Sunday, March 9, 2008

Howard Lyman - Mad Cowboy

Talk by Howard Lyman author of "Mad Cowboy: Plain Truth from the Cattle Rancher Who Won't Eat Beef" given in Seattle May 5, 2005.

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Corporate Amnesty vs Your Privacy: Big Vote This Week

If the Bush Administration gets its way this week in the US Congress, Bush and the big telecommunications corporations will never be held accountable for years of illegal spying on Americans and that kind of spying will again be authorized. You can add your voice in opposition by telling a member of the U.S. House of Representatives to



by calling the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at

(202) 224-3121

Or, you can sign an online petition to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, encouraging them to stand up and protect the U.S. Constitution in the face of the Bush Administration’s power grab, at

Regarding the clips I used in my video, you can find clips of John McCain and others from the ABC News/Facebook/WMUR Republican Debate at:

You can find the full segment of "The Word" (AT&Treason) from the March 6th episode of "The Colbert Report" from which I took 2 clips in this video at:

And, you can find the two parts of ACLU of Illinois Director of Communications and Public Policy, Ed Yohnka’s recent video conference call at:

And at:

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Professor Blair: former British PM headed for Yale

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Former British prime minister Tony Blair is to take up a post teaching at Yale, one of the top educational institutions in the United States, the university said Friday.

Blair, who stepped down as prime minister last year after 10 years in power, was to lecture on faith and globalization as the Howland Distinguished Fellow, and would start in the next academic year, the university said.

His work at the university would relate to the work of his Tony Blair Faith Foundation, which he is due to launch later this year. Blair is known as an observant Christian and converted to Roman Catholicism last year.

"The appointment of Mr. Blair provides a tremendous opportunity for our students and our community," Yale President Richard Levin said in a statement.

"As the world continues to become increasingly interdependent, it is essential that we explore how religious values can be channeled toward reconciliation rather than polarization.

"Mr. Blair has demonstrated outstanding leadership in these areas and is especially qualified to bring his perspective to bear. We are honored that he is planning to join the Yale community," he added.

Blair's eldest son Euan is currently studying international relations at the university, which counts President George W. Bush, one of Blair's closest allies during his time in power, among its alumni.

According to British media reports, Blair would continue in his role as special envoy to the Mideast Quartet working towards Palestinian statehood, an unpaid role that reportedly takes up around 10 days of every month.

There has also been speculation that Blair could be made the future EU president, a role enshrined in the European Union's reforming Lisbon Treaty that the 27 member states hope to ratify by the end of the year.

However, some members are known to oppose his candidacy partly due to his role in supporting the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Besides his work with the Quartet, Blair has also been busy since leaving office advising Zurich Financial Services on issues including climate change and working as a part-time senior advisor to Wall Street bank JPMorgan Chase.

Last month he said he wanted to help Rwanda's development, following a two-day visit to the tiny central African country.

Yale's Howland fellowship is open to citizens of any country "in recognition of some achievement of marked distinction in the field of literature or fine arts or the science of government," according to the university.

Former holders of the post include composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, BBC journalist Alistair Cooke and late Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi.

How Low Can The Dollar Go? Zero Value

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By Lee Rogers

The people who are in control of the private central banks that fix the value of the U.S. Dollar through their policies are monopoly men.

The corporate controlled media is finally starting to talk about the economic problems that the alternative media and assorted precious metals advocates have been talking about for years now. We are facing a potential inflationary depression. Independent estimates of the M3 money supply show that we are seeing an annual increase in the M3 money supply by around 16 to 17 percent. The Federal Reserve chose to stop producing this report right around the time when these figures began going parabolic on their chart showing a massive increase in the money supply. An increase in the money supply results in a devalued currency and that's one of the primary reasons why we are seeing the price of gold flirt with the $1,000 an ounce mark and silver explode past the $20 an ounce mark. The U.S. Dollar Index is now treading water around the 72 to 73 mark and it is becoming increasingly clear that the role of the world's reserve currency is shifting from the U.S. Dollar to the Euro. Some ask how low the U.S. Dollar could go and that answer is simple. The U.S. Dollar could go to zero because it is a fiat currency with no real tangible backing. Every fiat currency in the history of man has been replaced or collapsed and there is nothing fundamentally different between the U.S. Dollar and these other fiat monetary systems of the past.

The people who are in control of the private central banks that fix the value of the U.S. Dollar through their policies are monopoly men. The Federal Reserve consolidated much wealth during the Great Depression by intentionally making money scarce following the excesses of the roaring 1920s. Prior to the Great Depression there were many local community banks. Following the Great Depression the vast majority of banks were under the Federal Reserve's umbrella. The Federal Reserve was assisted by FDR who had the nerve to blame gold hoarders for the economic problems even though the gold hoarders were only attempting to protect their hard earned wealth. As FDR used the gold hoarders as a scapegoat for the economic problems that were created by the Federal Reserve's policies, he issued Executive Order 6102 which made any significant amount of gold ownership illegal. The government confiscated a large portion of the American people's gold and in return issued them paper notes. Following the confiscation, the price of gold was revalued from $20 an ounce to $35 an ounce. The confiscated gold was melted down and hauled off to Fort Knox, KY. Bluntly, what took place during the Great Depression was a giant scam by FDR and the assorted controllers of the Federal Reserve to consolidate more wealth and power under this criminal banking system.

History is repeating itself. Instead of destroying the economy and consolidating wealth through monetary deflation, it looks as if the bankers have decided that they will use monetary inflation as their weapon of choice. Alan Greenspan encouraged member banks to loan out large quantities of money and encouraged individuals to get these loans by setting interest rates at absurdly low levels in the early part of this decade. By making money cheaper, more people went out and got loans and the bankers accommodated the increased demand for loans by providing all sorts of creative financing packages. These packages included adjustable rate mortgages, interest only loans and other risky financial instruments. The bankers knew that this would eventually create a major financial calamity later when interest rates moved higher. The Federal Reserve's policies is what primarily created the crash in the U.S. housing market and it is disgusting that people are looking to this same institution for a solution to the mess they created in the first place.

There is no doubt that the Federal Reserve is the culprit behind the current housing market collapse. Instead of questioning Alan Greenspan for his mishandling of interest rates in the early part of the decade, Congress decided to hold hearings with mortgage company CEOs. These hearings were nothing more than a dog and pony show designed to place the blame of the housing crisis on these mortgage companies. Although these CEOs do have some responsibility in this mess, the primary responsibility rests with Greenspan because his policies encouraged this market behavior. Greenspan should have been at these hearings especially after he encouraged Arab nations to drop their pegs to the U.S. Dollar. Greenspan actually had the nerve to tell these Arab states that they are having inflation because they are pegged to the U.S. Dollar. This is a criminal act on the part of Greenspan and has undoubtedly played a role in the sharp decline of the U.S. Dollar.

It is entirely insane that we continue to put up with a private central bank that manipulates the value of our money. It is absurd to believe that we have a free market if there is a monolithic private bank fixing the price of our money. The free market should dictate what money is and what money isn't and if the government issues legal tender it should be gold or silver as the Constitution demands.

As a result of the housing market crash created by the Federal Reserve, smaller banks are failing and being bought out by larger financial institutions. Ben Bernanke has even stated that there will be bank failures as this crisis continues to unfold. This engineered crisis will be used to consolidate more wealth and power amongst fewer corporations. The crisis is also destroying the American middle class financially as an increase in the supply of homes coming on to the market has resulted in a deflationary environment. This has made it more difficult for home owners to use their homes as piggy banks.

The collapse of the U.S. Dollar in the past couple of weeks has been spectacular. In fact, each day this week we saw the U.S. Dollar reach new consecutive new lows. At this point, global confidence in the U.S. Dollar is eroding and it cannot be considered a tangible investment vehicle. Many highly respected economists are predicting further problems for the U.S. Dollar with some predicting that an inflationary depression is right around the corner.

Weakness in the U.S. Dollar has further accelerated due to poor economic data. Generally statistics from the Federal Reserve and the U.S. government understate economic problems so some of this new data that is coming out is fairly disturbing. According to data released by these two institutions, home owner equity is at its lowest levels since 1945, consumer debt has grown to $2.52 trillionand employers slashed more jobs in February than in any other since 2003. These are not good signs at all and the figures are likely understating how bad it really is.

The Federal Reserve and the U.S. government will never be honest about what's really happening in an economic downturn because these are the two institutions that people look to first when there are economic problems. The U.S. economy has conservatively been in a recession since 2006 and it has taken George W. Bush and Ben Bernanke until now to finally admit that we are having difficulties. These guys are a little late to the party. Of course, if these two men actually told the truth about the monetary system, the U.S. Dollar would likely collapse and millions of folks would descend on Washington DC demanding their heads on a platter. Either way, you aren't going to get the truth from the Federal Reserve or the U.S. government on the economy. It isn't in their interest to provide the truth.

In terms of gold and silver, we are likely going to see an increasing amount of price volatility with these two metals on a day to day basis. Short term, central banks are likely going to dump more gold into the marketplace in order to prevent gold from hitting the $1,000 an ounce mark. This is exactly what happened on Friday when a slew of bad economic data came out that would normally be bullish for gold. Instead, gold dropped sharply. The $1,000 an ounce mark represents a key psychological barrier that will likely be broken in the very near future. The central banks want to keep it under this mark as long as they can, because once it goes over this mark it is likely to move much higher. Long term, these two metals will see substantial gains in U.S. Dollar denominated terms. It is not out of the question to see a $5,000 an ounce gold price or a $100 an ounce silver price in the next several years.

The Federal Reserve is stuck between a rock and a hard place. If they raise interest rates to the point where holding U.S. Dollars can outpace inflation they would need to raise them to around 20%. This would hurt not only the American people but the elite financial interests as well. As a result, the Federal Reserve is attempting to manage a slow inflationary decline of the U.S. Dollar which will allow the financial elite to more easily reposition themselves. Inflation hurts the poor and the middle class far more than the financial elite where as a deflation like what we saw during the Great Depression would hurt everybody across the board.

As this financial calamity continues, the corporate controlled media will likely say we are in a recession even though it will resemble more of a depression. Gold and silver remain good hedges against inflation and their price will rise in U.S. Dollar denominated terms. There continues to be more upside to silver but there will also be more short term volatility in silver. There is no doubt that an inflationary depression is a very likely scenario and there is always the chance that the U.S. Dollar could go to zero. This is why having physical gold and silver is always a smart move.

Crisis Over Teheran's Alleged Nuclear Plans Nearing Climax


Time after time we have heard statements from Israeli officials, spokesmen of the Israel lobby in the U.S., and Israel’s supporters in Congress that Iran “must” never obtain nuclear weapons. On March 3, 2008, all five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus nine of the ten non-permanent members approved a new round of sanctions against Iran. Chalk up the final vote of 14-0 with one abstention (the Muslim nation of Indonesia) as another victory at the U.N. for the Israel-U.S. partnership.
The spectacle of the five “permanents” in the antiquated Security Council hierarchy -- all of whom refuse to eliminate their own nuclear weapons -- adopting a double standard with respect to Iran does not, of course, raise more than a peep in the mainstream media of the U.S. Iran, a nation of proud people in a neighborhood of proud peoples, sees only absurdity in the discrimination against it when the nearby nations of India, Pakistan, and Israel have all developed their own nuclear weapons without the U.S. stopping them. Israel’s nuclear weapons program particularly sticks in the Iranian craw, because Iranians know that Israel, an enemy but a far smaller country, acquired nuclear weapons over 40 years ago, considerably earlier than either India or Pakistan. Most Iranians also know that Israel accomplished this only with public and/or private aid from the U.S. It’s all seen as just one more example of the U.S. favoring Israel and picking on Iran.
The issue of the moment is not even actual production of nuclear weapons by Iran, but the “enrichment” of natural uranium so that it contains a higher percentage of one particular uranium isotope, U-235, than is found in nature when the ore called “uranium” is first mined. Such enrichment provides the single most-difficult-to-obtain product used in most nuclear weapons. (In the natural state, the raw ore contains other uranium isotopes as well, and usually has by volume less than one percent U-235. When concentrated to around three percent U-235, the product is widely used in common forms of nuclear power reactors. When concentrated to much higher levels -- 90 percent is the figure often cited -- the product becomes the “weapons-grade” material used in nuclear weapons. The equipment used in this “enrichment” process is not only complicated to build, manage and maintain; it also requires large amounts of electric power to operate. But all of this is within the capabilities of numerous nations and, probably increasingly, some subnational groups as well.)
Iran now possesses, has tested, and is using all the equipment required, and it has the necessary electric power, to produce enriched uranium. It claims it has already reached an enrichment level of around four percent U-235 in early tests. It also claims that it does not want nuclear weapons and will use the enriched uranium only to produce larger amounts of electric power for the nation in a series of nuclear power plants. But if one chooses to believe that Iran really wants nuclear weapons, another element comes into the equation: the ease with which an enrichment operation can be converted to produce weapons-grade uranium. Various Western experts commonly believe that if a nation or group is capable of going from less than one percent to a three or four percent enrichment level, then the technical difficulties of moving from three or four to 90 percent enrichment are not at all major.
The actual design and manufacture of the explosive device, and then of a deliverable weapon, would not be a simple task, but neither would it be terribly difficult. Precise estimates of the time the entire process might take are generally useless. There are too many variables. All such estimates depend heavily on the types of delivery systems available, the degree of targeting accuracy demanded, and the redundancy, or lack, of safety features assumed necessary to prevent unauthorized or accidental use. But for Iran, a simple guess of three or four years probably would be in the ball park.
While the U.S. and other nations demand that Iran cease all production of enriched uranium, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) that came into effect in 1970 does not prevent anyone from enriching uranium for peaceful purposes. Iran, as already noted, claims that is all it is presently doing, and there is no hard evidence to the contrary. The U.S., however, and most other signatories of the treaty who already possess nuclear weapons have made no serious efforts to work toward global nuclear and general disarmament as called for in the NPT. The treaty, of course, has no timetable or deadlines in it. But the fact that the major powers who signed the treaty have not even begun multilateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament in 38 years gives Iran a good excuse, if it needs one, to abrogate its participation in the treaty. Some day Iran may do just that. The fact that Israel, India, and Pakistan, who have refused to sign the treaty from the start, have now become known nuclear powers, gives leaders in Teheran yet another excuse to get out of the NPT if it wishes.
While some U.S. empire builders talk about the need to change the global system, the world today is still composed of legally independent states where nationalism is the dominant force underlying relationships among states. In such a world, it is logical to assume that Iranian leaders either already secretly want nuclear weapons or will soon come to want them. They will not indefinitely accept that the smaller state of Israel has any greater right to nuclear weapons than they have. Nor will they even accept that the much larger U.S. has a greater right to such weapons. Short of being forced abjectly to surrender to the U.S.-Israeli partnership, no Iranian government leaders could accept such views.
The possibility of negotiating a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East (including Israel), or even, conceivably, a nuclear-free world, is often suggested as the only true final solution to the Middle East’s or the entire globe’s nuclear dilemma. And the people who make such suggestions can often cite polls or surveys showing that a majority of people everywhere support these ideas. The tragedy is that at the moment there is simply not enough trust among the governments of the globe, or even within one region thereof. Take the United States alone, or the U.S.-Israel partnership. It is inconceivable that the present government of either partner would be able even to begin negotiations on eliminating its nuclear weapons, no matter what the possible benefits might be. The same would apply to China, Russia, Britain, France, India, and Pakistan to greater or lesser degrees.
Even in this time of distrust, however, the U.N. should set up a permanent conference of ambassador-level experts on Disarmament and Global Crises. Once it is up and running, spokespeople for this conference should direct public attention on a daily basis to the relationship between arms spending and the three major crises facing the globe -- the energy, climate, and water crises that will make it increasingly necessary for the peoples of the world to work together in overcoming the crises and drastically cutting back the outrageous and wasteful military expenditures of too many nations. The immediate task of the conferenceshould be to define areas of agreement and disagreement on disarmament and on the other three issues in different regions of the world. The chairperson should be a very senior U.N. official, and the unusual feature of the conference -- its permanence -- should receive great emphasis on every public occasion.
It is likely that before long new and unforeseen developments will occur in one or more of the three crises that will intensify thinking among at least some people about the wastefulness of present military spending. Costly new difficulties in any of the three areas might even lead in fairly short order to a rolling snowball of global opposition and disgust over new nuclear spending. No one can foresee how great will be the changes in daily life caused by the three crises but we should, as best we can, work to make the changes add to rather than detract from harmony among the world’s peoples. We should all specifically try to use these crises to encourage everyone to think first as citizens of the world, only second as citizens of a particular nation or region.
But none of this deals with the present -- or with the remaining months of Bush’s presidency. Since the present group of Republicans and copycat Democrats in Congress refuses to impeach Bush and Cheney, the danger of a war against Iran instigated by the U.S. and Israel remains real. The overextended state of U.S. ground forces, and Bush’s probable willingness to treat at least small nuclear weapons as ordinary weapons, mean that a war would possibly not be a ground war at all, but would begin with large air attacks and early use of nuclear weapons. While the longer term results of using nuclear weapons would be utterly disastrous, both for the world and for the U.S., the immediate results might be seen as a quick and cheap victory for the U.S. If the apparent military victory occurred before the November 2008 U.S. election, it would probably guarantee a Republican electoral victory. Given Bush’s interest in his own place in history, such a scenario could easily appeal to his gambling instincts.
Noise, and lots of it, seems to be the only weapon we have to make it less likely that such a scenario actually happens. Let’s make that noise, do it globally, and do it every day. Pound out the message through every medium we can access, including music and literature, that ordinary people around the world DO NOT WANT THE U.S. AND ISRAEL TO KILL A SINGLE PERSON IN IRAN, regardless of the status of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
Bill Christison was a senior official of the CIA. He served as a National Intelligence officer and as director of the CIA's Office of Regional and Political Analysis.
Kathleen Christison is a former CIA political analyst and has worked on Middle East issues for 35 years. She is the author of Perceptions of Palestine and The Wound of Dispossession.They can both be reached at

The politics of non-proliferation

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By Mohammad Kamaali

If there was a time when Iranian analysts and decision makers would question the benefits of continuing to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency, it would be now. The IAEA has allowed systematic US intervention in Iran's nuclear file paving the way to a third round of sanctions against Iran's nuclear programme. But while US pressure on Iran in the knowledge that the IAEA has found no evidence of a covert weapons programme, is perhaps in the hope that it will finally force the country to leave the NPT in protest, Iran it seems is one step ahead and does exactly the opposite.
On Monday March 3 rd , the UN Security Council following months of political wrestling voted in favour of a third sanctions resolution against Iran, repeating previous demands to stop uranium enrichment but this time covering the country's entire banking sector as well as placing restrictions on air and sea cargo movements; thereby beginning a new phase in US efforts to isolate Iran.
Unlike the two previous resolutions and despite claims by China, Russia and other non-permanent members of the Security Council who tried to justify their unprincipled stance, this time sanctions are not merely 'a signal' but clearly punitive. They go beyond Iran's nuclear programme and for the first time they can potentially bring about physical confrontation leading to a full scale military attack on Iran.
Had history not had a habit of repeating itself, one would be surprised how this resolution could possibly come about against a backdrop of consistent and increased cooperation between Iran and the IAEA which has been reflected in consecutive reports by the agency's inspectors.
Back in August 2007, Iran and the IAEA agreed on a 'work-plan ' under which Iran would answer a number of outstanding questions and in return the IAEA would finally confirm publicly its findings to date regarding US allegations against Iran's nuclear activities. The report in summary gave a clean bill of health to Iran's nuclear programme in general; and in particular to its enrichment activities. It said “The Agency has been able to verify the non-diversion of the declared nuclear materials at the enrichment facilities in Iran and has therefore concluded that it remains in peaceful use.”
The work-plan and further reports by the IAEA, cleared Iran of all the issue referred to by the US as evidence of a covert weapons programme. Plutonium experiments, traces of highly enriched uranium, procurement of dual use technologies, research into polonium-210, Gchine mine and reprocessing activities in Tehran were all examined by the IAEA which found no evidence of any wrongdoing by Iran.
The only major outstanding point in the work-plan was the “alleged studies”. On this particular issue the document said “ Iran reiterated that it considers the following alleged studies as politically motivated and baseless allegations. The Agency will however provide Iran with access to the documentation it has in its possession regarding: the Green Salt Project, the high explosive testing and the missile re-entry vehicle. As a sign of good will and cooperation with the Agency, upon receiving all related documents, Iran will review and inform the Agency of its assessment.”
For five months, the IAEA despite this agreement failed to provide Iran with access to the documents on these alleged studies. Then early February for the first time, ahead of the report on 22 nd February, some documents were presented to Iran.After inspecting the material, Iran stated “the documents were fabricated and that the information contained in those documents could easily be found in open sources.” Then on 15 February, that's 5 working days before the agency's latest report on Iran , the US instructs the IAEA to present a few more documents to Iran.On this issue the IAEA's report of 22 nd Feb said “the Agency proposed a further meeting to show additional documentation on the alleged studies to Iran , after being authorized to do so by the countries which had provided it. Iran has not yet responded to the Agency's proposal.”
This single item, three lines long, in an 11 page report which is otherwise quite positive, became the basis of US and EU claims that Iran has failed to answer questions about its nuclear programme; and enabled them to justify pressuring other UNSC members who were not convinced of the need for harsher measures. Whether this vote too was the result of coercion or not, a number of key questions remain.
Why does the US release only bits and pieces of the information it claims to have and why only on very critical times? Why hasn't there been a single US allegation against Iran's nuclear programme that given time to evaluate has not proved false? In absence of any credible information from the US , isn't it time that the IAEA begins to doubt US motivations?
The famous laptop that has now become a cornerstone of the US case against Iran was first made available to the IAEA in Nov. 2005 which means the US had access to it even earlier. It also means that the people who prepared the NIE two years later in Nov. 2007, knew a lot about this laptop; including whether or not it is fake. They must have assessed its content much more vigorously than the IAEA. What makes them conclude that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons programme, and yet the Bush administration still pushing for sanctions based on concerns that Iran may have a nuclear weapons programme? In short why is George W. Bush not listening to his own intelligence agencies? Does he know something they don't? Or does he want something that they don't? What makes the IAEA believe that the Bush administration given the opportunity will not use unreliable data against Iran ? or that the neo-cons perhaps months away from leaving office, having nothing to lose, will not engage directly into feeding disinformation into Iran's nuclear file?
The US has already implemented measures to protect itself if the contents of the laptop are proved to be fake. First they claimed it came from an Iranian who fled the country, then it was a terrorist cult working to overthrow the Iranian government, then there was the German intelligence stealing it and finally the Israeli Mossad as usual claiming to have a hand in everything. Nobody knows fully were it first came from which is why all the parties can say they were misled by someone else.
Whereas on any suspected nuclear sites the IAEA can take samples of radiating particles and physically confirm the nature of the material, drawings on paper and worse yet those in digital format are extremely easy to fabricate. “I can fabricate that data,” said one diplomat at the IAEA after seeing excerpts from the laptop. “It looks beautiful, but is open to doubt.”
On the other hand it is equally difficult for Iran to prove these allegations false. When the IAEA first presented Iran with some documents early February 2008, Iran's response was that these are fake. But the IAEA again on 8 th and 12 th February only a few days later wrote to Iran reiterating its “request for additional clarifications.” Did the agency present new evidence to refute Iran's initial claim that the documents are fake? The answer is no. So what “additional clarifications” does the IAEA expect? Is it not up to the accusers to back their claims with verifiable evidence? Iran again responded on 14 th February “reiterating its earlier statements and declaring that this was its final assessment on this point.”
The fact is if Iran had something to hide, it would think twice before immediately branding the documents as fake. In other words Iran would not risk its consistently positive record with the IAEA over something it could simply dismiss as “under investigation.” So what is the agency or those pulling its strings really trying to achieve? Is it that difficult for its nuclear scientists to differentiate between a technical case and one which bears all the marks of an open-ended political circus? The answer perhaps lies deeper in the agency's latest report.
For the first time, the scope of the information that the IAEA is trying to obtain from Iran has gone beyond the agency's mandate which is limited to nuclear technology. Point 39 of the report is effectively asking Iran for details of its missile programme so that it may or may not be convinced that Iran's missiles are 'capable' to accommodate a nuclear warhead. This is what Iran's representative to the IAEA referred to as evidence that the UN's atomic watchdog is now acting as a proxy for Western intelligence agencies trying to determine the extent and the nature of Iran's conventional military capacity.
The day the governing board of the IAEA reported Iran's case to the UN Security Council, it started a process that many now believe may ultimately cause the collapse of the entire non-proliferation regime. The IAEA which until then had largely managed to keep itself away from politics by concentrating on technical issues, is now a battleground between political forces which have found a new platform and an excuse to settle old scores. A member-state, party to the NPT, which had voluntarily implemented its additional protocol and consistently voiced its opposition to weapons of mass destruction including atomic weapons, instead of receiving assistance on its fully verified civilian nuclear programme, was reported to the UNSC, vilified and bullied to the extent that many believed a military strike would be inevitable.
By allowing itself to be so blatantly manipulated by the United States , and by failing to defend the rights of a non-weapon state against a gang of nuclear weapon states, the IAEA has facilitated the first major cracks in the NPT which is one of the oldest and most respected pillars of international security. Suddenly being part of the NPT does not protect you anymore from harassments of nuclear weapon states. This situation may well lead to many nations quietly looking at nuclear weapons as a deterrent for the days to come when they may not necessarily share the same world view as the United States.
Fifteen months after the IAEA reported Iran to the UN Security Council, in June 2007 its director general said:
“The [NPT] regime is tattering in many ways. Today when we are talking here, for the last ten days the parties to the NPT can't even agree on an agenda as what to discuss. That's how dismal the state of affairs are.”
For about six years now Iran's nuclear file has been subject to an unprecedented attention from all corners. Not only in rhetorical exchanges between US and Iranian officials which can serve both domestic and international purposes, but also in nearly every discussion regarding world security and the politics of power in the Middle East.
One thing that is clear throughout is that t he players in this game are not simply reacting to one another or to random events, but are following detailed action-plans naturally designed to return maximum gains. Part of this gain for the US is denying Iran what it has declared as crucial to its future development. But another perhaps more immediate gain is using this case and everything associated with it as a catalyst for furthering other US interests.
From contracts between major US military corporations and the GCC states to Cold War-style exchanges between US and Russia on a missile defence system in Eastern Europe; from Israel crying out for support in face of an “existential threat” to France trying to cosy up to the US after Tony Blair; from India receiving US assistance in its unsupervised nuclear programme to South Africa signing nuclear contracts with France, hugely profitable deals are being facilitated in the name of preparing for an “emerging threat.” The beneficiaries of these deals are the very same people who advocate tougher measures against Iran and more often than not disregard Iran's positive gestures, ignore the findings of the IAEA and instead engage in smear campaigns against anyone who attempts to deescalate the tension. These are the same people who take every opportunity to portray Iranians as irrational and incapable of reasoning and therefore deserving to be punished by any means possible.
Iran's nuclear file, its referral to the UN Security Council and the subsequent votes of China and Russia in favour of sanctions cannot be viewed in isolation from these countries' own interests. In other words the US is not the only beneficiary of an isolated Iran.
For so long as Iran's nuclear file makes headlines, certain important issues can be swept under the carpet. Be it the IAEA's failure to implement the 'other half' of the NPT which obliges nuclear weapons states to disarm, or the failures on the Middle East peace process, or perhaps Iran's growing influence in Iraq.This was most evident a few days ago. While Iran's president was touring Baghdad outside the green zone, the UNSC was voting on the third resolution on Iran's nuclear programme. The Iraq story was almost completely boycotted in British media while the nuclear one got all the headlines.
The US has proved in more than one way that the concerns it has expressed regarding Iran's nuclear programme do not have much to do with realities on the ground. For the past few years Iran's nuclear file has been a platform from which the US has coordinated an agenda which goes far beyond Iran itself. We have long past the stage where this was a technical argument between Iran and the IAEA on a few “outstanding issues” This is not even a nuclear proliferation issue anymore. The UNSC passed the third resolution while it had on its table a proposal from Iran to implement the NPT's additional protocol again if its file is returned to the IAEA. The US and the EU3 had another Iranian proposal from 2006 to jointly develop Iran's uranium enrichment facilities so that they would have first hand insight into the programme; and therefore confidence that it remains peaceful. They rejected that too.
While Iran voluntarily suspended uranium enrichment for nearly two years when it was negotiating with the EU3, the US refused to even give security guarantees to Iran so that it would continue freezing enrichment, let alone any incentives to encourage more compromise. Recently in a House of Commons meeting I asked Ilan Berman from the American Foreign Policy Council who has consulted for both the CIA and the U.S. Department of Defense as an expert on regional security in the Middle East, why the US refused to support the EU3 initiative back then while now it sees the suspension of enrichment as a precondition of normalising Iran's nuclear file? His answer shocked the audience. He said he did not know of any suspension of enrichment activities by Iran ! Given the options perhaps this was the best he could do.
Following Monday's UNSC vote, the IAEA's governing board rejected a proposal for an anti-Iran resolution. Iran shortly afterwards announced that from now on its nuclear programme will only be discussed with the UN's atomic energy agency; i.e. it will no longer “negotiate” on this issue with the EU's foreign policy chief who had been responsible to convey EU's demands and by extension those of the US to Iran.
This marks an important development which has come as a direct result of the latest Security Council resolution against Iran.
For the past six years while working with the IAEA at technical and legal levels, Iran had continued the political path with the EU3. Yet despite being betrayed more than once in these negotiations, until now Iran was open to a deal which could include the suspension of uranium enrichment activities. In return it was hoped the US would finally give some form of security guarantee that it would abandon its threats of pre-emptive strike.
This move can be seen as a sign that Iran is convinced the current US administration will not or cannot afford to provide such guarantees and that this in fact has nothing to do with the state of Iran's nuclear programme or its cooperation with the IAEA. Put simply Iran has said: “You know what? The deal's off. I'm not selling.”

Mohammad Kamaali is a UK board member of the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran (CASMII)

How Israel Taught Hamas All It Knows

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By Mamoon Alabbasi

Once more, as Israel continues its ruthless attacks on the Palestinian population (against both civilians and resistance fighters), mainstream media outlets direct the blame on the victims. This time the villain is none other than the democratically elected Palestinian resistance movement Hamas.

Of course, no one is suggesting that Hamas is a movement comprised of angels that have been inspired by the words of Mother Teresa and had picked up their self-defence strategy from Ghandi. Frankly, I am not aware of any political movement that is. What is put forward, however, and has been missed by ignorant or hypocrite Israel apologists, is the fact that Hamas is least to blame in the plague that had haunted the region for over sixty years – i.e. 40 years before the resistance movement ever came into being.

So what do some have against Hamas? Or, more accurately, why is Hamas singled out?


‘Why doesn’t Hamas join the peace talks and end its armed resistance as a method of liberating the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel?’

Hamas has learned from Israel that, despite it being a good idea, it will not happen. Tel Aviv and its apologists have always maintained that the land Israel took from the Palestinians through war has become somehow legitimately theirs. Any agreement reached between the two sides will not bring back all of the occupied Palestinian territories. What’s more, it certainly won’t bring back all of the Palestinian refugees and their descendants who forced to flee for their lives after the creation of Israel. Of course if the negotiations were between two equals then any compromise reached would be reasonable. But when Israel puts international law aside and tells the Palestinians to face the facts on the ground, it is sending a signal to Hamas that ‘might is right’. The very idea that land could be ‘won’ through war in our modern age, as suggested by Israel, means that we are living in a jungle. Hamas understood that from Israel and decided to play ball. OK, so it’s badly
losing, but is that the issue here? Would it be OK if it had been winning? Like Israel, for example?

Hamas also learned from Israel that those who submissively obey Tel Aviv do not get what they are promised, if they get anything at all. OK, so they are being killed in lesser numbers and won’t be starved to the same degree – like what is happening in the West Bank – but will they ever be liberated from Israeli occupation? Well, let’s see, what occupied population was ever freed from Israel by negotiations only? Naught.

In fact, the only population that managed to liberate itself from Israel’s brutal occupation was that of south Lebanon, led by Hezbollah. Now what kind of message is Israel sending Hamas? What type of example is it setting?

One might add, as Hamas claimed credit of, Israel only pulled out its troops from Gaza after resistance attacks against the Israeli military there became too much of a headache for Tel Aviv. Of course Gaza is still under occupation, but Hamas is still following the Israeli roadmap to achieve total liberation; ‘fight to be free, or die trying’.


‘Why doesn’t Hamas recognise Israel’s right to exist?’

The issue of recognising Israel comes in other forms too, with references to the movement’s wish to ‘wipe out Israel off the map’ and its militants who are ‘sworn to the destruction of Israel’. What the statement basically means is that Hamas does not recognise the UN resolution that created the State of Israel. Regardless of how did that resolution came into effect, and the historical events that preceded it and the ones that came later, critics fault Hamas for not moving on and accepting that things have changed now, for better or for worse. Many argue, with justification, that the reality on the ground has changed since sixty years ago and many Israelis know no other land as home other than Israel.

But what is not often mentioned is that the Israel that the UN created and the international community wishes Hamas to recognise is not recognised by Israel itself (Tel Aviv has a much larger Israel in mind). And the Israel that Israel itself recognises (the one that includes land grabbed through war) is not recognised by the international community. So why is Hamas being singled out for not recognising the UN drawn Israel (the one with the pre-1967 Green Line borders)? Couldn’t it mean that Hamas has learnt a thing or two from Israel?

On the same note, Hamas is slammed for wishing to ‘wipe Israel off the map’. Underline the word ‘wishing’ here because Israel had already wiped Palestine off the map. Why is Hamas being criticised for something Israel had done long ago (and still continues doing)? In fact, even the maps which Israeli children are currently studying at school have no reference to the Palestinian territories.

There are two additional points to be noted here. First, Hamas sees that instead of having Israelis and Palestinians living under Israel’s rule, it should be Jews and Arabs living under Palestinian rule in historic Palestine (i.e. a one state solution that includes – not expels – the Jews). Hamas only differs from Israel by ‘saying’ they believe in a one state solution. But in reality both want total control.

The second point is that despite the movement’s original stance, Hamas leaders have on many occasions implicitly showed their willingness to recoginse Israel’s 1967 borders – i.e. the borders recognised by the international community – if Israel ends its occupation. But Tel Aviv has not met them half way. So why is Hamas expected to recognise those who do not recognise them?


‘Isn’t Hamas an Islamist extremist movement?’

It is indeed most Ironic how some critics of Hamas scorn the movement’s religious Islamic roots and move on (sometimes in the same breath) to discuss – favourably – the state of Israel’s existence in biblical terminology. Of course everyone is entitled to his/her own religious beliefs, but since when are countries’ borders decided by disputed and often contradictory religious or mythical texts? Why should Hamas accept the extremists’ views that God somehow promised the holy land to a chosen few? If Hamas is forced to adopt extremists’ ideas, surely it can find views of its own without borrowing distorted biblical ones? So why favour one religious view over another? How can some quote the bible in a political argument related to the Middle East and expect Hamas to leave religion out of its discourse?

With some Christian-Zionists pushing for an Armageddon war that would speed up the second coming of Christ, and some Jewish fanatics (who do not believe that Christ came the first time round) waiting for their Messiah to take vengeance on everyone who does not share their sacred blood, doesn’t Hamas look a bit amateurish on the extremism side?


‘Isn’t Hamas a terrorist movement?’

Without going into the various definitions of terrorism and where resistance against occupation is different, it is important to note that nothing, I mean nothing, excuses the killing of innocent civilians. ‘The use of force or the threat to use force or violence against civilians or civilian property with the intention of intimidating or coercing’ mounts to terrorism. Has Hamas been implicated of such acts in the past? Yes. Is it alone? No, of course not. The founding fathers of Israel are a textbook example of what terrorism is all about. Hamas must have read somewhere that a nation could be built from terrorism. But one needn’t go that far back, Israel’s daily policies are a classical example of sate terrorism.


‘How do we stop the Hamas rockets?’

Simple. Israel has to teach Hamas that the stronger side of the equation (i.e. Israel) can offer a ‘just peace’ without being beaten in war. As long as there is injustice, Palestinians – with or without Hamas - will continue to resist. The recently invented homemade clumsy rockets were never the real issue behind the conflict. Throughout the sixty years of conflict, 40 of which included direct Israeli occupation, Palestinians have learned a lot about the dark side of Israel; isn’t it time that the Jewish State showed some virtuous Jewish values?

The Silent Violence of Gaza's Suffering

That Candidates and Congress Ignore

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By Ralph Nader

The world’s largest prison—Gaza prison with 1.5 million inmates, many of them starving, sick and penniless—is receiving more sympathy and protest by Israeli citizens, of widely impressive backgrounds, than is reported in the U.S. press.

In contrast, the humanitarian crisis brought about by Israeli government blockades that prevent food, medicine, fuel and other necessities from coming into this tiny enclave through international relief organizations is received with predictable silence or callousness by members of Congress, including John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The contrast invites more public attention and discussion.

Israel has militarily occupied Gaza for forty years. It pulled out its colonials in 2005 but maintained an iron grip on the area controlling all access, including its airspace and territorial waters. Its F-16s and helicopter gunships regularly shred more and more of the areas—public works, its neighborhoods and inflict collective punishment on civilians in violation of Article 55 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. As the International Red Cross declares, citing treaties establishing international humanitarian law, “Neither the civilian population as a whole nor individual civilians may be attacked.”

According to The Nation magazine, the great Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, reports that the primitive rockets from Gaza, have taken thirteen Israeli lives in the past four years, while Israeli forces have killed more than 1,000 Palestinians in the occupied territories in the past two years alone. Almost half of them were civilians, including some 200 children.

The Israeli government is barring most of the trucks from entering Gaza to feed the nearly one million Palestinians depending on international relief, from groups such as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The loss of life from crumbling health care facilities, disastrous electricity cutoffs, gross malnutrition and contaminated drinking water from broken public water systems does not get totaled. These are the children and their civilian adult relatives who expire in a silent violence of suffering that 98 percent of Congress avoids mentioning while extending billions of taxpayer dollars to Israel annually. UNRWA says “we are seeing evidence of the stunting of children, their growth is slowing.” Cancer patients are deprived of their chemotherapy, kidney patients are cut off from dialysis treatments and premature babies cannot receive blood-clotting medications.

The misery, mortality and morbidity worsens day by day. Here is how the commissioner-general of UNRWA sums it up, “Gaza is on the threshold of becoming the first territory to be intentionally reduced to a state of abject destitution, with the knowledge, acquiescence and-some would say-encouragement of the international community.”

Amidst the swirl of hard-liners on both sides and in both Democratic and Republican parties, consider the latest poll (February 27, 2008) of Israelis in the highly respected newspaper—Haaretz: “Sixty-four percent of Israelis say the government must hold direct talks with the Hamas government in Gaza toward a cease-fire and the release of captive soldier Gilad Shalit. Less that one-third (28 percent) still opposes such talks. An increasing number of public figures, including senior officers in the Israeli Defense Forces’ reserves have expressed similar positions on talks with Hamas.”

Hamas, which was created with the support of Israel and the U.S. government years ago to counter the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), has repeatedly offered cease-fire proposals. The Israeli prime minister rejected them, notwithstanding “a growing number of politicians and security offices who are calling for Israel to accept a cease-fire,” according to Middle East specialist, professor Steve Niva.

There is a similar contrast between the hardline Bush regime, the comparably hardline Democrats in Congress, and a recent survey by the American Jewish Committee (itself often hawkish on Israeli actions toward the Palestinians) of American Jewry.

If Democrats and Republicans were serious about peace in the Middle East, they would showcase the broad joint Israeli and Palestinian peace movements. These efforts now include the over 500 courageous Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost a loved one to the conflict and who have joined forces to form the Parents Circle - Bereaved Families Forum. Together, these families are expanding a non-violent initiative to push for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Even though some of the families have visited the United States, their efforts are almost unknown even to U.S. observers of that area’s turmoil.

A new DVD documentary titled Encounter Point (see recounts the activities and passion of these Palestinian and Israeli families steeped in the peace philosophies of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

Do you think members of Congress will give them a public hearing? A meeting? It would be worth asking your members of Congress to do so.

Ralph Nader is running for the White House as an independent candidate.

Mass Grave Discovered North of Baghdad

Talks on legal basis for future U.S. troop presence officially begin.

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Baghdad - A mass grave containing about 100 bodies was discovered Saturday in a region north of Baghdad that has seen years of intense fighting between Shiites and Sunni extremist members of al-Qaida in Iraq.

The grisly discovery came as Iraq's Sunni parliament speaker called on the nation's Shiites and Kurds to work together with the minority he represents to pass an election law that would help reconcile Iraq's often warring sects and splinter groups.

The grave, near Khalis in the Diyala province about 50 miles north of Baghdad, is still being investigated, but the U.S. military said the skeletal remains appear to have been there for a long time.

It was not immediately clear how the people had died, the military said.

Police Col. Sabah al-Ambaqi said the grave was discovered in an orchard near al-Bu Tumaa, a Sunni village outside Khalis. He said authorities including both Iraqi and U.S. forces were conducting a search when they uncovered the site.

Khalis is a Shiite town surrounded by Sunni communities and has been the scene of repeated sectarian attacks. Al-Qaida in Iraq is active in the area, which has seen hundreds of kidnappings and mass abductions in past years.

Police in Diyala reported two separate bombings Saturday in which six people were killed.

The U.S. is in charge of security in Baghdad and other parts of central and northern Iraq, but they plan to eventually hand it over to Iraqi forces. The two countries have reportedly been hashing out some of the terms for some time now, but the Defense Department said the negotiations were to officially commence Saturday.

Long-Term Relations

Diplomats have been discussing agreements for a long-term relationship between the two countries and a deal that will define the legal basis for a U.S. troop presence in the future.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said late Friday the United States' goal is to complete a deal by December, when the U.N. Security Council resolution that now governs the U.S. and coalition presence in Iraq expires.

Morrell would not discuss specifics, but said the final agreement "does not seek permanent bases, will not in any way codify the number of troops that will remain in Iraq; it will not tie the hands of a future commander in chief, it will not require Senate ratification, but we will make every effort to keep Congress apprised of progress in these talks."

Both sides see an agreement as the basis for establishing a normal state-to-state relationship, enabling Iraq to function with full sovereignty.

To do so, Iraq must work toward national reconciliation between its sectarian groups, which includes holding provincial elections on Oct. 1. The elections would transfer some power from the national government to the provinces and decentralize the decision-making process.

Parliament last month approved a bill that was to set up provincial elections. It was rejected by the Shiite member of Iraq's three member presidential council.

The disagreement over the proposed law comes over who has the right to appoint a local governor. The bill says it's the prime minister's prerogative, but some influential Shiites want the power to rest with provincial legislatures - where they have influence.

"We are seeking ... a unified stance to go forward together in the right direction," Parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani said.

Shiites Alarmed About Security

In Basra, Iraq's second-largest city and the urban center of an oil-rich region, thousands of people took to the streets to protest deteriorating security in the southern city where Iraqi forces assumed responsibility for safety in December.

Its Shiite residents are becoming increasingly alarmed about security, saying that killings, kidnappings and other crimes have increased significantly since British forces turned over security responsibility.

In February, two journalists working for CBS were kidnapped in Basra. One was released but the other, a Briton, is still being held.

A long line of marchers, estimated to be as many as 5,000 people, demonstrated near the Basra police command headquarters Saturday, demanding that the police chief, Maj. Gen. Abdul-Jalil Khalaf, and the commander of joint military-police operation, Lt. Gen. Mohan al-Fireji, resign.

Bush, Colombia & Narco-Politics

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By Andrés Cala

Editor's Note: On March 1, Colombian armed forces crossed into Ecuador to kill 24 leftist Colombian guerrillas, including a senior commander, Raul Reyes. The attack touched off a confrontation pitting Colombia against Ecuador and Venezuela, which condemned the violation of Ecuador's sovereignty and noted that Reyes was a key figure in negotiations over prisoner releases and a possible reduction in political tensions.

The Bush administration defended Colombia's right to attack "terrorists" even if that requires crossing a border, a position echoed by this year's presidential candidates, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Indeed, from the opinion circles of Washington, there was almost no criticism of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe although his inner circle has long been linked to both right-wing terrorism and cocaine trafficking.

Last August, journalist Andres Calas examined the new evidence about Uribe's ties to this dark underworld of Latin American violence. We are republishing that special report below:

George W. Bush’s strategy of countering Venezuela’s leftist president Hugo Chávez by strengthening ties to Colombia’s rightist government has been undercut by fresh evidence of high-level drug corruption and human rights violations implicating President Alvaro Uribe’s inner circle.

These new allegations about Colombia’s narco-politics have tarnished Uribe’s reputation just as Bush has been showcasing the Harvard- and Oxford-educated politician as a paragon of democratic values and an alternative to the firebrand Chávez, who has used Venezuela’s oil wealth to finance social programs for the poor across the region.

Despite the corruption disclosures – and Uribe’s failure to stem Colombian cocaine smuggling to the United States – the Bush administration continues to shower Uribe’s government with trade incentives and billions of dollars in military and development aid.

With other regional leaders unwilling to side with the United States against Chávez, Bush may see little alternative but to stay the course with the 55-year-old Uribe and hope Colombia’s corruption doesn’t draw too much attention in the United States or across South America.

Ironically, the latest evidence against Uribe’s government emerged from a U.S.-backed peace process that offered leniency to right-wing paramilitary death squads and their financial backers in exchange for giving up their guns and disclosing past crimes.

The right-wing paramilitaries and their cocaine-trafficking benefactors testified that elements of the Colombian government collaborated in a decade-long scorched-earth campaign that killed almost 10,000 civilians while seeking to dislodge a leftist guerrilla army known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

The confessions include blood-soaked tales of political murders, cocaine smuggling and staggering government corruption. As a result, dozens of former and current congressmen, governors, government ministers, military officers, prominent business leaders and multinational corporations are being investigated or have been arrested.

This so-called “para-scandal” revealed that a counterinsurgency force, known as the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, or AUC, collaborated with drug lords to control the cocaine trade and simultaneously worked with Colombia’s elites, including Uribe’s family, to fend off the guerrilla threat.

Another troubling offshoot of the peace process was the creation of a safe haven for drug lords, who flocked to a 370-square-kilometer sanctuary set up for the AUC.

Colombian mafia boss Fabio Enrique Ochoa Vasco, 47, who was indicted in Florida in September 2004 for drug trafficking and money laundering, claimed he was one of 10 U.S.-wanted traffickers who found protection in the Santa Fe Ralito sanctuary.

AUC leaders “promised to include their financial backers in the negotiation” as a way to shield alleged cocaine traffickers from extradition to the United States, Ochoa Vasco told a Colombian magazine in June.

It was all prearranged in 2001, according to paramilitary and drug lord accounts. If Uribe won the presidency, paramilitary leaders would be offered generous sentence reductions and be allowed to serve their time outside prison walls if they demobilized and confessed.

Ochoa Vasco, who allegedly ships eight tons of cocaine monthly to the United States, was told that he and other AUC allies would be sentenced in Colombia to a maximum of 12 years, rather than face possible life sentences in U.S. prisons.

Uribe’s History

The new disclosures also have brought back to public attention the Uribe family’s long history of ties to drug lords and paramilitary militias. Colombia’s Supreme Court announced in July that it was investigating Senator Mario Uribe, the president’s cousin and his point man in the Colombian Congress, for alleged links to the AUC.

Several paramilitary leaders have said Mario Uribe was one of their allies and an intermediary with the government. He has denied any wrongdoing.

But the family link to purported drug lords dates back several decades. As a young man and an aspiring politician, Álvaro Uribe lost his position as mayor of Medellín – after only five months on the job – because the country’s president ousted him over his family’s suspected connections to traffickers, according to media reports at the time.

His father Alberto Uribe, a wealthy landowner, reputedly had been a close associate of the Medellín cartel and its kingpins, such as Pablo Escobar and the Ochoa brothers, who were personal friends.

In 1983, Alberto Uribe was reportedly wanted by the U.S. government for drug trafficking when he was killed in a kidnapping attempt by the FARC. According to media accounts, his body was airlifted back to his family by one of Escobar’s helicopters.

In the early 1990s, Álvaro Uribe’s brother, Santiago, was investigated for allegedly organizing and leading a paramilitary militia that was headquartered at the Uribe family hacienda. He was never charged and the case was dismissed for lack of evidence. But Santiago was photographed alongside Fabio Ochoa at a party even after the government had declared Ochoa one of the most notorious Medellín cartel kingpins.

The incident with Santiago Uribe coincided with Álvaro Uribe’s eight years in the Senate, where he opposed extradition of drug suspects. His critics accused him of working for the Medellín cartel.

But the relationship between right-wing narco-financed paramilitaries and the Colombian government has been a long and complex one, with shifting alliances based on the self-interest of the moment.

In 1992, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the CIA and the U.S. military, along with Colombian intelligence services, joined forces with the Cali cartel to train, equip and coordinate an undercover group of mercenaries known as the Pepes, an acronym for Persecuted by Pablo Escobar. Among its leaders was Carlos Castaño, who would later run the AUC.

Systematically, the Pepes assassinated Escobar’s top henchmen and their families, finally killing Escobar himself in 1993. The Pepes then split up. Some went on to create their own drug empires, while Castaño built a paramilitary army financed by rich landowners and drug dealers.

Since the war on Escobar’s organization, Castaño and the Cali cartel – as well as Colombian military officers – have claimed that they work side by side with U.S. agencies, but U.S. authorities have denied such an alliance.

The alienation from Washington widened in 1994 when President Ernesto Samper came to power amid disclosures that his campaign had received generous donations from drug cartels. President Bill Clinton cut most aid and severed some military support to Colombia because of Samper’s ties to drug traffickers.

With less U.S. aid, the Colombian army was unable to contain the FARC and coca acreage soared. Colombia’s rulers responded with the creation of paramilitary militias that used terror to reduce popular support for the guerrillas.

The Samper government pushed what was known as the Convivir project. It armed, trained and organized local defence cooperatives to provide “special private security and vigilance services” alongside the armed forces, creating another cover for right-wing paramilitary forces.

Rise of Uribe

Alvaro Uribe’s political rise was tied to the success of Convivir. In 1995, Uribe became the governor of Antioquia, a north-western district with Medellín as the capital.

Uribe was the country’s most vocal supporter of the defence cooperatives, authorizing dozens of them with almost 20 of these Uribe-backed cooperatives run by paramilitary leaders, including the AUC’s current top commander, Salvatore Mancuso. [Castaño, who operated in a different state, wasn’t one of them.]

Castaño is quoted in a biography as saying Uribe was the presidential candidate of the AUC’s social support base.

“Deep down, he’s the closest man to our philosophy,” Castaño said, adding that Uribe’s support for the Convivir was grounded on the same principle that gave rise to paramilitarism in Colombia, the right to self-defence against guerrillas.

When confronted with accusations of complicity between Convivir and drug-connected paramilitaries, Uribe said that at the time nobody knew who the right-wing leaders and the cocaine traffickers were.

After an international outcry, however, the government slowly phased out Convivir. By the time it was outlawed in 1998, however, over 200 defence cooperatives, counting thousands of men, defied the order to demobilize and joined Castaño’s new paramilitary alliance, the AUC.

The Convivir project had other long-term consequences. Beyond establishing and arming paramilitary militias, the project created a web of cooperation between Colombia’s military and right-wing death squads. Some paramilitary leaders, such as Castaño, claimed the CIA and DEA also gave the AUC discreet support.

At least two top paramilitary commanders have claimed that the Colombian military coordinated counterinsurgency operations with the AUC.

“I am living proof of state-sponsored paramilitarism in Colombia,” said the AUC’s Mancuso in his deposition earlier this year.

The AUC leaders have named several high-ranking Colombian officers as collaborating with the paramilitaries, including former General Rito Alejo del Rio, Antioquia’s commanding officer during Uribe’s governorship.

While running for the presidency in 2002, Uribe cited the perceived success of the Convivir program in damaging the FARC’s infrastructure in Antioquia as a key reason why Colombians should vote for him.

Despite the drug suspicions – and the links to paramilitary death squads – Uribe benefited from public disenchantment with a sputtering peace process that had failed to end the civil war. Uribe emerged as the winner with 53 percent of the vote.

After Uribe’s election, several drug barons claimed they had financed his campaign. Indicted drug trafficker Ochoa Vasco said he contributed $150,000 of his own money at the AUC’s request.

Ochoa Vasco also said he witnessed a conversation between the AUC’s leaders and supposed representatives of Uribe’s campaign before the election.

“They talked about the peace process,” Ochoa Vasco said. “They said anyone with problems with the U.S. could get involved. And in another meeting, there were businessmen, landowners and drug traffickers who [the AUC] thought they could also include, so they told them to get ready for the peace process.”

All the paramilitary leaders who negotiated the peace agreement “know the truth. They know that to be there, they invested more than 10 million dollars,” Ochoa Vasco said.

Government negotiations with the AUC began four months after Uribe took office. Castaño repositioned himself as an opponent of the drug corruption that, by then, clearly pervaded the AUC. He resigned as AUC military leader.

In April 2004, Castaño was ambushed by 20 elite paramilitaries following orders from the AUC’s top leaders. He was shot almost two dozen times in the face, chopped into pieces, and burned.

Surviving AUC leaders and drug traffickers said Castaño was killed because he was negotiating his surrender to the DEA along with all trafficking information about the AUC and its government and military allies. U.S. authorities have denied any negotiation.

Uribe-Bush Alliance

Meanwhile, Uribe lined up solidly behind President George W. Bush by becoming the only South American leader to endorse Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Uribe also sought more U.S. military aid as he defined the civil war against the leftist FARC as part of the “global war on terror.”

The backbone of U.S. policy in Colombia is Plan Colombia, a mostly military aid program to fight both drug production and irregular armies, most notably the FARC and the AUC. Since 2001, Washington has sent over $5 billion to Bogotá.

Nonetheless, Plan Colombia put little dent in cocaine production. The coca acreage in 2006 was slightly more than in 2001, when Plan Colombia was implemented. Acreage was reduced in 2003 and 2004 but shot up again in 2005 and 2006.

But Uribe’s success in curbing political violence boosted his popularity in Colombia. He vigorously pressed the war against the FARC, forcing the leftist guerrillas into a tactical retreat. Overall, Uribe reduced the number of murders, kidnappings and massacres by about one-third.

The Uribe-controlled Congress also passed the Justice and Peace Law, which launched a peace process with the right-wing paramilitaries that demobilized 30,000 men and women. The law was written by Sen. Mario Uribe, the cousin now being investigated for his AUC ties. Even the Bush administration criticized the law’s terms as overly lenient.

With Uribe’s popularity soaring, he got his congressional allies to change the Constitution to permit a second presidential term. Uribe then swept to reelection in 2006, winning 62 percent of the vote.

Still, accusations of corruption and unpunished human rights violations dogged him.

Several investigations, especially those led by Colombia’s Supreme Court, slowly amassed evidence against former and current government officials and prominent figures among the country’s elite.

Those implicated included dozens of current and former members of the Congress; high-ranking military officers, including the current chief of staff; entire army battalions allegedly working for drug cartels; prominent businessmen; and some of Uribe’s closest allies, including the father and brother of Colombia’s former foreign minister María Consuelo Araújo.

In March 2006, a laptop belonging to a top paramilitary leader was seized in a raid. The computer was found to contain detailed information on drug-trafficking operations, killings committed during the peace process, potential hit lists of other victims, the AUC’s plan for influencing the government, and a list of contributors and political allies.

One of the hit lists was linked to Colombia’s intelligence service and to its director, Jorge Noguera, a close Uribe ally who the president named consul in Milan after the initial investigation was opened.

Noguera was later arrested for his ties to the AUC and drug traffickers, for filtering information to the AUC, for erasing incriminating evidence of several drug traffickers and paramilitary leaders, for complicity in the assassinations of several union leaders, and for obstructing operations to capture his allies.

Other Colombian intelligence officials also were arrested, including one high-level official, Rafael García, who testified that he erased evidence at the request of Noguera. García also accused Noguera of plotting to assassinate Venezuela’s president Chávez in coordination with high-level officials in Uribe’s administration, though García didn’t give their names.

Paramilitary leader Mancuso also accused Uribe’s Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos in his deposition of plotting with the AUC to kill Venezuela’s Chávez, although it’s not clear whether Santos was one of the men whom intelligence officer García was referring to. Santos denied the accusation.

Then, in December 2006, embarrassed by the ongoing criminality in the AUC’s Santa Fe Ralito safe haven, the government put some paramilitary leaders in prison. But even there, they continued to live the high life and kept on top of their criminal operations.

The local press published in May transcripts of police wiretaps revealing AUC leaders continuing to order killings and to direct drug trafficking from prison, while also enjoying dance parties, sexual orgies and alcohol. They hosted “Mexican friends” and had unrestricted access to cell phones and the Internet.

In one conversation, the frustrated former prison warden complained to a colleague that her orders were constantly overruled by her superiors when paramilitary leaders called to complain to the peace commissioner, government ministers and even the president. The warden soon requested to be relocated.

Infuriated by the wiretap disclosures, Uribe ordered the firing of the top 12 generals in the police, but he said little about the evidence of AUC criminality beyond promising another investigation.

AUC leaders also threatened to break off the peace process, accusing the government of changing the terms. They felt betrayed, they said, and threatened to incriminate all their elite allies, including politicians, businessmen, and multinationals.

Regional Trouble

The Organization of American States, which has overseen the peace process with the AUC, has been critical of the results. The OAS warned that the paramilitaries are rearming and reorganizing under different names, with stronger ties to drug traffickers, and are being led by some of the same leaders who supposedly had surrendered.

OAS Assistant Secretary General Albert Ramdin said this year that the AUC demobilization process might well fail to solve Colombia’s problem with drug-financed paramilitary groups.

Colombia’s approach “could trigger a truth and justice process that would put an end to paramilitary groups in the regions, and lead to reconstruction of the State,” Ramdin said. “Or, on the other hand, it could accentuate the influence of paramilitary groups linked to drug trafficking.”

Despite Colombia’s problems – the corruption, the shaky peace process and the shortcomings of its anti-drug program – Bush has continued to show unstinting support for Uribe. Calling Uribe a true democrat and a strong leader, Bush has visited Colombia twice, including earlier this year, and met with Uribe several times in Washington.

“I’m proud to call [Uribe] a friend and strategic ally,” Bush said during one of Uribe’s visits. In Bogotá, the U.S. president said: “I appreciate the [Colombian] president’s determination to bring human rights violators to justice. … I believe that, given a fair chance, President Uribe can make the case.”

Bush asked the U.S. Congress to increase financial support for Plan Colombia, but Democrats cut military aid from 80 percent to 65 percent of the total allocation, while increasing economic and humanitarian aid. Moreover, the Democrats attached strict conditions on the total $530 million.

Democrats also have conditioned their ratification of a free-trade agreement with Colombia on Uribe improving the country’s human rights record and prosecuting paramilitary leaders.

In South America, Uribe has slowly backed himself into a corner by siding with Bush. While most South American countries have grown more critical of U.S. foreign policy and its Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, Colombia has staunchly supported Bush’s policies, distancing itself from its neighbors.

Brazil and Ecuador have closer relations with Venezuela, as do most countries in the region, in stark contrast to a decade ago. Colombia has been kept out of South America’s Mercosur regional trade union, while Venezuela is expected to join sometime this year.

Uribe also has lost some regional backing in his fight against the FARC. Ecuador has resisted labelling the FARC a terrorist organization, but did criticize Plan Colombia and sought reparations for collateral damage inflicted by Colombian forces on Ecuador’s border population.

Meanwhile, the drug and corruption scandal keeps growing. Though Uribe has denied most of the accusations, drug lord Ochoa Vasco has said he is willing to negotiate his surrender to the DEA along with proof to support his charges.

Ochoa Vasco said some AUC leaders and drug traffickers now are willing to negotiate their surrender to U.S. law-enforcement agencies to avoid being murdered in Colombia, as powerful forces seek desperately to silence them and end the “para-scandal.”

In July, Henao Gómez Bustamante – the biggest reputed drug lord since Pablo Escobar – was extradited to face trafficking charges in the U.S. He is believed to have been a key player in right-wing politics and one of the main financers of the AUC.

The target of at least half a dozen assassination attempts while he was in prison, Gómez Bustamante told a magazine that he preferred being extradited to being murdered. He also said he will disclose all the information about drug corruption in Colombia, AUC infiltration, and Mexican cartels, in exchange for a more lenient sentence.

The meaning of Gaza’s ‘shoah’: Israel plots another Palestinian exodus

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By Jonathan Cook

Israeli Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai’s much publicised remark last week about Gaza facing a “shoah” -- the Hebrew word for the Holocaust -- was widely assumed to be unpleasant hyperbole about the army’s plans for an imminent full-scale invasion of the Strip.

More significantly, however, his comment offers a disturbing indication of the Israeli army’s longer-term strategy towards the Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Vilnai, a former general, was interviewed by Army Radio as Israel was in the midst of unleashing a series of air and ground strikes on populated areas of Gaza that killed more than 100 Palestinians, at least half of whom were civilians and 25 of whom were children, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.

The interview also took place in the wake of a rocket fired from Gaza that killed a student in Sderot and other rockets that hit the centre of the southern city of Ashkelon. Vilnai stated: “The more Qassam fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they [the Palestinians of Gaza] will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves.”

His comment, picked up by the Reuters wire service, was soon making headlines around the world. Presumably uncomfortable with a senior public figure in Israel comparing his government’s policies to the Nazi plan to exterminate European Jewry, many news services referred to Vilnai’s clearly articulated threat as a “warning”, as though he was prophesying a cataclysmic natural event over which he and the Israeli army had no control.

Nonetheless, officials understood the damage that the translation from Hebrew of Vilnai’s remark could do to Israel’s image abroad. And sure enough, Palestinian leaders were soon exploiting the comparison, with both the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and the exiled Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, stating that a “holocaust” was unfolding in Gaza.

Within hours the Israeli Foreign Ministry was launching a large “hasbara” (propaganda) campaign through its diplomats, as the Jerusalem Post reported. In a related move, a spokesman for Vilnai explained that the word “shoah” also meant “disaster”; this, rather than a holocaust, was what the minister had been referring to. Clarifications were issued by many media outlets.

However, no one in Israel was fooled. “Shoah” -- which literally means “burnt offering” -- was long ago reserved for the Holocaust, much as the Arabic word “nakba” (or “catastrophe”) is nowadays used only to refer to the Palestinians’ dispossession by Israel in 1948. Certainly, the Israeli media in English translated Vilnai’s use of “shoah” as “holocaust”.

But this is not the first time that Vilnai has expressed extreme views about Gaza’s future.

Last summer he began quietly preparing a plan on behalf of his boss, the Defence Minister Ehud Barak, to declare Gaza a “hostile entity” and dramatically reduce the essential services supplied by Israel -- as long-time occupier -- to its inhabitants, including electricity and fuel. The cuts were finally implemented late last year after the Israeli courts gave their blessing.

Vilnai and Barak, both former military men like so many other Israeli politicians, have been “selling” this policy -- of choking off basic services to Gaza -- to Western public opinion ever since.

Under international law, Israel as the occupying power has an obligation to guarantee the welfare of the civilian population in Gaza, a fact forgotten when the media reported Israel’s decision to declare Gaza a hostile entity. The pair have therefore claimed tendentiously that the humanitarian needs of Gazans are still being safeguarded by the limited supplies being allowed through, and that therefore the measures do not constitute collective punishment.

Last October, after a meeting of defence officials, Vilnai said of Gaza: "Because this is an entity that is hostile to us, there is no reason for us to supply them with electricity beyond the minimum required to prevent a crisis.”

Three months later Vilnai went further, arguing that Israel should cut off “all responsibility” for Gaza, though, in line with the advice of Israel’s attorney general, he has been careful not to suggest that this would punish ordinary Gazans excessively.

Instead he said disengagement should be taken to its logical conclusion: “We want to stop supplying electricity to them, stop supplying them with water and medicine, so that it would come from another place”. He suggested that Egypt might be forced to take over responsibility.

Vilnai’s various comments are a reflection of the new thinking inside the defence and political establishments about where next to move Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians.

After the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, a consensus in the Israeli military quickly emerged in favour of maintaining control through a colonial policy of divide and rule, by factionalising the Palestinians and then keeping them feuding.

As long as the Palestinians were too divided to resist the occupation effectively, Israel could carry on with its settlement programme and “creeping annexation” of the occupied territories, as the Defence Minister of the time, Moshe Dayan, called it.

Israel experimented with various methods of undermining the secular Palestinian nationalism of the PLO, which threatened to galvanise a general resistance to the occupation. In particular Israel established local anti-PLO militias known as the Village Leagues and later backed the Islamic fundamentalism of the Muslim Brotherhood, which would morph into Hamas.

Rivalry between Hamas and the PLO, controlled by Fatah, has been the backdrop to Palestinian politics in the occupied territories ever since, and has moved centre stage since Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005. Growing antagonism fuelled by Israel and the US, as an article in Vanity Fair confirmed this week, culminated in the physical separation of a Fatah-run West Bank from a Hamas-ruled Gaza last summer.

The leaderships of Fatah and Hamas are now divided not only geographically but also by their diametrically opposed strategies for dealing with Israel’s occupation.

Fatah’s control of the West Bank is being shored up by Israel because its leaders, including President Mahmoud Abbas, have made it clear that they are prepared to cooperate with an interminable peace process that will give Israel the time it needs to annex yet more of the territory.

Hamas, on the other hand, is under no illusions about the peace process, having seen the Jewish settlers leave but Israel’s military control and its economic siege only tighten from arm’s length.

In charge of an open-air prison, Hamas has refused to surrender to Israeli diktats and has proven invulnerable to Israeli and US machinations to topple it. Instead it has begun advancing the only two feasible forms of resistance available: rocket attacks over the fence surrounding Gaza, and popular mass action.

And this is where the concerns of Vilnai and others emanate from. Both forms of resistance, if Hamas remains in charge of Gaza and improves its level of organisation and the clarity of its vision, could over the long term unravel Israel’s plans to annex the occupied territories -- once their Palestinian inhabitants have been removed.

First, Hamas’ development of more sophisticated and longer-range rockets threatens to move Hamas’ resistance to a much larger canvas than the backwater of the small development town of Sderot. The rockets that landed last week in Ashkelon, one of the country’s largest cities, could be the harbingers of political change in Israel.

Hizbullah proved in the 2006 Lebanon war that Israeli domestic opinion quickly crumbled in the face of sustained rocket attacks. Hamas hopes to achieve the same outcome.

After the strikes on Ashkelon, the Israeli media was filled with reports of angry mobs taking to the city’s streets and burning tyres in protest at their government’s failure to protect them. That is their initial response. But in Sderot, where the attacks have been going on for years, the mayor, Eli Moyal, recently called for talks with Hamas. A poll published in the Haaretz daily showed that 64 per cent of Israelis now agree with him. That figure may increase further if the rocket threat grows.

The fear among Israel’s leaders is that “creeping annexation” of the occupied territories cannot be achieved if the Israeli public starts demanding that Hamas be brought to the negotiating table.

Second, Hamas’ mobilisation last month of Gazans to break through the wall at Rafah and pour into Egypt has demonstrated to Israel’s politician-generals like Barak and Vilnai that the Islamic movement has the potential, as yet unrealised, to launch a focused mass peaceful protest against the military siege of Gaza.

Meron Benvenisti, a former deputy mayor of Jersualem, noted that this scenario “frightens the army more than a violent conflict with armed Palestinians”. Israel fears that the sight of unarmed women and children being executed for the crime of trying to free themselves from the prison Israel has built for them may give the lie to the idea that the disengagement ended the occupation.

When several thousand Palestinians held a demonstration a fortnight ago in which they created a human chain along part of Gaza’s fence with Israel, the Israeli army could hardly contain its panic. Heavy artillery batteries were brought to the perimeter and snipers were ordered to shoot protesters’ legs if they approached the fence.

As Amira Hass, Haaretz’s veteran reporter in the occupied territories, observed, Israel has so far managed to terrorise most ordinary Gazans into a paralysed inactivity on this front. In the main Palestinians have refused to take the “suicidal” course of directly challenging their imprisonment by Israel, even peacefully: “The Palestinians do not need warnings or reports to know the Israeli soldiers shoot the unarmed as well, and they also kill women and children.”

But that may change as the siege brings ever greater misery to Gaza.

As a result, Israel’s immediate priorities are: to provoke Hamas regularly into violence to deflect it from the path of organising mass peaceful protest; to weaken the Hamas leadership through regular executions; and to ensure that an effective defence against the rockets is developed, including technology like Barak’s pet project, Iron Dome, to shield the country from attacks.

In line with these policies, Israel broke the latest period of “relative calm” in Gaza by initiating the executions of five Hamas members last Wednesday. Predictably, Hamas responded by firing into Israel a barrage of rockets that killed the student in Sderot, in turn justifying the bloodbath in Gaza.

But a longer-term strategy is also required, and is being devised by Vilnai and others. Aware both that the Gaza prison is tiny and its resources scarce and that the Palestinian population is growing at a rapid rate, Israel needs a more permanent solution. It must find a way to stop the growing threat posed by Hamas’ organised resistance, and the social explosion that will come sooner or later from the Strip’s overcrowding and inhuman conditions.

Vilnai’s remark hints at that solution, as do a series of comments from cabinet ministers over the past few weeks proposing war crimes to stop the rockets. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, for example, has said that Gazans cannot be allowed “to live normal lives”; Internal Security Minister, Avi Dichter, believes Israel should take action “irrespective of the cost to the Palestinians”; and the Interior Minister, Meir Sheetrit, suggests the Israeli army should “decide on a neighborhood in Gaza and level it” after each attack.

This week Barak revealed that his officials were working on the last idea, finding a way to make it lawful for the army to direct artillery fire and air strikes at civilian neighbourhoods of Gaza in response to rocket fire. They are already doing this covertly, of course, but now they want their hands freed by making it official policy, sanctioned by the international community.

At the same time Vilnai proposed a related idea, of declaring areas of Gaza “combat zones” in which the army would have free rein and from which residents would have little choice but to flee. In practice, this would allow Israel to expel civilians from wide areas of the Strip, herding them into ever smaller spaces, as has been happening in the West Bank for some time.

All these measures – from the intensification of the siege to prevent electricity, fuel and medicines from reaching Gaza to the concentration of the population into even more confined spaces, as well as new ways of stepping up the violence inflicted on the Strip – are thinly veiled excuses for targeting and punishing the civilian population. They necessarily preclude negotiation and dialogue with Gaza’s political leaders.

Until now, it had appeared, Israel’s plan was eventually to persuade Egypt to take over the policing of Gaza, a return to its status before the 1967 war. The view was that Cairo would be even more ruthless in cracking down on the Islamic militants than Israel. But increasingly Vilnai and Barak look set on a different course.

Their ultimate goal appears to be related to Vilnai’s “shoah” comment: Gaza’s depopulation, with the Strip squeezed on three sides until the pressure forces Palestinians to break out again into Egypt. This time, it may be assumed, there will be no chance of return.