Life After the Age of Oil
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By Michael T. Klare
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Life After the Age of Oil
at 5:16 PM
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By STEPHEN LABATON
Tired of the government bailing out banks? Get ready for this: officials may soon ask banks to bail out the government.
Senior regulators say they are seriously considering a plan to have the nation’s healthy banks lend billions of dollars to rescue the insurance fund that protects bank depositors. That would enable the fund, which is rapidly running out of money because of a wave of bank failures, to continue to rescue the sickest banks.
The plan, strongly supported by bankers and their lobbyists, would be a major reversal of fortune.
A hallmark of the financial crisis has been the decision by successive administrations over the last year to lend hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to large and small banks.
“It’s a nice irony,” said Karen Shaw Petrou, managing partner of Federal Financial Analytics, a consulting company. “Like so much of this crisis, this is an issue that involves the least worst options.”
Bankers and their lobbyists like the idea because it is more attractive than the alternatives: yet another across-the-board emergency assessment on them, or tapping an existing $100 billion credit line to the Treasury.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which oversees the fund, is said to be reluctant to use its authority to borrow from the Treasury.
Under the law, the F.D.I.C. would not need permission from the Treasury to tap into a credit line of up to $100 billion. But such a step is said to be unpalatable to Sheila C. Bair, the agency chairwoman whose relations with the Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, have been strained.
“Sheila Bair would take bamboo shoots under her nails before going to Tim Geithner and the Treasury for help,” said Camden R. Fine, president of the Independent Community Bankers. “She’d do just about anything before going there.”
Bankers worry that a special assessment of $5 billion to $10 billion over the next six months would crimp their profits and could push a handful of banks into deeper financial trouble or even receivership. And any new borrowing from the Treasury would be construed as a taxpayer bailout that could open the industry to a political reaction, resulting in a wave of restrictions like fresh limits on executive pay.
Any populist furor could be avoided, the thinking goes, if the government borrows instead from the banks.
“Borrowing from healthy banks, instead of the Treasury, has the advantage of keeping this in the family,” said Karen M. Thomas, executive vice president of government relations at the Independent Community Bankers of America, a trade group representing about 5,000 banks. “It is much better for perceptions than having the fund borrow from somewhere else.”
Ultimately, officials say, the deposit insurance corporation could settle on a plan that replenishes the insurance fund by doing some of both: borrowing from healthy banks to shore up the shorter-term liquidity needs of the fund, and imposing a special fee on banks to increase the longer-term capital level of the fund.
Since January the F.D.I.C. has seized 94 failing banks, causing a rapid decline in the deposit insurance fund. Despite a special assessment imposed on banks a few months ago to keep the fund afloat, its cash balance now stands at about $10 billion, a third of its size at the start of the year. (Another $32 billion has been set aside for failures that officials expect to occur in the coming months.)
The fund, which stands behind $4.8 trillion in insured deposits, could be wiped out by the failure of a single large bank, although the deposit insurance corporation could always seek a taxpayer bailout by borrowing from the Treasury to stay afloat.
Officials say that the F.D.I.C. will issue a proposed plan next week to begin to restore the financial health of the ailing fund.
There is no consensus among the five board members, consisting of Ms. Bair, two other F.D.I.C. officials, and the heads of the Office of Thrift Supervision and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. Others may propose novel ways to replenish the fund, for example, by asking the banks to prepay the premiums that they were planning to make next year.
Borrowing from the industry is allowed under an obscure provision of a 1991 law adopted during the savings and loan crisis. The lending banks would receive bonds from the government at an interest rate that would be set by the Treasury secretary and ultimately would be paid by the rest of the industry. The bonds would be listed as an asset on the books of the banks.
at 5:11 PM
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By Ellen Brown
“[MERS] has reduced transparency in the mortgage market in two ways. First, consumers and their counsel can no longer turn to the public recording systems to learn the identity of the holder of their note. Today, county recording systems are increasingly full of one meaningless name, MERS, repeated over and over again. But more importantly, all across the country, MERS now brings foreclosure proceedings in its own name – even though it is not the financial party in interest. This is problematic because MERS is not prepared for or equipped to provide responses to consumers’ discovery requests with respect to predatory lending claims and defenses. In effect, the securitization conduit attempts to use a faceless and seemingly innocent proxy with no knowledge of predatory origination or servicing behavior to do the dirty work of seizing the consumer’s home. . . . So imposing is this opaque corporate wall, that in a “vast” number of foreclosures, MERS actually succeeds in foreclosing without producing the original note – the legal sine qua non of foreclosure – much less documentation that could support predatory lending defenses.”
“By statute, assignment of the mortgage carries with it the assignment of the debt. . . . Indeed, in the event that a mortgage loan somehow separates interests of the note and the deed of trust, with the deed of trust lying with some independent entity, the mortgage may become unenforceable. The practical effect of splitting the deed of trust from the promissory note is to make it impossible for the holder of the note to foreclose, unless the holder of the deed of trust is the agent of the holder of the note. Without the agency relationship, the person holding only the note lacks the power to foreclose in the event of default. The person holding only the deed of trust will never experience default because only the holder of the note is entitled to payment of the underlying obligation. The mortgage loan becomes ineffectual when the note holder did not also hold the deed of trust.” [Citations omitted; emphasis added.]
“. . . The catastrophic consequences of bond investors forcing originators to buy back loans at face value are beyond the current media discussion. The loans at issue dwarf the capital available at the largest U.S. banks combined, and investor lawsuits would raise stunning liability sufficient to cause even the largest U.S. banks to fail, resulting in massive taxpayer-funded bailouts of Fannie and Freddie, and even FDIC . . . .“What would be prudent and logical is for the banks that sold this toxic waste to buy it back and for a lot of people to go to prison. If they knew about the fraud, they should have to buy the bonds back.”
“For decades now, . . . I have been receiving letters [warning] me about the dangers of a secret government running the world . . . . [T]he closest I have recently seen to such a world-running body would have to be a certain large investment bank, whose alums are routinely Treasury secretaries, high advisers to presidents, and occasionally a governor or United States senator.”
at 8:36 AM
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By Cecilia Kang
The government would play a far more aggressive role in policing the public's unfettered access to Internet services and content under a proposal offered Monday by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski.
The agency would be the "smart cop on the beat," Genachowski said in a speech, outlining a plan to prohibit Internet service providers from blocking or slowing certain technologies and content on their networks. The chairman proposed that firms be required to make public the steps they are taking to control Web traffic.
The proposal raised concerns among several providers, which said the regulation could hurt their business by limiting their ability to manage their networks.
Some of the loudest protests came from wireless service providers, including telecommunications giant AT&T. They argued that "net neutrality" rules should exclude the booming cellphone industry, where competition among carriers is healthy and resources are limited.
U.S. wireless networks are "facing incredible bandwidth strains . . . which require continued private investment at very high levels and pro-active network management to ensure service quality for 270 million customers," Jim Cicconi, AT&T's senior vice president of external and legislative affairs, said in a statement.
Others worried how the government would decide what offerings are acceptable.
"Should all product and service offerings be the same?" asked Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs for the wireless association CTIA.
Genachowski said the FCC would weigh such concerns as the agency goes about drawing up its regulatory principles.
"This is the announcement of the beginning of a process," said Colin Crowell, a senior adviser to Genachowski. "The chairman said two things with respect to mobile; first, that the principles ought to apply to all platforms, in order to be technologically neutral. The principals ideally apply in a technologically neutral way so that your expectations as a consumer and entrepreneur don't change as you choose different ways of reaching the Internet. Second, he indicated that how, to what extent, and when the principles will apply to different platforms is what the process will determine."
Genachowski said he suggested that the FCC should evaluate alleged net neutrality violations on a case-by-case basis.
"This approach, within the framework I am proposing today, will allow the commission to make reasoned, fact-based determinations based on the Internet before it -- not based on the Internet of years past or guesses about how the Internet will evolve," Genachowski said in his speech, delivered at the Brookings Institution.
He said the proposed principles won't prevent broadband providers from "reasonably managing their networks." But defining what is reasonable management is where debate by carriers of all sizes and regulators will go forward, telecommunications specialists said.
David Young, vice president of regulatory affairs for Verizon Communications, questioned the need for new regulations because he said there hasn't been much proof that consumers or business have not been able to get the Web content and services they want.
"I'm pleased to hear that the chairman intends to do only as much as needed and no more . . . We need to see what are the problems that need to be fixed and what are the examples that require a dramatic change," Young said.
Genachowski said examples of discriminatory behavior -- such as Comcast's move to allegedly block peer-to-peer service BitTorrent on its network -- show that rules need to be in place to stop such practices and that there needs to be greater transparency by network operators for entrepreneurs and consumers of the Web to ensure that they are able to build Internet businesses and get the services they expect from their providers.
"This is not about protecting the Internet against imaginary dangers. We're seeing the breaks and cracks emerge, and they threaten to change the Internet's fundamental architecture of openness," Genachowski said.
at 6:49 AM
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By Chris Hedges
at 5:04 AM
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By Bill Van Auken
With the release of a declassified version of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s recommendations for a change of course in Afghanistan, the Pentagon command is pushing President Barack Obama to quickly approve another major escalation of the US-led war.
The report was first made public Monday on the Web site of the Washington Post, which was leaked the document and then reached an agreement with the Pentagon to post a version from which key passages on US strategy were redacted.
The thrust of the document, submitted by McChrystal to US Defense Secretary Robert Gates last month, is hardly a surprise. It is an argument for a more aggressive—and bloodier—war in Afghanistan with a substantial increase in the number of American troops occupying the country.
While McChrystal gives no numbers in relation to the additional soldiers and Marines he believes should be thrown into the Afghanistan “surge,” he is expected to submit his proposal to the White House shortly.
McChrystal’s 66-page report bluntly describes the situation in Afghanistan as “deteriorating.” The general acknowledges that a “resilient and growing” resistance to the occupation has seized the “initiative” from US-led forces, which—after nearly eight years of fighting—have antagonized the population by inflicting large numbers of civilian casualties and by propping up a corrupt and hated puppet regime.
Media reports on McChrystal’s proposed change in strategy invariably refer to a supposed shift from hunting down “insurgents” to “protecting” the Afghan population. This innocuous rhetoric disguises the real content of the proposal, which is the prosecution of a far more aggressive counterinsurgency campaign that would send American troops into hostile population centers, like Kandahar City, to systematically suppress and intimidate popular opposition to US aims.
The US commander repeatedly criticizes what he describes as a preoccupation on the part of US and NATO commanders with “force protection” and calls for the occupation troops to operate with “less armor and less distance from the population.”
McChrystal acknowledges that the result will be a further escalation in bloodshed. “It is realistic to expect that Afghan and coalition casualties will increase,” he writes.
Given McChrystal’s background as the former chief of the US military’s Joint Special Operations Command—tasked with hunting down and assassinating individuals deemed terrorists by the US government—the increasing use of similar methods in Afghanistan can be anticipated. This would likely involve death squads composed of Afghan security forces and US “advisors” killing suspected opponents of the occupation and intimidating the rest of the population.
The general’s report also includes a section on the detention of “insurgents,” which stresses that this should be an “Afghan-run system” that would guarantee US forces “access to detainees for interrogation.” No doubt, McChrystal is incorporating lessons learned in Iraq, when the unit he commanded became notorious for the torture of detainees at the prison facility it operated. Giving Afghan security forces formal responsibility for the detention system provides the US military with a buffer against similar torture charges.
There is one glaring contradiction in McChrystal’s report. It stresses repeatedly that the counterinsurgency operation can only succeed if the Afghan people support their government against the elements resisting occupation. At the same time, however, it acknowledges that “corruption and abuse of power by various officials…have given Afghans little reason to support their government.” The report was submitted just after the wholesale fraud in last month’s Afghan election stripped the regime of President Hamid Karzai of the last pretense of legitimacy.
While including various references to achieving an “improvement in governance,” there is no indication of how this aim is to be achieved. Some analysts have begun referring to Karzai as the Afghan Diem, Washington’s puppet in Vietnam, whose corruption and abuse of the population came to be seen as an impediment to US counterinsurgency efforts, leading to his overthrow and assassination in a 1963 US-backed military coup.
McChrystal’s repeated references in the report to inadequate military “resources” in Afghanistan leave no doubt that he will seek tens of thousands of more troops deployed there.
“Failure to provide adequate resources also risks a longer conflict, greater casualties, higher overall costs, and ultimately, a critical loss of political support,” he writes. “Any of these risks, in turn, are likely to result in mission failure.”
He states further: “Our campaign in Afghanistan has been historically under-resourced and remains so today. Almost every aspect of our collective effort and associated resourcing has lagged a growing insurgency—historically a recipe for failure.”
The content of the report and its being leaked to the media are part of mounting pressure from within the Pentagon for the Obama White House to quickly approve the further escalation of the Afghanistan war.
As the Wall Street Journal reported Monday, “Although the assessment was classified, senior military officials said it was only at the ‘confidential’ level, and several had urged it be made public in order to better explain to political leaders and the American people the new campaign being undertaken by Gen. McChrystal.”
The Washington Post reported that Obama administration officials are complaining that “the military has been trying to push Obama into a corner with public statements such as those of Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the situation in Afghanistan is ‘serious and deteriorating’ and ‘probably needs more forces.’”
Given Obama’s plummeting approval rating and the growing public controversy over his health care restructuring proposals, the White House doubtless has little appetite for announcing a major escalation of the Afghanistan war, which is deeply unpopular, particularly among those who voted the Democratic president into office. The military brass, however, appears unwilling to tolerate further delay.
The Post cited a Pentagon official as indicating that this delay “is a source of growing consternation within the military.” The official told the paper, “There is a frustration. A significant frustration. A serious frustration.”
Republicans have solidarized themselves with this campaign by the military brass, pressing for McChrystal to be recalled to Washington to testify before Congress. Under the Bush administration similar testimony two years ago by Gen. David Petraeus, then commander of US forces in Iraq, served to quell opposition from congressional Democrats to the surge in that country.
For his part, Obama has insisted that no decision has been made on increasing troop levels beyond the additional 21,000 that he ordered into Afghanistan last March, bringing US forces there to 68,000.
“We are not going to put the cart before the horse and just think that by sending more troops, we’re automatically going to make Americans safe,” he said in one of several television interviews he gave Sunday as part of a media campaign aimed at drumming up support for his health care program. “Right now, the question is, the first question is, are we doing the right thing? Are we pursuing the right strategy?” he said in another.
The Wall Street Journal speculated that the remarks suggest that Obama “might not rubber-stamp military officials’ expected request” for more troops and that the “White House could be reassessing its strategy in Afghanistan.”
However, Obama’s statements do not directly contradict McChrystal’s report, in which the general writes, “New resources are not the crux. To succeed, ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] requires a new approach”; and “without a new strategy, the mission should not be resourced.”
Moreover, there are indications that the Afghan surge is already under way. The Los Angeles Times reported over the weekend that the CIA has dramatically increased the number of “spies, analysts and paramilitary operatives” deployed in Afghanistan, and that its “presence in the country is expected to rival the size of its massive stations in Iraq and Vietnam at the height of those wars.”
Obama also stated Sunday that once he has reviewed recommendations on troop levels in Afghanistan, “what I will say to the American public is not going to be driven by the politics of the moment.” Given poll after poll indicating that a growing majority of the American people opposes the Afghan war and, by even wider margins, any escalation, Obama’s remark appeared to echo the frequent assertions by George W. Bush that he was not influenced by such popular sentiments.
at 5:02 AM
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In response to a public campaign by the CIA, the Obama administration has decided to further scale back an already narrow investigation of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) torture during the Bush years that was announced last month by Attorney General Eric Holder.
In announcing the probe, Holder had made clear that it would be limited to CIA agents whose torture of alleged terrorists went beyond the bounds laid down by Bush administration directives. It would target neither the Justice Department lawyers who drew up findings providing a pseudo-legal justification for waterboarding, hanging prisoners from walls, placing them in boxes for hours on end, and similar crimes, nor the top Bush administration officials who ordered and oversaw such practices.
The CIA—including the current director and Obama appointee, Leon Panetta—and former Bush administration officials, led by former Vice President Dick Cheney, have denounced Holder’s token probe, claiming that it will hamstring US intelligence operations and give aid and comfort to the terrorists.
On Friday, seven former CIA directors sent a letter to President Obama demanding that he quash the Holder inquiry. Signing the letter were directors under both Democratic and Republican administrations: Michael Hayden, Porter Goss, George Tenet, John Deutch, R. James Woolsey, William Webster and James R. Schlesinger.
The next day, the Washington Post, in an article headlined “Inquiry into CIA Practices Narrows,” cited two unnamed sources as saying Holder’s investigation will “focus on a very small number of cases…” The Post went on to report that only “two or three” cases would be investigated out of dozens of examples of torture cited in a declassified Bush-era CIA inspector general’s report, which the Obama administration released last month on court order and in heavily redacted form.
Under consideration for investigation, according to the Post, are three cases in which prisoners were murdered while in US custody: the suffocation of Iraqi General Abed Hamed Mowhoush in November 2003; the killing the same month of Manadel al Jamadi, who was beaten by Navy Seals and died after a CIA agent ordered him hung from bars by his arms; and the murder seven years ago of a young man at a secret Afghanistan prison known as the “Salt Pit.” The youth, who had been abducted from Pakistan, was beaten and then chained to a concrete floor without blankets, where he froze to death.
The letter sent by the former CIA directors is an unabashed defense of torture and a public warning to the Obama administration. “Attorney General Holder’s decision to re-open the criminal investigations creates an atmosphere of continuous jeopardy for those whose cases the Department of Justice had previously declined to prosecute,” the letter declares.
It continues: “Those men and women who undertake difficult intelligence assignments in the aftermath of an attack such as September 11 must believe there is permanence in the legal rules that govern their actions. They must be free, as the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Senator Lieberman, has put it: ‘to do their dangerous and critical jobs without worrying that years from now a future attorney general will authorize a criminal investigation of them for behavior that a previous attorney general concluded was authorized and legal.’”
In fact, Holder has already announced an amnesty for those “men and women” who inflicted torture on detainees in line with Bush administration guidelines, citing similar grounds for shielding these torturers as those propounded by the former CIA directors and other defenders of torture as an instrument of US policy. In announcing the appointment of special prosecutor John Durham, Holder indicated he would limit the investigation to about a dozen so-called “rogue agents” who superseded the Bush administration’s written guidelines allowing torture.
If Obama refuses to give assurances against criminal investigations, the CIA directors’ letter continues, he “will seriously damage the willingness of many other intelligence officers to take risks to protect the country. The administration must be mindful that public disclosure about past intelligence operations can only help Al Qaeda elude US intelligence and plan future operations.”
Since the end of 2001,the US has imprisoned tens of thousands of people at such infamous prisons as Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantánamo, in addition to an unknown number of secret CIA jails in Iraq, Afghanistan, Eastern Europe and elsewhere. These prisoners have been denied legal recourse to challenge their detention, as the Bush and Obama administrations have asserted that “the war on terror” is governed neither by domestic US laws nor by the Geneva Conventions and other international laws banning torture.
Among the documented forms of torture carried out by US agents are murder, rape and other forms of sexual abuse and humiliation; threats to murder and rape family members of prisoners; beatings, waterboarding, exposure to extreme temperatures, high-pain “stress” positions, forced nudity, deprivation of food, extreme isolation and mock executions.
From the outset, Holder’s investigation was designed to protect the operations of the CIA and military in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere while, for public relations purposes, providing a show of opposition to torture.
To date, not a single CIA agent has been convicted of a crime relating to the abuse of prisoners. The CIA agent who oversaw the freezing death of the young detainee at the Salt Pit in Afghanistan—it was “one of his first big assignments” the Post notes—was later promoted by the CIA.
The defense of basic democratic rights requires that there be a thorough and public criminal investigation of the torture regime built up during the Bush administration, including the role of Vice President Cheney and President Bush himself.
Obama is opposed to any such investigation. In response to a question from CBS’s Bob Schieffer during his appearance on Sunday’s “Face the Nation” program, Obama reiterated his stock formula for opposing a serious investigation, saying, “I want to look forward and not backward when it comes to some of the problems that occurred under the previous administration, or when it came to interrogations.”
“I don’t want witch-hunts taking place,” he added.
The Obama administration’s protection of Bush administration torturers demonstrates that it is an accomplice to the crime after the fact. It is one more example of the continuity of Obama’s policies, notwithstanding his election campaign rhetoric about “change,” with those of his predecessor. It must be taken as a warning that the CIA and the military under Obama are carrying out similar crimes as those which took place under Bush.
The power of the military-intelligence apparatus has grown continually since World War II, to the point where it constitutes a virtual “state-within-a-state” largely unaccountable to and independent of elected civilian officials. The public campaign of the CIA to block a criminal investigation ordered by the government demonstrates the growing assertiveness of this apparatus. The cowering of the Obama administration and Congress before it underscores the decay of American democracy and the growing threat to the democratic rights of the American people.
at 4:59 AM
The "strategic review" brought together a dozen smart (mostly) think-tankers with little expertise in Afghanistan but a general track record of supporting calls for more troops and a new counter-insurgency strategy. They set up shop in Afghanistan for a month working in close coordination with Gen. McChrystal, and emerged with a well-written, closely argued warning that the situation is dire and a call for more troops and a new counter-insurgency strategy. Shocking.
The Foreign Policy Community -- a term which excludes those in primarily academic positions -- is not some apolitical pool of dispassionate experts examining objective evidence and engaging in academic debates. Rather, it is a highly ideological and politicized establishment, and its dominant bipartisan ideology is defined by extreme hawkishness, the casual use of military force as a foreign policy tool, the belief that war is justified not only in self-defense but for any "good result," and most of all, the view that the U.S. is inherently good and therefore ought to rule the world through superior military force.
at 4:45 AM
Monday, September 21, 2009
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By Thalif Deen
A four-member United Nations fact-finding mission, which has just concluded an investigation into last year's brutal conflict in Gaza, makes a strong case for war crimes charges against Israel for its unrelenting 22-day military attacks on Palestinians, largely civilians, including women and children.
The charges stem mostly from serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.
The UN team, lead by Justice Richard Goldstone, says there is also evidence that Palestinian armed groups, specifically Hamas, committed war crimes in their repeated mortar attacks on civilians on southern Israel.
But its strongest indictment is against the state of Israel which is accused of imposing a blockade on Gaza "amounting to collective punishment" carried out as part of a "systematic policy of progressive isolation and deprivation of the Gaza Strip."
The number of Palestinians killed during the conflict is estimated at between 1,387 and 1,417, compared with four Israeli fatal casualties in southern Israel and nine soldiers killed during the fighting, four of whom died as a result of friendly fire.
During the ruthless military operation, code-named "Operation Cast Lead," the Israelis destroyed houses, factories, wells, schools, hospitals, police stations and other public buildings.
"Families are still living amid the rubble of their former homes after the attacks ended, as reconstruction has been impossible due to the continuing blockade [of Gaza by Israel]," says the 574-page report released Tuesday.
The study points out that Israeli acts that deprive Palestinians of their means of subsistence, employment, housing, water -- and also denying their freedom of movement and their right to leave and enter their own country -- could lead a competent court to find that the crime of persecution, a crime against humanity, has been committed.
At a press conference Tuesday, Goldstone told reporters the Israeli government had not carried out any credible investigations into alleged violations.
He said the UN team has recommended that the 15-member Security Council require Israel to report to it, within the next six months, on investigations and prosecutions it should carry out with regard to the violations cited in the report.
The team has also recommended that the Security Council should set up its own body of independent experts to report to it on the progress of the Israeli investigations and prosecutions.
"If the expert's reports do not indicate within six months that good faith, independent proceedings are taking place, the Security Council should refer the situation in Gaza to the Prosecutor in the International Criminal Court (ICC)."
The team has also recommended that the same expert body report to the Security Council on proceedings undertaken by the relevant Gaza authorities with regard to the crimes committed by the Palestinian side.
If there is no good faith and independent proceedings, the Council should refer this as well to the ICC prosecutor.
Asked whether a highly partisan Security Council will agree to the proposals, Goldstone told reporters: "I would be disappointed if any permanent member of the Security Council [the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia] would object to such a resolution."
Nadia Hijab, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Institute for Palestine Studies, told IPS that the findings of the Goldstone report "will send shivers up many spines."
"It is going to be hard to ignore because of the seriousness of its accusations, the breadth of its coverage, and its even-handedness," she added.
Hijab said the UN team also appears to have found a way to give its recommendations some teeth, with its call on the Security Council to refer the situation to the ICC -- if Israel as well as Hamas do not undertake meaningful investigations and prosecutions of those responsible for war crimes that are independently monitored.
While the report is even-handed in assigning responsibility, she pointed out, Israel is clearly assigned far greater responsibility.
"This recognizes its role as a United Nations member state and signatory to international conventions as well as the enormity of the damage it inflicted," Hijab said.
For example, she said, the Goldstone team has recommended that the 192-member General Assembly set up an escrow fund so that Israel can compensate the Palestinians of Gaza.
"The R-word of reparations is bad news for Israel and could set a precedent for future claims," she added.
In addition, the report addresses the numerous human rights violations by Israel during its 42-year occupation, calling on it to end its siege of Gaza, lift restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement, free Palestinian prisoners highlighting child prisoners and legislative council members, among others.
"We may be witnessing the beginning of the end of the era of impunity," said Hijab.
Donatella Rovera, who headed Amnesty International's own investigation into the conflict, said: "The responsibility now lies with the international community, notably the UN Security Council, as the UN's most powerful body, to take decisive action to ensure accountability for the perpetrators and justice for the victims."
She concurred with the recommendation that the Security Council refer the findings to the ICC prosecutor, if Israel and Hamas do not carry out credible investigations within a set, limited period.
The findings in the UN report are consistent with those of Amnesty International's own field investigation into the 22-day conflict.
Most of the Palestinians killed by Israeli forces were unarmed civilians, including some 300 children, AI said, in a statement released Tuesday.
Palestinian rocket attacks killed three Israeli civilians and six soldiers (four other soldiers were killed by their own side in friendly fire incidents).
"Israeli forces also carried out wanton and wholesale destruction in Gaza, leaving entire neighborhoods in ruin, and used Palestinians as human shields," the London-based organization said.
Besides Goldstone, a former prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals of the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the UN team comprised Christine Chinkin, professor of international law at the London School of Economics and Political Science; Hina Jilani, advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and a member of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur; and Colonel Desmond Travers, a former officer in Ireland's Defense Forces and a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for International Criminal Investigations.
at 5:33 PM
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By Chris Hedges
at 11:06 AM