluded that Douglas Feith had "inappropriately" written intelligence assessments before the March 2003 invasion alleging connections between Iraq and al-Qaida. The word inappropriately is hardly a precise description of Feith’s criminal behaviour.

As is now plain for everyone to see, the war has been an unmitigated disaster for the United States, for Iraq, and for the whole Middle East. But it is only now, four years after the American seizure of Baghdad, that an official report has clearly pointed the finger at the men largely responsible.

Why did Feith and his neo-con associates do it? And how did they manage to get away with it?

Clearly, in pressing for war, they were primarily concerned to enhance Israel’s security by smashing a major Arab state, thereby removing any potential threat to Israel from the east. As they schemed to transform the region with America’s military power, they dreamed of defeating all of Israel’s enemies -- Arab nationalists, Islamic radicals and Palestinian militants -- at a single stroke. Overthrowing Saddam was to be only the first step in a thorough transformation of the region to the advantage of both Israel and the United States.

In the event, the United States has suffered a devastating blow to its political influence and moral authority, as well as to its finances and to the fighting ability of its armed services, while Israel, confronted by a resurgent Iran, is itself less secure than before the war.

The reckless enterprise of Feith and his fellow neo-cons would probably have had little chance of success had they not managed to team up with men like Dick Cheney and former Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who were evidently seduced by the prospect of taking control of Iraq’s oil reserves, second-largest in the world after Saudi Arabia’s, and of turning a submissive Iraqi client state into a base for the projection of American power throughout the Middle East and Central Asia.

President George W. Bush himself bought their agenda -- a decision he must now bitterly regret, as he and his advisers seek desperately to find a way out of the Iraqi quagmire.

In retrospect, the campaign by Israel and its American friends to push the United States into war with Iraq must be judged one of the most audacious sabotage operations of the Arab world ever mounted.

Israel has a long history of seeking to destabilise its neighbours in the belief that a weak and divided Arab world is to its advantage. Over the years, it has sent funds, weapons and military instructors to stiffen the southern Sudanese in their long war against Khartoum and has provided even greater support to the Kurds against Baghdad.

Its repeated invasions of Lebanon -- in 1978, 1982, 1993, 1996 and 2006 -- have been designed to wrest that country out of Syria’s sphere of influence and bring to power in Beirut a government prepared to do Israel’s bidding. In the Occupied Territories it has sought to destroy Palestinian resistance not only by boycotts, military strikes and a systematic campaign of murder of Palestinian activists, but also by setting one Palestinian faction against another, notably Islamists against nationalists.

But for sheer daring, the intrigue which carried the U.S. into war against Iraq can best be compared to the Iran-Contra Scandal of the mid-1980s.

It will be recalled that Israel started sending American weapons secretly to Iran from the start of the Iraq-Iran war in 1980, even while American hostages were held captive in Tehran and in infringement of the arms embargoes imposed by both the Carter and Reagan Administrations.

Israel’s interest was to fuel the war so as to rule out any possibility that Iraq might turn westwards and combine its military power with that of Syria. Selling arms to the Islamic Republic of Iran, which was then fighting for its survival, was a way to weaken two potential enemies -- Iran and Iraq. It was also highly profitable for Israel’s arms dealers.

To persuade Washington to turn a blind eye to this arms trade, Israel came up with an ingenious idea. It proposed overcharging Iran for the American weapons it was secretly supplying and diverting the profits to the Nicaraguan Contras. The Americans fell for it. They had been looking for ways to support the Contras after Congress had cut off funding.

On 17 January 1986, President Reagan signed a Finding which formally re-launched the clandestine arms programme. Israel’s arms sales to Iran were freed from all constraint. But the exposure of what was to become known as Irangate crippled the last years of the Reagan Administration, much as Bush’s last years have now been crippled by the Iraq war.

Can Israel now be persuaded to seek its long-term security by means of good neighbourly relations with the Arabs rather than by spreading mayhem among them?

The Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, re-launched at the recent Arab Summit in Riyadh -- which offers Israel peace and normal relations with all 22 members of the Arab League if it withdraws to its 1967 borders -- could perhaps be seen as an invitation to Israel to play a constructive rather than a destructive role in the region.

The Arab message to Israel seems to be this: "Stop being the bad boy on the block. Let’s put war behind us and cooperate for a better future." But Israel’s interventionist instincts are so deeply ingrained that it would take something of a revolution in its military and security thinking for it to seize the opportunity now being presented to it.

Patrick Seale is a leading British writer on the Middle East, and the author of The Struggle for Syria; also, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East; and Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire.

Copyright © 2007 Patrick Seale

Released: 11 April 2007
Word Count: 1,325

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Story of Sami al-Arian

The True Story of Free Speech in America
By Robert Fisk

04/07/07 "The Independent" -- -- Laila al-Arian was wearing her headscarf at her desk at Nation Books, one of my New York publishers. No, she told me, it would be difficult to telephone her father. At the medical facility of his North Carolina prison, he can only make a few calls - monitored, of course - and he was growing steadily weaker.

Sami al-Arian is 49 but he stayed on hunger strike for 60 days to protest the government outrage committed against him, a burlesque of justice which has, of course, largely failed to rouse the sleeping dogs of American journalism in New York, Washington and Los Angeles.

All praise, then, to the journalist John Sugg from Tampa, Florida, who has been cataloging al-Arian’s little Golgotha for months, along with Alexander Cockburn of Counter Punch.

The story so far: Sami al-Arian, a Kuwaiti-born Palestinian, was a respected computer professor at the University of South Florida who tried, however vainly, to communicate the real tragedy of Palestinian Arabs to the US government. But according to Sugg, Israel’s lobbyists were enraged by his lessons - al-Arian’s family was driven from Palestine in 1948 - and in 2003, at the instigation of Attorney General Ashcroft, he was arrested and charged with conspiring “to murder and maim” outside the United States and with raising money for Islamic Jihad in “Palestine”. He was held for two and a half years in solitary confinement, hobbling half a mile, his hands and feet shackled, merely to talk to his lawyers.

Al-Arian’s $50m (£25m) Tampa trial lasted six months; the government called 80 witnesses (21 from Israel) and used 400 intercepted phone calls along with evidence of a conversation that a co-defendant had with al-Arian in - wait for it - a dream. The local judge, a certain James Moody, vetoed any remarks about Israeli military occupation or about UN Security Council Resolution 242, on the grounds that they would endanger the impartiality of the jurors.

In December, 2005, al-Arian was acquitted on the most serious charges and on those remaining; the jurors voted 10 to two for acquittal. Because the FBI wanted to make further charges, al-Arian’s lawyers told him to make a plea that would end any further prosecution. Arriving for his sentence, however, al-Arian - who assumed time served would be his punishment, followed by deportation - found Moody talking about “blood” on the defendant’s hands and ensured he would have to spend another 11 months in jail. Then prosecutor Gordon Kromberg insisted that the Palestinian prisoner should testify against an Islamic think tank. Al-Arian believed his plea bargain had been dishonored and refused to testify. He was held in contempt. And continues to languish in prison.

Not so, of course, most of America’s torturers in Iraq. One of them turns out to rejoice in the name of Ric Fair, a “contract interrogator”, who has bared his soul in the Washington Post - all praise, here, by the way to the Post - about his escapades in the Fallujah interrogation “facility” of the 82nd Airborne Division. Fair has been having nightmares about an Iraqi whom he deprived of sleep during questioning “by forcing him to stand in a corner and stripping him of his clothes”. Now it is Fair who is deprived of sleep. “A man with no face stares at me … pleads for help, but I’m afraid to move. He begins to cry. It s a pitiful sound, and it sickens me. He screams, but as I awaken, I realize the screams are mine.”

Thank God, Fair didn’t write a play about his experiences and offer it to Channel 4 whose executives got cold feet about The Mark of Cain, the drama about British army abuse in Basra. They quickly bought into the line that transmission of Tony Marchant’s play might affect the now happy outcome of the far less riveting Iranian prison production of the Famous 15 “Servicepersons” - by angering the Muslim world with tales of how our boys in Basra beat up on the local Iraqis. As the reporter who first revealed the death of hotel worker Baha Mousa in British custody in Basra - I suppose we must always refer to his demise as “death” now that the soldiers present at his savage beating have been acquitted of murder - I can attest that Arab Muslims know all too well how gentle and refined our boys are during interrogation. It is we, the British at home, who are not supposed to believe in torture. The Iraqis know all about it - and who knew all about Mousa’s fate long before I reported it for The Independent on Sunday.

Because it’s really all about shutting the reality of the Middle East off from us. It’s to prevent the British and American people from questioning the immoral and cruel and internationally illegal occupation of Muslim lands. And in the Land of the Free, this systematic censorship of Middle East reality continues even in the country’s schools. Now the principal of a Connecticut high school has banned a play by pupils, based on the letters and words of US soldiers serving in Iraq. Entitled Voices in Conflict, Natalie Kropf, Seth Koproski, James Presson and their fellow pupils at Wilton High School compiled the reflections of soldiers and others - including a 19-year-old Wilton High graduate killed in Iraq - to create their own play. To no avail. The drama might hurt those “who had lost loved ones or who had individuals serving as we speak”, proclaimed Timothy Canty, Wilton High’s principal. And - my favorite line - Canty believed there was not enough rehearsal time to ensure the play would provide “a legitimate instructional experience for our students”.

And of course, I can quite see Mr Canty’s point. Students who have produced Arthur Miller’s The Crucible were told by Mr Canty - whose own war experiences, if any, have gone unrecorded - that it wasn’t their place to tell audiences what soldiers were thinking. The pupils of Wilton High are now being inundated with offers to perform at other venues. Personally, I think Mr Canty may have a point. He would do much better to encourage his students to perform Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, a drama of massive violence, torture, rape, mutilation and honor killing. It would make Iraq perfectly explicable to the good people of Connecticut. A “legitimate instructional experience” if ever there was one.

© 2007 Independent News and Media Limited


Pope Sues Indymedia

Vatican threatens to sue Indymedia
By FREEDOM OF PRESS 06/04/2007 At 19:41

It looks clear to us that the trial is going to restrict the liberty of expression and is politically motivated, trying to silence satirical criticisms published in a letfist site about the political positions of the new pope.

Back in April 2005, the World Press reported that the Italian Public Departmen's attorney, Salvatore Vitello, intends to take legal action against a satirical photomontage picturing Cardinal Ratzinger, the then newly chosen pope, in Nazi uniform. A few months ago, the intention materialized in the form of a letter of request that is now being considered by the Brazilian Superior Court of Justice (STJ). The request letter asks for the the page to be taken down and disclose the identity of the people deemed responsible for the site, which is registered in Brazil.

The case in question is a good example of the double standards in dealing with the freedom of the press. In the incident of the cartoons that satirized prophet Mohammed in the Danish journal Jyllands-Posten, the public opinion of the liberal democracies jumped to condemn the fanaticism and the restriction of the freedom of expression. Now that the satire concerns a religious figure that occupies a privileged position in the international setting, the Italian Judiciary, in accordance with the Vatican, initiates forms of cyber political pursuit.

The photomontage at the heart of the trial is a satirical composition published on the Italy Independent Media Center site in April 2005. IMC, or Indymedia, is a global network of open publishing websites, where readers can publish news and opinion, established in 1999 to cover the protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle. The photomontage is an anonymous contribution by one of the site users and puts the face of the Pope Benedict XVI to the body of a Nazi officer. The picture is accompanied by following comment, which the Italian Public Department considered offensive: "Nazi pope - happiness to all the faithful. After the anti-communist reactionary, now comes the ultra-reactionary Nazi."

The satire is clearly a composition that ridicules and criticizes persons and institutions by means of funny exaggeration. The right of satire is one of the foundations of the freedom of expression and press, and is what guarantees that all papers and magazines carry cartoons and caricatures on their pages every day. As an exaggeration, satire is always based on some elements of truth that are then maximised, aiming for a funny effect. In the case of the Pope photomontage, the truth element is that Pope Benedict XVI was member of the Hitler Youth in Germany when he was 14, as well as the fact that his politics, as Mayor of the Faith Doctrine Congregation during John Paul II rein, was considered ultra-conservative. The cartoon does not have as its object the Catholic faith but, rather, the political orientation of the person in charge of the Papacy, as highlighted in the comment.

Despite the fact that the photomontage contains all the elements that qualify as a satire and, therefore, should be protected by the laws that defend the freedom of expression, the Italian Public Department used an article of the Italian penal code that criminalizes the "contempt of a minister of the Catholic faith", Catholicism being the "state religion" there.

However, the jurisprudence established in Italy already regards as outdated and illegitimate the argument that fuses State and Religion. That means that the core argument that substantiates the solicitation of the letter of request is questionable in its own country of origin.

Although Indymedia is not the author of the post concerned, the maintenance of the page where it is published is to us a question of principles. We believe that the photomontage is a satirical criticism of the political positions assumed by the Pope during his ecclesiastical career and that attorney Salvatore Vitello is criminalizing a publication based on outdated articles of the Penal Code, especially that this very Penal Code has recently had substantial changes to its writing.

The letter of request sent to the STJ is based on a judicial agreement of mutual cooperation between Brazil and Italy which limits this cooperation to predicted cases in the legislation of both countries and to crimes that are not of a political nature. However, the Brazilian law does not offer special protection for the ministers of the Catholic faith. Further, the letter of request, although claiming the trial is not of political nature, does highlight that the Independent Media Center website is the "expression of the information circuit of the antagonist left".

It is pretty obvious that the trial is going to restrict the freedom of expression and is politically motivated. It is trying to silence satirical criticism, published on a leftist site, about the political positions of the new pope. We expect the Minister entrusted by the trial in the Superior Court to have the same understanding. We also expect that the Brazilian civil society, as we as the international community, would express their opposition to this attempt by the Italian attorney to silence any criticism of the controversial political orientations of the Catholic Pope.

Recently, the request for filing the case was sent to the Italian Judicial authorities by the Italian Public Department itself. However, the request letter sent to Brazil is still being processed by the Federal Justice.


Who Killed in Afghanistan?

6 NATO Troops Die in Afghanistan Blast

Sunday April 8, 2007 6:16 PM

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - A NATO vehicle was struck by an explosive device in southern Afghanistan on Sunday, leaving six soldiers dead and another wounded, the alliance said.

The statement from NATO's International Security Assistance force did not identify those killed and wounded or specify the location of the explosion.

The Taliban, meanwhile, claimed to have beheaded the kidnapped translator for an Italian journalist.

Ajmal Naqshbandi, a freelance journalist and translator, was kidnapped March 5 in southern Afghanistan along with journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo and a driver.

The driver was beheaded. Mastrogiacomo, who worked for the daily La Repubblica, was released March 19 in a much criticized swap for five Taliban militants.

The Taliban made a similar demand in return for Naqshbandi's release.

``We asked for two Taliban commanders to be released in exchange for Ajmal Naqshbandi, but the government did not care for our demands, and today, at 3:05 p.m., we beheaded Ajmal in Garmsir district of Helmand province,'' said Shahabuddin Atal, who claimed to be a spokesman for regional Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah. The report could not be independently confirmed.


Late in:

6 Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan
Last Updated: Sunday, April 8, 2007 | 2:39 PM ET
CBC News
Six Canadian soldiers were killed in southern Afghanistan, Prime Minister Stephen Harper confirmed on Sunday.

No names or hometowns of the soldiers involved have been released. Earlier in the day, NATO reported that six soldiers had been killed by a roadside bomb in Helmand province.

"Sadly today has been a difficult day in Afghanistan," Harper said at a dinner for veterans in the French city of Lille, near historic Vimy Ridge.

"We've learned that an incident has claimed the lives of six Canadian soldiers and injured a number of others."

"Our hearts ache for them and their families, and I know as we gather here on Easter Sunday our thoughts and prayers are with them," said the prime minister, who is in France as part of the ceremonies marking the 90th anniversary of the attack on Vimy Ridge in the First World War.

The troops were serving with NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Helmand province, where the multinational force recently launched a major offensive against the Taliban.

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Maj.-Gen. Ton van Loon, the ISAF chief of Regional Command South, said "the hearts of his soldiers" go out to the victim's families and their country.

Since 2002, 51 Canadian soldiers and a diplomat have been killed in Afghanistan, where Canada has more than 2,000 troops, with the majority in the southern province of Kandahar.

The main thrust of the offensive in Helmand province is being handled by British and American troops, with Canadian soldiers offering backup and security. About 5,000 soldiers in all are engaging the Taliban, including elements of Afghanistan's army.

In February, the Taliban said it has 6,000 fighters ready for a spring offensive and could dramatically increase that number if necessary.

Al-Jazeera reported at the time that Taliban leader Mullah Dadallah had recruited 500 suicide bombers for the campaign.